Who deserves to win Manchester United’s Player of the Year award?
As I write this after United’s disappointing defeat at Stamford Bridge which ended the Reds hopes of claiming the Double, their sole focus will now be on reclaiming the league title. With United currently sitting pretty at the top of the table – 15 points ahead of neighbours City ahead of the derby on Monday night – it appears as though they should win a 20th league title which, despite FA Cup and Champions League disappointment, will equate to a successful season for the Reds in my opinion.
With eight games remaining, it’s that time of year when talk turns to the question of who deserves to be named United’s Player of the Year. Last year’s award went to Antonio Valencia but it’s safe to say that he isn’t going to retain the award after a disappointing season for the Ecuadorian. However, plenty of other players will feel they are in with a decent chance of getting their hands on the prestigious trophy. So without further ado, here are my top five contenders (in no particular order) for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year:
David de Gea
In his second season at United, the Spaniard – still only 22 – has blossomed into arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Yes, he’s not the finished product just yet but he has a game-winning knack of pulling off crucial saves, even if they can be somewhat unorthodox. Just think of his performances at Goodison Park, White Hart Lane and the Bernabeu and you can’t help but come to the conclusion that, in de Gea, United have a goalkeeper capable of pulling off saves that other ‘keepers simply cannot. His save from Juan Mata in the last minutes of the 2-2 draw of the FA Cup tie between the Reds and Chelsea at Old Trafford was illustrative of his world-class ability. An astounding save.
Despite the media pouncing on any hint of a mistake from de Gea, his form – after the 1-0 win at Sunderland, he has now kept six consecutive Premier League clean sheets – has been enough to dispel rumours that United are looking to replace the Spaniard in the summer. As de Gea has become accustomed to the physical rigours of English football, his mental and physical development has been clear for all to see; something that bodes well for future years. Something tells me United have a keeper…
Best Moment: His superb performance back in his home city of Madrid. On the biggest stage of all, de Gea pulled off countless fantastic saves, particularly in the 1st half, as the Reds repelled a Real barrage and came away with a crucial point.
It’s been another season of remarkable consistency from the fulcrum of United’s side. The only difference this season is that Carrick has finally received the recognition from the media – the deluded Stan Collymore aside – that his performances have deserved for a long, long time. He’s also finally been recognised in song by United fans with the chant of ‘It’s Carrick you knowww, hard to believe it’s not Scholes’ to the tune of Pilot’s Magic becoming somewhat of a terrace favourite.
The importance of Carrick to the Reds cannot be underestimated; without him in the side, United look a shadow of themselves. His fantastic positioning and reading of the game, timely interceptions and elegant passing are crucial to United functioning effectively; Carrick is the oil that makes the United machine run without a hiccup. Mr. Indispensable, Carrick has appeared in 29 of United’s 30 Premier League games, starting 27 of them, and as such has as much a claim as any other player to have played the biggest role in United’s march towards reclaiming the league title from their city rivals.
Best Moment: The assist for Javier Hernandez’s injury-time winner against Newcastle in the pulsating Boxing Day clash that ended 4-3 to the Reds. In torrential rain, that resulted in the Old Trafford pitch resembling somewhat of a bog in the last 10 minutes, Carrick still had the energy and composure to drive forward, look up and play an inch-perfect pass into the Mexican’s path who duly tucked it home and gave the Reds victory in a game that they had gone behind in three times. A late Christmas present for United fans.
Rio has produced one superb performance after another this season – his 11th at United – with the way he’s adapted his game over the last couple of seasons mightily impressive. Rewind back to two seasons ago and, with Ferdinand struggling with a variety of ailments that kept him out of the team for long periods, rumours abounded that his United career would be coming to an end sooner rather than later. Yet, Rio’s specific ‘pre-planned programme’ for his back injury has certainly paid dividends for the Reds – if, rather amusingly, not for England – with Rio making 28 appearances for United so far this season.
Though still no slouch, Ferdinand has made up for his declining pace by his superb reading of the game gained through years of top-level experience. Composed in possession, he also offers excellent distribution with his ability to spray a ball out to our wingers an important component of our attacking play at times. At the age of 34, he’s still one of the world’s top centre-backs, something his performances against the attacking talent of Real Madrid testify to, and it appears certain that United will offer him a much-deserved contract extension to tie him to the club for at least one more season.
Best Moment: His performances over the two legs against Madrid. Facing the skill and speed of top players such as Ronaldo, Higuain, Di Maria and Ozil, Ferdinand hardly put a foot wrong over both legs and looked like proving instrumental in United’s progression into the quarter-finals… until a certain Turkish referee intervened.
Robin van Persie
His signing provoked much delight from supporters; particularly as it appeared that van Persie had turned down City in favour of a move to Old Trafford. That delight has been well and truly justified as the Dutchman has fired home 23 goals in 39 appearances to make a mockery of certain journalists who claimed van Persie was injury-prone and would struggle to reach double figures.
It’s not just the sheer number of goals that have impressed. They say the true sign of a great player is the ability to perform when it truly matters, to produce moments which win games and there’s no doubt that van Persie has delivered on both those fronts. He’s scored winners at Anfield and the Etihad as well as goals at both Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane. And let’s not forget his brilliantly taken goal at Upton Park which kept the Reds in the FA Cup just as it appeared they would fall at the first hurdle.
Whilst his goals have somewhat dried up – rather alarmingly he’s now gone 568 minutes without a goal for United – since Christmas, there’s no doubting the fact that the Dutchman has played a pivotal role in United’s relentless quest to reclaim the league title. And one wouldn’t bet against the Dutchman ending his goal drought by putting City to the sword in the derby on Monday night.
Best Moment: It’s hard to pinpoint one moment of brilliance when there have been so many from the Dutchman. But, for me, it has to be his hat-trick at Southampton which gave United victory in a game they probably didn’t deserve to win. His first was a crisp left-footed drive. With United 2-1 down, Dutchman then missed a penalty when he tried to chip it down the middle. Lesser players may have faded after a miss of that nature. But not van Persie. He displayed a poacher’s knack to poke home after Ferdinand’s header had rebounded off the post with only three minutes remaining. That looked as though it would rescue United a point. But, oh no, he wasn’t done there. Deep into injury time, van Persie arched his back to head Nani’s corner past Kelvin Davis in the Southampton net to secure all three points and show that he also has the mental strength and never-say-die attitude that is inherent in the football club. A match made in heaven…
Rafael Da Silva
It had been clear over the past four seasons that Rafael possessed fantastic potential and had all the attributes needed to succeed at the highest level. Yet, like any young player, he was prone to inconsistency, lapses of concentration and moments of rashness for which he was often unfairly castigated. Yet, this season – in which he has been virtually ever-present – the Brazilian has been excellent, producing exemplary performances on a consistent basis. Never one to shirk a tough tackle, Rafael has improved immeasurably in the defensive aspect of the game over the last few seasons as his performance at White Hart Lane – where he kept Gareth Bale reasonably quiet – proved.
Yet, perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game this season has been his attacking prowess. With United’s myriad of wingers all having poor periods at some point during this season, the Brazilian’s willingness to bomb down the right flank has been an important part of United’s attacking play. He has been rewarded for it as well with three assists and three goals – including a sumptuous curling finish at Anfield and a thumping effort at Loftus Road which is a strong contender for United’s goal of the season – to his name. One can only hope that he’s rewarded for his work at United with a call-up for Brazil soon – mystifyingly he hasn’t been included in recent squads – because it would be a shame were the Brazilian to miss out on a place at the World Cup in his homeland next year.
Best Moment: His rocket of a strike at Loftus Road which gave United the lead against struggling QPR. Van Persie’s cross was only cleared to the edge of the penalty area where it was met by the right boot of Rafael who sent a screamer past his countryman Julio Cesar; the ball swerving into the top corner. Unstoppable.
So there you have it, my top five contenders for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year although honourable mentions must also go to Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck. It appears as though van Persie will probably be heavy favourite to claim the award. Or will his dry spell in front of goal result in the award going to someone like Carrick or Rafael who perhaps have produced more consistently this season? Time will tell.
Who do you think has been Manchester United’s Player of the Season?