James Dall furrows his brow and looks at 10 contenders for 2009's Footballer of the Year awards.
James Dall furrows his brow and looks at 10 contenders for 2009's Footballer of the Year awards
The voting for the PFA Players' Player of the Year and Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year prizes will soon be cast. With this in mind, James Dall looks at 10 contenders for 2009's Footballer of the Year awards.
This was by no means an easy task. I'm of the belief that not one single player has dazzled for the entirety of the season. Hence the likes of Mikel Arteta, Fernando Torres, Carlton Cole, Kevin Davies and Mark Schwarzer all missing out by a whisker.
However, there have been some shining lights. And, after meticulous research and thought that now leaves my head feeling thick with a statistical hangover, the below 10 have been compiled. If you agree or disagree with these contenders, then leave your comments by using the feedback form at the foot of the piece.
By the skin of his Welsh teeth, Giggs is included in my 10 contenders for the award. There was much toing and froing over Ryan. Yes, the 35-year-old has shone, not dazzled, during a remarkable 19th year at Manchester United. However, a nagging doubt nibbled away in my mind, and still remains by the way. Of course, the plaudits are well-deserved. Giggs is the model professional. It is his lifestyle that has allowed him to still improve at such a veteran age, moving in from the wing to a more central position. Also, he has never been awarded the PFA Players' Player of the Year, so when nicer a time than now? But is sentimentality enough for the prize? The midfielder has played just 1034 minutes of Premier League football so far this campaign, starting just 10 matches. Giggs should be celebrated, and his quality this term has been enough for him to sneak in my 10. But he faces much stronger competition in 2009.
The nearly £10million spent to prise Young away from Watford in January 2007 was considered, by some, to be a gamble. But Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill knew he had identified a real gem, and two-and-a-half seasons on we are looking at a special, but still developing, talent - a player that now has four England caps and counting. Young has proved a tricky customer for most right-backs this term. He operates on the left flank, albeit being a right-footed player. This role has worked for Young due to his ability to work the ball ever so quickly back onto his stronger foot. And my, what a dangerous delivery he possesses. Young peppers whipped crosses into the opponents' penalty area, with his team-mates grateful of their teasing nature. Right now he is paying the price for Villa's scarce squad, with fatigue possibly draining his form. But with five goals and eight assists to his name already this campaign, Young's future is bright.
To think that Alonso may well have been playing elsewhere this season makes for interesting thought. With Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez keen on Gareth Barry last summer, it was expected the England midfielder's arrival would pave the way for Alonso's exit. But the hugely protracted Barry saga concluded in him remaining at Villa Park, and Alonso at Anfield. And, subsequently, Alonso's form has proved inspired. Furthermore, it was strongly suggested in the press that Arsenal made an attempt to secure his signature, but boss Arsene Wenger refused to cough up an extra million or two. Frugality possibility got the better of the Frenchman - as mentioned, Alonso has upped his game. He has dictated midfields this term. His passing straight and true. With Javier Mascherano harrowing the opposition, and Steven Gerrard playing off the frontman, Alonso has found his true calling. And by golly he looks content.
Robin van Persie
Van Persie's talent is unquestionable. Already, at 25 years of age, he has a groaning scrapbook of brilliant strikes. But if there is one hanging question mark over the Dutchman, it is of his fitness. In his previous four seasons in North London, Van Persie has failed to exceed 17 Premier League starts in a single 38-game term. However, the former Feyenoord ace - touch wood for Gunners fans, no doubt - is on 21 top-flight starts (24 appearances in total) and counting this season. During those appearances, he has scored nine times while assisting as many goals. The value of Van Persie to Arsenal is highlighted after he was recently named the club's player of the month for the fourth time in a row. Should Van Persie remain fit for the remainder of the campaign, then Arsenal can surely be confident of finishing in the top four while pushing for silverware.
Some may snort at this inclusion, but Hangeland's caught the eye of many - mine included. Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has rightly been praised for the job he has overseen at Craven Cottage since he was handed the helm in December 2007. Hodgson was forced to patch-up a creaking squad during his first winter transfer window, and Hangeland was among his additions, signing the towering centre-half from FC Copenhagen for a measly £2.5million. Hangeland played his role in preserving the club's top-flight status in 2008, and in the new campaign he has continued to add to his reputation. So impressive has Hangeland's form been for the Cottagers that Arsenal were suggested to be interested in signing him in January. Indeed, when Hangeland has played for Fulham in the league this season, the club have managed 11 clean sheets. The 27-year-old's bulldozing displays at the back have mightily impressed.
The £4million paid for Phil Jagielka is looking more and more some serious business by Everton boss David Moyes. Praise in the football world is often banded about willy-nilly, yet, in Jagielka's case, commendation is justified. The powerful defender has been rock solid and ever-present for the Toffees in the league this season, form that that has seen him be named in the latest England squad. And during his 30 appearances for Everton the club have recorded 12 shut-outs. Looking back, Everton's FA Cup fourth round triumph over Liverpool in February is remembered by many for an impromptu Tic-Tacs commercial, but for me the 120 minutes was very much about Jagielka. His strength and coolness on the ball was outstanding that night as he often brushed off a chasing Fernando Torres. At 26 years old, Jagielka is beginning to peak, and the Goodison Park faithful are witnessing first-hand the former Sheffield United player's growing quality.
Ireland's chequered past is well-documented. Off the field, things have been a little, shall we say, eventful. On the field this season, though, Ireland has shown us what he is all about football-wise. In the knowledge that Manchester City are likely to have bolstered in almost every position come 2010, Ireland has risen to the challenge of incomings. Rather than curl up like a shy hedgehog, the playmaker has emerged as the mainstay of City's creative persona. To date, Ireland has seven goals and as many assists to his name - a terrific return for an attacking midfielder playing for a side that has only recently climbed back into the top half of the table. Ireland's vision makes him the player that he is. So aware of those around him, the 22-year-old Irishman drops into the spaces defenders dislike before slicing through their backline with a silky through-ball.
Frank guarantees you goals from midfield. Sure, a proportion of observers grumble some of those do come via a deflection off the opponent's backside - but goals are goals. Priceless little things that they are. He has netted 10 Premier League strikes so far this term. Not forgetting that he's laid on seven for his team-mates. What makes Lampard's return even more impressive is Chelsea's inconsistency this campaign. When not dazzling, the Blues have usually been uninspired. Yet Lampard has so often been their shining light and/or saviour. Lampard lifted the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award back in 2005, but has never been named PFA Players' Player of the Year. Right now, Lampard faces fierce competition if he is to break his duck, but a trophy or two come the end of the term could see him emerge as a frontrunner.
With Torres injured for the majority of the campaign, Liverpool have relied even more so on their captain. The amazing thing about Gerrard is that, when playing for the Reds, he seems to thrive with the weight of expectation. It is expected that he will pull the side forward kicking and screaming. He'll break the deadlock when the chips are down. He'll step up to take that penalty. And right now, the England international is arguably in the form of his life. A brace against Real Madrid, a strike at Manchester United followed by a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Aston Villa. A giddy 12 days in the life of the 28-year-old. If Liverpool do complete a once unthinkable usurpation of bitter rivals Manchester United, then you could well be right now reading about this year's rightful winner of personal accolades.
Even with a wobbly Liverpool showing to his name, Vidic is the favourite to be awarded for his exploits. There is no getting away from his slump versus Rafa Benitez's team, with Torres a splinter in his side he could not squeeze. But that blot on his copybook is minute compared to the colossal nature of his other displays. Red Devils goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar will be the name etched in the history books for having not conceded for 1,311 minutes, yet the plaudits should really be directed at the 9 impenetrable bricks that lay in front of the Dutchman, with Vidic the cement. By and large a brutish powerhouse, Vidic has 19 Premier League clean sheets to boast this season, while his threat at set-pieces should not be overlooked. A central defender has not been chosen as the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year since Tottenham's Steve Perryman in 1982. That could be about to change.
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