Player of the Season awards at Manchester United in the last three campaigns has been quite a sober affair, an approporiate reflection of the football on the pitch.
Barring an inspiring alcohol-influenced speech from Louis van Gaal in the 14/15 edition – when he literally went ‘YESSSSS we go for it’ only to scrape fourth place in May, the awards have been largely deprived of things for fans and the club to shout about. If anything, the fact that the all important Sir Matt Busby’s Player of the Year award being handed to one player for three consecutive years – goalkeeper David De Gea, should explain the lack of consistently very good displays from outfield players in the said period to even stand a chance to win it.
Whatever happens this season in the run-in, whether Man United are in the Champions League next season or not, there is something in store for Man United fans to look forward to in the awards ceremony, which is seeing a different pair of hands scoop the famous prize at last. If Mourinho could deliver an equally passionate tirade like he does one of these days in the post match interviews, double the celebration.
I’ve picked three obvious candidates for the award, who I think absolutely deserve to be nominated for the final voting. As always, agree or disagree in the comments below.
3. Ander Herrera
This is the midfielder United fans knew they had in their hands right from the moment they signed him. The Spaniard has been exceptional this season under Mourinho and arguably one of the best all-round central midfielders in the league.
His numbers make for pretty good reading – highest number of interceptions in the league (84 – despite playing 5 games fewer than the second best), 6th highest number of tackles and 3rd highest number of successful passes in the league showing signs of how versatile he has been and can be for United under Mourinho in the future. Plus he has also demonstrated his ability to stick to a game plan and follow a tactical move against league leaders Chelsea when he marked the best attacking player in the league out of the game. And from the supporters’ point of view, Herrera has clearly taken to the club and gets what it means to pull on the shirt. Win-win.
He will be a very popular choice not only for the award at the end of the season but also the armband which has been passed around for a while.
2. Antonio Valencia
The winner of the award for 2011/12 has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in a new position (or old?) at United. One of the most consistent players at the club in the last 18 months, Valencia’s ability to run up and down, deliver crosses, put tackles in and just keep himself fit week in week out has been vital to United’s defence conceding the second least number of goals (only behind Spurs) in the last 72 games in the Premier League.
This is the Ecuadorian’s eighth season at Old Trafford and he has looked every bit as good under the Portuguese as he did all those years ago. Comfortably, the mose consistent players of the season, the 31-year old is a popular shout for the award – and will completely deserve it if he ended up winning the majority of the votes. And he’s got some serious backing from another full back who had a long career at Manchester United. Gary Neville weighed in recently about his pick for the prestigious award when he name-checked Antonio Valencia. He said,
“He would be my player of the season if I was casting my vote. If I told you back in, say, 2014 that, three years from now, Valencia would be the first name on the Man United team-sheet, you would have probably had me sectioned.”
1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Yes, Ibrahimovic is my Player of the Season for 2016/17. Alright now. Before you think this is borne out of some sympathetic reaction to the injury the 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered which means he may not play another game for Manchester United, you cannot be more wrong. Ibrahimovic has had a phenomenal season for United. Make no bones about it.
At 35, in a league that is as competitive physically and mentally as it has ever been, Ibrahimovic has performed and at times dragged his side over the finish line when things got really tough. Having scored almost a third of Man United’s goals in all competitions and some of them, really huge ones, it’s a shame that he won’t likely be involved with the club next year – a decision that he could now be forced to make.
He showed he was the man for the big occasion – debunking a few constantly regurgitated myths in the process. His hat-trick in arguably United’s most important game so far ensured Mourinho pick up an early silverware and smooth the rough edges in an otherwise mixed campaign.
The 35-year old will not be available to take the field if his side went all the way to Sweden where he is worshipped like no other, to win a European trophy they have never won in their otherwise illustrious history. But even if that weren’t the case, Zlatan Ibrahimovic should rest easy that he played a very crucial role in a very short time to the Red Devils not only winning silverware again but also reviving them in ways a certain Frenchman did, with a peculiar combination of finesse and arrogance, which is rarely out of place at Manchester United.