Changing Every 'Young Player of the Year' Award Since 2013 to 'Rookie of the Year'

09 August 2020 08:28

From 40 minute games broken up by an hour of advertising to the Slam Dunk Contest, to the un-ironic uses of phrases like the 'Doritos Play of the Day', the rituals and awards of American sport can sometimes look confusing to the uninitiated.

But one thing that the fellas from across the Atlantic got bang on is the concept of a 'Rookie of the Year' award, rather than a gong for Young Player of the Season. It's a very logical choice which rewards the best newcomer to the elite level, rather than those that have been knocking around there for ages.

You'd have to say that this has always been a little too logical for English football, which in nominating a 24-year-old Anthony Martial (145 Premier League apperances) for its new Premier League Young Player of the Season award, continued its proud tradition of not really understanding the point of an award for youngsters - clearly, Martial and his Manchester United teammate Mason Greenwood do not belong in the same category of Young Player.

The new criteria? They must be under 23 years old, and cannot have started over ten games in a single season in one of Europe's 'Big Five' leagues (PL, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1) - so this season Newcastle's Sean Longstaff for example would be eligible (played last season but only started eight times), but Dwight McNeil would not (started 19 times for Burnley last season).

So without further ado, using the PFA Young Player of the Year Award as a point of comparison, here are our Premier League Rookies of the Year since the 2012/13 season.

2012/13: Christian Benteke (Actual PFA Young Player of the Year Award Winner: Gareth Bale)

This was probably the season where the PFA Young Player of the Year award began to say goodbye to any pretensions of reason or credibility.

Gareth Bale wasn't a plucky young whippersnapper in his third season as a Spurs regular - he was one of the top ten players in the entire world. A full year and half previous, he'd taken one of the best right-backs of the last decade to the proverbial cleaners.

Luckily, the Premier League had just welcomed a true force of nature, a young Belgian who would storm the league and have defenders fearing the day they'd have to face him. Wait, Eden Hazard? No, it's Christian Benteke.

What came afterwards was a little more complicated, but a 21-year-old Benteke made football look laughably easy in his first season in the big time, arriving from Genk and bagging 19 league goals in his first campaign, with even the great Michu left in his goalscoring wake.

2013/14: Christian Eriksen (Actual Winner: Eden Hazard)

Perhaps Eden Hazard has been somewhat persecuted by the criteria for Rookie of the Year, but he already had squillions of Lille games under his belt as well as a full season at Chelsea by this point.

Ajax academy product Eriksen was arriving from a league from which, as every single pundit ever likes to remind you, the step up to Premier League football is immense, and he was arriving into a hilariously chaotic Spurs setup to boot.

With Spurs having sold the previous PFA Young Player of the Year for a world-record £85m (a bargain for such a promising youngster), Eriksen was one of the 'Magnificent Seven' bought in with the profits, a group which included such luminaries as Roberto Soldado and Vlad Chiriches.

Eriksen just got on with things as Spurs entered the Tim Sherwood Twilight Zone in a truly bizarre season, starting off with a dominant display on debut at home to Norwich and becoming arguably the creative force for Spurs at the tender age of 21.

2014/15: Harry Kane (Actual Winner: Harry Kane)

Any arguments on this one? No? Good.

Believe it or not, it took a combination of Roberto Soldado's poor form and what can only be described as a prolonged begging campaign from Spurs' fans to persuade Mauricio Pochettino to make the then-prospect Kane a permanent fixture for the Lilywhites.

One incredibly scrappy free-kick winner against Aston Villa later, and a new hero was born at White Hart Lane.

Between an outrageously good performance against Chelsea and a soaring north London derby day winner against Arsenal, Kane more than paid back the trust of his devoted fans, showing that like a broken clock the PFA do occasionally get it right.

2015/16: Dele Alli (Actual Winner: Dele Alli)

Ok, ok, rumbled – this is indeed the third Spurs player in a row. But you have to admit, what they lacked in trophies in the last decade, they made up for in gifted young players.

Truthfully, there was some decent competition for Dele that season, from Kelechi Iheanacho to current sprightly youngster Anthony Martial, but the nutmegging, screamer-scoring second striker with a just a bit of a temper was nothing short of a revelation.

The highlight of his season, of course, was that ridiculous overhead-flick-and-shoot winner against Crystal Palace, a shot that Wayne Hennessey is still rumoured to be looking for. Fair play PFA, two years in a row ain't bad!

2016/17: Gabriel Jesus (Actual Winner: Dele Alli)

This is an undeniably tricky one, in no small part because Dele Alli, in what the Americans would call his 'sophomore season', was head and shoulders above any other young player in the league, racking up 18 goals and seven assists.

It's not immediately obvious who else stands out, although Wilfred Ndidi and Tom Davies made extremely solid starts to life in the top flight. Ultimately it might pay to somewhat controversially take a leaf out of the book of this season's NBA, where for a period of time Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans was fancied for the Rookie of the Year award, despite missing 46 of his team's 65 pre-coronavirus games through injury.

Gabriel Jesus only arrived from Palmeiras in January, so picking him feels downright mean to the other young players who worked so hard to be nominated for my imaginary award. But he also bagged seven goals and four assists over the ludicrously small period of 650 minutes, so go figure!

2017-18: Joe Gomez (Actual Winner: Leroy Sané)

Probably one of the more low key winners, especially since this cruelly snatches the gong away from one of the best individual PL seasons from a winger of any age.

There's also another point of contention in that the recipient could quite easily be Gomez's teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold who, let's be honest, kind of deserves some sort of recognition for the blistering impact that he has had on the league at a young age.

But that is sadly the way the cookie ended up crumbling - Gomez started more frequently than Trent (who only really got in the side around the New Year) and became a key component in a Liverpool defence which was finally starting to wise up having lost a year and half to an ACL injury.

2018/19: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Actual Winner: Raheem Sterling)

Come on guys. Raheem Sterling has been in the league for more seasons than's basically Gareth Bale all over again.

The 2018/19 season was a perfect opportunity to recognise one of the most unique young players the league has seen in years, a defender who just could not be beaten, whether by pace or skill, a true rarity in the age of marauding full-backs.

Instead, Sterling was the man chosen - pretty fair if you were a defender who had to play against him, but won't somebody think of the defensive-minded right-backs?!

2019/20: Dean Henderson (Actual Winner: ?)

Out of the actual realistic candidates, you'd like to assume that Martial, Marcus Rashford, Trent and Jack Grealish and Christian Pulisic are the frontrunners - in other words, just one guy who hasn't already cut his teeth in the Premier League.

From a Rookie of the Year perspective, however, the choice is probably between Saka, Mason Mount, Mason Greenwood and Sheffield United's Dean Henderson. This is where it gets tricky - Saka and Greenwood are probably more promising than Mount, but Mount himself has made more of a contribution to his team's success this season.

The compromise who ticks both boxes? Dean Henderson, who has both established himself as an utter necessity for England's squad, and elevated a fantastic Sheffield United side to European contenders by winning them points on his own throughout the season.

For an on-loan goalkeeper with no prior experience of the highest level, that's pretty good going.

Source: 90min