MVP: Mousa Dembele
Oh the luxury of having a man in your team. It’s not a given, at all, despite the distorting appearances of cannon-like thighs and blockbuster bank balances that could make you think, these must be men.
I’m going to use ‘seems’ for this, because it’s possible they might have some hidden depths of maturity that cannot be witnessed on a football pitch, but, as an impromptu list, Marouane Fellaini seems like a boy, Granit Xhaka seems like a boy, Harry Kane seems like a boy, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems like a boy, obviously Dele Alli, Jack Rodwell, Raheem, Sterling, Ross Barkley, Danny Rose. Kyle Walker…the list is long, and the further you get from Europe, and the closer the players were to true hardship and struggle, the shorter it gets.
So it’s unusual for Tottenham’s man about town to have been born in Belgium, but c’est la vie; it is incalculable, the value of having a player who truly is unruffled as opposed to simply pretending to be, who can put muscularity and not simply athletics into their overall impact, who brings a certain arrogance when confronted by the Premier League manchildren. Dembele does all of these things with smooth European technique and an artfulness within confined spaces that I have decided subjectively to class as the most valuable service provided to any team.
Goal of the Season: Gaston Ramirez vs. Bournemouth
I love football as much as anything for its silly non-sequiturs. Gaston Ramirez should not be involved in any awards, as he has demonstrated conclusively that he and Premier League football do not belong together. And yet, for a minute or so in October, when he cantered the length of the pith, dragged the ball inside the defender shot-cancel FIFA style, then with an utter nonchalance that Boro fans are probably not entirely fond of, just knocked it over the keeper like it would be ludicrous to do anything but the most elegantly simple thing, he was the best player in the league.
Manager of the Year – Slaven Bilic
It really shouldn’t be understated, the challenge involved in moving from a beloved old stadium whose atmosphere is as familiar as a security blanket, to a strangely levelled unlovely corporate bowl, and then trying to resurrect your sense of self. Add to that the player whom you used to sell all your new season tickets swiftly declaring he thought you were s*** and was off, before you even get to the seedy, whispering never-quite-declaring-their-hand goons in the boardroom and your main striker being always three games from injury. I give Bilic credit that for only a handful of weeks did West Ham ever truly seem in trouble, and for the obvious fact that his team believed in him, and thus so do I.
Shiny New Penny of the Year: Josh King
You know, and I know, that Josh King isn’t an elite striker in waiting. But it doesn’t matter, does it – this stuff is what football fans away from the avarice of the top table live for; a player who you thought was decent but not much to notice suddenly, once again and then more and more causing you to leap for joy as he finishes off yet another chance with increasing finesse and verve.
Best Signing of the Year: Sadio Mane
I thought he was way overpriced, when they bought him; my perception of him at Southampton was that his technique was entirely mercurial, and that if things and his interest in them were not flowing just right, he was too often a passenger. It’s still possible that was the case, and that his particular temperament demanded a club and a challenge that would properly fire him up; and as Liverpool fired him up, so he demonstrated something I didn’t expect at all. That his often scruffy and haphazard technique was actually something he could keep a grip on until the last minute, and then slot it under the keeper, which this season he’s done too often for it to be accidental. So props for an unconventional look. I mean obviously the signing of the year is N’Golo Kante but you’ve got bored of hearing that.
Worst Mistake of the Year: John Stones to City
Not a mistake on City’s part, but on Stones’. I wrote an earlier one on this topic, how detrimental and counter-productive it is to snatch these players for moronic sums before they’re ready. Counter-productive in that you can quite possibly ruin the product you’ve paid such a massive whack for.
Stones knew how to be a smooth, elegant and well-timed defender when all the good will in the world was ringing in his ears. What he had no idea how to do was keep it together and produce his technique when the team was in a slump and he was being barracked from the stands. An elite defender in a sane world should go through that experience a handful of times and come out the other side, ready for the big league, as per Rio Ferdinand.
Instead, in this reality we live in, John Stones has to learn it, fast, with the harsh glare of the big league already bearing down upon him, and the clanking of that moronic price tag around his neck. Top work everyone.
Isn’t It Good To Be Alive award: Marcus Rashford
Yeah it’s all a game isn’t it, a game where you try to bang them in for your boyhood club then skip around like a happy gazelle.
Who Really Cares of the Year: England
Serious: with that manager, that kit, that qualifying group, that recent history, and those – Russia, Eurovision Football 2020 and then Qatar – to look forward to, I for one have decided it’s time to say, I have better things to do with my life.
Yeah, They Were Alright XI of the Year
Forster; Darmian, Williams, Dann, Trippier; Cabaye, Noble, Ki Sung Yueng; Mirallas, Ozil, Benteke
Toby Sprigings – follow him on Twitter here