As we near the end of what has been and still is an exciting season in the EPL, the various gongs and awards are being given out. As usual, they create plenty of controversy, particularly in the case of Ryan Giggs, who was named Footballer of the Year despite only starting 12 league games this season.
The fact is that these awards always go to those players who enjoy plenty of column inches. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has had a quiet season by his standards and I would be willing to bet he wouldn’t even be in most Man Utd fans’ top three for their player of the season. At most clubs, the marquee name often does not pick up the fans’ award. It’s the left back who’s been dependable all season, or the hard-working centre midfielder.
In the Premier League there are always players who have been excellent yet are never considered for the big awards because they play for a less fashionable club, or perhaps because of the belief that you must play for a team likely to win a trophy to be taken seriously. That is rubbish, of course, so in honour of these players, I present my No-Big-Four-Allowed EPL Team of the Season:
Goalkeeper: Shay Given – Man City
When people talk Newcastle it’s normally about strikers. Or Joey Barton. Or the behind the scenes shenanigans. But for years their best player was Shay. Not the biggest keeper you’ll ever see, but there aren’t many safer goalies around. Now he’s run away from the circus to join Man City where he’s being just as brilliant. Apologies to Mark Schwarzer and Tim Howard who just miss out.
Right Back: Glen Johnson – Portsmouth
An exceptional talent at West Ham and a decent start at Chelsea soon gave way to a few years of struggle for Johnson. This season he seems to have grown up. His performances have improved, he has played with greater responsibility and under Paul Hart he has shown willingness to adapt to a new role further up the pitch. The England right back slot was up for grabs a few months ago. Now he’s nailed it.
Left Back: Herita Ilunga – West Ham
The rumour was that when Alan Curbishley lost George McCartney to Sunderland his solution was to sign Ben Thatcher. Relations with his Board continued to dwindle. Ilunga came in on loan from Toulouse and has been superb all season for Zola, part of a defence that looks extremely tight, especially since the arrival of coach Steve Clarke.
Centre Back: Brede Hangeland – Fulham
The 27-year-old Norwegian cost Roy Hodgson just £2.5m this time last year. Arsene Wenger must be sick because this is exactly the sort of dominating giant he needs at the heart of his porous defence. Hangeland has been outstanding in a mean Fulham back five that has conceded just 28 goals in 34 games this season.
Centre Back: Phil Jagielka – Everton
Poor Jags. He had the stones to step up and take a crucial penalty against Man Utd in the FA Cup semi-final after missing one in a previous UEFA Cup tie. He scored. If anyone deserved that glory it was him. Always a solid player, now, like so many at Everton, Jagielka has progressed enormously under David Moyes. It was sad news to see that an injury will keep him out of the Cup Final. Being in this prestigious team of the season will be little consolation.
Right Midfield: Antonio Valencia
You have to sympathise with Wigan. Every time they discover a decent player (Palacios, Chimbonda) or rediscover an underappreciated talent (Heskey) it’s only a matter of time before they’re nabbed by a bigger club. Or by Spurs. Wigan fans must be wondering what colour shirt Valencia will be wearing next season. Steve Bruce rates him almost as highly as Cristiano Ronaldo.
Left Midfield: Ashley Young – Aston Villa
Ash should, of course, have been given more of a chance in the England squad, although his form in the last third of the season has not been as electric as the first two-thirds. Reached a zenith in December with those two goals away at Everton in a thrilling game that resulted in Martin O’Neill branding him a genius.
Centre Midfield: Stephen Ireland – Man City
Now it starts becoming really difficult. There are great central midfielders all over the shop in the Premier League these days. But I really like Stephen Ireland. Limitless stamina, he manages to be unselfish yet still score plenty of goals himself (13 in all competitions this season). A real talent and only 22 years old.
Centre Midfield: Gareth Barry – Aston Villa
It’s an obvious one, I know, but he deserves it. The chaos surrounding his transfer to Liverpool last summer was upsetting for Villa fans, but eventually he stayed and had the professionalism to get on with his job. You couldn’t say that about every footballer in the land.
Striker: Carlton Cole – West Ham
It’s been a low scoring year for strikers in the Premier League. With a few games left, Ronaldo has scored the most with 17 and Anelka is the only other player to reach 15. Until his injury, however, Carlton Cole was in the form of his life, proving plenty of doubters wrong and helping Zola to turn around West Ham’s fortunes. He even grabbed himself an England cap. Next season will be a big one for him.
Striker: Djibril Cisse – Sunderland
This was a real struggle. I almost stuck Tim Cahill up front as he was excellent there for Everton and Robinho has a case too, but I think his overall form has been too patchy. Robbie Keane had a tough time at Liverpool, Defoe has been injured a lot, Benni McCarthy has blown hot and cold, I like Tuncay but he hasn’t scored enough goals and Agbonlahor’s form has fallen away at times. Old warhorse Kevin Davies has had a tremendous season, but for me Djibril Cisse just about gets the nod, if only to have some variety in hairstyles in the team.
So there we have it. My No-Big-Four-Allowed EPL Team of the Season. Would it challenge the top four? I’d like to think so. Take your pick from David Moyes or Martin O’Neill to lead them into battle and I think you’d see some silverware. Please feel free to let me know where I’ve gone horribly wrong…