Adam Bate has put his vote in favour of Raheem Sterling for the PFA Player of the Year.
Virgil van Dijk has been imperious and Sergio Aguero has so often been decisive. But the FWA award goes to the individual who, by precept and example, has been the footballer of the year. On that criteria, there is one outstanding candidate. His name is Raheem Sterling.
The 24-year-old England international has contributed goals and assists to Manchester City’s quadruple bid but his season has been about so much more. This was the year in which Sterling transcended his sport by reminding everyone that it is more than a sport.
It would be quite wrong to call this a redemption tale because to do so would be to imply that there was any wrongdoing on Sterling’s part in the first place. He was the victim of vociferous criticism and a media culture only too eager to feed the beast. Sterling’s response – on the field and off it – should humble his antagonists and inspire his growing number of admirers.
He came into the campaign as perhaps the only man without a World Cup halo over his head after England’s efforts in Russia. Gareth Southgate became a national treasure. Many others had their status elevated. But many among the public and press – too many – appeared reluctant to praise Sterling. He was routinely criticised even as the side succeeded.
One popular player ratings tool told the tale. Sterling ranked bottom with the public every time, his reputation apparently having been crystallised by years of criticism. A wilfully misinterpreted tattoo on the eve of the tournament seemed to sum up the ill-feeling towards one of England’s best.
It would have been easy for Sterling to disengage. Instead, against that backdrop of undeserved criticism, he proceeded to embark upon this extraordinary season.
Firstly, a diversion into the facts and figures that should illustrate that this is no sentimental choice to rival the Sports Personality of the Year award given to Ryan Giggs in 2009. Sterling has 17 Premier League goals, as many as his England captain Harry Kane, and nine assists. He is the only player in the competition to rank among the top five in both categories.
Let us hope whoever wins, is worthy of it.