It's been an exciting year for the PFA Premier League Team of the Year. The collapse of Manchester United and the rise of Southampton have meant that they've been able to pick a few exciting new names like Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and ... oh, Steven Gerrard. But never mind that nonsense. Here, for the third year running, is the SB Nation Soccer Alternative PFA Premier League Team of the Year. Eleven players who were cruelly overlooked, despite having much more convincing cases for inclusion than just "scored lots of goals" or "did lots of headers."
As Spurs have stumbled through this migraine of a season, as the natty suits and curious beard of Andre Villas-Boas gave way to the padded gilet and demented eyes of Tim Sherwood, one poor soul has suffered more than most. The defenders in front of him may change according to whim, injury and suspension, but the luckless Lloris has been having the same game for months now: three great saves, one ill-advised but ultimately harmless dash from the goalline, and at least two moments of arm-waving, eyebrow-furrowing, "Why have you cursed me so, malevolent Pazuzu?"-pleasing as one of the Kyles falls over and a goal happens.
DR: Sascha Riether, Fulham
Just as many organisations like to hand out gongs for Most Improved this, that or the other, so we should also honour the Most Diminished, the player who has gone from being good, or at least decent, to being ... well, not. Riether would certainly be in the running for this prestigious honour, though it would likely be a Manchester United top three.
Cast your mind back to Feb. 12. Liverpool, having spatchcocked Arsenal 5-1 four days previously, are drawing 2-2 at Craven Cottage. It's injury time, and Daniel Sturridge has the ball in the Fulham box. In jumps our Sascha, all bristling incompetence; over goes Sturiddge, thoroughly fouled; in goes the penalty. Win number two of the 11-game sequence that took Liverpool to the top of the table. Arise, Sir Sascha. You have been knighted for Services to Narrative, and every sports desk in the land owes you their undying gratitude.
DC: Martin Demichelis, Manchester City
Looking faintly ridiculous is a tricky thing for a centre-half. Those who look terrifying are feared, while those who look stylish are admired. But those who play with a semi-permanent goofy grin and a proudly undercut ponytail are going to struggle. If Demichelis looked like, say, Jaap Stam, then the story of his season — hilariously rubbish for a bit, then consistently better as time has gone on, and recently quite decent — would be one of adjustment and improvement. As it is, though, the fundamental shallowness of humanity means that he's destined to end the season as a punchline, even though he's been significantly less stupid than his widely admired partner Vincent Kompany over the last couple of months. Not that he'll care, obviously, but it seems a bit harsh.
(Now, watch him fall over and cost City the title.)
DC: Sylvain Distin, Everton
Wikipedia insists that Sylvain Distin is only 36 years old, but this is obvious nonsense. He is named in the Domesday Book, as owning a small parcel of land just outside Manchester. Samuel Pepys wrote, "So to the office, where it is determined that I should go to-morrow to Portsmouth, and consider their centre-half, Sylvan, who certain judges state is an imposing but limited combatant." And there is some evidence that the statues adorning Easter Island were inspired by tales of his imposing stature and impressive jawline. (Other sources claim Mick McCarthy may have played a role, but that's anthropology for you.)
As can be seen from Pepys' record, and as is heavily implied by the Easter Islanders choice of granite over, say, candy floss, throughout history there have been concerns about Distin's age, his mobility, his general suitability for the tasks at hand. Yet he has defied them all, and will continue to do so, until the civilisations of man are dust and the sun hangs low and red and cold in the sky. Then, and only then, will he rest.
DL: Leighton Baines, Everton
See, if Baines had taken his rightful place in the actual PFA team of the year, then we could have had Luke Shaw here, and we could have spent some time talking about how strangely uninspiring a prospect he is. For a player who's going to cost an absolute fortune, who's going to win more than 50 England caps, who's going to lock down an elite left-back position for the next 10-12 years, he's a bit ... dull. Plastic. Sexless, maybe. Like a footballer assembled in a lab. Everything about him, even his footballer hair, worked out in a series of wireframe models and simulations before being grown in a dish.
But he got in the actual team, so we have to have Baines. Yay, Baines. Woo, Baines. Nice cross, Baines. Adequate defensive covering, Baines. Consistent hair, Baines.
MR: Momo Diame, West Ham United
Momo Diame is a wonderful central midfielder. Tricky feet, a thumping shot, the ability to run all day and, more importantly, the nous and intelligence to pass the ball so he doesn't have to. The kind of player who, should he happen to wash up at a club of West Ham's current standing and ambition, should have the side constructed around him. So ... could somebody please tell Sam Allardyce, please? Watching him play on the right makes angels cry.
MC: Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United
How can you not admire a man who manages to condense the entire season, for him and for his club, into a single GIF?
With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two ... I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both. And I saw that one nature was proud and upstanding, capable of moments of serene delicacy and moments of wild delight. But I saw that the other, strange and dark, condemned me to an endless cycle of thesis and antithesis. That I was, even as I scored at one end, doomed to gift goals to Liverpool at the other.
— Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Jon Shelvey and Jo Shelvey
ML: Willian, Chelsea
Willian has been very good this season, adapting to English football quickly, and surprising even his manager with the diligence he's displayed alongside his skill. This, while obviously nice for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, is something of a shame for the rest of us. Because the better he plays, the less likely it is that he was bought simply to irritate Tottenham. And that would have been wonderful.
AMC: Erhun Oztumer, Dulwich Hamlet
ST: Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Norwich City
Sometimes, everything goes wrong. The wrong player, the wrong team, the wrong manager(s) ... the wrong everything. In such circumstances it's hard to blame anybody, and we include Van Wolfswinkel out of sheer and simple regret. Because, well, look at his name. "Van Wolfswinkel." Try it out loud, in tones of excitement. "Van WOLFSwinkel!" Good stuff, no? Imagine the anticipation in commentary boxes up and down the land ...
... one goal. One measly goal, from nine shots on target. That's nine all season; nine in 25 matches. Now, apologise to the other people on the train. His season went so badly that none of them know who poor Ricky is, and you've scared them.
Manager: Alan Pardew, Newcastle
Well, obviously. From a neutral perspective, it has been utterly enthralling to watch Pardew achieve what is, in the abstract, an entirely acceptable season, yet do so in a manner that has turned the entire Newcastle congregation against him. This season at Newcastle should have been dull at worst, but Pardew's having none of that. Get the wins out the way early, then spend the second half of the season brutally grinding every trace of joy out of the team. Sell the good players, bench the ones who can't be sold, and send the rest out to play with heavy legs and leaden hearts. So efficiently has Pardew destroyed everything good and true and entertaining about his side, that he was this weekend unable to leave his dugout during a routine 3-0 win for fear of the abuse. Masterful.
Then, of course, the headbutt. We're not going to moralise here — some things are too funny to be disgraceful — but in a strange sort of way it encapsulated the entirety of his weird reign. Not only was it a ridiculous thing to do, but he couldn't even manage to do it in a satisfying manner.