THE nominees for this season’s Players’ Player of the Year have been announced and, for the first time in 23 years, the award will not go to a representative of either Celtic or Rangers.
The four-man shortlist features Hibs’ Leigh Griffiths, Michael Higdon of Motherwell, Niall McGinn of Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Andrew Shinnie, with bookies installing the Fir Park striker as the 4/5 favourite.
The last time a non-Old Firm player won the accolade was in 1989-90 when Aberdeen midfielder Jim Bett’s efforts were recognised by his peers. Since its inception in 1977-78, the Glasgow clubs have dominated, with Bett just the eighth non-Celtic or Rangers recipient. But this term there will be a new addition to that exclusive club.
The omission of any of Neil Lennon’s SPL-winning squad from the main category has prompted a few raised eyebrows but PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart has rubbished any talk of a conspiracy and dismissed the notion that the award has been undervalued.
“What it does show is that there have been terrific performances from players of other clubs,” he said. “Celtic have been by far and away the best team in Scotland and they have also had a fantastic run in Europe and Motherwell have been wonderful, as have Inverness.
“Other Motherwell players, like Nicky Law, were also in the frame and there were a number of Celtic players who were voted for but they fell just below what was needed to make the shortlist.”
In the past, Celtic players have been presented with the award 18 times, more than any other side, with Charlie Mulgrew winning it last year. But, with players banned from proposing their own team-mates, this year the Parkhead players failed to get the nod from their fellow professionals.
“The likes of Kris Commons, Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Fraser Forster have all played their part for Celtic this season,” said Wishart, “and there were plenty of votes cast for Celtic players but the votes were also cast far and wide. A lot of Celtic players received votes but, if you look at the nominees like Leigh Griffiths Michael Higdon, Andrew Shinnie and Niall McGinn, they were all the outstanding players for their teams. If it was all Celtic players that received the nominations then we would be talking about a negative and asking is there nothing else to Scottish Football?
“It is a democracy, it is not an 11-1 vote and all the players got the chance to vote including the Celtic players and they all returned their forms and this is the way that it has turned out and I think the four candidates really appreciate the honour of nomination.”
“I’m sure if the fans had voted for it there would be a Celtic player involved,” said Higdon, who revealed that he had given fellow goal-grabber Griffiths his backing. “But it’s fellow players and I think they’re going on who has done their best this year. I’m not saying that Celtic players haven’t done their best but there is normally a Henrik Larsson who is 50 goals in front of everyone else. There’s no-one like that this year and it’s the players who vote for it and I’m just grateful that my name is in there.”
One Celtic player did make it on to the shortlist for Young Player of the Year, though. Parkhead midfielder Victor Wanyama is vying with Griffiths and the Dundee United duo of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven for that title.
The winners will be presented with their prizes at the PFA Scotland awards dinner on Sunday 5 May.
PFA Player of the Year
Leigh Griffiths (Hibernian)
Michael Higdon (Motherwell)
Niall McGinn (Aberdeen)
Andrew Shinnie (Inverness CT)
PFA Young Player of Year
Victor Wanyama (Celtic)
Leigh Griffiths (Hibernian)
Stuart Armstrong (Dundee Utd)
Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee Utd)