Friday, 10 June 2011

Liverpool FC Player of the Season - The Contenders

This has been a season like no other at Liverpool Football Club. From despair both on and off the field, a revival under the guidance of FSG and Kenny Dalglish has brought about a sense of optimism scarcely believed possible in November.

Since taking over as manager, Kenny Dalglish has been consistently quick to divert all the credit bestowed upon the club from himself to the players. Whilst the manager's humility will fail to convince many that it is merely the enthusiasm amongst the squad that has turned the season around, we are approaching the time of year where one player is acknowledged for their significant contribution over the past nine months. Although Dalglish would undoubtedly emphasise a group effort, certain names are candidates for the Player of the Season award.

Pepe Reina

From a season in which Reina's defence was conspicuous by its absence before the turn of the year, the Spaniard once more emerges with great credit.

Despite an error against Arsenal denying Roy Hodgson's ten men a win on the opening day of the season, the overwhelming feeling during the ex-Fulham manager's tenure was that it could have been much worse had a lesser man been protecting the Liverpool goal.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The away fixture against Birmingham stands out as a candidate for individual performance of the season. A negative performance on the road saw a point salvaged thanks to the magnificence of Liverpool's goalkeeper as those in front of him failed to retain possession or provide any protection at set-pieces.

Although Reina became increasingly disillusioned during Hodgson's reign, notably at the coaching methods implemented, his performances remained impressive.

Reina's quick distribution has been an asset in the Liverpool armoury throughout the Barcelona youth product's time at the club. Although briefly eradicated under Hodgson, the willingness of Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt to provide an outlet whenever Reina gathers the ball has seen the swiftest of counter-attacks return under Dalglish, providing goals against Birmingham and Newcastle in recent weeks at Anfield.

For long parts of this season, the belief that this would be Reina's last on Merseyside continued to grow. News that the stopper has had a change of heart as the team have returned to form under Dalglish will be welcomed by all. The most important signing for next season has already been made.

Dirk Kuyt

Liverpool's Dutch international has been symbolic of the club's fortunes this season. A disappointing first half of the season has been forgotten following an impressive conclusion, embodying the drive and determination that has served Dalglish's Liverpool so well.

Under Hodgson, Kuyt was a peripheral figure at most. The outstanding effort that we know him for was never missing, but his touch deserted him woefully as he was shifted around the team. Whether playing on the right or centrally, Kuyt struggled to form any cohesive partnership with the misfiring Fernando Torres or the erratic Davod N'Gog. When combined with an injury sustained on international duty, Hodgson would be entitled to believe that he never had the real Dirk Kuyt at his disposal.

As dissenting mutterings about Kuyt's suitability for a successful Liverpool grew amongst supporters, the Dutchman returned to his best.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

He has thrived in Dalglish's version of the 4-2-3-1 formation, in which he has the freedom to push forward to support the frontman. This was exhibited to devastating effect in the 3-0 home victory over Manchester City. Working either side of Andy Carroll, Suarez and Kuyt were difficult to pick up and caused mayhem in the City defence. If this is to be the way forward for Liverpool next season, it is a system that can certainly work.

However, Kuyt's stand out performance came on a day in which he was deployed centrally. Kuyt's appetite for a goal in the big games has been a trademark of his Liverpool career, but his hattrick against Manchester United was a masterclass in being in the right place at the right time.

Kuyt remains a versatile player with an infectious attitude towards hard graft, but he has been a key component in Dalglish's revival. He is undeniably a candidate for the Player of the Season award but a weak end to 2010 may count against him. However, if he continue his 2011 form next season, he will be a vital asset to the club.

Luis Suarez

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I am not a fan of awarding a player who has only taken part in half of the season this award, but considering this could cynically be said about many Liverpool players, Luiz Suarez is deserving of recognition for his stunning impact since arriving at the club.

Liverpool have been desperate for a number seven with a feverish attitude towards the game, matched by a significant amount of skill. In the Uruguayan international, the fans may have found what they have been craving for so long.

I remember the reaction on the Kop in Suarez's d├ębut against Stoke. Having come off the bench, his first involvement was to be booted into the air by Andy Wilkinson. “Welcome to England, lad” was the chortle from those around me. Moments later Suarez received the ball in a similar situation, but rather than experiencing another aerial view of the city, the new signing backed into his man, before spinning to show him a clean pair of heels. The fan to my right looked at me and said simply, “he's going to be alright”. He has been.

Suarez combines scintillating individual skill with the pace that has been horribly absent from much of Liverpool's play this season. Although he sometimes has a rush of blood to the head in the box when others are in better positions, Suarez's impact has been huge.

Audacious, aggressive, unpredictable but thus far, brilliant. I am not advocating Suarez winning the award. I am merely suggesting that his name will grace the trophy at some point in the years to come.

Lucas Leiva

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a massive fan of Lucas. It started in slightly derogatory terms. Put simply, I liked him because he wasn't very good and I felt sorry for him. Like the runt in the litter, there was an endearing quality about the young Brazilian. At the time I never thought in my wildest dreams that his name would feature in this list. Lucas, I'm sorry I ever doubted you.

Lucas was one of the few players to enhance his reputation under Hodgson, topping the passing percentage, tackling and interception statistics almost every week. Through sheer endeavour and tenacity, Lucas has played his way into the affections of Liverpool fans.

Lucas is another name to gain a reputation as a big game player, having seen them pass him by in previous years. In both victories against Chelsea and the wins against Manchester United and Manchester City at Anfield, the Brazilian was a key destructive influence. Key characteristics of Lucas' game have improved immeasurably and for the first time in his Liverpool career, he is receiving the credit he deserves from the majority of the fanbase.

The former scapegoat is currently winning the poll on the official website and a victory would be somewhat symbolic. If the majority of fans had their way, Lucas would have left Liverpool a long time ago. If certain individuals at the helm of the club had their way, this would have been a very real possibility. However, this is a transfer that Rafa Benitez got right. If the midfielder receives the award at the final home game of the season humble pie will be the main course in many Merseyside households.

Lucas has come on strongly in the face of adversity and the winning of this award would draw a line under what is now merely the myth that he is not good enough.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There is no denying that this award means more at the end of a successful season. However, the momentum gained should serve Liverpool well at the start of next season, whoever may come into the club over the summer.

I am only one voice out of the many who will vote for this award. However, my vote went to Lucas Leiva. If one man symbolises the attitude a player at Liverpool should have, he could well be it. In accordance with the anthem that lifts Anfield each week, Lucas stayed positive during the hard times and with no lack of hard work, has emerged a better player. If Lucas picks up the trophy at the end of the story, he will have come out of the storm to find a golden sky.

No comments: