It’s that time of year again; the annual awards ceremonies are in full flow drawing another season of league football to a tidy conclusion (for most clubs). Wherever you like awards ceremonies or not, it is undisputable that they are a part of footballing culture in the modern day, rewarding players for what (unimportant compared to military service people, politicians and police officers) work they put in for a season of 10 months a year. Yes, you would’ve thought that being paid tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds a week would be a big enough incentive to put in everything you can physically give to your club every working day, but let’s put that issue aside and celebrate who has been rewarded for their work this season. Of course, there are many different opinions from a lot of different people, fans, players, writers, managers and league officials. But only a select few players can make it into the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League XI (and subs for my side) so only the very best will be picked. Without wanting to ramble on for too long, let’s unveil my end of season awards for this season.
Team of the Season – Formation 3-1-2-3-1
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel – Leicester City
Where better to start in this team than with the man who has broken barriers and records this season? He has been a vital piece in the spine of Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning side, a consistently dependable and outstanding man between the posts, good enough this season to walk into any of the top sides' starting XI’s. Considering he was only playing in the Championship with Leicester two seasons ago, and turning out for Notts County and Leeds United in the two seasons prior to his signing for the Foxes in 2011/12, it is simply exceptional that he has now been a focal point of a Premier League winning side.
In many ways, his story is representative of that of this Leicester side, rising out of the shadow of his father’s world-renowned reputation and making a real name for himself that will go down in the history books. What he has had to defy in his career has surely been very hard for him, having to change the perceptions of millions across the world on whether he is fit to wear that famous surname on the back of his shirt. It’s as if this story has been told before. Well, this exact theme was the heartbeat of Creed, the latest installation of the Rocky franchise, yet so different from all of the others. In the film, Adonis Creed, wonderfully played by Michael B. Jordan, is posed with a perfect crossroad in which he has to decide whether to pursue his boxing career with the burden of his father’s (Apollo Creed) name on his shoulders or whether to make his own way with his father’s widow’s maiden name. He knows that if he picks Creed then the expectation will be sky-high and the critics will be quick to put him down if he crashes and burns, but also realises that he needs to remain true to his roots and persevere through the trials to eventually succeed and the make Creed his own. In the end, he accepts the weight of the name and reaches the World Light Heavyweight title bout, going the distance but eventually missing out on split-decision. Luckily for Schmeichel, this is where the similarities end, but one piece of true filmography gold is the quote of one of the fight commentators bringing Creed to a conclusion is “Conlan (his opponent) won the fight, but Creed won the night.” This line is a perfect example of the true heart and soul of sport, and luckily enough for Leicester they won both the fight and the night this season.
Centre Back: Chris Smalling – Manchester United
Quite simply one of the best defenders in the entire Premier League right now. ‘Mike’ Smalling (so called by Louis van Gaal) has not only ensured himself a starting place in the line ups of both club and country, but also the respect of millions across the world after previously being labelled unfit at such a big club as Man United. This season, he has proved so many people wrong and has led by example in the whole United team while many have laboured their way through a disappointing season for the club. His part in the 17 clean sheets from the 34 games he has played this season has been imperative, and very useful for van Gaal, who would’ve probably lost his job by now if the side hadn’t of kept grinding out narrow wins. He has anchored the unstable defensive mix with Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian on the left and Antonio Valencia on the right, proving his real worth in his varying and world-class attributes. Smalling has the raw pace, defying his tall stature by outpacing the top strikers in the league, the hard-earned strength, the commanding heading ability and the well-trained passing ability all required to be a top defender. His place in this team has become a formality just for his all-round ability and Euro-winning (please?) form.
Centre Back: Robert Huth – Leicester City
Tough choice between Huth and his defensive partner this season, Wes Morgan, but I would edge Huth forward purely on his totally title-winning performance against Manchester City back on 6th February. His game-changing two goals and dominating defensive turnout was a real thrust towards the title for the Foxes, who I am running out of superlatives for. But you don’t just earn a place in the team of the season on a man of the match performance in one game; you have to keep that form up for the whole season. That is certainly what Huth has done this year. His so called ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘brutish’ style has been often heralded on Match of the Day this term, and whether you like that or not, you cannot deny that it has been effective. For me, Huth’s defending is so plain and harsh but so masterful at the same time, as he physically and mentally breaks down opponents so often that it has won him another Premier League winners medal. It may be old-fashioned, but sometimes the old ways are the best. Sometimes you just need a bit of brute strength to win.
Centre Back: Aaron Cresswell – West Ham United
Yes, yes, I know centre-back isn’t Cresswell’s natural position, but I believe he has been so good this season that he really deserves a place in this side, no matter where he plays. Only signed from Ipswich for around £4 million in the summer of 2014, Cresswell has been a high riser and fans favourite ever since he stepped foot on the pitch of Upton Park for the first time. Last season, he played all 38 matches for the side and won Hammer of the Year, and although he has played one less this season (with one match to go) in 36 games in the league so far, he should definitely be in the debate for the same award this term.
His defensive talents are obvious; he has been part of a mainly mid-table quality defence which has conceded only 49 goals from 37 games, the same as Liverpool and better than Chelsea. Discipline is a major part of his game, and having only picked up a single yellow card and no reds this year; he has become an easy choice for every starting XI throughout the season and made sure he doesn’t miss any games the boss would need him for. That is what every manager wants in a player. He has earned the trust of Slaven Bilic, who could’ve easily bought in a big name to fill the position, but has instead allowed Cresswell to play with trust and freedom. This freedom has been clear through his probing and constantly threatening attacking play, scoring two goals and assisting four more this season, vital to the success of West Ham in challenging for a Champions League spot this season. His work with Dimitri Payet (more on him later) down the left flank has been one of the biggest outlets for goals and chances this year, with the two having the ability to fit into any of the sides around them.
Defensive Midfielder: N’Golo Kante – Leicester City
What can we say about this little guy that hasn’t already been said? The heartbeat of the title-winning side, a real bargain at £5.6 million, the signing of the season, an unshakeable rash on all attacking threats of any opposition Leicester faces and so on, it has all been previously noted. This man, previously unfancied to even keep up with the pace and power of the BPL, has not only fitted in to the league, but has absolutely thrived in it, staking a real claim for player of the season. He may have only scored once and assisted four this season, but Kante isn’t in the side to be a goalscorer. He is the kind of player who keeps running, keeps tracking his target, keeps using his mind to see where the movements will be and how to stop the other side creating chances. Usually these kinds of players don’t get the plaudits they deserve; quietly going about their work, but Kante has changed that precedent. He has been a real surprise success for a real surprise side of champions.
Central Midfielder: Dele Alli – Tottenham Hotspur
Signed from MK Dons for only £5 million back in the last few hours of the January transfer window in the 2014/15 season, Alli has transformed the sides of Tottenham and England over the past year while also disobeying the perception of what a young player is worth to a top club. Expected by most to be a bit-part player for Spurs this year, drafted into starting line-ups in the Europa League and Capital One Cup, he has shown his dedication to the side and to his own career by putting in the hard hours of training, improving his game and bringing himself to the attention of Mauricio Pochettino. He has not only been a part of Spurs’ title-challenging side, but he has been a real leader in it, breaking down age barriers and pre-conceptions (having previously only played in League 1). His box of tricks is more diverse than Dumbledore’s and his class on the ball is comparable to that of Andrea Pirlo, that is how good he is right now. For a 19 year-old, he is a prodigious talent that should be nurtured and allowed to flourish in Euro 2016 and the Champions League next season. He has heaps of talent and enthusiasm, and could be the next big star for both club and country. If he improves his discipline (shown up through his ban for punching Claudio Yacob two weeks ago), he will be a very well-rounded player, Rooney or Beckham-esque in importance for England in the future. A well-deserved Young Player of the Year award goes to this outstanding sensation, Dele Alli.
Central Midfielder: Dimitri Payet – West Ham United
Another West Ham player making the team, Dimitri Payet has been the well-spotted (in terms of a transfer) catalyst this season for the Hammers, inspiring them to challenge with the very best, the big spenders at the top of the league. The Frenchman has adapted brilliantly to the Premier League, a tier that he probably should’ve switched to much earlier, considering his world-class technical ability and physical style of play, which is perfect for the English game. It could’ve been a very different story for Payet, had he chosen fewer starting opportunities at a club like Chelsea or Arsenal over regular football at West Ham, where he is coveted as undoubtedly the biggest star in their team. If I was the manager at Marseille, I would feel very frustrated and rueful to have seen Payet go for just £12 million or so last summer, as with the benefit of hindsight we know that he should’ve commanded a much larger fee.
His talents don’t just stretch to his inch-perfect free-kick skills, as good as they have been this season, but also to his ability to create opportunities from nothing, so often this season being seen picking the ball up on the half way line and forging his way forwards. He targets the gaps in the opposition’s defence so well, resulting in his highly valuable 12 assists and 9 goals this season, effectively lifting the East London club up to a solid 6th place, ahead of Liverpool, Chelsea (and potentially Manchester United) with himself as the spearhead.
Right Winger: Riyad Mahrez – Leicester City
A definite Player of the Season by my accounts. The 25 year-old Algerian has brought to fruition all of the promise that he had last season, bamboozling defenders and mesmerizing goalkeepers into allowing him to walk all over the BPL this season, making a mockery of the £49 million spent on Raheem Sterling for example. The very fact that according to transfer prices, one Sterling (not the monetary unit) is worth as much as 98 Mahrez’s (considering that he was signed for around £500,000 by Leicester back in 2014) is a preposterous and incomprehensible one. This guy has been as good in this league as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo have in Liga BBVA in my opinion, making a real mark on the entire shape-up of the table. His step-overs, back heels, pacey runs and curling efforts on goal seem so simple in words but are so, so powerful and beautiful when put into practice on the pitch in a masterful combination of quiet commitment to the cause and showboating flair. This is what makes Mahrez so special and so vital to whatever Leicester do. They need to hold onto him this summer if they want to stand any chance of finishing in at least a Europa League spot.
Attacking Midfielder: Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool
This stereotypically Brazilian player has taken the bull by the horns in a difficult season for the Reds, leading the side in an unusually dour period for attacking players in Merseyside. Having to deal with a misfiring Christian Benteke in front of him in the absence of the regularly crocked Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho has salvaged some respect for Jürgen Klopp’s men in 2015/16. His long-range shooting ability, as well as his crossing and passing attributes make him a complete attacking midfielder, who could easily walk into any side in the league.
To be honest, it shocks me that Liverpool brought in Roberto Firmino last summer and also reportedly attempted to sign Alex Teixeira in the January window, as last season Coutinho was a top quality player for them, form that he has repeated this year. I think it is not the attacking midfield position that needs looking at for Liverpool, it’s shoring up on the talent that is already there such as Sturridge, Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson and offloading deadwood in the squad.
Left Winger: Marco Arnautovic – Stoke City
He may be a surprise pick for this team in many of your opinions, but for me Arnautovic has been a real game changer for Stoke this season and has hugely shook up the prejudices about Mark Hughes’ side. He has played with style, grace and precision, yet with a very different approach to my other winger Mahrez, bagging 11 goals and 6 assists from just 33 appearances. As a winger, a 1/3 goals to game ratio is outstanding, and would’ve been given far more attention had the Austrian been playing for Leicester, Spurs, Arsenal or Man City. For Stoke to finish a probable 9th in the BPL this season is a massive achievement considering they have had to change their style under Hughes in a league of very similar tactics, also gelling a number of (mostly foreign) players this season. Throughout this, players like Arnautovic have stood up and been counted, making the manager’s job much easier. This guy could definitely help Austria exceed expectations in this summer’s Euros.
Striker: Harry Kane – Tottenham Hotspur
Wasn’t this North Londoner meant to crumble under second season pressure? Wasn’t he meant to help Spurs to another Europa League finish again this year? Well, he has done it again this season, becoming the leading English goalscorer in the league and (so far) the top goalscorer in the whole BPL with 25 goals. It’s hard to explain just why Kane is as good as he is, maybe it’s a combination of hard earned pace, well versed combination play and point perfect shooting ability, maybe he’s just a jack of all trades, master of none. His ability to create goals from all angles from in and around the 18 yard box is unparalleled in this league, even possibly on the European stage. 25 goals and counting this season, let’s hope he can secure that golden boot award tomorrow and continue his form into the Euros, as he will be one of our main assets. He could even become the biggest and best striker in this league for years and years to come.
Huerelho Gomes – Watford
So often berated during his time at Spurs for failing with the basics, the Brazilian has found his feet again as a settled 1st choice at Watford, really lifting the Hertfordshire town to new heights in the biggest league in the world. Boasting the most saves of any goalie in the league this season from the most shots on goal against him (120 from 165) as well as the most penalty saves from the most penalty kicks against him (6 from 8), he has had an incredible season. Nobody expects mid-table goalkeepers to be so solid, but Gomes is another player who has gone above and beyond the line of form expected.
Christian Fuchs – Leicester City
What an amazing man, on and off the pitch, eh? His videos and tweets this season have seen us all fall in love with the Leicester story, while his form on the pitch has shown that he is worth millions more than the exactly £0 they had to pay for his services at the start of the season. He has had so many top performances, covering all areas of the left side of the pitch, both defensive and attacking-wise, and been so successful every time. He stands up and takes responsibility for the whole side, a characteristic that is so useful to any manager. He plays with desire, commitment and heart, while also using his experience to calm the whole team down. A true champion of a man.
Toby Alderweireld – Tottenham Hotspur
I’ll be honest; I didn’t expect much from a defensive partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Alderweireld at the start of the season, but I’ll admit to have being wrong in my views. He did betray Southampton last summer by scrapping his permanent move there, eventually moving up the ladder to White Hart Lane. You do have to say that he did make the most of it though, really cementing his position for club and (probably) country for this summer’s Euros, replacing Vincent Kompany. His long range passing is up there with the best in the game from his position, his organisational skills are top notch, and his defensive skills such as tackling, intercepting and heading are second to none. He is one of the biggest factors in Spurs’ record as the best defensive side in the league (having only conceded 30 from 37 games) as well as the best goal difference. A great season for him, with another one like it one of the top orders from Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs fans alike, if they want to progress next time around.
Mark Noble – West Ham United
A true representation of the spirit and loyalty found in one-club players. The fact that his testimonial for his club (signifying 10 years) happened this season at the age of just 29 is a remarkable feat, and shows his ability to keep improving his play and adapting to fit different manager’s styles. He is an excellent passer of the ball, utilising all angles of the pitch to his advantage. His penalties are legendary at the club, his poachers instinct is solid for a English box-to-box midfielder and his presence is a reassurance for all new players. This has probably been his best season at the club to date, and if he doesn’t break into the national side now, he never will again. It is now or never, sink or swim for Noble.
Mesut Özil - Arsenal
So often branded a ‘luxury player’ and a player who drifts in and out of games, Özil had endured a tough time as record signing at Arsenal in his first two seasons. The German World Cup winner has taken the initiative this season though, and led from the front in a team that has always attempted to play the best aesthetic football in the league. He has finally become the player that Arsene Wenger wanted in his side, a real personification of his ideology; creative, accurate and clinical. The top assister in the BPL this year with 18, while also chipping in with 6 goals of his own, I doubt Arsenal would be anywhere near challenging for 2nd place in the final weekend of the season without his presence. Next season will be even bigger for him.
Michail Antonio – West Ham United
As an outsider, I saw Antonio’s move to the Hammers last summer for £7 million from Nottingham Forest a better deal for the Championship side in the short term, but this mercurial non-league product has surprised everyone with his performances. He has proved he is worth every penny of what West Ham paid for him, contributing massively to the side this year by not only by visibly putting in 100% every single game, but also reverting to right-back as a result of injuries to Slaven Bilic’s side. He may have only made 25 appearances this season, but he has made the most of each and every one of them, scoring 7 goals, including some very special ones, as well as creating 3 more for strikers like Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho. He chose to chase an England place over representing Jamaica in international football earlier this season, and we can only hope he repeats and improves his performances next season to see him in a Three Lions shirt before too long.
Jamie Vardy – Leicester City
The image of this man, arms outstretched, smile beaming across his face, will be one of the most memorable ones of the 2015/16 Premier League season, and rightfully so. The former Stocksbridge Park Steels player has brought all of his down-to-earth charm and irresistible talent to the fore at just the right time in his career for Leicester City. Nobody would’ve foreseen this guy as a Premier League winner and England player at Euro 2016 two, three, four or five years ago, but he has not let the opinions of others hold him back. He has made miracles possible and inspired everybody across the country to believe in the impossible again. With 24 goals and counting, he could still win the Golden Boot to crown a glorious and totally unthinkable season, and it wouldn’t now surprise me if he did. It was tight between Kane and Vardy for a starting place in this team, and it could be just as tight deciding which to pick at the Euros this summer for Roy Hodgson.
Petr Cech, David de Gea, Hugo Lloris, Jack Butland, Kyle Walker, Danny Simpson, Charlie Daniels, Angelo Ogbonna, Wes Morgan, Etienne Capoue, Danny Drinkwater, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Marc Albrighton, Ross Barkley, Wahbi Khazri, Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Olivier Giroud, Troy Deeney, Jermaine Defoe.
Manager of the Season
Claudio Ranieri – Leicester City
It couldn’t go any other way, could it? The masterful old Italian has somehow found a miracle, a one in 5000 chance, to gain success, and boy has he done it with style. He has been an absolute revelation by producing a series of results previously unseen in his whole 30 year-long career, earning his first top-level league trophy in his managerial career. Eddie Howe, Mauricio Pochettino, Slaven Bilic and Quique Sanchez Flores can all count themselves unlucky to have been very good in a season in which another manager has been fantastic. Not just fantastic, but absolutely unbelievable.
Goal of the Season
Dele Alli vs Crystal Palace, 23rd January 2016
A stunning strike worthy of all of the plaudits that it earned the young Englishman. Starting by facing the corner flag, his first touch to just keep the ball at the perfect height, his second to hook it gently back over his head and the third to smash the ball goal wards were all absolutely flawless, creating the most beautiful goal this season for my liking. Alli’s breakthrough season has seen plenty of special moments, but this has got to be seen as the highlight of it all. If only he could reproduce it for England in the Euros, we might just stand a chance of upsetting the apple cart.
Match of the Season
Norwich City 4-5 Liverpool, 23rd January 2016
What. A. Game. It swung this way and then that, surely giving all betters heart attacks, as well as the fans inside a constantly rocking Carrow Road at the time. In one of the few games in which Norwich actually threw caution to the wind and had a real go at the opposition with their undoubted attacking ability this season, they had a real chance of winning this one. Liverpool did lead 1-0 after 20 minutes with a goal from Roberto Firmino, seemingly assured of a lead until half time at least, considering Norwich’s goal scoring record. Suddenly though, the Canaries went into the break 2-1 up, and further extended that to 3-1 ten minutes after. They were 3-1 up with 35 minutes left for god’s sake, but then Liverpool came straight back at them with a triple whammy of goals from Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and James Milner to lead 4-3. Sebastien Bassong hit back with a goal on 90 minutes, grappling back a respectable result with three minutes of added time to go. But then, Adam Lallana popped up in the box for the Reds, finishing off a game of pinball to secure a season-defining win for Jürgen Klopp’s team. This was a game that had (nearly) everything.
Well that is my summary of the season, well done for making it this far! 2015/16 has been a golden period for English football, revitalising the game in all corners of the country. Whatever happens this weekend, we will always remember this season for being the one in which miracles happened, records tumbled, new heroes took to the stage and history has been well and truly made. So much has happened, so many words have been written, so many stats have been recorded, but it has all been worth it for the pride it creates. Thank you 2015/16, we will all miss you.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!