TEAMtalk Soccers - Story of the Season
Editor Simon Wilkes kicks off our glittering 2009-10 TEAMtalk Soccers ceremony with a new category for this year - Story of the Season. The 2009-10 season has been as dramatic off the pitch as on it - and as journalists we've been like kids in a sweetshop here at TEAMtalk Towers, gorging on a host of tasty tales. This is a new category for our Soccers ceremony, and in nine years as TEAMtalk Editor I can't remember a season like it. I could have written a novel on all the highs and lows of the campaign - but with the help of our vast army of readers, I've whittled them down to the top five stories that hogged the headlines both on TEAMtalk and in the tabloids. Special mention goes to Blackpool following their promotion to the Premier League and Inter Milan for winning a Treble under Jose Mourinho - but they didn't make our readers' top five. 5 - Tottenham go fourth: The seeds for a fantastic season were sewn when Spurs kicked off with a 2-1 win over Liverpool and followed that up by hitting a high five past Hull. Harry Redknapp has spent plenty of cash since taking the reins at the Lane - but he's spent it well, and arguably picked up the bargain of the season when signing Niko Kranjcar from Portsmouth for just £2million. Spurs were bottom of the league when Redknapp took charge in October 2008, and although they'd had a meteoric rise up the ranks this season, they seemed to have choked when losing to Sunderland and Pompey in April. They'd shown a ruthless streak when walloping Wigan 9-1 in November but really came of age as a 'triffic' team when they delivered some capital punishment on London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea when it mattered most. Aston Villa and Liverpool ensured it was a four-horse race for fourth for most of the season, but Spurs and Manchester City were always the thoroughbreds so it was only right that their Eastlands clash in May was a virtual winner-takes-all tussle for Champions League football. Peter Crouch's late headed winner ensured qualification to Europe's premier competition for the first time since 1962 - now they've just got to ensure they don't 'do an Everton' and fail to reach the lucrative group stages. 4 - Rafa's Reds in ruins: Liverpool were always on the back foot after starting the season with two defeats in three games, with top-four rivals Spurs and Villa getting the better of them. Rafa Benitez guaranteed the Reds would 'finish fourth' at various stages in the season, and September drubbings of Burnley (4-0) and Hull (6-1) gave the impression they were still a force to be reckoned with despite the sale of midfield playmaker Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid. But the Reds gaffer, who was constantly at odds with his American bosses both in public and behind the scenes, started to lose some backing in the stands with his stubborn insistence on playing two defensive midfielders, no matter who the opposition were. A 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge ended their Premier League title bid in October, but the wheels well and truly came off when a beachball on the pitch at the Stadium of Light brilliantly controlled a shot from Darren Bent, swivelled on a six pence and wrongfooted Pepe Reina to earn Sunderland a 1-0 win. A closer look at the ball in question showed it had Liverpool's famous badge on it, and had entered the field of play via the away end. An injury-ravaged campaign for star man Fernando Torres, a disastrous dip in form from talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard, a shock FA Cup exit to Reading, an early departure from the Champions League and defeat to eventual winners Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals all culminated to ensure it was a miserable campaign for the Merseyside men - and it'll be interesting to see if Benitez moves on this summer. 3 - Poor Pompey: Portsmouth's fans have been dragged from pillar to post this season, but knew it was going to be long slog after seeing their team lose their first seven Premier League games. Sulaiman al-Fahim talked a good game as usual but the promised millions never landed in the Fratton Park bank account, and after Avram Grant took charge following the sacking of Paul Hart, Pompey became the first Premier League team in history to go into administration in January. The south coast side were docked nine points, all-but condemning them to relegation to the Championship, and administrator Andrew Andronikou revealed the club had racked up debts of £138million during the extravagance that followed their FA Cup final win over Cardiff and European qualification. Grant somehow kept his players' chins up and not only did they battle gamely in the league, they rocked Redknapp's Spurs in the cup semi-finals to book a final with English champions Chelsea. A Blues whitewash was expected but the woodwork came to Pompey's rescue FIVE TIMES in the first half at Wembley. The fairytale was on when Grant's troops won a second-half penalty - but Kevin-Prince Boateng's spot-kick miss was compounded when Didier Drogba broke their hearts with a stunning free-kick winner minutes after Petr Cech had saved. There's likely to be a summer of selling on the soath coast and Grant has since stepped into the West Ham hot-seat, so Pompey fans will be licking their wounds for a long time yet. 2 - Fulham's European adventure: You'll be hard-pushed to find a football fan that a) dislikes Roy Hodgson, and b) hasn't enjoyed Fulham's Euro charge. It has been thrilling to watch for neutrals so god knows what it's been like for Cottagers fans, and it's just a crying shame that the Londoners couldn't finish the job in the Europa League final in Hamburg. Fulham's season started way back in July when they took on the might of FK Vetra, who were duly dismissed 6-0 on aggregate. That sparked a European adventure which took in trips to Sofia, Basel and Rome before the competition got serious with a tough tie against holders Shakhtar Donetsk, who were outwitted by Roy's boys. All the while Fulham were also churning out results in the league to ensure the threat of relegation was kept at bay - but their Euro dreams received a wake-up call with a 3-1 dismantling by Juventus in Turin. When David Trezeguet netted early doors at Craven Cottage to make it 4-1 on aggregate, it seemed Fulham's bid would end at the last-16 stage. But a four-goal fightback, capped by Clint Dempsey's delicious chip with eight minutes remaining, made it 5-4 to the hosts who used that momentum to beat Wolfsburg and Hamburg on their way to a final with Liverpool's last-four conquerors Atletico Madrid. Sadly they fell at the final hurdle, with Diego Forlan's deadly double giving the Spaniards an extra-time victory. But they can be proud of their achievements under Manager of the Year Hodgson, who transformed Bobby Zamora into a World Cup contender before injury ended his hopes of travelling to South Africa. 1 - Terry goes from zero to hero: It has been quite a season for the Chelsea skipper - and his story takes the number one slot in this category. Terry's journey from 'zero to hero' is straight from a Hollywood script. Tabloid revelations of his affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex girlfriend of his former Blues team-mate Wayne Bridge, led to him being stripped of the England captaincy and made the target of abuse from stands all over the country. His form was visibly affected, but Carlo Ancelotti, his team-mates and Blues supporters firmly stood by their man and helped to keep the Londoners on track for silverware on several fronts. Although Manchester City's visit to Stamford Bridge on February 27 had huge implications for both the race for the title and fourth place, no one gave a flying hoot - all we wanted to know was whether Bridge would shake his old best mate's hand in the pre-match line-up. There were betting markets on it - and millions of viewers tuned in to see Bridge skilfully hover his hand before dropping it under Terry's, with the centre-back unable to hide the humiliation written all over his face. The roar of laughter in our office was no doubt repeated in boozers and living rooms all over the world - and to make matters worse for Terry, Roberto Mancini's men went on to win the game 4-2. To be fair to Terry, he kept his head down, put his tin hat on, patched up his marriage and has had the last laugh, steering Chelsea to the first-ever Double in the club's history, with their Champions League exit to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan the only blot on their copybook. Hopefully Terry's story has a final chapter this summer, when he'll be doing his utmost to get his hands on the ultimate prize in world football with Fabio Capello and co in South Africa.
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