Tottenham Hotspur: Player of the Season Retrospective of the Past Six Winners
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Regardless of the successes and failures of any one season, whether your club has won a trophy, bounced around mid-table or fought for survival, there is always at least one standout player.
While of course much of the greatness of football comes from it being a team game, it is nice to celebrate the individual achievements too.
Decided by the club's members and season ticket holders, Tottenham Hotspur have been giving out their own Player of the Year award since 1987. In that time club legends like Gary Mabbutt, Paul Gascoigne and Jurgen Klinsmann have all been recognised for their contributions, with three players (Sol Campbell twice, Stephen Carr twice and Robbie Keane thrice) taking the award on more than one occasion.
Given on an annual basis up until 2004, since the 2005/06 campaign the trophy has been awarded at the end of each season. This offers as good a cut off point as any to take a look back at the recipients of each Spurs Player of the Year award since then.
What was the story of each winner's season, and how did it fit into the overall picture of Tottenham's performance? What were their notable games and big moments? And to finish things off we take a brief look at the candidates for this year's award.
2005/2006: Robbie Keane
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Back at the end of the 2004/05 season, there was a good portion of Tottenham supporters who genuinely believed Robbie Keane's days at the club were numbered. The Irishman's quite public show of disgust after failing to get on at all in a 1-1 draw away at Birmingham City, plus his failure to permanently usurp his closest rival f, Jermain Defoe,or a place up-front gave those fans the impression that manager Martin Jol would be keen to sell him.
Of course this was an idiotic take on the situation and thankfully Jol knew better. Despite starting fewer Premier League games than Defoe, Keane still scored only one fewer goal than Defoe, with 12. His overall total of 18 goals was his best tally in his time at the club at that point. The Birmingham incident also showed there was some fire in his belly.
It is perhaps apt that the same city, albeit a different opponent in Aston Villa, played host five months later to the moment that saw Keane stake his claim for a first-team spot in euphoric fashion. For the most part it would remain his apex until his ill-fated departure to Liverpool in 2008.
After winning their first two games of the 2005/06 campaign Spurs had stuttered in their next few fixtures. Defoe especially had struggled. One-nil down against Villa, Keane came on and with a fine shift of balance skipped through a crowded penalty area to rifle in the equaliser. Forsaking his usual cartwheel celebration, Keane charged back up the field with a look of pure exultation on his face.
Keane did not take Defoe's place immediately, but the Villa goal kick-started his push for the spot and by November he had all but taken it as a burgeoning partnership with Mido saw Tottenham stake their first serious top-four claim in a number of years.
It was not to be for Spurs in the end; a heartbreaking loss to West Ham on the season's final day denied them Champions League football. But Keane's performances and 16 goals had provided some notable highlights along the way.
A fiery draw 1-1 draw at Highbury famous for a clash between Jol and Arsene Wenger saw Keane strike to put Arsenal on the ropes for a time in a great clash between the rivals. While against Blackburn Rovers the Irish striker grabbed two goals in a tightly-contested 3-2 win for Spurs. The first was arguably his greatest for Tottenham. Taking a throw-in from Mido, Keane proceeded to flick the ball over Robbie Savage then again past Andy Todd before blasting it past Brad Friedel.
A true moment of genius in a joyous season for Robbie Keane.
2006/2007: Dimitar Berbatov
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The main event people usually talk about when looking back on Tottenham's 2005/06 is the unfortunate ending that saw them so cruelly miss out on Champions League football. Yet there was so much more to the season than that. Spurs staked their claim as a legitimate top six side for the first time in years, playing some great football along the way and also earning a return to European competition. It was the UEFA Cup rather than the Champions League, but after only one brief continental sojourn in the past decade that was something.
The end result of 2006/07 would be a great European trip that ended on a disappointing but proud note at the hands of eventual winners Sevilla, and a league campaign that ultimately would come up short on fourth place but nonetheless provided some fantastic highlights and genuine hope for the future.
Undoubtedly the star of the show was Dimitar Berbatov.
Tottenham acted quickly to secure his services in May of 2006, paying Bayer Leverkusen £10.0 million for the Bulgarian striker. It was a smart piece of business for a player of a class and pedigree designed to improve Spurs in their attempt to battle on multiple fronts.
Berbatov more than delivered. Statistically speaking there were 23 goals in total. In addition to his 12 in the Premier League he also provided 11 assists which speaks somewhat of the all-around creative role he played in what was at times a sparkling Tottenham attack. What the stats don't say is the quality of goals Berbatov scored, and some of them were genuinely special.
The first though was comparatively boring, a simple tap-in as Spurs beat Sheffield United 2-1 in the season's second game. It was to be Berbatov's only goal until October in a stuttering start for Spurs. His second goal was in many ways the one that kick-started Tottenham's season. In the club's first UEFA Cup group game, Berbatov provided a sign of things to come with a sublime goal seeing him round the Besiktas goalkeeper to seal a 2-0 win against the Turkish outfit.
In the next month Spurs recorded victories against rivals West Ham United and Chelsea. Berbatov did not score in either but was finding his feet with some fine performances, performing comfortably alongside either Robbie Keane or Jermain Defoe.
The goals did come though and some were truly sublime. There were the two volleys in each game against Middlesbrough, both displaying his quick reactions and ability to summon impromptu magic. Against Braga at home he made a perfect run onto Tom Huddlestone's second perfect free-kick where he proceeded to chest it and lash it home. His curling free-kick in the 4-3 epic at West Ham was a thing of beauty. Then there was the Charlton Athletic goal. Deftly flicking Ledley King's pass around the challenge of Talal El Karkouri, Berbatov used this to gain an advantage in the tussle as they raced away to the box before he slotted home. Genius.
Beyond just the goals Berbatov was so often in mesmeric form, able to bewitch the opposition in a manner which made it look easy for the Bulgarian. His ball control and dribbling ability was second to none, able to manipulate the ball how he liked and glide past players when it suited him. The most thrilling evocation of this came in a 4-1 league victory over Bolton Wanderers in February.
Spurs were 3-1 up at half-time but down to ten-men after Keane was dismissed for handball. What followed was a near-perfect display of how to play alone up-front from Berbatov. He would not score, but it hardly mattered as he ran Bolton ragged the whole half. They literally couldn't get near him.
2007/2008: Robbie Keane
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Football's 'worst-kept secret' at the start of 2007/08 was the Tottenham hierarchy's pursuit of Sevilla boss Juande Ramos. The undermining of Martin Jol only exacerbated what had been a frustrating start to a season which many had tipped Spurs to achieve their ambition of breaking into the league's top four.
Spurs were performing underwhelmingly even before the Ramos speculation properly took hold. Of the playing squad only a few were in form. There was the energetic and enthusiastic Gareth Bale, newly arrived from Southampton. Steed Malbranque was his usual tireless, hard-working self. And there was Robbie Keane.
What would turn out to be the last season of Keane's initial and most successful spell at White Hart Lane was quite possibly his best. As one of Tottenham's few consistent good performers early on he was a significant reason the club did not endure as awful a start as they would a year later.
Whereas the season before he and Jermain Defoe had shared the playing time more equally, Keane's form and the level of understanding he had developed with Dimitar Berbatov limited Defoe's chances further and he moved onto Portsmouth in the January transfer window.
Keane firmly cemented his status as a Tottenham legend in 2007/08, for achievements as an individual and with the team.
Against Sunderland in January the Irish striker came off the bench to score Spurs' second in a 2-0 win. The goal was Keane's 100th for Tottenham and meant he joined an exclusive club of players to exceed a ton, including Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith and Glenn Hoddle. Later that month he played his part in sending the club back to their first cup final in six years, with a first domestic trophy in nine years following as a result.
Keane scored Tottenham's third in the 5-1 Carling Cup semi-final win over Arsenal, feeding onto Aaron Lennon's pass to fire across the hapless Lukasz Fabianski. His sense of jubilation was evident for all to see and matched that of the Spurs supporters on a historic night.
It was a joy that doubled for the long-time Spurs servant at Wembley the next month with Keane putting in a good shift the 2-1 extra-time victory over Chelsea. The Irishman's joy at finally winning some silverware at Spurs was there for all to see, in particular in his emotional search for Berbatov as the two embraced in the post-match celebrations.
It would have been a perfect end to the season but unfortunately three months remained. Spurs' year teetered to a anti-climactic finish. As had been the case throughout the season Keane remained one of the team's top performers on his way to 23 goals. There was a screamer against Chelsea in an exhilarating 4-4 draw that was probably only bettered in his Tottenham career by that goal against Blackburn two years before.
Keane's final goal for the campaign saw off Reading in a 1-0 win. Few anticipated it would be his last in Spurs colours for some time.
2008/2009: Aaron Lennon
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For Tottenham, 2008/09 was as peculiar a season as they are ever likely to experience. Taking only two points out of their first eight league games quickly ended the tenure of Juande Ramos and with it the demise of the continental system the club had been built on since the summer of 2004.
Harry Redknapp came in and got some points on the board but a difficult Christmas and New Year period saw him bring back Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and Pascal Chimbonda (as well as new arrival Wilson Palacios), in what proved a successful attempt to steer Spurs away from relegation as they eventually finished eighth. And along the way they made it to the Carling Cup final before losing to Manchester United on penalties.
Aaron Lennon was not exempt from the frustration of that early winless period, but from Redknapp's arrival onwards the little winger was a rare and consistent salvation for a side that had difficult finding an identity in attack.
Into his fourth season at White Hart Lane, Lennon had established himself as one of the club's best and most exciting players. This however, did not deter Ramos from investing heavily in creative midfield positions that summer, with the arrivals of Luka Modric, Giovani Dos Santos and particularly David Bentley threatening the England winger's place.
In addition to those already at the club, the new signings added to a midfield that was now brimming with creativity. On paper anyway. Instead, Spurs struggled to create chances, which made their softness in midfield all the worse.
Redknapp's arrival in late-October saw the latter issue improved, with Jermaine Jenas playing well in one of his best spells at the club and the introduction of Palacios adding a much-needed layer of steel.
And rather than Bentley cementing the right-midfield position as his own, it was Lennon who became the first-choice there. The memorable 4-4 draw with Arsenal, where both had notable shining moments, acted as a decent metaphor for the differences between the two.
Bentley may have scored that superb opening goal, lobbing Manuel Almunia from all of 40 yards, but it was Lennon who was the more noticeable as Spurs seeked to fight back as the Gunners led into the second-half. And though it was not solely him who got them back into the game, it was Lennon who was there pouncing on Modric's saved shot to salvage a vital point at the death.
From that point Bentley was still involved, and doing okay it must be said, but Redknapp was increasingly having to find ways to accommodate him. Lennon meanwhile was playing some of his best football and proving his worth, getting on the score sheet in a vital 2-1 win away at Hull that helped steer Spurs away from the drop-zone.
Probably his best performance, though, came in that Carling Cup final loss. This was Aaron Lennon at his most thrilling, giving the sort of display that has made him one of Tottenham's great entertainers of the modern era. That it came against Patrice Evra, one of the Premier League's best full-backs, made it all the sweeter.
Lennon turned the Frenchman inside-out, near enough every time he ran at him he would put him on the back foot, with his exemplary control and turn of speed torturing the left-back. Getting beyond him he put in numerous, tantalising crosses but Spurs were unable to find the net, and eventually lost a heart-breaker on penalties.
2009/2010: Michael Dawson
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Tottenham's march to a fourth-place finish in the Premier League in 2009/10 was the sum of so many contributions. That is to say, at various points throughout the season, several players stepped up in a big way.
Jermain Defoe's goals helped set the ball rolling in the first half of the campaign. With points to prove, Gareth Bale and Roman Pavlyuchenko gave Spurs' season an injection of momentum from January onwards, whilst Heurelho Gomes, Ledley King, Sebastien Bassong and Tom Huddlestone all came through in a tough final couple of months.
You could go throughout the squad that season and highlight so many contributions, but that of Michael Dawson's was among the most important.
An Achilles tendon injury kept the centre-back out for the beginning of the season before he finally got his chance in the 9-1 thrashing of Wigan Athletic in November.
In only his second game back in the starting line-up, against Aston Villa, Dawson demonstrated his leadership abilities by getting forward and earning Tottenham a deserved point with an emphatically-struck equaliser. He scored again in the following 2-2 draw with Everton, but it was on defensive side of things where he would consistently prove himself vital to the cause.
With Jonathan Woodgate suffering from a long-term injury and Ledley King not much better off, as the most senior remaining player in the position it was left to Dawson to carry much of the load in defence.
That he did, forming an effective and balanced central defensive partnership with Bassong as Spurs became a tough nut to crack. Dawson was the glue holding it all together though, and it was testament to his character that after his most disappointing moment he responded in the best way possible.
In the FA Cup semifinal against Portsmouth, Dawson slipped as the much-derided Wembley turf gave way underneath him. That slip-up allowed Frederic Piquionne in to set Pompey on their way to a 2-0 win.
With two massive games against London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea following, Spurs may have crumbled as the going got tough. But Dawson set the tone with two superb defensive displays, putting his Wembley error to the back of his mind as he gave his all to keep Tottenham's push for the Champions League on pace. Spurs won both games 2-1.
Another exemplary display against their chief-competitors for the spot, Manchester City, saw Tottenham home. As had been the case throughout the season, Dawson was proving his case as one of the country's most underrated defenders, and would be rewarded with a call-up to England's World Cup squad after Rio Ferdinand was injured.
2010/2011: Luka Modric
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Tottenham's adventures in the Champions League in 2010/11 gave the season a mirage-like feel.
The trips to Milan, the famous music blaring out at White Hart Lane, competition with Europe's best players—it was all so tantalising, but in its infrequency and, ultimately, its abrupt conclusion at the hands of Real Madrid, it felt like it was gone before it was really there.
That was a feeling enforced by Tottenham's stuttering spring league campaign that saw them unable to earn qualification for a swift return to the following season's edition of the Champions League.
But like any mirage, the hope it created was such that you desire the real thing again as soon as possible. That was a desire certainly at work in the heart and mind of Luka Modric, judging by his keenness to move across London to Chelsea in the summer of 2011.
The season leading up to that moment had seen the Croatian truly establish himself as one of Europe's best midfielders. The previous two seasons, his first in England, had given a thorough examination of the slightly-built player's credentials to hold his own amongst the physicality of the Premier League.
Throughout 2010/11 he utilised this experience to great effect. Not only was he Spurs' creative linchpin, he was the very heart of their midfield. Modric's vision enabled him to sniff out interceptions whilst his sprightly, bounding style of movement meant he could be relied upon to pitch in and get the ball back from the opposition.
It is hard to pick stand-out games for him from the season, he was generally consistent and it was inevitable he was at the source of most things when Spurs were at their best.
Bale grabbed most headlines as he terrorised Maicon in the 3-1 win over Inter Milan, but Modric had set the ball rolling with his assist for Rafael van der Vaart's opener and throughout he was involved prominently in Tottenham's efforts.
The summer's dalliance from afar with Chelsea would spoil it somewhat, but what cannot be denied is Tottenham supporters bore witness to a tremendous showing that year from a footballer who was tough, clever and quite often sublime.
2011/2012: And the Winner Is...?
Is Scott Parker the favourite to be Tottenham's player of the year for 2011/12?
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Just how Tottenham's season will finish remains to be seen. More frustration of the kind seen last season may be awaiting if Harry Redknapp's side cannot seal Champions League qualification after another difficult beginning to spring. But those hopes remain alive and with an FA Cup semifinal to come, some silverware could top off the campaign in style.
Voting for the club's player of the season award has now opened, and while there are still games to play, certain candidates certainly stand out.
Scott Parker, Brad Friedel and Emmanuel Adebayor were all arrivals last summer and have all enjoyed strong campaigns.
Adebayor's inconsistency will probably count him out, whilst the opposite might see Friedel get recognised for the award. Parker has been similarly consistent and has captured the hearts of the Tottenham faithful with his efforts and the all-round level of quality he has brought to the midfield.
Gareth Bale's goals have caught the eye this season, and at times he has been virtually unplayable. But the increasing annoyance at his diving and over-exaggeration, as well as going missing in some big games, might just put off voters.
As for some long-shots:
- Jermain Defoe has played some of his best all-round football in years and has returned to goalscoring form. However his lack of game time might see him overlooked.
- Benoit Assou-Ekotto is something of a cult figure at the Lane. With big-hair and plenty to say, he has kept himself in the public eye, all the while being one of Spurs' most consistent performers. At left-back though, he might be in a position that sees him fall under the radar.