After a season where the “Player of the Year” can be quickly narrowed down to two men, we take a look at a more interesting accolade. Who was the most improved player of the 2009/10 campaign? Vote below.
With Chelsea requiring three points to become champions in 2009/10, Carlo Ancellotti’s team can be grateful to the performances of Florent Malouda over the course of the season in aiding Chelsea’s success. The £13.5 million signing from Lyon had failed to impress during the majority of his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge, and endured a torrid time under Avram Grant as a second-choice wide player to Salomon Kalou. The arrival of Luis Felipe Scolari also failed to help the Frenchman develop, and only under Guus Hiddink did Malouda shows some signs of the player he was at Lyon, scoring vital goals in an FA Cup semi-final and providing some excellent service to Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in the latter stage of the season.
However, under Ancellotti, Malouda has stepped up several gears to become one of the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League. Setting up eight goals (including two in a mesmerizing performance against West Ham) and scoring twelve, the 29 year-old has doubled his previous season’s goal tally with a game to spare. Not only content to add goals to convincing wins, as can be commonplace at top clubs, Malouda has contributed vital late strikes against the likes of Liverpool and Stoke to put Chelsea in the driving seat for the title. There is no greater example of this than his assist against Manchester United at Old Trafford, slinking around Antonio Valencia and Darren Fletcher before providing a nuisance of a ball for Joe Cole to score a vital opener. With three years left on his current contract, Malouda should see out his best days in West London, and should be a vital cog in Ancellotti’s midfield machine.
Signed for just £1 million in June 2006, Alexandre Song has proved his worth several times over during the 2009/10 season. After a brief period on loan at Charlton Athletic and various appearances in Arsenal’s ‘Carling Cup team’, as it is now effectively known, the Cameroonian has come to the fore as one of Arsenal’s players of the season in 2009/10, in a campaign where Arsenal have largely disappointed.
From periods of calamity earlier in his career, the likes of which not unnoticed by Arsenal supporters, Song’s improvement in his technical game is there for all to see. He is stronger and more direct in his approach to defending, whilst his positioning allows Cesc Fabregas to roam forward in search of the many goals the Spaniard has bagged this season. Playing the role of Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva is not one anybody would wish to step into at the Emirates, but the mental toughness of the youngster to overcome his earlier demons must be commended. This has also transferred to an international stage, where the 22 year-olds appearance in the ‘Team of the Tournament’ in the 2010 African Nations Cup is a testament to his ability to also fill in at centre-back, a role played by Song throughout the tournament.
Before the 26th September 2009, Tottenham defender turned left midfielder Gareth Bale had the unfortunate distinction of playing twenty-four games for the North London side without taking part in a single victory. The Welsh international, previously acclaimed during his Southampton days with extreme pace and nimble ball skills, became a walking jinx for Spurs fans, and subsequently became a bit-part player for the club at the end of last season. Yet, during the latter part of 2009 and more-so during 2010, Bale fully completed the transformation from no-hoper to one of the best young players in the Premier League.
A left sided player with exceptional potential when bringing the ball forward, Bale has not only prevented aided the defending with his left sided counterpart Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but chipped in with goals on the most important of occasions. A superb long-range strike to beat champions-elect Chelsea came four days after a winning goal against bitter rivals Arsenal. Couple these with four assists for his teammates this season, including a couple in a man-of-the-match master class at the DW Stadium, and the resurrection of Gareth Bale is complete. The jinx all but forgotten, the Welsh wonder has become an extremely exciting prospect for 2010/11, where his talents may begin to shine on the wider scale against Europe’s elite.
If one player deserves to be part of this list, it is Bobby Zamora. During 2008/09, opposition fans would regularly speculate on the dangers of sitting in Row Z when Zamora fancied a shot at goal, and after just two goals during that campaign, the residents of Craven Cottage would normally join in the anecdote. Fulham and Hull City agreed a fee of £5 million for the transfer of Zamora in the summer, but the 29 year-old decided to stay in West London and prove his critics wrong, and prove them wrong he has.
Unusually, for a club such as Fulham at least, it has been Zamora’s goals in Europe that have put him a cut above other English strikers this season. Goals against Wolfsburg, Juventus and holders Shakhtar Donetsk have propelled The Cottagers to their first ever European final in a quite unbelievable run of form. Despite the distraction of Europe, Fulham have also managed to stay relatively successful in the Premier League, and Zamora’s nine goals (including a strike against Manchester United and a superb last-minute winner against Birmingham City) have provided the catalyst for this. These performances have promoted some neutrals to suggest Zamora would provide an ideal assistant to Wayne Rooney in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad, despite not previously wearing an England shirt. Such praise could never have been predicted during Bobby Zamora’s turbulent summer of 2009, and it is a testament to Zamora’s character and ability that such suggestions should be made for his summer of 2010.
Improvement is sometimes objective in football, and whilst Michael Dawson has impressed in previous seasons to a certain degree, nobody within White Hart Lane could deny that the former Nottingham Forest defender has had the season of his life in 2009/10. The departure of Robbie Keane to Celtic on loan has seen Dawson step up to captain of the North London side, and this leadership has spurred on Tottenham to lie in fourth going into their final two games of the season, with a Champions League place within touching distance. This has resulted in the Englishman being named ‘Player of the Year’ by Tottenham supporters this season, in a campaign where Jermaine Defoe, Gareth Bale and, in the latter part, Roman Pavlychenko have performed to the best of their abilities.
Carlos Tevez, no stranger to bullying centre-backs, described Dawson earlier this season as ‘the best English centre-back I have ever played against’, and Tevez is not alone in this praise. A tip for a sudden inclusion in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad, despite his single cap, Dawson has proved superb in the air, physically tough enough to put off the likes of Didier Drogba with ease, and has even grabbed vital goals such as a late equaliser against Aston Villa which could provide Spurs with a crucial point in the race for fourth place. With John Terry faltering, Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King not entirely match-fit and Matthew Upson part of a stuttering West Ham defence, the 26 year-old talisman may find himself clutching a richly-deserved plane ticket to Cape Town at the end of May.