Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor has defended the presence of Luis Suarez on the six-man shortlist for the union’s prestigious Player of the Year award.
Suarez’s main rivals for the award are Gareth Bale, who has also been nominated in the Young Player category, and Robin van Persie, who won it last season before leaving Arsenal for Manchester United.
In a short-list that includes no defenders or goalkeepers, and no representation from champions Manchester City, the biggest surprise is the absence of Swansea forward Michu, who many believe to be the signing of the season. Instead, Chelsea duo Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are included, in addition to Manchester United’s unsung hero Michael Carrick, who at 31, finally gets his first nomination.
There is no doubt Suarez has been one of the most effective players in the Barclays Premier League this year. However, his reputation has been damaged by the eight-match ban he received for racially abusing Patrice Evra at Anfield last season.
Given his blatant handball also denied Ghana an appearance in the 2010 World Cup semi-finals and the periodic allegations of diving, some would argue he hardly deserves to be acknowledged by his peers.
But Taylor, whilst accepting Suarez will always be a controversial figure, feels the Uruguayan’s on-pitch performances, including 29 goals, for Liverpool this term, make him worthy of inclusion.
“Sometimes controversy travels with players,” said Taylor. “Sometimes it is in their very nature. Sometimes it is that very intensity that causes a problem also makes sure they win.
“Luis Suarez is helping to restore Liverpool. It is a credit to them that he seems comfortable there and no one could deny he is one of the finest players in the world.”
Yet no one could deny either that if Suarez wins the award when it is announced on 28 April, it will put the PFA in an uncomfortable position given his background.
“It is very difficult at times,” said Taylor. “Players are expected to be top role models and set the finest example. That goes with the trade these days.
“I don’t underestimate the need for them to do all they can to be seen as a good example. But they are also human beings. It is not always possible to put old heads on relatively young shoulders.
“This is a footballing award and Suarez’s footballing ability shines through. It would be naive to think controversy won’t continue to travel with him. But I think his football has maintained his place.”
Like Bale, Hazard has also been listed for the Young Player prize, where he faces competition from Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere. Welbeck, Wilshere and Carrick are the only English players out of the 12 men nominated.
For the first time, there will be a Women’s Player of the Year prize, too, with Scotland’s Kim Little amongst those nominated in addition to 20-year-old Arsenal team-mate Jordan Nobbs, who scored a stunning debut goal against Italy in England’s triumphant Cyprus Cup campaign in March.