Football, without doubt, is a sport of unity. Fully-functioning units often thrive, succeed, at the expense of apparent ‘one-man teams”.
Yet, amongst the sternly-drilled midfield units, the free-flowing forward partnerships, certain individuals deserve recognition.
Those who inspire their team, earn neutral’s adoration, perform with consistency and class on a regular, weekly basis.
Below are the inspirational individuals you, our esteemed army of fanatical pundits, have championed for appreciation this season.
5. John Terry
Reports of his demise had been greatly exaggerated. During his high-profile, yet somewhat bizarre exclusion during Rafael Benitez’s destined-to-be-doomed reign in the interim hotseat, the silver-coated career of John Terry appeared to be grinding to an unceremonious halt.
Fourteen league appearences, national captaincy stripped from his battle-scared bicep, Mr Chelsea’s superhuman powers were waning, his form in terminal decline.
Though isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Because, two years on, Terry thundered, blocked and powered his way through every minute of Chelsea’s title-winning triumph. He confronted his critics, accepted the challenge with emphatic determination. The result? His finest season since ’05.
A rousing presence, a reliable, commanding defender, the 34-year-old’s belligerent resolve and unrivalled positioning proved vital as Jose Mourinho’s uber-efficient Blues darkened the hue of the trophy’s décor. The key cog of the league’s supreme backline.
For all Diego Costa’s line-leading ferocity, for all Eden Hazard’s unrelenting wizardry, John Terry remains a leader of men, an undying emblem of the will to win. A certain Spaniard’s premature proclamation, therefore, appears a little foolhardy.
4. Alexis Sanchez
Thierry Henry. Nemanja Vidic. Gareth Bale. Three eternal icons, yet they remain united, bonded, by initial disappointment.
At first, they struggled to settle, failing to adapt in the hustle and bustle of the English top-tier. Alexis Sanchez’s seamless introduction to the Premier League’s unforgiving ecosystem, therefore, is all the more remarkable. 34 games, 16 goals, eight assists.
The stats indicate a pitiless forward, scoring and creating with ruthless regularity. However, numbers tell only half the story. They fail to reference Sanchez’s infectious work-rate, his incredible stamina, his emphatic technique.
For Arsenal’s campaign, positive on reflection, owes immense gratitude to the Chilean’s consistent brilliance.
A relative dip in early 2015 demolished his Player of the Year dreams, yet Sanchez’s autumnal eminence more than compensated for Arsenal’s stuttering inconsistency.
Despite the sublime form of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, Sanchez rapidly evolved into a talismanic figure. £35m? A mere bargain.
The perfect foil to Ozil’s telepathic awareness, to Olivier Giroud’s innate interplay, he is tailor-made for Arsenal. Unpredictable, direct, a much-needed plan B.
The signing of the season, arguably Arsene Wenger’s finest post-Emirates purchase.
3. David De Gea
Despite the avalanche of arrivals, from prized Argentines to a profligate Columbian, Manchester United’s principal protagonist started the season in the background, behind the curtain.
For David De Gea’s development, in little over four years, is nothing short of remarkable. From an underdeveloped, error-strewn teen into the league’s most commanding, most aesthetically glorious goalkeeper.
2014/15 cemented his position amongst the world’s elite. Blessed with trademark reflexes, dextrous agility and a thrilling penchant for the unconventional, De Gea’s incessant brilliance dragged Louis Van Gaal’s inconsistent galacticos towards the Promised Land of an August qualifier.
He was, at times, a one-man barricade. Ten clean sheets from 37 starts hardly scream Manuel Neuer-esque brilliance but, when ‘shielded’ by Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and co, stats pale into insignificance.
De Gea frequently performed at superhuman levels, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat on a regular basis. A singular presence of consistent quality. Virtuoso performances against Everton, Liverpool and Crystal Palace characterised De Gea’s unrivalled importance.
He is a matchwinner. A goalkeeper of the highest order. It’s little wonder, then, that United continue to cling to his coattails as the vultures of Madrid circle.
2. Harry Kane
Amongst a frenzied media cacophony, perspective is often disregarded. But, on occasion, it’s worth stepping back, remembering the context.
A homegrown hopeful, his experience largely restricted to lower league loans, transforms, overnight, into a 30-strike phenomenon, via European hat-tricks, derby winners and a goalscoring England debut. The remarkable journey of Harry Kane needs no introduction.
Yet, it cannot be overlooked. PFA Young Player of the Year, runner-up in the scoring charts, Kane’s progression is a remarkable ode to determination, discipline and no-little talent.
Though, it’s often forgotten that, with Mauricio Pocchetino verging on the over-protective, Kane’s floodgate-opening strike only occurred in the autumnal chill of early November. A deflected free-kick at Villa Park. D-day.
In the proceeding months, Kane flourished, thriving by the game as the focal-point of Pocchetino’s vivacious Tottenham, scoring prolifically against title-challengers or trapdoor dodgers.
Headers, tap-ins, penalties, free-kicks, long-range drives, Kane’s expansive repertoire raised him head and shoulders above his peers, inspiring Tottenham to the verge of Champions League contention.
A treble against Leicester. A stunning double against Chelsea. A soaring, match-winning header against Arsenal. The highlights are infinite. As is the future. For now, though, he is your runner-up.
1. Eden Hazard
In the campaign’s infancy, a free-flowing, swashbuckling Chelsea exploded out the blocks in a flurry of carefully-crafted goals and dazzling interplay.
However, with the finish line in sight, they embraced pragmatism, grinding out results with resolute discipline. The majesty of Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Oscar gave way to the ruggedness and restraint of Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic.
Yet, despite the altering approach, two constants remained. One; results. Win after win. Two; Eden Hazard. The unparalleled Eden Hazard.
Mourinho’s champions may have exploited their steadfast team-spirit, their insatiable thirst for victory but, their stroll to glory began, and ended, at the dazzling feet of the magisterial Belgian. Quite simply, the best player of the best team.
Inspirational quality amplified by a new-found consistency, Hazard transformed his budding potential into world-class talent in 2014/15. 14 goals, nine assists, his ruthless efficiency defined Chelsea’s merciless endeavour.
Meanwhile, his impeccable timing and match-winning prowess, as seen against Stoke City, Manchester United and Crystal Palace in the season’s latter stages, proved crucial as the Blues carved their name in silver.
PFA Player of the Year, a first Premier League medal and, above all, the inevitable winner of the 2015 TEAMtalk Soccer Awards.