Ranking Every Winner of the PFA Player of the Year Award
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The 2016-17 PFA Player of the Year award is set to be announced on Sunday. The shortlist of six is generally believed to be headed by two truly outstanding performers—N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard—but the buzz and speculation over who will be awarded the trophy refuses to die down.
In preparation for the announcement, Bleacher Report has cast its mind back to recall all of the previous winners from the Premier League era (1992-93 onward) and rank them according to how incredible their seasons were.
Team trophies play a small part, but this ranking generally focuses on the individual. How imperious were they? How much destruction did they weave en route to glory? Which PFA Player of the Year was the best of them all?
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24. David Ginola, Tottenham Hotspur (1998-99)
Under no circumstances has a PFA Player of the Year ever had a bad season, but while David Ginola played well in 1998-99, it is generally believed he won because the voting between Manchester United and Arsenal players was so incredibly split. In the year United won the treble, a Red Devils player probably should have won this award too.
23. Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur (2010-11)
Bale won his first Player of the Year among a weakened field. It’s arguable the tipping point was his frankly ridiculous performance against Maicon and Inter Milan at the San Siro, though given the PFA award is for achievements in English football, that shouldn’t have really factored in.
22. Ryan Giggs, Manchester United (2008-09)
Giggs played well this season, but there is a general acceptance that this was more of a lifetime-achievement award. One of the Premier League’s best and most consistent players for close to two decades had never won the honour, so that error was corrected.
21. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Manchester United (2001-02)
Van Nistelrooy’s first season in the Premier League was a belter. He netted 23 goals in 32 league games and set a domestic record for goals scored in consecutive games. That said, he was a slightly contentious pick, with Arsenal winning the league that season and both Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires sparkling.
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20. Les Ferdinand, Newcastle United (1995-96)
Ferdinand joined Newcastle United at the beginning of this season, costing £6 million from Queens Park Rangers. He plundered just shy of 30 goals as the Magpies looked to be heading for the title, but they were eventually beaten by Manchester United—and he was pipped to the top-scorer crown by Alan Shearer.
19. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United (2006-07)
The least remarkable of Ronaldo’s three golden seasons in English football but still quite the whirlwind ride. His transition from prospect to elite performer began moving through the gears here.
18. Eden Hazard, Chelsea (2014-15)
Chelsea had won the league by Christmas, with Eden Hazard the best player in a side that was winning games at a canter. His return of 14 league goals from the wing impressed, but even better was his dazzling footwork and ability to make the difference in so many games.
17. Thierry Henry, Arsenal (2002-03)
Arsenal were beaten to the Premier League title by Manchester United this year, and had the PFA votes been a little later, perhaps Van Nistelrooy would have scooped the crown instead. He beat Henry by one goal in the end (25 to 24) and scored three hat-tricks that season.
16. Teddy Sheringham, Manchester United (2000-01)
United finished 10 points clear at the top of the table, sauntering to the title with ease, so one of their players was always going to get it. Sheringham was top scorer—though only with 15.
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15. Paul McGrath, Aston Villa (1992-93)
McGrath received the award when Villa looked set to win the league and ultimately didn’t. The fact he was able to play to such a high level despite not being physically able to train due to issues with his knees impressed everyone.
14. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (2005-06)
Gerrard’s injury-time FA Cup final goal to help haul in the trophy was a just reward for a strong year. He’d already been voted PFA Player of the Year weeks before after his best-ever scoring season, but the final goal added a nice seal of legitimacy.
13. Robin van Persie, Arsenal, (2011-12)
Scored 30 Premier League goals and added 10 assists for good measure as he almost single-handedly carried Arsenal to a top-four finish. The next-highest scorer in Arsenal colours was Theo Walcott—with eight.
12. Alan Shearer, Newcastle United (1996-97)
Shearer top-scored in the Premier League that season with 25 goals. If that seems low for him, it’s because he missed a chunk of games due to a hernia operation—what might have been for Newcastle’s title hopes had he not? At the end of the season, Barcelona started sniffing around; he was deemed to be that good.
11. John Terry, Chelsea (2004-05)
Chelsea’s 2004-05 season yielded a record points tally in the Premier League (95), and they recorded a domestic double under Jose Mourinho. They conceded just 15 goals in the division that season. Fifteen! Roman Abramovich was splashing the cash, but their defensive bedrock was an academy product.
10. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City (2015-16)
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The true fairytale of the Premier League era, Leicester City’s 2015-16 triumph was nothing short of astonishing. Having only just avoided relegation the season before (having been promoted to the division that year), they stormed the league and won it with games to spare.
True, they took advantage of a cluster of big clubs having down years, but several of the Foxes’ players elevated themselves to a level far beyond what many thought capable, with Riyad Mahrez the trickiest, deadliest, most aesthetically pleasing of the lot.
The Algerian’s 17 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League was downright preposterous; he made established, top-tier full-backs look like fools throughout the season, as he continually made the difference game after game. His step-overs, flicks, ingenuity on the ball and penchant for a golazo endeared him to the hearts of all.
9. Roy Keane, Manchester United (1999-2000)
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Manchester United won the Premier League by an astonishing 18-point margin in 2000. Each and every one of their players performed to the highest level as the title was secured weeks in advance.
Roy Keane was seen as the driving force—the leader—in that exceptional midfield. Some argued he should have won PFA Player of the Year the season before (when United won the treble), but any perceived wrongs were righted the following season.
8. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United (2009-10)
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The 2009-10 season may well have been Wayne Rooney’s best—at least from a domestic standpoint. Rarely was he more feared as a presence.
His 26 Premier League goals led Manchester United to within a point of the title, pipped by Chelsea, but his efforts in the League Cup secured them a trophy for that season. He came off the bench to head home against Aston Villa late on at Wembley Stadium, completing a come-from-behind victory.
That it was a header which procured the team’s only piece of silverware that year was fitting; this was the campaign in which Antonio Valencia’s crosses were consistently thumped home by the Englishman, as he temporarily became one of the finest aerial presences in football.
7. Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur (2012-13)
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Gareth Bale’s exploits in 2012-13 paved the way for a move to Real Madrid. So impressive was he, that by the final stages of the season, each newspaper report linking him to the Santiago Bernabeu was treated with an increasing degree of seriousness; by the summer, we were all resigned to his inevitable departure.
His 21-goal haul that campaign was impressive in its own statistical right, but key to him winning the PFA Player of the Year award was just how many of those won Tottenham games. Four years on, it’s still easy to recall thunderbolt strikes against West Ham and Southampton that single-handedly secured his team points.
It was the season the Welshman grew into the player we know now—a physically dominant, unstoppable star who can play across the pitch and impact in any area. He even spent some time playing as the No. 10, and in one particular north London derby, he ran riot in the spaces between the lines.
6. Luis Suarez, Liverpool (2013-14)
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Luis Suarez represented a man possessed in 2013-14. Suspended for the first six games of the season after biting Branislav Ivanovic in the campaign before, he set about making up for lost time quickly.
From just 33 Premier League appearances, he produced 31 goals and 12 assists. His Liverpool fell short of the title by a hair, but he was the major driving force in his side’s effort.
Suarez represented an irrepressible force who never knew when to quit. He hounded defences, injected his side’s play with energy, allowed them to rely on outscoring the opponent and created space for others.
It’s hard to believe when looking at the statistics, but he was also somewhat selfless, rarely gunning for glory solo and playing a key part in the team dynamic—despite notching more than 30 himself.
5. Alan Shearer, Blackburn Rovers (1994-95)
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Blackburn Rovers’ 1994-95 Premier League title was no Leicester 2015-16 fairytale, but it was still a tremendous achievement. Look back through the list of title winners from that decade and they stick out as the anomaly of the era.
The man who forcibly shoved them over the line was Shearer. With the team wavering towards the end of the season—and with many predicting they’d fall just short of a fast-approaching Manchester United—Shearer scored a volley of crucial goals to ensure Rovers were crowned champions.
His 34 Premier League strikes matched Andy Cole’s tally from the season before, and that number hasn’t been bettered since.
4. Eric Cantona, Manchester United (1993-94)
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Manchester United’s haul of 92 Premier League points in 1993-94 remains the second-highest tally of this era. They won the league by eight points having led for almost the entire season, scoring freely and racking up a goal difference of plus-42.
Key to that entertaining, overwhelming approach was Eric Cantona. Credited with transforming the outlook of an already-excellent Red Devils side, he added what Giggs labelled in his book as an “extra dimension” to the side (h/t ManUtd.com).
A scorer, a creator and a strong personality, he played a major part in United securing a domestic double that season, emerging as one of the finest creators and passers in the league, and netting 18 Premier League goals too.
3. Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal (1997-98)
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Arsenal’s 1997-98 team was so good that it’s often compared to 2004’s Invincibles. From back to front they were brilliant, but the “catalyst,” as manager Arsene Wenger put it (h/t the Irish Times) was Dennis Bergkamp.
Some of the goals he scored in that season were simply eye-popping. The calibre of his play was so ingeniously high, the vote tallies that year saw him garner more than 50 per cent en route to securing PFA Player of the Year.
His hat-trick against Leicester was an example of how his touch, technique and vision would leave defences with absolutely no chance of stopping him. But he also mixed in a glut of assists, making players look fools as he ghosted past them before laying it on a plate for a colleague.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United (2007-08)
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We nearly put Ronaldo top; it was such a close call.
The season he put together in 2007-08 was nothing short of jaw-dropping. It completed his transition from best in the Premier League to among the best in the world, a journey recognised when he won the Ballon d’Or later that year.
He brushed aside all who stood in his path, reinvented his free-kick technique to make them temporarily unstoppable, and he notched a whopping 31 goals in Premier League. He breached the 40-mark in total across all competitions.
Speed, power, confidence and incredible shooting ability helped morph him from spindly winger to the monstrous wide forward we still see performing today.
1. Thierry Henry, Arsenal (2003-04)
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The 2003-04 season saw an incredible Arsenal team negotiate the entire Premier League campaign unbeaten. They were thus nicknamed “The Invincibles,” and no team has managed the feat since.
There were star performers all over; players in each line, ranging from defence to attack, played some of the finest football of their lives. But one shone brighter than every other, and that was Thierry Henry.
His 30 Premier League goals that season saw him lead the scoring charts by a distance—eight ahead of Shearer (22), and 10 ahead of both Louis Saha and Van Nistelrooy. The way he slalomed through defences and flummoxed goalkeepers earned him a deserved reputation as the most feared forward in the division.