Romelu Lukaku has had a brilliant season but this is his fifth as a Premier League regular. His debut in senior English football came even longer ago than that, back in August 2011, when he was brought on by Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas. Lukaku turns 24 next month.
Harry Kane is two months younger than Lukaku and this is his third season as Mauricio Pochettino’s leading man for Tottenham Hotspur. His own Premier League debut was August 2012, again given by Villas-Boas, in a very different era for Tottenham.
Here, in May 2017, with Villas-Boas managing Shanghai SIPG, Lukaku has 83 Premier League goals so far and Kane has 68. If either of them were to be sold this summer you would not get much change out of £75million. If they are not established players then that word has no meaning. And yet both Kane and Lukaku are lucky enough to be included on the PFA’s Young Player of the Year shortlist, announced on Thursday.
In one sense they deserve to be on. They are certainly two of the best five players who meet the criteria, which is being 23 or younger at the start of the season. But in another they represent everything that is wrong about the award in its current form.
Because Lukaku and Kane are established, which is the hardest thing for any youngster to become in the Premier League, and this award should be for youngsters trying to make their way in the top flight for the first time. James Milner famously won the award in 2009-10, his last full season at Aston Villa. He made his Premier League debut in 2002, replacing Jason Wilcox for Leeds United.
American sports have a ‘Rookie of the Year’ award for youngsters starting out in the major leagues. That is exactly what we need too. It should be for players in their late teens or early 20s, with a cut-off of 22 at the start of the season, rather than 23. It should be for a player in his or her first full top flight season, rather than their second or third. It would reward the courage and persistence required to break in, rather than simply being very good and still just 23.
Scroll through the gallery at the top of the page to see what a short-list for such an award this season would look like.