It is that time of year again. The ballot papers are being sent throughout the footballing hinterland for each of the innumerate PFA members to put an X next to the name of the standout player of 2011-12. The fact that the votes are cast in early spring, leaving two months of the season still to play, is somewhat of a joke in the first place. If a general election can be held involving an entire nation and the results released the very next day then surely, in this age of technology, the PFA Player of the Year Award could become a little more representative of the actual football, August through May. For those as yet undecided players, those floating voters, here is a handy overview of the six leading candidates for the most prestigious individual accolade in English football.
A contender for the England captaincy in Poland and Ukraine, last year’s winner of the FWA Footballer of the Year is still in the mix this time around. Stepping up from being mired in perpetual relegation dog fights with West Ham, Parker has played a major role in Spurs’ fleeting tilt for the title and more concerted effort for Champions League qualification. His tough tackling, high energy, no nonsense approach has won him many admirers but it his intelligent, patient and considered midfield play alongside Luka Modric that has enabled the likes of Bale, Van der Vaart and Adebayor to score the goals. His ability to break up attacks, play the simple pass and plug the gaps has taken Tottenham from knocking on the door to fully paid-up members of the elite.
The Spaniard has added more than a little Iberian flair to the Premier League. Mancini gave him 2010-11 to bed in and fully attune himself with the pace of the English game, something City fans are reaping the rewards for this season with 13 assists in 25 appearances. His consistent ability to find space in the final third as well as playing an intuitive slide-rule pass is the main reason behind the Citizens enviable goal tally. Built in the mould of Iniesta, Xavi and countless other diminutive Spanish midfielders, his low-centre of gravity, excellent close-control and deft touch make him without a doubt the most creative player in the EPL this year.
Underrated. Up until this season, the man from Texas was the very definition of the word. He had always been solid EPL player without question, notching goals on a consistent basis since he arrived back in 2006. This year, Clint has taken his game to another level. Being equally adaptable as an attacking midfielder, inverted winger or false No.9, his 18 goals in all competitions have fired Martin Jol’s side into the top half and drawn admiring glances from the big clubs. His work ethic and athleticism would make him ideal fit for a Champions League club but the Cottagers are sure to drive a hard bargain for players so crucial to the way they play their football.
Robin van Persie
Arsenal’s ‘Reliant Robin’ has been the complete centre forward for nigh on 18 months now. Taking his excellent performances from the back end of last season, the Dutchman has built on that to lead the Premier League scoring charts with a phenomenal 25 goals in just 27 games. He is a captain that leads by example, showing the current young crop at Arsenal how to behave on and off the pitch. Without his goals the Gunners would not be anywhere near the top 4, most likely languishing in mid table, with the fans feeding on a diet of the toothless Marouane Chamakh and Park Who?-Young. A truly awesome striker with poise, precision and a fair amount of finesse in the box, Van Persie has been a joy to watch this season.
All Brits love an underdog story and a PFA shortlist would be a poorer place without at least one left-field choice. The Norfolk Hulk was playing in League Two less than four years ago, stepping up one division in each year before arriving in the EPL in August. Holt is the champion of the ‘old-fashioned’ centre forward; muscling his way into space, winning the flick-ons’ and ensuring he is the first to every ball. In the age of the technically gifted superstar striker (Aguero, Suarez etc) a man like Holt should not succeed. Against the odds, the Canaries front-man has notched up 10 league goals (including a gem against United) and formed a highly effective partnership with Steve Morison. Late call up for Euro 2012? You better believe it!
What is most astounding about Juan Mata’s debut year in English football is not that he has been uniformly brilliant throughout (we already knew he was good), but that he’s managed to turn in such consistently great performances in what has been a turgid, car crash of a season for Chelsea. A man with more than a passing resemblance for AVB, began scoring and creating from day one against Norwich. Operating in a free role between the Blues ageing midfield and blunt attack, Mata has been the shining light in a team devoid of confidence and quality. If this is him acclimatizing to the EPL, Chelsea fans are in for treat next season.
Honourable mentions go out to Michel Vorm, Vincent Kompany, Wayne Rooney, Luka Modric, Demba Ba, Yaya Toure and Joe Hart who were all knocking on the door of my six man list. I’m looking forward to being challenged over any glaring omissions (I did consider Titus Bramble before you say anything).