Is Robin van Persie still a contender for player of the year?

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With under nine matches remaining in the 2012-13 Premier League season, pundits seemingly agree that there are three contenders for player of the year award: Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie. But given van Persie’s recent drop in form, are we really still considering the Dutchman in this discussion?

With van Persie’s $30 million dollar move from Arsenal to Manchester United last summer, questions were raised as to whether the 29 year old would be able to duplicate the scintillating form that he had displayed over the last few seasons. Not only did the striker answer the questions but by January 20th he had recorded an astounding 18 goals in 23 league matches.

In the six matches since then, however, the striker has recorded only a single goal (against Everton on February 10th). In that stretch he also came up with goose eggs in both Champions League Round of 16 clashes with Real Madrid and also failed to make the score sheet in the 2-2 draw against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarterfinal. It’s no secret that ‘big time’ players step up in ‘big time’ matches. The fact that van Persie has failed to do so has to be considered when evaluating the player of the year.

Perhaps even scarier than van Persie’s goal drought is the demeanor he has adopted over the last few weeks. To say he looks disinterested would be harsh but he no longer illuminates the park like he used to. He sees less of the ball, not because he’s being marked out of the match, but because his teammates can’t find him on the pitch due to the lethargic nature of his runs and positioning. Simply stated, van Persie’s killer instinct has faded of late and comes in stark contrast to the play of Suarez and Bale.

Suarez has scored a league high 22 goals in 29 matches, including five in his last four. Overshadowed by his on-field antics and an English media that loves a villain, the Uruguayan has showed a steely perseverance that has allowed him to overcome bigger obstacles than either van Persie or Bale.

From his position on the left wing and now, as a second striker, Bale has netted 16 times in 27 contests, including a handful of dramatic match winners when his club seemed down for the count. With Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe both struggling it has been the Welsh international who has single-handedly carried Spurs to 4th in the table and the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

It’s not as if van Persie is no longer one of the great strikers in world football or should lose his place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s lineup. But if we weren’t so impressed by United’s 15 point lead on Manchester City, the talking heads would have removed van Persie from the player of the year discussion a few games ago.