What a year this has been for Manchester United Football Club. Highs, lows, departures, arrivals and fond farewells, along with a very special anniversary. Welcome to the inaugural, prestigious Red Flag Flying High Awards.
Team of the Year
Goalkeeper: Edwin Van der Sar
Despite his sad summer departure, Edwin is undoubtedly United’s goalkeeper of the year, playing a crucial part in title number 19 and a run to the Champions League final.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
A fine left-back he clearly is, but 2011 has not been a fantastic year for Patrice Evra, with erratic form that has seen him play fantastically well one week and then ordinarily the next. Evra has to occupy this position however, as he has played the great majority of games this year for the club in this position.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand
A top-class defender when on form, and despite a stop start year, Rio is still clearly worthy of a place in this team.
Centre-back: Nemanja Vidic
The best centre-back in the world when fit and on form, Nemanja has had a good year, lifting title number 19.
Right-back: Chris Smalling
A player who has been crucial for Manchester United this year, sometimes playing at right-back, sometimes centre-back, Smalling is more than deserving of holding the right-back position in this team.
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs has once again shown his evergreen nature, proving his enduring worth in 2011 with a series of assured displays both on the wing and in central midfield.
Centre midfield: Phil Jones
I understand that Jones has not played a great deal in this position for United, but I feel that his form during the first half of this season more than merited a place in the team of the year.
Centre midfield: Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick has been a key player for the club this year, despite the criticism he invariably attracts from fans. He was a regular starter in the title run in of last season, as well as the run to the Champions League final, and has again established himself as a crucial part of the team.
Right midfield: Luis Nani
Now an integral part of the United side, Nani is a key creative force, assisting and scoring with regularity.
Striker: Wayne Rooney
Despite poor form near the start of the year, that goal against City in February proved to be a turning point for Rooney, whose stunning form towards the end of last season was bettered by his blistering start to this.
Striker: Javier Hernandez
The “Little Pea” is now firmly a fans’ favourite, with his goals in the first half of the year vital. Despite a relatively slow start to this season, his form in the first half of 2011 earns him his place in the team.
Best Signing: David De Gea
The young Spaniard has, despite heavy early season criticism from some United fans and large sections of the press, proven himself to be a goalkeeper of the highest quality. While Ashley Young and Phil Jones have proven to be fantastic signings as well, De Gea has been entrusted with the responsibility of replacing Edwin Van der Sar, one of the best goalkeepers of the past two decades, and has risen to the challenge very well, while also having to adjust to life in a new country, the language of which he does not speak. De Gea has filled the Dutchman’s gloves exceptionally well, and for the particular pressures of his position and the fact that he has done so well while adapting to a new country, De Gea takes the award for the best signing of 2011.
Match of the Year: Manchester United v Arsenal (8-2)
Manchester United tore Arsenal apart with a stunning display of football. Pass and move, chip and blast, a demolition, an exhibition of the highest quality. This is United’s stand out result of 2011, and takes the award for Match of the Year.
Moment of the Year
I must admit, this award is held jointly by two moments, between which I was unable to choose.
1. Title number 19
United sealed a record 19th English title, surpassing rivals Liverpool in the process, making the record even sweeter for United fans. The team produced some fine football, at home at least, and the historic nature of this moment means it is worthy of sharing this award. Come back when you’ve won 19.
2. 25 years of Sir Alex Ferguson
This is the second moment of the year. 25 years of the greatest manager the game of football has ever seen. The North Stand became the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in recognition of a man who has made United the most successful club in English football and a powerhouse of the English, European and world game.
Player of the Year: Wayne Rooney
After a shaky start to the year, Wayne Rooney exploded into life with an overhead kick of stunning brilliance, and has never looked back. With fantastic form, crucial goals at crucial times towards the end of last season (including a hat-trick at Upton Park, a Wembley blast against Barcelona, and a goal in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge) and blistering form at the start of this season, Rooney has consistently been United’s best player throughout 2011.
Young Player of the Year: Phil Jones
A prodigious young talent signed from Blackburn Rovers for approximately £16.5m, Jones has proven himself to be a fantastic acquisition, playing at centre-back, right-back and, occasionally, in central midfield. Wherever Jones has played, his barnstorming runs forward have rapidly become a trademark of his play, and he has quickly established himself as a hero amongst United fans. Despite only signing midway through the year, Jones is my Manchester United young player of 2011.
Individual Goal of the Year: Wayne Rooney v Manchester City (12/02/2011)
What a goal. Power, accuracy, precision, technique, brilliance. A stunning overhead kick of the highest quality, and a derby day winner that will be remembered for years. To quote Martin Tyler: “How about sensational? How about superb?”
Team goal of the year: Luis Nani v Manchester City (08/08/2011)
This goal was the best team goal I have ever seen United score, and that is no exaggeration. Control, touch, rapid passing, backheels, a sumptuous chipped finish over an advancing goalkeeper from the tightest of tight angles. Stunning football. City torn apart.
Most Important Goal of the Year: Javier Hernandez v Chelsea (08/05/2011)
Despite the two goals listed above, the most important goal of the year was, for me, that scored by Javier Hernandez after 36 seconds against Chelsea in the title showdown. Defeat would mean losing their grip on the top spot held by United since November. Hernandez’s goal, a cool finish, put to rest anxieties that had been growing since defeat to Arsenal the previous Sunday and laid the foundations for what was arguably United’s best performance of the season.
Most Improved Player: Jonny Evans
This will, I’m sure, prove to be an unpopular choice, but after a poor 2010, Evans has improved immeasurably this year, regaining his confidence and becoming a very good understudy for the pairing which was, at the start of the year, first choice, Ferdinand and Vidic. While Evans receives a lot of criticism from a certain section of United fans, I feel that much of it is undeserved and unwarranted towards the young centre-back who is, in my opinion, United’s most improved player of 2011.