Liverpool's Luis Suarez may well be the best player in the Premiership right now, quite possibly the best to play in the Premier League this season. In his previous campaigns with Liverpool, people wondered just how good he could be if he found his shooting boots and turned from wayward finisher to the deadly marksman he was at Ajax. Well, this season, those people have seen their question answered.
He's an outstanding player, more often than not carrying a struggling Liverpool side on his back. His goal against Tottenham on Sunday, where he made a superb run on Jan Vertonghen's blindside then finished smoothly before Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal had a chance to set himself up, was the work of a master marksman.
Whether he's been the best player in the Premier League this season is debatable, given the performances of Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata amongst others. Steven Gerrard saying he'd be the 'best player never to win' the award is the sort of opinion that combined with his view that Joe Cole was as good as Lionel Messi upon the Englishman signing for Liverpool, will lead to nowhere else but the Match of the Day sofa or the Soccer Saturday studio when he retires from the game.
If Suarez doesn't win the award, as seems likely, it is because he is a villain of Iago-esque proportions, the bête noire of the Premier League. He's not just the player who everyone loves to hate, he genuinely is hated.
Being a villain, or even a cynical cheat doesn't necessarily make you unpopular. Eric Cantona kung-fu kicked a fan, stamped on players, threw a football at the referee, got red cards in successive league matches. And today he happens to be immensely popular, remembered with affection.
Vinnie Jones got a film career on the back of fouling other players constantly and getting sent off a lot. Robbie Savage overcame the deficiencies of inarticulacy and knowing nothing about football to be a pundit on the back of a playing career where he routinely irritated people. The on pitch brawls of the 60s and 70s are greeted with something bordering on nostalgia and not the months of headlines, suspensions and public disgrace they would generate today.
Where Suarez is so hated is because of the manner of his cheating. He dives, play acts, winds up opponents, is the type to quietly stab you in the back rather than hack someone to pieces in the front. On Sunday he had altercations with Scott Parker and Mousa Dembele, slyly tripped Dembele at one point, almost caused blows to be exchanged after the final whistle. He does this sort of thing week after week with little let up. Of course, if he was English he may well get a press far more willing to defend him. But he isn't, so he doesn't.
In England, more than any other country, breaking the rules in this manner attracts the ire of fans and pundits. However silly this attitude is, a bad tackle is criticised far less than an obvious dive. Nani's red card against Real Madrid, a dangerous challenge whether the player meant it or not, sparked widespread condemnation of the referee's decision and the press to state he'd only been going for the ball. Grant Holt's dive on Saturday, something causing no physical harm to anybody, saw diving described as 'the biggest sin in football' on the Sunday Supplement the following day.
Of course, every footballer cheats, even those who pay their subs to play in the Sunday leagues. You appeal for the throw-in you know isn't yours, insist your team has a goal kick when it clearly is a corner, scream at the ref your shot went over the line when you know deep down it barely touched the goal line. And for decades, footballers at the highest level have dived, been guilty of 'simulation', conned referees, abused officials, done more sinister things off the pitch (doping, match fixing etc) to gain an advantage.
But it's the way Suarez does it that perhaps makes him so unpopular. There's no charm to his play, no change in the way he plays. He's tumbled around Premier League pitches ever since he's arrived in England with little or no discernible improvement. Is he worse than other footballers? Probably not. Being foreign and playing for Liverpool doesn't help his reputation.
And of course, there's the elephant in the room - him being found guilty by a FA tribunal of racially abusing Patrice Evra. Whatever the circumstances of the case, he was found guilty and has never apologised for his actions. Diving, play acting, bad tackles on the pitch are one thing, racial abuse is quite another. For the rest of his career in England, his contretemps with Evra will make him impossible to like, or respect as a person.
Suarez is a wonderful player, and someone who has surprisingly little speculation linking him with moves abroad, given his prolific goalscoring, superb all round play and Liverpool looking like they'll struggle to reach the Europa League, never mind the Champions League. He scores goals, assists others, is greatly skilful and is as good a harrier of defenders and goalkeepers as there is in the game.
But he's unpopular, destined to always be unpopular, and considering his past and the baggage he brings with him, people will not want their awards associated with him.
And frankly, who can blame them?