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As the A-League Men enters its penultimate round, the Johnny Warren Medal looks to be as hotly contested as the final place in the top six.
The Johnny Warren Medal has been presented to the A-League Men’s best player since its inception in 2005.
It is based on a 3-2-1 vote after every regular-season match, by a four-person group that consists of a match official, media representative, former professional player and technical expert.
Last season saw joint winners for the first time, with Milos Ninkovic and Ulises Davila collecting the medal.
However, both players appear likely to not be in the running this season.
Ninkovic’s powers appear to be waning with age, as he has struggled with fitness and running out matches, while Davila’s natural attacking instincts that wowed fans while at Wellington have been stifled in the dour, defensive system that has been favoured by Macarthur this season.
While in previous campaigns it has been obvious which player has been head and shoulders above the rest, season 2021-22 has seen several that the panel and fans could debate pros and cons for.
A defender has never won the award and it’s unlikely to change for this season, but there is a player who deserves special praise: Leo Lacroix.
Lacroix is ranked highly in most defensive stats and also has been a threat from set pieces, all while admirably marshalling one of the A-League Men’s stingiest defences. Western United have surprisingly been entrenched in the top four all season.
The champions elect Melbourne City have several players performing well in most metrics, including the A-League Men’s top goal scorer Jamie Maclaren.
Unfortunately for Maclaren, being the league’s top goal scorer doesn’t translate to a Johhny Warren Medal – the only centre forward to have ever won it was Shane Smeltz.
It is the player supplying Maclaren that should be in contention though: Florin Berenguer.
Berenguer quietly goes about his work each match, always looking to push the team forward with his passing range and distribution.
He is a constant highlight. The fact he’s chipped in with five goals as well will do him no harm in the polling booth.
Newcastle’s Daniel Penha has been a revelation this season, leading the league with 11 assists as well as scoring goals and producing general excellent attacking play.
Unfortunately he is ineligible due to suspension.
But even without the suspension and his amazing stats, he plays for a club that will finish in the bottom four and a Johnny Warren Medal winner doesn’t normally come from a side so low in the table.
It is exactly the same reason that I would also count out his teammate Beka Mikeltadze, who sits second in the league goal-scoring charts.
Brisbane’s Jay O’Shea is currently in second place for assists and chances created in the league.
If the award was only counted from January onwards, you would be hard pressed to bet against Jason Cummings of the Central Coast Mariners.
He is the league’s tied third top scorer and his attacking instincts and link-up play have reinvigorated the Mariners’ season.
Many people are saying that Craig Goodwin is the dark horse for the medal. Upon looking more closely at his stats, dark horse isn’t the term I would use. It would be more like favourite.
After missing all of pre-season due to recovering from a serious injury, Goodwin started the season slowly before hitting scintillating form.
He has started 19 games so far this season and is currently ranked in third place in the league’s top goal scorer and assists categories.
Goodwin ranks number one in the chances-created category and is also highly ranked in crosses and passing accuracy.
The last time an Adelaide player won the medal was Marcos Flores 12 years ago, and with Craig Goodwin ranking highly across several attacking metrics this season, he is in with a very good chance to become the second.
There are several high-calibre options this season and like any award, being classed as the favourite doesn’t necessarily guarantee winning it.