PAT AND DELE IN AWARDS SCRAP
HE’S GONE FROM ZEROTO HERO
MIDDLESBROUGH’S Patrick Bamford and MK Dons’ Dele Alli are in the running for two trophies at the 10th annual Football League Awards tonight.
Boro striker Bamford, 21, on loan from Chelsea, has been shortlisted in the Young and Championship Player of the Year categories, while Alli, 19, now on loan from Spurs, has been nominated for the Young and League One honours.
The third player in the hunt for the Young Player accolade is Norwich winger Nathan Redmond, 21.
MK Dons boss Karl Robinson, who previously had Bamford on loan, said: “Nathan Redmond is obviously in there as well, but it will be nice watching Dele and Patrick go toe-to-toe fighting for a national award.
“The two of them have played a tremendous part in the club’s history and they have a great relationship.”
Watford forward Troy Deeney and Ipswich hitman Daryl Murphy make up the Championship shortlist, while Bristol City midfielder Luke Freeman and Preston’s free-scoring Joe Garner are on the one for League One.
The three players in contention for the League Two gong are Wycombe’s Alfie Mawson, Bury’s Danny Mayor and Shrewsbury’s Ryan Woods.
Other categories include the Family Club of the Year, Community Club of the Year, Player in the Community, Supporter of the Year, Goal of the Year, Apprentice of the Year and the Sir Tom Finney Award.
There will be also be two special categories to mark the 10th anniversary of the event – the Club Hero Award, recognising a member of staff at each of the 72 Football League clubs, and the Team of the Decade with 11 players and a manager selected based on performances from the past ten seasons. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony at The Brewery, London.
SAT before the Press after Nottingham Forest’s defeat to Watford, Dougie Freedman spoke for many a green-eyed Championship gaffer. “Give me Troy Deeney,” said the Reds boss,“and we’re talking about a different result. It’s as simple as that.”
Which, in a nutshell, is why the Watford striker should walk out of the Brewery Hotel this evening with the Football League’s Championship Player of the Year award under his arm.
Valid arguments can be made for scores of others. Chris Martin’s excellence was underlined by his absence. Derby were top of the league with four wins from five when the striker fell victim to a hamstring injury in February.
Without his goals, buccaneering hold-up play and canny gamesmanship, the Rams disintegrated, two wins from ten games turning a title tilt into a play-off scramble.
Daryl Murphy has scored consistently in an Ipswich side that creates few chances. Matt Ritchie has scored 11 and made 15 of Bournemouth’s 89 goals. Grant Leadbitter captains Middlesbrough with distinction and class.
But were those players lined up against a playground wall, I think every manager in the division would make Deeney their first pick. It isn’t just the goals, however impressive a tally of 65 in three seasons may be. It is the link play, the clever runs, the deceptive pace and monstrous, 15-odd stone of muscle that leaves centre-halves clutching thin air.
For the jet-heeled strikers who follow him like flies on a buffalo – Matej Vydra, Ikechi Anya, Odion Ighalo – he is a dream come true, his power and aggression giving them the confidence to make runs, to gamble on the shoulder of centre-halves.
Yet more important than anything in the sporting arena is what Deeney represents. Less than three years ago, the 26-year-old was sat in a Manchester prison cell.
Charged with affray for kicking a grounded man outside a nightclub, he served a third of his tenmonth sentence and emerged a genuinely changed man.
Gone was the lazy, boozing brawler who fell asleep during his GCSEs, turned up on day four of a trial with Aston Villa and had to be dragged from his bed just to sign with Walsall. In his place was a motivated young man acutely aware of the opportunity his talents had bestowed.
“There were plenty of harsh words said to me in prison,” recalls Deeney, who also studied maths and english whilst behind bars.“Old timers would say:‘We’re here because we’ve got no qualifications, no prospects.We do these things because we’ve got no choice.You do’.
“It was a case of seeing myself from the other side and realising what a good life I had.”
Now married with two kids, Deeney understands the power of his story; the kid from the bleak Birmingham estate who survived prison to become a star.
He is at the forefront of Watford’s community and charity work, trying to inspire the next generation of disadvantaged kids to follow suit.
In person, too, he is no thug – more a genial giant who enlivens a dressing room and knows there is more to life than football. It’s why, with rumours of Premier League bids circling, he committed his future to Watford last summer.
At a time when the Ched Evans saga has spotlighted the process of redemption and remorse, Deeney is the perfect advert for the justice system.
He didn’t deny what happened. He didn’t attempt to justify it. He apologised, served his time, and put things right the only way he could – by making the most of his talent and giving back to the community. That deserves recognition.
CONTENDER: Dele Alli