Ireland the likely PFA young pick


REPUBLIC OF Ireland exile Stephen Ireland is expected to be crowned PFA young player of the year after his stellar performances for Manchester City this season.

The 22-year-old, who has scored 12 goals from midfield this term, is short-listed alongside the likes of Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans and Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young.

Evans’ Manchester United team-mate Rafael and Tottenham Hotspur flyer Aaron Lennon make up the final six after catching the eye of their fellow professionals.

Evans has enjoyed an outstanding season, stepping in for Ferdinand on a regular basis but arguably Rafael, an 18-year-old Brazilian, has made an even more startling impact.

There is plenty of competition though, with Agbonlahor and Young both making the final six in recognition of Aston Villa’s brilliant first half of the campaign.

While the competition is likely to be stiff, Ireland has enjoyed the most consistent season and is most likely to succeed Cesc Fabregas.

Ireland, who remains steadfast in his decision not to return to the international arena, might have courted controversy earlier in his career but the youngster has put all that behind him this term with some fine performances that have outshone Brazilian duo Robinho and Elano.

United dominate the senior awards, with Steven Gerrard the only non-United player on the list of nominees.

As voting took place before United’s recent dip in form, it is perhaps no surprise the quintuple-chasing outfit provide five contenders – including Ryan Giggs, who has never won the award despite boasting a record 10 league titles.

However, it could look a little strange if Liverpool or Chelsea, who have no one in the list for either the senior or young player prize, go on to win the Premier League.

Gerrard could benefit from a split vote for United players as David Ginola did during the 1999 treble-winning season, a fact which still irritates Alex Ferguson.

Aside from Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar – who kept a record 14 consecutive clean sheets earlier in the season – are also nominated, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, who could become the first player to win three times in succession.

However, the favourite to lift the trophy at Grosvenor House on April 26th remains Nemanja Vidic, another ever-present during United’s record run of clean sheets.

Apart from a dismal performance in the home defeat by Liverpool last month which culminated in a sending off and a two-match ban, Vidic has hardly put a foot wrong all season.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, has reacted to the nominations by suggesting some of his squad would be in the frame if voting was at the end of the season. No Gunners players are included on the shortlist, despite going 18 matches unbeaten in the Premier League, and Wenger feels the system is flawed.

“What I believe is that the PFA players of the year decisions are all made in February,” the Frenchman said. “But February is not a really important time and that means the players who are rewarded are those who played well until February.

“Now is the most important time of the season – April, May – so I believe these awards just reward the players of the first six months of the season.

“A player who has been out until January has no chance to be voted but he can still be very influential for the rest of the season.

“If they vote in May I hope some of my players would be in there because that would mean we have done well tomorrow and later.

“I believe what is important is we are in a team sport and I’m not too interested in singling out players.

“I am ready to vote what is the best team at the end of the season rather than about individuals.”