While the PFA Young Player of the Year award is somewhat of a little brother to the main prize, it remains one of the most sought-after honours in English football.
Some of the greatest players ever to grace the Premier League have picked up this award, including Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, Matt Le Tissier, Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen.
Six of the Premier League’s brightest young sparks are in the running for the prestigious prize, and we take a closer a look at each and every one of them.
Luke Shaw, Southampton
Southampton have defied all odds by putting together a remarkable season under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, and they owe much of their success to their core group of England stars.
The youngest of which is 18-year-old Luke Shaw, who has gone from strength to strength since breaking into the first team at the start of the campaign.
A willing runner with bags of crossing ability, Shaw is everything that a left-back should be; and with a World Cup with England potentially on the horizon, the sky’s the limit for the Kingston-born youngster.
The full-back is in a race with Ashley Cole to be Leighton Baines’ understudy at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but former England manager Graham Taylor believes Shaw is the right man for the job—per BBC Sport:
I think Baines will play and Shaw should be taken to earn experience for the future. Shaw could be seen as a gamble, but if you're taking Cole and he is not first choice, then I think Shaw should be taken instead.
Shaw would be the first left-back to be named PFA Young Player of the Year if he scoops the prize; and with his career going nowhere but up, he could be on the shortlist for the main award in years to come.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal
It’s taken five years, but Aaron Ramsey is finally showing the world why Arsenal coughed up close to £5 million for him back in 2008.
According to WhoScored.com, the Welshman has scored nine goals and assisted eight more during a fruitful campaign for the 23-year-old, despite his progress being halted by a number of injuries.
Ramsey has missed 14 of Arsenal’s Premier League matches this season, but he picked up where he left off after completing his first full 90 minutes since returning from injury against Hull City last weekend.
Ramsey opened the scoring in that match, with the kind of style and flair that he showed before facing months on the sidelines.
He seemed to evolve into the complete player almost overnight at the start of the year and is now an integral cog in the Arsenal machine with his vision, awareness, skill and panache.
Though his injuries may have stopped him from scooping the prize on Sunday, being on the list of nominees shows how far he’s come and he deserves the utmost credit for that.
Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool
One of two players to feature on both prize lists of nominees, Daniel Sturridge has enjoyed a fantastic season with Liverpool and, in particular, Luis Suarez.
The partnership of Sturridge and Suarez has seen 50 Premier League goals fired in, with the Englishman helping himself to 20 in what’s been his most fruitful season to date, according to SoccerWay.
Putting the 24-year-old’s questionable dance moves aside, it’s clear to see that he has all the credentials of a Premier League striker for the ages.
He boasts quick feet, blistering pace and the kind of finishing ability that has made him one of Europe’s hottest properties over the last eight months.
With his strike partner the favourite to take the PFA Player of the Year award, Sturridge would love to complete an SAS clean sweep by taking the younger prize; and who could argue against the pair deserving to do just that?
Ross Barkley, Everton
The emergence of Ross Barkley has been one of the main storylines behind Everton’s fabulous first season under Roberto Martinez, with the midfielder finally making his mark on the big stage.
The 20-year-old is a product of the Everton youth system, and after spells on loan with Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, he’s finally earned a run in the first team.
Barkley kicked the campaign off in style with a screamer in the 2-2 draw with Norwich City in the opening game of the season, and he has continued in the same vein.
Per WhoScored, Barkley has found the net five times in the famous blue shirt of Everton and has impressed immensely with his dynamic running and ability on the ball.
Ross Barkley GOLAZO vs Newcastle United. What a talent! https://t.co/aiXYIQ6489— Football Vines (@FVinex) April 3, 2014
Barkley is another player who could have a World Cup campaign with England to look forward to, and he certainly deserves his chance in the international setup after a fantastic season with the Toffees.
Raheem Sterling, Liverpool
The fourth Englishman on the PFA Young Player of the Year award nominees list is Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, who has come into his own in the red shirt this season.
Alongside Sturridge and Suarez in the most dangerous front line in the division, Sterling has shone with performance after performance of textbook, class forward play.
Pundit Robbie Savage sang Sterling’s praises in his recent column for BBC Sport, saying that the youngster is a vital piece of Brendan Rodgers’ title-chasing puzzle at Anfield:
Sterling is only 19 but has emerged as a key player, as important to Liverpool's title bid as Suarez, Sturridge or Steven Gerrard. Like those three, he has different dimensions to his game. He offers a different threat to Suarez and Sturridge and has hit form at exactly the right time to freshen up the Liverpool attack for the run-in to the end of the season.
Indeed, Sterling really has forged himself into a special talent under Rodgers this season, and you feel that the best is still to come for the teenager.
Sterling has scored nine goals and grabbed four assists this season, according to WhoScored, and he will have played an instrumental part in Liverpool’s title-winning season if the Reds do manage to cross the line.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Despite not having a world-class striker in their ranks, Chelsea have still managed to be prolific in front of goal this season—mainly thanks to the exploits of their mercurial Belgian, Eden Hazard.
Per WhoScored, Hazard has notched 14 goals for the Blues in the current campaign with seven assists to boot, making him one of the brightest players that the English top-flight has ever seen.
His trickery, pace, awareness and ability in front of goal has seen him cement a place in Jose Mourinho’s midfield, and his playing style has tormented defences from Week 1.
During a recent interview with Sport, Hazard compared himself to Lionel Messi in terms of playing style when choosing between the Argentinian and Cristiano Ronaldo:
If I had to choose, I’d say by my body type and style of playing means I’m closer to Messi. Ronaldo is more of an athlete – he’s good at everything. He runs fast, he’s strong. So I would say I’m closer to Messi. But obviously I don’t score as many goals as he does.
Who will win the PFA Young Player of the Year award?
He’s not far off the goal haul of the Barcelona star, though, and if he continues with his staggering progression then one day he will certainly be uttered in the same breath as the game’s greats.
Hazard is the favourite to take the PFA Young Player of the Year award after a thrilling season, and he’d fittingly be the first Belgian to do so.