The Premier League Awards 2014

The red carpet has been swept.  The orchestra is tuning up.  The MC is nervously checking cue cards and sucking cough sweets.  Yes, ladies and gentleman, it is time for the inaugural annual alternativesportsblog Premier League Awards for outstanding achievement or underachievement for achievements achieved during the 2013/14 Premier League season (snappy title I think you’ll agree).  Sadly the winners of these prestigious awards haven’t as yet got back to us to confirm which date would be best for them to hold the actual ceremony (for England’s players, obviously any date from the start of the World Cup 2nd round), so while we await their responses (probably a problem at the sorting office or something) here are the winners.

Player of the Year: Luis Suarez

An extremely close call this one – the two outstanding players this season have been Suarez and Yaya Toure.  Toure is an outstanding talent, probably the most complete player in the world (I can’t think of anyone else who could hold his own so well in every outfield position), and I agree with him that he doesn’t have the status in world football he deserves.  His passing is immaculate, his energy relentless, his penalty taking nerveless, his free-kicks Beckham-esque, and the precision of his long range curler against Fulham was beautiful (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdMC8nAG_Qk).  However, Suarez has that magical ability to make crowds gasp in amazement at some of his play.  This quality doesn’t necessarily make a great player (Adel Taarabt is by far the most talented player I’ve ever seen, and no-one thinks he should be player of the year), but this season Suarez has allied it to deadly finishing and some bewitching link-up play.  Yes he’s a bit of a prat, but, similar to Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal, his vision and style has lifted the performance of those around him, leading to some dazzling football from Liverpool’s front five this season.

Goal of the Year:

RDW: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal v Norwich)  There have been quite a few crackers this season –Wayne Rooney v West Ham and Jonjo Shelvey v Aston Villa both showcased quickness of thought and superb technique, while Alexander Tettey’s volley for Norwich v Sunderland was the sort of shot that ends of knocking over someone’s Bovril 99 times out of 100.  Pajtim Kasami’s homage a Van Basten against Crystal Palace was wonderfully controlled as was Morgan Amaltifano’s effort v Cardiff, and I’ve got a soft spot for Tomas Rosicky’s goal against Sunderland, a brilliant finish to a lovely move.  My favourite, though, is another Arsenal team goal, a bewildering move featuring Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere.  The speed of thought is astonishing as before you know it Wilshere is tapping a deceptively cute volley past John Ruddy following an evisceration rarely seen this side of a post mortem.  Even in slow motion, you can’t quite believe that Wilshere’s flick with the back of the heel to Giroud actually happened.

DDW: Pajtim Kasami (Crystal Palace vs Fulham)  I can’t believe there’s even a debate about this.  The way Kasami controls the ball on his chest and shoots first time without breaking stride beggars belief.  The fact that he had the audacity to even attempt such a shot from such an acute angle is a feat in itself.  Obvious comparisons will be made to Marco Van Basten’s goal in the 1988 European Championship final.  Kasami’s isn’t quite in that league but it more than deserves the incredible honour that is our goal of the season award.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9IkIKpmnVM)

Honourable Mentions:

Jonjo Shelvey Swansea vs Aston Villa (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxAl2PcCigg)

Alexander Tettey Norwich vs Sunderland (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18ypx2NinTw)

Jack Wilshere Arsenal vs Norwich (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNMKlFkDEKs)

Manager of the Year: Tony Pulis

If Manuel Pellegrini wasn’t such a nice bloke, you’d suspect he might be getting a bit irked at having won two trophies, in some considerable style too, yet being barely mentioned as a potential manager of the year, but the truth is such an achievement was the minimum requirement given the resources at his disposal.  Brendan Rodgers did a magnificent job at Liverpool, encouraging his team to produce some of the most exhilarating football ever seen in the Premier League, but he was either unable or unwilling to adapt his tactics for the crucial home match with Chelsea, where perhaps more patience was required.  Pulis took over a dispirited Crystal Palace side, seemingly lacking in any sort of ability and bereft of last season’s leading scorer (Glenn Murray) and best player (Wilfried Zaha), and turned them into a resilient mid-table outfit.  A bit like Stoke really.  He even managed to turn Damien Delaney (who I watched from behind my hands at QPR) into something resembling a Premier League defender, which is no mean feat.

Tosser of the Year: Jose Mourinho

As always, a hotly contested category, with Vincent Tan’s treatment of Malky Mackay, along with his appointment of the work experience boy Alisher Apsalyamov as head of recruitment, meaning he scores quite high on the tosser-o-meter, but Jose Mourinho has been constantly graceless, classless, hypocritical and generally obnoxious.  For some reason when he first arrived in English football in 2004, the press fawned all over him, lapping up his egotistical schtick.  This time round, however, he’s a little older, a little greyer, and even less likeable, with his post-match press conferences consisting of little more than poisonous barbs aimed at other managers, the FA, and referees.  It is little wonder that members of his Chelsea team (whether on the pitch or off) regularly lose control, if their manager is always behaving like a spoilt 6-year-old.

Best Match: Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City

Obvious, perhaps, but a real feast of attacking football between by far the two most entertaining teams in the league.  Liverpool, as was customary in the second half of the season, started like a train, racing into a two goal lead, before a combination of David Silva’s invention and Liverpool’s defensive clusterfuckery (it’s a real word, honest) allowed City to equalise.  Momentum was with City, but, in what appeared to be a pivotal moment, Vincent Kompany sliced a clearance to allow Philippe Coutinho to score the winner.  Combined with the emotions involved with the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, it was a truly unforgettable game.  Honourable mentions must go to Everton 3-3 Liverpool, Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal and the last 11 minutes of Crystal Palace 3-3 Liverpool.

Best Signing: Wilfried Bony

There have been several shrewd signings this season, but none with the impact of Robin van Persie or Michu from last season.  Everton bought James McCarthy, worth less than half a Marouane Fellaini apparently, who was the model of consistency, while a couple of loan signings, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku, were their most influential players.  Chelsea have done some marvellous business, re-signing Nemanja Matic (albeit for 7 times more than what they sold him for), while both Andre Schurrle and Willian look like they will have a more prominent part to play next year.  And Jason Puncheon, one penalty aside, has brought pace and creativity to an otherwise prosaic Crystal Palace attack.  Bony, however, has been utterly crucial for Swansea this season, scoring 30% of their Premier League goals, and being frankly a right pain to play against.  In another season, Swansea could have been one of those teams that are ‘too good to go down.’  They were lucky that this year’s league contained plenty of teams that were too shit to stay up.

Worst Signing: Ricky van Wolfswinkel

If there were few candidates for best signing of the season, then the shortlist for worst signing carried on to a second piece of A4.  Pretty much everyone that Liverpool signed in the summer was poor, particularly Iago Aspas and the rarely spotted Luis Alberto, while Cardiff signed Andreas Cornelius for a large fee before selling him back whence he came for a couple of welsh cakes and book of part-songs.  Fulham splurged £11 million on Kostas Mitroglou, who would apparently bang in the goals to keep them up.  He played for a grand total of 153 minutes and looked as likely to score as a spotty teenage chess player at the Miss World afterparty.  Marouane Fellaini cost Manchester United an arm and a leg, and then spent the remainder of the season wandering around the field looking utterly petrified in case he made a mistake.  All these players would be worthy winners, but van Wolfswinkel has been utterly abysmal – he fluked a goal on the first day of the season, and since then failed to contribute at all to a pretty sterile Norwich attack.  For £8.5 million, surely a little more was expected.

Goalkeeping performance of the season: Tim Krul (Tottenham Hotspur vs Newcastle United)

Literally, and I’m not being hyperbolic here, one of the great performances of modern times.  The Dutch stopper has been one of the Toon’s most consistent performers in recent seasons, but this took the biscuit.  Spurs had 20+ shots on goal and 14 on target but still big Tim wouldn’t let them score.  One save from a Christian Eriksen free kick will live long in the memory.  And it all contributed to a smash-and-grab win for Newcastle. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GmULt7_cYI)

Pass of the season: Steven Gerrard (Fulham vs Liverpool)

I was watching this match in a bar in New York and I pretty much had to go and change my pants after seeing this pass.  The outside-of-the-foot technique, the vision to see Daniel Sturridge’s run, the perfect weight of pass so Sturridge didn’t have to break stride.  Even writing about it is getting me strangely aroused.  Thank god Sturridge managed to score otherwise Gerrard and I may have never forgiven him.  If you’re in bed with your partner tonight and the old magic isn’t really happening, forget Viagra.  This is all the aphrodisiac you’ll need. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-STfxqWxKRA)

Own-Goal of the season: Kolo Toure (Fulham vs Liverpool)

Quite a few contenders here.  In terms of volume, own-goal specialist Martin Skrtel did his utmost to get the award.  Vincent Kompany also threw his hat into the ring with a finish of pinpoint accuracy and finesse that most strikers could only dream of, Fulham the beneficiaries again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nkiry9DQ6Jo).  But it was Kolo Toure, good old trusty Kolo, who wins the year’s most coveted award.  And what a goal it was.  It had everything.  A daisy-cutter of a cross, absolutely no pressure on the defence, the classic comical sliced clearance that seemed beyond the realms of physics leaving the goalkeeper no chance.  Clinical Kolo.  Everything one could want from an own-goal and more.  Toure has the sort of malco-ordination that makes Bambi look like she could take on Torvil & Dean in their pomp, and god bless him for it.  He provides Premier league audiences with hours of entertainment and long may it continue. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w1aiQIFdMg)

Worst decision of the season: Raheem Sterling offside Manchester City vs Liverpool

Not that I’m biased, but as a Liverpool fan, this was an absolutely atrocious decision and obviously completely affected the final outcome of the title.  Had Sterling not been flagged offside when he was clearly two yards onside, Liverpool would have (probably) at worst, drawn the game, Steven Gerrard wouldn’t have slipped against Chelsea, and Liverpool would have won the league at a canter.  All the fault of some poxy linesman. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s2XHIxOGVA)

Worst haircut of the season:  Sergio Aguero

It’s tempting to give the award to Olivier Giroud because, unlike Aguero, he doesn’t have the footballing talent to back up such an outrageous barnet which made him look all the more ridiculous.  But for the short-back-and-sides-comb-over, our winner is the little Argentine striker.  As the season went on, the sides got shorter and the comb-over got more luscious – and given he spent a proportion of the campaign on the sidelines, he had plenty of time to sack his barber.  Alas he didn’t, and it seems Aguero recommended him to Southampton trio Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw.  Oh for the days of Jason Lee and his pineapple.

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Dissecting the shambles that is QPR

‘There is no way we will be in this situation again in my time here.’  Mark Hughes’ assertion following QPR’s unlikely escape from relegation last season was prescient in two ways.  Firstly, because Hughes would not last long enough to ensure his team would avoid such a situation; and secondly, because, partly thanks to him, QPR will not be in a situation to avoid relegation on the final day of the season.  They have, instead, already been relegated.

In order to decipher what has gone wrong at QPR, let us go back to the summer of 2010.  Nigel de Jong was acknowledged as a kung-fu master, Matthew Upson was England’s most recent goalscorer, and Neil Warnock was embarking on his first summer as QPR manager.  Understandably, Warnock tended to prefer players he had worked with before, bringing in Shaun Derry, Clint Hill and Paddy Kenny, whilst also signing Jamie Mackie from recently relegated Plymouth, second-tier stalwart Bradley Orr from Bristol City, and crucially Adel Taarabt from Spurs at the ridiculously low price of £600,000 (plus numerous clauses and add-ons).  Many of these signings were seen as underwhelming by the R’s fans – indeed the Loft For Words website greeted Derry’s arrival with the words ‘the anti-footballer signs,’ but as the season started, it became clear that Warnock had created an extremely well-balanced side.

In many ways, the QPR side that won promotion in 2010-11 took advantage of a perfect storm.  The Championship was weak that year, with three poor sides (Hull, Burnley and a financially-crippled Portsmouth) having been relegated from the Premier League the previous season, and crucially all the new signings contributed to an excellent start (Rangers were unbeaten until December), including an improbable 2-2 draw away to Derby County, where Patrick Agyemang and Mackie both scored in stoppage time to salvage a point, underling the resilience of this rebuilt team.

In truth, that QPR team were probably not quite good enough to go up.  They had two outstanding performers (Taarabt and Kenny), and the rest of the team were anything between very good and excellent.  However, Warnock appreciated that in order to compete in the top flight he would have to strengthen the squad, especially in defence.  Instead, thanks to Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore’s thriftiness (they were in the process of selling their shares to Tony Fernandes, and as such reluctant to speculate on anything they wouldn’t see a return for), Rangers started the 2011-12 season with an injection of Premier League cast-offs (DJ Campbell, Danny Gabbidon, Kieron Dyer), Championship stalwarts (Jay Bothroyd) and plain rubbish (Bruno Perone, Brian Murphy).

When the takeover occurred, just before the end of the transfer window, it is arguable that Warnock panicked.  He suddenly had all this spending potential, a squad that had already been exposed as lacking Premier League quality (a 4-0 opening-day home defeat to Bolton had shown that), and very little time to find a remedy.  At the time it seemed as though Warnock had made good use of these sudden riches – Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Armand Traore, Luke Young and Anton Ferdinand all had Premier League experience – but they were all let go of their clubs for a reason, and in retrospect it looks as if he just searched Championship Manager-style for available players who had played in the Premier League.

Despite initial promising signs (Wright-Phillips was outstanding on his debut against Newcastle, Barton in the 3-0 win at Wolves), Warnock was sacked in January with QPR just outside the relegation zone, the season’s best player Alejandro Faurlin out for the season, and rumours of dressing-room disharmony abounding.  Players such as Hill, Derry and Mackie, who had been instrumental in Rangers’ promotion, were understandably miffed to have been discarded in favour of higher-paid, underperforming players, while Joey Barton was up to his usual trick of falling out with a teammate (this time the admittedly exasperating Taarabt, who he had usurped as captain).

So, Mark Hughes arrived, and added another batch of highly-paid players, many of whom were not used to the pressure of a relegation dog-fight.  However, he also recalled Derry and Hill to his first-choice team, crucially adding some fight and experience.  Hill, in fact, was so impressive he was voted Player of the Year, despite starting only 19 League matches.  Despite a lamentable disciplinary record (6 red cards after Hughes took over), QPR somehow survived due to a variety of factors.  First of all, the goalscoring form of Djibril Cisse, one of the January acquisitions; secondly, the sudden upsurge in home form (Rangers won their last 5 home games); thirdly the fact that Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton were even more crap; and finally the help of Agent Peter Crouch, a boyhood QPR fan who missed a sitter in the dying minutes for Stoke which, had it gone in, would have left Rangers needing to beat Man City on the last day of the season, and then dived to win Stoke an equalising penalty against Bolton.  Phew, we all thought, that was close, time to put all that behind us, and prepare for a summer of sensible signings.

To be fair to Hughes, most QPR fans were reasonably pleased with the initial summer deals.  True, he seemed to be trying to put together a title-challenging side from 2007, but convincing Junior Hoilett to join was seen as a coup, while Park Ji-Sung had been Alex Ferguson’s go-to man for the big games.  ‘Had’ is the crucial word in that sentence – Ferguson rarely lets a player go prematurely (Jaap Stam being a notable exception), and it soon became apparent that without his stamina Park is a deeply mediocre player.  It has since come to light that he was only signed as a shirt-selling brand-promoting exercise, a saddening indication of the priorities in modern football.

As Warnock had done the previous summer, Hughes appeared to be buying players on reputation, rather than trying to build a team.  Esteban Granero has a lovely touch, and excellent vision, but he has proved wanting when the pressure is on, and is just a marginally less good-looking Alejandro Faurlin.  Stephane Mbia, who has it must be said improved as the season has progressed, was signed to play central defence (a position where Rangers have been lacking for years), and proved instead to be a mildly unhinged defensive midfielder, exactly the same as Samba Diakite.  Signing Julio Cesar just after signing Rob Green made sense, given Cesar’s quality, and Green’s ropey start to the season, but why then insist that this had been the plan all along, when, given Green’s comments in the press, he had been signed as the number one ‘keeper.  Hughes then seemed bemused that this collection of individuals failed to make a coherent team.

Hughes did have some bad luck.  After the atrocious 5-0 home defeat against Swansea, and an inferior performance against Norwich which somehow ended in a 1-1 draw, QPR played excellently against Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs, probably deserving 7 points, but only gaining 1.  A victory in any of those games may have galvanised the players, and taken the pressure off, but instead performances steadily deteriorated, the nadir being the pathetic 3-1 defeat at home to Southampton, which eventually proved to be Hughes’ last game in charge.  He claimed to have meticulously prepared for each game, but played a lightweight midfield against West Ham, and watched nonplussed as Mo Diame ran riot.

And so St Harry of Dagenham appeared, forcing QPR’s hand by pretending to be interested in the Ukraine manager’s job.  Rangers have improved since his arrival, winning at Chelsea and Southampton, and running Manchester City close, but his record of 4 wins in 22 games is inferior to Hughes, and recent performances have been that of a team who gave up long ago.  And, of course, Redknapp has wheeled and dealed like he always does, adding yet another layer of players to a squad so bloated, you could dress it in a check shirt and bum bag, and call it an American. 

Now that relegation has been confirmed, what does Harry do now?  The sensible answer would be resign, retire to his luxury home in Sandbanks, and spend some time with the lovely Sandra, Darren Bent’s nemesis.  He still may, but recent quotes suggest he is looking forward to the challenge, comparing it to the job he did with Portsmouth.  His biggest challenge will be to create some sort of dressing room harmony, something he has recently acknowledged.  Following the 0-0 draw with Reading that confirmed relegation, Joey Barton blamed the club’s failure on the fact there are ‘too many wankers in the dressing room.’  That may be a bit like a pot sitting in a glasshouse calling a kettle black whilst throwing stones, but he has a point.  QPR haven’t played like a team at all in the last two seasons.  It’s unreasonable to expect players to care as much about a club as the fans, but the lack of effort put in by a large number of players this season is horrendous.  Most of the players signed over the past two years have been the wrong side of 30, have already made their reputations, and therefore know that QPR will provide them with their last decent contract.  Professional pride doesn’t come into it – they’ve never had to scrap in a relegation battle before, possibly don’t have the strength of character to do so, and have no reason to push themselves as they’re getting paid well, and their reputation is already made.  Will Park be remembered more for his miserable performances this season, or for his contribution to a highly successful Manchester United side over a number of years?  Similarly, Jose Bosingwa has been rotten this season, but he surely will be remembered for his time at Chelsea.

According to Barton, these ‘wankers’ were all brought in by Hughes, and presumably are all on nice long-term contracts, with no clause to reduce the terms in the event of relegation.  In recent years both Newcastle and Portsmouth have gone down with a squad full of big names and high earners, and next season the R’s could feasibly follow either path.  If they stay, Remy, Taraabt, Zamora, Cisse, Onuoha, Granero and Faurlin are far too good not to thrive at Championship level.  On the other hand, without an influx of players with what Redknapp has called ‘the right character’ we could see another season of apathy.

At least the purchase of a site, and the reception of planning permission for a new training ground is a step in the right direction – at the moment QPR train at a college field in the shadow of Heathrow, but within a couple of years a new facility at Warren Farm in Ealing should be ready (albeit at the reported cost of £25, or 2 and a bit Chris Sambas).  Hopefully this will also go some way to addressing the pathetic lack of youth team players to make it into the first team on a long-term basis.  The last player to do so was probably Richard Langley (who made his debut in 1997) – since then there has been a long list of players trumpeted as the next big thing, but who have turned out to be crap, including (deep breath) Dennis Oli, Richard Pacquette, Marcus Bean, Scott Donnelly, Antonio German, Angelo Balanta, Bruno Andrade and Max Ehmer.  Sadly the most promising youth-team graduate in the last 15 years, Ray Jones, died just after he turned 19.

One of the most frustrating things about the last two seasons is that QPR have gone from being a well-liked club to a highly-disliked one.  Before, when I told people I was a QPR fan, I may have got a patronising smile or an encouraging ‘really?’ in response.  Now I get open laughter and a sneering comment about money not buying success.  The thing is, if I weren’t a QPR fan, I’d hate us.  I really hope that Redknapp can perform the same miracles as he did at Portsmouth (first time round anyway, look where they are now), but I don’t see it.  Who is going to take the high earners off the club’s hands?  What is another summer of complete overhaul going to do to team morale?  And has Tony Fernandes really learnt his lesson, as his Twitter account constantly claims, or will he continue to authorise the signings of high-profile, past-it players, who can help promote his AirAsia brand?  I very much fear for the club’s future.