By David Lynch
It would be difficult to find a more fruitless pursuit than calling for Liverpool forward Luis Suarez to win the PFA Player of the Year award.
For starters, voting for the prize is all but finished at this stage; the window of opportunity to influence the managers and players who decide its recipient has already passed. But there is, of course, a more obvious reason to avoid backing the Uruguayan - that being that his standing in English football dictates that he simply will not win.
Admittedly, the stain of last season’s damaging racism row involving Patrice Evra has yet to fade, and the striker maintains a reputation for a brand of diving which is duplicitously viewed as definitively South American. However, the 26-year-old has both served his punishment for the former misdemeanour - disregarding the argument over whether it was adequate - and curbed his taste for the theatrical in, well, dramatic fashion over recent months.
The very moment when Suarez’s chances of earning recognition from his peers evaporated came in January, when the striker infamously handled the ball into the net to help knock Conference National side Mansfield Town out of the FA Cup courtesy of a 2-1 win.
Though the incident provided the catalyst for two weeks of faux moralising, it was the more immediate explosion of vitriol from social networking websites and an ill-judged outburst from a well-known commentator covering the game which proved most telling. Observers, it seemed, did not need a replay to know what they had seen; Suarez had reverted to his naturally recidivistic tendencies by default – that much was clear.
Had a football fan - or, more importantly in this context, a player or manager - viewed the incident just once, they would have been denied the right to make up their own mind on the matter courtesy of a tidal wave of outrage. Suarez was and is, to borrow the word most commonly used in the fallout, a cheat.
And cheats do not deserve to win any awards, never mind matches.
Were this recognition to be handed out based on the evidence provided on a football field, Suarez would be the odds-on favourite to take the prize next month. The fact that he has scored 22 goals so far this term in the Premier League, three more than his nearest competitor, would usually be enough to ensure victory. But it will not.
That the Salto-born forward’s clear cut-chance conversion rate of 58 per cent dwarves those of his challengers for the award - namely Robin van Persie (36%) and Gareth Bale (55%) - should also have turned the tide in his favour. But it will not.
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These impressive statistics do not even come close summing up the striker’s true worth to his team. No figures can account for the amount of times onlookers have simply laughed in disbelief after Suarez has emerged from another blind alley with the ball or nutmegged yet another unwilling opponent.
That this perfect combination of aesthetic quality and undeniable effectiveness is allied to a work-rate unrivalled in the top flight should make the question “which player have you least enjoyed facing this season?” a rhetorical one for stars of the Premier League.
Unfortunately for Suarez, that is not what the PFA ballot sheet reads. A tainted popularity contest has emerged in its place.
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