Virgil van Dijk was named PFA Player of the Year on Sunday but Manchester City star Raheem Sterling has scooped the FWA prize.
Raheem Sterling has been named the Football Writers' Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year for 2019. The Manchester City star has enjoyed a stunning 2018-19 season for club and country, scoring 17 goals and providing 10 assists in the club's relentless battle against Liverpool to retain the Premier League title.
Sterling's brilliant season
City have already lifted back-to-back EFL Carabao Cups and Sterling was on hand to score the decisive penalty in February's shoot-out triumph over Chelsea at Wembley, where he returned the following month to net a hat-trick in England's 5-0 Euro 2020 qualifying demolition of the Czech Republic.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk beat Sterling to the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year prize on Sunday, with the 24-year-old instead collecting the organisation's young player award. But he finished ahead of Van Dijk, with City team-mate Sergio Agüero in third, as FWA cited the wider context of Sterling taking a lead in his sport's fight against racism and discrimination over recent months as an additional factor in helping him to garner 62 per cent of member votes.
Men's and Women's awards go to City players
"Raheem Sterling is a player of style and a man of substance," said FWA chair Carrie Brown after Nikita Parris made it a Manchester City double by scooping the women's award on the back of 19 goals and seven assists in the Women's Super League this season. "More than 70 years ago, Charles Buchan, one of the founding fathers of the Footballer Writers’ Association, suggested there be an award presented to the player who by 'precept and example' is considered the footballer of the year. Raheem Sterling is an exemplar of the talent and values our founding fathers sought to reward when they established the FWA in 1947. To have been voted the 2019 Footballer of the Year by our members, and with such an overwhelming majority, clearly acknowledges the contribution from a player over one season but it also recognises the huge impact of Raheem’s courage to challenge preconceptions and fight racism, which will leave a legacy not just for future generations in football but society as a whole."
Kicking racism out of the game
Sterling finds himself recognised by an industry he questioned after being on the receiving end of alleged racist abuse during City's 1-0 defeat at Chelsea in December. Via an Instagram post in the aftermath of the incident, he drew attention to contrasting coverage of young black and white footballers by The Daily Mail, something he believed "helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour".
When he scored in England's 5-1 win over Montenegro, on the back of his Czech Republic hat-trick, Sterling cupped his ears towards home supporters in response to racist abuse directed towards him and his team-mates. UEFA has ordered Montenegro to play their next competitive match behind closed doors.
Having offered support to Moise Kean after the Juventus striker gave a similar reaction to abuse from Cagliari fans in Serie A, Sterling said he was opposed to players leaving the field in response to racism form the stands. "I personally wouldn't agree with it," he told a pre-match news conference before City's Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham earlier this month. "To try and go out and win the game when it's going on will hurt them even more. They're only trying to get you down. If you do walk off the pitch as a group, that kind of makes them win. To score a goal or win the match, I think that's a better feeling that beats them."
Sterling has since taken a lead in The Times' anti-racism manifesto, which urges football's authorities to adopt a unified and committed approach to the game'' problems with racism, and stated teams should be docked points if their supporters are found guilty of abuse. "Eyes have been opened, voices found, we are listening and will be at the forefront of the continued drive for equality," Carrie Brown added. “Raheem didn’t set out to be a leader but he is setting examples in society and in the game, which the world is following with interest."