If the Premier League season started in January – an idea that has been thrown about a few times in the past – Gareth Bale would probably be a good shout for Player of the Year; yet even then I’m not totally convinced.
Forget for a moment whether Bale deserves his clean sweep of the individual awards, the first issue to tackle is the matter of when these votes are put forward. Another ingenious idea handed down by those from above. Yes, it makes plenty of sense to assess and award the victor well before the end of the season. What if the player who tallied up the most votes goes on to have an awful last few months of the campaign or, and this is fairly important, picks up a season-threatening injury well before May?
But then we take on board what we’re actually seeing; a player who has been voted the best in England for this season when he really hasn’t been. To reiterate, if the season started in January then Bale would probably have much more of a leg to stand on. But where was he before that? Sure, he played a part in Tottenham’s win over Manchester United, but Robin van Persie practically wrapped up the season for United in those first few months. It’s what you get when you go into the market with purpose and ambition, and all that.
Then there’s Luis Suarez. I’m not too convinced that the wackier side to the Uruguayan should dictate whether he is awarded the personal gong for the season or not. Sometimes there are ways to create a clear distinction from football and ‘non-football’ incidents. But that one is still open for debate. Regardless, has Suarez been a player more deserving of the award than Bale? Absolutely. It doesn’t really need too much of an explanation. How much of Liverpool’s game goes through him? How often can you say Bale ‘goes missing’ in games?
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And then there’s the case of a couple of Spaniards. How much did Michu cost? I haven’t quite been able to pick up the exact figure amid the excitement that was generated following his arrival. So we’ve got a hugely impressive forward – although he’s actually a midfielder – who’s scoring for fun in England in his first season, and who was also instrumental in Swansea winning the League Cup in their second season in the top flight. Not too much of a big deal is it? I mean, here’s a trophy winner being completely ignored over a guy chasing a random position in the league. Oh yes, the top four counts as a trophy. Do excuse me.
But if anything, Juan Mata optimises what we should be paying to see in England. A player who has won everything from the World Cup to the Champions League, and if Chelsea have their way, Mata will land the Europa League later this month. He’s been nothing short of phenomenal since arriving in England, giving us a taste of the high level of football that is so regularly exhibited by his fellow countrymen on the international and domestic stage. Mata is a fine representative for the current greatest footballing nation on earth, and it really says a lot about how good they are that he can’t put together a sustained run in their starting XI. Oh, and here’s the important part: Mata has been outstanding all season, consistently proving to be Chelsea’s best player and racking up an eye-watering 18 goals and 26 assists. Where are the comparisons to Lionel Messi?
I’m not suggesting that Bale hasn’t been good; for much of this calendar year he’s been excellent. But when there is such a high concentration of fantastic and deserving players in England, isn’t it most appropriate to award personal accolades to the individual who actually won the league title?
Last season, no one really stood out in the way van Persie did – and I’m really not advocating the nonsense idea of a top four place being the equivalent of a trophy. But in that case he was the most deserving. This time around, a couple of months halted his procession to the winner’s circle for a second consecutive year.
But if that’s how we’re measuring the Dutchman’s loss at the final hurdle, then why are we awarding the prize to Bale? If it’s simply a marker of consistency and who has been the very best all season, there is only one obvious choice. Juan Mata is and has been far too good to be overlooked by the hazy view of the game in this country. Yeah sure, let’s blindly award pace and power and a burst of good performances over sustained excellence for an entire season.