Sport Soccer

Friday 6 December 2019

A to Z of a season full of thrills and spills

From Arsenal to Zigic there was seldom a dull moment in a topsy-turvy campaign

Birmingham City striker Nicola Zigic
Birmingham City striker Nicola Zigic
Marouane Fellaini (left) has struggled at Manchester United this season
Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Arsenal – It's fitting that the list starts with Arsene Wenger's side, because they spent longer on top of the table (128 days) than any of the other title contenders in a topsy-turvy campaign. Manchester City claimed the trophy, though Arsenal finally got their hands on one on Saturday.

Brick – The first sign that all wasn't quite right at Swansea came when reports claimed that Chico Flores had raised a brick during a training ground row with former captain Garry Monk which led to police being called. Michael Laudrup was on his last legs at that point. Monk is now in charge of the rebuilding (apologies).

Coleman – He's pretty good you know. Most of the Irish Premier League cheer was provided by the unassuming Donegal flier who continues to improve and is now Champions League quality, even if he doesn't play for a Champions League club.

Dyche – The Burnley manager, Sean, should have been in the running for the LMA's overall Manager of the Year honours after steering a low-budget side to the top flight ahead of much stronger squads. His gravelly voice will be a feature of post-match interviews next term.

Everton – It's about more than just Coleman. The Irish debt of gratitude to the blue half of Merseyside is growing. Roberto Martinez has given James McCarthy the platform to compete in the top six, brought Aiden McGeady to the Premier League and also has Darron Gibson to come back next year. If he can bring Shane Duffy along, the freedom of Abbotstown beckons.

Fellaini – Paul Scholes can take this one. "He's not been great, has he? You have to admit that. For a central midfield at Manchester United for £27m, I'm expecting a few goals at least. I know he missed a lot of games, but for the money they paid, I'd be expecting a lot more."

Gayle – Some players will always be remembered for their role in the misfortune of others. Back in the day, Nottingham Forest's Ian Woan was a harbinger of doom, ending Liverpool's title hopes in 1991. This year, Dwight Gayle assumed that role with his late brace at Selhurst Park for a side galvanised by Tony Pulis.

Hughton – There was understandable sympathy when one of the good guys was sacked by Norwich as they lurched towards the trap door, but the counter argument is that the Canaries' mistake was not doing it earlier. His treatment of another H, Hoolahan, lost him admirers in this part of the world.

It's Never Your Fault – A chant to summarise the misery of Newcastle fans as they pointed the finger of blame at Alan Pardew for his role in their post-Christmas collapse. Patience with 'Pards' is running thin, even if he's just the front-man for a regime that doesn't seem too fussed about local concerns.

Jack – Martin O'Neill has bemoaned the absence of young Irishmen knocking on the door of Premier League clubs. That's why Jack Grealish's Premier League debut for Aston Villa commanded so much attention. The 18-year-old is sure to become a bigger story in the coming years.

Ketchup – Paolo Di Canio's reign as Sunderland boss was fun while it lasted. Well, fun for everyone except the players, staff, and people who had to deal with his idiosyncrasies on a regular basis. The Italian banned a variety of things, ranging from talking to non-squad members on matchday to the scourge of tomato ketchup.

Lamela – Erik became this season's poster boy for bad transfer business after costing Spurs £30m and delivering next to nothing. There is a school of thought that he will eventually come good. With a multi-million-pound, five-year contract, he's got oodles of time anyway.

Moyes – What else is there to say at this juncture? A good man who inherited a tough job and made it look even harder. He'll find work again soon and has a 'single-digit million' pay-off to soften the blow. That won't heal the scars, though.

Northampton – This is where Coventry City played their home games this season, a sad example of a once-proud Premier League club that has fallen on hard times due to horrendous decision-making. See Leeds United and Portsmouth for other examples.

Old Boys Club – The Class of '92, the "You won't win anything with kids" generation are now the old pros with a powerful lobby that looks set to linger in the background regardless of who is the boss at Old Trafford. Beware Louis Van Gaal.

Pay-rise – Modern football, eh? Saido Berahino bursts onto the scene at West Brom and is rewarded with a pay-hike from £750 a week to a princely sum of £20,000 every seven days. His attitude subsequently began to annoy other members of a dressing-room weakened by the dismissal of Steve Clarke. The Baggies hierarchy made a lot of mistakes and were lucky to survive.

Quenelle – This brings us nicely onto Nicolas Anelka, whose English career ended after he performed the controversial gesture after scoring against West Ham. In the subsequent furore, Anelka was asked if he would do it again. Considering the Hammers match was the only game in which he scored for WBA, it was an optimistic concern. He left the club soon after.

Rodgers – Clearly, the Antrim man can do more than talk the talk. By improving players low on confidence and turning Liverpool into a thrilling side to watch, he deserves all the plaudits coming his way. His shopping choices remain his biggest problem, although his Daniel Sturridge purchase was inspired.

Sherwood – The English football establishment was crying out for a manager from their own ranks, so there was a lot of goodwill behind Tim. Slowly, but surely, it disappeared after he produced a range of memorable soundbites that veered into 'It's never your fault' territory.

Tan – The image of the Malaysian businessman booing his own team after another misfiring performance that actually put the spotlight on his judgment neatly summarised Cardiff's road to relegation. Malky Mackay wasn't perfect, but he shouldn't have been cast aside for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Unfinished – It's hard to read anything about the forthcoming World Cup without finding this word somewhere in the story. At least nobody died, eh? Well, apart from eight workers. The rushed show will go on.

Vienna – Ireland's World Cup qualifier in the Austrian capital in September meant nothing to us after the defeat to Sweden at the Aviva the previous Friday. But the rainy Tuesday marked the end of the Giovanni Trapattoni years, paving the way for an unlikely dream team.

Woodward – The man who should be blamed for Manchester United's woes, according to Roy Keane. He's managed to escape the worst of the vitriol and seems to have a smart media strategy, but another bad summer will put his head on the chopping block.

Xabi Alonso – His Real Madrid season is over and his absence from Saturday's Champions League final could cost Carlo Ancelotti. They're a better side with his calming presence in the centre of midfield and his suspension could aid Atletico Madrid's dreams of a fairytale ending.

Yaya – When the Ivorian landed in England four years ago and was made the highest earning Premier League player in history, eyebrows were raised. After firing Manchester City to title success, his £240,000 a week looks like good value compared to Wayne Rooney's obscene £300,000 package. He should have run Suarez close in the award rush.

Zigic – The giant Serbian striker, Nikola, coined in £60,000 a week while doing little to help a Birmingham side falling towards relegation. In the past, Lee Clark had questioned his 'disgusting' attitude in training. But he popped up on the final day to score one and make another as Brum dramatically avoided a drop to League One. The value of that contribution to his club means that, in the perverse world of football economics, he somehow ended up being worth it.

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