PFA Gets it Right... Almost
By Alex Fairchild
The Professional Footballers' Association distributes one of the game's most prestigious awards, at least according to some. Being voted top by one's peers is an honor, which is so because in a game where there are such enormous egos, people have taken time out to acknowledge the play of another. It is an election without a primary season. You run for office via your play.
While I doubt many set off with the goal of having this award in hand by season's end, there is no doubt that footballers are flattered by recognition. When asked to vote for player of the year though, members of the PFA must also pick their team of the year, which yields an interesting mix. The above are announced at an annual dinner, which took place an evening previous today.
At Sunday night's gala, Gareth Bale stole the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, while himself and ten others were selected to a PFA XI.
Player of the Year: Gareth Bale is quite a special player. Whenever he blazes up and down a pitch I instantly think of the American sitcom Seinfeld, in which Jerry's mother asks rhetorically, "How can anyone not like him?" While it seems impossible not to, there are people who take issue with him - right-sided backs.
The first time I saw him play, I remember thinking how fast he appeared. In some cases, a player may be 'deceptively quick,' but Bale is not. His build is meant for speed and back in the day, his hair peaked near the forehead, and as the Welshman billowed his way past defenses, it looked like a rhino was bulldozing its way through with a trademark horn. The Spurs man has jet black hair. For Bale, whose pace could seemingly break sound's velocity, speed kills.
This year, the PFA got it right. While Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie were men on a mission this season, one cannot ignore Bale's forays down the left and later his dazzling forward play. Compiling 19 goals in the league, with important games left on the table, Bale is having a better season than he did when he won the same award two years ago. His play is deft, smart, and sensational.
But, let us remember that two years ago, the PFA was not so spot on in their decision making. Bale did not win Young Player of the Year, an award category for which he was a nominee. While these awards may be meaningless in perspective it just does not make any sense to deny someone what is rightfully theirs. Bale won the big category, but why the players handed the award to Jack Wilshere will always boggle this writer.
Team of the Year: Even though the PFA got it right on POTY, two spots in their XI must raise criticism.
Up top, Suarez and Van Persie were certainly a head above the rest, while out wide, Bale was immaculate.
In the middle, Michael Carrick finally received praise. He is the unsung hero of Manchester United and is what makes Fergie's clock tick. His sterling distribution is similar to that of Andrea Pirlo. On second thought, Pirlo is more like Carrick. The lynchpin's calmness on the ball allows him to complete around 88% of his passes each time he takes the field. However, his additional defensive presence is invaluable, as he can make both interceptions and tackles to halt an opposition's move. Carrick creates 4 turnovers per match.
Alongside the United man is Juan Mata. The Premier League's assist leader at 12 is the straw that stirs the drink for Rafael Benitez. In fact, the Chelsea midfielder has an entire Twitter page dedicated to his effect on the team.
While Eden Hazard is no doubt one of the league's better players things get dicey with Belgium's winger. His production has been strong, but certainly begs the question who may be having a better go of it.
Fellow Premier League freshman Santi Cazorla has certainly made a case for himself. The Arsenal man has encountered a fine run of form for the Gunners. He creates plenty of chances for his teammates to score and did so five times against Manchester United at the weekend. The Spaniard has put 12 by Premier League keepers this season, while helping teammates score seven times. Hazard has scored 3 less, but has two more assists to his name. On points, Cazorla leads by one. While numerically a point separates Arsene Wenger's signing, it must be noted that Arsenal's footballer own a shot and tackle more than Hazard, per outing, according to WhoScored.com.
Other options for the spot include Michu, who has lit Wales on fire in his first Premier League season. Cazorla's plucky comrade got off to a blazing start, though he has cooled as Swansea have put their campaign into cruise control. Perhaps Morgan Schneiderlin's presence deserves mention. The Frenchman has controlled the Southampton midfield all season. His defensive play puts him at the top of most defensive lists. Schneiderlin's ability to read the game has saw him become the Premier League's most underrated footballer. Topping the division in interceptions with 4 per match, he falls second in tackles at the same amount. Though it is not his position to attack, it raises a flag that he has failed to produce an assist thus far. Major League Soccer's Patrice Bernier plays in a similar position to that of the Frenchman and has been able to tally a few early in the season.
What caught my attention most was the selection of Rio Ferdinand at center back. The United defender has had yet another solid term, but it is easily overcome by Swansea's Chico, hence another Spanish footballer enters the equation here.
Chico's position in the last line of defense proves clutch. He can sniff out a playmaker's fatal through-ball or put forth a crunching tackle. This has proved imperative to a Swansea side looking for a top 10 finish. Rio's performances to do not match up. Chico doubles all of Ferdinand's numbers in important statistical categories for backs, with the exception being that the Englishman is passed a bit less and owns a bit more discipline than his 26 year old counterpart.
To conclude in goal, there can be no complaints as David De Gea touts the highest save percentage in the league. His ability to stop shots is amongst the best I have witnessed, though other parts of his game need much work. While the PFA got it right on many of the picks, there are two that catch the eye. However, one must take these awards with a grain of salt. While we're at it let's go to Seinfeld again. Getting a PFA award is like receiving a t-shirt that says, "#1 Dad," to which Jerry would say, which he did in relation to that shirt, "Well, I don't know how official any of these rankings really are."