Player of the season
Rob Parrish selects the leading light from another enthralling Premier League season.
Last Updated: 10/06/09 11:53am
The Premier League player of the season often emerges head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, stamping their authority on the competition and gathering armfuls of honours in the process.
But this campaign has been a little different, with no true stand-out candidates performing at a different level consistently enough to mark them out as superior to their peers.
That is not to say that the season just completed lacked quality, far from it in fact, but the moments of individual inspiration were perhaps masked by collective efforts. Which may be no bad thing as this is a team game, after all.
Cristiano Ronaldo was utterly peerless in the previous campaign, deservedly taking all the plaudits which flooded in his direction and guiding Manchester United to glory at home and abroad.
The prodigiously-talented Portuguese has been impressive again this term, while not coming close to the astonishing standards he set in 2007/08 and, like so many of his team-mates, failed to sparkle in the UEFA Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.
Usual suspects Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are again worthy of fulsome praise, with the former driving Liverpool's ultimately failed title bid and the latter again racking up 20 goals for the season with his winner in the FA Cup final. However neither man, in my opinion, did enough to be crowned the season's best.
Lampard's Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka claimed the Premier League Golden Boot honours with 19 for the season, but only one of those came against a club who finished in the top four and he also failed to trouble the scorers in the UEFA Champions League after the group stage, adding fuel to the fire that the enigmatic Frenchman may not be a big-game player.
Ryan Giggs won the vote of his fellow professionals to be named PFA player of the year after becoming the only man to score in every season of Premier League football, but I feel that award owed much to sentiment, with the veteran Welshman far from being a regular under Sir Alex Ferguson.
There are other more left-field candidates who achieved notable successes in their own right and deserve praise before we move on to the man who will have the honour of skysports.com's player of the season bestowed on them.
First up for an honourable mention is Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. Yes, you read that correctly, but I'll write it again just in case you think I was joking. Heurelho Gomes.
The £8million summer signing from PSV Eindhoven was lampooned from all quarters during Spurs' dismal start to the season under Juande Ramos, often proving to be more of a danger to his own defenders as he shipped goals at an alarming rate and even hospitalised the unfortunate Vedran Corluka in the October defeat at Stoke.
But the arrival of Harry Redknapp proved to be a turning point for Spurs and Gomes, even though the new manager's assessment of the Brazilian was less than fulsome, effectively amounting to: "He's all I've got."
Gomes and the Tottenham defence gradually got their collective act together, and by the end of the campaign only 10 Premier League goals had been shipped at White Hart Lane - a feat which could not be bettered by any top-flight rival and also set a new record for the North London club, beating the previous best of 11 from 1919-20.
Everton's Tim Howard was another shot-stopper making his mark on club history books, keeping 17 clean sheets for the Toffees as they recovered from a slow start to finish in fifth place for a second successive season.
Manchester United No.1 Edwin van der Sar dominated the headlines between November and March as the Red Devils embarked on a staggering run of 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal, smashing English, British and European records in the process.
But just as Gomes should doff his cap to Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King and Howard needs to share the plaudits with Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, Van der Sar owes much to the men in front of him for his personal milestone. And it is from Manchester United's consistently rock-solid defence that our player of the season emerges.
Nemanja Vidic was the stand-out performer at the back as Ferguson's troops claimed a third successive Premier League crown, forming a rock-solid partnership with Rio Ferdinand and overshadowing the England international.
The Serbia international was named player of the year by his Old Trafford team-mates and the club's fans, proving just how vital he has been to the silverware amassed by the Red Devils since his arrival from Spartak Moscow in January 2006.
Critics - most likely with Merseyside sympathies - will doubtless point to one poor Premier League display of the season against Liverpool at Old Trafford, while he was also caught out by Samuel Eto'o as the Barca striker opened the scoring in Rome.
But having helped United retain their Premier League crown, while also lifting the Carling Cup and World Club Cup, the powerful centre-back, who has few peers when it comes to aerial ability, is a deserving winner of an honour which is so often dominated by attacking players.