So, we have once again arrived at the time of year where the Professional Footballers’ Association debates the cream of the crop within the Premier League, and this year’s nominations juxtapose the usual suspects with an Argentinian new entry and one rather large Gerrard-shaped hole. I wouldn’t be so naive as to suggest that anybody else other than a certain goal-hungry Red Devil will win the award, but a fair and even analysis would not go amiss.
I don’t believe anybody would argue Cesc Fabregas has had the season of his life. A central midfielder by trade with a return of fifteen goals from twenty seven games illustrates his absolute dominance over his position ahead of Messrs Lampard and Gerrard in 2009/10. With a lack of Robin Van Persie in a striker’s role for Arsenal, and an out-of-position and misfiring Andrei Arshavin filling in for the Dutch striker, Fabregas has got the most from his Arsenal team-mates also, with fifteen assists bringing out the best from previous strugglers such as Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby. Without him, the Gunners suffer, and with him (fit), they play the kind of football which makes the assembled media and ‘fans of football’ gush at regular intervals.
Moment of the season: Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 0. A half an hour to sum up Fabregas’ season. Cesc arrives from the bench in an unfit state and scores two in a one-man show to put Arsenal in everybody’s minds in the battle for the Premier League, but limps off after over-exerting himself to face another two weeks on the treatment table. Dogged class at its best from the Spaniard.
Didier Drogba joins the nominations list despite missing six weeks of the Premier League season due to his exertions in Africa in an unsuccessful Ivorian campaign. Twenty five goals from twenty eight appearances, setting up eleven more in the process, has proved Drogba’s weight in gold to Chelsea. Although there have been occasional flashbacks to the Drogba of old, it seems at thirty-one the diving and theatrics that frustrates Chelsea supporters and opposition fans alike have begun to disappear from the Ivorian’s game, with the focus turning to goal-poaching and providing. Many will also wonder how many more goals could have flowed had new manager Carlo Ancellotti discovered Drogba playing alone up front alongside Florent Malouda and Joe Cole/Solomon Kalou earlier in the season, as opposed to struggling to find his role alongside a similarly strugging Nicolas Anelka.
Moment of the season: Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3. Drogba scores a brace, including a glorious free-kick from long range, in a game that, in hindsight, will fuel Chelsea’s charge to the Premier League title.
Another player in the list playing alongside a struggling partner is Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney. A key sign of how good a player is, would be how much a team struggles without him, and Rooney has been sorely missed by United in disappointing games against Blackburn and Chelsea as of late, with a haphazard Dimitar Berbatov looking a mere morsel of the player he was at Tottenham. A goal record similar to Drogba’s (26 in 29) seems to put both players on a plateau, yet Rooney has lost his main provider in Cristiano Ronaldo this season and yet continued to prove himself as a goal-machine. Didier Drogba is playing in essentially the same side as a successful Chelsea side from last season, where as Rooney has needed to bond with Antonio Valencia, a growing Nani and a frankly useless Dimitar Berbatov.
Moment of the season: Manchester United 4 Hull City 0. Four of those twenty-six arrive in a glorious performance at Old Trafford, flummoxing a lacklustre Hull defence to move United back to the top of the league.
Finally, a player who, if he remained Wayne Rooney’s partner in crime, may have changed the destination of the Premier League trophy. Carlos Tevez has justified whatever the undisclosed transfer fee was (rumoured at £47 million at the time) in his transfer from Manchester City’s rivals across the city with an outstanding 22 goals in 30 appearances in a team not riding in the top two of the Premier League. He visually puts his heart and soul into every performance in a sky blue shirt, and has been the rock in a team essentially put together at the beginning of the season. Whilst his South American teammate Robinho struggled with games away from Eastlands and any form of physical confrontation, Tevez saved his best performances for the big games, and together with Lionel Messi, be in a bright spotlight in South Africa this summer.
Moment of the season: Chelsea 2 Manchester City 4. Tevez grabs a brace in a physical encounter at Stamford Bridge, putting City’s case for fourth to the fore and aiding his former employees in the process.
Considering this award is voted for by the players of the Premier League, the conspiracy theorist/realist within me believes that in a World Cup year, Wayne Rooney is a shoo-in for this award. If I were to hop off the fence, Carlos Tevez is the most-improved player in the Premier League, almost single-handedly grabbing a Champions League place for Manchester City in the process of his growth. However, this doesn’t take away anything from the exceptional performances and goals of Wayne Rooney throughout the season; performances which probably deserve a title at the end of it. If Manchester United do not provide this in his absence, a PFA Player of the Year award will provide a marker from which his career can grow to even dizzier heights.