Ferdinand thinks so, but has Nasri been the player of the season so far?
The Arsenal man has won acclaim – but no awards yet. Sam Wallace considers other contenders for the game's annual prizes
Friday 21 January 2011
If Samir Nasri has, in Rio Ferdinand's words, "maybe been player of the season so far" then who is the competition? The England captain was commenting via Twitter in the aftermath of a standing ovation for Nasri at Elland Road on Wednesday night that included some of the Leeds United fans.
This year, the winners of both main awards are hard to call. The players vote for the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Player of the Year award around now on the basis of performances in the previous calendar year and it can produce unusual results.
Remarkably, this year it is hard to see any Chelsea player triumphing, although they won the Double in 2010. The poor performance of the England team at the World Cup in the summer is also bound to have had an effect on voting.
The Football Writers' Association vote is around April/May and is based more upon performances in the current season. But often it still gets decided before the completion of the big competitions. All we can say for sure is that last season's double-award winner Wayne Rooney will not need to dust off the dinner jacket this time.
Samir Nasri, Arsenal
The prime example of the thinking footballer, Nasri is predominantly right-footed and likes to come in from the left wing on his stronger foot. But he has showed this season especially that he can play anywhere in that line of three in Arsène Wenger's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
His 14 goals in 28 appearances say a lot about his superb finishing and his confidence to dribble in the opponents' penalty area to make room for a shot. Wenger also uses him as a playmaker in the absence of Cesc Fabregas.
The big question is: can Nasri justifiably win a player of the year award if Arsenal again look like winning nothing? His supporters will point to the example of Rooney who won both awards last season despite Manchester United finishing the season without a cup.
The PFA award tends to favour players who win trophies. You have to go back to Spurs' David Ginola in 1999 for a PFA winner who had not won any of the major prizes. This season could prove different because of the open nature of the title race but a trophy – even the Carling Cup – would help Nasri's cause.
Carlos Tevez, Manchester City
Can you lose votes by making a major mid-season transfer request? It will be interesting to see if that affects Tevez's standing in the eyes of his fellow professionals when the PFA votes are counted. Although they do not like to say so in public, footballers can be very critical in private of team-mates who cause problems for their clubs.
That aside, Tevez has been more crucial to Manchester City than any other player, although Vincent Kompany has run him close. Energetic, enthusiastic and with 14 goals in 20 league appearances, we have seen the best of Tevez this season. His goal against Leicester City in the FA Cup on Tuesday was a classic example of his ability to make something from nothing.
Like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, Tevez has proved that he can carry City when they have struggled for goals. That appeals to voters in both awards. So too does his consistency and commitment. But even looking past those attributes, it is the sourness associated with Tevez, that occasional lack of joy, that conflicts with the way he plays the game which might count against him
Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United
This time last year, having played one more game (22) than they have this time, Manchester United had already lost five Premier League matches. This season, Rooney has still not hit form and Dimitar Berbatov blows hot and cold. This season it is the defensive performances that stand out, and Vidic and Ferdinand in particular.
Both benefit from each other's presence and they complement each other well. Ferdinand has been excellent but Vidic just edges it. He is the most aggressive centre-half in the league and his performance on Sunday against Peter Crouch, who embarrasses a lot of famous defenders, demonstrated that on his day, Vidic can rescue games for United.
Defenders are not popular winners of the PFA award. Before John Terry won it in 2005 you had to go back to 1993 for the previous defender to win, Paul McGrath. That old football adage that it is "easier to destroy than create" is also likely to figure in the minds of voters. To which Vidic could justifiably answer "You try marking Fernando Torres". More likely to be a winner if the vote is split elsewhere.
Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur
A racing certainty for the PFA's Young Player of the Year award, he could also be the third player after Andy Gray and Cristiano Ronaldo to win both in one season. Certainly if the PFA award is voted on purely on performances in the calendar year of 2010 it would be hard to see past Bale.
What will count against him is the fact that Spurs won nothing in that year, although it could be argued that Champions League qualification is a good equivalent. Bale has certainly been the most exciting player of 2010, especially his two performances against Internazionale.
While the PFA award is supposed to be based on the year, there is a tendency to take into account previous seasons and consistency over a period of time – the victory of Ryan Giggs in 2009 was a classic example of that. Seeing as Bale has compressed the vast majority of his career highlights into 2010 that might count against him in the minds of some of his fellow professionals.
Nevertheless he is fast, direct, skilful, a great crosser of the ball and a goalscorer as well. If this is not to be his year then Bale will surely be picking up one or both of the awards before long.
Rafael van der Vaart, Tottenham Hotspur
He has the kind of profile that wins the FWA award – a charismatic foreign footballer without a particularly high-profile arrival but who subsequently went on to outstrip all expectations. Think Robert Pires, a winner in 2002. As for the PFA award, Van der Vaart has only been in the English game since August, although he is the kind of player that his fellow professionals appreciate.
Not blessed with a great deal of pace or a particularly imposing physique, Van der Vaart has to get by with his brilliant touch and a vision and awareness that puts him in the right place at the right time. He brings a lot of experience to a relatively young team.
There are still many in the Netherlands who believe that if Bert van Marwijk had started with Van der Vaart against Spain in the World Cup final instead of one of either Mark van Bommel or Nigel de Jong then it might have been a different story.
For Spurs the goals have made a huge difference – 11 in all competitions. He is the first-choice striker/playmaker in arguably the most exciting team in the league. That says a lot.
Leighton Baines, Everton
Not everyone's obvious choice but one of the unsung heroes of this season and a good performer at the end of the previous one. The relatively low profile of his club – and his position as a defender – means that he is not likely to trouble the bookmakers.
Baines is quick, attacking, an excellent crosser of the ball and he has chipped in with three goals as well this season. Not bad for a left-back. Unfortunately he is currently remembered for being the player that Fabio Capello had reservations about taking to the World Cup finals because Baines himself had appeared to suggest he would be homesick. That and a poor performance against Mexico in one of the warm-up games for the tournament.
Naturally shy, Baines has at last this month addressed the comments he made in the summer. He says he never intended to suggest he did not want go to South Africa and was misconstrued. How good is he? Bayern Munich wanted to sign him this month but he turned them down. He might just be waiting to see what happens if Patrice Evra leaves Manchester United this summer.
David Vaughan, Blackpool
Let's be honest: the kind of player who, realistically, never wins the big awards. But that might not prevent a few of Vaughan's fellow professionals who have been on the losing side to Blackpool – or the reporters who have marvelled at their performances – from voting for the Wales international.
As far as Blackpool are concerned, the plaudits have mostly been for Vaughan's central-midfield partner Charlie Adam but those who watch the team a lot say that Vaughan has been just as crucial to the side. A good, all-round footballer his second goal of the season was an impressive hit from distance against West Bromwich Albion.
Like the rest of the Blackpool side there is plenty of energy about Vaughan's game and you get the feeling he has been waiting for this moment his whole career. At 27 he had seven years at Crewe Alexandra and one in the second tier of Spanish football with Real Sociedad, signed by Chris Coleman.
His contract is up in June and there are plenty of clubs in the Premier League who will regard him as one of the most attractive free transfers of the summer.
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