From the classic teams and players of the season, to coffins, quotes and flops and misses. Here’s Back Page Football’s end of season awards for 2012…
Team of the Season
On the whole it was not a vintage year for European football with no team really standing out from the pack. Still, Borussia Dortmund deserve a huge amount of credit for being the only side in a major European League to retain their title as well as claim their first ever league and cup double. Juventus finally emerged from the flames of calciopoli to land their first Serie A since the scandal. They also managed to go through the entire season undefeated, although with a massive 15 draws it was hardly the stuff of legends. Meanwhile, in England, Manchester City secured their first title in 44 years with the fourth last kick of the season as oil-wells throughout the Middle-East erupted with delight. But, the award has to go to newly crowned French Champions, Montpellier, who showed that you don’t need a team of pampered superstars and hordes of money to have success on the football field. Promoted back to Ligue 1 only in 2009, Rene Girard’s men were less fancied than Dame Edna Everage after a night out, yet they managed to secure their first ever championship with 82 points – the second highest in the League’s history – and imperiously consigned big spending PSG to second place. The achievement is made all the more remarkable when one considers that their record signing, Olivier Giroud, cost just £1.7m and earns a paltry £15,000 a week! As the French like to say, ces’t magnifique!
Player of the Season
As with the team category, no single player staked his claim to greatness. Even the 73 goals Lionel Messi netted this year seemed little more than par for the course. Alongside him, Cristiano Ronaldo was again consistently brilliant without being brilliant enough. Robin Van Persie was awarded all the individual gongs in England for single-handedly dragging Arsenal to a Champions League place and going through an entire season uninjured and in Italy Zlatan Ibrahimovic performed the even more herculean task of dragging both his ego and club side AC Milan to second in the league. Once again though the award heads to the south of France and Montpellier’s star striker, Olivier Giroud. He may not be the biggest name or the striker with the most goals or even France’s player of the year, but arguably no other front man has impacted on his team’s results as much as the former Tours player. Two hat-tricks and mammoth strikes against Nice and Evian powered Montpellier to an unexpected league triumph. It comes as no surprise that he is on the radar of several of Europe’s top clubs. And Arsenal.
Manager of the Season
This was the year that ‘unfashionable’ managers were the ‘it’ thing, taking high street football clubs straight to the catwalk of success. Paul Lambert and Brendan Rogers didn’t need an Armani suit or designer stubble to have success in the Premier League as both managers helped their respective newly-promoted sides, Norwich and Swansea, secure top flight status with little fuss. At Newcastle, would-be Marks and Sparks poster boy Alan Pardew took the Magpies to an unexpected fifth place finish and a Europa League berth. Cherry Chau hats off to Udinese manager, Francesco Guidolin, who took Udinese into the Champions League for the second season running despite having Serie A’s sixth lowest wage bill and losing Alexis Sanchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata in the summer. A truly incredible achievement. But an even greater feat was playing out in leafy Berkshire, England, where Brian McDermott guided Reading to promotion to the Premier League. After losing in the play-off final to Swansea the previous year the club were forced to sell star striker Shane Long and captain Matt Mills for £10m in the summer. This was followed by a sluggish start which saw Reading struggle in 16th place early on in the campaign. Yet McDermott miraculously managed to turn things around and Reading went onto win an absolutely incredible 23 of their next 29 games. And all this in only his second full season as a manager. You can start buying clothes at Harvey Nicks now sir. Or at the very least you can stop wearing those God awful tracksuits.
22 year old SC Heerenveen striker, Bas Dost, had a stonking season with the Dutch outfit finishing Eridivisie top scorer with 32 league goals in 34 matches. Unfortunately for him, his award for such barnstorming performances has been a £7m bid from West Ham United and reported interest from Aston Villa. Claret and blue mediocrity awaits.
Best Debut Season
Former Manchester United child star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer guided Norwegian club Molde to their first ever league title in his first ever season as a manager. And to think he is still only 12 years old.
Signing of the Season
Andrea Pirlo’s free transfer from AC Milan to Juventus was described by new team-mate Gianluigi Buffon as the ‘deal of the century’. Pirlo’s performances went a long way to justifying that description and the veteran Italian ended the campaign with 13 assists, none better than this beauty against Parma.
Worst Signing of the Season
Anyone of Liverpool’s or Villareal’s new recruits. Oh, and Romelu Lukaku.
Alassandro Del Piero bid farewell to the Old Lady after 19 years and 6 scudetto’s. He further cemented his legendary status by helping a 12 year old girl wake up from a coma. In Germany, Spanish striker Raul left Schalke and his 15 league goals helped the side from Gelsenkirchen qualify for the Champions League. In a gesture to show just how highly regarded Raul is the club decided to retire his No. 7 shirt for ‘an indefinite’ period.
Match of the Season
There may have been games with more goals, skill and panache about them, but for sheer drama, intensity, and euphoria nothing, absolutely nothing, can beat Manchester City’s final day last gasp victory against QPR. The reactions posted on YouTube afterwards pretty much summed up the mood of the nation. A bit like this chap.
Goal of the Season
There are a fair few contenders this year such as Chris Forrester’s chip, Kortrijk’s Dalibor Veselinovic , this stunner from Inigo Martinez and even this from Rodrigo Palacio. Even Crouchy got in on the act with his cracking volley against Manchester City. The winner, however, has to be Erin Derdiyok’s amazing bicycle kick for Bayer Leverkusen. What really set the strike apart was not just the finish but the Dennis Bergkamp like close control with which he set himself up.
Assist of the Season
Stewart Downing’s wonderful…err…well, maybe next year. Anyway, to see a back heel come off perfectly is one of the finest sights in football but when it also leads to a goal it is just sublime.
Fabio Simplicio scores for Roma against Napoli and then celebrates with his family as though he’s won the ruddy World Cup and then solved global warming.
Romp of the Season
Turkish champions Galatasaray finished a full 11 points ahead of runners-up Fenerbahce who themselves were 12 points better off than third places Trabzonspor.
Sandra Redknapp’s ‘I could have scored that’ Miss of the Season Award
Hertha Berlin defender Christian Lell found himself racing towards the ZFC Meuselwitz goal in a German cup tie. After expertly rounding the keeper all he had to do was tap the ball into a gaping net. Instead he dawdled a bit, took a second touch, dawdled a little bit more before trying to chip the ball into the net. So bad was his aim that the ball didn’t even go out of play for a goal kick. Luckily for him Hertha were 4-0 ahead at the time.
The Hans Christen Anderson ‘That’s not really a fairytale now is it?’ Award
Yes, Chelsea may have knocked out the 11 mystical dwarves of Barcelona on their way to this year’s Champions League trophy. But to describe their victory as a ‘fairytale’ as most of the world’s press chose to do was a bit much given that they possess one of the most ludicrously expensive squads in the world and one the highest wage bills. Pumpkins into coaches it wasn’t.
The forever walking-in-an-ensemble scousers otherwise known as Liverpool Football Club crashed and burned more times than an al-Qaeda trained airplane pilot. From King Kenny’s raving press conferences to Andy Carroll and Stuart Downing’s woeful misfiring via the Suarez affair, it was a season to forget for the red half of Merseyside. They did negotiate an amazing kit deal though so it wasn’t all bad news.
Shock of the Season
The words Newcastle and Messiah were barely spoken together all year. Unbelievable! Let’s just hope it’s not a sign that the end of days are upon us.
Return of the Season
Paul Scholes comes out of retirement to show English midfielders everywhere how to control the tempo of a game.
A discontented Blackburn fan sends a chicken onto the field dressed in the club colours to vent his eggsasperation.
It Blackburn and those blasted chickens again. For some reason David Dunn seems to genuinely be having the time of life. Sad that.
Cool New Cats of the Season
Forget sliced bread, the light bulb or even the internet – Athletic Bilbao firmly established their claim as being the greatest gift the world has ever given humanity. Their swashbuckling performances in the Europa League had Channel Five pundits and viewers alike fawning over their every miraculous feat. Alas, their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final and another loss to Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final by the same score line exposed them as mere mortals and disillusioned the throngs of people who had come to believe in the Church of Bilbao. Still there’s always the cult of Apple and Steve Jobs.
The Mariah Carey ‘I wish I was as thin as a starving African child’ Award for Inexplicable Stupidity
Footballers are generally considered a bit dim, but Valencia’s Ever Banega took this famed idiocy to new levels when he left the handbrake of his car on and then tried to stop the rolling vehicle with his foot crushing his ankle in the process. Nicely done Ever!
The ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ Award for Italian Managers Who Fight Back
Manager Paolo Di Canio came to blows with his own player, Swindon striker Leon Clarke, after a 3-1 Carling Cup defeat to Southampton, while Fiorentina boss Delio Rossi punched playmaker Adem Ljajic for sarcastically applauding the coach’s decision to substitute him. Di Canio went on to get Swindon Town promoted to League. Rossi on the other hand just got the sack. Combustible fellow Italian Mario Balotelli chimed in by saying that if either of them had laid a finger on him he would have shot them with a firework, allegedly.
The Lamest Excuse of the Season Award
“He put his weight on the back foot, that’s why my knee went up”, Chelsea captain John Terry pleads his innocence after kneeing Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez in the Champions League semi. Terry was sent off for the incident and consequently missed the final. Perhaps he offered a similar explanation to old pal Wayne Bridge.
The Award for the Most Ridiculously Contemplated Suicide
In an interview with London’s Evening Standard, former Aston Villa and Everton striker Andy Gray, admitted that he considered killing himself after losing his job at Sky Sports following the Sian Massey sexism row. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t” he wailed. Get a grip man and stop crying into your floral handkerchief.
The Andy Gray and Richard Keys Award for Female Empowerment
“I thought we were here to talk about football” snarled Uli Hoeness when asked a question about the Women’s World Cup. Meeeooow.
The Bjorge Lillelien ‘Your Boys Took One Hell of a Beating’ Award
Bayern Munich crushing HSV Hamburg 6-0 and 5-0 during this season’s league encounters. Honourable mention has to be made of Manchester City’s 6-1 mauling of neighbours United at Old Trafford.
The Tom Daley Award for Taking a Dive
Oh Andy, it would have been easier to score there than to fall over like an ostrich on skates.
The Prince Philip Award for Unabashed Tactlessness
Quite simply that Geoff Shreeves interview.
The Saddam Hussien Award for Best Weapon of Mass Destruction
Mr Joey Barton. First he elbowed Carlos Tevez, then he followed that with a knee to Sergio Aguero, before attempting to head butt Vincent Kompany. Phew! If that wasn’t enough he spent the evening giving the go ahead for drone attacks all over Cheshire from his nefarious hidden lair. American Navy Seals are said to be on their way.
The Baghdad Bob Award for Gross Denial
There can only be one winner, Blackburn boss Steve Kean who still reckons he’s the right man for the Rover hot seat. Yeah and Cheryl Cole can sing.
The Big Sam Allardyce Award for Bloated Sense of Self Worth
Tom Cleverly saw fit to create his own website despite not even reaching double figures in terms of appearances for Manchester United, while after one season of over achievement Alan Pardew laid claim to the fact that Newcastle were operating on a ‘different level’ to final day opponents, Everton, before a humbling 3-1 spanking. But no one was more worthy of this particular accolade than Lille’s Eden Hazard who took to twitter in order to slowly tease out the announcement of which club he will be joining in the summer. The Lebron Jamesesque charade left many pundits and fans bewildered as to who exactly the Belgian winger thought he was. The real story was not that Hazard is joining Chelsea, but that he is an arrogant git.
Amazingly enough there was only really one contender for this
The Most Clueless Owners
Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Rangers, Inter Milan, Palermo….and the list goes on.
Inter sign Uruguayan ace Diego Forlan to replace the departing Samuel Eto’o only to realize afterwards that the striker is cup-tied from the Champions League until the New Year. A little research wouldn’t have gone amiss.
And finally, some of the season’s best quotes
“Why always me?” wonders Mario Balotelli.
“I would rather my daughter got pregnant than Betis went down” Real Betis coach Pepe Mel shows how much he cares for his family.
“Now back under your stone you odious little toad” tweets Joey Barton to Gary Linekar.
“We are always at our best when there’s no opponent on the pitch. Then we combine beautifully and don’t stop scoring.” Herth Berlin coach Otto Rehhagel does quite get that football is supposed to be a contest between two sides.
“We never stop talking,” Miroslav Klose said of his friendship with then team-mate Djibril Cisse. “Even in the shower.” Hmm, no wonder Cisse left for QPR in the January transfer window.