x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gareth Bale given helping hand to PFA award

PFA award should go to most consistent player, rather than for one or two standout efforts.

Gareth Bale has just one assist to his name in the Premier League this season.
Gareth Bale has just one assist to his name in the Premier League this season.

Some sports put a big emphasis on assists. Take ice hockey's NHL for example. The Art Ross Trophy is given to the player with the most points, which is the combined total of goals and assists in a season.

In football however, it is the goalscorers who get the most accolades.

Alan Shearer is the Premier League's all-time top scorer with 260. With Andrew Cole, he shares the record for the most league goals in a season - 34 for Blackburn Rovers in 1994/95. Every football fan remembers Shearer as one of the greats, but who can recall Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley, the two Blackburn wingers who set up most of his goals? Were they not just as important?

The competition to be crowned this season's PFA Player of the Year - an award voted for by every professional footballer in England - was wide open. There was no outstanding candidate as in previous seasons.

However, I feel the award went to the wrong player for the wrong reasons. The award this season was going to divide opinions, because of the wide range of candidates.

But there is a feeling that Gareth Bale came out on top as much because of the hype surrounding one or two performances in the Champions League rather than consistent results on the pitch.

Bale is a winger and his primary role in the team is to create goals. This season he has just one assist in the league, three in total. Compare that to other midfielders who were in the running for either Player of the Year or Young Player of the Year.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, who won the young player award, has nine assists in total, Manchester United's Nani has 18, Bale's teammate, Rafael van der Vaart, has eight.

OK, so Bale also scores goals, but so have all the other midfield nominees for this season's PFA awards.

Arsenal's Samir Nasri, Nani, Van der Vaart and Charlie Adam of Blackpool have all scored more league goals in 2010/11. Bale is not even among the top five goal scoring midfielders in the league.

Let's not forget that Tottenham will finish the season without a trophy and, lying in fifth place in the league, they are pushing it to qualify for the Champions League.

In fact, if any Spurs player deserved the award it is probably Van der Vaart. He has more goals and assists than Bale and that is in his first season in English football. Tottenham also have a better win ratio with him in the side (57 per cent) than with Bale in the side (42 per cent).

So why did Bale win the award? The key is in its name. It is voted for by players and most of them are in action on Saturdays or Sundays.

They do not watch 90 minutes of Bale in action in the Premier League week in week out. Where they will have been able to watch Bale is in the Champions League and that is where he put in his two best performances of the season.

It also counts that those games were at the back end of 2010, especially as voting takes place way before the season is over.

A hat-trick away against Inter Milan in the San Siro. Check. Tearing apart Brazilian international right-back Maicon at White Hart Lane. Check. Having television pundit Trevor Francis put you on a par with Lionel Messi. Check.

Bale is a great player, there is no doubt. But a whirlwind of hype has masked the fact that he still has a long way to go before he can be touted as one of the world's best.

Proof of this, I am certain, will come when English football's second Player of the Year award is dished out later in the season.

That is voted for by member of the Football Writers' Association (FWA) and I am positive Bale will not be the winner.

Fitness first

In an age where squad sizes can range from anywhere between 20-35 players, the chances of playing in every Premier League game are hampered by many things over the course of a season. Injuries, suspensions and loss of form aside, there are also the distractions of the cup competitions, international matches, and, if you are one of the top teams, European games. So, as we enter the final run-in of the 2010/11 campaign, it is testament to the fitness, as well as the consistency, of nine top-flight players who have taken part in 33 league matches for their various clubs this season, and it would be no surprise to see that number rise to 38 come the end of the campaign.

Nine men standing

Name team Appearances

Leighton Baines, Everton 33

Sylvain Distin, Everton 33

Stewart Downing, Aston Villa 33

Ian Evatt, Blackpool 33

Brad Friedel, Aston Villa 33

Jonas Gutierrez, Newcastle 33

Tim Howard, Everton 33

Jose Reina, Liverpool 33

Martin Skrtel, Liverpool 33

Where have they been?

QPR were one of the original members of the Premier League in 1992 but have not graced the top tier since being relegated in the 1995/96 season. Assuming Neil Warnock’s side – who head the Championship, the second-tier of English football – by eight points with four games to go, win promotion, it will end a 15-year hiatus from the top division for the London club. That is nothing compared to the likes of Swindon Town and Oldham Athletic, now of League One, who have yet to make a return to the Premier League since being relegated in 1993/94.

Longest gap away from the Premier League

Team             Years

Swindon Town 17

Oldham Athletic  17

QPR 15

Barnsley 13

Nottingham Forest 12