Highlights, heroes, lows and laughs: The football season in review

'The Independent' football team hand out the gongs at the end of another fascinating and exciting campaign

James Lawton: Sports Writer of the Year

Player of the season: Jack Wilshere. in a season of so much underachievement, he rose up as an authentic talent, a superior achiever, a natural player. Arsenal's frailties, and killing disappointments, didn't seem to touch him. A player of vital class for England, surely.

Performance of the season: Xavi Hernandez at Wembley last Saturday. It is hard to recall an individual performance delivered so perfectly. He was beyond any challenge in the depth of his impact – and that included the one from Lionel Messi.

Unsung hero of the season: Neil Warnock, the only winning manager not to be handed a bauble by the League Managers' Association. A proven pro who understands how a football club, whatever its problems, is supposed to function. Abrasive? In fact, as Walter Hagen advised, he has found time to smell the flowers.

Encounter of the season: Actor Morgan Freeman over dinner in Johannesburg during the World Cup – a man of great modesty and charm whose discovery of "soccer" as the world's most irresistible game was timely on the eve of Spain's defeat of the disappointingly thuggish Dutch. His respect for the contribution of sport to South African life was immense and touching, a reminder of the brilliance of his portrayal of Nelson Mandela.

Villain of the season: Too close to call, a toss-up between David Gold, David Sullivan and Roman Abramovich. No, that's not quite right. Abramovich, handily, when you consider the quality of Carlo Ancelotti, the man he humiliated so sickeningly. Dishonourable mention: Michael Platini and his absurd defence of the decision to take the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Match of the season: Manchester City 1 Chelsea 0, 25 September 2010. Manchester City's defeat of Chelsea came early in the season when Ancelotti's team had appeared to be unstoppable. City were ferocious and Ancelotti complained, mildly and charmingly, that the referee had left his whistle at home. City deserved to win and should remember the performance the next time they consider laying down the sandbags.

Quote of the season: "I wish I was Peter Pan. I wish I could play for ever." Robbie Fowler, aged 35, after appearing for the Perth Glory before a slim crowd in Brisbane on the eve of an Ashes Test.

Glenn Moore, Football Editor

Player of the season: West Ham took 32 points from the 32 matches Scott Parker started. They took one from the ones he did not. West Ham were a one-man team – as Fabio Capello belatedly recognised in recalling him to the England team.

Performance of the season: Barcelona's 5-0 defeat of Real Madrid in November. It was not just the quality of the football, but the calibre of the opposition – and their coach.

Unsung hero of the season: Mark Hughes, who didn't panic when Fulham slid into the bottom three; instead, he kept faith in his methods and when the injuries eased they climbed to safety.

Encounter of the season: A day spent with Dean Smith, Walsall's rookie manager, as he plotted what would prove a successful escape from relegation.

Villain of the season: Whoever not only allowed the FA Cup final to be played before the Premier League season finished, but also allowed matches the same day. Inevitably the title was clinched and football's most venerable competition lost a little more lustre.

Match of the season: Pretty much anything involving Blackpool. Whoever the opposition were Ian Holloway's men took them on and it was great to watch.

Quote of the season: "If you pay them the wages they'll come. We all kid ourselves, 'I've wanted to play for Tottenham since I was two. I had pictures of Jimmy Greaves on my wall'. It's a load of bull. Here's £80,000 a week. Lovely jubbly." Harry Redknapp

Sam Wallace, Football Correspondent

Player of the season: I voted for Gareth Bale in the Football Writers' Association awards but since then injury and fatigue claimed the end of his season. So it has to be Nemanja Vidic. OK, he could not stop Lionel Messi in the Champions League final but he still had a fine season. His tackle on Messi in the 22nd minute of the final was a beauty. He had most minutes on the pitch of any United player in the league – including Edwin van der Sar.

Performance of the season: Loved Jack Wilshere in both legs of Arsenal's Champions League against Barcelona, especially at home. But Wayne Rooney's second-half hat-trick against West Ham on 2 April was brilliant. Along with Ryan Giggs he ran the game. And just Rooney's luck, everyone remembers it for a naughty word he said to the camera. Aren't football people sensitive souls?

Unsung hero of the season: Let's go down a few divisions for this one. Graham Westley, manager of Stevenage, has won two successive promotions, from the Blue Square Premier and then League One while also administering a sound beating to Newcastle United in the FA Cup third round. The Stevenage manager is an "intense" personality by all accounts – but also a bloody good coach.

Encounter of the season: Along with a group of British newspaper journalists, I doorstepped Jack Warner, the Fifa executive committee member, at his hotel in Zurich just before December's World Cup vote. Small, aggressive and prone to being economic with the truth, we all got the feeling he was not giving us the full picture. That was one prediction that turned out to be correct.

Villain of the season: Easy. Got to be the Fifa executive committee. It's not just the technical and economic reports into England's 2018 World Cup being ignored. I can live with Russia getting 2018 (just about). What makes me despair is that Sepp Blatter and his Fifa executive committee members gave 2022 to Qatar in what is emerging as a corrupt vote. How could anyone ruin anything as wonderful as the World Cup? Somehow they managed it.

Match of the season: Newcastle United 4 Arsenal 4, 5 February. Alan Pardew's team were 4-0 down with 26 minutes played and, while we know how brittle Arsenal are now, at the time they were only four points behind Manchester United and in second place. Once Newcastle had scored two you could feel the momentum shift. Cheik Tioté's equaliser was such a beautiful way to round things off.

Quote of the season: "I see some players kissing the badge when they join a club, but the romance in football has gone. It's a different thing now. Players come and go. When you are joining a club you want to do the best for yourself and that club, and that's all. Some people like to kiss the badge. They can do it." Fernando Torres, 4 February

Ian Herbert, Northern Football Correspondent

Player of the season: Ryan Giggs. Fewer games and no BBC Sports Review of the Year gong, certainly, but at the age 37, his ability to compete defies all logic. His performance at Blackpool and at Chelsea in the Champions League will live on.

Performance of the season Jack Wilshere's display in the Nou Camp. The silver lining to Arsenal's 3-1 defeat on 8 March was Wilshere's ability to receive the ball in the tightest of spaces, with three or four men around him, and be comfortable anyway.

Unsung hero of the season: An engaging lunch with Roy Hodgson back in November, talking Paris, Liverpool architecture and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's BBC series The Trip, revealed a manager just starting to grow into Anfield. His dismissal cut him and it was a mark of the man he put it behind him and took West Brom to safety.

Encounter of the season: An interview with David Platt at Carrington. The build-up to the all-Manchester FA Cup semi final was raging and Platt cut through all the hype to speak of his early United days and provide the most illuminating insight yet into Roberto Mancini.

Villain of the season: Tom Hicks, who took Liverpool to such a precipice that the club's dirty linen had to be aired in the High Court as he was removed. There was solace in the unforgettable court performance display of Anthony Grabiner QC who memorably exploded the "grotesque parody" of Hicks and was later cheered along The Strand.

Match of the season: Stoke City 0 Wigan Athletic 1. The football wasn't divine but the theatre was sublime because we knew that Wigan, once relegated, would probably not return in a generation, and because Roberto Martinez is marvellous.

Quote of the season: "Get down to the library and read a book. Seriously – it's a waste of time." Sir Alex Ferguson on the joys of Twitter.

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