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.

The Premier League 13/14

The Premier League season starts on Saturday but to be honest, I’m not that bothered by it.  Why?  It feels like there hasn’t even been a break.  Since the Champions League final at the end of May we have had international friendlies at the start of June, then the U-21 European Championships and then the Confederations Cup during the rest of June.  By that time, pre-season has already started and we are into the endless cycle of transfer sagas, manager speculation and predictions.  There is just no let-up.  Football has lost its allure as it creeps ever increasingly into the summer months traditionally reserved for cricket.  Because of the insatiable appetite for the beautiful game, one can watch it all year round and for me, that seems wrong.  I like my June and July to be totally football-free (unless the World Cup is on of course) and so when August comes around, I am genuinely tingling with anticipation at the thought of my first glimpse at the newest signings to the Premier League.  Remember that glorious time, pre-internet, when players like Andrei Kanchelskis and Daniel Amokachi came to England?  The first opportunity one had to see them play was the first game of the season (unless you were some super-keen fanatic who would travel to Bury on a sweltering July evening to see your team put in a half-arsed performance) and one would be genuinely excited.  Nowadays, all the mystique has disappeared.  It’s like a girl on a first date handing you a picture of herself completely starkers.  Yes it’s good to have this information but all the mystery has been ruined.  A couple of clicks and you can see your new signing in action on youtube, read his personal preferences on twitter, get to know his family on Instagram; so this pre-season I have steered clear of youtube, deliberately not followed Iago Aspas on twitter and avoided watching videos of pre-season games.  Despite this impressive self-denial, I am still completely apathetic towards the coming season – and this seriously worries me.

            Part of the problem is that this summer has seen amazing achievements from Britons in other sports.  Whilst our brave footballers were drawing with Ireland, Andy Murray was busy becoming the first British man for 77 years to win Wimbledon.  The Lions were winning their first test series in four attempts and England’s cricketers are currently making mincemeat of Australia in the Ashes.  Not to mention Mo Farah’s 10,000m victory at the World Championships or Christine Ohurougu’s incredible British record to reclaim her 400m crown on Monday.  In other sports, British competitors are improving, testing themselves against the best in the world and regularly coming out on top.  The footballers meanwhile are plodding along, seemingly content to be good enough, but not world class.  There has been a recent change in the British psyche from being gallant, plucky losers to hard-nosed winners.  This is evident in Rugby Union, Tennis, Cricket, Athletics and Cycling but seems to have passed football by.  I daresay the fact that there is so much money in English football at the moment is to the detriment of the game.  Young players who have achieved relatively little get rewarded with huge contracts and suddenly at 19, 20, 21 they are already millionaires living a very comfortable lifestyle.  Take Raheem Sterling for example.  He played maybe two or three good games for Liverpool last season, yet was demanding a £30k plus per-week contract (as an 18 year-old) when in real terms, he had done absolutely sweet FA.  Liverpool, loathe to lose one of their brightest talents, relented and Sterling proceeds to go and behave like a complete wally and gets himself arrested last week.  Is that the behaviour of a potential star of the future?  Do you hear about the best young Spanish or German or Italian players (let’s forget about Balotelli for a second) conducting themselves in such a manner?

            One thing that I have noticed about successful athletes from other sports is their hunger and desire to win, their willingness to work hard to achieve their goals, and how grounded and disciplined they are.  Take Mo Farah for example.  In preparation for the World Championships he spent several weeks training at altitude in the Swiss and Austrian Alps.  Farah has a young family and he sacrificed seeing them in pursuit of his goal of a gold medal – so much so that he admitted his youngest daughter barely recognises him.  Bradley Wiggins, in a similar situation to Farah with a young family, spent weeks training at altitude in Tenerife in preparation for his tilt at the 2012 Tour de France.  This is the sort of dedication and ruthlessness required to become the best in the world.  The footballers of today seldom have such drive and desire.  Last year, England cricket’s star batsman, Kevin Pietersen, fresh from a stunning 149 not out to save the game against South Africa at Headingley, was dropped for creating dressing-room unrest by sending provocative texts to the opposition and generally being a bit of a Billy big-bollocks.  England lost the next game, but sent Pietersen a strong message which was along the lines of ‘nothing is bigger than the team.’  The Surrey man repented, was re-admitted to the team with the proviso of a new attitude and look what has happened since: England have not lost a series.

            I like the Premier League, I genuinely do.  It is probably the most exciting league in the world and it showcases some of the greatest players on the planet.  However, especially since the 2012 Olympics, I have become slightly disillusioned with football.  The Olympics was a glorious festival of sport, where athletes dedicated up to four years of their lives living off pittance in some cases in the pursuit of a medal (in some cases, just the start line).   That is what sport is about – the passion, the determination, the drive to try hard every day in the pursuit of excellence.  When I see Premier League footballers not giving much of a shit (Q.P.R take note) who are on more money per week than most athletes earn in a year, it leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

            So, what hopes do I have for the coming season?  I hope that the football will take pride of place instead of debates about strikers trying to eat central defenders.  I hope the season will throw up a surprise package that plays enterprising football (Stoke and West Ham to be relegated please).  I hope that just for once, greedy footballers stop thinking about how much money they can earn, handing in transfer requests and actually get on with improving themselves.  I hope that I can fall back in love with the beautiful game.  I hope, but I won’t hold by breath.