Those looking back over my postings on this Blog may notice that it has been some time since my last entry. The reasons for this are largely concerned with the huge workload that I have had over the last two months or so, as well as my general disillusionment with Aberdeen's frankly embarassing end of season collapse. It's an unhappy coincidence that my return to blogging coincides with the end of the football season but I can promise you that I will be on hand to meticulously analyse the Don's no doubt captivating transfer activity over the coming months.
Across Europe it has been an undoubtedly thrilling season. From Manchester United finally knocking Liverpool off their perch to AC Milan ending a seven year spell without winning Serie A, to the conflict between Barcelona and Real Madrid across three fronts. Even leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Portuguese Primeira Liga where the title winners have never really been in doubt, have produced truly remarkable teams such as Andre Villas-Boas' FC Porto unbeatables and Jurgen Klopp's relentlessly efficient Borussia Dortmund side. I'm not going to pretend to be overly qualified to comment on European Football as a whole, but nevertheless, below is a summary of my thoughts on a season that as of last weekend is all but finished. It's worth remembering that my comments are entirely based on the matches that I have been able to watch, but even so, if you disagree with any of my choices feel free to let me know, and don't forget to tell me who you would have chosen instead.
While it would have been fun to try to crowbar Aberdeen into my review, realistically we have had an abysmal season and do not merit any inclusion in any sort of European Football Season Review. Rest assured though, a review of Aberdeen's season is on its way so watch this space!
Team of the Season: FC Porto
As much as we all like to see a tightly contested league, sometimes it is equally engrossing watching one team run away with it in spectacular fashion. FC Porto's season has been the archetypal example of such a phenomena, with a simply incredible record of 27 wins from 30 matches, with the other three being drawn. Andre Villas-Boas' men have lost just one match in all competitions, and took home the Europa League last week after defeating Braga in the final, as well as finding success in the Portuguese Cup. Not far off the perfect season, it remains to be seen if Villas-Boas will be able to repeat his mentor Jose Mourinho's Champions League success next season.
Manager of the season: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
Regardless of whether he can taste Champions League victory this weekend it has been a truly remarkable season for Sir Alex Ferguson. Written off by many at various stages of the year he has finally managed to earn a record breaking 19th league title for the club, the 12th under his managership. Despite rarely looking fully convincing, with a distinctly average away record Ferguson has managed to guide a squad that few would call one of United's best to a title that back in September looked beyond them. A third Champions League victory would be the icing on the cake for one of football's all time greats.
Player of the season: Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
Given his relatively inauspicious world cup where he was largely overshadowed by strike partners Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, I would have scoffed had I been told that ten months on I would be choosing him as my player of the season. It is true that other players have scored more goals than Cavani, but it is rare that a player has been so integral to his teams success as the Uruguayan has been to the Azzuri's as they have qualified for the Champions League for the first time since Diego Maradona was starring up front for them. Given that Cavani also hails from South America the comparisons would be obvious, yet Cavani is actually arguably a more complete striker than the Argentinian legend. Capable of scoring from anywhere in and around the box, he is tall, strong, quick and possesses lethal off the ball movement and formidable ariel ability. Cavani's 26 Serie A goals have made him a hot commodity in European football and despite recently signing a new five year deal it may be a struggle for Napoli to hold onto him.
Young player of the season: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
It is uncommon to see a player ascend to first team football with the class and maturity that Jack Wilshere has shown this season. Far from bursting onto the scene in Wayne Rooneyesque fashion, Wilshere's rise has been a steady one, first impressing on loan at Bolton last season before gradually becoming an integral cog in Arsenal's midfield engine this year. Along the way 19 year old Wilshere has also starred at International level and can now boast a guaranteed place in England's starting XI having earned four caps over the course of the season.
Disappointment of the season: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)
It is a sad fact that in his debut season in English football, the £24 million rated 20 year old has become more synonymous for his performances off the pitch than on it. Despite appearing in just 15 league matches for Manchester City Balotelli has never been far from the headlines, most of which concerning his penchant for outspoken quotes. Even on the pitch Balotelli has been far from distinguished, often looking ill-disciplined and unhappy. I am certain I'm not the only one who hopes that next season he can live up to his undeniable talent.
Signing of the season: Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid, £13 million approx)
Much coveted after his fantastic performances at the 2010 World Cup, Jose Mourinho was undoubtedly the envy of many top class managers when he swooped to capture the German midfielder last summer. Since arriving at the Bernabeau Ozil has been quietly efficient rather than spectacular, but has emerged as one of Real's most important players, occupying the space between midfield attack. With 10 goals and 18 assists it has been a productive season for Ozil, and at just 22 years old he looks set to improve.
Worst Signing of the season: Joe Cole (Liverpool, free transfer)
It may seem churlish to name a free transfer as the worst signing of the season, but if reports of Cole's bumper salary and signing on fee are to be believed then has cost Liverpool a fair sum already, just one year into a four year deal. In a stop start season hit by injury and suspension, Cole has really struggled to get going and has never looked like more than a shadow of his former self, managing just two goals. A sending off and a missed penalty in his first three Liverpool games set the tone for what has been a truly disastrous season for the ex-England international. After having started just once under Kenny Dalglish it remains to be seen if he has any future at Anfield, with few clubs likely to be willing to take on his mammoth wages.
Goal of the season: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) Vs Blackburn Rovers, 26th November
While the popular choice seems to be Wayne Rooney's overheard kick against Manchester City, my vote goes to the third of Berbatov's five goals against Blackburn in November. The goal in question was an immaculate team move, beginning with Berbatov himself deep inside his own half before before being completed on the edge of Blackburn's penalty area with an assured finish from the Bulgarian.
Game of the season: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid, 29th November
There have perhaps been other matches that have set the pulse racing more than Barcelona's demolition of arch rivals Real Madrid in November, but few can match the season's first Clasico for sheer footballing talent. Real Madrid were utterly taken apart by a superb Barcelona team in a flawless display of patient, elegant attacking football. What makes the victory all the more remarkable is the quality of the Real Madrid team in question; While they were abject on the day and never truly challenged Barca for the La Liga title, they amassed an impressive total of 92 points and defeated the Catalans this year in the final of the Copa Del Ray. This Barcelona side is being talked of as one of the greatest ever, and on the strength of this incredible display it is not difficult to see why.
My Team of the Season:
Edwin van der Sar – Has made a wise decision to bow out in what is arguably his finest hour.
Dani Alves – His forays down the right hand side are vital to Barcelona’s success
Nemanja Vidic – The Serb has ascended to the role of Manchester United captain with aplomb.
Thiago Silva – A colossus, and a provider of much needed consistency in the Milan backline.
Leighton Baines – Provides a real goal threat as well as defensive stability.
Nigel de Jong – Quietly keeps Man City’s star studded midfield ticking over.
Daniele de Rossi – The definition of an ‘all action midfielder’, there is little that de Rossi cannot do.
Xavi Hernandez – Simply the best passer of the ball in the world.
Lionel Messi – As with Xavi, little explanation is needed. A wonderful footballer.
Edinson Cavani – An effortless goalscorer more than capable of leading the line.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Pace, power and an incredible goal threat, if perhaps not the team player that he could be.