The middle of the most remarkable Premier League season we've ever had is as good a time as any to reflect on a great 2009, and a defining decade for our top division. Not that we have a monopoly on magnificent talent, which leads me nicely to my end-of-year/end-of-decade awards.
PLAYER OF 2009
Lionel Messi is only 5ft 7in but was head and shoulders above everyone last year. He's a freakishly talented footballer and for him to play so well, even through a supposed personal slump, was awesome. We'd all like a few of his off-days. He was the deserving winner of the European and World Player of the Year awards. He was integral to Barça's success in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League: the first time any Spanish side have done that treble. He's thriving for Argentina at a tough time. All that gives him a platform to become an all-time great. By that I mean a shot at emulating the two players widely seen in that category above all others, Pele and Maradona. I'd have Zinedine Zidane up there, too. That trio were all hugely consistently for a long time, and all won the World Cup at least once. So just a World Cup or two, Lionel, and you can join their club!
PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYER OF 2009
Tough because there are lots of contenders, including Cristiano Ronaldo in his last half-season at Manchester United. Of those still in England, I hand the award jointly to one player from each of the "big four", each one of whom has stepped up to the plate, big time: Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas.
PREMIER LEAGUE NEWCOMER OF 2009
Andrei Arshavin, who's made a huge impression. On their own his four goals at Anfield in the 4-4 draw with Liverpool in April announced him as special, and they weren't Mickey Mouse strikes. He's skilful, inventive, and through a mutual friend I'm assured he's rock hard, too. Knocks and bruises don't phase him. Gifted and durable: a superb blend.YOUNG PLAYER OF 2009
I've written about Arsenal's Jack Wilshere before. The kid is 17 and his talent is frightening. Every time I've seen him he's played well. I'm surprised he hasn't played more often because he's a diamond, a superstar in waiting.
INTERNATIONAL TEAM OF 2009
Spain, without a doubt. Electric, sexy football. A force to be reckoned with.
The team to beat at the World Cup now the big tournament monkey is off their backs after Euro 2008. Alonso, Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Torres: what more is there to say?
MANAGER OF 2009
Domestically that's a shoo-in for Sir Alex Ferguson thanks to the Premier League title, a second consecutive Champions League final and proof that he just keeps building world-class teams. In Europe, Pep Guardiola, who did that treble with Barça aged 38 in his first full season.
GOAL OF 2009
Ronaldo's 40-yard wonderstrike in the Champions League quarter-finals, second leg, against Porto. He shouldn't even have been shooting from there but he hit it like a hammer. Wow.
MIND BOGGLE OF 2009
Real Madrid's summer shopping spree of Ronaldo, Kaka, Alonso, Benzema and Co for extraordinary sums. But that's the game these days.
Everywhere you look these past few weeks, it's all been about the best this and that of the decade so I'll keep my awards short and to the point.
MANAGER OF THE DECADE
The Boss. Sir Alex. Obviously.
ENGLAND PLAYER OF THE DECADE
David Beckham. Becks made his England debut in 1996 and then made a huge impression for (in)famous reasons during France '98 but the decade of the Noughties has been his major story as far as England is concerned. Peter Taylor made him captain in November in 2000, he gave THAT performance and scored THAT goal against Greece, then went to the 2002 World Cup and scored the winner against Argentina. He played every game of Euro 2004, helped England to another World Cup quarters in 2006, thought his international career was over but came back and has now got 115 caps and a shot at a fourth World Cup. He's played his part all right.
PREMIER LEAGUE TEAM OF THE DECADE
A toughie. Magnificent foreign players like Henry, Bergkamp, Ronaldo and Zola have to be in. A back four of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole springs to mind. Now where do I find places for Giggs, Scholes, Keane, Rooney and so many more? I give up. Happy New Year.
The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar