April 2017 and another season is drawing ever closer to its conclusion. Chelsea look set to claim their fifth Premier League title; Sunderland only have a few more weeks before the warm embrace of the Championship consumes them and Arsenal fans are still doing the proverbial ‘Hokey Cokey’ over Arsene Wenger (that’s what its all about).
It seems appropriate to begin reflecting on what has been, in comparison to last year, a rather underwhelming season. Still how could you possibly top Leicester’s heroics? In short, you cannot. One of the Foxes’ marvels was Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian twinkle toes was awarded the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award in recognition of his integral part in a fairytale which, to this day, seems incomprehensible.
An individual award in a team sport seems an odd notion. Still, in a world where medals are apparently given to those simply for taking part, it seems apt we reward our best and brightest with glittering trophies.
The PFA Young Player of the Year 2015/16 was awarded to Dele Alli. A swashbuckling teenager with frightening raw talent. Now, a year on, he is no longer a teenager but a 21-year old with medium-rare talent and a great chance of retaining this coveted prize. It will not be easy though. His opposition includes Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Romelu Lukaku, Leroy Sane and Harry Kane.
In a Sunderland team lost at sea under the stewardship of Captain Moyes, Jordan Pickford (and Jermain Defoe) represents a beacon of light in the depressing darkness. A long-term injury to Vito Mannone at the beginning of the season afforded Pickford the chance to seize the first team mantle, and seize it, he did.
If you study his Premier League record, it does not make for pleasant viewing. Just 3 clean sheets and 43 goals conceded. Still, when you factor in the white flag the Sunderland defence have been waving all season you realise just how impressive these statistics are.
Behind Burnley’s Tom Heaton, he has made the most saves in the league; he is more than capable in aerial duels and is exceedingly quick off his line, without being reckless. Traditionally, goalkeepers do not mature fully in their position till their late 20s or early 30s. With Pickford, however, his growth in the role has seen Sunderland concede less than they should have and will lead to many Premier League suitors in the near future.
In terms of young English talent, Michael Keane is another worthy nominee of the PFA award. Along with his colleagues in the Burnley defence, they have turned the unassuming Turf Moor into a fortress. A mere 14 goals have been conceded at the Burnley ground this season, even more impressive when you consider the potency of many a strike force in the Premier League.
His assured manner marks him out as wise beyond his years. His actions are measured and although their away form has been far from perfect, he is likely to go on to bigger and better things in the near future. Along with John Stones, Keane threatens to dominate the centre back role for his nation for years to come and it seems only fitting that he is included in this year’s shortlist.
The Premier League’s top goalscorer is the indomitable Romelu Lukaku. Arguably one of the strongest candidates for the award, he has power and precision in enviable measures. His 23 goals in the league, none of which penalties, have illustrated a young man at the top of his game with a range of finishing many top strikers could scarcely dream of.
Everton now represent a Tour de Force and this is largely down to the blisteringly hot Belgian. One small reservation may be his anonymity in certain games. Nevertheless, with his emergence at such a tender age, we often forget how far this man still has to go. If he is able to unlock his considerable potential, he will reach the very top.
Of all Guardiola’s singings for Manchester City, Leroy Sane represents the smartest of investments. His statistics do not seem to reflect his potency. He has astonishing pace, allowing him to stand up defenders with consummate ease and draw others into the game with masterful trickery. He does not seem to represent the strongest of challengers for the award but to not recognise his extraordinary talent would be truly foolish.
Harry Kane must now be considered one of the elite strikers in Europe. In 23 Premier League appearances he has scored 19 and assisted four. He is essentially worth a goal a game. These are the type of numbers synonymous with messers Messi and Ronaldo.
Now this may comparison may be a stretch, yet there is no denying the Englishman’s ability. He has an insatiable hunger for goals and seems so assured in the box. He can score any kind of goal and can engineer a spark from the remotest of chances. Had he have played more, we might be looking at a two time recipient of the award. Instead, we move to the final candidate. The aforementioned Dele Alli.
It seems fashionable to wax lyrical about Dele Alli at the present moment and why wouldn’t it? At just 21 years of age he seems to be the complete package. A central midfielder who has scored 16 goals and assisted five more. Normally a young professional would look to a senior figure for guidance and somehow he seems to be the senior figure already.
Aside from a little petulance, he is reliable in defensive situations and lethal in attacking ones. His growth has been exponential since his days at MK Dons and this improvement shows no signs of ceasing. Under the guidance of the brilliant Mauricio Pochettino it seems only a matter of time before he stands with his Tottenham teammates atop the Premier League rostrum. He is, even with the wealth of young talent, the best young player in England.