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.
"He is a really intelligent man who fits the values of this club, which is all about humility, class and he has all of that."
Suarez had a marred reputation even before joining Liverpool in 2011 from Ajax where he was branded the "Cannibal of Ajax" after a biting incident. He was also vilified for being sent off in a 2010 World Cup quarterfinal for a cynical handball on the goal line against Ghana.
For the last year, though, he has regained the admiration of his rivals by ensuring he is no longer a magnet for controversy.
Suarez was also named alongside strike partner Daniel Sturridge and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in the PFA's Premier League team of the year.
Chelsea winger Eden Hazard was also voted into the team, as well as being named PFA young player of the year at the age of 23.
PFA Premier League team of the year: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool).