LONDON — In the coming weeks members of the Football Writers’ Association will start to give serious consideration to their choice for Footballer of the Year.

Christopher Davies

Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, despite five games without a goal but still the Premiership’s leading scorer, is a contender to make it a hat trick of awards.

Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, whose leadership and inspiration can make an average side perform above itself, is in with a shout.

Chelsea has the most candidates with John Terry, Frank Lampard and Arjen Robben leading the Blues’ picks.

At the other end of the scale an ignominious trio seems to be doing their best to be the Least Popular Player Of The Season — Craig Bellamy (Newcastle), El Hadji Diouf (Bolton on loan from Liverpool) and Robbie Savage (Blackburn).

Outside of their own clubs the three would get as many votes for Footballer of the Year as George W. Bush would if he was a candidate in the Iraqi elections.

Even a team of spin doctors could not improve the public image of the terrible threesome who do little to change the perception that footballers have brains only in their boots.

Needless to say, serial offenders Bellamy, Diouf and Savage do not think they have ever done anything wrong and are the innocent victims of a smear campaign or it was the manager’s fault — all the usual feeble excuses.

Take Bellamy for example.

In February 2002, he faced internal disciplinary action from Newcastle over an incident which ended with a police caution for an alleged common assault on a 21-year-old woman.

Seven months later, Bellamy head-butted Dynamo Kiev defender Tiberiu Ghioane in a Champions League match and was handed a three-game European ban for the offense.

The Welsh striker was given an added three-match ban later in the campaign after being sent off for “tangling” (being polite) with Marco Materazzi during Inter Milan’s 4-1 win at St. James’ Park.

In January 2003, Bellamy gestured at his Premiership badge after the club’s 3-2 F.A. Cup defeat at Wolves, and his comment “it’s what it’s all about” was picked up by TV cameras as he left the Molineux pitch.

A couple of months later he was charged by the Football Association with using abusive and/or insulting words to a match official after incident with Andy D’Urso during Newcastle’s clash with Middlesbrough.

Then Bellamy was fined £750 for being drunk and disorderly outside a Cardiff night club.

After a quiet year it was business as usual in March 2004, when Bellamy threw a chair at club coach John Carver during an argument at Newcastle Airport prior to a UEFA Cup match against Real Mallorca. After air rage there is now airport rage.

This week he called manager Graeme Souness a liar in a live Sky Sports interview after the Scot said Bellamy, who has also voiced his displeasure about playing wide right midfield instead of in attack, feigned injury.

Souness said: “He told me he felt his hamstring was a bit tight. But my first-team coach Dean Saunders informed me that Bellamy had told other players in the dressing room he was going to feign an injury.

“I took him to see the chairman on Friday afternoon at St. James’ Park and he admitted to both of us that this was true. I asked him in front of the chairman if he had feigned an injury and he said ‘yes.’ ”

Bellamy denies all this but was fined two weeks’ wages, around £80,000 for speaking out as he did.

No one would dispute Bellamy’s talent and he comes with a truck-load of baggage, yet public sympathy on Tyneside is with the player rather than Souness, which is more of an anti-Souness vote than a pro-Bellamy gesture.

EL HADJI DIOUF has made a name for himself by giving other people a mouthful — not in a swearing sense but spitting.

While it is difficult to go along with players who say “it’s the worst thing an opponent can do” (a broken leg is surely worse) there is something horribly cowardly about unloading the contents of your mouth on a fellow professional.

In September 2003, Diouf was fined £5,000 at Glasgow Sheriff Court after pleading guilty to assault under provocation that he spat on Celtic supporter Dominic Schiavone while playing for Liverpool.

Diouf has twice been cleared after complaints by West Ham and Middlesbrough supporters that he allegedly spat at them, but last November the Senegal striker was caught on television doing what sadly comes so naturally to him at Portsmouth’s Arjen de Zeeuw, who deserved some sort of honor for reacting (or rather, not reacting) as he did.

The F.A. banned Diouf for three games as spitting is treated as violent conduct.

Last Monday, Diouf was again a disgrace, this time not for spitting but for a blatant dive against Blackburn which conned referee Steve Bennett into awarding a penalty.

Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel made no contact with Diouf as he attempted to go the ball, but the Bolton striker effectively tripped himself up, kicking his front leg with his back before doing a passable impersonation of Greg Louganis.

Friedel saved Diouf’s penalty,but the diver slammed home the rebound for the only goal of the game. So much for the belief that crime doesn’t pay.

Just as the chemists are ahead of the drugs testers in athletics, the divers can be too good for referees.

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce’s reaction was basically that everyone does it so what’s the problem?

Maybe it is Allardyce who has a problem as well as Diouf.

LAST DECEMBER, Robbie Savage wrote in the Birmingham program that he was 100 percent committed to the club.

In fact, he was considerably less than totally committed to Birmingham because a couple of weeks later he handed in a transfer request despite being just a matter of months into a new four-year deal.

The Wales midfielder — an international teammate of Bellamy — Savage claimed he wanted to move closer to his parents in Wrexham, who are having health problems, the weakness in this argument is that Wrexham is almost equidistant from Birmingham and Blackburn.

Birmingham even offered to provide a chauffeur to drive Savage to north Wales whenever he wished, but after being demoted to the reserves he was finally sold for £3 million to Blackburn.

Of course, Savage felt he had been belittled by the way the club treated him, presumably expecting nothing to change after he handed in his transfer request.

On the other hand, Savage could point to the fact that manager Steve Bruce effectively walked out on Crystal Palace when the Birmingham job became available.

Thankfully the bad guys are considerably outnumbered by the good guys and the Premiership is booming with 94 percent of the seating capacity at the 20 grounds sold out each week.

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