Player of the season
James Roberts: Three seasons ago a 31-year-old Jermain Defoe was enduring a difficult swansong with Toronto FC. Sunderland rescued him in January 2015 and the England striker has certainly repaid the club. At the time of writing, Defoe has scored 15 of his side’s 28 league goals – without him the Black Cats would have been relegated much earlier than the end of April. But his off-pitch contribution is the main reason he is so deserving of this award: his moving (and utterly genuine) friendship with five-year-old terminally-ill Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery has won him respect throughout the game.
Alex Jennings: It is hard to see past N’Golo Kante, although I’d argue that his increasing collection of awards are based just as much on his influence on winning the title with Leicester as Chelsea. Pedro is the unsung hero of the Champions-elect, and deserves a great deal more credit than he’s received.
Yashas Mudumbai: While Chelsea’s team has many star players, it is great to see that one name is getting more recognition by the second. The newly crowned Football Writers’ Player of the Year N’Golo Kante is richly deserving of that accolade.
Young player of the season
JR: So many young English talents are built up too much, but Dele Alli might just be the real deal. Initial credit should go to Mauricio Pochettino, his manager at Tottenham, for having the confidence to play the then-teenager early in the 2015/16 season. Since then, Dele hasn’t looked back. He built on an excellent first campaign with an even more productive haul this year, recording a hugely impressive 17 goals and seven assists. Arguably Spurs’ most influential player at just 21, the stage is set for Gareth Southgate to build the England team around Dele for years to come.
AJ: I’d like to give a mention to Wilfried Zaha. Just eligible for the award, almost singlehandedly carrying Palace away from relegation at times is just as impressive as Alli’s achievements in Spurs’ system. A real coming of age season for an often-doubted talent, the chances of the Ivorian remaining at Selhurst Park are slim.
YM: Due to the impact of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 17 goals, which has taken Manchester United from 5th to most likely 6th, a lot of talk has been based on whether he is the best golden oldie in the Premier League among the many. However, it cannot be understated that young players have shown immense quality this season. While many people would pick Dele Alli as the best, Michael Keane has been outstanding at the back for Burnley and has been key in their attempt at survival this year
Team of the season
JR: After Leicester’s extraordinary triumph last season it’s weirdly satisfying to see English football revert to equilibrium. Antonio Conte’s Chelsea represents the perfect blend of attacking skill and defensive solidity – but it could have been so different. An indifferent start to the season persuaded Conte to switch to a 3-4-3 formation and the Blues play the system perfectly: 23 wins from 28 matches and arguably the most settled first XI in the league is enough evidence of that. By the time this article goes live they’ll probably be champions. No team deserves it more.
AJ: Unfortunately West Brom’s late slump in form means I can’t go all in for Pulis-love, so sadly I will be boring and say Chelsea. They’re flexible, extremely well-drilled and ruthless. Can’t say fairer than that really.
YM: Nothing was ever going to match the magic of Leicester City last season, but the drama and thrills of this season have been nothing short of spectacular. Undoubtedly, the team of the season has to be Chelsea as their relentless march to another title continues.
Manager of the season
JR: Conte, Pochettino and Ronald Koeman are more glamorous names, but Sean Dyche has done an incredible job to keep Burnley – a club with rich history but little resources – in the Premier League. Burnley were the classic yo-yo side for a few seasons, but Dyche clearly channelled that experience positively for a much more competitive showing this time round. The 45-year-old has created arguably the most hard-working squad in the league, where every player knows not only their own role but the roles of those beside them. A mid-table finish will be unbelievable, but Dyche’s most difficult task is keeping Burnley there next season.
AJ: Sean Dyche rightly gets a lot of praise, but I’d suggest that what Eddie Howe has done with Bournemouth deserves greater. Dreadful recruitment aside, the fact Bournemouth can finish in mid-table in the Premier League and it not be considered mental is a testament to Howe’s work. He’s not perfect, but to get a squad with a great deal of players remaining from the early Football League days to play so well and so effectively is magnificent.
YM: Regardless of Arsenal fans saying they ‘bottled’ the league, Pochettino has got to be the manager of the season. Spurs and Chelsea have been streets ahead of everyone else and the astonishing thing is that they were both favourites to finish outside the Top Four at the beginning of the season.
Moment of the season
JR: Viral picture of distraught elderly Sunderland fan. Before you think I’m a horrible human, hear me out. You’ve probably seen the picture: an inconsolable elderly Sunderland fan, decked out in full club colours, sits alone in the stadium after his club’s defeat to Bournemouth confirms their relegation. This is my moment of the season as it encapsulates how much football means to those of us who follow our team every week. Years of support bring numerous highs and lows, but the strength of feeling never wavers. The highs will always be celebrated manically, but the lows will always hurt like hell. We know deep down that football is just a game, yet, as this lone Sunderland fan showed, in the defining moments it means so much more.
Feel bad for this chap. He's actually only 27 years old, watching Sunderland this season has made him age rapidly. 1 RT = 1 prayer 🙏🏻😞 pic.twitter.com/gqDnqM8Xp3
— Ed ⚽️ (@Tuanzebeology) April 29, 2017
AJ: Tom Davies’ goal against Manchester City. It’s been a pretty shoddy few years to be an Everton fan. This year was a vast improvement, granted, but the last two years of Martinez remain painfully clear memories. This was a moment of complete euphoria though – an 18 year-old academy product, scoring his first goal for the club, to make it 3-0 against Manchester City. And what a goal – picking the ball up deep in his own half, running fearlessly, Gael Clichy and Yaya Toure are left for dead by a deft chop inside. The finesse of the chip, and into the crowd…Without wanting to sound too glib, in a footballing world that is sordid, and far-removed from the essence of the game, this was perfect.
YM: Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool. While there have been many fascinating games, this one epitomised what the league is all about. 3-1 down with 15 minutes to go, Eddie Howe’s side managed one of the best comebacks in recent history and Jurgen Klopp’s humility at the end was a fantastic advert for the Premier League.
Pundit of the season
JR: I’ve grown steadily grumpier about the shocking level of punditry from the Premier League broadcasters. I physically cannot bear to listen when Owen Hargreaves is commentating – all he does is tell us exactly what we’ve just seen in a ‘trailer-for-a-Hollywood-epic’ tone of voice. But Jermaine Jenas occupies the other end of the scale. Not someone you would have earmarked for punditry in his playing days, Jenas combines insight into the world of the professional footballer with intelligent but clear analysis. He’s even presented BBC Radio 5Live’s Friday night weekend preview show, illustrating how highly thought of he is within the industry. Owen Hargreaves, take note.
AJ: In a distinctly unremarkable year for television punditry, Jamie Carragher has stood out as offering intelligent, concise and honest analysis. If your mark of a good pundit is telling you something you don’t know, then David Preece is a must for goalkeeping expertise. However, my favourite punditry moment of the season is undoubtedly Graeme Souness gleefully admitting that he voted for Brexit. A potent mix of terror, eroticism and once again, terror.
souness speaks his brexit brains pic.twitter.com/X7Ts3rk6xD
— Ken Early (@kenearlys) April 18, 2017
YM: Sometimes this season, performances off the field have been as entertaining as the ones on it. Several ex-pros have taken up punditry and have delivered some exceptional analysis over the years. People can often sit on the fence, but no one wants to hear or watch that. That is why my vote for pundit of the season goes to Chris Sutton, even if most of his views I do not agree with for a second. He’s forthright, honest and always gives as good as he gets.