By Lee Savery
It is the end of the year and everyone is making up their own “lists of 2011”, so to carry on a tradition started last year, I present my Manchester United awards for the calendar year 2011:
Player of 2011
1 – Wayne Rooney
2010 was not the best of years for Wayne Rooney. A poor display at the World Cup, alleged revelations about his private life and even the audacity to question the club’s ambitions really affected his image. In the first half of 2010-11 season, he had only scored once in the league. 1st January 2011, he scored against West Bromwich Albion and finally we had a sense that the old Wayne Rooney was back. He finished the season with 16 goals (11 in the league), including one in the Champions League final and THAT goal in the Manchester derby. The latter half of 2011 has seen Wayne make a great start in goalscoring terms. 15 goals in 22 games this season sets him up nicely as we head into 2012. He has his doubts, we had our doubts but on the pitch, Wayne Rooney is still one of the best in the world.
2 – Luis Carlos Almelda da Cunha (Nani)
Nani is still having one of periods of his footballing life right now. This very article, last year, named him the player of 2010. In fairness, it could have easily have been him again this year. Last season, no one created more goals, in the Premier League, than Nani. No one. Yet he was only nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award (and did not win) while Gareth Bale, undeservedly scooped the main prize. This moan aside, Nani has become a key man in the United team. With assists aplenty, he is adding goalscoring to his arsenal. With 8 goals already this season, 2012 is likely to see Nani get the best goal haul of his career so far.
3 – Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez
Chicharito has been a massive hit at the club so far. His ability to find the net when the team needed it most has taken him to the hearts of the United faithful. He was a key player in the league success of last season. I won’t forget his stooping header in a tight 1-0 victory over Everton, in a match that was destined for a draw. I’m sure many won’t forget his goal after 36 seconds, in the title decider against Chelsea, either. The season ended with some personal glory for Hernandez. As well as being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, we, the fans, voted him the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year. A tremendous achievement for player in his first season at Man United. He has made a steady start to this season and I am sure he will play a key role once more in 2012.
Young Player of 2011
1 – Phil Jones
Phil Jones has only been with us since the summer but he has made a big impact already. United reportedly beat the likes of Arsenal & Liverpool to his signature and spent £16.5 million. So far we have seen a player who can play in a number of positions in defence and in midfield and play there with great ability. His never-say-die attitude is obvious to all and he has the makings of a future captain of Manchester United and England. With his United career off to a great start and a long England career at its early stages, the future is set to be quite bright for Phil Jones.
2 – Danny Welbeck
After a successful loan spell at Sunderland, Danny Welbeck has slotted into our attack very well so far. Sir Alex Ferguson gave Welbeck a massive confidence boost by selecting Welbeck ahead of last season’s joint Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov for the first few games. Welbeck impressed in those first four games, scoring in two of them (against Tottenham Hostspur & Arsenal) before injury cruelly left him out for a few weeks. However he has scored six goals so far this season. Like Phil Jones, Welbeck’s England career has also started this year. A good year for Danny Welbeck.
3 – Fábio Pereira da Silva
The first half of 2011 was an excellent one for Fabio. Having stepped into the right-back position ahead of his twin brother Rafael, he impressed the manager enough to keep him as the first choice right-back for the second half of the 2010-11 season. He also scored his first goals for the club. His first came in February during the 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. His second came two weeks later in the FA Cup against Arsenal. Incredibly, Rafael’s only two goals for the club, so far, have also come against Wigan & Arsenal. The season culminated with Fabio selected to start in the Champions League final. With injuries affecting his chances in the team this season, his performances in the first half of 2011 justify his inclusion in my top three.
Most Improved Player of 2011
1 – Wayne Rooney
This may seem like an odd choice but after last year’s poor form and other antics, we have seen a big improvement from his this year.
2 – Phil Jones
3 – Danny Welbeck
Best performance of 2011
1 – 8-2 vs Arsenal (Home)
It might have been a very weak Arsenal team that played at Old Trafford that day but three other teams had played them without dealing such a devastating defeat. United were simply imperious that day. With a magnificent attacking display, a hat-trick from Rooney and a brace of superb long range strikes from Ashley Young, it gave the team from North London a massive wake-up call.
2 – 2-1 vs Manchester City
In one of the tightest and most competitive Manchester derbies of all time, United prevailed with a magnificent overhead kick from Wayne Rooney to beat City. It was a typical “United” display, digging out a win in the big games with something special. It was a special afternoon.
3 – 4-2 vs West Ham United
25 minutes into the first half, Mark Noble had converted two penalties and West Ham looked set to get three valuable points in their fight to stay in the Premier League. However, Wayne Rooney had other ideas. A second half hat-trick, starting with a sublime free-kick from the edge of the area, turned the match on its head. Hernandez added a fourth to complete a superb second-half performance and added three more valuable points on the team’s way to securing the Premier League crown.
Biggest Disappointment of 2011
1 – The 6-1
Probably the worst afternoon for any United fan to see the team lose so badly against our city rivals and at Old Trafford. It is one match we will all like to forget.
2 – Champions League elimination
To go from being in the Champions League final in May to being eliminated in the group stage in December was a massive shock. In a group that seemed so winnable, the players performed poorly in the matches against Benfica & Basel and rightfully dropped down to the Europa League.
3 – The failure to sign a new creative midfielder
I am sure many of you were expecting me to write about the Champions League final in my top three disappointments of this year. If I had a list of four, that would be in fourth place. I can deal with a Champions League final defeat when it is against Barcelona, a team believed by all to be the best in the world right now. With the retirement of Paul Scholes, this team needs a player like that. There is a hole in our midfield. It needs filling and we could be made to pay the price for this in 2012 if a new player is not found.
Biggest Hope for 2012
1 – Player recoveries. Darren Fletcher successfully recovers from his bowel problem. I am sure we all wish him all the best in that recovery. The same also to Nemanja Vidic with his serious knee injury.
2 – A new creative midfielder is signed.
3 – The Glazers leave and take their debt with them (I am sure we will say this every year until it happens)
Best XI of 2011 (4-4-2)
GK: Edwin van der Sar – He retired this summer and was consistent right up to the end. Big gloves to fill.
RB: Fabio – For his performances in the first half of the year alone. Showed signs of great potential.
CB: Chris Smalling – Improving all the time. A reliable selection at centre-back or at right-back.
CB: Nemanja Vidic – Our leader. Will be missed during the rest of this season.
LB: Patrice Evra – His performances are currently nowhere near his best, but remainS a potent asset in attacking scenarios.
RM: Antonio Valencia – Valencia’s return from injury and form towards the latter stages of the 2010-11 season was a key component in securing title number 19. After a slow start to the current campaign the Ecuadorian has excelled in December earning his selection in my best XI.
CM: Phil Jones – I should have put his position as “anywhere”.
CM: Michael Carrick – The much maligned midfielder has flourished with added responsibility. Carrick has arguably been United’s most consistent player during the 2011-12 season.
LM: Nani – A constant threat. A key player.
ST: Wayne Rooney – Easy choice here. Still our best player.
ST: Javier Hernandez – The Hernandez-Rooney partnership was deadly in 2011. A superb goal poacher.
What are your thoughts? Please feel free to agree or disagree with my selections.
Register with the Stretford End Arising forum.