PFA Player of the Year 2012: Van Persie the leading candidate
Kieran Beckles takes a look at the nominations for this year's PFA Player of the Year award, with Van Persie the early favourite
The front-runner: Robin van Persie, Arsenal
Robin van Persie is the standout nominee in the six-man shortlist to collect the PFA Player of the Year award after a sparkling season for Arsenal. His goals have rescued Arsene Wenger and the Gunners from the brink of total disaster after humiliating defeats at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane at the start of the season. The 28-year-old has scored a remarkable 27 goals – a feat only bettered this season by La Liga’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Arsenal captain’s detractors will argue the Gunners’ lack of silverware must be taken into consideration. Wenger’s side look set to seal third place, despite Monday night’s defeat by Wigan Athletic, but were dumped out of the FA Cup in the fifth round and lost 4-3 on aggregate to AC Milan in the Champions League last 16. But based on performances alone and sheer consistency, Van Persie should become the first Dutch player to win the accolade since Manchester United’s prolific Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002, after Arsenal’s Denis Bergkamp picked up the award in 1998.
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Despite producing his second best tally for a Premier League campaign – the 26-year-old still has four games left to add three more goals to his total and eclipse his effort of 26 in 2010 – Wayne Rooney has endured a stop-start season. He began in emphatic fashion with an astonishing nine goals in his first five games, including successive hat-tricks against Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers. But Rooney went on a run of eight games without finding the net in October and November, in the same period that United suffered a premature exit from the Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson performed a master-stroke in luring Paul Scholes out of retirement, and the midfielder’s creativity, coupled with a rampant Antonio Valencia on the right wing, have helped Rooney find his goal scoring form. Should United win their 20th top flight title this term, the former Everton forward can lay claim to being the driving force behind their unprecedented success. Rooney, who won the award in 2010, will be Van Persie’s biggest rival come Sunday.
Sergio Aguero and David Silva, Manchester City
If Manchester City fail to win their first Premier League title this season, Roberto Mancini will be left to ruefully reflect on how a season which started so spectacularly unravelled so dramatically. Sergio Ageuro and David Silva were central figures in an explosive 5-1 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane, and then a mind boggling 6-1 rout at Old Trafford. But City struggled to navigate their way past a tricky festive period and Mancini’s side was hampered by Yaya Toure’s absence in January, highlighted by their third-round exit in the FA Cup, defeat by Liverpool in the Carling Cup semi-finals and a dramatic loss in the league at Sunderland. Both Aguero and Silva faded during this spell, the latter more noticeably so, and it has taken the shine of what has been an otherwise impressive campaign for the duo. Both would make history should they win the award – neither a Spaniard or Argentine has been crowned the league’s best by his peers. The statistics, while not quite as impressive as Van Persie’s, make good for reading. Silva has scored six goals and has 13 assists, while Aguero’s debut season in England has seen a return of 21 goals.
The outsider: Joe Hart, Manchester City
Joe Hart’s chances of becoming only the third goalkeeper to be crowned PFA Player of the Year, and the first since Peter Shilton in 1978, are slim. The 24-year-old may not have had the show-stopping impact of Aguero or Silva, but he remained instrumental in City’s title bid. Hart was particularly impressive in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield in November, producing a string of saves to ensure City left with a valuable point, and he continued his fine form as the Eastlands outfit edged to a 1-0 win against Arsenal a fortnight later. While Hart’s contribution can’t be undervalued, the England goalkeeper is overshadowed by Aguero’s goals and Silva’s creativity and is very much an outsider to break tradition and land the award.
The non-runner: Scott Parker
Scott Parker has never been short of admirers even before blossoming at Tottenham following his move to White Hart Lane in 2011. The 31-year-old is the polar opposite to most modern day footballers, and very much part of a dying breed of midfielders. The former Charlton Athletic youth graduate picked up Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award last season, but he will fall some way short of going one better this time round. Parker’s impact at Spurs rivals that of Gareth Bale – the England international is the final piece in Harry Redknapp’s midfield puzzle. But his form, along with Spurs’s momentum, has come to a grinding halt. Two victories in nine games have seen the north London club’s title challenge evaporate and their lead over Arsenal drizzle away. Even a top-four finish is far from certain and with no silverware, what appeared to be a promising season for Spurs could once again end in bitter disappointment – and the same can be said of Parker’s claim for the PFA Player of the Year gong.