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Kept from the prize

Spare a thought for award's forgotten men, says Johnny

Johnny Phillips - Johnny Phillips Posted 23rd April 2012 view comments

Arguing with the decision to award Robin Van Persie the PFA Player of the Year would be churlish. The Dutchman has had a fantastic season and has, at times, single-handedly dragged Arsenal into the Champions League positions.

There were some fine nominations for this year's award. Four of the six came from the two Manchester clubs who have dominated the top of the Premier League table. Few could have argued had Wayne Rooney, David Silva, Sergio Aguero or Joe Hart won the honour.

Overlooked

Hart was the only goalkeeper nominated. History shows that winning the Player of the Year is not easily done from that position. A total of 34 years have passed since the last goalkeeper walked away with the award - Peter Shilton in 1978.

No 1 choice: Hart did bag a place in the PFA's Premier League Team of the Year

No 1 choice: Hart did bag a place in the PFA's Premier League Team of the Year

Pat Jennings is the only other goalkeeper to have won it. This is perhaps understandable given the type of player nominated but it has resulted in some fantastic goalkeepers being overlooked down the years.

In the mid-Eighties Neville Southall was widely regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world. He was crucial to Everton's success in lifting two league titles, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup between 1984 and 1987. Many Evertonians argue that had he not been injured towards the back end of the 1986 season that trophy haul would have been more as the Blues were just pipped in both the League and FA Cup by arch rivals Liverpool. Southall did collect the Football Writers Award in 1985, but his peers never once voted him as the leading player.

Despite maintaining the highest standards throughout his United career, the Dane's achievements never brought him recognition by the PFA. Only Gary McAllister and Eric Cantona won the award as United players during Schmeichel's time at the club.

Johnny Phillips
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In the following decade Peter Schmeichel took the art of goalkeeping to a whole new level, displaying the sort of consistency that had never been seen before. Between 1991 and 1999 he was the immoveable force in United's goal and captained the side to their historic treble in 1999. Sir Alex Ferguson called his £500,000 price tag "the bargain of the century" and it is hard to disagree.

When he left the club, Ferguson found him almost impossible to replace, with the likes of Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll all gracing Old Trafford with varying degrees of success before Edwin Van der Saar finally brought the sort of stability and excellence to the position that Schmeichel had left behind six years earlier.

But despite maintaining the highest standards throughout his United career, the Dane's achievements never brought him recognition by the PFA. Only Gary McAllister and Eric Cantona won the award as United players during Schmeichel's time at the club.

Gem

At the start of this decade it is Hart who is setting the standards by which goalkeepers are judged. It is probable he will go on to be spoken about in the same breath as Schmeichel and, aged 24, longevity shouldn't be a problem for the City keeper. His nomination was hardly a surprise, but this season the standard of goalkeeping has been so high that there are others who can count themselves unfortunate to have been overlooked.

Top of that list are the league's two Dutch keepers. Newcastle's fantastic season has been built on solid foundations at the back, starting with Tim Krul. Like Hart he is just 24 but has bided his time for a chance at the club after arriving from Den Haag in 2005. Following loan spells at Falkirk and Carlisle he gradually progressed through the ranks. But it was only this season that Krul finally established himself as the Number One in Alan Pardew's team. His manager rewarded him with a five year contract last month as he has become an indispensable part of the team.

Michel Vorm is considered small for a goalkeeper. He is six foot tall according to official statistics. I met the 28-year-old earlier in the season and his size - or lack of it - is one of the first things that strike you about the player. He is no stranger to questions about his height and gets used to having to defend it.

"I always take it as a compliment that people say when they see me in the stadium I look bigger than I am in real life - I think that's my presence," he explained.

"My athleticism is good and I think that's very important. Some guys are taller than me but they may be slower to the ground. And I know some big goalkeepers who are afraid to go out to make contact, so size doesn't matter."

It certainly hasn't mattered to Swansea fans who have enjoyed a fantastic first season in the Premier League. It is the passing style of Brendan Rodgers' side that has gained all the plaudits but the impact of Vorm shouldn't be underestimated.

Oman has never been renowned for a production line in goalkeepers but whilst coaching in the Arab state John Burridge, who kept goal for 29 clubs in a 30 year career in England, unearthed a gem. After a spell in Norway, Ali Al-Habsi was soon on his way to Bolton on "Budgie's" recommendation and hasn't looked back. After four years at the Reebok, neighbours Wigan secured his services for around £4m and he has been the star performer of Roberto Martinez's side ever since.

Finally, a nod to the veterans. Brad Friedel turns 41 next month but continues to maintain the highest standards. He won his first international cap in 1992, before some of his current team-mates were even born. The American is currently half way through a two year deal at White Hart Lane and with his appetite for the game it would be no surprise to see him continuing to break playing records in this country.

So whilst Van Persie and co continue to dominate the awards, spare a thought for the men at the other end of the pitch. They may not get the recognition of their more star-studded teammates but they are every bit as important.

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