CELTIC won the championship and the Scottish Cup last season, but not one of their players made it on to the PFA Scotland shortlist for Players’ Player of the Year. The reason given – one not universally accepted as gospel – was that too many players from the Parkhead club had been nominated, thus diluting the vote.
This year, at least in the league, Celtic have been more dominant than ever. This year, Anthony Stokes hopes there will be no repeat of that omission from the shortlist. This year, the striker is sure, the award has to go to his team-mate Kris Commons.
Stokes also believes that Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Fraser Forster have strong cases to be included on the shortlist of four, which is due to be announced this week. But he is convinced that the award itself – won last year by Michael Higdon of Motherwell – has to be given to the player who has had the greatest all-round influence this season.
“Virgil has been outstanding this year, but I’d probably give it to Kris, just for his goals and influence in games,” Stokes said yesterday. “He’s been massive for us this season and has had the biggest impact of any player I can see in the league. He’s a great player to play beside. I’m up alongside him and he sees a pass, while his goals have taken his game to a new level.
“The votes can be erratic, but speaking personally I think it’s hard to look past those two. But you never know and it will be interesting to see.
“Big Virgil has been outstanding this season – the boys at the back went on that run without conceding any goals and Virgil was a big part of that. With his composure on the ball, he’s the all-round centre half. He’s been exceptional this season.
“But as a striker, playing alongside Kris, I think he probably deserves it for his goals and assists. I think he’s been pushed a bit further up the pitch and it’s suited him.
“He’s been on the end of everything. Any ball that broke there for three or four months just fell nicely for him. But you have to get yourself in the position to score those goals.”
The development of Commons’ goalscoring instincts has been timely for Celtic, who lost Gary Hooper last summer and needed someone to replace his goals. Commons has done that, while at the same time remaining a vital influence in midfield.
“We were short of strikers before we brought the boys in and started the campaign with myself and Kris up front,” Stokes continued. “He was in a deeper role, but any chance he got he took. He can strike a ball from anywhere on the pitch and has scored some incredible goals. Kris has added a different dimension to his game this season – pushing on that bit further and getting on the end of bits and pieces.”
Commons has attracted interest from newly-promoted Leicester City, and Van Dijk is also sure to come to the attention of English clubs this summer. Stokes has no desire to see either player leave, but admitted he thought the Dutchman would go on to play at the highest level.
“I think Virgil can go right to the very top – I genuinely do. Playing Champions League, he looked comfortable and composed and the world is his oyster.
“I think he could play at a high level. I came through the ranks with quite a few of the young boys down at Arsenal and he’d be right up the top of any of the boys I saw down south.”
Asked to add two more names to his hypothetical shortlist of four, Stokes mentioned Forster before turning his attention to Aberdeen.
“I’d have to put Fraser Forster in there, too – he’s one of the best goalkeepers I’ve ever played with.
“Looking at some of the saves he made this year, people say he doesn’t get tested enough, but during that period of our clean sheets, he came up with vital saves at crucial times. That was massive.
“It’s difficult outside [of Celtic], because it’s hard to gauge. We’re playing on a Saturday, you only see highlights and the attacking players scoring goals, the likes of the Stevie Mays and other strikers. It’s hard to tell how other midfielders and defenders are doing. Watching highlights, it’s just attacking moves and it can be hard to see the bigger picture.
“Given who we have played against, every time we have played against Barry Robson, he’s been a thorn in our sides. He’s been exceptional and Niall McGinn is coming back into a bit of form.
“Players work hard through a season and it is nice to get the recognition from your peers in the league.
“At the end of the day, it’s about us winning trophies, but it’s a nice touch and something a lot of players would hope to be involved in.
“We’re going to be biased, but seeing how well we have done domestically this season, I’d be very surprised if we didn’t get a couple in. You saw last season, though, that you just never know.”
Meanwhile, one award that will definitely be won by Stokes or a team-mate is Celtic’s own Player of the Year. Supporters can vote online at www.celticfc.net/poy2014 in that category and several others, including Goal of the Season.