The Premier League Alternative Awards of the Season

Alex Dunn@@aldunn80Featured ColumnistMay 9, 2018

An almost immaculate campaign for James Tarkowski has made him a real contender to play for England at the World Cup.
An almost immaculate campaign for James Tarkowski has made him a real contender to play for England at the World Cup.Associated Press

With the awards season having delivered pretty much a clean sweep for Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and the PFA Team of the Year long since exhaustively dissected, it's time to dish out some alternative gongs for the 2017/18 Premier League season.

Marouane Fellaini is the surprise winner of the inaugural Garth Crooks' Haircut of the Season award, while Alan Pardew picks up silverware despite a tough campaign.

As has been the story of his season, Kevin De Bruyne again misses out on personal honours. The Belgian will have to settle for a Premier League and League Cup double before a tilt at the big one over the summer.


Player of the Year (Outside of top six): James Tarkowski

Premier League @premierleague

And the nominations for @EASPORTSFIFA Player of the Season are... Vote: https://t.co/WJmEFqJqLf #PLAwards https://t.co/4dA9C7Yuz6

Assuming James Tarkowski can't pass the ball out from the back because he plays for Burnley is akin to being genuinely surprised when the blindingly obvious beautiful geek in a Hollywood movie turns out to be stunningly attractive by virtue of taking off their glasses.

Alas, when Gareth Southgate named Tarkowski in his latest England squad for friendlies against Holland and Italy, large swathes of Football Twitter were aghast at why he would want an old-school stopper in his ranks, given he was professing to anyone who would listen how his side would be playing a more progressive style of football.

In fairness, for much of a season in which even the very best sides in Europe have been criticised for a rank inability to defend properly, much of the praise directed at Tarkowski has been for how he gets the job done as simply and effectively as possible.

Tarkowski has acknowledged as much, while reiterating how, prior to joining Burnley, he had earned a reputation for being able to pick a pass as well as defend. 

"Maybe some of you have written that I'm an old-fashioned English defender but before I joined Burnley no one ever said those words about me," he told reporters at St George's Park in March. "I was more a ball-playing centre-half, playing out from the back in a Brentford team that took a lot of chances."

Under Sean Dyche, one of the the best builders of back fours since Arsenal legend George Graham, he has learned the ugly side of the game can stay ugly as long as it ensures clean sheets. Alongside the equally underrated Ben Mee, Tarkowski was been integral to Burnley's 12 shutouts in 37 matches, with only Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea having conceded fewer goals than the Clarets' 37. 

Having ascertained he can really defend, it seems superfluous yet necessary to point out how he can really play too. Regularly stepping into midfield to bring the ball forward, he also possesses a velvet missile of a right foot that can ping cross-field passes at will. 

As John Stones will attest, there is a suspicion in England over centre-halves who like to play. Tarkowski may just be the perfect compromise. He's confident, without being cocky, and capable of using his head both literally and figuratively. 

It could be Tarkowski is now on the cusp of going mainstream, having been the shock inclusion on a six-man shortlist for the Premier League Player of the Year. 

Even more so if he finds himself a starter for England in Russia. 

*An honourable mention must also go to the prodigiously gifted Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha.


The Eric Cantona-sponsored Most Mangled Analogy: Arsene Wenger  

After Arsenal's defeat at Brighton, a dejected Arsene Wenger gave the type of assessment usually provided seven pints into a heavy session. There's a point in there somewhere, maybe. 

"When you have just the trousers on it's easy to take them trousers off as well," he said. "When you're naked completely you have to find a shirt and try to put it on again and then you're dressed normally again."

Swansea City boss Carlos Carvalhal also merits mention for a succession of half-baked analogies since replacing Paul Clement in December, many of which make no sense. His explanation for a distrust of statistics being a case in point. 

"It's like if you and me went for a picnic, we take a chicken and I eat all of it but you have none, but statistically you have eaten half of the chicken. 

"This is why I don't look at statistics."


Best Chant: Liverpool's Ode to Mo Salah

Though criticised in some quarters as being a little crass and culturally insensitive, Liverpool's ode to Salah, via a reworking of Dodgy's 1996 tune "Good Enough", which contains the lyrics "If he scores another few, then I'll be Muslim, too," and "Sitting in a mosque, that's where I wanna be", has been praised by both the player and within the Muslim community.

Given Muslims are so under-represented both on the field and in the stands in England, attempts to be inclusive, however unpolished, surely do more good than harm. It was a point touched on in an interesting piece by Rory Smith for the New York Times earlier this year. 

"His (Salah's) faith—and his public displays of it—have also made him a figure of considerable social and cultural significance. At a time when Britain is fighting rising Islamophobia, when government policy has been to create a 'hostile environment' for illegal immigrants, he is a North African and a Muslim who is not just accepted in Britain, but adored."


Best Excuse: Alan Pardew

Adam Bate @ghostgoal

During the 19-game period in which Alan Pardew was not the West Brom manager this season, they are in the top half.

Statistically, Alan Pardew's tenure at West Bromwich Albion is the seventh-worst in Premier League history. His four-month reign at the Hawthorns saw him take just eight points from 18 matches, which equates to 0.44 points per game. In between losing matches, Pardew, in his infinite wisdom, decided to take his players on a three-night "bonding" break to Barcelona. It all culminated with Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill allegedly "borrowing" a taxi at 5.30 a.m. while at a McDonald's drive-thru.

Pardew is to Baggies fans what abattoirs are to vegetarians, but what they should not forget is that none of it is his fault. The real culprit in the sorriest of seasons is Gary Megson. The "Ginger Mourinho" oversaw two draws from his two-game interlude as caretaker-manager following the dismissal of Tony Pulis in November.

According to The TimesAlison Rudd, Pardew believed this denied him the "new manager bounce" he felt by rights should have been his:  

"Megson had revitalised the players for the draws against Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle and summoned three goals. Pardew's first game in charge was a goalless draw, and in a phone call to Megson, Pardew told him he had, effectively, denied him his "new manager bounce", the instant invigoration a new appointment usually brings."


Understated Celebration of the Year: Troy Deeney (vs. Chelsea)

Bolarinwa Olajide @iambolar

Troy Deeney could find himself in hot water after using a middle-finger expletive to celebrate his goal against Chelsea. https://t.co/tzVqpqgnA5


Best Twitter Personality: James Milner

There's something very meta about James Milner's pitch-perfect parodying of an account parodying him (@BoringMilner). It's a tough call whether the bone-dry Yorkshireman has been more of a revelation since returning to the centre of Liverpool's midfield this season or joining Twitter in March. 

Sure, setting an all-time record with nine assists in this term's UEFA Champions League is impressive, but his Twitter numbers are something else. And rightly so.

James Milner @JamesMilner

#TBT to yesterday.... when I wasn't on Twitter! 👋🏻 https://t.co/TJy4RxHZJx

James Milner @JamesMilner

What Easter is all about... trying to find the perfect sized mini egg 🧐 #10mm #HappyEaster https://t.co/oyiHW5ePLu

James Milner @JamesMilner

Double knot races are never boring! #roundthebunnyear #hooploopandswoop 🐰👟🤗 https://t.co/iIcntc9Efu

James Milner @JamesMilner

Anyone got any tips for getting a Champions League logo off a face? #glowing #uclfinal #whofancieskiev #9assists #minusonegoal https://t.co/niNoXBtJPv


Garth Crooks' Haircut of the Year: Marouane Fellaini

B/R Football @brfootball

Marouane Fellaini has a new look for @TheGQStyle spring summer issue [📸 with permission of GQ] https://t.co/oRl8miivR1

Pretty much every media outlet in the country offers minute-by-minute commentaries each time Paul Pogba visits his favoured barber shop, with his haircuts often pored over as extensively as his passes. BBC pundit Garth Crooks is borderline obsessed; it would not be a surprise if it was discovered he houses a shrine to the Frenchman's coiffure choices in his spare room like the chief suspect in a Scandi-noir drama.

Pogba, for his part, must have been quietly seething when in March this year Marouane Fellaini (of all people) allowed GQ magazine to give his famed afro an avant-garde styling that made him a shoo-in for this most coveted of prizes.

We'd expect high fashion from catwalk regular Hector Bellerin, but to see Fellaini sporting Micky Mouse ears made from his glorious thatch is positively life-affirming. No wonder he reportedly thinks he deserves a huge pay hike to stay at Manchester United, per the Times' Paul Hirst.

You wouldn't be surprised if Vogue were after him. When he takes this gong into his next round of contract talks with Ed Woodward, expect him to come out with a deal that gives him parity with Alexis Sanchez. 


Biggest disappointment: Anthony Martial

First, the caveat. We've not forgotten about Alvaro Morata, Michael Keane, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Renato Sanches, Alexis Sanchez et al. It's more that Anthony Martial's indifferent form this season could lead to a parting of ways. And there can be no bigger proof of a player having disappointed than being shown the door. 

While divorce papers are yet to be signed, it's safe to say Jose Mourinho and Martial have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for some time now. The Frenchman may be the most gifted kid in the class, but he's not proving to be the smartest.

If he wants to stay at Manchester United, he needs to get Mourinho on his side. If he takes him on, for all the favour he curries among the club's supporters (he has been voted United's Player of the Month in three of nine months this season), he will lose.

Against Brighton on Friday night, given a rare start in the absence of the injured Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku, his performance gave off the distinct whiff of insouciance. It has been reported a major deodorant brand got in touch with his agent immediately after the game to see if he would be interested in fronting a campaign with the tagline: "Guaranteed no sweat."

Dean Jones @DeanJonesBR

I would be surprised if United can find someone to pay £50m for Martial. On his day, brilliant. But those days are becoming pretty rare

"Maybe now you will not ask me why A, B and C do not play so much," was Mourinho's acerbic assessment post-match. "Why always [Romelu] Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? You have the answer why always Lukaku."

To think Martial started the season as though he was ready to live up to his billing as a future Ballon d'Or winner, scoring five goals in the opening nine games, despite starting just four of the them. Then in January he enjoyed another purple patch, with three goals and two assists in five games.

Mourinho proceeded to drop him without any real explanation and has used him sparingly since. No manager treats 'em mean like Mourinho, especially the young ones. The jury is still out on whether Martial is still keen. 

Coming to the end of his third season at Old Trafford, he's no closer to cementing his first-team place than the day he arrived in Manchester. If anything, he's going backwards. 

There's no shame in his performances; with 11 goals and seven assists from 26 starts, it would be harsh to call his season a total bust. But following Steve Bates of the Mirror's report of a potential swap dealing involving Chelsea's Willian, there's a growing sense it could turn out to be right player, right club, wrong time/manager for Martial and Manchester United.


The Long/Quite Short Goodbye of the Season: Arsene Wenger and Arsenal 

Sky Sports PL @SkySportsPL

Arsene Wenger speaks after his final game in charge at The Emirates Reaction and analysis on Sky Sports PL now! https://t.co/KVgAwbiAss https://t.co/JsvgTuF9Rc

B/R Football @brfootball

😢👋 https://t.co/izmkgkO7X7


The Monologue That Most Led to People Pulling Their Hair Out in Manchester: Jose Mourinho, post-UEFA Champions League exit to Sevilla

"We went out to a side that's more successful than Manchester United in last seven years in Europe. We went out to a side that has a huge tradition in knockout competitions, a side in the Spanish Cup final. 

"Do you think they didn't have any players who could play direct in my team? 

"The fans, they read what people write, they listen what people say and the people that write. The people that say are people with a lot of ideas and I used to call them idealists or idiots—they can be both. 

"In my dictionary, the dictionary of life, a person with a lot of ideas can be an ideologist or an idiot. The people, they listen to the ideologists and they also listen to the idiots. That's life."


Punchiest Pundit Rants of the Season

Graeme Souness on Granit Xhaka 

Adam Hurrey @FootballCliches

A very happy Graeme Souness' Tackle Against Steaua Bucharest Day, everyone https://t.co/vVRr0NGswI

Josh Kroenke FC @49gunsalute

Souness just called Xhaka a fool Henry reaction is classic 😭😭😭 #AFC https://t.co/YkijQ7KQ0C

Let Souness loose on punditry duties for an Arsenal game and expect blood. Watching a midfield brethren dangle a leg in a tackle seems to physically pain him, so no wonder he is always so bloody angry watching Arsenal. His latest diatribe, in the direction of the hapless Granit Xhaka at half-time during Arsenal's recent defeat at Manchester United, was effectively a verbal leg-breaker. 

If only Arsenal had a man like this...


Martin Keown on Mesut Ozil

Football on BT Sport @btsportfootball

Thursday: "I bet Ozil doesn't play again this season. He'll have some breakdown and won't be able to play at the weekend!" - Keown Sunday: Misses Arsenal's 5-0 win over Burnley Tuesday: "Football players do not pick and choose games." - Wenger https://t.co/nk73hGlfnI

"These are crocodile tears I'm seeing. He's not conning me," Nostradamus Keown said of Ozil on BT Sport after Arsenal's second-leg defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final. "I bet he doesn't play again this season. He will have some emotional breakdown and won't be able to play at the weekend."

News emerged this week that a back injury will almost certainly curtail Ozil's involvement this season, though there's about as much chance he'll miss the World Cup as there is of Souness buying an Arsenal season ticket. 

Keown's questioning of Ozil's mental state has been criticised by many, though the mood generally seems split on a player perhaps as divisive as any in the Premier League. Listen right to the end and you can hear how Keown's voice starts to quiver.

Had an ad break not intervened, he'd have either broken down in tears or thrown Jermaine Jenas out of the studio window for trying to defend the German. 


Gary Neville on Paul Pogba

B/R Football @brfootball

Gary Neville thinks Paul Pogba's just in it for the 'Gram 📸 https://t.co/yWCcqeNaJd

What makes Neville the best pundit in the country is that he doesn't seem to have preordained ideas about who, or what, he is commenting on. He's willing to re-evaluate, and often change, opinions he's formed in the past. That should make him the ideal candidate to assess Pogba, a player who often elicits opinions so varied and vociferous in their respective convictions it's almost like he's becoming a piece of performance art, that people either get or don't. There is no middle ground. 

Neville is old school, but he's cute enough to realise it's impossible to be too militant in the modern game. 

Which is why his studs-raised challenge before the Manchester derby over Pogba's decision to dye his hair blue for the occasion was a telling indictment of how he has grown bored with the extracurricular activities that garner so much attention. 


New Dawn of the Season: Crystal Palace appoint Frank de Boer

Palace chairman Steve Parish, June 26, 2017: "It is going to be difficult if Frank says 'this is what we did at Ajax' and for me not to think that is a good idea. If we can implement that slowly over a period of time, that is what we want to do. But that is against the backdrop of the priority being the first team. We want to create a legacy football club that has a security and presence in the Premier League. Hopefully Frank can take us to another level."


False Dawn of the Season: Crystal Palace sack Frank de Boer

Palace chairman Steve Parish, 85 days and four Premier League matches later: "Based on two-and-a-half months, I didn't think that it would work. I regret the fact that it didn't work for Frank as much as it didn't work for the club and I felt we had to make a change. Results weren't good. We could have gone on longer, but if that produced the outcomes I thought it was going to then that makes me negligent."


Tweets of the season: Various

Ok @JamzLdnKmt

When you got an open goal but your teams defence is so bad you gotta make sure you’re not conceding at the same time https://t.co/XPlL8t0aHs

Adam Hurrey @FootballCliches

Ben Mee here, not taking any nonsense from little Bernie Silva because it's way past his bedtime now, come on, BED https://t.co/UNNL8Dh1kb

Ashley Connick @AshleyConnick

Andy Gray thinks Tony Blair was Prime Minister in the 1970s; Richard Keys 'corrects' him that it was the 1980s. https://t.co/ig1sK3WpUg

Matt Summers @Matchewww

A snapshot of what life under a Sean Dyche dictatorship might be like. https://t.co/otYJ6IT0sM

Stewart Russell @stewartrussell

When you meet your lifelong hero and your girlfriend takes a bunny filtered photo... https://t.co/6ftuqybp7w

Nick Miller @NickMiller79

For some reason Rafa looks like an unscrupulous local businessman trying to laugh off accusations from the BBC's Rogue Traders https://t.co/UXQy83q4lA

Nooruddean @BeardedGenius

I can't prove it for sure, but I'm pretty definite various Egyptian civilisations from the 1st century BC onwards have been waiting for Mo Salah https://t.co/JOaS3EMPkF

Peter Crouch @petercrouch

Summer for me is about time with family . https://t.co/dtft1CZoyl

Jamie Carragher @Carra23

Just borrowed @GNev2 leather. Sergio Georgini @BrentByAccident #brent #mnf https://t.co/x08DmdYdmu

Benjamin Mendy @benmendy23

Ahaha you dont have TV last year @EASPORTSFIFA ?? 78 really ?!! 🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️ https://t.co/SurU939kL4

Mohamed Salah @MoSalah

Wooooooow really ?

Michy Batshuayi @mbatshuayi

See yall latahhhh https://t.co/Ehn1oKc5zo


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