As 2011 is almost over, many writers are doing end of season reviews. So I'll do the same. Here are my end of year awards.
As I usually write about English football, most of these awards are to do with the Premier League or English football in general.
Manager of the Year:
Alan Pardew wins this one for me. He has done a far better job with Newcastle than anyone could have anticipated. There was a lot of scepticism about his appointment following the harsh firing of Chris Hughton. Pardew wasn’t high on anyone’s list as Hughton’s successor, but a close personal friendship with members of the Newcastle hierarchy meant that he was given a chance.
Despite Newcastle operating a ‘let’s sell our best players’ transfer policy; Pardew has managed to build a good team, by making some shrewd signings. Yohan Cabaye may be the best signing any Premier League team made in the last transfer window, and Demba Ba has been an excellent signing.
Newcastle have a good chance of qualifying for Europe. They are defensively very well organised, have a good mixture of flair and toughness in midfield and have Ba to provide the goals. The only problem is that Newcastle do not have much strength in depth, which needs to be addressed for Newcastle to progress further.
Player of the Year:
Robin van Persie has been sensational in 2011. He’s scored an amazing 35 goals, one short of Alan Shearer’s record, this year, and at present is the difference between Arsenal being a challenger for a top-4 place and a team finishing outside the top 7. When Arsenal have done something good this year, van Persie’s usually been at the heart of it. His talent’s been obvious for years, but the key to his excellent year has been staying fit and avoiding the type of injuries that had disrupted his career prior to 2011.
Most Disappointing Player:
Sadly, this has to go to Fernando Torres, who moved for a British transfer record, but has had a terrible year. Everyone knows just how good a player Torres is, but he’s been a long way short of his best for a while now. He looked a shadow of himself last season for Liverpool, but since joining Chelsea he’s been a shadow of the shadow of himself. The most damning statistic about Torres is that he has scored more goals for Liverpool (4) than Chelsea (3) in 2011, despite joining Chelsea in late January.
Torres is too good a player for this bad run of form to go on much longer and I hope and expect to see him back at his best sooner rather than later
Man of the year:
Modern footballers are normally not that interesting. Most footballers come across as either really bland, or a total arsehole; neither of which are interesting. So thank God for Mario Balotelli. Balotelli is an interesting character, managing to do stupid, childish and very funny stuff on a regular basis. Among his highlights this year, he’s managed to: have an allergic reaction to a pitch, set his house on fire by letting off fireworks from inside the house, be caught in the early hours of the morning having a sword fight with a friend using rolling pins, swear live on TV after the FA Cup final before asking “Can I say that?”, pick up girls using the technique of sending a friend over to say “Mr Balotelli will see you now”, be sent to buy cleaning appliances by his mum on the advice of his cleaner, only to return with a giant trampoline and two Vespa’s instead, be seen driving slowly around Manchester in his convertible immediately after City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford, stopping to high-five any City fans he saw.
Despite his reputation for being a spoilt, petulant, brat; Balotelli definitely has a nice side to him. Earlier this year he won £1000 in a casino and gave it all to a homeless man. On Christmas Eve, Balotelli walked into the Tudor pub in Peel Hall, South Manchester, put £1000 behind the bar to buy drinks for everyone inside, despite not touching a drop himself, stayed to chat to fans and pose for pictures, before heading to midnight mass at a local church, where he gave a large donation.
Salesperson of the Year
That goes to whoever sold Balotelli the hat he's wearing in the picture at the top.
Team of the Year:
I’m going to give this one to American Samoa, who managed record their first victory after a 30-game losing streak in their recent first round World Cup Qualifying tournament by beating Tonga 2-1, snapping the unenviable record of losing every single game they had played. This was then followed up by a 1-1 draw with the Cook Islands and a narrow defeat to Samoa.
The victory over Tonga must have been especially sweet for goalkeeper Nicky Salapu, who was the only survivor from their famous 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001. Also, American Samoa now have the distinction of fielding the first ever transgender player in a World Cup match, with fa’afafine defender Johnny (Jayiah) Saelua.
Principled Footballer of the Year:
I’ve written in the past about how I don’t envy a footballer’s life. I believe that if I was a footballer, I’d be one of many players who would get disillusioned with the ‘greed is good’ culture that surrounds the game.
So I applaud the stance of Javi Poves, a defender for Sporting Gijon’s B, who did something about it. Poves gave up what could potentially have been a lucrative career in football, gave back the car provided to him by Gijon’s sponsors, refused his wages, shut his bank accounts down so the bank’s couldn’t speculate with his money. Poves said "The more you know about football the more you realise it is all about money, that it is rotten and this takes away your enthusiasm, what point is there is earning 800 or 1000 euros, if you know that you are obtaining it through the suffering of many people."
This is an especially brave decision considering that Spain currently has the highest levels of unemployment in Europe (a whopping 4.4m),and prospects are especially bleak for under 30’s where 20% have never been able to find work and 46% are employed on short-term contracts only.
Unfortunate Comment of the Year:
This goes to former Coventry and Wales manager Bobby Gould, who said of then-Coventry striker Marlon King, “Marlon King is a natural predator”. That comment takes on a whole new meaning when you consider King had recently been released from jail after serving a sentence for sexual assault.
The ‘This man actually gets paid to talk about football?’ Award:
This goes to Sky Sports (the main broadcaster of football in the UK) pundit Paul Merson on the show Soccer Saturday, a show where a panel of analysts watch the games happening (UK broadcasting rules prevent live football being broadcast on Saturday afternoons) and summarise what they are watching (it’s far more entertaining than it sounds!). Merson was asked to comment on the Everton v Wigan match he was following. Merson announced Everton had brought on their new Argentine striker (Denis Stracqualursi), but Merson wondered aloud if he had a nickname as he had Vellios on the back of his shirt. It was then pointed out to him that the reason the player had Vellios on his shirt was.... that he was looking at Apostolos Vellios!
Merson compounded his error by doing it again minutes later. Everton scored and Merson, after some initial confusion, confidently announced it was Stracqualursi who’d scored, but said that the nickname on his shirt had caused him problems identifying the scorer. A caption then appeared on-screen correctly identifying the goalscorer as Apostolos Vellios!
Bizarre logic of the year part one:
This goes to a Fulham fan I heard being interviewed on the radio after Fulham’s recent Europa League exit. He said “You have to look at the positives. There are too many games in this cup anyway. Not being in it will allow us to concentrate on climbing up the league, and who knows, maybe snatch a European place”
So, in his view, it’s good that Fulham have gone out, as their participation in this season’s Europa League was a hindrance to qualifying for next season’s Europa League? Will playing in next seasons Europa league therefore be a hindrance to the one the season after? Where does it end?
Bizarre logic of the year part two
This goes to James Lawton of The Independent, for a comment he made after the Luis Suarez verdict. He said of Denis Smith (a former footballer and manager, who was one of the three-man panel that judged the Suarez-Evra case) “Smith's long, injury-strewn but superbly indefatigable involvement in the hard end of professional footballer (sic) made him eminently qualified to note the difference between nuances of language”
One small question. How the hell does it?
Harry Redknapp may want to rethink any plans he may have to be England manager, as according to Lawton, with his long and distinguished career both as a player and manager, he’s perfectly qualified to be a professor of linguistics at Oxford!
Toughest injury to explain to your family of the year:
There have been some unusual and nasty injuries this year. Blackburn’s Scott Dann recently ruptured a testicle, making men all over the world wince; Notts County’s Lee Hughes missed a large chunk of pre-season training after suffering from the bends following a scuba-diving trip. A particularly unfortunate injury happened to Swansea captain Alan Tate, who was in a golf cart driven by a friend when it crashed; Tate broke his leg, and missed the chance to lead Swansea out at start of the Premier League season, and has only recently returned to action.
However, the strangest injury of the year happened to an unnamed 37-year-old midfielder for South Wales side Tenby AFC, who spent five days in hospital after a prank at an end-of-season party went awry. The player in question was mooning, when a team-mate decided to shove a pool cue where the sun don’t shine. His teammate was arrested as a result of the injuries suffered but was eventually released without charge.
Misguided fan abuse of the year
This award goes to the Spurs fans who, disgruntled after a poor refereeing performance from referee Chris Foy in a recent match against Stoke, decided to give him some abuse on Twitter. The only problem was that instead of abusing Chris Foy as intended, they actually were sending abusive messages to 4-time Olympic gold medallist cyclist Sir Chris Hoy!
Happy New Year to everyone and many thanks to everyone who's read or commented on anything I've written this year!