Manchester City have been underwhelming but Kevin De Bruyne is by far the best player in Premier League this season. So why's he not the favorite to win PFA Player of the Year award? There's a pattern to it.
The Premier League title may be decided but there's another major honour that is still up for grabs - The PFA Player of the Year award which is given to the league's best player each season. And while Kevin De Bruyne continues to show week in week out why he’s better than anyone else by a mile, it’s once again a Liverpool player that’s being touted as a favorite to win the award, something you could have guessed even before the season started.
For Manchester City players, it has been the same old story. The expectation from them is to win the title to be in contention for POTY until they actually win one and then it isn’t about the title but individual performances that matter. On top of it, the award being given a month before season-end only diminishes its credibility and raises questions as to how the most crucial phase of the league isn’t a consideration while voting for the best player. City players, more than anyone, know how individuals can turn around title races on their own when it matters.
But they also seem to come around the fact that for them winning titles AND putting in world-class performances consistently may not be enough to win the award, as was indicated by Bernardo Silva, who himself won the Manchester City Player of the Year award last season and was in contention to win PFA POTY along with fellow City player Raheem Sterling. This is what he had to say back in April during his Instagram live:
“I hope this is not a bad example, and people don’t take it badly. But I always think about the last three seasons, Man City and Liverpool.
“Three seasons ago we win the league and they were 30 points behind. Kevin De Bruyne, unbelievable season, Mo Salah, scores a lot of goals. He’s a great player and I admire him a lot, and they give the award to Mo Salah.
“The season after, very tight. Raheem Sterling was on the run with Van Dijk, they give the award to Van Dijk. This season again, Kevin De Bruyne, another unbelievable season. We’re behind, but because Liverpool are champions probably one of them is winning the award again.”
It is clear it’s not only the fans who feel this way towards the individual awards and the general media bias. The players feel it too and there’s a history behind it, which goes much beyond what Bernardo mentioned.
In City’s first title-winning season of 2011-12, Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero and David Silva were all nominated for the PFA POTY award. Joe Hart won the Golden Glove; Sergio Aguero scored an impressive 23 goals capped off by the most iconic Premier League goal, while no stat could measure the genius of David Silva on the pitch. But all were overlooked for Robin van Persie, who won the golden boot while his club finished 3rd.
Fast forward two years and a City player was again denied the award despite winning the title and despite producing one of the finest seasons by any midfielder ever! Yaya Toure swept aside almost anyone that came in his way on either side of the pitch and was instrumental in City’s title win. But again, he was ignored for Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez, and it left people wondering what else a title-winning midfielder would have to do to win this award?
Maybe winning a Golden Boot is too much to compete with but then…
The very next season, City failed to win the title, but Sergio Aguero won the Golden Boot, having scored goals for fun all season. So time for him to win the PFA POTY? You take a guess. Don’t we all know it’s not the individual performances but the titles that are a factor? Eden Hazard, who managed fewer goals and assists than Aguero’s goals alone, won the award this time, as Chelsea secured the title.
In the 2017-18 season, Manchester City won the title with record points, breaking and setting numerous records on their way. Kevin De Bruyne, who won the inaugural Playmaker of the Season award, was a key part of that title-winning side. This time around, City even secured the title before voting for the award started, and yet the Belgian was beaten by Liverpool’s Mo Salah to POTY award.
Similarly, in 2018-19, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were both key figures in Manchester City’s road to an unprecedented domestic treble but were overlooked for Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, a non-title winner again. And this time, even Pep had enough of it. He stated before the start of the current season:
“I’m not going to say that the guys nominated for this award don’t deserve it, but for example our players in the [PFA Team of the Year] there were five or six who made it. “It’s a little surprising for us because they were incredible last season. We won four titles but we were not able to be in it, not even once.
“When you win the Champions League you will be there. The other 10 or 11 months don’t count for this kind of award. It is what it is. Maybe we have to win five titles? Or maybe six? Maybe we need 250 points to be considered to be there next season? We are going to try.
“This club in eight years has won four Premier Leagues, so it’s quite remarkable. Never in these four seasons was one of our players nominated for the best. Never. “In eight years, winning the Premier League four times is good but never one player – not Sergio [Aguero], David [Silva], Vincent [Kompany], Yaya [Touré] – the players in the past were never suggested. “The year of 100 points, huge respect for Mohamed Salah, but Kevin de Bruyne were both beyond the normal situations. But it’s opinions, of course we accept other players still deserve it.”
Time to finally land the PFA POTY at the Etihad?
Coming to this season, and it couldn’t be more clear that not only is Kevin De Bruyne the best player in the league, he is also the best midfielder on the planet. He’s been consistent throughout the season, is leading the assists charts again, has created more chances than anyone else in Europe’s top 5 leagues, and has become the first player to enter double figures for both goals and assists in the league this season. In normal circumstances, one would believe he’s nailed on to win the POTY this time. However, since he also happens to be a Manchester City player, he currently sits behind Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson of Liverpool as a contender according to the bookmakers.
Unsurprisingly, with City’s failure to win the title, we’re back to believing that title wins are a necessary factor in determining POTY. For Sadio Mane, the argument put forward is that his goal contributions have been instrumental in Liverpool’s league win this season. Now it’s hard to believe that none of the City players were ever instrumental in any of the 4 title wins, but it’s also worth noting that despite being a forward, Mane has fewer goal contributions than De Bruyne.
As for Liverpool’s captain, one argument is his ability to “control” the tempo of the team, and the fact Liverpool lost 3-0 away at Watford in his absence is proof of that. But why would that be a proof of his ‘importance’ and not the Atletico Madrid defeat at home in his presence just 10 days later? If his leadership matters, why wasn’t it a qualification for literally any of the title-winning captains in the last decade?
And as far as defeats go, Kevin De Bruyne has started in all but 3 PL games this season and City lost all 3 of them, scoring only twice while conceding 7 times.
The Belgian, unlike Henderson, was carrying a team marred with inconsistencies and injuries. De Bruyne has created 30% of City’s big chances alone, has had a direct contribution in 33% of the team’s goals while having a goal involvement in 67% of league games he has started this season which not only proves his consistency but also his ability to stand out and change the course of the games on his own.
Henderson plays in a team where there are always at least 8 or 9 players on the pitch better than him who can easily cover up for his flaws with the form they have been in. De Bruyne, on the other hand, has not only been the best player in his team but has also stepped up time and again to cover up the flaws that emerged in the squad this season, scoring penalties being the most recent example of it.
Stats until Gameweek 32
The Belgian has been so dominant that Danny Murphy, who is a former Liverpool player, and is usually critical of the Manchester side, had this to say recently:
“The fact City will be doing it (Guard of Honour) on Thursday will show humility, saying "well done" to Liverpool and appreciation for their quality. I think it's a load of nonsense.
“Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder, probably, in the world, and he's clapping his hands and giving a guard of honour to players who can't even lace his boots.”
While one may or may not concur with his views on the tradition of Guard of Honour, these quotes say a lot about the difference in qualities between De Bruyne and any other Liverpool player.
It’s hard to believe that a club that has been so dominant over the past decade has never seen a POTY. Have they just been unlucky to always have a player from another club producing a better season or is the general media bias towards the ‘elites’ a reason behind it?
The cries for the latter will only grow if De Bruyne doesn’t get the award ultimately but regardless of that, I think we all can agree that the Belgian has been the best player in England this season and has been the best midfielder on the planet for quite a while now.
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