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14th Apr 2016

It’s time for the PFA to replace Young Player of the Year with a Rookie of the Year award

Tom Victor

On March 5, Dimitri Payet slid home a late winner for West Ham United at Goodison Park, helping the London club overturn a 2-0 lead given to Everton by Romelu Lukaku and Aaron Lennon.

While exciting newcomer Payet took the headlines, the first hour of the game belonged to Lennon, an experienced pro enjoying a third or fourth wind on Merseyside after 10 years in North London with Tottenham.

Payet, widely praised for adapting so quickly to Premier League football and earning himself a deserved PFA Player of the Year nomination, was born on the island of Réunion on March 29, 1987. Two-and-a-half weeks later, in Leeds, Aaron Lennon was born.

This might not seem especially relevant to some fans (or, indeed, especially interesting), but it helps underpin the problems with another PFA award – that handed out to the individual named Young Player of the Year by his peers.

This year’s nominees for the YPOTY award include two players who were nominated for the senior Player of the Year gong last year, in Harry Kane and Philippe Coutinho (in fact, Kane is nominated for the senior award this year as well).

In many ways, to give them the secondary award would seem almost as much a kick in the balls as the decision to name Lionel Messi as the player of the World Cup while he was trudging up to collect his runner-up medal.

Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final

It leaves us in a situation where, more often than not, the player who wins the award either doesn’t deserve it or doesn’t want it, due entirely to the criteria involved.

To qualify, a player needs to be 23 years old or younger at the start of the season. To put that into context, players eligible for this year’s award include the following:

  • Christian Eriksen (93 Premier League appearances)
  • Oscar (120 Premier League appearances)
  • Jonjo Shelvey (more than 40 appearances for three separate clubs)
  • Jack Wilshere (older than Neymar)
  • Marc Muniesa (played in La Liga for Barcelona in 2008/09)
  • Danny Ings (has the face of a 40-year-old)

Instead of the current set-up, it’s about time we switched to a Rookie of the Year award.

Naturally, there’s bound to be initial resistance to the concept, as there is with any concept viewed by fans as an attempt to Americanise the game and turn ‘football’ into ‘soccer’, but there’s nothing American about it beyond the name.

It would level the playing field based on the theory that adapting to Premier League football can be tough, even for those who have excelled elsewhere. There need not be any further restrictions, seeing as the likes of Payet and Dele Alli have succeeded where more established players like Andriy Shevchenko and Hélder Postiga have crashed and burned.

Steven Gerrard and Helder Postiga

There would be value in it for players, whose stock would rise as a result of some genuine recognition as opposed to arbitrary nominations to make up the numbers in a certain age group.

It could also benefit fans of clubs who perhaps haven’t had the best season. A spark of recognition for a new arrival, rather than a consolation inclusion for a player at a bigger club who hasn’t been strong enough for a Player of the Year inclusion but just happens to still be in his early twenties, can bring more positivity and leave supporters looking forward to the following season. Until that player ups and leaves, of course.

Of course, it would be irresponsible of us to pitch the idea and then not give our own selections, so here we have it – the 2015/16 Premier League Rookie of the Year award nominees.

Dimitri Payet

An obvious contender, having found his way into the PFA’s main selection.

Payet leads the way for West Ham in both goals (9) and assists (8) in the Premier League, while he has also found the net three times in the FA Cup including a marvellous free-kick at Old Trafford.

GettyImages-518697008 (1)

N’Golo Kanté

If Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were responsible for reaching the summit of the Premier League, Kanté has been the reason they’ve stayed there.

Much more than a mere midfield screen, the French midfielder has been a key reason for the Foxes’ defensive solidity since Christmas, and his international debut in March was richly deserved.

Sunderland v Leicester City - Premier League

Dele Alli

Nominated for the PFA Young Player award, it has been said all season that Alli does not look like a 19-year-old and we’re sure even now he’s turned 20 he’ll continue to play football like a much more experienced man.

But while his age is often mentioned, fewer people bring up the fact that the Premier League is unchartered territory for the former MK Dons youngster, And that’s most likely because it hasn’t looked like that’s the case for one second this season.


Christian Fuchs

Along with the arrival of Kanté, the addition of Fuchs to the first-team has helped Leicester really build on their fine finish to the 2014/15 campaign.

Having spent much of his career with unfancied clubs in the Austrian and German top-flights, there was no guarantee that the 30-year-old would hit the ground running, yet he has already outlasted fellow defensive recruit Yohan Benalouane and established himself as a fan favourite at the King Power Stadium.

Leicester City v Southampton - Premier League

Odion Ighalo

Coming into the season, there were two schools of thought regarding Watford. Either their big spending would help them keep their heads above water, or they were making too many new additions and it would unsettle last season’s Championship runners-up.

The myriad arrivals were expected to be necessary, but the Hornets’ three stars have arguably been a trio who helped them into this division. Heurelho Gomes has excelled in goal, while Ighalo and strike partner Troy Deeney are the only Watford players to find the net more than once in the league. Not bad for two forwards with a grant total of 0 Premier League minutes before this campaign.

Arsenal v Watford - The Emirates FA Cup Sixth Round

Anthony Martial

Remember what I was saying about an underwhelming league campaign being salvaged by recognition for a promising rookie? This is a perfect example.

Sure, Martial’s fee from Monaco was a little on the high side, but United fans will tell you they were paying for potential. And this season’s output from the French forward suggest that, not only is there plenty more to come, but there’s plenty there already.

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League

Is there anyone else who you think should be named rookie of the year? Tell us who and why at or on Facebook or Twitter.