There's cigar smoke and perfume in the evening air as the thronging masses head to Castle Limey for our annual awards ceremony. Only one man is headed the other way: a winking, temperamental, petulant, prima donna flagging down a lift to Madrid. Are you sitting comfortably now, the chilled Taittinger bubbling to perfection? Team Limey takes the stage.
The Oliver Stone Award for falling theatrically. Does Didier Drogba have a passion for worm-watching? Or is he practicing his commando rolls for a remake of Platoon?
The Cliff Clavin Award for needing a beer. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley hit the headlines downing a pint at the Emirates last August. Our officious press was outraged that he was encouraging binge drinking and imbibing illegally within the view of a pitch. Both ridiculous points. The sooner soccer fans in England are not treated like animals and are allowed to drink in their seats, the better. If Ashley wants a pint at Castle Limey, he's welcome. After all, now that the third-best-supported club in the Premier League has been relegated, his previous $1.3 billion valuation of the Magpies has become a relatively paltry $230 million. That sort of loss could push anyone into spending the rest of their life at a bar.
The Martha Stewart Homebody Award. Robinho has taken to banging in goals at the City of Manchester Stadium, finishing fourth in the EPL in scoring. But away from his home support, especially in the long wet English winter, he was less effective than the Andorra offense (was there an offense?). Former England striker Stan Collymore described the boy from Brazil's performance at Portsmouth in February as being "quite possibly the single worst performance ever seen in the Premier League."
The Judas Iscariot Loyalty Award.
"I look forward to the new challenge of growing the world's most popular game in a country that is as passionate about its sport as my own."-- David Beckham on his imminent move to the L.A. Galaxy, January 2007
"I'll do whatever I can to stay here because I have loved my time here."-- David Beckham on his time with AC Milan, March '09.
The E.T. Come Home Award. Robbie Keane wasn't the first Irishman to celebrate his "leaving of Liverpool," but since he only signed last July, we thought his stay might last longer than half a season. With five EPL goals to his name, he headed back to London. Spurs made a $13 million profit and laughed all the way to mid-table mediocrity.
The Doc Martens Too Big for Your Boots Award. As Team Limey waited on a train platform last January, we heard a creaking noise on the roof. To our surprise, it was Manchester City CEO Garry Cook. What was he doing up there? Quite simply, he was getting above his station! City tried to sign Kaká in January, but the mercurial midfielder, and arguably the world's best player, didn't fancy a team that loses 3-0 at home in the FA Cup to Championship side Nottingham Forest.
The Late George Best Award for services to après-footballing activities. There's been a two-way North London fight for this award. Falling short of the big prize is Tottenham captain Ledley King, the professional footballer who is no longer able to participate in training due to his dodgy knee but is seemingly fully able to engage in fisticuffs with the doormen of London nightclubs. However, the award rightly goes to Arsenal's big-ego striker Niklas Bendtner, who "celebrated" his team's defeat at the hands of Manchester United by downing not only a few glasses of champagne, but also his trousers as he exited a trendy London night spot.
The Giorgio Armani Award for on-pitch fashion. Arsenal midfielder CescFàbregas wins this hands down for his on-pitch cameo after his side's tempestuous FA Cup sixth-round win over Hull City. So stormy was his leather jacket-clad appearance that that it led to accusations from Hull assistant manager Brian Horton that the Arsenal captain had launched spittle in his direction.
The Charles Dickens Award (a.k.a. A Tale of Two Hull Cities). Did two different Hull teams play in the EPL last season? After losing only once in their nine opening games, the newly promoted Tigers sat in third place in the EPL with 20 points. They had even claimed a league win at Arsenal and Europe seemingly beckoned. Yet when the remarkable run finished, the confidence drained and Hull managed a meager 3 league wins from 29 games and only avoided relegation on the last game of the season due to Newcastle United's ineptitude. Boss Phil Brown banishing Geovanni, his only creative force, to the sidelines in protest at his lethargy didn't help, either. Lazy or not, Hull needed the inventive Brazilian. Team Limey looks forward to more of Perma-tanned Phil's madcap antics, such as his on-field halftime team talk at Man. City, or his karaoke serenade to fans celebrating the team's staying up in the Premiership.
The Janet Jackson Award for live TV production gaffe. British broadcaster ITV already had aired 118 minutes of tedium in the shape of the Everton and Liverpool's FA Cup fourth-round replay when insult was added to injury: some idiot in the production room switched to a commercial just in time for millions to miss the only exciting moment of the game: Everton's winning goal.
The Whoopee Cushion Biggest Letdown of Season Award. After all the tedious talk of the "quintuple," and the build-up that it was the best team in the word, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United went down with a whimper to pass-masters Barcelona in the Champions League final. Cristiano Ronaldo was evidently so annoyed with the one-upmanship that he's doing a record $131 million transfer to Barça's archrival, Real Madrid.
The Men of Glory Award. Jointly won by Michael Turner of Hull City and RoryDelap of Stoke City. These clubs finished bottom half, but avoiding relegation was success enough for these EPL minnows. Delap's long throw proved a powerful weapon for Stoke's offense, while Turner's composed defending saw Hull stand strong against bombardment.
Manager of the Season. The well-traveled Roy Hodgson arrived at Fulham in late '07 with the Cottagers deep in the relegation mire. Twelve points from their final five games saw them survive, and their good form continued in '08-09 as bustling Fulham finished seventh on a meager budget that Hodgson managed to use effectively with the inspired signings of Brede Hangeland and MarkSchwarzer. Hodgson, the former Inter Milan coach, has brought a touch of Serie A to Craven Cottage, instilling method, discipline and a focus on strong defense. Danny Murphy covers the center backs in defense, while in attack, Fulham often builds from the back with the center backs supporting a narrow midfield and the fullbacks pushing forward into space to provide width.
Goalkeeper: Schwarzer, Fulham. Some saw his move from Middlesbrough to Fulham as a step down, but the Australian national-team keeper and his Fulham side confounded critics to keep 15 clean sheets en route to Europa League qualification.
Left back: Leighton Baines, Everton. Great to see Baines back from a multitude of injuries to finally established himself at Everton and break into the England squad. Fine passer of the ball and nifty free-kick taker in Mikel Arteta's absence.
Center back: Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United. The Serb is rumored to be leaving Manchester United, likely to Barcelona. If so, this will be a big blow for the Red Devils. Alongside Rio Ferdinand, Vidic has been a rock in central defense with the awareness and ability to cover when Patrice Evra frequently gets caught upfield.
Center back: Hangeland, Fulham. The form of the tall Norwegian national-team captain has been such that Arsenal and Manchester City are rumored to be circling with $16 million bids.
Right back: Glen Johnson, Portsmouth. Since arriving at Portsmouth, Johnson has seemingly grown up and put his laddish antics behind him. His renewed focus has seen him become an England regular. Gets forward without neglecting defensive duties.
Midfielder: Antonio Valencia, Wigan Athletic. Almost powered Wigan into the top half. Expect the panache of this all action hero to be showcased at a larger club -- likely Man. United -- next season.
Midfielder: Xabi Alonso, Liverpool. Kept his place when Rafa Benítez failed to sign England midfielder Gareth Barry. Lucky Liverpool -- he passes like Michel Platini.
Midfielder: Steven Gerrard, Liverpool. Consistency personified. Can he lead his beloved Liverpool to EPL glory next season?
Midfielder: Stephen Ireland, Manchester City. Penetrates forward, gets back, links up play, scores goals, outshone Robinho.
Attacking midfielder: Andrei Arshavin, Arsenal. Arrived in February, but made an immediate impact, swashbuckling with Fàbregas in the Gunners midfield. His four-goal haul against Liverpool this past April was the most outstanding of many great performances.
Center forward: Wayne Rooney, Man. United. Strength, balance and poise are the hallmarks of a Rooney goal, and he has managed 10 of them in his last seven England games. A Ronaldo-less United could allow Ferguson to give Rooney the license to roam freely -- a Fabio Capello tactic that has helped him excel for England.