“I’d rather be the underdogs. I’d rather people not know my name when I come out and do this stuff. Then they’ll say ‘Who was that?’”
Yesterday the PFA Team of the Year was announced. Whilst the team conjured up is an acknowledgement of the very best, this Premier League season has featured plenty of underdogs coming to the fore. The PFA Team of the Year consists entirely of players the league’s top five clubs. This alternative team doesn’t feature any players from those teams. Furthermore, those who’ve received plenty of praise, such as Charlie Adam, Scott Parker, Andy Carroll and Leighton Baines, are excluded. So here are the unsung heroes, those who’ve quietly impressed:
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster (Birmingham City)
This season could have gone very differently for Ben Foster. He may have continued to play understudy to Edwin Van der Sar before being passed the baton at Manchester United this August. Instead, Foster opted for Birmingham City. The Midlands club have had a difficult year in the league but Foster has slotted in well behind Alex McLeish’s typically sturdy defence. He was also pivotal to Birmingham’s Carling Cup success.
Left Back: José Enrique (Newcastle United)
José Enrique has been virtually ever-present in Newcastle’s team this year and has featured in every one of their eight clean sheets. Newcastle have had plenty of defensive troubles over the year but they seem to have found a very solid full-back in José Enrique. That may be about to change though as his name continues to be heavily linked with a move to Anfield this summer.
Centre Back: Robert Huth (Stoke City)
Huth may not be a popular player but he has excelled at Stoke this year. They’ve garnered a reputation as a difficult team to score against ever since they won promotion and Huth has enhanced their status. But he has also proved a legitimate threat at the other end of the pitch too. Huth’s bagged six goals in the league making him Stoke’s joint highest scorer.
Centre Back: Gary Cahill (Bolton Wanderers)
Speak to those who regularly go to the Reebok this year and they’ll tell you how good Cahill has been. Owen Coyle has transformed the ethos of Bolton Wanderers and the classy Cahill has flourished in the new style. He started the season with his first England cap and has ended it with his first England start. Expect him to remain very much in Fabio Capello’s thoughts in the future.
Right Back: Stephen Carr (Birmingham City)
Stephen Carr’s played in every minute of the nine clean sheets Birmingham have forged out. In fact, Carr has only missed 47 of the 2880 minutes Birmingham have played this year. Not bad for a 34-year-old man who announced his retirement in 2008. He has been somewhat of an unsung hero but pundits rightly cooed over his Carling Cup final performance against Arsenal.
Left Wing: Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)
It must be hard for a crafty, clever midfield technician to shine at Stoke City but Etherington continues to impress. Stoke’s long, missile balls can often bypass their midfield but Etherington does plenty of good work from wide positions. He remains a vital cog for Stoke with his deliveries from corners and free-kicks. Matt Jarvis could also be considered for this position after a bright season at Wolves.
Centre Midfield: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)
Last year Nolan was award the Championship Player of the Year award and he’s carried that form with him as Newcastle look set to cement their Premier League status. He’s helped himself to 12 league goals making him the division’s highest scoring midfielder. Newcastle have recorded several goal gluts and Nolan has been inspired in all of them. His finest hour was a hat-trick in the 5-0 drubbing of local rivals Sunderland. Honourable mentions for this position must go to Nolan’s Newcastle teammates Joey Barton and Chiek Tioté.
Centre Midfield: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Lucas was derided for so long by football fans in this country but his turnaround this year has been magnificent. Finally we’ve started to see why he has merited inclusion for both Liverpool and Brazil. In a tough season for Liverpool, he has been their most consistent performer. Lucas saved his best performances for the bigger games with typically destructive outings in wins against Chelsea and Manchester United.
Right Wing: Clint Dempsey (Fulham)
This season was always going to be a dull one for Fulham after their heroics last year. An early injury to Bobby Zamora only confirmed that. But Dempsey has had a steady season which has gone largely under the radar. He’s weighed in with a respectable ten goals with only Kevin Nolan bagging more from midfield.
Forward: D.J. Campbell (Blackpool)
So many strikers have failed to make the colossal leap up to the top tier of football so reaching double figures for the season is a great achievement for Campbell. He had an unsuccessful crack at the big time before with Birmingham but looks to have found his feet at Blackpool. Campbell has scored against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham proving he steps up against the league’s best.
Forward: Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion)
West Brom’s inability to stay in the Premier League in previous years had been blamed on the absence of a renowned goal scorer. In Peter Odemwingie, they now have a man to provide a finishing touch to their midfield guile. No side have scored more goals in the bottom half of the league. In his first season in English football, Odemwingie has bagged 12 goals and he also has eight assists. If West Brom stay up, he may be the signing of the season.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Let me know in the comments section.
“A New Years resolution goes in one year and out the other”
Many New Year’s resolutions may already be broken but it’s a bit different when it comes to Premier League footballers. They don’t need to hit the gym to bulk up or (Benni McCarthy aside) get on a diet. So what should some of the Premier League’s men be looking to learn in 2011?
Rory Delap – Learn…a new trick
As all the girls will tell you Rory, long throws are so 2010.
Nobody is talking about “The Delapinator” anymore because his long throws have lost a lot of their potency. For everyone has wised up to Stoke’s fabled gadget and without it, Delap has faded from the spotlight. `
When a dog rolls over for the first time, it’s impressive but he needs an array of trickery to stay ahead of the pack. Does Delap have a fetch? Can he pull out a bark if the long throw is bombing? I have my doubts.
It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant like a step over or a dummy. This is stereotypically English central midfielder Rory Delap we are talking about. So I suggest he works on a way to develop his long throw. Perhaps doing it backwards or blindfolded? Just a thought Rory, just a thought.
Owen Cole – Learn…where the nearest JJB is and find some tracksuit bottoms!
I like Owen Coyle and lately it appears so does the majority of the country. I just have one major quam with the Bolton boss. His insistence on continuing to wear shorts even in sub zero conditions.
Everyone’s complaining about snoods and gloves but Coyle’s short shorts are even more worrying. Allow me to elaborate. Coyle may be a “tracksuit” manager and that’s fine. If he wants to keep his Sunday best for well, Sundays, so be it.
But what happens when a bigger job opportunity comes alone? Let’s say for arguments sake, at Chelsea.
It’s a Champions League night at The Bridge and José or Pep roll up in their suave, sophisticated suits which perfectly reflect their marvellous tactics.
Then out comes Coyle dressed like an overly enthusiastic substitute to greet them with a handshake. It just doesn’t work. Bigger things may await Mr Coyle in 2011 so let’s hope he dresses accordingly.
Bolo Zenden – Learn…how to dance
The day Asamoah Gyan rocked up in Wearside a warning should have been sounded out to all in the near vicinity. Prepare to party like it’s 1999.
The burning question was who would be the first to join Gyan on the dance floor, Anton Ferdinand? Danny Welbeck? Jordan Henderson? Yet it was 34-year-old Bolo Zenden who joined the Ghanaian in celebration when he scored against Chelsea.
The Dutchman fell into that awkward trap dads do when trying to act “cool” in front of their kids’ friends. Gyan’s moves looked all the more slick when accompanied by his fellow Ghanaians but Zenden’s “booty wiggle” left a lot to be desired.
Still when it comes to Zenden, the will is certainly there and where there’s a will, there’s a way.
With the wide variety of reality based dance shows on television at the moment, Bolo has no excuse. If Vince Cable can master the Foxtrot I see no reason why Zenden can’t bust out the sprinkler or a dice roll for all those at the Stadium of Light. Stay strong Asamoah, we’ll get you some backing dancers yet.
Gary Neville – Learn…how to say “retire”
It’s not as if Father Time has just called for Neville. He’s been waiting outside the door with lager, some chicken and a fishing rod for quite a while.
Last year didn’t end well for the Manchester United right back. He was taken off at half-time after being abused by Matthew Etherington against Stoke and then should have been sent off after he felled Graham Dorrans at West Brom.
A magnificent long-term servant for both club and country, it is sad to see Neville withering away like he has been. The passion is undoubtedly still there in one of the most ardent footballers the league has ever seen but the legs clearly don’t correspond with the brain anymore.
Sir Alex Ferguson is too proud and has too much respect to sit Neville in that rocking chair so it has to be down to the man himself to call it a day.
If I was Phil, Tracey or Neville I think I’d have worked hard to drop a few hints in my Christmas presents. I imagine him now owning a pipe, slippers and a commemorative engraved watch with “thank you for your services”.
“A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large”
Another year, another deadline passes. In previous seasons the deadline day comings and goings of Ashley Cole, Wiliam Gallas, Robinho and Dimitar Berbatov have kept us all enthralled. But if one player summed up the rather tepid nature of yesterday’s deadline day it was Salif Diao.
On any other day, news of his return to Stoke City would be relegated to the lower depths of Premier League news. However, on deadline day the news was worthy of the eye-catching bright yellow ticker-tape and an exclusive interview.
For even if there is no action, the media contrived façade that is deadline day must try to live up to the hype. One of the bigger moves was Eidur Gudjohnsen’s arrival at Stoke City. The sight of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tony Pulis together was apparently “absolutely extraordinary”. Gudjohnsen’s signing was a coup but lest we forget he spent time in the Championship with Bolton when he first arrived in this country. Yes he has played for two European giants but like Jenny from the block, he’s not forgotten where he came from. Elsewhere the rather excitable Sky Sports presenter Jim White was seen completely combusting when Franco Di Santo made another inevitable loan move back up north.
The truth is deadline day is failing to encapsulate the drama that it originally conjured up. We were all hooked when Dimitar Berbatov was held hostage by Fergie, when delirium kicked in at Eastlands and when Mark Hughes pretended that he was abreast of developments regarding Robinho. Since then, Benjani’s missed flight and Ryan Babel’s helicopter escapades aside, it’s all become rather dull and dreary despite the media’s best efforts.
There are plenty of reasons why deadline day is failing to live up to its hype. The season is already three weeks old, squads take time to blend and managers want to bed in new faces early. The 25 man squad rule has left managers needing to have a good idea of how their personnel will shape up. Clubs need to be astute rather than simply chopping and changing on deadline day (not including Harry “I’m not a wheeler-dealer” Redknapp). Prolonged pursuits like Berbatov’s can be cut short with a strong dose of petulance, as showed by Javier Mascherano. Then consider how many clubs seem to be less willing to part with money. Only Sunderland resorted to spending big to ensure a deal was made before the deadline. With their hand possibly being forced by the side-lined Frazier Campbell, they acquired Asamoah Gyan for a club record £13 million.
So it appears clubs have wised up when it comes to transfer windows. Leaving it to the last minute drives up prices as desperation kicks in. Deadline day is loaded with uncertainty for players too.
It is usually hard to feel too much pity for footballers. Doing what you love for a living and getting paid to do it creates little sympathy for the most part. But Rohan Ricketts’ tale of the uncertainity of deadline day is the other side of the coin as players face being jettisoned at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile hype and hysteria will continue to grip White and his colleagues twice a year. But in truth clubs have failed to yield to the drama and excitement, in fact the last few have been rather mundane.