José Mourinho of the Year: Antonio Conte
Slagging off your own players? Check. A bitter feud with an opposing manager? Check. Repeatedly questioning and challenging your employers in public? Check. Scabbing a 1-0 cup final victory on the back of sitting deep, letting the other team have the ball, and taking the lone scoring chance presented? Check, check, check. BM
Next Rui Faria of the Year: Ander Herrera
There once was a snide Red called Ander
Who excelled at provoking foe’s dander
He snapped and he harried
Wasted time, water carried
And never once took a backhander AT
Pointless Swap of the Year: Alexis Sánchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Think, last summer, how excited we’d have been to land Alexis Sánchez. A genuinely top-drawer talent, and the kind of player that invariably seems to excel under José Mourinho’s tutelage. That’s before even considering the fact that signing him would’ve meant beating Manchester City to his signature. Those were the halcyon days, marked by the unmistakeable optimism of a season’s dawn; a title — and perhaps European — challenge appeared on the horizon.
A year on, and United fans are suffering under the burden of reality. Sánchez isn’t the missing piece in the puzzle, nor the tenacious attacking force that burst into the Premier League with such appetite in 2014. He instead appears drained of all desire by his four years under Arsène Wenger, offering scarcely any more pace and penetration than Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the man sent off in the opposite direction. There’s still time for Sánchez to find his feet, but it’s running out. JS
Mysterious Squad Absence of the Year: Eric Bailly
Just a few days after being left out of the France squad, here’s Anthony Martial missing out again. But Martial and Mourinho always seemed like an obvious clash: one of them’s a wildly talented, young, inconsistent attacking player in need of games and patience; the other quite likes talent, but doesn’t really trust youth, has no time for inconsistency, and is alarmingly short of patience.
Bailly and Mourinho, however, should be perfect. Here is the manager who loves defending; here is the defender who also loves it and is, as an added bonus, really quite good at it. Yet he’s been in and out of the team since returning from injury, and only made one start in April and another in May.
It’s plausible, of course, that Mourinho’s just being careful with the fitness of a player who has had a couple of significant injuries since arriving in Manchester. And why Mourinho couldn’t just say that, we don’t know. Instead he told the world that he prefers to pick players who are fighting to get into their World Cup squads, which immediately made the whole situation look very strange. Ah well. Let’s hope the summer off does both of them some good. AT
The “He’s a f***ing great player, Youse are all f***ing idiots” of the Year: Sergio Romero
Were any of us convinced by Romero when he signed? He wasn’t good enough to get into the team at Sampdoria, and had a reputation for being, well...a clown. His appearances in his first season under Louis van Gaal did nothing to dispel those doubts. While his sharp relaxes were apparent from the get go, so was his penchant for dropping clangers. Romero was as likely to claw a shot away at full stretch as he was to flap at a cross like a toddler trying to grab hold of a rainbow.
No more, though. Under Mourinho, Romero has turned into a fine backup - arguably the best in the league. The once common calamitous errors have all but disappeared, and Romero can now be trusted to the point where any brief David De Gea absence won’t be greeted by panic and chaos on the streets of Manchester. BM
The Nicolás Gaitán Uninspiring Transfer Rumour of the Year: Willian
Willian is quite a good player, and in the past has looked an excellent one. But by the time the new season rolls around, the Brazilian international will have hit the big three-zero, the age at which most players of his ilk start pondering a final payoff in Shanghai. Yet here we are, Manchester United, the great Manchester United, reportedly weighing up whether to squeeze the last drops of industry from a player best known for his admirable ability to track back.
It pains us to admit it, but Manchester City gambled on exciting young players in the transfer market, and are reaping the rewards. It’s high time that we do the same. If Mourinho wants energy and enthusiasm, he’s got it in abundance in Jesse Lingard. Willian, alas, isn’t going to win us a league title. JS
“Get the Hell Out of Dodge, You’re Ruining Your Career” of the Year: Luke Shaw
We’re past the “whose fault is it?” stuff now. We just want it to end. There’s a very good footballer in there somewhere, after all. Perhaps Luke Shaw doesn’t have what it takes to find himself. But it’s a near-certainty that Mourinho isn’t too bothered about helping him. AT
Emergency Full-Back of the Year: Ashley Young
The Newtonian opposite to the Luke Shaw situation. Young’s presence at left-back has, over the season, gone from being a puzzle to just one of those things that you have to accept, like the shape of your nose. You won’t ever really like it, but it is what it is, and you just have to work around it. Pending expensive surgery, of course.
Much of that reconciliation is down to Young’s performances, which have been pretty good on the defensive side of things. (The rest is: “Huh, Mourinho”.) Going forward he can be frustrating, what with the constant need to cut inside, but that’s not really his fault. He’s far too old to be learning a second foot. And he’s back in the England squad, which has led to this, perhaps the fact of the World Cup: AT
“Is My Sense of Emotional Detachment a Further Manifestation of the Psychological Malaise Induced by the Cultural Hegemony of Late Capitalism or are Manchester United Just Too Crap to Care?” of the Year: United 0-1 Chelsea
We lost an FA Cup final. I felt nothing. JS
Most Irritating Stupid Loss of the Year: United 1-2 Sevilla
Take two measures of incompetence, and mix in one measure cowardice. Stir in a shot of humiliation, then shake with a measure of hubris. Place three slices of misery in a glass, along with ice, and a sprig of what-the-hell-was-that. Pour and serve, muddled. AT
The Silver Lining of the Year: Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku finished his debut season on 16 league goals; that’s nine fewer than he netted for Everton last year, but enough to suggest he’s capable of leading the line for the foreseeable. Admittedly, it is slightly concerning to note that only one of those goals came against sides that ended up finishing in the top seven, though that may be as much a product of Mourinho’s approach to the big games as anything else.
Ultimately, United are a better team with Lukaku in it, and with better service, we’ve got reason to hope he’ll be able to rival the likes of Harry Kane and Sergio Agüero in the scorers’ charts. JS