Manchester United: Who Will Win the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award?
Manchester United are now taking votes from supporters for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award. There are certainly many suitable contenders worthy of such an honor for their contributions in the Premier League title race.
This season has been unusual as no one player truly stands out from the rest. It is fair to say that 2011-12 has been a genuine squad effort, many players contributing significantly to the cause.
Just narrowing all the candidates down to a short list is a daunting task, let alone attempting to select a winner. Nevertheless, there are seven players who stand out just by the slimmest of margins.
When seeking the insight of United supporters around the globe, these seven players were frequently highlighted as the star performers this season. Even then, there appeared to be no clear favorite in the discussion.
While each of these seven players have proven valuable assets in the title race, it would be hard to argue that any of the contenders has consistently been the star of the team this season. These players seemed to standout in phases, making the decision even more difficult for supporters.
Of these seven highly qualified contenders, which do you believe deserves the honor of being named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year?
Antonio Valencia is one of the overwhelming favorites to be named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year, with his scintillating play on the right wing proving a major factor for Manchester United in the title race.
Now one of the key players in United's push for a 20th league title, Valencia started the season on the fringes of the first team. An injury suffered while playing for Ecuador prevented Valencia from going on the preseason tour, and the consequential lack of match fitness kept him sidelined for the start of the season.
When he finally returned to the game, he struggled to rediscover his terrific form he demonstrated at the end of last season and was deployed as cover at right back on multiple occasions. Once he finally got a run of games in his favored right win position, Valencia quickly started to make up for lost time.
With just three matches remaining in the season, Valencia has scored six goals, two of which are nominated for Goal of the Season, and contributed an impressive 15 assists. Such attacking production is remarkable from a winger, especially given his slow start.
To say the United attack now runs through Valencia as a focal point would be a very accurate statement. When the team is in need of goals, there is a clear sense that getting the ball out to the right wing offers the best chance of creating goal-scoring opportunities.
In his current form, Valencia is among the best in the world, not just at Old Trafford. Considering the level of his performances this year, there would be few arguments if he was to be named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season.
Michael Carrick is another strong favorite to win the coveted Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, which is something that has probably taken many Manchester United supporters by surprise.
Often the scapegoat in the squad, Carrick has faced plenty of criticism from the supporters in his time at Old Trafford, much of it unjust. This season, however, Carrick has elevated his game to the next level, and his influence in the United midfield has been immense in the title race.
Of all the contenders, Carrick has been the most consistent performer, although he did not truly get going until November. Initially kept out of the team by the exhilarating partnership of Tom Cleverley and Anderson in the midfield, Carrick had to wait for his chance.
With Cleverley then sidelined for most of the season with injury and Anderson suffering from a poor run of form, United needed someone to step up in midfield. Carrick rose to the challenge.
Although two goals and two assists may not seem all that impressive, those are not the only statistics by which to judge a midfielder, especially one playing in the role that Carrick occupies for United.
Carrick orchestrates the attack from a deep-lying midfield role and operates as a shield for the back four. He is a vital player for maintaining possession. With an 89.9 percent passing success rate in the Premier League, he makes sure United hold possession, waiting to break down their opponent before passing it to his more attacking-inclined teammates.
He is also averaging 2.6 interceptions and 2.7 tackles per game in the Premier League, offering an important defensive presence in the midfield. When playing the exciting, cavalier style from early in the season, United found themselves often exposed in defense.
Carrick has solidified the midfield since reestablishing himself in the team, offering the defense some much needed assistance.
Carrick has suffered through plenty of criticism from supporters, but few would disagree that he is a worthy contender for Player of the Year this season.
Wayne Rooney has long been the star of Manchester United. With 33 goals in 40 appearances this season, it hardly comes as any surprise that many fancy him to be awarded as the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season.
Although Rooney certainly deserves to be in the discussion for his contributions in front of goal, he has been something of a conundrum this season. His touch has been heavy, passing erratic. Despite all this, he is on course to break his single-season scoring record of 34 goals from 2009-10.
Now just two goals behind Robin van Persie for the Premier League Golden Boot, Rooney has definitely done his part in front of goal this season, firing United into first place.
His build-up play has been shockingly poor given his goal-scoring form, contributing just five assists compared to the 13 he had last season. But at the end of the day a striker is in the team to score goals, and Rooney has done exactly that.
It hasn't just been a matter of quantity, either, but also quality and importance. He started the season with back-to-back hat tricks against Arsenal and Bolton. Rooney then surpassed Paul Scholes as the highest scoring Englishman in the Champions League.
Unfortunately, he then suffered an eight-game goalless drought, and such inconsistencies work against him as a player of the season candidate. Rooney quickly recovered in December, and went on to score vital goals against Manchester City in their FA Cup victory and against Liverpool at Old Trafford.
During this period, he also scored Goal of the Season contenders against Fulham and Athletic Bilbao.
Rooney may not have been the all-round threat he has been in recent seasons, but he has been absolutely lethal in front of goal, and for that alone he is one of the top contenders to be given then honor of Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year.
Jonny Evans went from being one of the worst performers at Manchester United last season to being one of the best this campaign, now considered by many to be a strong favorite for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.
Many had dismissed United in the wake of Nemanja Vidic's season-ending injury. Even United supporters seemed to lose hope with the loss of their captain. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any club coping with the loss of player of Vidic's class.
Fortunately, United had a man waiting on the bench with a point to prove. By his own admission, Evans suffered from dismal form in 2010-11. Many thought he was headed for the Old Trafford exit in the summer, with even Evans suggesting he needed to improve or face being sold.
Most United fans are now probably grateful now that he was presented with another opportunity. He's become an ever-present feature in the back four, deputizing for the fallen captain.
He has demonstrated a new sense of maturity and composure, putting himself forward as a leader in the defense.
Evans' positioning has improved, his tackling is impressive and his ability to read the game has become a valued asset. On top of all this, his contributions in attack have even shown great signs of improvement, and he even scored his first ever goal for the club this season.
Once prone to decisive errors, Evans is now one of the most consistent performers in the United squad and a solid presence in the heart of the defense. Sir Alex Ferguson recently claimed that in his current form, Evans is one of the best defenders in the Premier League, and even earmarked him as a favorite to be named United's Player of the Year.
After coming in and contributing some exceptional performances while filling in for the reigning player of the year, it would be difficult to argue against Evans claiming the honor for himself this season.
Paul Scholes has only played half the season for Manchester United, but such is his influence on the team that despite this he finds himself amongst the strongest contenders for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.
Sir Alex Ferguson was faced with another season of struggling midfield performances. Early season stars Tom Cleverley and Anderson were suffering from injury and poor form, respectively, while Darren Fletcher took an indefinite leave from the team in December due to health issues.
With only Michael Carrick performing well in the midfield, it was hard to see how United would cope.
Fortunately, Scholes decided early in January that he had retired too early and wanted to make a comeback. He shocked supporters ahead of the FA Cup tie against Manchester City, when it was announced he would come out of retirement and sign a contract until the end of the season.
Since his return, Scholes has done everything you would expect, winding back the clock to become a vital component for United in the title race. A team that was once losing games in midfield were now controlling the game from there.
Maintaining possession, accurate passing and even chipping in with a few goals, Scholes injected life back into the United midfield.
Partnered alongside Carrick in midfield, United fought back from five points behind City to an eight-point advantage, which has since slipped to a mere three points. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the three points dropped against Wigan occurred in the one game that Scholes was not involved in.
It speaks volumes of his influence that the midfield became so overrun without him.
Scholes may have only been involved since January, but even with only half a season his influence on the title race has been immense. It seems a bit unfair for the player of the year to have only started playing in January, but Scholes might just be the exception for his impact since returning.
David De Gea
David de Gea struggled in his first few month at Manchester United, many dismissing him as a flop before the turn of the year. As such, it may come as a surprise that de Gea is now getting favorable mentions in the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year debate.
After losing his place to Anders Lindegaard for a few weeks in January, an injury to the Denmark international provided de Gea with a second chance on the first team. De Gea has since established himself as one of the best in the Premier League.
He looks to be the first-choice goalkeeper at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.
It all started in the dying seconds of a match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. After United fought from 3-0 back to 3-3, Juan Mata was preparing to take a free kick in superb position. A brilliantly taken free kick looked to be going in to ruin United's comeback, but de Gea stepped up and made one of the saves of the season after months of criticism.
Since then, there's been no looking back. He has built a portfolio of world-class saves while also showing significant signs of improvement in dealing with crosses into the box. Once a cause for concern when de Gea came to punch or catch the ball, he now appears full of confidence when dealing with the aerial threat.
Many players would have been crushed mentally to have made some of the errors de Gea was guilty of and to then be dropped, but the Spaniard showed exactly what it means to play for United. That mental strength to fight back is a necessity in United players, and de Gea demonstrated that back in February.
Just when it looked de Gea would be relegated to the bench for the season, he put himself in the discussion as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Early-season mistakes will probably work against him in the player of the year voting.
To be one of the serious contenders now is a fantastic feat, and it illustrates just how important his form has been in the run-in.
Rio Ferdinand was written off by some at the beginning of the season, the concern being that age had caught up to him and he could no longer perform at a suitable level for Manchester United. Amazing how much things can change in a few months, with Ferdinand now deemed an outside contender to be named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season.
After losing Nemanaja Vidic to injury, Ferdinand was presented with an opportunity to prove he still had worth, forming a formidable partnership with Jonny Evans at the heart of the United defense. Ferdinand, as with all aging players, had lost some of his pace, and at the start of the season it was clear he was struggling to adapt.
Sir Alex Ferguson even claimed that Ferdinand was no longer an automatic starter, and rumors linking the center-back with a move away from Old Trafford in the summer intensified. With Vidic out injured, though, United needed an experienced influence at the back. Ferdinand began to feature regularly, and slowly proved that he had adapted his game to compensate for his aging legs.
Now the center-back pairing of Ferdinand and Evans is automatic, and it would certainly seem that the former England captain has found a new lease on life at Old Trafford. The chemsitry that has developed at the back between Ferdinand, Evans and David de Gea is undoubtedly a key factor behind United's push in the title race.
There have been some rough moments for Ferdinand this season, but he has fought through them and adapted to maintain his status as a key figure in the team. To win the Player of the Year honor might be tough with the quality of other contenders, but the fact that's he has even made the discussion shows just how important he continues to be.
And the Winner Is...
Michael Carrick just edges it as the favorite to be christened the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year.
While all the contended are highly qualified, Carrick has been the most consistent performer for Manchester United this season. Since establishing himself in the first team in November, he has been an immense presence.
His influence in the midfield has been remarkable, and the return of Paul Scholes has only served to benefit an already impressive Carrick.
Simply put, Carrick is currently the understated genius of the team. It is difficult to see where United would be without him, as he offered some sense of stability while the club struggled in midfield.
Paired with makeshift midfielders prior to Scholes' return, Carrick preformed incredibly to keep United competitive.
It says it all that Carrick has played in every Premier League game since coming on as a substitute in a 1-0 victory against Sunderland back on Nov. 5, 2011. In fact, he has started every Premier League match for United since that game. To be so heavily involved goes to illustrate how important Carrick has been for United in 2011-12.
Carrick has long faced criticism from supporters, but now is the time to give credit where credit is due. He has been United's best, most consistent and most influential player this season. He deserves to now be recognized for the role he has played in the title race this season.
There are certainly plenty of worthy contenders, but Michael Carrick is the man who deserves the honor of being named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year.