By Mike Collett
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez completed his redemption from outcast to hero when he was named England’s Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association (FWA) on Monday.
The prestigious honour completes an award double after he was named the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) player of the year last month.
The 27-year-old Uruguayan finished ahead of team mate Steven Gerrard and Yaya Toure of Manchester City in the poll of England’s football writers and the honour follows an astonishing turnaround for Suarez who began this season serving the remainder of a 10-match ban imposed for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic last April.
Although he missed the first five games of the season, the controversial striker, who will play against Gerrard and England in the World Cup in Brazil next month, is the Premier League’s top scorer this season with 30 goals with two matches remaining.
His goals have sustained Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge – the Anfield Club are behind leaders Manchester City on goal difference with two matches remaining.
Suarez polled 52 per cent of the vote of around 300 members. Last year he polled two votes.
“He did only receive two votes last season,” FWA chairman Andy Dunn told Sky Sports, “although there was a groundswell of support for him last season, but our voting opened just 12 hours after the biting incident at Anfield, so that was taken into account.”
The FWA award is not only based on a player’s achievements on the pitch, but also on their behaviour and example throughout the season and Dunn continued: “While nobody would say Suarez is whiter than white you have to say his behaviour throughout the season has been very good.
“I think the football writers have taken that into account.
“There is an element of redemption – allied with those 30 goals and the sensational talent he has displayed all season -and it has made him a very popular choice.”
Suarez becomes the 10th Liverpool to win the award and one of their previous winners, Ian Rush, praised Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers for the way he handled a difficult period at the start of the season after Suarez tried to engineer a move in the off-season.
“He was training by himself,” Rush told Sky Sports, “but once he apologised, the manager welcomed him back and said you are one of the players now.
“The manager could have handled it differently, but he didn’t and Suarez has repaid him.”
Rush, who was Footballer of the Year in 1984, also praised Suarez for his work-rate saying he had a huge influence on the Liverpool team attempting to win the title for the first time since 1990.
“He has been absolutely incredible with the amount of goals he has got and the assists he has got,” said Rush.
“But more importantly than that is the hard work he has put it. I think he has made a big difference to Liverpool’s players – not just himself.”
The FWA award is the oldest of its kind in world football and was first awarded in 1948 with Stanley Matthews the first recipient.