As the season draws to a close, the race for Player of the Year has become one of two magnificent horses.
Kevin De Bruyne vs Mohamed Salah.
Harry Kane’s injury has probably ruled him out of contention and while I’d like to see David Silva in the mix, the bookies reckon both the Players’ Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year will go to either Salah or City’s strawberry-blonde playmaker.
This contest raises an interesting debate about the individual awards.
Technically, the absolute best player of the season should win them both but in the past we’ve sometimes seen a standout player overlooked in favour of the best player for the title-winning team.
Many would argue that Salah has been the league’s best player while De Bruyne has been the best of an excellent bunch for the champions elect.
There’s certainly a case for De Bruyne being the league’s best player in his own right of course.
And it’s difficult to compare the two directly as they have different roles — Salah is charged more with goalscoring from an advanced position while De Bruyne creates from deep.
However, with Salah on course to breeze past the 30-goal mark and threaten Alan Shearer and Andy Cole’s jointly-held record haul of 34 goals in a single Premier League campaign, the Liverpool winger will be hard to deny come April.
I never understood why the awards are presented before the end of the season but hey ho, that’s football for you.
So what does history suggest?
Because I’ve got nothing better to do on a Monday morning, I trawled back through the last 20 years of both individual awards, and the Golden Boot.
Worryingly for Salah, only five times has the Golden Boot winner been awarded one or both of the Player of the Year awards since 1997/98.
Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez picked up all three gongs.
While Henry was forced to settle for just the FWA Footballer of the Year despite his 27 goals in 2005/06, with Steven Gerrard’s peers naming him the league’s best that season.
Perhaps, those that vote for the awards believe that the Golden Boot is reward enough for scoring the most goals and so they see the dual Player of the Year awards as vehicles to recognise the league’s other top talent.
If this is true then things look good for De Bruyne, although there are echoes of Van Persie’s effort at Arsenal in 2011/12 and Suarez’s 2013/14 season about Salah’s display this campaign, both of which saw them add the individual awards to their respective mantelpieces.
How often do one or both of the individual awards go to a title-winner?
In the last 20 years, the Players’ Player of the Year has been won by 11 players representing the eventual champions.
The FWA are slightly more in favour of crediting a title-winning player, with 12 their winners also lifting the league trophy in the same season.
Initially, this once again appears good news for De Bruyne with Man City coasting to a potentially record-breaking title win.
However, more recent history actually favours non-title winners for the individual awards.
Following Ronaldo’s clean sweep in 2007/08, the Players’ Player of the Year went to a non-title winner five times out of the next six seasons.
And the FWA failed to crown a title-winning Footballer of the Year for six consecutive years between 2009 – 2014.
Admittedly, the last three years have bucked that trend with Eden Hazard (2014/15) and N’Golo Kante (2016/17) picking up both individual awards in Chelsea’s two most recent league successes.
Riyad Mahrez (Player’s Player of the Year) and Jamie Vardy (FWA Footballer of the Year) split the awards that near-mythical season Leicester did the impossible.
So while the last three seasons would suggest De Bruyne is the favourite for this year’s prizes, the post-Ronaldo era as a whole leans more to Salah’s side.
If City do win the league with a record total of points, and Salah equals or breaks the record for most goals in a Premier League season, then the Player of the Year contest will be a real humdinger.
At this stage I’d be tempted to say give one to each of them but history is less indecisive.
14 out of the last 20 seasons have resulted in one player winning both the awards.
How about a good old-fashioned flip of the coin?