The Most Improved Premiership Players of 2009
Another calendar year of exhilarating Premiership football is drawing to a close. We've seen stalwarts of this league self-destruct and fall from grace, and we've seen virtual unknowns claw their way in at their expense.
We've seen illustrious names, who have become synonymous with English football, move on to new pastures, and we've witnessed the meteoric rise of young starlets looking to claim their crown.
And as we do every year, we have witnessed players emerge from humdrum obscurity, taking their chances, and establishing themselves at their respective clubs through sheer hard work and resolution.
Alex Song has gone from one of Arsenal's last resorts during an injury crisis to a dogged fixture of their midfield. Over the past five months, the young Cameroonian national has displayed his tremendous finesse in the middle of the park, showcasing his excellent range of passing and admirable desire to chase and track back throughout the game.
His understanding with Cesc Fabregas is undoubtedly pleasing Arsenal fans too. If Arsene Wenger doesn't buy a defensive midfielder in January, as so many supporters and critics alike are demanding, I don't think it will be the end of the world as long as this young man is around.
Think back to 2006-2007. A certain type of winger seemed to be giving managers across the country headaches. Shaun Wright Phillips, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, and Aaron Lennon. All young wingers with speed in abundance, but with questions in regard to their final ball and delivery constantly hanging over their heads.
Fast forward to 2007-2008 and the general consensus was that the first three had proven to have just that in their locker after all. But lingering doubts about Lennon remained.
This year, however, Aaron Lennon has shows signs suggesting he may have finally overcome that problem. With his bewildering pace and ludicrously quick feet now leading to accurate, composed crosses winging their way directly to the boot or head of a forward, full backs across the country should be taking note—if Lennon hasn't skinned them already.
His tendency to disappear from games has not been completely eradicated, but the signs of assurance and consistent guile on the wing must leave Spurs fans with lots to be excited about.
Carlton Cole, A.K.A Can't Control had it tough during his period of masquerading as a Premiership forward a couple of years ago. His first touch must have left teammate Luis Boa Morte feeling that there was hope for him yet, and a severe lack of composure is not an attribute he would held too dearly either.
But the former Chelsea man has worked hard. He has polished his game over the past year and now is a potent finisher capable of pulling off sublime moments of skill when it matters most.
Transfer stories linking him to Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal must certainly do well for his confidence, and if he continues to impress domestically, he should have no worries about his place on the plane to South Africa next summer—hopefully at the expense of the inexplicably average Emile Heskey.
After the year Jonny Evans has had, we now know why Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't too worried when he let Gerard Pique head back home to Barcelona in the summer of 2008.
Evans has established himself as the best central defender in his age bracket in Europe, with Pique, Davide Santon of Inter, and Mamadou Sakho of PSG the only contenders to his throne.
The Belfast man has taken on some of Europe's strongest and most technically skilled strikers and has come off looking better than ever. He's had games against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba, and Nicolas Anelka as well as against some top class Premier League forwards such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermaine Defoe. Each time, the 21-year-old has looked like a sophisticated veteran of the defending game.
This biggest testament to Evans' irresistible improvement lies on the grander scale.
Whenever Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand, widely considered to be the best central defensive partnership in European football, has missed a game (and it occurred all too frequently for Rio last season), their absence has been rarely noticeable, thanks to Evans.
Remarkably cool under pressure, Evans reads the game effortlessly.
Working with Ferdinand and Vidic seems to have done him wonders; he possesses the Serbian's aerial prowess and aggression and the Peckham-born defender's intelligence and command of the back line.
Ryan Giggs recently said that Evans had the talent and personality to one day go on and captain United. Even at this stage, it's not hard to fathom.
Perhaps the most laudable United player in regard of improvement is Darren Fletcher. The signs of his terrific progression have been evident for the past two years, and its continuation in 2009 has made him one of the best midfielders in the Premiership.
Every department of the Scotsman's game has improved, his passing is much crisper and emphatic, his aggression levels have leapt up the charts, and his shooting is much more accurate and well-timed these days.
He's chalking up more goals than ever, and the sight of him tenaciously hassling the opposition for 90 minutes has been a regular sight all year.
For a skinny lad, he's deceptively strong, and his sumptuous energy levels are now the best in the league, with probably only Michael Essien for company.
United's undisputed Big Game Player is now one one of the side's best players.
Long may their development continue.
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