End-of-season accolade misses true performers

The 2009 PFA Player of the Year nominations were nothing short of a joke, writes Paul Fennessy.Are footballers really as brainless as legend suggests? This is the only logical explanation for the preposterous Player of the Year nominations that have been recently conjured by the PFA. In addition to the fact is that the deadline for nominations was in February, to refer to the competition as the Player of the Year award is plainly inaccurate.Of the current nominees only Gerrard truly merits selection (and no I am not a closet Liverpool fan). The most glaring defect in the selection of Edwin Van Der Saar. Goalkeepers are required to perform well when the defenders in front of them fail to provide adequate protection. Thus, the simultaneous selection of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic is fundamentally flawed.Moreover, most Manchester United fans will agree that this has hardly been a vintage season for Ronaldo, while Ryan Giggs is past his best and has been warming the Old Trafford bench more often than not.Accordingly, below is an alternative list of more deserving contenders that is based on fact (i.e. the Opta Premier League statistics) as opposed to sentiment (i.e. Ryan Giggs deserves to be nominated because he always trains hard and has been around for so long).Xabi Alonso (Liverpool)There is a common misconception that Liverpool are a two-man team comprising of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. They are in fact a three-man team, with this midfield maestro being a further crucial component of their title-challenging triumvirate. Disgracefully treated by Rafa Benitez before the start of the campaign when he tried to offload the midfielder to Juventus, Alonso responded with his most accomplished season yet. Tellingly, he has provided more passes than any other midfielder in the Premiership (1281). Even more astonishing given his predilection for defence-splitting fiftyyard long balls, is that his passing accuracy has remained at a sturdy 85 per cent.Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)Roy Hodgson considers the 36-year-old Schwarzer – whom he got on free transfer from Middlesbrough at the start of the season – as his most important signing. Such an accolade is understandable, as the goalkeeper has been an integral part of a Fulham side that has continually exceeded expectations this season. They have conceded fewer goals than anyone outside the top three, with the Australian possessing the best shot-stopping record of any goalkeeper in the league. Hodgson’s acquisition of Schwarzer has also coincided with Fulham’s incredible ascent up the league table. Having struggled to avoid relegation last season, the team are now currently challenging for a European spot – a feat which can largely be attributed to Schwarzer’s heroics.
“There is a common misconception that Liverpool are a two-man team comprising of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. They are in fact a three-man team”
Stilian Petrov (Aston Villa)When Martin O’Neill elected to take the vacant Aston Villa post, he swiftly moved to recruit this talented Bulgarian he had previously managed at Celtic. Although Petrov’s integration into Premier League football was initially turbulent, this season has seen the player fulfil his potential. In an Aston Villa side that has been characterised by an aggressive, take-no-prisoners style, Petrov has flourished. Widely perceived a flair player, the midfielder has adapted to the Premier League by adding a more robust element to his game. The fact that he has currently made the second highest amount of tackles of any Premiership player epitomises his underrated defensive abilities.Ledley King (Tottenham Hotspur)The 28-year old centre-back has consistently been a testament to sporting professionalism and durability. Despite an injury ravaged career which caused him to miss the majority of last season, King has managed to play on a regular basis during this campaign. While his persistent knee troubles restrict his capacity to train before matches, this handicap does not seem to have impinged overtly on his game. Consequently, Tottenham have always looked like a far more assured defensive unit with King regularly in the side. Furthermore, he is one of the central reasons why the team currently hold the best defensive home record in the Premiership.Stephen Ireland (Manchester City)In a Manchester City side which has regularly flattered to deceive, the prodigious Irishman has proved the one anomaly among their deluge of overpaid flops. The signings of an array of expensive foreigners such as Robihno and Vincent Kompany would have led many to predict that Ireland’s days at City were numbered. However, the youngster has seemingly been invigorated by such challenges and has subsequently gone from strength to strength. If his performances continue in this vein, it is only a matter of time before he garners comparisons with a certain other famous Cork-born midfielder. Frank Lampard (Chelsea) Teammate Michael Ballack expressed his dismay at Lampard’s omission from the PFA list and most intelligent critics have found his non-appearance equally difficult to comprehend. In what the 30- year old described as his “best season” so far, Lampard continued his remarkable appearance record, coupled with his reliably impressive goalscoring record from midfield. While he may not perform as many step-overs and tricks as Ronaldo, he has patently been more effective than the Portuguese winger over the course of the season.