BBC pundits pick their men’s player of the year

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May 21, 2021
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    Match of the Day

    Premier League players have voted later than ever before to choose their Professional Footballers' Association men's player of the year for 2020-21 – but who will be the winner?

    Rather than filling in their ballot forms from mid-March as usual, this time players did not start making their picks until the last week of April.

    But which man deserves the accolade of being named the Premier League's best player and will the later vote make a difference?

    Twenty-five BBC pundits have made their choice, and five names are mentioned – Manchester City stars Kevin de Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan, plus Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

    Scroll down to find out who they have picked, and vote for your choice here.

    If you are viewing this page on the BBC News app please click here to vote.

    1. Alan Shearer: Ruben Dias (Dias' 1st vote)

    He's been a game-changer for City and given them exactly what they lacked at the back last year. He's also had a huge effect on the players around him.

    2. Mark Lawrenson: Kevin de Bruyne (1)

    Kevin de Bruyne has made an assist every 174 minutes in the Premier League this season, the best ratio of any playerKevin de Bruyne has made an assist every 174 minutes in the Premier League this season, the best ratio of any player

    Dias has been good, very good – but De Bruyne has been like 'wow'. At 29, he is arguably the best player in the world right now.

    City have a great team but De Bruyne can do it on his own if he has to. When he gets the ball, you know he will make things happen – and he does it every time.

    3. Ruud Gullit: Phil Foden (1)

    Phil Foden has been involved in 13 Premier League goals this season, the most of any player aged 21 or underWith eight goals and five assists, Phil Foden has been involved in 13 Premier League goals this season, the most of any player aged 21 or under. In all competitions for Manchester City, Foden has 25 goal involvements – 15 goals and 10 assists

    In the past only the big, strong, quick players were the ones always selected by the English teams but now I think smaller, agile and more technical players are trusted more.

    City have given Foden his chance and he has shown he is unbelievable, that he is in the same category as Lionel Messi.

    He is not exactly like Messi as a player – no-one is – but with his stature, his height, his quickness – he is the same. He is a wonderful player and I've loved watching him.

    4. Jermaine Jenas: Ilkay Gundogan (1)

    Graphic showing Ilkay Gundogan is Man City's leading scorer this season in all competitions with 17 goals. Before this season the 30-year-old had not managed more than six league goals in a single season - in 2020-21 he has hit 13Ilkay Gundogan is Manchester City's leading scorer this season in all competitions with 17 goals. Before this season, the 30-year-old had not managed more than six league goals in a single season – in 2020-21, he has hit 13

    For me, Gundogan is Pep Guardiola's guy – Pep's brain on the pitch. He has understood the new way Pep wanted City to play this season, and made it happen.

    On top of that, he has had some of his biggest moments in a City shirt and he was particularly prominent with his goals when they went on that long winning run at the turn of the year.

    At the age of 30, he took on a new role, almost a mixture of what David Silva used to bring to their side, and what De Bruyne still does, and he has then produced so many pivotal performances.

    While other City players have had bursts of form, he has been constantly excellent over the whole season.

    5. Dion Dublin: Kasper Schmeichel (1)

    He's taken responsibility and shown great leadership. His performances have won matches this season, not least the FA Cup final.

    6. Karen Carney: Ruben Dias (2)

    I considered De Bruyne, and Foden has been the young player of the season. I've really enjoyed watching Chelsea's Mason Mount too, but it is Dias for me.

    City have some unbelievable attacking players, but you can only attack like that when you have reassurance from your defenders. You have to have aura, presence and desire, and Dias has gone in and given them all of that.

    With Dias, they have found someone to finally replace Vincent Kompany. He brings leadership, he has a winning mentality and he wants clean sheets.

    Ruben Dias has helped Manchester City keep clean sheets in 14 of the 31 Premier League games he has played this seasonRuben Dias has helped Manchester City keep clean sheets in 14 of the 31 Premier League games he has played this season

    7. Ian Wright: Ruben Dias (3)

    City had to cope with the departure of David Silva last summer but they had Foden ready and waiting in the wings. This summer they will have to deal with the departure of Sergio Aguero, but that replacement process has already started.

    Arguably, the player Pep Guardiola wasn't able to replace was Kompany, when he left in 2019.

    Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are fine defenders but City missed Kompany's leadership skills – until this season. The signing of Dias at the start of October has been City's most significant in terms of transforming the whole team.

    Manchester City defender Ruben DiasManchester City signed Dias from Benfica on 1 October 2020 on a six-year deal for a fee of around £65m

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    City have the best defensive record in the league this season with only 32 league goals conceded – and six of those came in September, before Dias arrived.

    His impact has been felt on Stones too – he has rediscovered his potential playing alongside Dias, who truly organises the City back line.

    City had De Bruyne, Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Fernandinho and Gundogan last season when they finished a distant second to Liverpool. They didn't have Dias, whose influence has taken them that step further.

    He has an incredible future ahead of him – he's only 23 and and he is proof of the old adage that attacks win you games but defences win you titles.

    8. Micah Richards: Ruben Dias (4)

    Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes got my vote when I was asked about this in February, but he doesn't get it now.

    Dias does the simple aspects of defending extremely well and has been so consistent. He's been hugely important in the stability of City's defence, which has won them the Premier League and taken them to the Champions League final too.

    9. Chris Waddle: Kevin de Bruyne (2)

    Tottenham striker Harry Kane has been involved in 35 Premier League goals this season, more than any other playerWith 22 goals and 13 assists, Tottenham striker Harry Kane has been involved in 35 Premier League goals this season, more than any other player. That combined total has only ever been bettered in one Premier League season by Kane himself in 2016-17 (36)

    If the players were voting in March like they usually do, Fernandes would have got a lot of votes.

    Harry Kane has had another excellent season and his Tottenham team-mate Son Heung-min would also have been right in the race.

    But, looking at it now, like the players have been, there are only two contenders – De Bruyne and Dias.

    Personally I will always go for the creator in a choice like that because of the kind of player I was myself – it is a lot harder to create than defend.

    10. Jayne Ludlow: Kevin de Bruyne (3)

    He's just a fabulous all-round midfielder.

    11. Leon Osman: Ruben Dias (5)

    Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes has been involved in 30 Premier League goals this seasonWith 18 goals and 12 assists, Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes has been involved in 30 Premier League goals this season – the most by a United player in a single campaign since Robin van Persie (35) in 2012-13. Only two other players have ever had more combined goals and assists in a Premier League season for the club – Cristiano Ronaldo with 37 in 2007-08 and Wayne Rooney with 31 in 2011-12

    Bruno Fernandes comes close. His numbers have been that good, and he kept United afloat until the likes of Paul Pogba joined the party later in the season.

    But it has to be a City player because of the campaign they are having, and Dias stands out. Ultimately he has reminded everyone that defending comes first.

    12. Lucy Ward: Ruben Dias (6)

    My third choice would be Stuart Dallas because of how well Leeds have done this season and how pivotal he is to what they have done. They have been the surprise package, and he epitomises what they are all about.

    My number two is Tomas Soucek at West Ham because he is a result of some fantastic recruitment. He and Vladimir Coufal have both improved the team but Soucek shows exactly what a top-class box-to-box midfielder can do. His form, his goals and his defensive work have helped West Ham to get where they are.

    West Ham midfielder Tomas SoucekWest Ham signed Czech Republic midfielder Tomas Soucek from Slavia Prague for £19.1m in July 2020. The 26-year-old has scored 10 Premier League goals for the Hammers this season, and tops the divisional rankings for duels won, aerial duels won and kilometres covered in 2020-21

    I was torn between Soucek and Dias for number one but I've gone for Dias simply because City have won the league and are in the Champions League final, and what makes him all the more special is his age.

    When you are a young player, you often just concentrate on your own game but he is that comfortable with himself, he has the capacity to affect others.

    13. Ashley Williams: Ruben Dias (7)

    Dias gets my vote, and not only because I'm fully paid-up member of the defenders' union.

    He's a natural leader who has transformed Manchester City and ended the defensive frailty they'd had since Kompany left.

    14. Lindsay Johnson: Ruben Dias (8)

    He has exceptional leadership qualities for a young player and he leaves everything on the pitch, which is infectious to those around him.

    15. Chris Sutton: Ruben Dias (9)

    This is his first season in the Premier League but it looks like he has been here for years. We always talk about players needing time to bed in when they come over here. If so, how good is he going to be next season?

    The impact he has had for City is similar to the one Virgil van Dijk made at Liverpool in 2018. He's the reason they are where they are, and it was a brilliant piece of recruitment to sign him.

    Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Man City, 2nd Man Utd, 3rd Chelsea, 4th Liverpool, 5th Leicester & 6th West Ham

    City have had great teams before under Guardiola but they have probably always been a bit of a soft touch at the back. Not any more.

    Guardiola loves players who can play out from the back and Dias is competent at that of course – but he is also brave, strong and quick, and he is a good decision-maker who sets such high standards and does the basics incredibly well.

    16. Pat Nevin: Phil Foden (2)

    Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and forward Phil FodenWith 34 starts and 14 substitute appearances, Foden has played 48 games for City this season, his highest total yet in a single campaign. Last season he played 38 times, including 18 starts, and in 2018-19 it was 26 games, including 11 starts

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    Every time I've watched City – and I've watched quite a few games – he has made a fantastic impression, and he has added that urgency to the team when they have needed it.

    His match intelligence is amazing and also on top of that, the energy levels that he adds to City are fantastic.

    Going off the past two or three months, some Chelsea players have come into the mix, like N'Golo Kante for example.

    His display against Real Madrid in the Champions League was probably the best individual performance I have seen from anyone all season, but this award comes down to what you do over the whole season.

    17. Matthew Upson: Kevin de Bruyne (4)

    Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne has created 73 Premier League chances this seasonManchester City's Kevin de Bruyne has created 73 Premier League chances in 1,911 Premier League minutes this season – a chance every 26.18 minutes. That ratio is the same as Aston Villa's Jack Grealish (80 chances in 2,094 minutes) and is the best in the top flight in 2020-21

    His intensity has gone up a notch, and he's one of the few players who can grab any team by the scruff of its neck and change the outcome.

    Out of possession, it is noticeable how hard he works now. That's where I've seen the change – he has always brought the match-winning pass.

    But I just think he is the most valuable player in the Premier League at the moment. If you could take one player from any team, he would be your man.

    18. Clinton Morrison: Ruben Dias (10)

    Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and defender Ruben DiasManchester City have conceded an average of 0.7 goals per game in the Premier League this season when Ruben Dias has started, a goal fewer than they have in the six league games when he hasn't started for Pep Guardiola's side (1.8)

    The thing that stands out for me is that Dias has not just been a good defender, he's made others in his team better as well.

    19. Sue Smith: Ruben Dias (11)

    Mount has proved people wrong, and I could have made a case for Soucek and Coufal for West Ham. There is Fernandes at Manchester United as well, but when a team wins the Premier League and reaches the Champions League final, it's hard to look past them.

    A few City players deserve a mention. You can talk about Foden and Riyad Mahrez, and I considered Gundogan at one point too.

    Ilkay Gundogan scores for Manchester City against NewcastleGundogan, shown here opening the scoring for City in their 2-0 win over Newcastle on 26 December, has the best shot conversion rate of any midfielder in the Premier League (24.1%) from players to have attempted 50-plus shots in 2020-21

    But the impact Dias has had on City has been great. He's fitted in so quickly and he has improved people around him. That's what takes a good player from an exceptional player – for example, his partnership with Dias has helped John Stones' game come on.

    20. Danny Murphy: Kevin de Bruyne (5)

    In the big moments, De Bruyne is the one who has unlocked the doors.

    I know what Dias has contributed and he would be a worthy winner, but if you are asking me to pick someone based on what is magical about football, then De Bruyne is the one.

    He continuously has the ability to turn games, especially against opposition that put every man behind the ball.

    How? Well, it's down to his calmness, and his courage to keep playing those passes, and keep giving us those moments we love watching in football.

    21: Michael Brown: Ruben Dias (12)

    De Bruyne is the match-winner, Foden's development has been incredible and Gundogan has had a brilliant season.

    But it has to be Dias. When you look at City's clean sheets – those times of need when they had no strikers and could not score goals – they are down to him. He has made more starts than any other City player this season, and he has made the difference in a very different City side.

    Since he joined on 1 October, Ruben Dias has made 47 starts out of a possible 55 for Man City in all competitions this season, more than any other outfield player. City have conceded more than one goal in only five of those games and have kept 26 clean sheetsSince he joined on 1 October, Ruben Dias has made 47 starts out of a possible 55 for Man City in all competitions this season, more than any other outfield player. City have conceded more than one goal in only five of those games and have kept 26 clean sheets

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    Pep's philosophy has played a big part in that as well. He decided early on in the season that they weren't going to get counter-attacked, and needed to control games – they've done that.

    But they couldn't have done it so well without Dias in the side.

    22: Stephen Warnock: Ruben Dias (13)

    Gundogan would probably have run him close if he had continued that rich vein of scoring form, but it was not to be.

    Dias is not just the stand-out player, he has made defending cool again. First it was the full-backs, now it is the central defenders getting recognised – Van Dijk and now Dias – and rightly so. It's not just the flair players who are important in a winning team.

    Manchester City centre-backs Ruben Dias and John StonesDias and Stones have conceded 12 goals in the 25 games they have started together in all competitions for Manchester City. Until City lost the Manchester derby on 7 March, they had actually scored more goals than they had let in during games they had started this season – before that game, they had conceded three goals in 16 starts, and scored five

    23: Rob Green: Ruben Dias (14)

    I was thinking about Soucek, and Patrick Bamford has had a great season too – but I can't get past Dias.

    The reason City won the league is because they built their side around defensive solidity, which he provides – if you go over the top, he is quick enough to cope and if you play it up to the big man he is strong enough to cope. No-one can compare with that, really.

    From a goalkeeping point of view, there are a few candidates and it is too close to call.

    Emiliano Martinez at Villa has carried on where he left off at Arsenal and Robert Sanchez at Brighton has been sensational.

    Edouard Mendy has been the answer for Chelsea and Ederson has hardly let a goal in for City but Schmeichel's display in the FA Cup final capped another fine campaign and he is up there too.

    Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been on the winning side in 20 Premier League games this seasonLeicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been on the winning side in 20 Premier League games this season. Manchester City's Ederson, with 24 wins, is the only keeper to have more

    24: Rachel Brown-Finnis: Ruben Dias (15)

    City's inconsistency from last season has been ironed out, and it's all because of him.

    Pep rotates a lot, but Dias is the mainstay, and his presence means the rest of the City team have complete confidence in their defence, even in the biggest games.

    25: Martin Keown: Ruben Dias (16)

    I love the commitment to defending right through City's team but the man at the heart of the best defence in the country is Ruben Dias.

    I refer to him as their governor at the back, because of his awareness and anticipation of any danger, and how he communicates that to his team-mates around him to get them into the right positions to deal with it.

    And the winner is… Ruben Dias

    Manchester City defender Ruben DiasDias received 16 votes, with De Bruyne getting five, Foden two and Gundogan and Schmeichel one apiece. Will the Premier League players agree with our pundits though?Around the BBC - Sounds

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