As expected, social media has been awash with comments and counter-comments on who should be the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) English Premier League 2016/2017 season’s best player.
After the shortlist was released last week including Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, N’Golo Kante and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, each of these players has had someone vouching for them to be the most deserving.
Inevitably, each of these players has also had someone questioning their worthiness. However, this can all be settled by considering a few things. From that list of six, N’Golo Kante has, so far, attracted the loudest noise – for and against.
For a Chelsea fan, Kante has been a revelation. That is not in doubt. Yet for others so keen on detail, Kante does not have the statistics to match. For a midfielder, Kante is not among the top 50 assist-makers. Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi is fiftieth on the log with three assists.
Kante has 1,899 complete passes. He is fourth on that list headed by Paul Pogba on 2,071 complete passes. Kante has made 72 interceptions, placing him five spots behind Hull City’s Curtis Davies, who leads the chart with 87. In addition, Kante has made 94 tackles while Everton’s Idrissa Gueye has 101.
Going by the essential statistics for a midfielder, Kante does not top any category, which is a strong case for those discounting his validity to be the best player in the Premier League this season. But then again, apart from his lack of assists or goals, which is crucial for an attacking midfielder, Kante comes across as a defensive man.
And on that basis, he features prominently in interceptions and tackles across the board more than anyone else. That is what makes him valuable to Chelsea because through tackles and interceptions, he has protected his team from conceding easily.
While defensive players rarely get much credit, Kante’s contribution is a major reason Chelsea are atop the league with six games to go. But because defenders are undervalued when pitted against attackers, then we miss the point. It makes it easy to dismiss Kante.
On the other hand, because of the effective team unit that Antonio Conte has built at Chelsea, it can be difficult to pick out one outstanding performer. So, Kante can win the PFA MVP award on the basis of Chelsea winning the league because it would mean his input brought success.
Some have mentioned Hazard. But the Belgian winger has five assists like Kane and Lukaku and an out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney. Yet, Arsenal’s Alexis has nine assists on top of his 19 league goals. Kane and Lukaku are on 20 and 24 league goals respectively.
Clearly, choosing the MVP can be a real tough one, juggling all these technical aspects around, to find which one is more important than the other. But put simply, the MVP should be that one player without whom a team would have struggled to be where they are.
Come to think of it, that too cannot be easy. Yet, at this juncture, you doubt whether a small team like Everton would have been where they are without Lukaku.
He has propelled them to within the Europa League qualification places. Well, Hazard has scored 14 goals to complement Diego Costa, who has knocked in 17.
However, Ibrahimovic, who has 17 league goals, has not had such company at Manchester United. Juan Mata is Man-Utd’s second premier league top-scorer with six.
It speaks volumes of the contribution Ibrahimovic has made, and why, without him, Man-Utd would be in a worse state. Ibrahimovic’s case is further amplified by the fact that he was crucial in Man-Utd’s other successes in the English Football League and in the Europa League thus far.
Let us face it, the team that wins the league holds the upper hand on getting one of its players voted MVP. So, Kante and Hazard are a shoo-in.