Georgina Turner
Tuesday May 25th, 2010

After two months at, I think I'm just about due a Mailbag column. The first thing to tackle is the mountain of mail I received after picking my Premier League Team of the Season, particularly on the absence of one man: Cesc Fabregas.

"With Fabregas in the lineup, Arsenal was a top side -- without him, it struggled mightily. Which manager in the Premier League would take Gareth Bale, Scott Parker or Antonio Valencia ahead of him?" -- Shelton Bellamy, Washington, D.C.

I'm not sure about that question, since none of them plays the same position as Fabregas or any of the others, but I certainly take the point. Fabregas's stats (27 appearances; 15 goals, 15 assists) point to a very fine season, and in all honesty, he was in and out like your leg in the Hokey Pokey as I shaped the list. Come crunch time, I opted for 4-3-3 to accommodate three of the four exceptional strikers in the Premier League this season, and Fabregas lost out to Frank Lampard (36 appearances, 22 goals, 17 assists).

"I have lots of respect for Lampard being physically stronger than Fabregas, as is the case with many of the Arsenal frontline and back line. But who did Fabregas have to give the ball to (No Robin van Persie, Andrei Arshavin in and out, Theo Walcott the same same) vs. Chelsea's awesome strikers and Florent Malouda on the wing?" -- Pete Oaklander, San Jose, California

Questions like this will no doubt be playing on the young Spaniard's mind as he deals with the loud serenade from Barcelona, the club where you suspect his heart lies. There are some excellent players at Arsenal -- let's not forget that before injuries ripped into the end of the season, Arsene Wenger's men were challenging for the title -- but players like Arshavin and Walcott are hugely inconsistent. Wayne Rooney's face as, time and again, Walcott failed to deliver in England's friendly versus Mexico on Monday told the story.

In a similar vein, other readers suggested that Fulham's Brede Hangeland had done a sterling job this season without being surrounded by huge talents.

"Michael Dawson and Thomas Vermaelen are deserving, but they are both surrounded by better talent; they do not shoulder the defensive responsibility of Hangeland, who is the heartbeat of Fulham. Without him they would be lost at the back." -- Tadhg Cornelius Hannon

Hangeland has certainly been a rock for Fulham for the last two seasons, and his performances in Europe have reportedly caught the eye of AC Milan, in addition to a gaggle of Premiership clubs. His commitment to the Fulham cause makes him a likeable player, too. However, I'm not convinced he did it any better than Dawson, Vermaelen or Richard Dunne.

"[Darren Fletcher] has been so consistent all season, after totally relegating Michael Carrick down the pecking order. Carrick, who was compared to Pirlo last season, was the best holding midfielder last year, and Fletcher dislodged him." -- Mohammed Sheriff, Dammam, Saudi Arabia

No arguments here, Fletcher has been excellent when played in his natural position rather than in defense, where he had to appear more often than he would have liked thanks to injuries. Let's not make too much of the Carrick comparison, however: the nosedive in the latter's form distorts it massively, and even if it remains permanent, I doubt Fletcher will ever show quite the moments of exquisite culture on the ball that Carrick is capable of. Can't fault him for work-rate, tackling, a-to-b distribution and drive, though.

"What about Tuncay from Stoke? When that guy played, he really put the motor into City this year." -- Tim Delaney, San Antonio, Texas

I agree that Tuncay can be a dangerous player, but he only ever seems to function in fits and starts. That might be a result of his patchy relationship with manager Tony Pulis though -- Tuncay hasn't enjoyed the same run in the team as he did at Middlesbrough, where he started so impressively in the 2007-08 season.

"Gareth Bale's three goals and six assists, and Scott Parker's paltry two goals and three assists shouldn't even get close to the bench when you compare the contributions made to their teams by less fashionable players like Matthew Etherington (five goals, nine assists), Stephen Hunt (six goals, five assists), and Matthew Taylor (eight goals, three assists)." -- Mark Mitchell, London, England

Over a dead ball, Taylor is dangerous -- more than 60 percent of his goals come from free kicks and penalties -- but he's too slow, too easily worked out of a game to really be considered a great player, for my money. Hunt is the kind of dedicated, tireless player we'd all like to see on our team, though there is a less palatable side to his game that will probably always, rightly or wrongly, hide his qualities from some eyes. Etherington has been superb for Stoke this season, motoring up the flanks to supply a lot of City's most threatening moves. Like Parker, he's where the real quality in his team is to be found.

"It seems to me that there are two clear choices for manager -- Carlo Ancelotti or Harry Redknapp. For me, Redknapp was more impressive. Yes, Tottenham has spent money bringing in quality players like Luka Modric and Wilson Palacios, but Redknapp finally delivered what none of the non-top-four managers has since 2004-05." -- Ryan Grandin, Texas

You're right, Ryan, I was wooed by Roy Hodgson's likeability and all-round achievements this year rather than Spurs' league position. It's interesting that you mention money, too. Using Wenger's net spend at Arsenal as a comparison, as plenty of pundits like to, makes every other club's accounts look like Kim Kardashian's credit card bill the week before a gala appearance.

The important comparison is between the clubs that didn't already have a firm place in the Champions League, and therefore needed to improve their squads. Last year Aston Villa's net spend was $37m, Manchester City's $150m. Redknapp spent $9m.

"Jose Mourinho is the most arrogant person in the world, but now he's completely conquered me. Internazionale, the eternal underachievers in Champions League, beat the champions of England, Spain and Germany to claim the trophy. Along the way they dismissed the champions of Russia and Ukraine. So what do you think? Is the Special One the greatest coach in the world?" -- Hua Zhou Alderson

These things are hard to measure, and there are so many factors -- personnel, funds, league competition and so on -- that the success of one coach isn't ever directly comparable to others. Mourinho is certainly a remarkable tactician, and his evident (and effective) rapport with differing sets of players suggests an obsessive concern with managing all variables, which lots of managers fail to do.

However, Mourinho so polarizes opinion that he might need to take Real Madrid (if all this speculation ends with him there next season) to a European treble before being secure in such an accolade. It's hard not to feel that he cares more about his career than the game, and that, at least in the last six years, he's had ample talent at his disposal. When you consider the achievements of managers like Brian Clough (who took average-Joes Nottingham Forest from the second tier of English soccer to consecutive European Cup victories) and Rinus Michels (the inventor of Total Football, who was successful at league (Barca), European (Ajax) and international level (Holland)), Mourinho still doesn't feel quite immortal. Maybe it's just nostalgia.

"I was curious about one thing. I am not saying he would end up there, but do you think Landon Donovan would thrive at Manchester United/Chelsea? Could he compete, in your opinion, for starting minutes? I was proud of how he rocked his weeks at Everton, but is he top-level?" -- Jason Timmons, Raleigh, North Carolina

I was already a fan of Donovan, and it was great to see him make such an impact at Everton. That said, I suspect he wouldn't get much time on the pitch at either of the top two, he's simply not at that level -- ask yourself whom he could displace at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. He may get there, but I suspect he's a top-half player, rather than a top-four player. I sincerely hope to have him back in the Premiership come August, anyway.

Thanks for all your e-mails in the last two months -- keep them coming.

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