The views and debate: Football experts decide who could win Mirror Football writers have speculated which Premier League star they think should win this season’s Player of the year award come May.
Virgil van Dijk.
It is not often defenders take individual accolades – Steve Nicol was the last from a back line to win the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award and that was in 1989. And he was hardly a conventional full-back, the last 25 PFA Player of the Year accolades, only one has gone to a defender, John Terry voted in by his peers in 2004-05.
Those who prevent rarely collect the same acclaim as those who create. But the transformative effect Virgil van Dijk has had on this Liverpool team is indisputable. He has become a towering leader of the team. In 47 Premier League matches since Van Dijk signed, Liverpool have conceded a mere 30 goals.
A serial pointer, he is a born organiser and has even chipped in with the odd goal or two. His rivals for individual gongs would be team-mate Sadio Mane and Manchester City pair Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero. It is a close call. But of the four, which one is the most crucial to his team’s fortunes? By a whisker, it is Van Dijk.
His figures this season – 21 goals and 12 assists – for club and country are sensational, Man City can win the quadruple and he is winning man of the match gongs on a regular basis. Earlier in the season, I would have said Sergio Aguero but I think Sterling has become even more important, he has become Pep’s go-to man.
But my only caveat is that if Liverpool win the title then I reserve my right to change my mind and pick Virgil van Dijk! Having once picked Scott Parker when he was at West Ham in 2011, and as much I like Scott Parker, the winner has to come from the champions, in my opinion.
The Manchester City winger has been a class act on and off the pitch this season, which is why he’s my player of the year. He has played at a consistently high level this season, scoring 19 goals and providing 16 assists, to underline his enduring value to City, having become one of their most influential players.
He has conducted himself with integrity, despite encountering appalling abuse from opposition fans, most notably at Chelsea earlier this season.
His courage in speaking out against racism, in particular the portrayal of black players in some sections of the media, using his profile and status to address such an important issue, showed just what an important role model he has become, something he demonstrated again by writing a letter of encouragement and support to a young player who had been racially abused.
By precept and example, the criteria by which the Football Writers’ Association vote for their Footballer of the Year, Sterling is the stand-out candidate this season.
Such a tough one this, with so many from Manchester City and Liverpool stepping up in what has been an incredible season. Has there ever been two teams going head to head at such a high level?
The real answer should be: whoever gets their side over the line, because it would look a bit stupid to name a Liverpool player for instance, and then City go on and win four trophies. But the demands of modern day media mean we can’t wait to see which hero emerges, so I’m going to give you a logical choice… at this precise moment in time – and that’s Virgil van Dijk.
City were magnificent last season, and are magnificent this season, with so many stand-out players. Liverpool weren’t anywhere near that level on a consistent basis, though obviously they had moments in the Champions’ League. But this season the Reds have matched their rivals stride for stride, so the question has to be, why? What has changed? The goalkeeper has made a difference, no doubt, but the biggest difference of all has been van Dijk.
He is the one constant in a defence that has seen him have FIVE different centre back partners. And they have been the best defence in the Premier League. That tells you something. It tells you the difference he has made. And that difference makes him the season’s stand out player. So far.
Virgil van Dijk.
Let’s be honest – defenders rarely get a look-in when football’s ‘Oscars’ are handed out because we pay ticket money or TV subscription to be thrilled, right? We want prolific strikers banging in the goals, we want spectacular hits from 30 yards and we want skills on a par with snooker trick shots, not destructive forces breaking up attacks or thwarting the great entertainers… don’t we? But every time I am tempted to arrange the letters on Mirror Football’s bunting to spell out Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero or Bernardo Silva’s name as player of the season, a £75million Dutchman veers into view.
Yes, Van Dijk made an uncharacteristic mistake at Fulham on Sunday – a collectors’ item up there with rocking horse droppings for rarity – but he has been simply immense this season. Liverpool have the best defensive record in all four divisions, and a large part of that is down to Van Dijk.
If the title goes back to Anfield after a 29-year wait, he will be the kingpin of Liverpool’s triumph. Van Dijk is not just the best player in the Premier League – right now, he looks like the best central defender in the world.
Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mane are worthy candidates but Manchester City are still in the running for a historic quadruple because of the Argentine’s goalscoring. He now has 28 in all competitions, including the late FA Cup winner at Swansea on Saturday and five to take City into the Champions League quarter-finals.
And he is the top scorer in the Premier League with 18 – at a rate of 107 minutes per goal – in a City team that has lacked the fluency of last season but can rely on his goals. Despite all the breadth of talent at his disposal, Pep Guardiola’s squad will retain the Premier League trophy because of Aguero
I always believe it is better to reward an attacking footballer when it comes to awards because it is far more difficult to create than destroy. There appears to be a heavy consensus of opinion surrounding Virgil Van Dijk. He is a Rolls-Royce of a defender, no arguments here about that.
For me, there is as much merit in the argument that Sergio Aguero’s brilliance is continually overlooked. We take it for granted he will score goals by the bucketful because that’s what he does, week in, week out. Year in, year out. And we probably overlook his claims to prizes such as these because he plays for Manchester City.
Yet again, he’s up there in the goalscoring charts. It’s likely he will end up with another haul in excess of 30 goals this season, helping Manchester City to who-knows-how-many prizes.
Obviously, Pep Guardiola does have options in Gabriel Jesus. But my vote – and it’s probably because the bloke does have credit in the bank from not being chosen in previous years – goes to the prolific Argentine.
With honourable mentions to Heung-min Son and Virgil van Dijk, it has to be one from the Manchester City triumvirate of Sergio Aguero, David Silva or Bernado Silva. The run-in will dictate which one edges out the other two but, with a rub of the crystal ball, my money’s on Aguero.
His introduction made the difference against Swansea on Saturday in the FA Cup and if City are going to go on to win the Quadruple then the Argentinian’s goals will be decisive.
The best way to silence your critics is to let your football do the talking. Raheem Sterling gets that. He has been nothing short of sensational this season. He proved at the World Cup that he can be England’s most important player and now he has done the same for Manchester City.
Sterling heads into this international break with 15 Premier League goals and nine assists. It’s 21 and 12 if you include every game he has played this season, internationals included.
Under Pep Guardiola in recent years, Sterling has kept his head down and worked harder than most to improve his game – and he is reaping the rewards now. He is often unplayable, if City were to go on and win the quadruple, Sterling’s contribution will have gone a long way to helping it happen.
Virgil Van Dijk, but it comes with a caveat when the discussion turns to the PFA Player of the Year. After the stick dished out last May, they surely can’t give a Liverpool player the award again if Manchester City win the Premier League.
Van Dijk is probably the first £75million Premier League bargain, you can only imagine how dull things would be had Pep Guardiola really pushed to sign the Southampton central defender. The title would have been done and dusted before the turn of the year.
Van Dijk has been the division’s top performer but expect Sergio Aguero or perhaps even Raheem Sterling to win the PFA award if City take the championship.