All right, football fans, here we are, mercifully, arriving at the final station on this apocryphal little journey. Along the way there’s been tears, there’s been jeers (we’re all looking at you, Arsenal fans) and let’s all hope that, after their short sojourn around the sights of the Champions League, Liverpool got some souvenirs (the aforementioned tears were also Liverpool’s as well, in case you were wondering). What’s left then? Only a few lonely statuettes remain, and the auditorium’s being used by the Society of Freudian Psychologists in 20 minutes. Funnily enough, I was once accused of having some sort of Freudian complex, imagine that eh? Nothing could be my father from the truth, I mean, everyone says one thing but means my mother every now and then. So, please, labias and genitals, please take your seats.
Let’s get on with it.
Most Outstanding Brain Snap, so far: Wayne Rooney
This was a strange one, indeed it was. We could see what Wayne Rooney, a man with the sort of intellect rivalled only by a box of moths, wanted to do; he wanted to stop Stewart Downing from launching a dangerous counter attack. United was only leading by a single goal, so Wayne decided, rightly, to take one, as it were, for the team, and absorb the yellow card into that decidedly hefty figure of his. But the tact required to foul a fellow professional was, at this critical moment of moments, beyond poor Wayne. Instead of dragging Downing, er, down (perhaps in the manner of a German World Cup winner) or deftly looping a foot around one of his ankles, Wayne swung his foot with far too much force and brought in crashing into the thigh of the scampering Hammer. Upset about a handball that hadn’t been given a few moments earlier, Wayne decided that displaying how good he was at kicking people’s legs was the best way to sway the referee. The only thing redder than the card that was quickly thrust into the air, was Louis van Gaal’s face as Rooney peeled off the captain’s armband, the one that the Dutchman had chosen to issue to him.
The moment of madness was inconsequential, Manchester United still won the game, though a late Kevin Nolan chance might have rewritten the narrative. What really delivered the Addy to the Manchester United captain was how transparently Rooney’s rage had taken the reigns of his volition, slipped into his feeble brain like the parasitic Yeerks from Animorphs, and how swiftly that rage had travelled from hypothalamus, to leg. As Gutman says to Sam Spade (with Mesut Ozil standing behind him) in The Maltese Falcon: “By Gad, sir, you’re a character, that you are! There’s never any telling what you’ll do or say next, except that it’s bound to be something astonishing!”
Most Underrated Player, so far: Mile Jedinak
Obviously, handing out an award to the most underrated player defeats the very point of the award itself; as soon as the accolade is presented, it becomes null and void, and the presenter looks a right oxymoron. So logic, as well as tradition, dictates that the player chosen for such an award is not really underrated, at least not by anyone taking a closer than average look at things. Yes, this backhanded compliment is delivered to a quality player in need of a slightly condescending leg-up in the PR department.
Crystal Palace fans are dreading the moment, one that will inevitably come, when everyone realises just how good Mile Jedinak is. You know that midfield enforcer that Arsenal are searching for (or, infuriatingly, not searching for), the one to go nicely with all those flighty attackers? That’s him over there, quietly being statistically the best defensive midfielder in the league. WhoScored.com put the Australian in their 13/14 team of the season, whereas the PFA named the much more glamourous Yaya Toure in their preferred midfield four. But just look at his numbers. This season he has won the most tackles in the league (46), has made the most interceptions (57), has won the most aerial duels (52), and these are just the things he’s leading all Premier League midfielders in. He’s fourth for blocked shots (8), third for clearances (46), and even though he’s committed the most fouls in the league, he’s outside the top 25 for yellow cards. He’s not a player who can dictate a midfield, who will pass 100 times a match and complete over 90% of them, but the dirty work, the hard yakka, the roll-up-your-sleeves side of the game is his and his alone. On top of this, he’s recently become a much more effective player at the pointy end of the pitch; where he only managed a single goal last season, he’s scored five goals already this season, including a sumptuous free kick against Liverpool.
At 30, Jedinak is in the midsts of his prime as a player, and he continues to improve in England’s top flight. He signed a new three-and-a-half year deal at Palace a year ago, but contracts have never stopped anyone before, have they?
Signing of the Season, so far: Diafra Sakho
£825 million was spent on players over the English summer by the Premier League teams. That’s nearly a billion dollars worth of talent, shipped in, and sent out onto the pitch, except for West Brom’s record signing Brown Ideye, who arrived for £10 million, was given the sacred number 9 shirt, and has made exactly 3 appearances for the goal-shy baggies so far. But flops and no-shows are plenty when it comes to the scatter-gun style of spending that Premier League clubs (see; Liverpool and Manchester United this year, Tottenham last year…well actually, most years for Spurs) love to indulge in. What’s rarer are those new chaps who make themselves at home immediately, who instantly thrive in the rough-and-tumble world of English football. Diego Costa did just that, but he was already one of Europe’s best, so it wasn’t that much of surprise, really. The same goes for Alexis Sanchez. Graziano Pelle settled nicely but, incredibly, even his return of 7 league goals so far, for only £8 million, isn’t the best value out there.
No, Diafra Sakho, who has also scored 7 league goals, reportedly cost Big Sam and West Ham a mere £3.5 million. He scored in his first 6 league starts, tying Mickey Quinn’s 1992 Premier League record. If he’d been a big-money signing from a top European league, this would still be impressive, but what makes his fast start even more astounding, is that he was playing in the second tier of French football last season, for Metz. Such a jump up in quality is enough to give you the bends, but the Senegalese international has made the transition look utterly effortless. Just as effortless as his remarkable goal against Liverpool, one of the consecutive 6, where he clipped a superb chip over the alert goalkeeper, from just inside the box. He scored in West Ham’s last match, the 3-1 victory over Swansea that brought the Hammers to third on the table, so he’s showing no signs of slowing. As a West Ham fan myself, I’m honoured to hand this Addy out personally.
And now, The Team of the Season, so far.
Here it is, in all its glory, there for all to see, the Team of the Year, so far. Hard decisions were made here, so the honourable mentions go to:
Nemanja Matic, Aaron Cresswell, Angel di Maria, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Pablo Zabaleta, Morgan Schneiderlin, Graziano Pelle, Diafra Sakho, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wilfried Bony, Wayne Rooney, and a whole host of other splendid individuals.
This hallowed first XI, glowing as they are on the pitch, have been the league’s best in their respective positions, so far. The highlight reel saves of David de Gea, the quiet assuredness of a resurgent John Terry. Jose Fonte, cornerstone of the league’s best defence, alongside his team mate, and recent England call-up, the marauding Nathaniel Clyne. Leighton Baines, still far and away the most potent attacking full back in the country. Then the true grit of Mile Jedinak, partnered perfectly with the deep-lying creativity of Cesc Fabregas. And Stewart Downing, reinvigorated and resplendent in claret and blue. And finally, the formidable attacking triumvirate, Alexis, Sergio, Diego. They are the top 3 scorers in the league, the most lethal weapons in Britain.
And with this, so ends the ceremony. I’d like to thank the FA for the dinner they put on for us, to get those front row seats, as well as the Russian delegates for the generous bribe. See you next year!