We’re approaching that time of year when footballers are asked to submit their votes for the Player of the Year. The deadline is a couple of months before the English season finishes, which is problematic, but that’s just the way it is.
So who deserves to win it in this strange season? Here is my six-man shortlist:
BRUNO FERNANDES (Man Utd, midfielder)
Premier League appearances so far: 27 (15 goals, 11 assists)
Bruno has carried Manchester United on his back for much of the season. He improves the players around him, which is no small feat when you look at the quality of United’s squad. His classy form has made the ‘Is Pogba worth the hassle?’ question largely irrelevant, and he is the sole reason why United are (just about) involved in the title race.
ILKAY GUNDOGAN (Man City, midfielder)
Appearances: 21 (11 goals, 2 assists)
Until recently, Gundogan – like City – was enjoying a terrific campaign under the radar. He’s that sort of player, a stealthy attacking weapon who reads the game as well as anyone in the Premier League. When Kevin de Bruyne missed five league games in a row with a hamstring injury at the start of the year, it was Gundogan who took up the slack, ensuring that City’s incredible winning run continued.
RUBEN DIAS (Man City, defender)
Appearances: 24 (1 goal, 14 clean sheets)
Dias admitted this week that he grew up watching the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and John Terry giving defensive masterclasses, and it’s clear he has learned a lot. The Portuguese youngster has formed a formidable central defensive partnership with John Stones, and it’s been the key to City’s solidity. He seems incredibly mature and composed for 23, has adapted to the Premier League with no fuss, and he should be a City mainstay for many years to come, with the potential to become a club legend.
JOAO CANCELO (Man City, defender)
Appearances: 21 (1 goal, 2 assists, 15 clean sheets)
Cancelo is the archetypal Pep Guardiola player. He ticks all of Pep’s boxes: for technique, creativity, attitude, intelligence and versatility. Indeed, Cancelo has the ability to play pretty much anywhere on the pitch, as he’s shown us often this season. Opponents can’t find it easy to plan for him, because you never know where he’s going to turn up. Traditional right-back? Check. Free-roaming playmaker? Check. Yet another innovative weapon in City’s multi-pronged armoury? You bet.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE (Man City, midfielder)
Appearances: 21 (3 goals, 11 assists)
Before the season kicked off, you might not have expected to see Gundogan, Dias and Cancelo on this list. De Bruyne, however, is a mainstay come awards season, and of course he was voted Player of the Year last season. De Bruyne has perhaps the best group of team-mates he’s ever had at City, and it has allowed him to shine once again. That said, he should have scored a few more league goals. Three (at time of writing) is a modest return for such a wonderful attacking player, although again I acknowledge that City share out the goals like no other team.
JACK GREALISH (Aston Villa, midfielder)
Appearances: 22 (6 goals, 12 assists)
Grealish has been out injured since mid-February, and boy have Villa missed him. I’ve missed him too. He’s been the most fun player to watch in the Premier League this season (honourable mention: Newcastle dynamo Allan Saint-Maximin), like a one-man Leeds United, and if there’s one thing fans have desperately needed in 2020/21, it’s fun. I just hope he recovers in time for the Euros; England will be a lot less fun without him.
VERDICT: A Man City player should probably win the award, as a reflection of the team’s collective brilliance. But collective brilliance makes it difficult for one player to stand out, and this is an individual award after all. With my heart, I would like to see Joao Cancelo get it because he is such an exceptionally versatile and unusual player. But I think there is only one reasonable choice for player of the year: Bruno Fernandes.
Bruno’s impact at Man Utd cannot be understated. He’s scored 12 more league goals than Kevin de Bruyne, for example, with the same number of assists and a far weaker supporting cast. If he’s looked a little knackered lately, you can’t blame him. That man has carried hard.