The Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season award is a huge honour for any Manchester United player, which includes past winners Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Roy Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo.
David de Gea has won the prize for the last three consecutive seasons, joining Ronaldo in winning the accolade three times. This also highlights the demise of Manchester United since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
While the Spanish goalkeeper has once again enjoyed a fine season in Manchester, this year should see an outfield player claim the prize for the first time since Robin van Persie collected it in 2013 following Manchester United’s last title win.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic came to Manchester United as a 34-year-old much travelled striker whose clubs included Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint Germain. Everywhere he had been, he was successful.
While some doubted the ageing Swede could continue to produce the goods in a tough, physical English league, he has answered them (as he promised he would) by his goal return of 27 goals so far and has already picked up two trophies, the Community Shield last August and the EFL Cup in February, where his two goals and Man of the Match award, saw Manchester United overcome a spirited Southampton at Wembley.
In any other season, Ibrahimovic would walk away with the Sir Matt Busby trophy but Antonio Valencia’s remarkable season should see the converted right-back pick up the prize as the most consistent performer this year.
Valencia picked up his third Manchester United Player of the Month award last week in a season that has seen the Ecuadorian labelled the best right-back in the world by his manager.
The 31-year-old previously won the award in 2012 and should he once again be named the best player at the club he will join an elite list of Wayne Rooney, De Gea, Brian McClair, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo as the only players to win it more than once.
His consistency has been a highlight of a mixed campaign for Jose Mourinho and while Ibrahimovic has been banging in the goals, the performances of the winger, who has converted with ease to right-back, have not gone unnoticed.
While his English speaking skills may leave a lot to be desired, despite being in the country since 2006, the player prefers to let his performances do the talking with six assists so far this campaign and scored his first Premier League goal of the season against Middlesbrough last month.
While another full-back, Luke Shaw, struggles to adapt to life at Manchester United, he should look no further than Antonio Valencia to see how the player turned his Old Trafford career around following his struggles to overcome injury, and how he is now a regular starter in Mourinho’s side.
Valencia, like Shaw, suffered a horrific injury while at the club, breaking his ankle in a Champions League clash with Rangers in 2010. The former Villarreal man struggled to recover fully from that injury and also failed to perform to his level after being handed the honour of wearing the famous number seven jersey at Manchester United, which seemed to weigh heavily on his shoulders.
Despite niggling injuries he has remained a crucial squad player at the club and now under Mourinho he has become one of the first names on the team sheet and undoubtedly has returned to his best form switching from an average winger to a powerful full-back with great attacking intent.
Mourinho has already extended Valencia’s contract, who he revealed he tried to sign for Real Madrid and last month the player made his 200th appearance in a Manchester United jersey.
The reliable defender has quickly grasped the way the ex-Chelsea boss wants to play and while Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera Juan Mata and Marcos Rojo have done well this season, Valencia’s improvement in his game and work on his fitness means he’s reaped the rewards on the field and he should collect his second Player of the Season award next month.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena
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