FourFourTwo's 2017 review: the best, worst and most bizarre events of the year
Premier League player of the year: Harry Kane
An unimaginative choice perhaps, but the sheer undeviating consistency of Kane’s no-frills excellence marks him out as the calendar year’s most impressive performer. That he is the talisman of the Premier League's most heartening team – who continue to bother the elite despite not having access to anywhere near the same reservoirs of cash – certainly helps.
That he is a likeable, unremarkable, un-glitzy character does too. But what truly elevates Kane above the rest is his ability to make the extraordinary look completely routine. The majority of his goals are not the product of otherworldly technique, just smart shots struck well into exactly the right spot.
Kane does not have the aesthetic appeal of David Silva, the cyborg-like brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne or the impudence of Paul Pogba – but he is the year’s best player for that very reason. He appears to have less natural advantage than any of the above, and yet continues to produce unnatural quantities of output. Exactly a goal a game, to be precise.
Honourable mentions: Kevin De Bruyne, who would take the title at a canter had he hit his current level at the start of the year rather than the start of the season. Also Wilfried Zaha, who has proven himself to be head and shoulders above any other player outside the top half of the table.
English football's manager of the year: Sean Dyche
Burnley were among the favourites to get relegated at the start of last season, yet they've never looked like doing so. At the time of writing they sit sixth, two points off the Champions League places and worth every point they’ve accrued.
As we all know by now, Burnley have a resplendent defence, but Dyche’s coaching goes further than that: those who have watched them this term will tell you that they’re a more progressive side than they were last term, with the canny introduction of Jack Cork central to that. James Tarkowski, Robbie Brady and Johann Gudmundsson also populate the growing list of previously unremarkable journeymen who have thrived under Dyche’s tutelage. Would he do better with more resources? We don’t know – but there’s nothing we’ve seen so far to suggest he wouldn’t.
Honourable mention: Danny Cowley, who – in partnership with his brother Nicky – took Lincoln City to the National League title (they joined a club that finished 13th the previous season), an FA Cup quarter-final and, at the time of writing, sixth place in League Two. Hats off.
Team of the year: Monaco
True, they were hardly put together on a shoestring. True, their subsequent dismantling epitomised everything wrong and craven about the modern game. But for a time, Leonardo Jardim’s tyros thrilled the continent with pedal-to-the-metal football packed with pace, verve and vitality. To beat PSG, a club effectively funded by a Gulf state, to the league title is one thing. To do it by eight points, and with the gloriously Keeganesque brand of football they did, is quite another. Bravo.
Honourable mention: Burnley, who don’t just keep defying gravity but continue making it look easy.
Goal of the year: Andy Carroll vs Crystal Palace
The have been more unusual goals this year, more visionary ones and certainly a fair few defter ones. But there have been none as eye-poppingly visceral as Carroll’s thumping scissor-kick back in January. It was the perfect blend of ferocity and finesse: a man of herculean size performing dexterous mid-air acrobatics in order to bludgeon the ball home with barbarous brutality. Glorious.
Honourable mentions: Radamel Falcao vs Manchester City: not since Philippe Albert has a player located the net with such a pleasing trajectory. Mario Mandzukic vs Real Madrid: a goal whose eventual irrelevance will see it lost in the annals of time, but which otherwise fulfilled every category of an all-time great: occasion, opposition, build-up and finish.
Performance of the year: England U17s (vs Spain)
An England team, at a major tournament, outplaying the high priests of possession football. Coming back from two goals down with fierce resilience. Playing with exuberance, freedom and flair. Scoring five goals. Literally winning the World Cup.
Yep, it all happened, and while all the usual caveats about age group football still apply, none of that detracts from what was a truly sensational feat from England’s teenagers. In an ideal world it will be one step on the path to senior success; but whatever happens from now on, they can take that achievement to their graves. A spectacular success.
Honourable mention: Tottenham (vs Real Madrid): Spurs’ greatest display under the Premier League’s most impressive coach proved yet again that Mauricio Pochettino has single-handedly redefined ‘Spursy’ to mean tenacity, fearlessness and youthful audacity.
Own goal of the year: Adrien Gulfo
The most meticulously composed and perfectly executed own goal since Jamie Pollock’s.
Honourable mention: Jose Angel’s inch-perfect Lee Dixon tribute against Schalke.