TEAMtalk Soccers - Young Player of Season
It's day seven of our TEAMtalk Soccers ceremony, and Sam Lawrence dusts off his tuxedo to hand out the Young Player of the Year award. Here at TEAMtalk, we like to do things differently with our Soccers awards. The PFA allow any player aged 23 and under at the start of the season to be nominated for their award, but we think the likes of James Milner, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas are now considered as senior players by their teams, so we've instead decided to only consider those less experienced players who stepped up to the plate last season. 5. Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers): A brave teenage centre-half called Phil Jones is man of the match on his league debut for the Lancashire team he supported as a boy, outshining his idol and England's current star defender who captains the opposing team. Sounds like something from Roy of the Rovers doesn't it? But it was reality back in March when Blackburn's Jones excelled against Chelsea. Judging by the way he kept Drogba and Anelka in check, 18 could have been the number of years he'd been playing top-level football rather than his age. The similarities with John Terry are obvious. Jones is a commanding 'school of hard knocks' defender who isn't afraid to go in where it hurts. He kept his place for the remaining eight Premiership games and maintained the standard as Rovers only conceded six goals. Preston-born Jones impressed enough in this time to attract the interest of Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea and (more importantly of course) make our list. 4. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal/Bolton): Going into the season, Wilshere was a player most of us knew about such was the stir he had caused in the Gunners' youth and reserve (well, Carling Cup) sides. Wilshere started 2009-10 with only one Premiership appearance under his belt. Nevertheless he won his first England U-21 cap in August, making the squad on the back of an impressive pre-season. Arsene Wenger had talked of Wilshere as a possible pick for Fabio Capello's World Cup squad for a while, leaving us England fans intrigued and eager to see the young midfielder unleashed on the Premier League. Wenger indeed granted his young prodigy first-team football when he allowed him to join Bolton on loan in January. With each passing game, a trip to South Africa this summer became more and more of a possibility for Wilshere. Drawing comparisons with Gazza and Joe Cole, he showed flashes of attacking brilliance in his 14 games as a Trotter. His physical progress in a battling Bolton midfield will also please his Arsenal boss. Diminutive Wilshere proved that despite his size, there is a toughness about him to compliment his explosive energy. If Cesc Fabregas gets his way and leaves The Emirates this summer, Wilshere might just have done enough this season to persuade Wenger to let him shine as a Gunner. 3. Adam Johnson (Middlesbrough/Manchester City): At the start of the season, 'Jinky' got what he'd been waiting a while for at The Riverside when Stewart Downing left for Aston Villa. He was finally able to step out of the shadows of his left-sided rival and lead Boro's assault on the Championship. By January, he had 12 goals to his name and looked painfully too good for the second tier. A host of Premier League clubs lined up to sign him, and it speaks volumes that free-spending Manchester City won the race. With no player in the world seemingly out of their price range, they rated Johnson enough to make him their only January signing. He made the step up to the top flight with ease, exceeding everyone's expectations. After a couple of sub appearances, Johnson did enough to oust Shaun Wright-Phillips from the City starting line-up. A stunning display against Bolton on his first start went some way to firmly cement his place in the side. The youngster's trickiness on the right wing has been fruitful, including a sublime curling 18-yard goal against Sunderland. His exciting play caught the eye on many onlookers including Fabio Capello. 2. Joe Hart (Birmingham City): The wonderfully-consistent Shay Given's arrival at Man City prompted Hart's season-long loan at Birmingham in 2009-10. It has been a great season for ex-Shrewsbury 'keeper Hart, who was able to recapture the form he had shown during Sven's reign at Eastlands which saw him originally called into the England squad. Hart started every Birmingham game apart from the two against his parent club. His agile shot-stopping has been a vital part of the Midlands side's impressive season, with a shot-to-saves ratio of 75% standing as one of the best in the league. The 23-year-old's development as an all-round 'keeper with a greater presence than ever before has been noted by his club and international managers. Roberto Mancini is keen to have Hart with him at Manchester City next season, hinting that Given's place is under serious threat. Hart is now in with a great shout of being England's No 1 at the World Cup. We are all too aware of 39-year-old David James' flaws, and Rob Green has never looked anything but average. Hart may be the 'keeper of choice for his peers after being voted into the PFA Team of the Year, and after a fantastic season, only his international inexperience keeps him from being the natural choice for Capello. 1. Gareth Bale (Tottenham): Bale started this season as the holder of the most unenviable record in the Premier League. Twenty-four games after signing for Tottenham in 2007, Bale still hadn't played in a Spurs victory. The left-back had struggled to find much playing time having been kept out by Benoit Assou-Ekotto in recent times. Just as it was looking like the Welshman wasn't going to live up to the early promise which persuaded Spurs to part with a fair few bob, Bale has hit back at his critics with a bang this season. With only a handful of sub appearances under his belt, (including one in a 5-0 win against Burnley to finally break his hoodoo) an injury to Assou-Ekotto opened the door for a grateful Bale. He was given a start against Peterborough in a January FA Cup tie, and he hasn't looked back, moving up into midfield after Assou-Ekotto's return. A fitter, stronger Bale has been different class, a star performer rather than a steady full-back. Performances in the latter part of the season have proved he can be on-a-par with the best left-sided players in the top tier. His tireless runs down the left flank were a driving force in Spurs' push for fourth and in the FA Cup where Bale was named player of the round for both the fifth round and quarter-finals. He has shown a valuable end product to boot. Bale played his part in some vital Spurs goals, also bagging himself against Arsenal and three days later Chelsea, to earn himself the Premier League Player of the Month award for April. It really has been Bale's year so far in 2010, and he will no doubt look forward to the prospect of a first-team spot in Spurs' upcoming Champions League campaign.
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