Luis Suárez of Uruguay became the first South American to be named Professional Footballers' Association player of the year in the English Premier League, the crowning of a season that saw the Liverpool striker begin to distance himself from a tarnished past that includes racist taunts and at least two incidents of biting opposing players.

With 30 goals scored, Suárez has been a stalwart for the Reds, who weren't expected to contend for the league title, but are sitting atop the standings by two points. The 27-year-old striker was voted the honor by his colleagues.

"The Premier League is full of outstanding players, and it's a huge honor when those players recognize your performance on the pitch," Suárez said.

But it was a bittersweet day for Suárez, who left Liverpool to show up at the awards show in London after a 2-0 loss to Chelsea.

Suárez missed the first five games of the season, part of his 10-game suspension for having bitten Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic last year. Previously he was suspended eight games for uttering racist slurs against Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in 2011.

Chelsea's Belgian winger, Eden Hazard, finished second in the voting, and Man City's Yaya Touré was third. The 23-year-old Hazard was also named best young player of the year.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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