Typically, the first week of April sees voting completed to determine this season’s PFA Player of the Year and if you believe the media buzz – and the Betfair odds – then Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes is already home and dry.
Certainly, the Portuguese schemer has some key traits in common with previous winners, being a consistently influential performer for a marquee club. He has been directly involved in 48% of United’s league goal tally this season and it helps his cause too that the Reds clearly miss him greatly when absent. Arguably one of the most storied clubs in the world has over-achieved this year and so much of that is down to a single individual.
Regrettably, the status of his employer is relevant because the biggest clubs have dominated this competition for decades and perhaps this rules out the 10/1 shout Jack Grealish who may be viewed as a big fish in a smallish pond at Villa. The last time a team residing outside of the top six boasted a winner was in 1996 with Tottenham’s David Ginola and no doubt his Gallic glamour was a contributory factor because the Player of the Year is, in part, a popularity contest.
The swoon-inducing Frenchman aside though and extending on the point, this is absolutely not a competition to back an outsider. Favourites usually win because voting is done by players rushed and distracted after training and so the obvious choice is selected. Furthermore, footballers don’t do niche.
So it’s Fernandes’ award for the taking? It’s in the bag? Not necessarily. Looking beyond the United midfielder there are several names who offer up terrific value and it matters too that some in the game regard the 26-year-old to be somewhat hyped in comparison to his peers.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 1.9110/11
Fernandes is 10/11 to succeed Kevin De Bruyne and take the individual crown and there are a number of reasons why this is a sensible punt.
Most persuasively it should not be under-estimated how big a role the media plays in swaying opinion and a simple Google search reveals that the United star is undoubtedly their man. To reiterate, players tend to plump for the easy pick and if others are saying Fernandes then who are they to argue?
That is not to downplay his personal achievements, however. The Portuguese international’s 16 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League to date is bettered only by Kane, Salah and De Bruyne and its pertinent that a quarter of his goal-haul have been match-winners.
Countering all this is a charge that he doesn’t turn up for the big games; an accusation that continues to linger, fair or otherwise. Voting players understandably err towards personal experiences when making their decision and will Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester City first-teamers scribble his name down if he’s caused them the minimum of bother?
A quick bit of trivia: If Fernandes is successful, he will be the first United recipient since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.
Ruben Dias (Manchester City) – 4.03/1
Dias is 3/1 to cap an outstanding debut campaign in English football with this meaningful honour but before you commit a few of your quids, first consider some unfortunate truths.
Manchester City have so often been over-looked in both the PFA and Football Writer’s awards since their rise to prominence in 2008 while defenders also tend to be taken for granted.
Yes, Virgil Van Dijk won in 2019, becoming only the sixth stopper in 47 years to be decorated and yes, Kevin De Bruyne took home the trophy last season. Beyond these two however there is a litany of truly brilliant centre-backs down the eras who have gone unrecognized. As for City, Yaya Toure missed out in 2014 despite having a phenomenal year while David Silva – possibly the purest, finest top-flight talent since Henry – never won.
It instinctively feels like this trend will continue with Dias which would be grossly unfair given the significant impact he’s had. Because no player has done more to turn around City’s fortunes of late and his partnership with John Stones is potentially one for the ages.
Staggeringly, the champions-elect have kept clean sheets in 61% of their competitive fixtures this term and this is largely due to the Kompany-esque leadership qualities of Dias who has transformed their back-line into a formidable unit. With him on the pitch City have conceded a goal every three hours and seven minutes this season.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) – 6.05/1
Kane at 5/1? Now we’re talking.
It shouldn’t be a factor but it is nonetheless that the Spurs striker is a popular and widely respected figure in the game who holds the venerated position of England captain.
Over and above this, the 27-year-old is enjoying a vintage year with 46 goal contributions in 47 games for club and country. Together with Son Heung-min they have scored 61% of Tottenham’s league goals and Kane individually is currently ahead in the leading goal-scorer and assist charts, on course to become the first player since Thierry Henry to ultimately top both.
Might it also be a possibility that Kane is rewarded this year for his remarkable consistency in recent times? Already a recipient of the PFA Young Player of the Year he has gone on to score 20+ goals in four from his last six campaigns – only failing to do so twice because of injuries – and been selected for the PFA Team of the Year four years’ running.
To repeat for effect: Kane at 5/1? Yes, please.
Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City) – 7.06/1
If Dias has remodeled a team then ‘Gundo’ has remodeled himself and this is no less impressive a feat given the German’s history of injuries and even when fit long being a peripheral figure at City.
Relishing the liberation of playing as an out-and-out number 8, Gundogan has more than compensated for Sergio Aguero’s long-term absence by chipping in with 16 goals across all competitions. Moreover, he has become the midfield metronome who makes a team storming their way to another title tick.
To fully illustrate his quantum leap the goateed maestro has scored 42% of his career City goals this season despite signing for them all the way back in 2016 and there is a further reason to believe his 6/1 odds are generous: The deadline for voting ends this week and players have short memories. Gundogan was the Premier League Player of the Month for both January and February.