LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has been voted player of the year by his fellow professionals in English football, capping a season in which his scoring prowess helped erase memories of previous bans for racism and biting.
The 27-year-old Uruguay international became the first South American to collect the Professional Footballers' Association accolade on Sunday, having led Liverpool's unexpected Premier League title challenge with 30 goals.
"The Premier League is full of really great players and so it is a great honor when these players recognize your work on the pitch," Suarez said. "I always try my best for the team and it is nice to get awards but really this is for my teammates and the staff at Liverpool because without their help I wouldn't have this prize."
But it was a bittersweet day for Suarez, who flew to London from Liverpool after failing to score as the leaders' title charge was halted by a 2-0 loss to Chelsea.
Suarez missed the first five matches of the season while completing his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. He was previously suspended for eight games for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
After Liverpool fans backed Suarez as his reputation was repeatedly damaged, they could have turned against him for pushing to join Arsenal last year. But he was quickly forgiven, and even critics have started to warm to one of football's most gifted players after a year free of misdemeanors.
"He is a brilliant talent," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "I think the supporters have seen him mature over the course of the last season. I think he was in a real low moment after that game (against Chelsea last year) but he has gone away and probably looked in the mirror and reflected on himself because he is not that type of guy and it probably just spilled over.