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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices