Jim White

Yaya Toure, not Suarez, is Footballer of the Year

Jim White

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There is only one obstacle in the way of Luis Suarez doing the double in the footballer of the year awards. Only one thing that might stop him adding the Football Writers’ gong to the Professional Footballer’s Association trophy he picked up last Sunday. And it is a sizeable one: Yaya Toure.

For me, however brilliant Suarez has been, however much he has driven Liverpool by sheer force of will (plus a few spectacular goals) into contention, however many goals the Uruguayan has scored, Toure is the player of the season. If Manchester City finally wake up and accept the gift which has been offered them by their rivals to pick up their second Premier League title in three years, Toure will be the man to thank. He has been instrumental in their late charge for the top, his return to the side has transformed a team which seemed resigned to being out of the running and turned them back into favourites.

You only have to look at Toure’s performance against Crystal Palace last Sunday to appreciate what a player he is. His two surging, galloping runs, haring through the Palace backline like the front runner in the 3.15 at Chepstow, were evidence not just of his power and pace, but his ability to inspire. Who could not be lifted having a man of that scale on their side? Who would not be lifted knowing they had such pace and power at their disposal? Toure was not just immense against one of the Premier League form sides. His effort was brilliantly timed.

There have been several articles appearing this week from writers suggesting that Suarez was not going to get their vote for moral reasons. After all, he started the season with a ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic, not to mention the continuing stink for his racist language directed at Patrice Evra. For some of the FWA voting constituency he fails to fulfil the abiding instruction given by the founder of the award Charles Buchan that the Footballer of the Year should “by precept and example” demonstrate his superiority over the rest of the field.

This is nonsense. The title of the award is Footballer of the Year. What Suarez did in the past is irrelevant. What counts is this season. And this year, the Uruguayan has been absolutely superb. Until you see him live it is hard to appreciate how much he brings to a game. He is not simply a finisher, his skill, his tactical nous, his bravery are second to none. He runs a game from a forward position. In the criteria demanded by Buchan, he has led the Liverpool charge by example, his performance absolutely insisting his colleagues follow. How much must Arseanl fans regret that their board’s silly games over his price last summer prevented them from signing him. It is not ridiculous to suggest had the Arsenal board not antagonised the Liverpool hierarchy by trying to be so clever in offering a quid more than his contractual buy-out clause, they could now be looking at a title. He is that good.

But still, not good enough in my mind to win the award. In this extraordinarily open season, Toure has done more. Just.

At the very top of sport, the differences are fractions, tiny percentages. The truth is the difference between Toure and Suarez is so thin it would be impossible to separate their candidacy by as much as a cigarette paper. We have been blessed to see such great players this season: whatever the criticism of the Premier League’s relentless rush for money, the fact it is able to attract such talent to these shores is something that benefits us all.

But of the two it is Toure for me. 19 goals from someone who is ostensibly a defensive midfielder is a ridiculous return. And what goals too. Blasts, tap-ins, headers, and beautifully steered freekicks: he provides the lot.

This weekend City face what is basically the last barrier in their way to the title. A month ago you might have given Everton a chance of messing up Mancunian ambition and thus delivering the prize to their Merseyside rivals. But that was when Toure was absent injured. Nobody – not Sergio Aguero, not the brilliant David Silva, not even the defensive titan Vincent Kompany – is as vital to Manuel Pellegrini’s ambitions as Toure. No-one makes them tick like he does. No-one else provides such leadership, the drive, the forceful determination. Without him, there was always a chance Everton could – however reluctantly – do the neighbours across Stanley Park a turn. With him in the side, City will do it. With Yaya Toure in your line-up, you are halfway to the title. Which is why he deserves to be crowned the footballer of the year. That’s why he has got my vote.

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