Obviously many fans and footballers, not to mention managers, pundits and journalists, will say the wrong person was named Player of the Year, because only one man can win from a wide field. Many will disagree with the Player of the Year decision.
Team of the Year, though, is different. Everyone disagrees with Team of the Year.
It’s simple: every side’s supporters feel they have at least one strong candidate for inclusion. With 11 winners instead of only one, more teams should be recognised, right? Alas, you can’t please everyone. In 2007, for instance, eventual champions Manchester United led Chelsea by just three points with four games remaining when eight United players made the PFA’s Team of the Year. It’s a meritocracy, but even though it’s the players themselves who vote, there will be unsung heroes who remain unsung.
And yet there are some Premier League footballers whose omission from every season’s Team of the Year is more shocking than the PFA naming a 2015/16 Championship XI that had 12 players. This isn’t hindsight, either: these unfortunate souls were obvious Team of the Year candidates at the time.
We’ve picked an Unlucky Losers XI, playing in a time-honoured 4-2-3-1 formation. It’s OK – look at the defensive midfielders and you’ll see they have this covered.
GK – Pepe Reina
Reina is a paradox. The follicly-challenged goalkeeper has a collection of winners’ medals that he barely earned (in Spain’s three consecutive international tournament triumphs, he played once), yet he was a superb No.1 who could have won more.
To add insult to injury, Reina never made a PFA Team of the Year despite winning the Premier League Golden Glove three years in a row. Even with 57 clean sheets between 2005/06 and 2007/08, Reina lost the popular vote to Newcastle’s Shay Given, then Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar, then Portsmouth’s David James. The guy couldn’t catch a break.
RB – Michael Essien
That we’ve had to follow Jose Mourinho and force Essien into the side at right-back shows that the PFA Team of the Year does get it right sometimes – at least in this one position.
Essien, though, is very unfortunate never to have received an end-of-season shoutout. The Ghanaian midfielder was integral to Mourinho’s first Blues side, received several Ballon d’Or nominations and won Chelsea’s player-of-the-year award when they finished second in 2006/07.
CB – Steve Bruce
Sadly, it’s often the case that double acts aren’t evenly rewarded. Nigel Hawthorne won four consecutive BAFTAs for Yes (Prime) Minister; co-star Paul Eddington, zero.
Manchester United’s 1990s success was built on the solid defensive partnership of Bruce and Gary Pallister, generously nicknamed Dolly and Daisy by United gaffer Alex Ferguson, yet while Pallister played 22 times for England, Bruce was never capped. Similarly, Pallister was picked for the PFA’s top-flight Team of the Year five times – five! – but Bruce, not even once. Harsh.
CB – Ledley King
It’s easy to forget that, when he still had some cartilage in his legs, King was arguably the best centre-back in the Premier League.
Naturally Spurs fans adored their captain, but King was also well-respected by his peers. Thierry Henry said in 2006 that King “will get the ball off you without you even noticing; without making any fouls”. Just 10 yellow cards and zero reds in a 350-game career is testament to that.