With the voting for the end-of-season awards now open, former Chelsea Player of the Year Pat Nevin casts his eye over the favourites for the 2020 prize and finds an open race…
The awards season in football is coming to a climax and even though no English clubs are left in the Champions League or Europa League, it should be an interesting enough finale. Bayern Munich are the clear favourites after some astonishing results. Just looking at their ties against big names such as Spurs (10-3), ourselves (7-1) and then Barcelona (8-2), and the last one wasn’t even over two legs, it gives an idea of where they are just now. This is the standard everyone has to aim for now.
There are awards closer to home to consider, too, such as the Player of the Year trophies for both the men’s and the women’s teams at Chelsea. These are not easy decisions most seasons, but maybe this year is more difficult than most. Emma Hayes’s side being champions means that obviously there are going to be a few worthy candidates, and when you look at the men’s side, there are also a whole bunch of players that could also have a decent claim.
I certainly will not argue against at least six or seven who could be neck and neck for the gong. Starting from the top of the pitch, Olivier Giroud had an amazing run-in for us and who is to say that the entire season would not have been like that had he got more opportunities in the first half of the campaign. He also showed phenomenal professionalism while being kept out of the side by a youngster in his first full season. Many other World Cup winners, without the same team ethic, might not have taken that setback quite so well.
If we mention Olivier, then we must also consider Tammy Abraham, who had an incredible start to the season. With all that pressure on his shoulders the 18 goals just flew in, along with four assists. The England call-up arrived in no time, and he seemed to grow physically and in terms of maturity with every game during that initial period. It is often the case that someone who has a better end to a season gets the nod over the players who had good starts, simply because it is fresher in the memory, but it would be unfair to ignore Tammy’s early effect. Both strikers will have their backers.
There were moments when Christian Pulisic looked like he might run away with the Player of the Year trophy. At times he was looking like our most potent scorer as well as creator. Chelsea fans will soon tire of comparing him with Eden Hazard, which is unfair on him, but they also know that for raw talent, match intelligence and searing pace as well as an eye for goal, at 20 years old he could be one of the most important players for this club over the next five to 10 years. But did he do enough to win the trophy this season? Well that is down to those who vote, but he will certainly tempt a few to put the proverbial X next to his name.
Mason Mount looked like another who could skip off with the award early on and maybe still will. One thing is very likely, if he doesn’t win it this season, it will not be long before he does. He is such a top player, so versatile and so loved by the Chelsea fans. Reece James joins him on the list of future winners I reckon even if this season might be a tad early for our rampaging right-back.
Talking of rampaging right-backs, Cesar Azpilicueta has arguably had his best ever season for the club, maybe especially in terms of what he has added going forward making and even scoring a few vital goals. His leadership skills have grown exponentially, and it doesn’t seem to matter where he plays in the backline, he has rarely, if ever, let us down this season. A lot of fans have mentioned Mateo Kovacic to me and of course he is a very good call after a massive improvement this season. If he needed a sympathy vote, which he doesn’t, then that ridiculously unfair sending off in the FA Cup final might just help to swing it.
The voting is going to contain a wide range of players and I certainly haven’t covered all the runners and riders here. One player conspicuous by his absence so far is Willian, who in his final season had one of his best at the club. He has lots in his favour. Eleven goals and nine assists puts him just behind Tammy Abraham for being involved in most goals for us. The two goals against Spurs in North London in particular where huge for us and for Frank Lampard at the time. He is also the right height to win our player of the year trophy.
That last sentence seems a bit odd doesn’t it? But look at the last eight presentations. Eden Hazard won four, N’Golo Kante, Juan Mata twice and Willian himself. I mean what is it with Chelsea fans and little guys winning Player of the Year? Even before that history shows Joe Cole, Gianfranco Zola, Dennis Wise, and some bloke called Nevin got it a couple of times (cue opportunity for the editor to show a photo of me looking ridiculous), and of course David Speedie and Charlie Cooke before that.
Willian does have one slight factor less in his favour. When was the last time a current Arsenal player won Chelsea Player of the Year? He might just struggle to get enough votes when this is taken into consideration I suspect.
The decision is important and I am certainly not going to make a suggestion as to which way you should vote. I do however trust the judgement of the Chelsea fans and whoever gets it will be a deserving winner.