May 23, 2022 6 min read
In the next week, four big matches take place: a repeat of the 2018 Champions League final involving Liverpool and Real Madrid; Roma v Feyenoord in the first Conference League final; and two domestic play-offs to decide who goes up to the Premier League (Huddersfield Town v Nottingham Forest) and League One (Manfield Town v Port Vale). Congratulations to Sunderland, who beat Wycombe Wanderers in the League One play-off.
Promotion to League Two needs to trim six teams down to just one, to see who joins Stockport County in the Football League. Even without considering those matches, a list of winners and losers from the 2021/22 season can be drawn up. If you disagree with any of them, tweet @bohemianbrands and let debate commence.
Overachievers: Luton Town. Yes, Brentford survived in the Premier League but Luton Town, a club who were in the fifth tier only eight seasons ago, finished sixth in the Championship. Even though they didn’t overcome Huddersfield Town to reach Wembley, times are great for the Hatters, with former manager David Pleat preparing a memoir.
Underachievers: Manchester United. Look, if your club turns over £1bn, and you can afford to pay the wages of Cristiano Ronaldo and bring in young Jadon Sancho, you should easily be in the top two. As it was, United have become a soap opera, a footballing Gogglebox where you wait to see Neville, Scholes and Keane shake their heads and throw their hands up. At least the kids won the FA Youth Cup to put their names in the frame for inclusion in the plans of the team’s new manager.
Hero: Matt Benham and Tony Bloom (shared). Who would have guessed that men who made their fortune in gambling would make good custodians of football clubs? At Brentford and Brighton respectively, these two men have hired sensible managers in Thomas Frank and Graham Potter, who in turn have a team full of top talent. Ivan Toney, Marc Cucurella and Tariq Lamptey have impressed, but bigger clubs may well consider a bid for them.
Moment: Christian Eriksen. It was a joy to see the return of a man who had collapsed at EURO 2020 return less than eight months later. Wearing a monitoring device, the great Dane benefitted from the presence of other Danish internationals in the Brentford squad and may be the subject of offers this summer.
Great signing: Craig Dawson, West Ham United. There are too many to count. The shortlist include two defenders who have earned England call-ups: Marc Guéhi at Crystal Palace and Ben White at Arsenal. Harry Wilson helped Fulham gain promotion back to the Premier League, where they will play his old club Liverpool, but my award goes to Man City youth product Dawson, who went from a place on the bench in the Championship with Watford to a place in the starting line-up in a Europa League semi-final in a year. Football is a funny game.
Transfer Flop: Bryan Gil, Tottenham Hotspur. It’s often tough to deal with a new place to live, but Spurs make every effort to keep their players happy. It didn’t help poor Bryan that manager Nuno was fired midway through the season and incoming gaffer Antonio Conte wanted his own men from Juventus to play his patented 3-4-3 formation. Thus did Gil return to Spain from whence he came. Fun fact: he was a makeweight in a deal to sell Erik Lamela to Seville.
Villain: Gino Pozzo, Watford owner. After firing the smiling Xisco Muñoz, he brought in Claudio Ranieri, who didn’t win at Vicarage Road in his entire time at Watford. His performance reminded fans of his time as Greece manager rather than the stardust he sprinkled onto Chelsea and Leicester. Owner Gino Pozzo got Roy Hodgson out of semi-retirement to see his side tumble from the Premier League; the parachute payments will help, as will the appointment of Rob Edwards, the 15th man to be hired by Pozzo in the decade he has been at the club.
Farewell: Marcelo Bielsa and Mike Dean (shared). The Argentinean has made fans wherever he goes, from Bilbao to Chile and now in West Yorkshire. Leeds fans posted a message of thanks in his local paper. I don’t think anyone will pen one to the Wirral’s most famous former chicken factory operative, who hung up his whistle this weekend to move into Stockley Park. A fond farewell too to Dave Roberts, author of several books about his love of Bromley FC, who reached the FA Trophy Final this season.
Pundit: Micah Richards and Roy Keane (shared). Whoever thought to prompt this bromance deserves the keys to Sky Sports. In a season where punditry has often usurped the 90 minutes of football around it, Micah and Roy have been football’s Morecambe and Wise, with straight man Roy dealing with the antics of the young upstart who was five years old when Keane signed for Manchester United.
Save of the Season: Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal v Leicester City. In front of Kasper Schmeichel’s dad, who said it was the ‘best save I’ve seen for years’, Ramsdale leapt to his left with his arm outstretched and got a hand to James Maddison’s free-kick, then had the presence of mind to block a Jonny Evans shot. Having made his England debut against San Marino, perhaps the keeper will have a more severe test in the World Cup warm-up games later in the year, if he can displace Jordan Pickford as number one.
Goal of the Season: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool v Manchester City. The Egyptian King has, even by his standards, had another fantastic season scoring over 20 league goals for the fourth time in five seasons. His best strike came in October when he went past Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte and then squeezed in a shot beyond Ederson. Football can be many things but, when executed well, it can dazzle. To prove he meant it, Salah did it again against Watford a fortnight later, with Craig Cathcart the unfortunate soul sent on to his backside.
Highly Commended Goals:
Game of the Season (individual performance): Bukayo Saka, Arsenal v Watford. I was at the Vic and watched a young man (he’s still only 20) turn his markers inside out. I had to laugh when he lost the ball after about 70 minutes of brilliance, having run himself into the ground. For a lad who dealt with missing a penalty the previous summer, Saka has elevated his club side and will continue to do so in European competition next year.
Game and Quote of the Season came in the National League where Wrexham beat Dover Athletic 6-5, having been 5-2 down. Even The Deadpool loves the football: Wrexham’s multimillionaire co-owner Ryan Reynolds called football a ‘soul-deadening, evil and gorgeous game. He also ‘lost nine years off my life. And I’m okay with that…Also, bury me in Wales’. The club may well contest the National League play-off final, having already been to Wembley for yesterday’s FA Trophy came against Bromley (see Farewell).
Player of the Season: Aleksandar Mitrović. Rather than irritate fans of any top-tier club by picking a player who isn’t theirs, props must be given to the super Serb. His 43 Championship goals have been the difference for them, and he has thrived under the management of Marco Silva, who will now manage a fourth Premier League club following time at Hull City, Watford (one of those 15 Pozzo appointments) and Everton.
Highly commended players:
Annoyance of the Season (that people can do something about): Chanting at certain players has been less than optimal, but the trend for fans hopping onto the pitch to remonstrate with the entertainers, or gloat in their faces after a win, must cease pronto. The worst was in the Midland derby between Leicester City and Nottingham Forest, with last week’s assault on Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp the latest disgrace.
Image of the Season: Two Scots at Old Trafford. The dour face of Sir Alex Ferguson contrasted sharply with the grin of Sir Kenny Dalglish when Liverpool scored their fifth goal in October against their old foes.
As 2021/22 draws to a close, there is plenty to celebrate or drown your sorrows with. For the full range of drinks we offer at Bohemian Brands, have a shop here.