Although football is a team sport, players still very much value individual awards. And when that award is voted for by other players, it must feel all the sweeter. And that is exactly what happens with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Players’ Player of the Year Award. First presented after the completion of the 1973/74 season, it’s now been running for 50 years – and there have been some truly great footballers who’ve been given the nod from their peers in that time.
In this article, we’ll take a look back at the winners over the last fifty years, highlighting some of the biggest names and those who’ve won it more than once. Note that although there is also a women’s version of the award (which has been presented since the 2012/13 season), and Young Player of the Year Awards for men and women, we will be focussing on the men’s Players’ Player of the Year Awards here.
PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award Winners 1973/74 to 2022/23
|2022/23||Erling Haaland||Manchester City|
|2020/21||Kevin De Bruyne||Manchester City|
|2019/20||Kevin De Bruyne||Manchester City|
|2018/19||Virgil van Dijk||Liverpool|
|2015/16||Riyad Mahrez||Leicester City|
|2012/13||Gareth Bale||Tottenham Hotspur|
|2011/12||Robin van Persie||Arsenal|
|2010/11||Gareth Bale||Tottenham Hotspur|
|2009/10||Wayne Rooney||Manchester United|
|2008/09||Ryan Giggs||Manchester United|
|2007/08||Cristiano Ronaldo||Manchester United|
|2006/07||Cristiano Ronaldo||Manchester United|
|2001/02||Ruud van Nistelrooy||Manchester United|
|2000/01||Teddy Sheringham||Manchester United|
|1999/00||Roy Keane||Manchester United|
|1998/99||David Ginola||Tottenham Hotspur|
|1996/97||Alan Shearer||Newcastle United|
|1995/96||Les Ferdinand||Newcastle United|
|1994/95||Alan Shearer||Blackburn Rovers|
|1993/94||Eric Cantona||Manchester United|
|1992/93||Paul McGrath||Aston Villa|
|1991/92||Gary Pallister||Manchester United|
|1990/91||Mark Hughes||Manchester United|
|1989/90||David Platt||Aston Villa|
|1988/89||Mark Hughes||Manchester United|
|1986/87||Clive Allen||Tottenham Hotspur|
|1980/81||John Wark||Ipswich Town|
|1977/78||Peter Shilton||Nottingham Forest|
|1976/77||Andy Gray||Aston Villa|
|1975/76||Pat Jennings||Tottenham Hotspur|
|1974/75||Colin Todd||Derby County|
|1973/74||Norman Hunter||Leeds United|
Summary of the Award Winners
The first-ever award was given to Leeds United’s Norman Hunter after he helped his side win the First Division title, five points ahead of Liverpool. Hunter played in every league game during the season and was recognised for his defensive mastery (in contrast to more recent times when attacking players have tended to get the nod for the award).
That’s not to say other defenders haven’t stood out from the crowd in the eyes of their fellow pros. The likes of Virgil van Dijk, John Terry, Paul McGrath and Gary Pallister have also won it. As have two goalkeepers: Pat Jennings and Peter Shilton.
There were also a few defensive midfielders over the years, with N’Golo Kanté and Peter Reid being prime examples. Even so, the majority of winners of the award have been the headline-grabbing attacking stars of the top flight. This includes some of the greatest footballers to have graced English football including Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Robin van Persie, Dennis Bergkamp, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and, the most recent recipient of the award, Erling Haaland.
Only four clubs have had their players receive the award on five or more occasions, with players of north London duo Tottenham and Arsenal having been award it five times apiece, while Liverpool players have won it on nine occasions. Just out in the lead, however, we have Manchester United, whose players have won the award on 11 occasions. Those players include Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Mark Hughes, Rudd van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney and, of course, Cristano Ronaldo.
Multiple Players’ Player of the Year Award Winners
Only seven players have won the award twice and none has won it more than that. The seven players are: Mark Hughes (1988/89, 1990/91), Alan Shearer (1994/95, 1996/97), Thierry Henry (2002/03, 2003/04), Cristiano Ronaldo (2006/07, 2007/08), Gareth Bale (2010/11, 2012/13), Kevin De Bruyne (2019/20, 2020/21), and Mohamed Salah (2017/18, 2021/22). Of those, only Alan Shearer won the award when playing for different clubs, winning his first while at Blackburn Rovers and his second while at Newcastle United.
Who is the Greatest Player to Receive the Players’ Player of the Year Award?
Yes, this is a very subjective question – but then it’s a very subjective prize, unlike something like the Golden Boot award at the World Cup. And though it would be easy to equivocate given the quality of the players who’ve won the award, we are going to be decisive and nail our colours to the mast.
The best player to have won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award in its first 50 years was Cristiano Ronaldo. Arguably the greatest player anywhere ever (or at the very least in the top three!), when Ronaldo was at his best in the Premier League, he was almost unplayable.
The question is, will the most recent recipient of the award, a certain Erling Haaland, surpass Ronaldo and the others and become the first player to receive the award three times? If he manages to avoid any serious injuries and gets anywhere near his 2022/23 form, we think he’s got every chance.