Ron of the Year 2016/17

The FA Cup has come and gone, and we will find out over the coming week (probably) whether we’ll be saying the same for Arsene Wenger’s career at Arsenal. Nonetheless, with no Premier League clubs in the Champions League final, the English football season is now over. The curtain is drawn, the encore played, and we the crowd now file out, eagerly awaiting what the next season’s production will bring.

It’s a strange quirk of footballing convention, carried out and commented on every year, that ‘end of season’ awards are given out midway through the third act. Last-minute Big Reveals may be rare, but it would make sense to at least give characters the courtesy of seeing their arc out until the end.

It’s all about the fully completed arcs – character, narrative, emotional, rainbow – here at ETNAR Towers, and the Ron of the Year award can only be given once every game has been played.

What is the Ron of the Year award? A tenuous link to the blog’s title to justify a light piece of content? No; it’s a highly prestigious award to reward those who work hard for few plaudits, players who would see their teams fall apart in their absence yet not be lauded when they stepped back into the fray. It is not they who are receiving the applause when the cast takes its bows, but it is they who deserve it.

This is the inaugural ceremony, but, given the achievements of Leicester City last season, it’s necessary to give a retrospective award for 2015/16.

There are two men, above all others, who deserve the Ron of the Year 2015/16 award, and even after much deliberation it’s impossible to separate them. The winners:

Shinji Okazaki and Marc Albrighton

Thankfully, Okazaki’s worth has become apparent in his absence this season. His pressing work freed Jamie Vardy up top and helped solidify and compact the midfield. Albrighton, meanwhile, worked tirelessly on his wing, tucking in and congesting the centre of the pitch off the ball, and doing functional work on it.

For this year’s award there are several players in the running. George Boyd essentially filled the Marc Albrighton role for Burnley this season, doing some stellar-ly unselfish work to make their system work and help keep them in the top flight.

James Milner is could well deserve it purely as a lifetime-achievement award. But he’s also spent all year being played out of position (if this, being ‘played out of position’, is even possible for Milner) at left-back in a relatively successful Liverpool side.

On the subject of being played out of position, Victor Moses and Antonio Valencia deserve mentions for being wingers converted to a wing-back/full-back role. The level of competence that they’ve shown and the level of surprise that fans have felt at this competence have been roughly equal.

If this has seemed a little top-of-the-table heavy, it’s because there aren’t many sides who had a good season. Bournemouth finished 9th, but only in a packed midtable having previously skirted with the edges of a relegation fight and having finished the season strongly when all other sides had reached safety and were at the airport.

Southampton and Everton were both, for large spells, lacklustre. West Brom had a good season, but Pulis is paradoxically both King Ron and not-Ron-at-all, because he’s gained a good deal of respect and adulation. Leicester, West Ham, Palace, and Swansea all flirted with relegation fights, and Stoke and Watford had genuinely disappointing final league placements.

So, in the end, it’s back to the top of the table that we go for the winner of the Ron of the Year 2016/17 award. The winner is:

Georginio Wijnaldum

Liverpool’s was a system where it seemed like it all fell apart if any of the starting midfield or attackers were absent. Feasibly, Firmino, Mane, or Coutinho could be replaced by Sturridge without disrupting things too much, and all of the trio were lauded. Lallana may have gone under the radar for his importance in the system too.

But it’s Wijnaldum, bought from Newcastle having been an attacking winger and put into a fairly restrained central midfield role, who has gone under the radar the most. In a system of fluidity, he had to be able to step forward into attacks yet be a positional reference point for much of the season. He had to be technically and positionally sound, and athletic enough to press and cover to Klopp’s specs. It’s hard to think of another player who could have filled the role.

So there, that’s the inaugural Ron of the Year award ceremony over, and names have been etched into the virgin metal panelling beneath the orange orb of the ornate and quite beautiful trophy (trust me, ok). We’ll be in the bar afterwards for drinks.

 

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