2009-10 Team of the Season: Formation 4-4-2
As another Barclays Premier League comes to an end, and the curtains are drawn on another pulsating and entertaining season, the spotlight turns its attention immediately to the worldwide phenomenon of the World Cup.
This season, we have been privileged to witness a three-horse title race, a new member of the supposed “top four” of English football, for the first time in five years no English side in the Champions League final and, last but not least, a Premier League club by the name of Portsmouth deducted nine points following their drop into administration.
Yes, privileged we are, but there are more important things players look forward to at the end of the season.
It isn’t winning the league title, or fighting relegation, or qualifying for Europe. Neither is it winning the golden boot or gloves, or player of the season for respective clubs.
Rather it is having the firm knowledge of being included in my team of the season 2009/10. Although the dust is yet to be settled on the Premier League I remain in a humble position to name my team of the year.
Manager: Harry Redknapp – Tottenham
Manager of the season has been rather straightforward.
From entering the club in the early season depths of relegation last season, Harry Redknapp has vastly transformed the club into serious European challengers.
His dealings in the transfer market and getting the best of his players on a more consistent basis has resulted in them breaking the shackles of the “top four” and destined to earn a place in the Champions League next season.
Under Redknapp, Tottenham plays without fear and with a swagger that has seen them triumph against the top three this season. The rich vein of form and improvement of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon prior to his injury and resurgence of Roman Pavlychenko has moulded Redknapp a side competiting at the highest level.
Understandably, it is the players who play and win the games, yet Redknapp, behind the scenes, dictating tactics and man management has ensured Tottenham have become an attractive side to watch and difficult side to beat.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart – Birmingham City
The Premier League possesses an array of excellent goal keepers, and the league too of course has a high quantity of English goalkeepers.
Yet the latter fail to impress. The top four can boast of world class goalkeepers, Edwin Vander Sar, Petr Cech, Pepe Reina and the least said about Arsenal’s goalkeepers the better.
Yet while Van der Sar has shone for Manchester United this season, Cech hasn’t been his best since his injury and Reina has been forced to deal with the decline at Liverpool. One goalkeeper who has proven his worth is Birmingham City’s Joe Hart, on loan from Manchester City.
More than the odd man of the match performances and string of world class saves have contributed to a phenomenal return to the Premier League for Birmingham and Alex McCleash.
His performances alone deserve a place to South Africa, albeit likely as an understudy to the more experienced David James.
Nonetheless, next season will remain crucial for Hart. Does he return to Man City and undoubtedly play second fiddle to Shay Given, or seek a loan move once again for first team action, perhaps to Birmingham.
Left Back: Gareth Bale - Tottenham
Currently in the Premier League, there are the top two left backs in world football. Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole.
Both possess rapid sprint speed, attack with a menace whenever possible and do a world class job with their defensive duties.
Of the two, this season Evra has been miles ahead for one reason or another. Yet there has been someone whose performances have surpassed the Frenchmen.
This season young Gareth Bale has dramatically improved at Tottenham under Harry Redknapp. To be honest, it’s due to him playing left midfield not left back, but due to the left midfielder of the season, I wasn’t left with much choice.
Nonetheless, Bale deserves his place in this team, his performances against Chelsea and Arsenal alone proved how far he has come. Bale too possesses high energy and a willingness to enter attacking positions.
At times this season, his pace has been destructive for full backs to contain, let alone actually contend with. Fabio Capello looks on thinking what could have been had he been English.
Centre Back: Michael Dawson - Tottenham
The Premier League has some of the meanest defences in the world.
England's duo centre backs have had contrasting seasons. John Terry's personal affairs have hindered his performances, while Rio Ferdinand has failed to start enough matches due to his injuries. Jamie Carragher has had a disappointing season, largely due to his team's decline.
This season alone, there have been more lapses in concentration at the back than ever before. The season Tottenham are having it is difficult to select individuals who have shone as they have all worked their best in a sensational season.
Yet Michael Dawson has been a rock and revelation in the heart of the defence next to fellow countryman Ledley King.
Due to injuries, King is unable to play too many matches in succession, and Jonathan Woodgate has been absent too adding pressure on Dawson's shoulders.
Yet he has taken charge convincingly and his performances this season, dominating forwards out of the game and last ditch tackles has surely guaranteed him a place at the World Cup.
Centre Back: Thomas Vermaelen - Arsenal
Just ahead of Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz and Liverpool’s Alberto Aqualani has been Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen for bargain of the season.
Of course this is just a joke; he shouldn’t be uttered in the same sentence.
For Vermaelen has been nothing short of sensational for Arsenal this season. Having arrived at Arsenal from Ajax, which raised a few eyebrows and conjured up a few questions, he made an immediate impact scoring on his debut against Everton.
A similar play in fact to Liverpool’s Daniel Agger, Vermaelen has adapted to the English game with comparative ease. His ability to tack, his physical presence, positioning and distribution has brought stability to the back line for Arsenal this season as they have maintained a title charge.
Whether it has been William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre or Sol Campbell by his side, Vermaelen has remained cool, calm and collected.
He has already established himself as a fans’ favourite at the Emirates, and next season will only provide stiffer competition for attackers having had a season to recognise out the game.
Right Back: Rafael - Manchester United
The right back position was quite difficult for someone to take this season. There were no outright front runners who ran the Premier League right side.
Yet Manchester United's right back Rafael has been a breath of fresh air, not only for his club but for the league. He's a typical Brazilian full back who is full of energy and commitment.
Though he has a short fuse and needs to work on his temperament, many times this season he has prevented opposing wingers from influencing the game.
Notably in the Champions League, Rafael had Ronaldhino and Ribery in his pocket for both legs, allowing neither time or space on the ball.
Granted, against the latter he was sent off for literally being in his pocket, but that's the energy and passion that Rafael has in abundance.
Undoubtedly, this is a Cafu in the making and mark my words that Rafael will become the best right back in the world.
Left Midfield: Nani - Manchester United
Since Nani arrived at United, he was immediately compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, partly due to them both coming from Sporting Lisbon, both wingers and both Portuguese.
Yet when Ronaldo left for the Spanish capital, he was one of three United players of whom the onus was on to fill the void.
Often Nani had been criticised, and at times fairly, for under-performing and living in his countryman’s shadow. But since Ronaldo’s departure, Nani has realized what is expected of him, and more importantly how much an important role he can play should he apply himself.
Eye catching performances against Arsenal and Bayern Munich this season have reaffirmed his ability and talent.
The ball is very much in Nani’s court, next season he must step up further and be counted. For some particular reason I have backed Nani and said time and time again that given a hint of patience, he will be better than Ronaldo.
Centre Midfield: Florent Malouda - Chelsea
All right, before anyone starts, I am very much aware Florent Malouda is not a centre midfielder; but he undoubtedly deserves his place among this season’s best and the left hand side is pretty much full of talent.
As mentioned, Malouda’s place in the team of the year is the only player from Chelsea. Despite being top, and favourites to win the title, there has been no stand out players for Chelsea.
Didier Drogba has scored the goals, but being away at the African Cup of Nations hampered his chances of being in this eleven. Frank Lampard has had a difficult season, despite notching up another twenty goals.
Funny to say that, seeing as they seem sure to clinch the Premier League title. But Malouda has been instrumental to Chelsea’s success, making the left hand side his own, and at times filling in at left back in the absence of Ashley Cole.
His personal performance in the 7-1 thrashing of Aston Villa demonstrated how far Malouda has come, having been in and out of the starting line up since he arrived at Stamford Bridge.
In fact, like Nani, there were reports at the start of the season suggesting he may be offloaded. Nonetheless, like Nani, he has taken his game onto a new level, realized what he is capable of and is letting his football do the talking.
He will be in a rich vein of form heading into the World Cup if Chelsea secure the league title.
Centre Midfield: James Milner - Aston Villa
Not for the first time in recent years, Aston Villa seem certain to full short at the end of the season in the hunt of a European place.
If they do, it will be nothing to do with the form of James Milner, who has been deployed as a centre midfielder this season by manager Martin O’Neil, and is reaping the benefits enormously.
It has enabled him to have more freedom and a licence to In truth, there are other centre midfielders who are better than Milner; Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Cesc Fabregas.
The latter made this decision all the more difficult with his displays this season, a contentious decision i know putting Milner in for Fabregas.
However, with midfielder places few and far between for England at the World Cup, Milner has progressed and developed considerably this season at Villa.
Such has been the maturity of Milner; it has not gone unnoticed as both halves of Manchester are reported to be considering making a summer move for the versatile midfielder.
Should the likes of United and City consider a bid, Aston Villa should aim to gain a European place for next season to ensure one of their prized assets isn’t sold.
His performances this season must surely book him a place at the World Cup, and in my eyes a starting eleven place.
Right Midfield: Antonio Valencia - Manchester United
When Manchester United received a world record transfer fee of £80 million for the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid, United fans can be forgiven for expecting that money to go towards to the purchase of Frank Ribery or someone else of his ability.
Fans and experts alike were stunned when Ferguson chose to buy Antonio Valencia from Wigan Athletic as his direct replacement.
This was unfair on the Ecuadorian, as he is a different player to Ronaldo. Ronaldo wants the glory and will cut in at any opportunity.
Whereas Valencia is a typical pacey winger, beating his man and putting in a deadly cross.
This has been the scenario for the best part of this season, with Wayne Rooney on the receiving end.
We’ve spoken highly of the left hand side of this team and their ability to run, but Valencia too has the capability of leaving his defender for dead and supplying a teasing ball that strikers dream of. Last season, the combination of the season was arguably Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.
This season, Valencia and Rooney have combined expertly to tear defences apart by a simple cross and head or tap in. No one at United will replace Ronaldo, such is the calibre of the player, but Valencia can do an immense job in filling the void.
Striker: Wayne Rooney - Manchester United
Anyone who believes Wayne Rooney should not be in their starting eleven this season has been watching the wrong league.
I literally defy anyone who suggests against the inclusion of Rooney. Of all the United players to take lead since the departure of Ronaldo to Real Madrid, the onus has been heavily on Rooney’s shoulders and he has duly accepted the challenge.
He has been literally ‘head’ and shoulders above everyone else, as Alex Ferguson has played him in a more advanced role enabling him to be at the end of more goal scoring opportunities. Both player and club are reaping the benefits.
Midway through his goalscoring antics this season, Ferguson admitted he may have played Rooney out of position to compensate for Ronaldo.
Rooney has become the “fox in the box” that United have missed since Ruud Van Nistelrooy. His record this season from headed goals is astonishing, as he spends his hours on the training ground and puts them into practice.
Despite his recent injury scare, a 50 percent fit Rooney has the potential to cause damage than a fully fit Dimitar Berbatov.
This form has put Rooney in an ideal position to lead the line for England in the World Cup. England fans will hope he doesn’t burn out.
Striker: Carlos Tevez - Manchester City
When Carlos Tevez signed for Manchester United, on a two-year loan deal, I felt Alex Ferguson had no intention of signing him on a permanent contract.
For in two years, they had in their squad a £30 million player and only paid his wages; no transfer fee.
And in those two years, with on-loan Tevez an influential member of the team, United won two Premier League titles, the Champions League, the World Club Championship, and the League Cup and reached a second consecutive Champions League final.
Ferguson is a very shrewd businessman. But Tevez wanted to be loved; and they say money can’t buy you happiness.
Regardless of all that was made about Tevez crossing the Manchester Divide from red to blue, Tevez has been nothing short of a revelation this season.
While certain players have had to adjust to playing for a new team with new faces, Tevez has gone about his football in the tenacious way he does and has continued to score goals.
Manager Roberto Mancini has spoken of Tevez in a very high regard and the fans too have placed the Argentinian on a very high pedestal indeed.
If City are able to clinch the final Champions League place, it will be hugely down to Tevez. His work rate and free scoring goals are there in abundance for all to witness.
With his fellow countryman Lionel Messi too having a great season, Argentina could spark a deadly partnership at the World Cup.