A bit of truth-telling before I get going. My loathing of Awards Ceremonies is right up there with my loathing of Neo-Nazis,the ‘Big Brother’ TV series and the music of Queen. Every year, however, there is one exception to this rule and that is the Manchester United Player of the Year Awards, as broadcast live by MUTV into your very own living room. Here for three hours or so, you can get to relish some re-runs of the great or not-so-great season just ending, embellished with inane interviews and the wit and wisdom of Brian McClair, United’s Academy Director (who is so dryly amusing that he should really have his own show)
All of this glitzy nonsense takes place in one of Old Trafford’s identikit Hospitality Suites with about 700 people in attendance. Included are most of the players from United’s first team, Reserve and Under-18 squads and Awards are presented to the outstanding performers at each level, along with the award for the Goal of the Season, the Fans’ Player of the Year and the First Team Players’ Player of the Year. Wives and partners are also in attendance but not that trainee WAG the U-18 team left back pulled at some dodgy club in Ancoats last Tuesday. The whole event is emceed by Jim Rosenthal who is nowhere near as obsequious as he is on ITV and generally does a sound job of moving things along.
First up was the Academy Player of the Year award and I was delighted to see Will Keane win this. He really is an oustanding prospect and should become a regular for the Reserves next year. What sets him aside as a special player is his apparent ability to freeze time when the ball comes to him in the opposition penalty area. He doesn’t flap, or snatch at chances but just calmly tucks them away with a minimum of fuss. A true penalty box predator who has already played for England at U-17 level and for whom the future is looking increasingly bright.
Will Keane (on the right) with his twin brother, Michael – also on United’s books
Next up was the Reserve Player of the Year and that was won by Ritchie de Laet, the Belgian centre-back who joined Stoke from United’s feeder club Royal Antwerp but completely failed to set the Potteries on fire. However, he’s reinvented himself at United and is developing into a tough central defender, having also played a few games at full-back for the first team. As Reserve Team coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a brilliant first season – and got the biggest cheer of the night – winning both the Reserve League North and the National Play-Off Final against Villa. In a squad which has untilised no less than 46 different players during the season, De Laet has been a standout performer. I would expect to see both Keane and De Laet featuring in the first team on a regular basis in the years to come.
Ritchie De Laet – not at Stoke any more
Unfortunately, things got progressively less interesting once we got on to the First Team Awards. Fair enough that Wayne Rooney’s splendid goal against Arsenal at the Emirates should win Goal of the Season and fairly predictable that he would win the Fans’ Award, but I was really hoping that the Players themselves would vote for Patrice Evra, who for my money, has had a magnificent season, playing in virtually every Premier League game. Jim Rosenthal tried in vain to think of further questions to ask Rooney each time he came up to get another award, but it was pretty dismal stuff compared to the erudite McClair, who is cutting an increasingly Hemingwayesque figure with his deep tan and scruffy beard. Rooney did raise a laugh when he suggested that it made a change for Ronaldo not to win everything, but that was as good as it got. Still, I guess he’s not being paid for his dinner-party repartee……
Patrice Evra in full flow….