The PFA and FWA awards have long been handed out, but only now can everyone relax as we name our Premier League Player of the Season.
Riyad Mahrez was honoured with the PFA Player of the Year award at the end of April, with his Leicester City team-mate Jamie Vardy claiming the FWA and Barclays awards early the next month, but the prize the players really want to win is only now being handed out.
Here are our top five Premier League players of the season…
5. Dimitri Payet
The top four, ordering aside, was simple to choose, but selecting the fifth best player of the Premier League season was a much tougher task.
Dele Alli was outstanding for Tottenham but has already won our Young Player award, while Mesut Ozil was exceptional in the first half of the season but less effective in the second as Arsenal’s title challenge faltered.
David de Gea also deserves a mention for ensuring Manchester United were able to finish fifth despite their less than impressive goalscoring prowess, but Payet gets the nod over all the above as recognition for a marvellous first season in English football.
As a 28-year-old who had spent his whole career in France, it would not be unfair to say Payet represented something of a risky signing at £10.7million, but that certainly looks like money well spent now.
Payet finished the season as West Ham’s joint top goalscorer in the Premier League with nine, establishing himself as something of a free-kick specialist along the way, while his tally of 12 assists was bettered only by Ozil and Christian Eriksen, both of who played significantly more minutes.
Payet, of course, missed the back end of November and the entirety of December with a ligament injury, but he provided a goal and an assist on his first start after regaining fitness. It takes some players weeks to recapture their best form, but Payet gives the impression of a man who could roll up on a Saturday after eight pints the night before and still be the best player on the pitch.
He’s been a joy to watch this season; the only shame is that he didn’t arrive in the Premier League sooner.
4. Harry Kane
We have a curious habit in this country of doubting the long-term prospects of any Englishman to enjoy sudden success.
That was certainly the case with Harry Kane, who scored 21 Premier League goals in his breakthrough season but was suspiciously viewed by many as a one-season wonder, particularly when he failed to net in the first seven games of this campaign.
However, after breaking his drought in Tottenham’s 4-1 win over Manchester City in late September, Kane scored a hat-trick at Bournemouth three games later in what proved to be the turning point of his season. He followed that up with another seven goals in his next eight games to reach double figures on Boxing Day and re-establish himself as one of the Premier League’s most feared forwards.
A further 14 goals were to come in the second half of the season as Kane clinched the Golden Boot by a goal from Jamie Vardy and Sergio Aguero. As England prepare for the European Championship, it’s a case of Kane and who else for Roy Hodgson.
3. Jamie Vardy
Whichever order we put these final three in, there would be complaints. The truth is that all three deserve the number one spot, such was the size of their respective contributions to Leicester’s unbelievable Premier League title success.
In numbers, Vardy’s contribution was 24 goals and six assists, a combined tally higher than any other player in the league. During his 11-game scoring run between August and November, his goals were worth an incredible 14 points. With the greatest amount of respect to his team-mates, there is not another player at the King Power Stadium that could have filled the void were Vardy to have got injured for any period of time.
There is an argument that, without the 29-year-old, Leicester’s tactics would simply not have worked. That is not to downplay the amazing roles performed by the players behind him, but words cannot explain how important Vardy’s pace was for a team that defended deep and in numbers but broke quickly on the counter.
The system also required stellar defending, the energy of N’Golo Kante, the passing range of Danny Drinkwater and the skill of Riyad Mahrez, among much else, but Vardy’s ability to outsprint pretty much every centre-back in the league meant teams simply didn’t know how to set up against the Foxes.
Sit deep and they had no chance of breaking down the masses of men in blue, but push forward and know one simple pass over the top could have them in trouble within seconds of them losing the ball themselves. Vardy, perhaps more than any other player, ensured Claudio Ranieri’s tactics worked to perfection.
2. Riyad Mahrez
As well as the PFA award, Mahrez also won the Leicester supporters’ Player of the Season title. Despite the goals of Vardy and all-round brilliance of Kante, it was Mahrez who excited the fans most at the King Power Stadium this season.
The Algerian also received the majority of votes from fans on this website. Clearly, he has a way of playing that people love to watch.
Like Vardy – well, any Leicester player in all honesty – it is impossible to explain his contribution by numbers alone. He scored 17 goals and set up another 11 in the Premier League, but he played a part in countless others.
His tally of 3.5 successful dribbles per game was bettered only by one player in the league – even when he did not make the final pass, Mahrez was usually crucial in helping get the Foxes up the pitch into dangerous positions. He has that perfect blend of pace and skill which can trouble any defender in the world. Talk of him being watched by the likes of Barcelona certainly shouldn’t be viewed as fanciful.
A big move may well follow at some point for Mahrez, but for now he can make do with yet more recognition for a truly remarkable season.
1. N’Golo Kante
As fans, it is almost always the creators and finishers that capture our hearts most. Certainly it is rare for a player whose main job is to break up play to win awards ahead of those that do the business in the final third, but it says a lot that Kante won the Leicester players’ Player of the Season award.
If his performances sometimes went unnoticed outside of the club because of the exploits of Vardy and Mahrez, he certainly wasn’t ever under-appreciated by his team-mates.
Kante’s contribution to the Foxes’ cause is perhaps best summed up by the man credited with getting him to the club in the first place, head of recruitment Steve Walsh.
“I keep telling the same joke over and over again,” Walsh said last month. “No matter who we’re playing we play three in midfield, we play (Danny) Drinkwater in the middle as a holding player and we play Kante either side.”
Kante made more tackles (4.7) and more interceptions (4.2) per game than any other player in the Premier League this season, but consider this: only 15 successfully completed more dribbles per game than the Frenchman (1.6).
In an era when many midfielders seem to escape being only defensive or attacking, Kante can do it all.