The trophies keep coming for Gareth Bale, and correctly so. On Thursday, the Football Writers' Association named Bale their 2013 Footballer of the Year (via The Guardian), bringing Bale's total to three trophies in his breakout season.
Bale, a 23-year-old Welsh international midfielder who plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League, earlier this week picked up the Footballer of the Year and Young Footballer of the Year awards from the Professional Footballers' Association (via BBC Sport).
That makes for an impressive haul for any footballer of any age, and considering his contributions and importance to Spurs this season, Bale is worth the accolades.
Bale's primary competitor in two of the three awards was Manchester United's Dutch striker Robin van Persie. Van Persie, 29, joined United in the summer from Arsenal and was instrumental in the Red Devils' successful quest to reclaim the league title from Manchester City.
With three matches remaining, Van Persie leads the league with 25 goals. He scored all three goals as United clinched the title with a 3-0 win at home to Aston Villa on April 22.
Bale narrowly beat Van Persie in the journalists' voting, with Chelsea's Juan Mata placing a distant third. Liverpool's Luis Suarez, who has scored 23 league goals this season, received only one vote, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Before he went Hannibal Lecter on Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez had a fair shot at the award. But after biting a fellow professional on the pitch, Suarez was correctly ignored by the writers. As influential as Suarez was for Liverpool this season, the bite was a just reason to exclude him from consideration for an honor as prestigious as Player of the Year.
And while Mata has performed well throughout the season, Bale and Van Persie were the clear front-runners for the end-of-season honors. Based on both the stats and the eye-test, Bale was the right choice.
(Graphs via InstantPieChart.com)
Bale has scored 19 goals in 29 Premier League appearances this season. That total makes up 31.67 percent of Tottenham's total output of 60 goals, as the graph above illustrates.
Van Persie has scored 25 goals in 35 league appearances, or 31.64 percent of Manchester United's total output of 79 goals. The chart below illustrates Van Persie's goalscoring contribution to United this season.
If these graphs look similar, it's because they should. Statistically speaking, Bale and Van Persie have contributed remarkably similar percentages of their respective teams' scoring outputs. Bale has scored six fewer goals, but he has done so in six fewer appearances. He also plays in the midfield, while Van Persie often serves as United's lone striker.
According to Squawka, Bale has created 68 chances this season, five more than Van Persie in six fewer appearances. According to WhoScored?, Bale makes 2.3 key passes and takes 4.8 shots per game. Van Persie, by comparison, makes 1.8 key passes and takes 3.7 shots per contest.
These stats hint at Bale's growing importance to Spurs playing in a central playmaking role. That importance is illustrated in the graphic below, which shows where Bale creates his chances on the pitch.
(Graphic and stats via Squawka)
Bale creates most chances in the middle of Spurs' attacking third, but he is also dangerous on each flank, especially—and not surprisingly—on the left. He has been, by far, Tottenham's most vital attacking player.
In fact, without Bale in the lineup, it's hard to imagine Spurs challenging for a top-four finish. That is not meant to disparage Tottenham's roster, but rather to highlight how important Bale has been. His goals often come at crucial times—see the wondergoal against West Ham—and when he has missed matches, Tottenham have struggled.
Such an argument does not work as well with Van Persie. Without him last season, United finished level with champions Manchester City and only lost the title on goal difference. Van Persie's presence has been crucial to United's title challenge, but considering their large lead in the table, it seems likely that the Red Devils would have been in the title race once again without him.
If Suarez had behaved himself at Chelsea, this might have been a different discussion. But with the Uruguayan out of the picture, the race for individual trophies came down to Bale and Van Persie this season. Between those two, Bale has been more important to his team and thus deserves the honors that are coming his way.
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