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Controversy as Suarez is shortlisted for top award

Apr 19, 2013, 8:26 AM EDT

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England’s players’ union revealed the six-man shortlist for its Player of the Year award today and one of the Premier League’s most talented performers is on it. So far so good, you might think.

Except, we’re referring to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, scorer of 29 goals this term. Just imagine how poor an already-underwhelming Liverpool side might have looked without him.

Suarez received an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra last season. And anyone who watched the 2010 World Cup finals will remember that the Uruguay star also rates himself as a goalkeeper. So there is resistance in some quarters to the idea of honoring a man whose behavior in the past has been odious, to say the least.

But is it the job of the Professional Footballers Association’s award organizers to judge a player by his prior character? Or should they just stick to pure performance? The prize is called Player of the Year, after all, not Humanitarian of the Year.

“It is very difficult at times. Players are expected to be top role models and set the finest example. That goes with the trade these days,” PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor told the Press Association.

“I don’t underestimate the need for them to do all they can to be seen as a good example. But they are also human beings. It is not always possible to put old heads on relatively young shoulders. This is a footballing award and Suárez’s footballing ability shines through. It would be naive to think controversy won’t continue to travel with him. But I think his football has maintained his place.”

Here’s the shortlist: Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Robin van Persie (Manchester United).

The winner will be announced on April 28. Bizarrely, voting takes place far before the season’s end. The award is decided by players, and it’s fair to say Suarez’s dubious personality might count against him, making Bale and Van Persie favorites. The latter recently had a two-month dry spell in front of goal, but many of the ballots would have been cast before that became too noticeable.

Other takeaways: no place for Swansea’s Michu, no goalkeepers, defenders or tough-tackling midfielders, and no representatives from last year’s Premier League champions, Manchester City.

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