WE are approaching that time of the year where one hands out mid-season achievement awards based purely on performances so far this season.
While these acknowledgments and recognition may look ridiculously flawed and comical come the end of the season, it still carries merit and weight at this moment and those who have been setting the pace and standard, deserve our congratulations and attention.
Join me as I summarise the first half of a season that has been both breathtakingly exciting and uplifting and thanks to VAR, controversial too!
There really is only one man, Jude Bellingham and one place that we can start off with and for that our journey begins in Spain at the Bernabeu, home of the almighty Real Madrid.
This young bullish Bellingham boy from Birmingham has been totally unfazed by the task of moving to the greatest club in the world and has had the most unprecedented successful start ever of any footballer at any leading club of the world.
(Not even Cristiano Ronaldo himself had such an impressive impact on arrival in Spain!).
What is extraordinary about Bellingham is that he’s actually a midfielder but one who knows exactly the precise moment to dart into the box and is blessed with uncanny composure in front of goal.
At the time of writing his goal figures and assists place him ahead of the chasing pack in Spain and on course to become the most valuable and successful British export ever.
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Bellingham has taken to Madrid like a duck to water and beautifully blended into the Bernabeu, both on and off the field.
He’s also managed to effectively remove that stench and bale hovering over the stadium after the woes and cost of the last celebrated British import.
I must be careful not to get too carried away but is it possible that in just half a season at Real Madrid, he’s already surpassed the skill attainment peaks of the so called golden trio of Lampard, Gerrard, and Beckham?!
(I’ve deliberately left out Paul Scholes because he was a true midfield legend who is only now in his retirement starting to get the true recognition his career warranted.)
With a maturity and street savvy streak that belies his tender years,Jude is surely on his way to greatness.
I can already picture a visibly annoyed Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland both burying their heads in the sand as Jude Bellingham steals the Ballon d’Or from under their noses and it would be a definite possibility if he maintains his majestic run of form and Real Madrid win La Liga and go deep in the Champions League.
No contest then; my player at the halfway point of the season is unquestionably Jude Bellingham!
Naturally, a Real Madrid success even with a fired up Jude,is not a given in any season with a phenomenal arch nemesis Barcelona side usually always competitive and in the running.
This year is no different in this regard except that there’s another Barcelona side in the running this year and causing waves and it’s none other than gawky shy Girona (total budget Euro 55 million) and intriguingly a club owned by the same City Football Group that owns Manchester City!
Girona’s chairman is none other than Pere Guardiola,the brother of Pep!
Anyway Girona in a season that has put them on the map, have clung bravely onto the top spot and show no sign of relinquishing their hold in the top three.
Wouldn’t it though be so refreshing if Girona defy all the odds and do a Leicester?
Wouldn’t it be fun in the Guardiola household if little Girona succeed this year while lofty City fail?!
I can surmise that Girona would have no shortage of suitors and admirers and a Girona La Liga success would just blow up and scorch everything any of us ever thought we knew about the game.
They would create the greatest feat in La Liga history or perhaps in all football history!
While Jude as an Englishman in Madrid has left his mark and sting at every ground he’s played on, another English export Harry Kane has already ‘been there done that’ and scaled the summit to greatness and is having an absolute belter of a time at Bayern in the Bundesliga.
The Germans are pretending to be unsurprised at the ease with which Harry Kane has adapted to his surrounds and in the process proved to be a more than able replacement for their Barca departed legend Robert Lewandowski.
English over achievement at leading German clubs is nothing new or revolutionary though with Jude himself being such a sensation at Dortmund before his much publicized move to Real in the summer.
Back in the old days, when the Anglo German rivalry was bitter and incredibly intense(exacerbated by England’s controversial win over the Germans in the 1966 World Cup,)it was the successful arrivals to the German mainland in the late 70’s and early 80’s of English internationals and household legends Kevin Keegan (he would go on to be acknowledged while in Germany as the European Footballer of the year!) and Tony Woodcock that confirmed to the Germans that the English remained a talented force.
After all,despite successive English failures to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups,they did have a quite remarkable run in the European Cup with total dominance led by Liverpool(winners in 1977,1978 and 1981,)
Nottingham Forest(double winners in 1979 and 1980) and Aston Villa (unbelievably winning in 1982.)
Incidentally the losers in three of those six finals were German clubs. Ouch!
While I’m on the subject of Aston Villa, I doubt I could find anyone other than a jealous sad Birmingham City fan who would have anything other than the kindest compliments and praise for an Aston Villa side who under Unai Emery continue to punch above their weight breaking many club records in the process.
Their win last weekend against a sky blue and blur Manchester City side recognised universally as the best in the world but admittedly going through a less than purple patch should be remembered for far more than a narrow 1-0 score line and an abject City performance.
Rather,it should be applauded and held up boldly as a match of major significance because it marked perhaps the first time in Abu Dhabi memory that Manchester City have been so comprehensively outplayed by English opposition.
(In Europe however, I do recall Messi and Barcelona toying with City!)
Yes of course City have lost a number of key tussles to English opposition in the recent past but if we are brutally honest, we will acknowledge that in most of these losses,
City could rightly have considered themselves unlucky after totally outplaying their opponents.
However, the loss against Villa was I believe the first time that City were genuinely second best with a score line that truly flattered them!
Villa on the other hand were unstoppable with a zest and energy reminiscent of Pep’s best version of City themselves.
It’s worth pointing out that Emery had not received great press coverage on his arrival at Villa Park and had also inherited a failing struggling side assembled by Steven Gerrard.
However the ease and speed with which Unai Emery has managed to magnificently transform literally the exact same side is quite staggering.
Aston Villa therefore and Bayer Leverkusen (who under the next outstanding Spaniard gem of a manager in Xabi Alonso,)are creating something special in Germany are my close runners up to Girona as team of the season at the halfway mark.
Special mentions include a vote to Arteta and Arsenal of course as well as rejuvenated Klopp and Liverpool.
Arsenal have yet again stolen a march in on the title and armed with the toughness and mental aptitude gained from last season’s tourney, are at this juncture strong favourites to hoist the EPL come May.
They won’t stop looking over their shoulders though as City’s less than frantic start last season didn’t stop them finishing the season flying and in a blaze of glory as they scooped up a first ever treble which included their first ever Champions League triumph.
Till the next time folks….if I was to choose an under performer or a villain of the season so far, I’d nominate VAR!
Not even the worst version of Manchester United could be as shockingly awful as the current EPL implementation of VAR!
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