PFA awards badly in need of reform?

On April 17th, players from all over the country will be attending the PFA Awards Ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. Six lucky players in particular will be hoping their names will be read out as the PFA announces the annual winner of its highly prestigious PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award.

Last year Wayne Rooney made it four Manchester United winners on the trot, following Cristiano Ronaldo (twice) and then Ryan Giggs in 2009. But what of the nature of the award itself and how is it balloted?

The PFA itself draws up a six-player shortlist of contenders by February based on players’ performances throughout the season so far. The PFA’s 4,500 members across the country then cast their votes with winners announced in April.

But there are clearly shortcomings in the awards. Whilst the vast majority of members do vote and the shortlist enables clarity in the results, the shortlist system itself is flawed. For example, what about the players who ply their trade in the lower leagues and come no closer to playing the shortlisted players than you or I and base their judgements on word of mouth or TV highlights? Surely their votes would be much better spent on players they play against and have experience of.

And, the shortlist itself is usually drawn up by February when teams might have upwards of ten games still play. Of course these are not just any ten games, but often those that define a team’s success or failure – therefore a crucial stage of the season is excluded. What if, hypothetically say, Didier Drogba was to score upwards of ten goals in Chelsea’s remaining eight games and they closed the gap on Manchester United and won the title. This would be astonishing and surely season-defining, yet he would be completely overlooked by the PFA Awards. Similarly, look at Gareth Bale of Tottenham. Admittedly he had a fantastic first half of the season but has struggled with injury since January. The injury might still reoccur and he could miss the rest of the season, yet would still remain one of the six shortlisted potential winners. This is all hypothetical, of course…

Players are also restricted from voting for teammates. Whilst this could prevent bias at some of the larger clubs it removes a clear sense of democracy from the awards. In general elections MPs are allowed to vote for themselves and their own parties so why should players be restricted from voting for the player they genuinely believe deserves the award the most?

There is clearly still merit in the awards as an internal gauge of how members of the PFA feel top-level players have performed. Seven out of the previous ten winners have also gone on to win Football Writers’ Association’s Footballer of the Year Award the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year Award and there are rarely shock winners. But, bearing in mind the result comes from a democratic vote cast for the whole season, the system is clearly in need of reform.

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