The PFA Young Player of the Year award should be redefined to recognise rookies such Arsenal's Alex Iwobi or Manchester United's Marcus Rashford

 
Joe Hall
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What about me? True breakout stars such as Kelechi Iheanacho are left unrecognised by the award (Source: Getty)

Scan the nominees for this year's PFA Young Player of the Year award and you would be forgiven for thinking the assembled names represented those who didn't quite make the cut on the actual Player of the Year shortlist.

Together Philippe Coutinho, Romelu Lukaku, Dele Alli, Jack Butland, Harry Kane and Ross Barkley have 881 professional appearances between them and – with the exception of Alli – had established themselves as stars long before the start of this season.

All six have impressed this year but only the performances of Tottenham's Alli, who had never played higher than League One level previously, have come as any surprise.

After all, Lukaku, 22, has been scoring goals in the Premier League since 2012. Coutinho, 23, is approaching the end of a fourth season of Premier League football. And Barkley, 22, was already deemed good enough to travel to a major tournament with England in 2014.

Read more: Three Leicester stars nominated for Player of the Year

Their impressing over the last nine months is not unique to this season, did not raise eyebrows, trigger excited chatter nor establish a new narrative in the ongoing story of English football.

And surely that's the point of these awards? It's easy to malign the presence of an individual accolade in a team sport but their purpose goes beyond the gratification of the recipient. For any football fan, pub quiz nerd or historical stats bore, they also represent a handy future memento of what made that season special.

The continued high performance of such established stars is hardly unique to this season.

But when Arsenal fans eventually allow themselves to reflect on this campaign, the emergence of teenager Alex Iwobi at the expense of Theo Walcott will be one of the few lasting positives.

Similarly, Marcus Rashford's two Premier League debut goals against Arsenal is one of the rare events to have ignited passions at Old Trafford in a stolid season.

A way to identify such breakout stars would be to adopt a version of the rookie of the year award used in American sports to recognise the best player new to a league, rather than the current 23 and under at the start of the season criterion set by the FA.

As a footballer's progression is rarely as smooth as the college to pro route common in the US, caveats would need to be included - some players only make single substitute appearances for consecutive seasons before earning a consistent place.

Limiting nominees to those under-23 who have impressed in their first season of 10 or more games could offer a reasonable compromise (although it could be argued that would rule out youngsters who have improved in their second season such as Spurs' Eric Dier).

With that criterion in mind, here's an alternative Premier League young player of the year shortlist for the 2015/16 season:

Kelechi Iheanacho - Manchester City

Kelechi Iheanacho, 19

  • Team: Manchester City
  • Position: Forward
  • Premier League (PL) apps this season: 21
  • PL goals: 3
  • PL apps before this season: 0
  • PL debut: 29/8/2015 v Watford

Unknown outside of Manchester last summer, Iheanacho is now one of Manuel Pellegrini's most effective options from the bench when his side is in need of fresh attacking impetus.

The Nigerian teenager had never been in a Premier League matchday squad before last August but has since scored two match-winning goals, bagged his first career hat-trick, displaced Samir Nasri in City's Champions League squad and earned a personalised song from the Etihad faithful. Not a bad start.

Anthony Martial - Manchester United

Anthony Martial, 20

  • Team: Manchester United
  • Position: Striker
  • Premier League (PL) apps this season: 26
  • PL goals: 8
  • PL apps before this season: 0
  • PL debut: 12/9/2015 v Liverpool

No United player has scored more goals since Martial arrived at Old Trafford for what at the time seemed a bewilderingly high transfer fee of £36m.

Concerns over the wisdom of that signing have been largely quashed now the speedy Frenchman is arguably United's most difficult attacker for defenders to face. His debut goal against Liverpool to silence the doubters is one of the moments of the season.

Dele Alli - Tottenham Hotspur

Dele Alli, 20

  • Team: Tottenham Hotspur
  • Position: Midfield
  • Premier League (PL) apps this season: 31
  • PL goals: 8
  • PL apps before this season: 0
  • PL debut: 8/8/2015

Alli, favourite to win the actual award this year with most bookies, is a classic breakout star. Although highly thought of within football before moving to Tottenham, few would have anticipated the immediate ease with which he took to Premier League - and international football - after moving from League One. Already a key man for Spurs and England.

Alex Iwobi - Arsenal

Alex Iwobi, 19

  • Team: Arsenal
  • Position: Forward
  • Premier League (PL) apps this season: 8
  • PL goals: 2
  • PL apps before this season: 0
  • PL debut: 31/10/2015 v Swansea

Theo Walcott has scored 85 goals for Arsenal and appeared in over 337 games. So it says much about Iwobi's impact that the England international can't currently displace the teenage flyer from Arsene Wenger's starting line-up.

Perhaps too much of a late arrival to proceedings introduction to be a real contender, but Iwobi's freshness and fearlessness have re-invigorated Arsenal in the final quarter of the campaign.

Brendan Galloway - Everton

Brendan Galloway, 20

  • Team: Everton
  • Position: Left-back
  • Premier League (PL) apps this season: 15
  • PL goals: 0
  • PL apps before this season: 2
  • PL debut: 16/5/2015 v West Ham

Although Galloway made a couple of appearances for Everton last season following a summer move from MK Dons, this season has seen him truly emerge as a genuine challenger for the left-back role once reserved by Leighton Baines.

With Baines and Bryan Oviedo injured in the first half of the season, Galloway seized the opportunity and earned himself an extension to his contract in reward.

Marcus Rashford - Manchester United

Marcus Rashford, 18

  • Team: Manchester United
  • Position: Striker
  • Premier League (PL) apps this season: 6
  • PL goals: 3
  • PL apps before this season: 0
  • PL debut: 28/2/2016 v Arsenal

Rashford had barely featured for the U-21 side this season before Louis Van Gaal promoted him from the club's academy and into the first team. Four goals in his first two starts and a new local hero was born. A winner in the Manchester derby a month later secured Rashford's place in United fans' memories and even raised the possibility of a wild card England call-up.

Notable exclusions: Reece Oxford, Nathan Ake, Joe Gomez, Duncan Watmore, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Bertrand Traore, Chancel Mbemba.

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