Football Features

PFA Players’ Player award: De Bruyne looks set to stop Van Dijk joining exclusive club

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:53, 16 July 2020

The unprecedented 2019/20 season has thrown everything up in the air, including English football’s yearly prize-giving ceremonies.

No accolade takes a bigger stage than the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, which has been presented since 1974 and to date has recognised 41 different winners for their performances across a single campaign.

The current incumbent is Liverpool’s colossal Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk who is looking to create a piece of history. Across the 46 previous occasions this award has been handed out, just two players have successfully won it back-to-back.

Given how this season has shaped up, Van Dijk stands a great chance, especially as Jurgen Klopp’s newly-crowned champions possess the Premier League’s meanest defence. However, teammate and former winner Mohamed Salah has an outside chance.

Salah won it the year before Van Dijk, for his returning season in England, and if the Egyptian forward were to reign again then he would join an illustrious group of five men to have been named by their fellow peers as the best more than once.

The Fab Five

The first double winner came in the early 1990s when Manchester United striker Mark Hughes won his second prize in three seasons (1989 and 1991). Although he finished that season having registered 10 league goals across 31 games, his performances were enough to earn the Welshman the biggest recognition from those he spent the season playing against.

Hughes would spend four more years at Old Trafford, helping United to win the first two Premier League titles, before moving onto Chelsea, Southampton, Everton and Blackburn Rovers. It was at Ewood Park where Hughes finished an illustrious playing career by which time a managerial career — starting with his national team Wales — had already beckoned.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to let Hughes go was done with a view to freshen up his squad, hoping the replace the Welshman with a centre-forward he’d long courted, Alan Shearer, the second player to win multiple PFA POTY awards. His first success (1994/95) came on the back off guiding Blackburn Rovers to their first and only Premier League title with his second (1996/97) following 25 goals in 31 games for boyhood club Newcastle United, which proved to be his most prolific campaign with the Magpies – snubbing the move to Man Utd. Since hanging up his boots in 2006, Shearer dabbled in coaching and was in charge of the Newcastle side relegated from the Premier League in 2009, but has been more prominent as a television pundit.

It would be another seven years before Hughes and Shearer were matched, and naturally it was done by Thierry Henry, another of the league’s greatest goalscorers. The Frenchman also became the first player to win in consecutive seasons (2002/03 and 2003/04), when Arsenal were at the peak of their powers under Arsene Wenger, with Henry widely-considered Europe’s most feared marksman.

However, following their ‘Invincible’ campaign — which saw Henry win his second individual accolade — Arsenal would be overtaken by nouveau riche Chelsea eventually leading to the Frenchman joining Barcelona. After winning a first Champions League crown Henry would spend time playing for New York Red Bulls before taking up coaching, a disappointing spell at first club Monaco has since been forgotten now he’s at MLS outfit Montreal Impact.

Henry’s successor as the Premier League’s poster boy was undoubtedly Cristiano Ronaldo and, like his predecessor, the Portuguese forward won the award in successive years (2006/07 and 2007/08). By that point Ronaldo was realising his untapped potential, having originally started out as a pacy winger and was becoming increasingly predator-like — hungry for goals rather than creating them.

Despite their incredible stature, Manchester United couldn’t keep hold of Ronaldo when Real Madrid came calling in 2009. Moving to Spain, R0naldo reached a new plateau, becoming Los Blancos’ all-time leading scorer as well as substantially adding to his one Ballon d’Or won at United. Now entering the twilight of his career the Portuguese forward is showing no signs of slowing down. In 2019 Ronaldo became the first footballer to win a league title in England, Spain and Italy. His priority now is to end Juventus’ 24-year wait to be named European champions.

Real made Ronaldo the world’s most expensive footballer but that record lasted for just four years before Florentino Pérez outdid himself when signing Gareth Bale from Tottenham – a move no one would have seen coming at the start of his career. Initially a left-back, it was at Spurs when former boss Harry Redknapp decided to play him as a winger and the rest is history. He’d explode in his final season — registering 21 goals across 33 league games — which earned him a second PFA honour after first winning two years earlier. Still in Spain’s capital Bale’s long-term future remains unclear with current Zinedine Zidane not always sure about his explosive forward.

And the 2019/20 award goes to…

It very much feels like this season’s winner is going to come from one of two clubs, Liverpool or Manchester City, both of whom are clear of their top-six rivals. Reds skipper Jordan Henderson is the best bet from the champions but the favourite is City’s playmaking wizard Kevin De Bruyne, who is on the cusp of eclipsing Henry’s record for most assists in a Premier League campaign. De Bruyne has created 18 goals to date which is two fewer than his former Belgian national team coach produced during the 2002/03 season. Henry, like De Bruyne now, finished that season runner-up but nonetheless was named PFA POTY.

Uncrowned XI

Unsurprisingly, given the plethora of great-to-world class footballers that have graced English football’s top flight, there are some notable individuals who missed out on being honoured. We’ve compiled an XI featuring some of those names, many listed since retired, but one or two could break their duck in the foreseeable future.

  • GK: Petr Čech – Holds the Premier League record for most clean sheets (202) and won a record-equalling four golden gloves.
  • RB: Gary Neville – No right-back has created more Premier League goals (35) than the eight-time winner.
  • CB: Rio Ferdinand – Helped Man Utd win six Premier League titles across 10 seasons.
  • CB: Sol Campbell – Missed just three games in Arsenal’s historic unbeaten Premier League season (2003/04).
  • LB: Ashley Cole – Won the Premier League with two clubs (Arsenal and Chelsea) and created 31 goals.
  • DM: Patrick Vieira – Captained the Gunners as they became the first and only Premier League side to go an entire season without tasting defeat.
  • CM: Yaya Toure – Scored 20 goals in 35 games as Manchester City won the 2013/14 title.
  • CM: Frank Lampard – No player has scored more Premier League goals (177) from midfield than Chelsea’s all-time leading marksman.
  • AM: David Silva – Only five players have created more Premier League goals (93) than City’s four-time Premier League winner.
  • CF: Sergio Agüero – Most prolific foreign-born goalscorer in Premier League history and fourth on the all-time standings.
  • CF: Harry Kane – Has reached 20+ goals in four of his last six Premier League seasons.

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