Even fans with a venomously passionate anti-United stance would struggle to argue against Cristiano Ronaldo being hailed as the best player in the World right now, with the winger scoring an incredible 37 goals for United this season, plus a further 2 goals for Portugal in the 3 Euro qualifiers he’s played in. As the votes are being taken in for the Sir Matt Busby player of the year, I feel it’s time to reflect on any of the other candidates who could be possibly worthy of the award.
Wayne Rooney has always been in the running for this award since joining United and received it in 2006, in season that saw him claim 19 goals and 14 assists. This season, he has faced some criticism for not finding the back of the net in situations where you would put money on him to do so. Due to injury, Rooney has missed 10 of the 33 league games played this season, featuring only once in league back in November. Despite this, he’s still only just out of the top ten scorers this season, bagging 11 Premiership goals, which averages as more than one goal every other game, with a total of 19 goals in all competitions. He’s also claimed 11 assists, the third highest in the league. So Rooney has gone the equivalent of just one league game without scoring or assisting a goal.
What can’t be ignored is the winning mentality Rooney instils in the team, which was best highlighted in our 3rd Round FA Cup game at Villa Park. Despite dominating chances and possession against Aston Villa, United were lacking the spark to get the result wrapped up. Rooney was subbed on to the park with 20 minutes to go. Minutes later, he picked up the ball at the half way line, played a beautiful 40 yard ball to Ronaldo, who sprinted forward and pulled it back to the edge of the area. Rooney had legged it down the field and struck the ball first time, watching it curl just over the bar. Ten minutes after coming on, Rooney picked up the ball outside the area, passed it in to Anderson, who played it forward to Giggs, who crossed to Ronaldo to score our first.
This new inspired United team, who couldn’t buy a goal before, now looked to score a couple more. Carson had to make two great saves from Michael Carrick shots, before Rooney’s first move of the game was mirrored. A beautiful ball from the half way line again up to Ronaldo, who ran in to the box and had a shot. This was saved, came back to Rooney who again had sprinted down the field, but this time he made no mistake. Drilling the ball to Carson’s right and in to the back of the net.
It should also be noted that Wayne Rooney is the only first team player to be absent in each of our four defeats this season. Sure, you can dig out stats to prove anything, but I think there is certainly a lot of weight to this. Rooney doesn’t give up, whether he’s playing well or not, and this certainly has a positive knock on effect on the team.
Another good shout is for Rio Ferdinand who has enjoyed the best season of his United career. Often called upon to don the captain’s armband in the absence of Neville and Giggs, he has played like a true leader in every game. The dopey mistakes that were a trademark of his game have been cut out, whilst he’s marked players like Torres, who has been scoring for fun this season, entirely out of the game. The Liverpool match before the United at Anfield game, Torres scored a goal, and scored two the game following United. Again, either side of the United game at Anfield, Torres scored in Liverpool matches. Yet, in both games against United, Torres didn’t get a sniff at goal at either Anfield or Old Trafford, thanks to great defending of Ferdinand.
Ferdinand even had this country’s press, who formerly vilified and criticised the United defender, ranting and raving about him after he was given the captaincy by Capello. Frequently referred to as the best defender in the league this season, tabloid to broadsheet were singing his praises, and rightly so. He has been solid, controlling and passionate throughout the year. Out of the 30 league games Rio has played, United have kept 18 clean sheets. We have conceded just 20 goals in 41 games Ferdinand has played in total.
You may be aware that contract negotiations are taking place, with Ferdinand claiming he wants to stay with the club for the rest of his career. Whilst other players and their agents talk of problems and offers from elsewhere, Ferdinand has made his intentions clear. He wants to stay at Old Trafford. The growth of Ferdinand is highlighted in his behaviour regards to the contract, following the disastrous contract talks of 2005. He has behaved like a responsible man instead of a money grabbing boy. As for the Christmas party, Ferdinand claims its organisation had nothing to do with him…
My only regret upon hearing that Gabriel Heinze had signed for Real Madrid was the thought of no longer hearing “ARGENTINA! ARGENTINA!” shouted from around Old Trafford. Any opportunity to wind up those England supporting ABUs is something I relish. However, once Carlos Tevez made the move to United we were guaranteed years more of the chanting.
The young Argentinian had a slow start to his United career, thrown in to the first team too early following a month without football, due to problems organising his move away from West Ham. Injuries to both Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha saw Tevez playing in an unsuitable role up front by himself, and despite against displaying the impressive work rate we’d seen from him whilst playing for West Ham and Argentina, he struggled to find the back of the net.
On derby day at the council house, Tevez was gifted the opportunity to make himself a United hero early on, after Giggs provided a corner to the edge of the six yard box in the last minute of the game. United were trailing 1-0, despite battering our bitter rivals, courtesy of a deflected Geovanni goal, when Tevez was given a goalscoring opportunity on a plate. However, his header somehow managed to hit the wrong side of the net, condemning United to a defeat, after drawing the opening two games of the season.
However, Tevez made amends for this the following month, as Chelsea travelled to Old Trafford for their first game without Jose Mourinho. With the last touch of the first half, this time Tevez converted Giggs’ cross in to a goal, giving us a 1-0 lead in a game which ended 2-0.
The following month, he opened the deadlock for United against Wigan, scoring ten minutes in to the second half. A week later, he bagged a brace against Boro, the first of three he has claimed this season, the others coming against Derby and Newcastle.
He is currently placed within the top ten scorers in the league, with 12 goals, in the equivalent game time of 26 matches, as well as 6 assists. In all competitions, Tevez has scored 17 goals, featuring in the Champions League top ten scorers as well.
In every game he plays, Tevez doesn’t stop running and doesn’t give up. He comes away with the ball in situations he has no right to, and pressurises our opponents in to making mistakes time and again as he charges them down. Considering there was major concerns over whether he could fit in to United’s team alongside Wayne Rooney, he’s given a very good account of himself in his first season with the club.
Whilst referring to Gabriel Heinze, we shouldn’t forget the reason why he ended up in Real Madrid in the first place. Patrice Evra, who is certainly now the best left back in Europe. His form of last season was immense and he has gone from strength to strength since then.
Following in the tradition of United full backs, Evra offers as much to our attack as he does to our defence. He is currently the 15th most fouled player in the league, which speaks volumes about the amount of time he spends in the opposition’s half. Particularly when partnered with Cristiano Ronaldo down the left flank, we see fancy flicks and his showboating style really come to life. He is entirely capable of taking on any player as he bombs down the wing, whilst equally able in making that last ditch tackle.
ManUtd.com are currently holding votes for the Sir Matt Busby player of the year and unsurprisingly, Ronaldo is taking an overwhelming lead with 80% of the vote. What is more surprising though is Park Ji-Sung lies in third with 4%, just behind Wayne Rooney on 6th. Ferdinand, Tevez, Anderson and Hargreaves all feature with a few percent between them.
With a few exceptions, I’m sure it’s safe to say those of you reading this would also vote Ronnie as your player of the season, but if not him who do you think should get it?