A few weeks back, I read an article where former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister suggested that current United defender Nemanja Vidic should be considered for this season's Barclays Premier League player of the year. In that article, Pallister was quoted as saying, "Nemanja has been immense this season. He is certainly up there as the player of the season. The manager has given him the captain's armband, which shows the trust he has in him." Pallister continued, "He has been a great leader. He doesn't hold back from any challenges and is very physical. Players respond to that." It got me thinking, how do Vidic's credentials stack up against some of the other likely favorites for the two most prestigious player of the year awards: the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) and the Football Writers' Association's (FWA)?
Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, only two defenders have ever been recognized as either the PFA or FWA player of the year; former United defender Paul McGrath (PFA) in 1992-93 while playing for Aston Villa and John Terry (PFA) in 2004-05 for Chelsea. In the season prior to the Prem's inception, Pallister also was recognized as the PFA player of the year. Going further back into the history of top flight English football, it's rare to see a defender recognized with such an award. It's certainly a plaudit that is typically reserved for attacking players, however, Vidic's exceptional season thus far makes him deserving of such accolades this season.
A consideration of the candidates after the jump...
Before I make my case for Vidic, I'd like to highlight some of the other exceptional footballers this year playing in the English Premier League. The race for the award is up for grabs, as there's seemingly no footballer that has taken the bull by the horns and staked his claim to such accolades. Last season, Wayne Rooney ran away with the PFA Player of the Year with his dominant campaign. Without further ado, this season's candidates:
* Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) - The City captain has 18 goals and 5 assists in 24 Premier League matches. The Argentinean is the focal point of the City attack, and in the rare times this season when their talisman has failed to get going, City's attack has sputtered. When on the pitch, Tevez exudes passion and confidence, and is often an inspiring figure for his teammates. He's also a versatile player, one who can be employed in numerous roles, depending on his manager's tactics. However, there's also a darkside to Carlitos. Since leaving Boca Juniors, Tevez has worn out his welcome at numerous clubs, as United supporters are well aware of. Even with his current club, Tevez asked to leave City just a few months back, and then changed his tune when the Abu Dhabi owners came offering higher wages. The City skipper is undeniably exceptional, but also an enigma.
* Samir Nasri (Arsenal) - The 23 year-old Frenchman has really come into his own this season and had a breakout year. Nasri was the spark and creative force for the Arsenal attack in the first half of their season, while they dealt with injuries to numerous influential players. His versatility, creativity, and raw ability have made Nasri an important player for the North London club, as he's often come up with match-winning performances while dancing his way through defenses. The main knock on Nasri's candidacy for Player of the Year has been his decreasing influence since of the return of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. In addition, a recent injury has slowed down the Arsenal play-maker.
* Gareth Bale (Tottenham) - For the first few months of the season, the Welshman was the talk of English football, if not the entire footballing world. Bale's hat-trick versus Inter Milan at the San Siro, and his destruction of Maicon in the return match at White Hart Lane in the UEFA Champions League, had Spurs' supporters chanting a "taxi for Maicon." Bale's lightning pace and pinpoint crosses have allowed him to terrorize defenses throughout England and the rest of Europe. Like Nasri, Bale has slowed down since his electric start due to injuries. Also, clubs in England have resorted to the tactic of being physical with the Welshman, and this has caused him to struggle versus the likes of Phil Neville and Rafael.
* Rafael Van der Vaart (Tottenham) - The Dutch play-maker has likely been the signing of the season. For a mere 8 million pounds, Harry Redknapp was able to acquire Van der Vaart from Real Madrid in the last hours of the summer transfer window. Simply put, the attacking midfielder is a match-winner when healthy. In the 19 Premier League matches that he's appeared in, he's contributed 10 goals and 6 assists to Spurs. He's formed a remarkable partnership with Peter Crouch as Van der Vaart has poached goals on numerous knock-downs from the English striker. He's also linked well with Luka Modric, and when Spurs are healthy, they have one of more potent attacks in Europe. However, Van der Vaart has struggled a bit with injuries and his match-winning influence has been sporadic.
* Nani (Manchester United) - The Portuguese winger has been the most consistent attacking force for league-leader United. He has impressively amassed a combined 24 goals/assists in his last 25 matches. Nani is impossible to defend one-on-one; as his ability to use his pace to bomb down the touchline and whip in deadly crosses, or his skill to cut inside onto his left-foot and strike on goal make him a terror to opposing defenders. The only person who can shutdown Nani is himself. The one criticism of the talented attacker is his decision-making at times, as he has spurts of being wasteful. He also has disappeared at times when United needed a creative spark to break-down compact and bunkered-in defenses.
* Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) - Typically when there's a striker who's the league-leading goal-scorer for the team that tops the table, that player is usually the odds-on favorite for player of the year. However, that isn't the case for the mercurial Bulgarian striker. Of Berbatov's 19 league goals, 11 of them have come in 3 matches. No one doubts his world-class ability, but it is because of his tremendous talent that supporters and pundits criticize Berba when he appears to drift out of matches. Consistency is the main frustration. Sir Alex Ferguson also tends to leave Berba out in big matches, when United go to a '4-3-3/4-5-1' shape, which also decreases his influence.
*Honorable Mention (they won't win the plaudits but they're indispensable to their sides):
- Charlie Adam: The Blackpool skipper is the central force to their attack. The Tangerines have been the darlings of the Premier League this season, and Adam is the tough-nosed, classy, and talented leader of that side.
- Scott Parker: The inspirational leader in the center of the pitch for the Hammers. This past weekend in their match versus West Bromwich Albion, Carlton Cole was reportedly moved to tears by Parker's half-time speech to his 'mates. West Ham responded by coming back from a three goal deficit to earn a badly needed point.
- Clint Dempsey: It can be argued that there isn't a player who means more to his side. The American has a knack for coming up with timely goals, and this is especially important to a Fulham club that struggles to score goals. His missed penalty in stoppage time versus Chelsea on Monday evening was an unfortunate blip to his terrific season.
* NEMANJA VIDIC (Manchester United): I'll state it right away; what makes Vidic most deserving of being the leading candidate for Player of the Year is the Serbian's resilience, rock-solid stability, and consistency. Every other influential player during the current season has had bouts of sub-par play, a dip in form due to slump/injury, or an off the field incident that has provided a distraction to his club's dressing room. The United captain has been a dominant force throughout the entire season, and he's been monstrous in some of his club's biggest matches. He was dominant versus Arsenal at Old Trafford, he completely took-out the aerial threat of Peter Crouch at White Hart Lane, and he was a rock alongside Chris Smalling this past Saturday in the derby match versus City.
Aside from just pointing out that Vida has been the most consistent elite footballer in England this season, it is also fair to to praise his talent and character. Quite simply, I believe Vidic is the best defender in the world. He's unbeatable in the air, he scores goals on set-pieces, his positioning is exceptional, and he relishes the opportunity to get stuck-in on a crunching tackle. If the discussion switches to intangibles - nothing more needs to be said other than he is the skipper on a side that includes Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar, and Rio Ferdinand. It's fully understood that he plays more matches than those legends due to age, but to be given the captain's armband in a squad full of legends is an honor that is earned, not merely given due to circumstances. In addition, United have footballers in the dressing room such as Park Ji-Sung, Darren Fletcher, and Patrice Evra who have all captained respectable national team sides (okay, France 2010 is debatable). Vida is clearly a respected leader in a locker-room full of accomplished footballers.
If Vidic has two apparent weaknesses, they're supposedly these: (1) pace (2) not as effective without Ferdinand. I say this is rubbish and here's why: addressing (1) his positional sense is exceptional and the angles he takes and his timing in tackle more than make up for this. Vidic isn't a snail like John Terry. United also doesn't typically employ a high line in defense so there isn't a lot of space to get beaten behind him on a consistent basis. (2) The partnership with Rio argument is lazy. Football is a team game. Messi struggles with Argentina without Xavi and Andres Iniesta but that doesn't mean he isn't the best footballer in the world. Rio is exceptional and he has a fantastic understanding with Vidic. Vida has overextended himself at times when he feels that needs to do more with the likes of Jonny Evans or Smalling, but when that understanding is there like it was with Smalling during the past derby, then Vidic settles in and typically dominates.
I still doubt Vidic will win the award, just because it's historically difficult for a center-back to win an award such as player of the year. However, if the voters do their due diligence and put thought into it, there's no one more deserving than Vidic at this point of the season. The United skipper is not only the best center-back in the Premier League or just it's most consistent performer, he's also the best player in England.