Who should win Ligue 1 Player of the Year?
Two massive stories broke almost simultaneously in France on Friday. Unai Emery followed Arsene Wenger's bow to the inevitable. The Spaniard announced he will leave Paris Saint-Germain at season's end. Meanwhile, the French Football Federation published its nominees for Ligue 1 Player of the Year.
As expected, Emery’s team dominated the FFF list after a near-flawless campaign. Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, and the injured Neymar all represent PSG. Le Classique rival Florian Thauvin flies Marseille's colours. Four of the last five editions have gone to superstars from the capital city. Alexandre Lacazette broke that hegemony in 2015.
With the winner set to be announced on May 13th, here's how I rank the four candidates.
4 – Kylian Mbappe
Recognised after another stellar season, Mbappe is in only his first year at the Parc des Princes. The young Frenchman has formed a frightful combination with Neymar and Edinson Cavani, as though he's played with them his entire career.
With explosive pace, quick feet, and excellent dribbling, he’s a nuisance in attack. He remains two short last season's 15, in personal scoring, but the 19-year-old has matured into a team player, lacing eight goals for his teammates. Still, there’s a long way to go before he takes home the individual accolade.
3 – Edinson Cavani
Last year’s winner, Cavani will have to settle for third place this time around. The 31-year-old has had to share the spotlight with summer mercenaries Neymar and Mbappe. Goals, too.
Cavani tops the scoring table in France, with 25, and is destined to retain the Golden Shoe. However, the Uruguayan’s return has diminished. Even with four games to go, it is very unlikely he will match last season's 35 goals. Not with Mbappe also aiming to better his own tally.
2 – Florian Thauvin
Marseille may be fourth, tied on points with Lyon, one adrift of Monaco, but Rudi Garcia's men have proven formidable in attack, especially on the continent.
While not so highly-regarded as skipper Dimitri Payet, Florian Thauvin is the club’s offensive livewire. Exceptional in control, he has shown poise and acceleration to glide past defenders, and vision to create chances for teammates with eye-of-the-needle passes.
With 19 strikes and 10 assists, Thauvin is the league's best offensive player. He’s been responsible for more than a third of Marseille's goals. To think the 25-year-old was scraping the barrel at Newcastle United a couple of seasons ago.
1 – Neymar
Neymar's impact on French football transcends the pitch. He's had his name inducted into French dictionary. No, I'm serious.
Although his season was cut short through injury, he made enough of an impact to earn top honours.. The buccaneering Brazilian chipped in an incredible 19 goals and 13 assists from only 20 starts. Put in context, that's better than a goal-and-a-half per game.
Goals aside, Neymar has been a beauty to behold. Even rival fans appreciate his quick feet and flair, although none have been as enchanted by the 26-year-old's mastery as Emery.
"His way of playing is a show. He's smart because he knows how to help the team win. His way of playing is the best for everyone and especially for PSG. I have a good relationship with him as with all other players."
The only reason he will not claim this award is because he is caught up in a good hand at the poker table.