Stats Zone Premier League Goalkeeper of the Season 2013/14
Stats Zone Premier League Goalkeeper of 2013/14: Vito Mannone (Sunderland)
Take a goalkeeper who somewhat resembles a klutzy New Jersey hoodlum from central casting. Decant him from Lombardy to London at age 17 and allow him to stew as Arsenal's third-choice goalkeeper for half a decade. Then transfer him to a distant corner under a barmy head chef who leaves him on the shelf. The resultant dish is hardly likely to win any awards, is it?
Except Vito Mannone has won awards since moving to Sunderland last summer and being ignored by short-serving crackpot Paolo di Canio. Last month he was named the Black Cats' Supporters Player of the Year, and now he succeeds Chelsea's Petr Cech as Stats Zone Premier League Goalkeeper of the Season. Not a bad turn-out, considering he had watched from the bench as the Mackems floundered under his compatriot manager.
Things turned around for club and goalkeeper when Gus Poyet arrived. Injury to Kieren Westwood gave Mannone a chance he accepted with a confidence that spread through a revitalised team. The Italian had a saves-per-game average of 4.52, the highest of any regular goalkeeper in this season's Premier League.
Notably, for away games that average shot up to a league-leading 5.13 per match – vital during Sunderland's nightmare-on-paper run-in of successive trips to Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, from which they gained a barely believable seven points. At Stamford Bridge, he saved 14 of Chelsea's 15 accurate efforts – the joint-most by any goalkeeper since Opta started collecting that data set – including eight attempts from inside the area.
But by then, travelling Mackems were used to Mannone being a barricade: in January he had sent Sunderland to Wembley by saving two penalties in the League Cup semi-final shootout at Old Trafford, while the following month at Newcastle he made nine saves to keep a clean sheet in a 3-0 win.
Winning at St James' Park always makes Black Cats purr, but it isn't everything – after all, Di Canio only lasted 10 games after his own derby victory. But Mannone's heroics, besides trumping honourable Stats Zone Award contenders like Cech, Cardiff's David Marshall, Adrian of West Ham, and Southampton's Artur Boruc, have given Sunderland plenty of optimism for the future.
And the other winners are...
Stats Zone Premier League Full-Back of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Centre-Back of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Central Midfielder of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Attacking Midfielder of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Striker of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Player of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Young Player of the Year
Stats Zone Premier League Team of the Year