The nominations for this season’s PFA Awards were announced this week, with every nominee for Player of the Year or Young Player of the Year coming from one of the Premier League’s ‘elite’ sides.
Three are from Manchester City (Sergio Agüero, Joe Hart and David Silva), two from Manchester United (Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck), two from Arsenal (Robin van Persie and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), three from Spurs (Scott Parker, Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker), and one from Chelsea (Daniel Sturridge).
In fact, since 2006 only three of the 35 players nominated for Player of the Year have come from outside one of these sides. The last player to win the award from a team that finished outside of the top six was David Ginola (Spurs) in 1999, and before him Mark Hughes (Manchester United) in 1989. Matt le Tissier (Southampton) is the last person to win the Young Player Award from outside the top six, back in 1990, though Scott Parker played for both Charlton and Chelsea in 2005, the year in which he won the award.
Although I accept that the players nominated this year, and every year, may be fully deserving of the award, I find the level of elite team bias astonishing. The PFA, more than any organisation, should be able to recognise the contributions made by players to all teams. Just because a player’s efforts don’t result in a trophy or a European place, does not make them any less significant. Relatively speaking, are the achievements of Grant Holt, Stéphane Sessègnon and Danny Graham any less important than those of Rooney or Agüero?
Newcastle present the most astonishing case this year. Despite a spectacular season, even the possibility of a top four finish is not enough to see their players recognised. Few would have begrudged Demba Ba, Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini or Cheick Tioté a place on one of the shortlists. One problem often cited in relation to these awards is that the voting takes place in January, but that does little to explain this particular case as Newcastle were flying just as high then as they are now. In fact, Ba would have been a far more obvious choice in January than at this stage of the season, having taken a back seat to Papiss Demba Cissé.
The PFA Awards would surely mean more if they recognised the achievements of players relative to their individual situation, rather than simply parading the best and most expensive talent from the top flight’s elite.
The Young Player Award similarly, could represent something much greater. Instead of nominating players who have scored the most goals or created the most chances, why not focus on those who have shown genuine signs of progression and maturation? Sturridge, Walker and Welbeck all fit this mould, but Agüero and Bale’s success has come of little surprise given their past records. And as for Oxlade-Chamberlain, how someone with only five league starts this year can be nominated ahead of the likes of Joe Allen, Jack Colback or Krul is beyond me.
If the PFA Awards are meant to showcase the best talent the Premier League has to offer then so be it; in this case, the correct choices have been made. But there is so much more to football than this. They could be a unique opportunity to recognise the efforts of the individuals who have truly made a difference to a club, no matter what position they occupy in the table or even what league they are in. A level playing field in terms of recognition and exposure is something that is all too rare in the modern game – surely there would be no more appropriate place for one than at an awards ceremony at which players honour their fellow professionals.
It’s time the PFA remembered that, as fans up and down the country will testify, it’s not all about the teams at the top.