Part I: The Departure of Sir Alex Ferguson
By now, I am sure you have heard that the beloved Glaswegian manager of a little football club in Salford has announced his retirement at the end of this Premier League season (one that he has already capped off with the title). I don’t think that much more can be said about the man who is arguably the greatest coach/manager in professional sports history. As a late-comer to the world of football (soccer), Sir Alex was already well-esconsed and lauded by the time I started paying attention. He is unique in a profession driven by immediate results to have survived 27 years at the same club. This stability created a platform for success and is very unlikely to be matched again (either in longevity or championships).
It’s fitting that I just list a few of the things (many of which are inside jokes that followers of Twitter and the rags will recognise) that I will miss about the gaffer:
– squeeky-bum time
– backwards beanies/toques
– chewing gum
– glasses of red wine
– Manchester United Man of the Match, Howard Webb
– “the boy…”
Part II: The Crowning of “Sir” David Moyes and the Downing of Everton
Yikes. To be an Evertonian today would not be good. Much like the departure of Martin O’Neill from my Villa, I could see this being a terrible loss for the stature of Everton. Where they have been in the mix for Europe, they could just as easily find themselves staving off relegation in a year or two.
Moyes will be a great addition to Manchester United, though there will be some growing pains next season (I could see them finishing in fourth), I could see him leading them to a championship again in the next two or three years. That’s not really in question. However, Moyes’ departure will not be the only one from Goodison. I could see star players Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini leaving. Baines probably following Moyes to United and Fellaini just going anywhere bigger (United, Chelsea, City, PSG, Bayern, etc.). For a cobbled together side that relied on work ethic and the iconoclastic control of Moyes, this could be a huge deflation.
I’m looking forward to David Moyes building a Special Referee Relationship with his doppelganger, Mike Jones, the way that Fergie always seemed to have Howard Webb in his pocket.
Part III: My Premier League Team of the Year (all stats as of May 9)
I’ve watched a ton of games this season, many transcendent, others barely watcheable. I’ve also played a lot of fantasy football. So combining a bit of statistical knowledge, along with my gut, here is the XI I would say had the most outstanding seasons. Note that just because a player isn’t chosen doesn’t mean they weren’t worthy. I’ve tried to go with a formation that I like to see, so in this case a 4-3-3, though some flexibility has been given in terms of whether a player is a midfielder/winger/forward.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (CHE)
While I’d love to go sentimental and take my boy Brad Guzan, Cech has been terrific. 14 clean sheets (and counting) while rarely having Captain Leader Legend John Terry in front of him has demonstrated his continued quality after what many saw last year as being a decline.
Left Back: Leighton Baines (EVE)
They are going to miss this guy at Goodison if he does indeed follow his manager to Old Trafford. The only other option is the guy he is likely to replace in Patrice Evra. There are a lot of stats between the two that are close (e.g. 5 goals to 4 goals; 7 assists to 6 assists) and that could keep most people differing in opinions. The big thing that jumps out to me was how much Everton relied on Baines to create. His statline on crosses (137) versus Evra’s (42) makes that evidently clear.
Centre Halves: Ashley Williams (SWA) and Ryan Shawcross (STO)
I like my centre halves to get in the way, block shots, kick clearances, and generally upset their opposition forwards. There are lots out there that could fall into this category, but every opportunity to watch Swansea led me to believe Williams was the best in the league and Shawcross (and his partner Robert Huth) were probably the only quality aspects of the Stoke “experience”.
Right Back: Matthew Lowton (AVL)
Alright, alright, alright. Hear me out: Lowton entered this season as a complete unknown from a lower league. He managed to play a role in every single Aston Villa match, collecting four assists and two goals along the way. BOTH OF THOSE GOALS WERE AMAZING. For lack of what I’ve seen as a clear favourite (unlike Baines on the left side), I’ve just gone with my gut on a player that I’ve watched week-in, week-out, who has grown immensely. But seriously, that goal against Stoke.
Holding Midfields: Yaya Toure (MCI) and Michael Carrick (MUN)
Carrick was so understatedly in charge of United this season that all the hype coming his way has had the exact opposite effect. I want to find reasons not to include him. But, really, I can’t. I’ll pair him up with the big caribou of a man in Yaya Toure, who is so unique and dominant, I have no idea how anyone manages to occasionally contain him. Marouane Fellaini (EVE) is unfortunately the odd-man out here.
Attacking Midfield: Juan Mata (CHE)
He pulls all the strings. Every now and then his teammates Oscar and Hazard have great performances, but it seems like Mata is always at that level. The only other players even seriously considered in this category are Santi Cazorla (ARS) and David Silva (MCI). That’s it. I honestly only see five or six players in the entire Premier League who can play this role at this level, and Mata is the finest.
Left Wing: Gareth Bale (TOT)
Yeah, like I’m not going to go with the Player of the Year and the Young Player of the Year? As @MirrorFootball call him: #WORLDSGREATEST. Gabby Agbonlahor came on strong in the second half of the season, but let’s not compare a well-maintained Honda Civic with a Lambourghini.
Centre Forward: Robin van Persie (MUN)
He Scores When He Wants To. 25 league goals.
Right Wing: Luis Suarez (LIV)
I know he’s normally a central striker, but in order to accomodate Bale and Van Persie, Suarez will shift over to the right, assuming I don’t have to impose any further suspensions on him. 23 league goals (imagine if he didn’t get bitey).
Part IV: Aston Villa End of Year Team Awards
Villa held their year-end banquet this week and handed out the gongs to the deserving players in what I imagine to be a rather upbeat night after for all intents and purposes securing their place in the Premier League for next season.
Brad Guzan, who up to this season had been the back-up goalkeeper, was named Player of the Year. Pretty astonishing stuff and well-deserved for the man who leads the league in shots faced and saved this season (especially when you consider the club goal differential). Even in games where two goals went in, somehow Guzan made it look like it could have been much worse had he not been there.
Some other awards of note:
– Andi Weimann, who has quickly become one of my favourites, was named Young Player of the Year.
– THAT GOAL by Matthew Lowton versus Stoke City was easily named Goal of the Year.
– Special honours for the U19 squad that won the NextGen Series Cup.
Super Honourable Mentions (by me):
-Christian Benteke: lost out to Guzan and Weimann in both those categories, got no love from the league-wide PFA awards, and all he does is score/create goals (18 goals, 4 assists in the Premier League). I love you Bentekkers.
-Gabby Agbonlahor: All-Time Leading Goal Scorer for Aston Villa in Premier League. ‘Nuff said. I continue to apologise for doubting him early this year and comparing him to Emile Heskey. I had no idea I ought to be comparing him to Dwight Yorke.
Part V: Standing Ovation for Petrov
Every single Villa match this season, home and away, at the 19 minute mark has involved an ovation for Stiliyan Petrov. Since announcing last year that he was stepping away from football to fight his leukemia, Stan Petrov, Villa Captain (Once and Always), has had the full support of the entire Premier League community. It’s been amazing to see opposition fans joining in unison and cheering him on, and continues to remind us that there is more to sports than goals and wins, losses and relegation, seat sales and television revenue. These are human beings with all the same needs and desires.
Upon announcing his retirement in the same week as Sir Alex, I know Stan won’t get the same amount of attention, but I thought it would be fitting to say to him, from me, as a fan, Thank You and Good Luck.