Why Robin Van Persie Deserves to Win Premier League Player of the Year

Terry CarrollContributor IIIMarch 13, 2013

Robin Van Persie: Head and Shoulders Above the Rest
Robin Van Persie: Head and Shoulders Above the RestGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Last year, Manchester United's Robin Van Persie (then playing for Arsenal, of course) won not only the PFA Player of the Year, but also the Football Writers and Fans' awards. Deservedly.

The PFA award is voted for in early spring, with the results announced in April.

There are frankly only three contenders this year: Gareth Bale of Tottenham; Robin Van Persie; and Luis Suarez of Liverpool.

Bale and Suarez have been making a late run for the award by scoring 14 goals in 14 matches, but has their surge come too late to head off the challenge of Van Persie?

It doesn't help that the Dutchman has hit a goal drought of late.

He was the early front-runner in January, with Suarez a close contender. The voting forms went out in February, however.

At that time, Van Persie was the favourite to win, as he was top scorer in the Premier League and saved United on countless occasions.

With voting closing, however, Suarez is the top scorer with Bale catching up fast. The Tottenham man won the award in 2011, but Suarez has never won it.

We must remember that it is fellow players and retired players who are voting. Is Suarez less popular among his opponents? They are the ones who get to see him at close quarters.

No doubt all his team-mates at Liverpool will support him, but will his previous notoriety, especially for diving, count against him at the death?

If that is the case, it could still come down to a fight between Bale and Van Persie, the last two winners.

Why Robin Van Persie should win

OK, so he has fallen back in the goal-scoring stakes, but that isn't the only likely criterion. Players' voting will surely look at the all-round person, otherwise defenders would never win the award.

In fact, only one defender, John Terry, has won it in the last 18 years; and only two wingers and two midfield players.

So we're back to Van Persie or Suarez probably.

As things stand right now, Suarez has 29 goals (including 22 in the EPL) and 10 assists in the 39 games he has played this season.

Van Persie has 23 goals (including 19 in the EPL) in 33 matches. His combined statistics in the Premier League are 27 goals and assists, which happens to be exactly the same number as Suarez.

So the reasoning behind Van Persie will come down to his all-round play.

If we can conclude that the final choice would come down between the two players, then Van Persie beats Suarez on most counts.

For starters, Van Persie is far better at defending. He wins 48 per cent of ground and 45 per cent of aerial duels, compared to Suarez's 38 and 27, respectively. Their tackle completion rates are matched at around 77/78 per cent.

(For these and all the following statistics, we are using the EPL Index for season 2012/13).

Taking possession, Suarez loses it twice as often as Van Persie.

Looking at passing and creativity, Van Persie's open play completion rate is the better at 80 over 77 per cent. He may have far less dribbles than Suarez, but he is twice as effective at 73 per cent. He also creates a clear-cut chance every 185 minutes as opposed to 227 minutes.

Of course, when we come to goal-scoring, Suarez has been much more effective recently, especially with the arrival of first Sturridge and then Coutinho in support.

Nevertheless, Van Persie's shooting accuracy and chance conversion rate are 54 and 23 per cent, respectively, compared to the Liverpool man's 47 and 19 per cent.

And this is where we begin to get an insight into why Van Persie might just edge the vote.

Statistics are all very well and can be selected or manipulated to produce the picture you want. But what we have here are two very different players in different contexts.

Luis Suarez has been, for most of the season, to all intents and purposes, Liverpool's only striker. So he must have got more chances and therefore more goals. Indeed, last season he was more recognisable for his woeful conversion rate.

Not only is Van Persie invariably one of two strikers on the pitch, and even though he is Sir Alex's No. 1 choice, there are four in total at United.

And apart from the number of times Van Persie has rescued his team, he has had to adapt to a completely new team and playing colleagues.

Remember, he also takes half the corners and many of the free kicks. The clue is in the number of crosses. He has 135 compared to 47 for Suarez. This does, of course, also reduce his opportunities to score because he cannot be on both ends of a corner.

In fact, it could be contended that Van Persie is more of a team player. He certainly drifts out to the wing far more than Suarez, who is mainly direct and through the middle.

It is to the latter's credit that he has stood up to the demands placed on him by virtue of being the player whom the team most relies on for creativity and goal-scoring.

Nevertheless, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of voting, Suarez's past may come back to bite him. 

While the Evra incident and its aftermath were very much an issue between the two clubs, they created a great deal of adverse publicity. Added to Suarez's previous proclivity for diving, he may still have some reputation recovery to achieve before he is a hot candidate.

He deserves every credit for how he has carried the Liverpool team through the difficult last two seasons and has undoubtedly improved since last year.

But surely Van Persie's goal touch will return. He is highly rated by his fellow professionals and may just pip 2011 winner Gareth Bale to the title, making him one of the very few to win it two years running.

At the end of February, Van Persie was the likely winner in what now looks like being the closest contest in years. If most of the votes were cast by then, he should just nick it.


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