The PFA Team of the Year is a noble and long-lasting institution, and doubtless those lucky enough to be chosen feel a special sense of pride at being held in such high esteem by their peers. But, well, it's all a little bit predictable. Take this years' Premier League side: Hart; Walker, Kompany, Coloccini, Baines; Silva, Yaya Toure, Parker, Bale; van Persie, Rooney. Coloccini aside, it's the same old schtick: take the players with the highest media profile, sprinkle lightly with mildly overrated Englishmen, and serve in a 4-4-2 formation.
Well, sod that. Here is an alternative XI, excluding all those mentioned above. In the interests of interest, it's limited to one player from each team. And no, this probably isn't the best team you can make from this year's Premier League. But it'd certainly give the PFA lot a game.
GK: Michel "Super" Vorm, Swansea City
Now that Demba Ba's stopped scoring goals, is there anyone to rival Vorm as the signing of the season? No. He's a magnificent shot-stopper, and his footballing ability plugs very neatly into Swansea's passing game. At times he's been apparently unbeatable -- his heroics at Anfield spring to mind -- and he was a major part of Swansea's terrific start to the season, which is always a crucial time for newly-promoted teams. Plus he's small, and small goalkeepers are fun, the way they spring about. Boingy boing.
Scene. Night. A clearing in some woods. ASHLEY COLE, aged 17, stands before the Demon Lord PAZUZU. The freshly-slaughtered carcass of a goat is strewn around the place.
PAZUZU: Why have you summoned me, puny mortal?
COLE: O mighty Pazuzu, I command you to do my bidding. Make me the finest left-back in the land. Make me one of the best left-backs in the world. Make sure that even when I'm getting on a bit I can still perform consistently in domestic football and heroically in Europe. Fill my pockets with tricky right-wingers. Make me rich beyond caring. Provide me with a cavalcade of beautiful women.
PAZUZU: Will you pay the price?
PAZUZU: So be it. From this day forth, all your wishes will come true. But you will be cursed: for all your achievement, for all your prowess, for all your wealth and happiness, this entire nation, and the vast world beyond, will think you're a colossal pillock.
COLE: Is that it? Sweet!
DC: Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
We're going with Koscielny for three reasons. One, he looks a bit like my friend Giles. Hi Giles! Two, he's one of the best defenders in the league. While his cater-cousin Vermaelen tends to attract more plaudits, simply because he's scary-looking and scores the occasional goal, it's Koscielny that knits Arsenal's defence together (when it's knitted together, anyway). More than anything, defending is about being in the right place at the right time, and Koscielny is very, very good at that. Three -- he has a happy knack of scoring massively entertaining own goals. The slice against Liverpool was great; the tragic rearguard charge against Blackburn was an all-time classic.
Kaboul's brilliant. Quick, strong, good in the air, and able to defend like a proper footballer or a clogging hacker, depending on the circumstances. But more importantly, it is a fundamental principle of team-building that you always need one player, somewhere, who can kick a set-piece really, really hard in a straight line. Aye, it normally flies over the bar, resulting in nothing but disappointment and dental work, but still. Rules is rules.
I can't really work out if Micah Richards is any good at football. I'm fairly sure he's not great at defending. He is, however, very good at charging up and down the right-wing like a Ritalin-hopped schoolkid trapped in the body of a decathlete, and in doing so, he makes one of the best teams in the league better. That's SCIENCE. And he sells his own range of thermal travel mugs.
MC: Youssuf Mulumbu
"He comes from Africa/He's better than Kaka" ... well, it's hard to make "Democratic Republic of Congo" scan. Mulumbu, with his dedicated and effective brand of constructive destruction, typifies everything that's good about Hodgson's West Brom, and is as good a central midfielder as there is outside the top four (and better than quite a few inside, too). He also once told his own website, when asked about his recovery from injury, "It is true that the machine is not oiled and it will take time". He calls his body the machine.
Newcastle have been great. Much of that greatness is down to Cabaye, who links together the surprisingly resilient defence and the thrillingly potent attack. That Cabaye only cost a pittance is an embarrassment to the scouting department of plenty of other clubs -- he's worth, what, three or four times that now? -- but even Newcastle must have been surprised at how quickly he's settled into the Premier League. His passing is imaginative, intelligent and accurate, his set-pieces are as good as any, and he clearly thrives on the playmaking responsibility he's been given by Alan Pardew.
Tactically chaotic, but in the best possible way, Sessegnon's direct running and quick feet scare defenders out of his way and out of their wits. That, at least, is the only explanation for his teammate Matt Kilgallon's rather odd compliment: "When you train with him he goes around you and he's spun your T-shirt back to front! He goes past you and your clothes are on the wrong way around. He's a little magician." That's right, folks: Stephane Sessegnon, purveyor of twisted duds.
Along with Newcastle, Fulham have been the only unequivocally fun team to watch this season (except Liverpool, for different reasons). In an age when derring-do has been replaced by either derring-don't or derring-can't, Martin Jol's battery of technically-gifted entertainers have been a welcome respite, and 22-goal Dempsey has been the sharp edge. It's also been educational: the complete lack of cynicism with which American writers and fans greet every good thing he does is glimpse into another world. A better world. A world where people do things, and other people don't immediately feel the need to snark at them, but can simply enjoy them for what they are. (I know, I know. It'll never catch on.)
There are few more exhilarating sights in English football than that of Valencia marauding towards his full-back with terrifying purpose. In an age of inverted wingers and cute through balls, he is a thrilling throwback whose uncomplicated, oldfangled wingplay has brought comparison with Sir Stanley Matthews.
FC: Grant Holt, Norwich City
There are some players who seem to treat playing in the Premier League as their birthright, as though their place at the top of English football was a just and inevitable reward for their fundamental magnificence. Then there's Holt, who's Everyman appeal is often ascribed to his vague air of portliness, but actually comes from the fact that he plays like a man who's earned his crack at the top, and is not only determined to get the most out of it, but is also enjoying it immensely. Ultimately, if you don't like Grant Holt, you're doing football wrong.