Premier League

How 90min's writers voted for the Footballer of the Year award

By Sean Walsh
It was a close-run thing...
It was a close-run thing... / Image by: Matthew Burt

We're moving deeper into an age where football fans are able to watch any and every game of their choosing - if you want to find a stream for Chesham United vs Gosport Borough, you better believe there'll be one out there.

But so much access to football - particularly in a year where we've all had to watch a million games at home - has muddied the waters of the narrative. That's right, everyone hates your club and your favourite player, and it's you who is in the wrong.

It can be confusing in the social media era to know who's overrated, underrated and properly rated. But don't worry, 90min has your back. Here's how our writers and editors voted for the 2021 FWA Footballer of the Year and why, in their own words.

=4th - Kevin De Bruyne (1 vote)

Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne won the PFA Players' Player of the Year award last season / Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

Max Cooper: It’s hard to look beyond the best player on the best team in the country. Not only is Kevin De Bruyne the most gifted player, but his influence on such an incredible collection of stars is so great that without him, the team is visibly weaker.

He is efficient and machine-like in his consistent output, but there is a grace and poise to his game which tugs on the inner maverick’s heartstrings. He is the key behind everything that is ruthless and spellbinding about Manchester City, and is the main reason they will once again be champions of England.

=4th - Mohamed Salah (1 vote)

Salah's done a lot of heavy lifting in Liverpool's defence of their title / LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/Getty Images

Lizzy Becherano: Amid all the injury-riddled chaos at Liverpool, Mo Salah has earned his spot on this list with an immense presence. He currently ranks second in goals scored this season with 20, only one behind Harry Kane. Salah rarely misses the opportunity to lead the team forward, pushing the attack and averaging three big chances per game.

With no true back line available, Salah has continuously succeeded in keeping the team afloat.

=4th - Ilkay Gundogan (1 vote)

Ilkay Gundogan
Gundogan has added goals to his game this season / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Robbie Copeland: Broken 20 goal-involvements from central midfield which is quite ridiculous - but more importantly he's been the most improved player in the league's most improved team. He's also closing in on a Premier League and Champions League double and as good as Man City have been, they couldn't have done it without him.

=2nd - Bruno Fernandes (4 votes)

Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes doing what he does best - hopping, skipping and jumping / Michael Steele/Getty Images

Scott Saunders: There's one stand out name for me. Bruno Fernandes.

Manchester United were lost before he arrived. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was verging on the sack and United were languishing. His impact last season took United into the top four, and he's remained as decisive for them this term.

Plenty would've tipped Man City to win the league this season with or without Ruben Dias, and Harry Kane's great performances have taken Spurs to a lofty seventh. But Bruno has dragged United well above where most would've expected them to finish in 2021 and has ridiculous goal contribution numbers to go with it.

Bruno's mentality sets him apart. He expects nothing less than perfection and forces better performances out of those around him. Without him, they'd be closer to being Arsenal than the best Manchester United team in the last eight years.

Toby Cudworth: Manchester United aren't going to win the 2020/21 Premier League title, that honour will instead go to neighbourhood rivals City. But what they do have in Fernandes is a game-changing individual who has not only taken on the workload of De Bruyne, Dias, Gundogan, Phil Foden, Joao Cancelo and co all by himself, but is the most relied upon player in the Premier League. Without his goals, assists, and ever-present appearance record, who knows where the Red Devils would be.

Krishan Davis: While I much prefer watching De Bruyne and his style of play and find Fernandes' moaning kind of annoying as an envious neutral, you simply cannot argue with the Portuguese's individual output this season. His effect on a previously rudderless Man Utd side has been staggering, and at the time of writing he is one goal away from beating Frank Lampard's 2009/10 record for goals scored by a midfielder in a single season (27) - and he's scored fewer penalties. Case closed.

Jamie Spencer: The impact that one player has continued to have on an entire team is utterly remarkable. Fernandes has a goal record that most strikers would be jealous of (a penalty goal is still a goal, so just embrace it) and the difference is that United could well have mirrored Arsenal this season without him. He has brought leadership and character to a squad that was otherwise lacking both qualities and brought that out in others as well. The best players don't just play well themselves, they improve their teammates too.

=2nd - Harry Kane (4 votes)

Harry Kane - Soccer Player, Lucas Digne
Just look how majestic he is / Visionhaus/Getty Images

Sean Walsh: At the time of voting, Kane is on course to become the first player to lead the Premier League in goals and assists as separate tallies. His recovery from a number of career-changing injuries has been remarkable, and he has done much of the heavy lifting to simply ensure Spurs are competitive this season.

Manchester City's reward for being such a dominant team is winning the Premier League title. By the numbers and by the eye test, Kane has been the best footballer.

Jude Summerfield: Compared to his rivals for any POTY award, I think Kane's been more consistently brilliant over the season. Fernandes, Salah and even De Bruyne might run him close, but they've all had their troughs whereas Kane has been a consistently brilliant playmaker and goalscorer all term, his niggling injuries aside.

Matt O'Connor-Simpson: A good way to decide your vote on individual awards is to imagine the team with the player removed. Without Dias, Manchester City probably still win the Premier League. Without Fernandes, Manchester United likely still finish in the top four. Without Kane, Spurs lose over half their goals and would have likely ended up embroiled in the battle for 13th place with Crystal Palace.

Chris Deeley: It's not unusual for a player of Kane's quality to have the most impactful season of his career at the age of 27, but it's incredibly unusual for a star of his ilk to improve in the way that Kane has this season. He's not just gotten better at the things he's good at, but he's added a whole new string to his bow with his build-up play.

This season, Kane has five more assists than he had in his last three combined. His goals and assists have earned Spurs a full 20 points, in a season where points have been hard to come by. You know who Spurs are if those goals and assists are taken away? They're Burnley. They'd have a lower points tally than 17th-placed Burnley. 

We're watching an all-time Premier League great get better. It's a privilege. 

1st - Ruben Dias (5 votes)

Ruben Dias
Dias has been a revelation this season / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Andy Headspeath: Man City have so many really good players, who have all played at a similarly high level for important chunks of the season. However, Dias is the only one who has been consistently brilliant throughout all of 2020/21. For a 23-year-old Premier League first-timer to arrive and immediately fix the one weak spot in the Death Star and make City title winners again is singularly impressive.

Jack Gallagher: He's been the most transformative player in the league this season by a distance. And while there are plenty of great attackers around, there's not many actually great defenders (there's like two in England and one of them has been injured all season) so having one makes a huge difference - as we've seen with Man City and Dias this season.

Ross Jackson: I really want to say Jack Grealish given how brilliant he was this season when fit and how obvious his impact on Aston Villa is given their drop in form since he got injured, but if I'm going to take the latter into account I'd be picking Virgil van Dijk. Dias has transformed Manchester City's defence and he's done it in his first season outside of Portugal at the age of 23. Lots of players have looked good in little bursts this season but no-one has been as consistently brilliant as Dias.

Ruben Dias
Would you believe he's only 23? / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Tom Gott: In a season in which literally everybody has been limping to the finish line, nobody has altered the dynamic of the Premier League more than Dias, who has waltzed into the heart of Pep Guardiola's defence and turned Man City into the best team in the country, hands down.

Making John Stones look like a competent centre-back is no easy task, but Dias has made it look terrifyingly simple, dragging the Englishman up to his elite standard and guiding City to what could be one of the most memorable seasons in club history. City have had some big names over the years, but Dias' introduction has turned them into a different animal. No player can match that impact this season.

Harry Symeou: The City defender has single-handedly improved Guardiola's defence dramatically and while they've always been free-scoring, their newfound defensive stability has seen them take their game to the next level.

His presence has seen those around him improve, most notably Stones, and he's had a Van Dijk-like impact at the Etihad. Not since Steve Nicol in the late 80s has a defender won the prize, but in my view, no other individual player has had as significant an impact on his team. All of this, in his first season having joined from Benfica last summer. Dias has had no issues adjusting to the pace and physicality of the English top flight, and his quality in possession makes him the complete centre-half. The signing of - as well as the player of - the season.