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Football awards and logic, or lack thereof by George Hodgson-Abbott

Category : Figure It Out

There are two things I like in this world: football and logic. Unfortunately, the two often don’t go well together.

For instance, Leicester City look certain to win the Premier League. This is an incredible achievement which has captured the hearts of the nation, and indeed, the world. However, this defies logic as the club was destined for a relegation battle before the start of the season.

One of their star players, Riyad Mahrez, has been named PFA Players’ Player of the Year to recognise his contribution to their success. The Player of the Year award is given to the best footballer that season, across all of the English leagues, as voted by their fellow players.

There is also a PFA Players’ Young Player of the Year, given to the best Premier League footballer aged 23 or under at the start of the season. This year, the award went to 19 year old Dele Alli for his contributions to Tottenham Hotspur’s impressive season.

Harry Kane was also part of that Tottenham Hotspur team and he was nominated for both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. He was beaten to the Young Player of the Year award by Alli, however, Alli wasn’t nominated for Player of the Year, unlike Kane. This defies logic.

Why? Well, if Kane was nominated for Player of the Year, that means he is considered one of the best six players in the league. As the only player aged 23 or under at the start of the season to be nominated, this means he should be considered the best ‘young player’ in the league. That accolade, however, went to Alli and Kane went home empty handed.

I felt a bit sorry for Harry Kane, so I had a look to see if other footballers had fallen victim to illogic in the past. It turns out that Sergio Aguero and Emile Heskey have suffered a similar fate; the former losing out on the Young Player award to Kyle Walker in 2011/12 season and the latter to Steven Gerrard in 2000/01.

It doesn’t stop there. I looked at the PFA Player and Young Player winners and nominees from every season since 2000/01 and saw that logic was being systematically ignored by the PFA awards.

You would think that if you were under the age of 24 and won PFA Player of the Year, i.e. the best player in the league, then you would automatically win the Young Player award too? Wrong.

Over the past 16 seasons, there have been four occasions when the PFA Player of the Year finished runner up in the PFA Young Player award, despite being eligible:

·         2007/08 - Cristiano Ronaldo (runner up to Cesc Fabregas)

·         2009/10 – Wayne Rooney (runner up to James Milner)

·         2010/11 – Gareth Bale (runner up to Jack Wilshere)

·         2014/15 – Eden Hazard (runner up to Harry Kane)

The 2014/15 instance frustrates me the most as Harry Kane was the runner up to Eden Hazard in the Player of the Year award! A paradox of the purest form.

And before you cry “What if they can only win one of them, hence the contradiction?”, I can assure you that one can indeed win both awards. Recently, Gareth Bale won both awards in 2012/13 and Cristiano Ronaldo six years before him. Those of you who are well versed in football trivia will know that Andy Gray was the only other player to win both awards in the same season, back in 1976-77.

What will happen next season? It’s anyone’s guess - just don’t make it a logical one.

About the author

George Hodgson-Abbott
George Hodgson-Abbott
As an Associate Consultant with a background in Mathematics, I use a range of analytical techniques help clients get insights from their data. I have experience spanning across Central Government, Financial Services, Healthcare and CPG, and I am particularly interested in predictive modelling, data science and analytics technology.
1 Comment Leave a comment
In all 5 of the examples, the player who actually won was younger than the runner up (Rooney and Milner are close, but the other 4 pairs have about 2-3 years between them). This suggests that while the question asked is "Who was the best player of the season, who is also aged 23 or under?", the question the respondents might really be answering is "Who was the best player of the season relative to their age, who is also aged 23 or under?". By putting the word young in the award title, the respondents are led to focus more on players who are youngest, rather than judging all eligible players equally, even if they are not explicitly asked to. A great example of why we should be careful with survey results, especially if we're not careful with the way we ask the question.

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