Power Ranking the PFA Young Player of the Year Shortlist
On Thursday evening, the Professional Footballers' Association announced its shortlist for this season's Young Player of the Year award. Players aged 24 or under are eligible for the prize, which was won last year by Chelsea's Eden Hazard.
The six-man shortlist was compiled as a result of votes from footballers at the Premier League's 20 clubs, who all submitted their ballots earlier in the year. For the first time in the award's history, four of the names on the players' player shortlist were also nominated for the young player award.
The announced shortlist threw up few surprises. Here it is in full:
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
David De Gea (Manchester United)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Click on, as we break down the six candidates and analyse who is most likely to walk away with the prize in the end. The winner will be announced at an awards dinner in London on Sunday April 26.
6. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
One of two goalkeepers on the list, Thibaut Courtois has made the young player shortlist in his first season in Chelsea colours.
Having been named as the No. 1 at the start of the season by Jose Mourinho, Courtois has occasionally ceded his place to the more experienced Petr Cech but has usually been a shining light for Chelsea in a hugely successful campaign.
Much of the Blues' success has been built on their brilliant attacking players, but on more than one occasion, Courtois has pulled off big saves at crucial times to keep his side's momentum going.
At just 22 years of age, it is mind-boggling to ponder how good Courtois could become, considering how good he already evidently is. Comfortable under the high ball, brilliant in one-on-one situations and possessing lightning-fast reflexes, his quality has been in evidence all season.
His nomination for this award is deserved—he is one of the best players in the world for his age, of any position—but his chances of victory are probably let down by a few key factors.
His occasional exits from the team might have cost him some votes, even if being replaced by Cech is far from an embarrassment, while perhaps most voters will ultimately decide that another young Chelsea player (Eden Hazard) has had a more impressive individual campaign.
With the other goalkeeper on this shortlist, David De Gea, perhaps having a more influential season for his side, it would seem that Courtois is the least likely contender for the award. He is likely to be one of only two of them to end the season with a league winner's medal, though, so he is unlikely to be too annoyed.
5. David De Gea (Manchester United)
David De Gea is one of four players to be named on both PFA shortlists, although he is undoubtedly an outsider to walk away with either award.
The second goalkeeper on this list, perhaps it is recognition enough that a couple of No. 1s—so often an overlooked position when it comes to individual awards—have been recognised.
If anything, De Gea perhaps has a better chance at the senior award, considering the impact he has had on Manchester United's season and the fact that—after three full seasons in English football—many voters may overlook the fact that he is actually even still eligible for the young player's prize.
Nevertheless, in a season where we have seen some great goalkeeping, De Gea has arguably been the standout performer—narrowly edging out Courtois and the likes of Southampton's Fraser Forster. He has been integral to his side in a way few other players can match, keeping United in games at the start of the season and helping them win more than a few that they surely should have lost.
Without him, United would undoubtedly be far, far worse off—something you arguably cannot say about Courtois.
Clean sheets and man-of-the-match performances against the likes of Liverpool, Everton and Newcastle United all live on in the memory; United are finally hitting top gear thanks to the rediscovered fluency of their attacking unit, but it is the consistent all-round displays of De Gea that gave them the platform to now push for Champions League qualification.
Whether De Gea's long-term future remains at Old Trafford is still to be seen—as links with Real Madrid, from outlets such as the Daily Mail, persist—but this season, De Gea has improved considerably and marked himself out as one of the best players in the league, let alone its best goalkeeper.
That won't be enough to win him either award he is nominated for, but he should make the team of the season—a significant accolade itself considering the competition in his position.
4. Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Just 20 years of age, Raheem Sterling could yet feature on the PFA young player shortlist for the next four seasons in a row. That would seem possible—maybe even probable—although he is unlikely to clinch the top honours this time around.
That is not to say Sterling has not had an exceptional campaign—he certainly has. Brendan Rodgers' decision to give him a brief break after the busy winter schedule proved to be a masterstroke. Afterward, Sterling returned fit and firing on all cylinders; producing stunning individual displays that continued right into the PFA voting period.
Since then, there has been much speculation about his future, with his contract due to expire in two years' time, but while that has caused a lot of off-field noise (as have some other incidents) it has not noticeably affected his on-pitch displays—a sign of Sterling's calm head under pressure, if nothing else.
Team-mate Joe Allen said this week, per the Express:
“People forget sometimes that Raheem is only 20-years-old. It's frightening how good he is. He's someone who will continue to get better and better. Performances like that are what he's all about.
“Sometimes people talk about how there's no young English talent but that's a load of rubbish, being honest.
"There aren't many 20 year olds in world football doing what Raheem is doing. It's great for England as a nation and more importantly for Liverpool."
Seven goals and seven assists so far this season is evidence of that quality, albeit with the occasional dips in form that are to be expected of young players. Those dips are one of the reasons why Sterling is unlikely to win the prize in the end, but the main reason is simple: Other young players have simply performed even better.
Sterling will miss out this time, but it figures to be a virtual certainty that he will have other opportunities in the seasons ahead.
3. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Narrowly edging out his team-mate Sterling, Coutinho figures to have a shot at this award if only because he also features on the shortlist for the senior prize. His fellow players clearly admire the Brazilian's style of play, even if his goal and assist numbers do not quite measure up to those of some of his rivals.
The 22-year-old has had a brilliant individual campaign, one that has improved as the season has gone on as he has become more and more integral to Brendan Rodgers' way of thinking.
Since becoming a virtual ever-present in the side, Coutinho has delivered crucial goals against the likes of Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers, although it is perhaps his assuredness of touch every time he gets the ball—those smaller moments, often unnoticed by the general public, when more measured attacking moves are either progressed or stunted—that seem to have made him a darling among his peers.
"I have known him for a very long time and I know what he's capable of doing," team-mate Lucas told Liverpool's official website after the recent win over Blackburn.
"He's becoming an even bigger player for the club and he's got a long way to go in terms of age and experience, but he's already right there with the top players."
Four assists and four goals are modest returns by the standards of others on this list, but Coutinho has been one of the main Liverpool players to help fill the gap left after Luis Suarez departed the club.
Yet, it would seem his double nomination will have to be reward enough for that, as he is unlikely to win the main prize and almost certain not to acquire the votes required for this one (John Terry, for example, voted Coutinho his player of the year—but then went elsewhere for his young player selection).
Named on the main shortlist, unlike his club-mate, Coutinho perhaps narrowly has the edge over Sterling in the race for this prize. But it would seem both are likely to be just adrift when the award is announced.
Having two players on this shortlist augurs well for Liverpool's future, of course—if they can keep hold of them.
2. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Could Eden Hazard do the individual double this season? The reigning PFA Young Player of the Year is on the shortlist once again, while he remains the marginal favourite to lift the overall award as well.
If the Belgian is all set to win the players' player award, then shouldn't it follow that he would automatically win the young player award too?
Well, not necessarily, as it rather depends on how many voters adhere to the PFA's questionable criteria that 24-year-old still counts as "young" (whether 24-year-olds should be considered young in this context is a debate for another time—but perhaps a change in the criteria is needed).
This is difficult to accurately gauge, in part because only a few players ever make their ballots public (making it harder to work out their thought processes).
As mentioned previously, Chelsea captain John Terry (who could not vote for any of this team-mates) revealed on Instagram he had opted for Philippe Coutinho for the player of the year award and Harry Kane for the young player equivalent—despite the fact Coutinho was eligible for both competitions.
Logic would dictate that Coutinho should perhaps have been selected for both awards by Terry, but you sense that a lot of players are going to have done the same thing in compiling their choices—even if only out of a desire to recognise two outstanding individuals rather than just one. Perhaps that is why there is such overlap between the two shortlists, with four of the six names repeated.
With that being the case, why does that harm Hazard's chances of retaining his young player award? Partly the problem is his age and experience—at 24 and in his third full season in the Premier League, many voters might not even have considered that he is still a "young player" at all. That is not a problem for Harry Kane, the season's breakthrough star, for example.
Futhermore, in a way, Hazard's likely overall award success could end up scuppering his young player chances. As discussed elsewhere, Hazard is the narrow favourite to succeed Luis Suarez as the Players' Player of the Year, and no doubt he was the top name listed on many ballots.
But, whether for variety or another reason, that would quite possibly mean that those same players voting for Hazard for the top prize would have looked elsewhere for the young player selection, with the great majority surely opting for the same man: Kane.
Hazard will probably win the main prize and, being also eligible for the young player award, logic might suggest that he should do the sweep. The likelihood, however, is he will not.
1. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Harry Kane is the other player who could conceivably win both PFA awards this season, although it remains far more likely that he will split them with Eden Hazard.
With that being the case, as mentioned in the previous slide, he would seem likely to take the young player prize (with Hazard winning the senior prize), although it is far from inconceivable (albeit perhaps slightly illogical) that it could end up being the other way around.
Unlike Hazard, who many voters may have forgotten is still technically "young," Kane will never have been far from voters' thoughts when they were making their selections. The 21-year-old was in the midst of back-to-back Player of the Month awards when ballots were being filled in, almost guaranteeing that he was the first name anyone thought of when casting their votes.
In his first full season in the Premier League, Kane has forced his way into the Tottenham Hotspur starting XI, scored 19 goals (many of them against other big sides), captained his side, made his England debut and scored for his country.
His rise has been unmatched: He is the very epitome of what the young player award should theoretically be about.
England manager Roy Hodgson said after Kane's goalscoring debut against Lithuania, per the Daily Star
“He’s got to be delighted that he is being regarded as a phenomenon.
"To come on and score a goal like that is a bit of a dream come true. It can’t get much better than that.
"I totally understand where people are coming from. If I was a fan I’d be shouting the same things.
"We’re not going to try to hold him back—there’s no question of that."
The main prize is harder to predict, but as far as the young player award goes, it would seem highly likely that Kane will be lifting it next Sunday.
Who knows, he could end up doing the double—which would certainly cap off a fairytale year for the lethal striker.