Jonny Evans (Manchester United)
Manchester United's concession-free accumulation at the turn of the year was achieved with a rearguard that was seemingly ever-changing. Evans deputised for Rio Ferdinand and, like the stand-in skipper, the Northern Ireland international was unfazed on the occasions he was asked to perform. He was cool, composed, assured in the tackle and Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to deny Evans a transfer - short or long-term - last summer appeared to be vindicated. The Scot stayed true to his word of providing the blossoming defender with first-team football. A breakthrough season for Jonny, yet the mark of his true potential will be tested next year, as he will be asked to replicate - and emulate - this season's success.
Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur)
After such a dismal start to Spurs' Premier League campaign, part of their rejuvenation can be attributed to the meritorious form of pacey wide-boy Aaron Lennon. The finely-fashioned eyebrow-cut Englishman has oft been criticised for lacking end product, but during the concluding half of the league campaign, his crossing began to improve, as did his decision-making. His burgeoning ability has relegated David Bentley to being third-choice right winger for the north London outfit, and the diminutive England hopeful has even been rewarded with a bumper five-year contract.
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)
Like his club, Gabriel Agbonlahor began the season in fine form, but petered-out as soon as May could be seen looming nearer from the horizon. Gabriel scored eight goals in ten games, and even grabbed a hat-trick against Manchester City on the opening day. Much of the Villans' forward impetus can be levelled at the motions of Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, but perhaps appearances in England shirts are yet to be made concrete due to their inability to add the string of consistency to their talented bows.
Stephen Ireland (Manchester City)
What Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool, Stephen Ireland can be for Manchester City. When he plays well, his club plays well. The arrival of British record buy Robinho was seen as the catalyst for great things to erupt at Eastlands, but it is homegrown talent Ireland who this season grabbed the plaudits for his heroics in a sky-blue jersey. If the 22-year-old was English, then the hype around him would be relentless. Mark Hughes has reiterated his affection for Ireland's skills on multiple occasions and said recently, "He is an example to every one of the players in the squad."
Marouane Fellaini (Everton)
Fellaini's signature was worth £15 million last summer, and many quarters questioned David Moyes' sanity. After a protracted period in which the Merseysiders made little splash in the transfer market, the Glaswegian kept his cards close to his chest and made what could turn out to be one of the signings of the season as Fellaini looks to complete the Toffees' midfield puzzle. His only question mark is his lust for yellow. It is a rare fixture in which Fellaini goes uncarded, his stray-elbows are an unwelcome addition to his game, but his legitimate steely nature and imposing disposition is something that could have opposition sides quaking for years to come.
Goal.com Young Player of the Year: Stephen Ireland
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Monday, 18 May 2009
Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United) - Maybe other goalkeepers made more saves - more outstanding saves, even - but the bottom line is drawn by his outstanding clean-sheet record and reliability through the duration of the season - and it could be his last as a first-team regular. Schwarzer and Reina can count themselves slightly unfortunate.
Glen Johnson (Portsmouth) - He broke through into Fabio Capello's England squad and was a consistent source of quality in a struggling Portsmouth side, both going forward and at the back, so much so that he has attracted fleeting interest from both Manchester United and , if you believe what you read.
Brede Hangeland (Fulham) - An outstanding performer all season for a club that built their entire success story of the season on solid defending. Hangeland is now a target of Arsenal, allegedly, and many expect him to move on to a big club in the summer. A towering defender of great discipline and power - a real find from Roy Hodgson.
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) - Many people's pick for the Player of the Year, though he missed out in getting either the players' or the writers' vote (but got the players' and fans' vote at the Man Utd club awards). He was the star in United's incredible back line all season, and bar a Liverpool-inspired blip, was at his powerful and impervious best throughout the Red Devils' title-winning campaign.
Leighton Baines (Everton) - Had stiff competition from Patrice Evra and Fabio Aurelio, but had unerring consistency in his first full season of action for the Toffees. Was a rock down his flank in both a defensive and offensive capacity and just one of many of David Moyes' men to produce an extraordinarily consistent season.
Wilson Palacios (Wigan Athletic & Tottenham Hotspur) - The best way to judge Palacios' impact this season is in the form of both Wigan and Spurs when he was in their team. He had an outstanding first half of the season with the Latics, running the midfield single-handedly at times, and ended up commanding £14 million from Spurs, a highly debated fee he has gone a long way towards justifying by starring in the Lilywhites' move out of the drop-zone and into the top half of the table.
Xabi Alonso (Liverpool) - In many ways, Xabi has been the architect of all that has improved about the Reds this season - most notably, their style of play, facilitated by his ability to control the game. He was almost sold to Juventus last summer, and is now reportedly being watched by Real Madrid. Rafael Benitez would be a fool to let him go.
Stephen Ireland (Manchester City) - In a season of signings and speculation at Eastlands, it has been a one-club man, a youngster, who has been the star player. More consistent than Robinho and more influential than, say, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ireland's range of all-round ability and boundless energy has been the embodiment of what little was right with City this season.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) - Under stiff competition from you-know-who (that's Frank Lampard, if you didn't), the Football Writers' Association's Player of the Year makes the team for the goals, assists and all-round terror-inspiring he has done in his roaming role in the hole behind the striker for the Reds all season. He has had a campaign full of trademark Gerrard moments - grit, goals, but unfortunately for him, no ultimate glory.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) - This is being judged as the season that England's prodigal son has finally come good - but still not as the goalscorer extraordinaire the public so crave. Rooney has yet again been shoehorned into wing roles and whatever else, but has improved his passing and crossing while doing so and become more prolific in front of goal, squandering far fewer chances than before. On top of that, his form for England has been ominous, with the 2010 World Cup now edging ever closer...
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) - So he's scored half as many goals as he did last season, yet he's still top of the Prem charts, a big-game banker domestically and particularly in Europe, and really, not a lot is going wrong for the Portuguese international. The pace, the power and the precision have all been in effect throughout the campaign, both up front and on the wing. Madrid are still on the watch, his future is still subject to speculation, but for now, we can but admire his continued ambition to succeed and the ease with which he makes it a reality.
Saturday, 16 May 2009
Craig Gordon (Sunderland) A £9 million signing by Roy Keane, Gordon is one of the remnants of the Irishman's lavish transfer market approach. The overspend is brought to clarity when one considers that more trust has been placed in £500,000 man Marton Fulop this season. His ability is not in question – he's forced his way back into the fold on several occasions – but mentally the Scot does not appear to be cut out for the top level.
Hayden Mullins (Portsmouth) The right-back/holding midfielder has become something of a scapegoat for the Portsmouth fans since arriving from West Ham United in January. Many already felt he was overrated at Upton Park in any case, and the very fact that managerial failure Tony Adams signed him says a lot.
Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United) It wouldn't be a Newcastle team without one prolifically error prone defender failing to hold things together. That dubious honour has fallen to Coloccini this term, although the rest of the rearguard are hardly infallible. He was exceptional at Deportivo La Coruna, so he's not a poor player, but he doesn't have the attributes to perform in the Premier League.
Richard Dunne (Manchester City) The stopper was sent off on the last day of last season, leading to a 8-1 thumping at the hands of Middlesbrough. Many wondered if he was the right man to skipper City into a new era, and I don't think he's silenced those doubters. Although he's perpetually been City's Player of the Year in recent times, he now sits uneasily alongside a new breed of Citizen.
Mikael Silvestre (Arsenal) What looked like a reasonably sensible squad signing on paper was exposed as folly as injuries hit the Gunners' defensive pool. Former Manchester United back-up player Silvestre wound up playing in some massive games, and made some massive errors. The north London side needed a cool veteran head, not a headless chicken in the box.
Nani (Manchester United) Massive things were expected of the Portuguese starlet after a very promising first season at the Theatre of Dreams. Nani, though, with his poor decision making and his over-the-top dribbling, can only go down as a second-season flop. Next term will be make or break, and I certainly wouldn't put money on him making much headway based on his (albeit infrequent) showings this season.
Deco (Chelsea) - Although it may seem strange to put a world class player into a 'worst' XI, Deco has managed to damage his reputation, perhaps irreparably, at Stamford Bridge. It appears as though he stopped playing as soon as the winter came along, with injuries and reported behind-the-scenes tension cancelling out his stunning start. He'll be mockingly known as Felipe Scolari's golden boy for some time yet; part of a Portuguese-Brazilian revolution that never quite happened.
Nicky Butt (Newcastle United) - Sorry, Newcastle, but it really has been a dismal period in your recent history. A lot of the men in Black & White aren't up to scratch, yet Butt is an experienced player in this league and could have offered much more. His ball retention has been poor, his attacking forays disappointing and his tackling wild at times.
Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough) When you've had a full campaign – playing primarily in an attacking capacity and taking your share of set-pieces – yet register no goals and an assists tally countable on one hand, then you've had a poor season. Downing is likely to leave the Riverside this summer and, in truth, I can't see what reported suitors like Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur want with him. Aston Villa's Gareth Barry has shown that you don't necessarily have to waste nearly ten months just because you feel you deserve better.
Ryan Babel (Liverpool) - At 22-years-old I don't think the Dutchman can be classed as as a potential superstar any longer. From where most of us are sitting – be it Anfield or the more peaceful pastures of neutrality – he appears to have failed to make the breakthrough. More grating than anything else is is lack of effort at times, and he generally seems to be regressing.
Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers) More second-season blues were to be found at Ewood Park, where the Paraguayan forward clearly didn't want to be. Although he's had injury problems, I'd guess that the Rovers faithful would rather have taken Manchester City's money for him in hindsight.
NOT Included: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) I have a feeling that many would include the Bulgarian in their line-up, but he's too classy to be seen dead here, despite his comical price-tag.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Just remind us, who owns Carlos Tevez?
A group of investors, with Kia Joorabchian as their trusted front man.
He spots the talents, mainly in South America, advises on value, makes the deals and negotiates the sell-ons to clubs. He’s the ringmaster and has a very close relationship with Tevez and his family.
How much is the player worth?
The asking price is anything upwards of £25million. There is a credit crunch, you know.
Who gets the money?
Joorabchian and his investors share the profit. They originally signed Tevez from Argentinian side Boca Juniors, for around £12m. Since then, he has won a host of South American trophies (three times South American Footballer of the Year), an Olympic gold, a Champions League and a Premier League title, among other trophies. He is on course to become the most decorated Argentinian footballer of all time.
Worth it then?
Liverpool and Manchester City lead the way. Everton and Spurs can dream and Joorabchian flew from the Manchester derby to Milan versus Juventus at the weekend.
Milan like the look of Tevez the terrier, but he wants to stay in England. With the right club.
How about another loan?It’s not allowed. The Premier League have changed their rules and third-party ownership is outlawed. So that rules out United negotiating a fresh short-term deal. Or anyone else.
What about his wages?
The going rate. Around £100,000 a week should do the trick and a four-year deal is the most likely outcome. For that, you get a ready-made all-action hero.
When does all this happen?
His deal with United runs out in June. He has been free to negotiate with other clubs since January, but has said he wanted to concentrate on reaching the end of the season. Now, let battle commence.
Thursday, 7 May 2009
Why are we asking this now?
Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United reached their second successive European Cup final on Tuesday, sweeping aside Arsenal 4-1 on aggregate. They have already won the Carling Cup and world club championship this season and are heading for their third successive Premier League title.
Under Ferguson, who took over in 1986, United have enjoyed the most successful run in the history of English football, winning 10 League titles. On the international stage United have won the European Cup twice already under Ferguson. He has also led them to the World Club Championship twice, the European Cup Winners' Cup once and the Uefa Super Cup once. Ferguson also enjoyed success with his previous club, a European Cup-winners' Cup among the trophies he won with Aberdeen.
How does that compare with other British managers?
Nobody comes close in terms of the number of trophies. However, the European Cup is the ultimate prize in club football and Ferguson still lags behind Bob Paisley's three European Cups with Liverpool in 1977, 1978 and 1981. Paisley, who also won six League titles, achieved his success at a time when you had to be your country's champion team (or the holders) to enter the European Cup, whereas today up to four teams from one country can take part.
Jock Stein was the first British manager to win the European Cup, with Celtic in 1967. Stein also won 10 Scottish League titles. One of Ferguson's predecessors at Old Trafford, Matt Busby, was the first manager to lead an English club to Europe's greatest prize, in 1968. Busby also won the League title five times.
Brian Clough lifted the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest and led both Forest and Derby County, each of them "unfashionable" clubs, to the league title. Bill Shankly won three League titles with Liverpool but retired without a European Cup to his name.
Do any managers with foreign clubs come close?
In terms of achievements with one club, no. Miguel Munoz, Real Madrid's manager from 1960-1974, comes closest to Ferguson's achievements, having won nine League championships and two European Cups. Nereo Rocco, Arrigo Sacchi and Carlo Ancelotti all won two European Cups with Milan, Helenio Herrera did the same with Internazionale and Vicente Del Bosque and Bela Guttman won the trophy twice with Real Madrid and Benfica respectively.
Ernst Happel led Feyenoord and Hamburg to the European Cup and won league titles in four different countries. Ottmar Hitzfeld won European Cups with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
But can you measure greatness just in terms of trophies won?
No, both circumstances and the manner in which success is achieved clearly have to be taken into account. Busby, for example, assembled one brilliant team in the 1950s only to see it destroyed in the Munich air crash, which nearly claimed his own life. He then rebuilt the side to conquer Europe in 1968.
Other managers have also had a greater impact in terms of the style of their teams. Mario Zagallo coached arguably the greatest side of all time, Brazil's 1970 World Cup winners, while the Dutchman Rinus Michels invented "total football", a fluid style based on passing and movement that revolutionised the game in the 1970s. He was named coach of the 20th century by Fifa, world football's governing body.
However, while Ferguson may not have reinvented the game, his teams have always played entertaining football in the best United traditions, based around supremely talented players like Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney.
Doesn't United's financial muscle put Ferguson at a huge advanatage?
United's resources and reputation undoubtedly help them to recruit the best players, particularly British talent. Rio Ferdinand cost £29m from Leeds, Rooney £20m from Everton and Owen Hargreaves £17m from Bayern Munich. The club's reputation also helps when signing juniors. A boy from the East End of London might be an unlikely recruit, but Old Trafford was the only place a young David Beckham wanted to be.
Other managers have achieved success on more limited resources, notably Clough. But Ferguson has turned many a budding young player into an international superstar (Cristiano Ronaldo cost just £7.7m from Sporting Lisbon) and has not been afraid to sign older players, like Edwin van der Sar and Laurent Blanc.
So has Ferguson set out to encourage British rather than foreign talent?
United usually have more British players in their side than their rivals. Ferguson has taken particular pride in the club's home-bred juniors. Beckham, Giggs, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers, Wes Brown, John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher, to name just a few, all came up through the Old Trafford ranks.
How important is the manager to a team's success?
While today's leading clubs have all the advantages that money can buy, man management has been made harder by player power. With their enormous wages and greater freedom to change clubs, modern players can wield huge influence. Ferguson has managed to keep players happy despite the fact that, with such a large squad, some inevitably spend lengthy periods on the sidelines.
Ferguson insists on high standards and in his early years successfully broke a drinking culture at the club. He is very protective. He stood by Roy Keane and Eric Cantona during off-the-pitch crises and kept a young Ryan Giggs out of the spotlight. He is also not averse to creating an "us and them" atmosphere, convincing players they need to stick together. He is a past master at using the media to his advantage. Liverpool's Rafa Benitez was the latest rival to attempt unsuccessfully to wage a war of words against him.
So how has Ferguson achieved what he has?
He had a moderately successful playing career and managed East Stirling and St Mirren before going to Aberdeen. In November 1986 he replaced Ron Atkinson at United, a club which at that time seemed permanently in the shadow of Busby.
After three years with little success, the 1990 FA Cup victory proved a turning point. The league title returned to Old Trafford three seasons later for the first time in 26 years and European Cup was finally captured in 1999.
Always ready to criticise referees and to question the football authorities, Ferguson has been a formidable figure. He has no time for the cult of celebrity – which was probably why he was happy to let Beckham leave – and lets nothing get in the way of his over-riding goal: winning football matches.
How long will he go on?
Ferguson has survived upheavals off the pitch, most notably the takeover of the club by the Glazer family. At one stage he talked of retirement, but at 67 he is enjoying more success than ever. United fans will be hoping he carries on for a good few years yet. It was always said that replacing Busby was an impossible job, but who on earth could succeed Ferguson?
Can anyone challenge the United boss's supremacy?
* Give any decent manager the resources that Ferguson has had and they would be successful.
* For all his attempts at lifting the biggest prize, the European Cup, he has won it only twice.
* Ferguson has benefited from a generation of great players produced by United's youth system.
* Others might enjoy temporary success but none can match his consistency over 23 years at Old Trafford.
* No other football boss manages people as well as Ferguson, who always retains his authority.
* He wins without compromising his or United's beliefs in attacking and entertaining football.
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti continues to deny reports he will be the successor to Guus Hiddink at Chelsea next season. The tactician was asked by the press if he will be in London
"How's my English? I still only speak Italian," was Ancelotti's response to Sky, denying the press stories.
'Carletto' was in London to witness the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final between Arsenal and Manchester United, where the Red Devils walked away 3-1 winners. He commented on the performance of alleged Milan transfer target Emmanuel Adebayor.
"He struggled, like all of Arsenal," suggested the Italian. "I don't think [Arsene] Wenger's team should be judged by this game."
Ancelotti has a high profile match of his own coming up as the Rossoneri host Juventus on Sunday evening.