James Lawton: Johnson is man of year for silencing Jose but Warne takes gong for man of ages

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The Independent Online

Not much agonising in the Lawton Awards committee room this year, just the pleasant chore of pouring oneself a large port and toasting English football's man of the year - Everton's Andrew Johnson.

Players of the year, domestically and internationally, were equally automatic ... Paul Scholes at home, Fabio Cannavaro abroad - Scholes for reminding a whole generation of English footballers how to play in central midfield, and why it is still potentially the most important position on the field, Cannavaro for a breathtaking demonstration of the kind of commitment that can win a World Cup.

Before he fell out with Thierry Henry, Arsène Wenger made a bitter and quite risible appeal on behalf of his own man, apparently forgetting that he was an absolute bust in the most important match Arsenal have ever played, the Champions' League final in Paris - and then marred some better work in the big tournament with the worst case of faked injury some jaded witnesses had ever seen.

There were no question marks against the late, winning run of Johnson as man of the year. What he did was something utterly beyond the combined ranks of the Football Association and Uefa. He brought the insufferable behaviour of Jose Mourinho to a halt. He said Mourinho can twist the truth a thousand ways, indict referees and rival players for whatever offence he like, but he wasn't going to do it to him.

With the support of his club, Johnson said he would go to any court in the land to persuade Mourinho that he had stepped too far over the line when he accused him of cheating.

Mourinho was impaled, deliciously it has to be said, on his own sword when he appeared not to notice that Johnson hit the ground after doing precisely what Reading's Stephen Hunt failed to do when Chelsea's Petr Cech received a serious injury earlier in the season - avoid a collision with the goalkeeper.

Although Hunt had acted clumsily, Mourinho's charge that he had deliberately inflicted a head injury on a professional colleague outraged not only Hunt and his team-mates but also a formidable battery of distinguished old pros, including such combative characters as Ian St John and John Giles.

Mourinho's was a somewhat grudging mea culpa, but you were still inclined to weigh it in gold. It said that indeed a line had been drawn on some of the most graceless, nasty, self-serving, divisive, duplicitous codswallop ever uttered in the neighbourhood of a football field. Johnson's stand had the effect of a gale of fresh air. It was, after all, about the pressing need for truth from everyone in football, not just Mourinho. Johnson, however, went straight to the heart of the problem.

Sir Alex Ferguson's brilliant refashioning of United as title contenders again capable of playing bewitching football might have won several awards on its own, among them the one for an unbroken commitment to football of the highest quality, but unfortunately the one he did snare was perhaps not what he had in mind. It was Delusion of the Year, or just plain Fib. "Ronaldo does not dive," declared Ferguson.

The David Beckham Public Speaking trophy went to BBC Sports Personality of the Year Zara Phillips, although, looking back, perhaps it was around this time that the port had begun to kick in.

Zara, a wonderfully brave young horsewoman of course, comfortably outstripped the master Beckham in the challenge of using the word amazing more times than was considered humanly possible. Zara said it a stunning five times and recalled a withering question once posed to a distinguished sports writer by her mother, the Princess Royal, at the Montreal Olympics.

The Princess, who had been installed as the Sports Personality of the Year some years earlier, was asked whether she thought the amount of money lavished on the Montreal Games - and which is still being collected in the form of city taxes - sat rather uneasily with world poverty. "What are you trying to say?" the Princess asked with maximum scorn. As it turned out, the question might have been better kept in the family.

The Gazza Commemorative Hankie was surely sniffled up by Beckham on the sidelines of the World Cup quarter-final against Portugal, when the England captain sobbed not, apparently, for England's exit from the World Cup, which would have been prescient if a little premature, but his own substitution.

You could only sigh for the days of Bobby Moore and Jack Charlton, and not least his brother Bobby, who also wept at the end of a World Cup campaign, but with the subtle difference that his tears came with victory, not a truly appalling denouement.

Perhaps the nearest thing to a debate accompanied the question of quite what to award Ashley Cole. The port didn't help much here. The Judas crown seemed a little heavy, the Ingrate Insignia a little light. Better, maybe, to pour another glass and move on.

Cole's old manager, Wenger, seemed most intent on landing an Asbo. Instead, he won, by acclamation, the award for beautiful irony. Outraged at being exiled to the stand after complaining about a perfectly legitimate free-kick against his team, rather than the defensive muddle that gave up the subsequent goal, Wenger said he couldn't believe his punishment, especially after all that he had seen in the corridors of football. The most intriguing question, no doubt, was whether this included the pizza thrown by one of his players at Ferguson in an Old Trafford corridor.

Normally, the committee room would have been ablaze with biting reflection on the great set pieces of 2006 - the World Cup, the Ryder Cup, the Ashes series, but rarely has such a big year delivered so many puny contests.

The best of the World Cup was Mexico against Argentina, a stupendous contest which some like to think was a toughening process for the inevitable tournament winners from South America. Instead, the Argentina coach rivalled Sven Goran Eriksson for ineptitude; his neglect of Lionel Messi in the heartbreaking game with Germany was not just a betrayal of his nation's hopes but also the game itself.

Italy's Marcello Lippi walked away with the award for Coach of the Year. He took a team mired in the scandals they left behind in Italy and shaped them into a force which grew relentlessly in self-belief.

The Italian defeat of Germany, who under Jürgen Klinsmann had suggested they might become a tidal wave, was a masterpiece of control and, when the time was right, perfect counter-attack.

In the final, France were betrayed, scarcely believably, by the headbutt of Zinedine Zidane. The great player committed the ultimate crime of a professional, let alone a man whose story had inspired so many poor kids in every corner of the world.

He lost his head in the most irreparable way, and then there was the disaster of the French president, Jacques Chirac, no less, who elected himself one of big-time sport's ultimate groupies. He embraced Zidane, and said he had done the right thing in reacting so violently to a cheap but, unfortunately in football, commonplace jibe. It seemed hardly surprising that the streets of France's big cities had recently been ablaze.

The Ryder Cup had the captain, Ian Woosnam, impersonating the god of booze, Bacchus, and losing his perspective slightly when he declared that the days of Europe's victory at the K Club had constituted the "greatest week in history". Unfortunately, it could never have been that, for many reasons including the quite important one that, of the Americans, only Tiger Woods truly turned up.

England's Ashes team backed into the most unwanted of awards. They quickly became the Great Pretenders. Poorly prepared, shockingly undermotivated and bizarrely selected, they didn't begin to match the brilliance and the commitment of the Australians.

The Aussies laid claim to any award you could think up. The captain, Ricky Pointing, announced himself as the player of the series from the moment he first took guard at the Gabba.

Shane Warne, however, was going for a bigger prize. He was the sportsman not only of the year but of the ages. He played with a devil and a self-belief that would have been stunning in a man 10 years younger. And at 37 he made it official. This was indeed his last stand as arguably the most creative, most competitive cricketer the world had ever known. In a life that could so easily have been fragmented by a wildness that could never be truly tamed, it was a magnificent act of will. He was more than the man of the year. For no little while he made himself the very spirit of competitive sport.

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