Sunday, April 27, 2008

Team of the year: centre midfield

honourable mentions: Morgaro Gomis (Dundee United), Scott Arfield (Falkirk), Scott Brown (Celtic)

It's hard to argue with these two; Ferguson's form has waned in the last month or so as his ankle injury caught up for him, but his performances for both club and country earlier this season were reminiscent of the Scotland captain at his very best. Hughes, meanwhile, has revitalised his career after a nightmare period down south, and has been at the centre of Motherwell's best stuff this season.

honourable mentions: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Elano (Manchester City)

Fabregas is a shoo-in. This has been the young Spaniard's breakthrough season, though tiredness has caught up with him (and his teammates) more recently. However, his range of passing and composure on the ball, plus the fact he has added goals to his game, make him the best central midfielder in British football. But Mascherano?! Well, if you take away his daft antics at Old Trafford, he is surely a candidate for the best midfield anchor in the world, not just the Premier League. He has a great engine, can win the ball and distribute it, and has fantastic positional sense. If you want a balanced midfield, he is the man.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Team of the year: right midfield

SPL: BARRY ROBSON (Dundee United/Celtic)
honourable mentions: Willo Flood (Dundee United), Don Cowie (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)

I remember the olden days when the ginger whinger played for ICT - on the left wing. However, both at Utd and Celtic, Robson has become more versatile, now starting on the right more often so he can cut inside and deliver with his sweet left foot. To be honest, I doubt whether he will get any better than this, but the fact he can play in the centre as well gives Gordon Strachan (the other ginger whinger) extra options from his midfield, especially considering that Massimo Donati can't play any position.

EPL: CRISTIANO RONALDO (Manchester United)
honourable mentions: Joe Cole (Chelsea), David Bentley (Blackburn Rovers)

Easy as pie. I've already waxed lyrical about the Portuguese winger on multiple occasions, and, put simply, he is the most outstanding footballer on the planet right now, bar none. And he's only, what, 22? Jeez...


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Team of the year: left-back

honourable mentions: Sasa Papac (Rangers), David Murphy (Hibernian)

While Papac did a darn good job for Wattie Smith this season, doing a pretty good impression of a full back when you consider that he normally can't impersonate a centre half, Naylor remains the best left sided defender in the SPL. He has remained solid even when his fellow defenders didn't, and remains as useful going forward as when defending.

EPL: PATRICE EVRA (Manchester United)
honourable mentions: Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Stephen Warnock (Blackburn Rovers)

It's a tough choice between the Frenchmen, who can both lay claim to be the footballing equivalent of the Duracell bunny (I mean in terms of stamina, not that they are pink, have tails or carry a drum). Evra just shades it for me - as Ryan Giggs fades, Alex Ferguson is hugely dependent on Evra to provide width on the left for United, and he does so superbly. Clichy, you feel, is still a year or two away from reaching his peak, but at the moment Evra is one of Europe's finest full-backs.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Team of the year: centre-backs

SPL: Carlos Cuellar (Rangers), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United)
Honourable mentions: Zander Diamond (Aberdeen), Stephen McManus (Celtic), Darren Barr (Falkirk)

It was no surprise to anyone except the most blind, deluded Celtic fan (or all 2 million of them) that Cuellar would win the player of the year reward. He has been a class act all season, with the composure and skill of a continental defender, but also the strength, power and ruggedness of a British centre-back. If he doesn't move to the Premiership in the summer, I will be an eensy bit shocked. Wilkie, meanwhile, finally looks capable of fulfilling the potential he showed in his youth; if not for the absence of a cruciate ligament, he too might be playing at a bigger place than Tannadump - sorry, Tannadice - every second week.

EPL: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Everton)
Honourable mentions: Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea), Micah Richards (Manchester City), Martin Laursen (Aston Villa)

Last year Vidic was Man U's outstanding defender; this year, though, Rio has been impervious. Gone are the lapses in concentration that have dogged him for years. He has now matured into a prime candidate for the title of the world's best central defender. Lescott has spent a lot of this season at left back, but is at his best in the centre. He has the pace to match most top strikers and with his efforts at both ends of the pitch (10 goals in all competitions at the time of writing), he has contributed more than most to Everton's success this season.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Team of the year: right-back

Honourable mentions: Christian Kalvenes (Dundee United), David Van Zanten (St. Mirren)

I don't think any of the sides in the top six other than Dundee Utd had a settled right-back this season. Regardless, Hutton did play more than half of Rangers' league games this season before his move to Spurs, so I think he qualifies, okay? Certainly, it's difficult to argue with the quality he has showed in the past twelve months, displaying the athleticism, ball skills and defensive nous required of one of Europe's top full-backs.

Honourable mentions: Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Olof Mellberg (Aston Villa)

In his first season in England, Sagna settled in remarkably well and has been a constant in Arsene Wenger's defence. His crossing still leaves a lot to be desired; however his raids on the overlap have given Arsenal a remarkable amount of width this season, considering their lack of an out-and-out winger. Next year, I expect him to be even better.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Team of the year: goalkeeper

honourable mentions: Artur Boruc (Celtic), Graeme Smith (Motherwell)

The first position, and it's possibly the toughest. McGregor or Boruc? So little to choose between them - both have been outstanding this year, but neither have been flawless. However, McGregor has conceded fewer goals per game and kept more clean sheets, though he did have a much better defence in front of him. And he has come on leaps and bounds over the last twelve months. If nothing else, that performance against Werder Bremen will be remembered for many moons. So, therefore Allan McGregor gets the nod.

EPL: DAVID JAMES (Portsmouth)
honourable mentions: Tim Howard (Everton), Chris Kirkland (Wigan)

It's rather easier choice when you look down south! In his twilight years, James is a better goalkeeper than ever, mainly because he has stopped making so many blunders. The number of times this season that Pompey have held on to narrow leads because of his saves is staggering. In a year where the big four have all played keepers who either have had lots of injury problems (Cech), are past their best (Van Der Sar) or are simply rubbish (Almunia, plus Jose Reina whenever it's a big game), James is the obvious winner.


Monday, April 7, 2008

The first annual Narey's Toepoker Team of the Season

In the coming days, (when I have time!), I'll be going through the players who make up my team of the season, both for the SPL and the English Premier League, position by position. Some players are shoo-ins - Cuellar, Ferguson and McGeady in Scotland, Ronaldo and Fabregas in England - but other positions are trickier; for some, I'm going to have to sit down and have a right good ponder. Feel free to comment with your suggestions. All I know is that Gretna and Derby players will be conspicuous by their absence!


Saturday, April 5, 2008

"The results business"

Last weekend, I basked in the glorious seven goal thriller that Aberdeen nicked from Caley up in Inverness. Caley's previous four home games had produced only a total of six goals, and the only way those games could have been less exciting would be if the half-time entertainment consisted of watching some paint dry.

Yes, I know, we lost again. However, Caley have been so guff recently that I'm largely sensitized to that now. I'd proudly claimed, before the match, that I'd rather we lost 4-3 than draw 0-0, and to be frank, I stand by that claim. I don't care if we grind out a point; if I'm driving all the way along the A96 (which has been a rather more exciting experience than the recent matches) and back, then I want to be entertained.

And so, following the customary waffling, I move on to my main point; viz a viz (always wanted to use that in a blog post), dull football. A game like Caley-Aberdeen ought to have been exciting - Caley have no reason to be cagey or defensive, while Aberdeen needed the win for their top six aspirations. But, before kickoff, I expected to see two 4-5-1 teams, with the attacking instincts of a koala bear. Because, throughout football, this happens too often now.

Too often, we hear managers talk about "the results business" to justify parking the bus in front of the goal and nicking a goalless draw. The potential financial castastrophe of being relegated, or missing out on a Champions' League place, or whatever, drives manager's tactics. They are afraid to lose. And the rules of the game (or at least, their interpretation) only benefit this philosophy - look at the penalty box during a corner and try to count how many defensive fouls are being committed at the same time. And count how many are penalized. Meanwhile, for all the "benefit of the doubt" chat, you rarely see a goal wrongly given when a player was offside, but lose count of the number of forwards wrongly flagged.

Now, maybe I'm in the minority here, but I watch football to be entertained. I want to see skill, I want to see chances, I want to see goals. Exciting nil-nil draws are like hen's teeth. Boring 4-3 games are as rare as seeing a teenage girl in Dundee without a pram. Remember the last world cup, and the last Euros? Too many teams afraid of losing. Germany bucked the trend; they played open, attacking football and were hailed for it, as well as forcing their way to the semi finals. I remember well that Greece won Euro 2004, but for all my usual hailing of the underdog, their style of football was so repugnant that it made me want to vomit copiously into a bucket. If that's what is required to win a football match, I'll read a book, thanks.

To cap it all, I hope David Pizarro of Roma feels like a bit of an idiot about slagging off Ronaldo in the press, for doing all those step overs and winding him up a bit. Please keep doing it, Cristiano, I thought it was fantastic and so did most of the world.

Why do attacking players win nearly all the big football awards? Because they are why the punters watch football. Who ever decided to go see Real Madrid because they have Casillas or Cannavaro? So for all you managers out there who decide boredom is the way to go, remember that if your team is fun to watch, fans will forgive you rather more when results don't go your way. I'm thinking of you, Avram Grant.