As 2010 draws to a close it is time to look back on what the Football League has brought us this year. Fans of the Championship, League One and League Two have experienced the usual mix of ecstasy and despair. We have seen magnificent promotions from the likes of Newcastle United, Blackpool, Notts County and Rochdale. On the other hand, Peterborough United, Stockport County and Darlington collected some of the lowest points totals ever while suffering their respective humiliating relegations. Simply, the Football League in 2010 has been as captivating as ever. But which players, and managers, have made it such a thrill? Who amongst them would make a 2010 Football League All-Stars XI?
First, the All-Stars need a manager. Chris Hughton did a tremendous job to guide Newcastle United back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. The Magpies romped to the Championship title and Hughton won many followers on Tyneside for his honesty and down-to-earth demeanour. Elsewhere, Eddie Howe surprised everyone when he guided Bournemouth to League Two promotion in April. The 33 year-old, then the youngest manager in the Football League, navigated his way around a transfer embargo to secure promotion for the Cherries during his first full season in club management. However, there is only one man to lead the All-Stars. Ian Holloway (Blackpool) won millions of admirers around the country in 2010 for his comic genius and role in the fairy-tale promotion of the Seasiders to the top-flight. Blackpool were favourites for relegation at the beginning of the 2009/10 season but “Ollie” took them the other way. Mike Bassett may have famously screamed “England will play four-four-*******-two” but Holloway usually employs an attacking 4-3-3 system – so too then will the All-Stars.
Paddy Kenny (QPR) has conceded just nine goals in 19 Championship games so far this season. He is still yet to taste defeat and is part of a Rangers team which is storming towards the Premier League. Unfortunately, Kenny was banned for the first four months of the year due to testing positive for a banned substance which undermines his claim. Kasper Schmeichel (Notts County/Leeds United) conceded just 31 goals in 46 matches during the 2009/10 season. His form not only helped Notts County collect a stunning 93 points on their way to League Two promotion but earned him a move to Leeds United in May. Both Kenny and Schmeichel have been fortunate enough to play behind miserly defences. Julian Speroni (Crystal Palace), on the other hand, plays for a struggling Eagles’ side and has therefore been tested on a more regular basis. Speroni is simply sensational. The Argentine makes one or more world class saves every game (depending on how poorly Palace are playing!) and is easily the best ‘keeper in the Football League.
Ian Harte (Carlisle United/Reading) takes the left-back berth. During the 2009/10 season, Harte scored a phenomenal 18 goals from defence for League One side Carlisle United. Reading were suitably impressed and signed the 33 year-old in August. Harte continues to roll back the years for the Royals and is a dangerous set-piece specialist. Ashley Williams (Swansea City) was fundamental to the Welsh side conceding just 37 goals during the 2009/10 season. Williams has been a rock throughout the year and his exceptional form also granted him the Welsh captaincy on a number of occasions during 2010. Craig Dawson (Rochdale) has had a fantastic year. The centre-back began the 2009/10 season at Radcliffe Borough, a Unibond League side, and ended it at West Bromwich Albion. His form for Rochdale (where he has now been loaned back to) won the 20 year-old the League Two Player of the Season award in May and earned him his Premiership move. José Enrique (Newcastle United) wins the other defensive position. Enrique is a quintessential modern day full-back; he defends well and loves to get forward. The fact that a full-back was in the running for the Championship Player of the Season award goes someway to showing just how good Enrique is.
Charlie Adam (Blackpool) was signed for just £500,000 at the beginning of the 2009/10 season but proved a revelation for the Seasiders during 2010. The creative lynchpin scored 17 goals from midfield, including a spectacular free-kick against Cardiff City in the Championship Play-Off Final in May. Alongside him is Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United). Nolan became a firm fans-favourite on Tyneside in 2010 as he notched an impressive 18 goals and was ultimately voted Championship Player of the Season. The midfield trio is completed by the current man-of-the-moment, Adel Taarabt (QPR). The attacking-midfielder, of Moroccan descent, was signed permanently from Tottenham Hotspur in August and already has nine goals to his name this season. He has exceptionally quick feet, a thunderous shot and is arguably the most skilful player in the Football League. Strong commendations must also go to Andy King (Leicester City), Kris Commons (Derby County), Lewis McGugan (Nottingham Forest) and Gary Roberts (Huddersfield Town) who are most likely to challenge Taarabt as the Football League’s star midfielder in 2011.
Rickie Lambert (Southampton) and Jay Bothroyd (Cardiff City) are arguably the most complete strikers outside of the Premier League. Both are 6’3, strong, skilful and quick. They also know how to finish. Lambert hit 30 goals in League One last season, while Bothroyd has already netted 15 goals this season. Bothroyd’s form even encouraged Fabio Capello to include the ex-Arsenal man in his recent England squad to face France. Both Lambert and Bothroyd will be playing at a higher level next year – with or without their respective clubs. Jermaine Beckford (formerly of Leeds United), Andy Carroll (Newcastle United) and Brett Pitman (formerly of Bournemouth, now at Bristol City) all scored twenty-plus goals in the Football League during 2010 and are more than worthy of inclusion. However, Lee Hughes (Notts County) takes the jersey. Notts County scored a staggering 96 goals last season and Hughes netted 31 of them. The 34 year-old’s career has been blighted by off-the-field issues – he was sentenced to six years imprisonment in 2004 for causing death by dangerous driving – but Hughes now seems to be regaining the form which once encouraged Coventry City to pay £5 million for him.
The 2010 Football League All-Stars XI looks an exceptionally strong one. The list of talented players who have been left out is endless and truly demonstrates the sheer quality which the lower leagues possess. The Football League can be an important stepping-stone in player development. Neither Kevin Nolan nor Charlie Adam looks out of their depth in the Premier League, while the rapid rise of Craig Dawson is even more astounding. The majority of the players selected for the 2010 team can be expected to be playing at a higher level by the end of 2011. Indeed, the manager is already plying his trade in the top-flight on the back of his success in the Championship. Ian Holloway, who once hypothesised that Cristiano Ronaldo was “hung like a hamster”, would ensure that the All Stars guaranteed entertainment. The blend of defensive rigidity and creative spark at his disposal would be a match for most Premier League sides. Simply, standards in the Football League are higher than ever. For this reason, Football League fans may not only look back fondly on 2010 but, whatever the fortunes of your team, look forward to another year of exhilarating football in 2011.
2010 Football League All-Stars XI: Julian Speroni, Ian Harte, Ashley Williams, Craig Dawson, José Enrique, Charlie Adam, Kevin Nolan, Adel Taarabt, Rickie Lambert, Jay Bothroyd, Lee Hughes. Manager: Ian Holloway.