And the #JDSays Premier League Award goes to…

John Dykes John Dykes

With the 2017/18 Premier League season done and dusted, John Dykes gives out his very own #JDSays Awards to two very deserving candidates.

Football means one thing to one person and something totally different to another.

That’s something that becomes apparent at this time of every season when awards are handed out by organisations and individuals alike and it becomes obvious that, much in the same way that we allow our personal politics to influence many of our choices, we select our favourites in a way that allows us to say something about ourselves.

My point is that when it came to the main awards – best player and best manager – at the end of the 2017/18 Premier League season, the results should have been unanimous, but they were not.

This is peculiar as we have just witnessed a season that featured not one but two extraordinary record-breaking feats, one by a player and the other by a club. Mohamed Salah scored more goals than anyone ever has in a 38-game season and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City obliterated just about every team record there was as they rampaged to the title.

Yet when we handed out our end-of-season awards on “The John Dykes Show” and asked our regular pundits and contributors to pick their Player and Manager of the Season, Salah had competition in the shape of Kevin De Bruyne and Roberto Firmino, while Guardiola got two votes out of six, with the others going to Sean Dyche, Roy Hodgson, Chris Hughton and Rafa Benitez.

Now, all involved had very well-reasoned explanations for their choices, involving expectations, resources, and so forth, but I still found it hard to believe there was no clean sweep for Salah and Guardiola.

The Liverpool attacker’s contribution was exceptional and do note that I did not call Salah a striker. When the Egyptian joined Liverpool, we all thought they were getting a wide-man who had an eye for goal, perhaps a 15-goal contribution if they were lucky. What they got was someone who bested Harry Kane (the Golden Boot winner for the previous two seasons) by two goals and who scored twice as many league goals as Manchester United’s off-season acquisition, the proven Premier League goal-scorer Romelu Lukaku.

Salah’s 32-goal haul constituted a new record for a 38-game season. He also scored a record 25 goals with his left foot and he netted against 17 different opponents – no player in the history of the league has scored against more opponents. Although our awards were based on league statistics, a player’s broader form in all competitions tends to influence voters’ thinking, and Salah aced it in this regard too: firing Liverpool to the Champions League final and (so far) making it to a club-record 44 goals in his debut season.

In another season, the Premier League’s assist king (with 16) De Bruyne would have been named Player of the Year. An already-accomplished player, he transformed his game this season, added a venomous left-shot to his repertoire and of course was part of a title-winning team effort. I respect all of that immensely but don’t see how De Bruyne’s claims beat those of a record-breaker.

Similarly, managers who have kept their newly-promoted sides away from the relegation prizes (with a net spend of perhaps 20 per cent of Manchester City’s) or someone like Hodgson, who rescued a club from a seemingly-hopeless position, deserve huge credit. Even more so should go to Burnley’s Dyche, whose club sold key assets in attack and defence in the pre-season, as well as losing first-choice ‘keeper Tom Heaton to injury, only to storm through the campaign to a seventh-place finish and Europa League qualification. Remarkable.

Yet none of the above eclipsed the achievements of Pep Guardiola. After a difficult first season in the Premier League, he was told by critics that he would have to change his ways and compromise his football values to meet the strenuous demands of English football. Instead, he raised eyebrows by throwing more money at defenders than we have ever seen before, with the end product actually being an attacking machine of unprecedented potency.

Guardiola’s team scored more goals, won more games, amassed more points and obliterated various other records en route to a 100-point season and a title win by 19 points over the next best club. They were half a point a game better than second-placed Manchester United, almost a point a game better than Arsenal and they picked up almost twice as many points as Burnley.

Of course, Guardiola was blessed in that he both inherited and constructed a squad rich in talent. Yet he still has to take enormous credit for shaping it into the most destructive attacking force English football has seen in the modern era.

So, celebrate De Bruyne as the Cadbury Playmaker of the Season and describe Burnley and Roy Hodgson as your “pleasant surprises” of the season if you will. Laud Rafa Benitez for his achievement with Newcastle in triumph circumstance long and loud, and I will join you. But please don’t overlook the truly remarkable achievements we have just witnessed in a season that will live long in the record books.

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