So that’s it; the Premier League season 2015/16. We draw the final curtain and await our favourite players to take their place in the spotlight for their round of applause (or pantomime boos), before we leave the theatre and excitedly discuss the show we’ve just witnessed on the way back home.
There are, however, certain actors on this greatest stage of all who get pushed to the side as the company take their bows, destined never to know the dazzle that comes with true limelight. No, this is not a “Mark Noble for the Euros” shout, I’m talking of course about centre-backs.
It’s been a strange year for the breed. Previous stars of the position have been struck by injury (Kompany), age (Terry), no longer having a defence of ten players in front of them all weighed down by the crushing spectre of extreme dullity (Smalling), or just a bit of an average season (Koscielny).
In their place in the discussion have been the CBs who have happened to play in the best systems at the top of the league: Vertonghen (also hit by injury otherwise would be talked about more), Alderweireld, Morgan, and Huth.
If there were to be an award for the overall best centre-back of the season it would probably have to go to Alderweireld, though partly pipping his team-mate and countryman to the post by virtue of having stayed injury free. Really, though, it would be a win for the Tottenham system; an ailing Kompany on crutches may well look better than any Manchester City centre-back has this season were he in the current Spurs side.
But we shouldn’t dwell at the top of the table. Both of the surviving promoted teams have, coincidentally, benefitted greatly from their right-sided centre-back: Craig Cathcart at Watford, and Simon Francis (what you’d call ‘a right-back by trade’) at Bournemouth.
The theme of Leicester and Spurs continues here slightly too, the two teams being clearly well coached. A competent team and structure in front of you will always make a centre-back’s life easier, but Cathcart and Francis deserve extra credit, looking (arguably) better than their partners while they have been playing at CB this year.
Moving down the table to the relegated sides, it was questioned on a recent Match of the Day why Jamaal Lascelles had not been playing regularly for Newcastle sooner, and it’s a good point. Presumably, coaches will have seen things that made them keep the 22-year old out of the side, but he looks genuinely solid, particularly for a relegated team, and particularly for a player so young.
Remaining briefly in the bottom three, Joleon Lescott is also a player far better than the position of his team, although again there may be other reasons why he has not been playing at a higher level than he has.
Honourable mentions should go to Scott Dann, who has performed better this season than his past career may have suggested, and Steve Cook, also of Bournemouth and who has shown flashes of quality though not sustained. Southampton CBs Van Dijk and Fonte are both often mentioned, but neither has been sufficiently better than the coverage they’ve already received to merit further praise.
A final honourable mention should be bestowed on Tony Pulis. Here is a man who has seen the trend towards modernity and the dwindling in numbers of the “old breed” of defenders, as we hear so eye-rollingly often, and has decided to turn West Bromwich into a sanctuary for them. James Chester and Jonny Evans were both brought in and have played decidedly less time at centre-back than would be imagined, and there have been times when centre-backs have formed the majority of the starting XI.
Hopefully, he is working his way towards the Pulis Grail [it works better if you imagine he’s generically European and it’s pronounced Pyoo-lee] of playing a recognised centre-back in every position of the pitch. Perhaps then the noble CB will get the applause from the crowd that they deserve.