The top-flight players who were not as crap as we expected
1. Titus Bramble
We are not sure whether Dr Steve Bruce prescribed a pre-season course of Ritalin, but Bramble’s concentration has improved beyond recognition. And because he is making fewer mistakes, he is now more confident and beginning to fulfil his early promise. He has capped the season off by being named Wigan’s player of the year (and winning the Crossbar Challenge – see above).
2. Alex Song
Never did I think I would see the day when Alex Song was an Arsenal regular rather than the personification of the fact that it was still possible for a hopeless chancer to bluff their way into a top-flight club. They say form is temporary, class is permanent. Next season will show which of those categories Song’s performances fall into.
3. Andy Wilkinson
The Stoke defender is no spring chicken in football terms, having turned 24 before the start of the season. He graduated from the Potters’ academy before suffering a couple of bad injuries and embarking on a series of loans. All things pointed to a gradual slide down the football pyramid. A bit of luck and some solid performances, and suddenly he is a Premier League regular!
4. Brede Hangeland
The giant Norwegian arrived at Craven Cottage without too much of a fanfare, but he has been a revelation for Fulham. The defensive rock that Roy Hodgson has built on is now wanted by Arsenal among others.
5. Stephen Ireland
Granted he may have had a slightly higher starting position in our esteem than some on this list, but his on-field promise was tempered by his bizarre off-field behaviour (and his wig). Indeed, Manchester City very nearly sold him during pre-season. They will be grateful they didn’t since he has been a talismanic figure showing their overpaid Brazilians how to play beautiful football.
6. Erik Nevland
Another Roy Hodgson genius buy. The former Manchester United trainee was plucked from his cosy life in Dutch football to score some vital goals this season, even if he has avoided being prolific.
7. Rory Delap
Good Premier League players come in all shapes and sizes, but I don’t think anyone thought Delap and his long-throw would take the top-flight by storm. Single-handedly (well, double-handedly or it would be a foul throw) responsible for a large proportion of Stoke’s points.
8. Emile Heskey
Oh, yes, you forgot about him, didn’t you? Well, along with most of the population (and OTP), at the start of the season you probably thought he was an injury prone carthorse who was past his best. He is still picking up more than his fair share of injuries, but the carthorse’s early season form for Wigan caught the attention of both Aston Villa and Fabio Capello.
9. Glen Johnson
The former West Ham wonderkid lost his way a bit at Chelsea and lost his starting place too. He has rediscovered the form that made the Blues buy him at Portsmouth and has made the England right-back slot his own this season.
10. Florent Malouda
At any point up to about four months ago we would have been expecting Malouda to make a quiet exit to a French or Spanish club this summer without much fuss. Inexplicably, he has found some fantastic form towards the end of the season and has shown he really can be a class Premier League act.
Which Premier League players have taken you by surprise with their lack of crapness?