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All Things Footie | Monday, May 26 | Jordan

Best of 2002-3

It may have taken a week, but it’s finally done. In the meantime, Celtic have lost the UEFA cup final, Wolves have become the third and final first division side to join the Premiership (we can hopefully expect an entertaining match report from Mr Thomas Green any time soon) and England nearly bored us to death (for a change) beating South Africa 2-1 in Durban. So before we move on and begin looking forward to next season, here’s the definitive roundup of the 2002-3 Premiership season.

Player of the Year

For anyone who has read some of the things I’ve written in the last few weeks, this wont be a hard one to guess. These couple of paragraphs are not wasted though, I want to tell you all why

Thierry Henry simply has no equal in British football. Something that’s easily forgotten in the days of clubs being liquidated and pressure that causes managers to have heart attacks and strokes is that football is about entertainment. Ironically - with billion pound deals with TV companies driving the game - it’s easy to forget that there’s few pleasures like a wonderfully entertaining game of football. Be it in the Premiership, La Liga, Serie C, the Ryman league or a kickaroud on a backstreet in Rio.

There’s no more consistently entertaining footballer than Thierry Henry and he also managed to finish Arsenal’s top scorer, the Premeirship’s leading goalscorer from open play and set a new Premiership record for assists in a season (20; beating David Beckham, Nolberto Solano and Robert Pires’ joint record of 15). He’s the only striker I’ve seen that was a dead cert for man of the match in a game where two other players scored hat-tricks and he is constantly responsible for victories he scores - and fails to score - in.

of Arsenal's 85 goals this season, the PFA player of the year has either scored or done most of the work for just over 50% of them. The corresponding statistic for Van Nistelrooy is more like 40% (assuming a generous 5 assists, I can't get hold of the actual figure but last time I read it, it was 3). Bearing in mind United have scored 11 goals less than Arsenal and that 13 of Van Nistelrooy’s goals have been penalties puts Henry's achievements into perspective.

I could write an essay telling you why Ruud Van Nistelrooy doesn’t deserve this award, but I really don’t need to.

Outstanding Young Player

The trickiest award by far. Wayne Rooney has impressed all season and made a breathtaking and fearless England debut as the nation’s youngest ever player. Jermaine Jenas has been absolutely superb for Newcastle this year too, driving the midfield and outshining his more experienced collegue Kieran Dyer. There’s only one winner of this award though.

John O’Shea has been the most influential member of Manchester United’s defence this season. I don’t like tagging footballers with the price that some idiot has paid for them, but O’Shea has put £30m Rio Ferdinand to shame this year. Exceptionally versatile, the Irish international has been better than Silvestre at left back, better than Ferdinand or Brown at centre half and better than Neville at right back. Whenever he’s been called upon - Europe, Premiership, Worthlesston Cup - he’s risen to the occasion and truly epitomised the ‘attack starts from defence’ philosophy.

When you think how young he is it’s frightening how good this kid could become with some experience. Lets hope he keeps his head screwed on an shows as much dedication in the future as he has done until now.

Outstanding Senior Player

It’s been quite a year for oldies; Chris Marsden, Martin Keown, Gary Speed and David Seaman all deserve special mentions for their irreplacable contribution to their clubs; but for the same reason Thierry Henry can be the only winner of the player of the year award, the senior player worthy of most recognition can only be Gianfranco Zola.

At 36 years old, he still looks to have the sharpness and talent he had 10 - and I can only presume 20 - years ago. He still regualrly baffles defenders, and strikes the ball with a sweetness that only comes with age and lots of practice. With last year’s hot strike partnership of Eidur Gudjonsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink being Chelsea’s unquestionable first choice, there was talk of Zola returning to play out his final months in provincial Italy. The determination he’s shown to keep going and return to the top of Chelsea’s strike order, as well as proving a deciding factor in his club’s push for a Champions League place makes him in my outstanding senior player without a doubt.

Goal of the Season

As I say every season, there have been some absolutel corkers this year. Ruud Van Nistelrooy's goal against Fulham was superb, but it began with the dutchman handing Sylvain Legwinski a forearm smash to the face which - for me - detracts from its beauty somewhat.

Nicolas Jensen's volley from the edge of the box is as sweetly as any balls been struck all year. But you get the impression that if he was given the chance again he may not repeat the feat. The same cannot be said of Alan Shearer’s volley for Newcastle, I really can’t say anything against it apart from that he’s done it so many times it wasn’t a surprise.

The winner? He’s scored some beauties this year, particularly when he ran the length of the pitch and beat half the team against Tottenham, but it has to be Thierry Henry’s two touch (on the volley, one on each foot, without a bounce in-between, edge of the box) wonder strike against Man City. Quite simply because there’s not another player in the premiership who could do that. Not one. And you just know that if you gave Henry another chance at it tomorrow he'd do it again, only better.

The Djimi Traore Award

For extreme doginess, the Djimi Traore award this year goes to … Djimi Traore! Why? Because if you could choose between Pascal Cygan and Djimi Traore you’d choose Cygan. More need not be said.

Team of the Year

Brad Friedel
Blackburn
John O’Shea
Man Utd
John Terry
Chelsea
Sol Campbell
Arsenal
Ashley Cole
Arsenal
  Jermaine Jenas
Newcastle
Patrick Vieira
Arsenal
Robert Pires
Arsenal
 
Paul Scholes
Man Utd
  Thierry Henry
Arsenal
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Man Utd
 

Special mentions must go to: Lucas Neill (Blackburn), Carlo Cudicini & Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Thomas Gravesen & Wayne Rooney (Everton), Ryan Giggs (Man Utd), Geremi (Middlesborough) and last but not least Jay Jay Okotcha - so good they named him twice.

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