Alternative soccer awards: Top player, best hair transplant, and more
We all miss soccer, but let's cherish what we saw before the 2019-20 season was suspended. Here, theScore celebrates the sport's standout personalities by handing out alternative awards for Europe's top five leagues.
Sadio Mane: Mane's energy off the ball is a constant headache for defenses and his range of finishing is underrated. The forward's goals are often important - they've earned his side 18 points, which is a higher total than any other Premier League player - and only Trent Alexander-Arnold has assisted more for Liverpool in the 2019-20 term. A crucial player.
Robert Lewandowski: Timo Werner's 21-goal haul has belatedly earned him worldwide attention, but Lewandowski's record of 25 goals in 23 Bundesliga outings is, quite frankly, outrageous. Bayern Munich have struggled to find a suitable backup striker for the Pole in recent years, but how could anyone hope to supplant the game's most lethal marksman?
Lionel Messi: The most underwhelming Barcelona team for a generation is top of La Liga, and a lot of that is down to the artful Argentine. Messi leads Spain's top tier in goals, assists, and successful dribbles despite beginning his campaign over a month late due to a troublesome calf injury. Messi can even make Martin Braithwaite look decent.
Josip Ilicic: Ilicic's age and incessant moaning earned him the nickname "grandmother" among his Atalanta teammates, but he's a long way from the retirement home. The 32-year-old has overcome inconsistency and a career-threatening bacterial infection to become one of the most feared frontmen in Europe. Ilicic narrowly beat Ciro Immobile to this award.
Angel Di Maria: Di Maria has logged more minutes than anyone else at Paris Saint-Germain this season and is their most consistent player. He's posted twice the number of key passes mustered by Neymar, counts a league-best 14 assists, and is fourth for take-ons across the whole division at the age of 32. Di Maria could've been crowded out at PSG, but he's made himself invaluable.
Best young player
Trent Alexander-Arnold: Who else? Aaron Ramsdale has impressed in goal for Bournemouth, Norwich City's Max Aarons has a bright future, and Bukayo Saka is breaking through at Arsenal under Mikel Arteta, but Alexander-Arnold has established himself as one of the most creative players in Europe. The Liverpool youngster promises to be the world's best right-back for the next decade.
Alphonso Davies: Davies' first-team opportunities were limited before injuries to Niklas Sule and Lucas Hernandez necessitated David Alaba's shift into central defense. Today, Davies is one of the most exciting left-backs on the planet. The former Vancouver Whitecaps winger's pace is a potent attacking weapon and he's completed more tackles than all of his Bayern colleagues.
Marc Cucurella: Cucurella made his name as a left-back at Barcelona's La Masia academy, but has thrived higher up the pitch for Getafe. His defensive schooling has clearly helped his pressing game - he leads his left-wing rivals for interceptions and tackles - and his adventurous style of play makes a mockery of Getafe's unfair reputation of being an ugly, dirty team.
Sandro Tonali: Tonali doesn't appear cowed by the lazy Andrea Pirlo comparisons and has shone for cellar-dwellers Brescia. The teenager's vision and expertise in dead-ball situations are reminiscent of fellow Brescia graduate Pirlo, but that's pretty much it. He's more tenacious out of possession and often leans on his physicality to surge out of trouble and instigate attacks.
Kylian Mbappe: Each Ligue 1 season pushes more fledglings under the spotlight. Rennes' Eduardo Camavinga, Lille's Victor Osimhen and, shortly before French football halted play, Lyon's Rayan Cherki garnered interest from Europe's elite after some exciting performances, but it's impossible to overlook Mbappe. The 21-year-old has 18 goals in 20 appearances for PSG.
Most improved player
Adama Traore: Traore was always exciting to watch, but that didn't mean you wanted him on your team. His end product was often wayward and his tactical sense was lacking. However, after a year of coaching from Wolverhampton Wanderers handler Nuno Espirito Santo, he's a different player. Defenders should write their wills before attempting to thwart a Traore run.
Suat Serdar: Serdar was hampered by injuries and questionable stamina, but Schalke boss David Wagner worked to improve his squad's fitness and has quickly reaped the benefits. The fluidity of Serdar's positioning makes him hard to detect, which explains the midfielder's rate of a goal every 210 minutes. Schalke have taken just four points from the seven games Serdar has missed.
Mikel Merino: It seemed to take Merino a long time to recover from a back injury he suffered during his Newcastle United stint, but this season his exploits have been vital to Real Sociedad's rise up the standings. He tops La Real's tallies for tackles and interceptions, and pulls the strings in the middle of the park with his graceful movement and intelligence. He's still only 23.
Chris Smalling: Phil Jones' unusual interpretation of defending deflected some of the attention away from Smalling at Manchester United, but there was no hiding that the former Fulham center-back's career had stalled. Smalling, 30, has since flourished with regular minutes out on loan, ensuring Kostas Manolas isn't missed with some authoritative showings in Roma's rearguard.
Aleksandr Golovin: Golovin was inspirational as host nation Russia reached an unexpected quarterfinal berth at the 2018 World Cup, so AS Monaco parted with €30 million for his services. But his first season in France was an unmitigated disaster. This term, although his statistics aren't phenomenal - three goals and four assists - he is influencing games with greater regularity.
Comeback player of the year
Danny Ings: Ings suffered a goal drought of 1,113 days when he was at Liverpool. The injury-plagued Southampton striker was ruthless before this season was postponed, though, notching 15 goals for a club that was creating significantly fewer chances than Brighton & Hove Albion. Ings was surely set for Gareth Southgate's England squad before Euro 2020 was moved.
Manuel Neuer: Neuer has been written off a few times during his career, and it seemed Bayern Munich were preparing for life without him in January when they brokered Alexander Nubel's arrival for the 2020-21 term. But by then, Neuer was turning his form around. The 34-year-old has kept six clean sheets in his last nine Bundesliga matches.
Martin Odegaard: The Norwegian turned 21 in December and is still on Real Madrid's books, but he was largely written off. Now, over five years on from his famous and perhaps ill-judged move to Real Madrid, Odegaard might be La Liga's best midfielder. The passing from Real Sociedad's on-loan playmaker can be beautifully intricate yet absolutely devastating.
Paulo Dybala: The Argentinian was dispensable last summer, but transfers to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur reportedly fell through due to his wage demands and complicated image rights. It was a blessing in disguise for Juventus. Dybala's bewitching footwork and stunning finish against Inter Milan in March was typical of his performances this season. He's a sublime talent.
Renato Sanches: Lille broke their transfer record when they dished out around €20 million for Sanches. The gamble has paid off so far, with the 22-year-old midfielder reviving the combative and confident displays that turned heads when he won Euro 2016 with Portugal. His smooth movement, strength, and acceleration are among his finest attributes.
Jurgen Klopp: Chris Wilder has almost delivered Champions League football to Sheffield United and Roy Hodgson has somehow lifted a poor Crystal Palace side into midtable, but Klopp tops the lot. Liverpool might not be allowed to complete their record-obliterating Premier League season, but their return to the summit of English football is assured.
Julian Nagelsmann: Nagelsmann is younger than Messi, Dries Mertens, Leonardo Bonucci, and Jan Vertonghen, but he's one of the most respected tacticians on the globe. Werner and Dayot Upamecano highlight a long list of RB Leipzig players who have already improved greatly under Nagelsmann's watch, and the manager has been a shrewd operator in the loan market.
Jose Bordalas: When Bordalas took over in 2016, Getafe were hurtling toward the third division of Spanish football. Next season, they could gate-crash the Champions League. The upstarts' annual revenue is 16 times smaller than those at Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Getafe squad is an aging band of misfits. In short, Bordalas is a miracle worker.
Simone Inzaghi: The younger Inzaghi brother didn't revolutionize Lazio. There's been the odd tactical tweak - such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto being thrust further upfield - but the 43-year-old has relied on continuity for his team to become a legitimate challenger for the Scudetto. Under Inzaghi, the previously maligned Immobile has amassed 94 Serie A goals.
Andre Villas-Boas: Yeah, him - the once-great managerial prospect who worked in China before crashing out of the Dakar Rally following a collision with a sand dune. Villas-Boas has proven he's still at the races in football, bringing some much-needed stability to Marseille and even plumping up a cushion in second place before Ligue 1 pushed pause.
Oh ... he's actually quite good award
Alexander Sorloth: Hardly anybody knew who Sorloth was when he signed for Crystal Palace from FC Midtjylland in January 2018. And no one really knew who Sorloth was when he was loaned out to Gent under a year later. One League Cup goal in 20 appearances didn't leave much of an impression.
But the 24-year-old is drawing interest from some of the continent's biggest clubs after his excellent outings for Trabzonspor in Turkey. He's netted 19 times and set up seven goals for his teammates in the Super Lig; his personal goal contribution of 26 is the same amount Crystal Palace has managed throughout the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.
Crimes against football
Andrea Agnelli: Ugh. Where to start?
"I have a lot of respect for Atalanta, but they got into the Champions League on the back of one good season and without any history of international competition. Is that fair?" the chairman of Juventus and the European Club Association queried in early March, as quoted by Mirko Calemme of AS.
Agnelli's efforts to protect football's historic - and therefore richest - clubs is based purely on fiscal rather than sporting terms. In Agnelli's world, the Champions League would be made up of the same European elite every year, and the door would be firmly shut on the likes of Atalanta and 2018-19 semifinalists Ajax.
While sports fans are generally gripped by underdog stories, Agnelli - sadly one of the most powerful people in the game - is consumed by balance sheets and protecting his own interests. He was an overwhelming winner of the "crimes against football" category.
Best hair transplant
Danny Drinkwater: When Wayne Rooney first crushed Weetabix onto his noggin and called it hair nearly 10 years ago, transplants weren't as socially accepted as they are today.
Every follically challenged footballer is picking out toupees nowadays. Xherdan Shaqiri, Andros Townsend, and David Silva are among many players who've weaved wigs onto their crowns, but the thickest thatched adornment must belong to Drinkwater.
The midfielder, who's on loan at Aston Villa from Chelsea, previously had a hairline which threatened to retreat and leave a hair island - perhaps something like that distracting ginger tuft sported by Steve McClaren. But then, all of a sudden, Drinkwater had a dollop on his head.
Now, the only thing receding for Drinkwater is his reputation in football.
The Charlie Adam award
(Courtesy: York City)
Steve McNulty: That man on the left is a footballer. Yes, that chunky old fella who looks like he should be accidentally downloading viruses onto his computer and collecting coupons, not marshaling the defense of a professional club.
McNulty, 36, collects the award for a player who looks much older than he is amid a stellar campaign for York City. The sixth-tier outfit sits atop the league following a midtable finish in the previous term and has conceded just 28 goals in 34 matches, which is the best defensive record in the league.
There's plenty of life in ol' McNulty yet.
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