Chris Hatherall's end-of-season Premier League awards - from Player of the Year to best feel-good story of the season

With one day remaining in the title race and only two clubs involved, it’s not straightforward to name this award without knowing who ultimately won the medal, but...
Chris Hatherall's end-of-season Premier League awards - from Player of the Year to best feel-good story of the season

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Examiner Awards for Season 2021-22 

Player of the Year: Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City 

With one day remaining in the title race and only two clubs involved, it’s not straight forward to name this award without knowing who ultimately won the medal. But de Bruyne’s brilliance makes it a little easier.

We could just as easily have gone for Mo Salah, whose form for Liverpool has been outstanding, especially in the first half of the campaign. There’s no doubt the Egyptian can now be considered world class and it’s a real shame that he won’t be at the World Cup to take that next step towards a GOAT hall of fame that includes Ronaldo, Messi and Lewandowski.

He has scored 30 goals in all competitions for Liverpool this year in their remarkable quadruple chase and has two medals on the mantlepiece, even before this weekend’s Premier League finale and the Champions League Final.

But only three of his goals have come in the last three months at a time when rival de Bruyne was hitting top form. So, that hands the Manchester City man the edge.

What more can we say about the Belgian who somehow combines silky skills with power in his shooting, an impressive work ethic and a mental strength that belies his quiet manner and youthful looks.

One of the defining moments of his season was Manchester City’s Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid when he couldn’t influence the game the way he wanted. But his response, four goals of the highest quality against Wolves in the next game, summed up a mental strength that marks him out as something special.

The only thing he can’t seem to do is head a ball – not a single one of his Premier League goals have been converted with his head – but that’s hardly an issue when you consider his passing, assist-making and crossing is probably the best the league has ever seen.

This is a player capable of dominating games and of impacting them at a second’s notice. This season he has scored 19 goals for City, and 11 of them came in the final three months of the season when Salah was running dry.

De Bruyne has 57 goals and 85 assists in his Premier League career (15 and 7 this season), and at 30 years old there is time for a lot more. But that only tells you part of what he means to Manchester City. This is a player who would make a short list of the greatest Premier League players of all time; and you wouldn’t complain if he was placed top of that list.

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Molineux Stadium.
Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Molineux Stadium.

Manager of the Year: Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool 

Whether or not he wins the title, Jurgen Klopp deserves this award for his efforts and achievements across all competitions this season.

What he has done is quite remarkable because no other side in the history of English football has managed to sustain a quadruple bid for quite so long, and at the time of writing – with only 24 hours of the Premier League season remaining – it is not yet over.

What is even more remarkable is that Klopp has done so whilst also cleverly revitalising and reinventing a Liverpool team which lost its way a little last season. There haven’t been big changes, far from it, but having stuttered in their title defence in 2020-21 he has taken a team which some people feared was on the wane and given it new life.

The signing of Luis Diaz was a stroke of genius, but so too has been the way Klopp has rotated his forward players to keep them fit and the way he has slowly teased out of Thiago the world class player we knew was in there.

Thiago has been hugely influential this season – and a story from Klopp, told after the FA Cup Final, made fascinating listening.

“I told Thiago if I knew he was that good I would have signed him seven years ago.

“He said ‘yes boss, but you taught me to run’. I’ll take that.” What it shows is that Klopp got something extra out of a player who was already outstanding and helped him adapt to Premier League football. His sheer personality would be enough to win this award alone, but what people sometimes forget is how tactically astute he is. Substitutions are made at the right time to impact the game and he’s not afraid to change tactics to mess with the game and mess with opponents. It’s hugely effective.

Pep Guardiola is world class in his own way, of course. But when you consider what Liverpool have done in cup competitions as well as the league, then Klopp deserves the prize.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.

Goal of the Year: Mo Salah, Liverpool 

Mo Salah cannot go without an award this season given his contribution to the campaign, and nor will he. His goal against Manchester City at Anfield was a thing of beauty. The way he swayed past players, stopped, turned again, twisted again and then fired unerringly into the far corner of the – with his RIGHT foot – was just spectacular.

There were other goals worthy of a mention. Most of James Ward Prowse’s free kicks for a start, and Mateo Kovacic’s quite ridiculous dipping volley against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in January, achieved when on one foot and leaning back on the edge of the area.

Kovacic’s effort came closest to matching Salah – it was a goal you had to see live to truly appreciate – but the Egyptian takes the honours given the importance of that match at Anfield between the top two.

Mohamed Salah. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Young player of the Year: Conor Gallagher, Crystal Palace 

The midfielder, on loan from Chelsea, has been a major part of the Crystal Palace revival under Patrick Vieira and he is going to be hard to replace if, as expected, the Stamford Bridge hierarchy call him back for next season.

The sheer energy and drive of Gallagher is astonishing and he’s a proper box-to-box midfielder in the Bryan Robson mould, something we haven’t seen for a long time.

Eight goals and three assists in the Premier League don’t tell the whole story. This is a player who seems to be everywhere on the pitch and must be a nightmare to play against. Let’s hope Chelsea play him or sell him next season because at 22 he needs to be playing. Thomas Tuchel has promised to ‘assess’ him in pre-season.

Other contenders for this award include high profile players who we forget are still young – Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool, Foden at Man City, Rice at West Ham, Saka at Arsenal. But Gallagher stands out as a new talent ready to make his mark.

Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher celebrates after scoring during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London.
Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher celebrates after scoring during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London.

Ones to watch from outside the top four 

  • Jarrod Bowen, West Ham - Getting better every season, the winger managed 18 goals this season in a memorable campaign for the Hammers. He’s only 25, so no wonder Liverpool have been linked. There’s a lot more to come from him 
  • Yves Bissouma, Brighton – the central midfielder has surprised many with his progress. Manchester United and Arsenal have both been linked and he’s now valued upwards of 50m Euros. A powerhouse midfielder, adept at stealing the ball and then driving forward, he’s also capable of spectacular goals. Brighton know they may have to sell 
  • Marc Cucurella, Brighton ­– the Spaniard’s profile may be relatively low but he’s had an outstanding debut season. Primarily an attacking wing-back, and an excellent crosser of the ball, he’s also operated at centre back, on the left of a three, and looked very much at home there. There’s even talk of Manchester City being interested.
  • Tyrick Mitchell – the young defender came from nowhere to make the England team and has made more tackles than anyone else in the Premier League. He’s only 22.

Overachiever of the Year: Thomas Frank, Brentford 

Few people outside of that now famous bus stop in Hounslow expected Brentford to stay in the Premier League too long, but their fans were surprisingly confident – and were proved right.

A big reason for that is not only the underestimated quality of Brentford’s squad but the astute and innovative management of Frank, who has won over television audiences with his upbeat and honest pre and post-match press conferences.

There’s something instantly likeable about the Dane, who has created a culture at the west London club of togetherness, humility and hard work.

Behind that friendly exterior, however, is a clever tactical brain.

Brentford are a team which you cannot pigeon-hole. They started the season with an ‘up and at ‘em’ style which left Arsenal shell shocked but have shown plenty of different guises since. Three at the back, five at the back, four at the back. Long balls, short balls, counter-attacking, front-foot attacking.

The Bees chameleon is capable of many disguises, and that’s something not many teams learn in their first Premier League campaign.

Frank’s substitutions are always designed to impact the game and often inspirational. Look at the way he moved two midfielders into a back three in the second half at Everton in order dominate better against 10 men. It worked a treat.

Or remember the way he piled multiple attackers on against both Liverpool and Chelsea at the Brentford Community Stadium and gave them the fright of their lives.

Then, of course, the ultimate moment of genius: a phone call to Christian Eriksen.

“I just said ‘would you like to come to Brentford’,” he said. That has to be right up there with one of the best phone calls in football history.

Brentford are safe from relegation and could even finish inside the top 10 if things go well for them on Sunday. A remarkable achievement.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank following the Premier League match at the Brentford Community Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday May 7, 2022.
Brentford manager Thomas Frank following the Premier League match at the Brentford Community Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday May 7, 2022.

Underachiever of the Year: Jack Grealish, Man City

This is perhaps a little unfair, given that he may well end the season with a Premier League medal, but Jack Grealish hasn’t quite lived up to the hype following his move to Manchester City from Aston Villa for more than 100m Euros.

The former Republic Under 21 man’s record deal underlined City’s determination to defend their title and ended speculation that they would also spend a similar figure on Harry Kane.

But it hasn’t been an easy transition for a player who has been used to being the main man at his hometown club Villa.

At times he looks like he has been playing well within himself, turning down a chance to beat his man and taking the easy pass option instead. Perhaps he is still learning the Guardiola way, and that wouldn’t be unusual. Riyad Mahrez was also relatively quiet in his first season at the club after arriving from Leicester, but soon found his feet the following year.

City fans will hope the same is true for Grealish, who has managed only three Premier League goals all season. That needs to change.

Manchester City's Jack Grealish (left) and Newcastle United's Bruno Guimaraes battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Manchester City's Jack Grealish (left) and Newcastle United's Bruno Guimaraes battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Unsung hero of the Year: Heung-min Son, Tottenham Hotspur 

When Manchester City were going all out to sign Harry Kane at the start of the season, nobody stood up and said they were going for the wrong player. But they should have done.

Son would have been a far better choice for the way that City play and he may well have been easier to prise away, too.

This season the South Korean has taken his performances to a new level. When Kane was still sulking at the start of the campaign, he took on the mantle of being the main man and he has delivered time and time again ever since.

Unbelievably quick on the break, he combines clever movement with ruthless finishing - and makes it all look easy.

This was undoubtedly Son’s best ever season for Spurs and he pushed Salah all the way for the Golden Boot, scoring 21 goals and providing seven assists so far. That’s incredible for a side which doesn’t create anything like the number of goalscoring chances that City and Liverpool do.

You can’t say the striker’s efforts have gone unnoticed because he has plenty of admirers. But for some reason he doesn’t get the same kind of attention of ‘bigger’ stars who make more noise about their achievements but who cannot match his overall contribution.

Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min. Photo credit: John Walton/PA Wire.
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min. Photo credit: John Walton/PA Wire.

Signing of the year: Luis Diaz, Liverpool 

Luis Diaz’s arrival from Porto for 44m Euros in January didn’t exactly make huge headlines, even though he was the biggest deal in the window.

He wasn’t a household name, he arrived without fanfare. But, boy, has he made up for it since.

The way the 25-year-old Colombian has fitted in is simply remarkable.

It is so, so rare for a player to arrive in the Premier League from abroad and make such an instant impact with little or no settling-in period.

From the moment he arrived he looked at home in a red shirt, at home in Liverpool’s formation and at home with his team’s tactics.

Six goals later and everyone knows his name because he has terrorised defences of all abilities, successfully forcing his way into a Liverpool front three that was already one of the best in the world.

This is a player who has the potential, even, to replace Mo Salah one day in the affections of Liverpool fans. He’s that good.

Liverpool's Luis Diaz. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
Liverpool's Luis Diaz. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Best feelgood story of the Year: Christian Eriksen to Brentford

Anyone who saw Eriksen almost die on the pitch playing for Denmark against Finland at Euro 2020 could never have believed he would arrive in England six months later, be just as good as ever – and playing for little Brentford.

But that’s what happened after he was fitted with a pacemaker and found himself ineligible to play in Italy as a result.

Instead, he arrived on a free transfer for the Bees, who have strong links with his home country – and transformed their season.

It’s clear Eriksen has lost none of his ability, and his performances have sparked a scramble to sign him when his six-month contract with the Bees is over.

Tottenham are said to be amongst those interested but Eriksen has promised he will talk to Brentford’s board before listening to anyone else. The fairytale may not yet be over.

Christian Eriksen. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Christian Eriksen. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.

Best achievement of the Year: Eddie Howe’s transformation of Newcastle United 

Former Bournemouth manager Howe has done a quite remarkable job on Tyneside and, although some may say the money helped, he deserves huge credit for saving them from relegation.

Newcastle looked doomed when he arrived in November – they hadn’t won a single game all season. But with financial backing from new Saudi owners in January, more than 100m Euros spent, they have been transformed.

The recent demolition of Arsenal sums up how far Newcastle have come, and despite Howe’s reputation at Bournemouth for a leaky defence, they have done so through defensive solidity and a growing team spirit. Not to mention help from the crowd at St James’ Park.

When it came to spending money, Howe did it wisely. The arrival of Bruno Guimaraes was the icing on the cake, but less high -profile signings such as Matt Targett and Dan Burn have been just as important.

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe.
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe.

Best News Story of the Year: Chelsea put up for sale 

This was a saga that nobody could have predicted. Although Roman Abramovich had been privately looking to sell for some time, the way his hand was forced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a bolt from the blue.

We still aren’t at the end of the saga, even if Todd Boehly’s US-led group is close to completion, and there are ongoing arguments over a UK government ruling that Abramovich cannot be seen to make a penny in profit from the deal.

There’s no doubt the saga impacted Chelsea on the pitch; they played in front of an eerily quiet crowd at Stamford Bridge at times, with only season ticket holders allowed to attend.

But perhaps the most staggering headline of all is that Chelsea was valued at close to 3bn Euros, a staggering amount which makes you wonder how on earth the new owners expect to make a profit on their investment. It could be a long-running story.

Roman Abramovich. Reuters / Dylan Martinez Livepic
Roman Abramovich. Reuters / Dylan Martinez Livepic

Team of the Year 

Alisson (Liverpool); Walker (Man City), Van Dijk (Liverpool), Matip (Liverpool), Cancelo (Man City); De Bruyne (Man City), Rice (West Ham), Rodri (Man City); Saka (Arsenal),  Son (Tottenham), Salah (Liverpool).

Subs: Kane (Tottenham), Ronaldo (Man United), Bowen (West Ham), Mount (Chelsea), Thiago (Liverpool), Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Robertson (Liverpool), Sterling (Man City), Henderson (Liverpool), Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Foden (Man City).

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