Friday, May 19, 2006

The 'Other' Team of the Year

So, the Premier League Team of the Year was announced. Given, Chimbonda, Terry, Carragher, Gallas, Gerrard, Lampard, Ronaldo, Joe Cole, Rooney, Henry. As usual, plenty of big names from the big clubs. I fully agree that these 11 have had excellent seasons and deserve their spot on the Team of the Year list. However, there are others who have had seasons that are just as good as these guys. Let's take a look at those that didn't quite make this list yet had fantastic seasons nonetheless.

Jens Lehmann - Fully silenced his critics this year with impressive goalkeeping in the Premiership. Outstanding when called upon and hardly any goofs this year. His experience was critically needed for Arsenal's very young back four and he came through in the final few months of the season in Arsenal's desperate push for fourth place.

Steve Finnan - Gerrard may take all the plaudits and Carragher may be named as the collosus in every game, but quietly, efficiently and effectively, Steve Finnan has had his best season in Liverpool colors yet. Hardly ever beaten by an attacker, supports attacks well and has improved his crossing. Replaced Jamie Carragher as Liverpool's Mr. Dependable.

Franck Quedrue - Whatever you think of his hair, this man has had a fine season as the UEFA Cup finalists' first choice left-back. Good at going forward, supports the attackers well and has taken a leaf right out of Gareth Southgate's Art of Defending. Boro fans will hope that this enigmatic Frenchman will continue to show the same form as he did this last season.

Arjan De Zeeuw - Arguably the surprise of the season is how well Wigan have done. Many, including yours truly, fully expected them to be relegated at the beginning of the season. Instead, they have denied conventional wisdom and finished in the top half of the table. And runners-up in the Carling Cup final to boot. One of the main reasons has been the defending of this man. A rock at the back, this former Barnsley man has arguably been the Player of the Season for the Latics.

Kolo Toure - The reason Arsenal haven't missed Sol Campbell during his time-out is due to the brilliance of Kolo Toure. Already regarded as a fantastic centerback from the previous season, his ascension to the level of John Terry and Jamie Carragher has been steady. His reading of the game has improved and is much less error prone.

Michael Carrick - There has been a steady call for Carrick to step into the England team to play the holding role. And it is easy to see why. Anyone who has watched Tottenham this year will certainly tell you that Carrick is one of they key players in their ascent to the top 5 in the league. His passing is excellent, he reads the games well and is a calming influence on his team

Kevin Nolan - Bolton's captain has certainly matured a lot in the past season. The combating box-to-box midfielder is full of energy and drive. The heartbeat of the Bolton side, his goal to game ratio of 1 to 4 is good for a midfielder. Often the focal point of a very much criticized strategy (Allardyce's lob the ball to Nolan and see what happens), he is now well-versed in creating opportunities for his teammates.

Aaron Lennon - Quick, agile, skillful. Just 3 of the adjectives used to describe Aaron Lennon in a phenomenal first season for Tottenham. Despite being only 19, he has played in 27 Premiership games for Tottenham. A throwback to the days of a pure winger, his crossing and close control are fantastic. His excellent season culminated in a selection to the England squad for the World Cup.

Cesc Fabregas - When Patrick Vieira left Arsenal for Juventus in the Summer of 2005, most people, myself included, thought that Arsenal were really going to suffer in midfield. While they obviously missed the presence of Vieira, that gaping hole left in midfield has been filled admirably by Fabregas, who has matured into a fine midfielder in his own right. The young Spaniard's cultured passing, control and creativity has won hm plaudits all across Europe. It was the young 'un and not the Vieira who controlled midfield when the teams met in the Champions League Quarterfinals. Due to his excellent season, he was called up to the Spain side for the World Cup.

Darren Bent - The top English goalscorer in England this season. A record of a goal in two games is a fine ratio by anybody's standards. Very quick and mobile, Bent has enjoyed a great season despite a team notoriously not known for being creative. While he has had to, at times, soldier up front on his own, he has not disappointed. Great things are expected from Bent, who will be going to the World Cup bar any unfortunate events.

Craig Bellamy - One reason for Blackburn's push for the European places, and at one time, the Champions League spots, is this man. Another one with a goal ratio of 1 in 2, under the management of Mark Hughes, his infamous volatility has been kept under check. And once his temperament is sorted out, what a player this man is. Speedy and always on the run, he always gets in positions to score. A truly wonderful buy for the Rovers.

Nick Khaw @ 4:10 PM


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

This all was only wishful thinking

As I've expected, it wasn't the Ronaldinho vs Henry showcase that people were expecting. I don't know what it is with big games. With the exception of a few games such as the recent FA Cup Final or the 1998 World Cup Final (please note that I only list games that I have watched as I don't want to speculate on games that I have never watched), you're rarely beaten by the Henry or the Van Nistelrooy or the Ronaldinho. Too much focus is placed on the stars that the role of the so-called supporting cast is chucked aside.

You're almost always beaten by the odd own goal, the Paul Scholes, the Freddie Ljungbergs, the David Trezeguets and more recently, the Belletis. Yes, the European Champions League 2006 has just concluded and Barcelona are the European Champions for the second time in their history.

To be fair, Barcelona are arguably the best club side in Europe and are the purists' preference to be European Champions. However, Arsenal aren't pushovers as well, having beaten the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid in the knockout stages. While I fully agree that Ronaldinho and Henry were instrumental in the games leading up to the final, I find it difficult to convince myself that it is just the star players, the team's best players that decide games like these.

This game, in particular, was decided by 2 excellent pieces of play from Henrik Larsson in setting up both goals. Arsenal's goal was courtesy of an Eboue run that resulted in a controversial free kick just outside the box. Yes, Henry crossed it, but in all fairness, Eboue created that opportunity. Other than that, Henry did not finish his chances with the style and aplomb that we are usually accustomed to see. And football, like in life, is harsh but fair; If you don't take your chances, you don't deserve to win.

Take also for example the 2005 League Cup Final. It wasn't Frank Lampard or Arjen Robben who brought Chelsea level in the Final. It was a Steven Gerrard own goal. In the 1998 Premiership title decider game between Manchester United and Arsenal, it was Marc Overmars who scored the goal rather than Nicolas Anelka, Ian Wright or Dennis Bergkamp.

It was Luis Garcia, not Steven Gerrard, who scored the go-ahead goals in both semi-finals against Chelsea.

The problem nowadays is that the media focuses too much on the star players; Of course, this is to boost spectatorship and revenue, but at the same time, the players who are on the same team as those superstars should not be forgotten either. After all, a team consists of 11 players, not just one superstar.

For every Ronaldinho dink or an Henry twist, there is a late run into the box by a Paul Scholes or a Wayne Bridge goal to decide a game. As often as you are beaten by the star players, you're beaten by their 'supporting cast' as often as well. And, for the purists, long may that continue.

Nick Khaw @ 7:28 PM