The VICE Alternative Team of the Premier League Season 2013-2014
May 2 2014
There's nothing more tedious in football than end of season awards ceremonies. Suarez, Rodgers, Mirror hacks bigging up Luke Shaw, canapes, hair gel, Sir Trevor Brooking handing out trophies to players who knew they'd won it in January. They're predictable, uncontroversial and presided over by the same old FA blazer 'n' badge brigade who make Richard Keys look like Valerie Solanas. Even the fucking Country Music Awards are more interesting.
Proper football fans – that is to say, the people who abuse Michael Owen on Twitter and still try to slide tackle the 'keeper on FIFA – know that there is more to football than merely football. More than goals, completed passes, clean challenges and the other parts of the game beloved of those eunuchs at A Question of Sport. Football has always been more than a competitive non-contact sport, and the people who play it have always been more than the sum of their skills. Do we love Cantona because of his touch, or do we love him because he was a lunatic? The answer is a bit of both.
So we decided to compile an alternative VICE team of the season, but with players whose inclusion is justified not by skill, or stats, or success, but by being interesting, or romantic, or hilarious. Players with redemption stories, personality issues, heavy legs, massive arses, completely hairless heads and career goal tallies like La Monte Young compositions. The players whose life stories seem to have more in common with Russian literature than Roy of the Rovers.
In short, the players that football is really about.
GK: MARK SCHWARZER
Schwarzer reminds me of Mickey Rourke in Sin City. A beaten up old brute who's given a shot at glory just when he thought he was about to fade away forever. Schwarzer's long been regarded as a great keeper, but he'd never had a chance to play for the elite clubs, his career sending him instead on a 25-year-long traipse around places like Kaiserslautern, Dresden, Bradford and Middlesbrough.
Schwarzer's strange preoccupation with hanging out in grim northern European industrial cities was brought to an end by Fulham, but at an age when most outfield players would have retired and got into punditry or alcoholism. However, this year, at the even older age of 41, Schwarzer suddenly found himself in a Champions League semi-final and as the last line of defence in Chelsea's striker-less league challenge.
Sure, Chelsea are out of Europe now and unlikely to win the league but as far as Australian 'keepers go, Schwarzer is the anti-Bosnich, a man who stuck it out and saw it go his way at the end, rather than go nuts on coke and pull a gun on his dad.
RB: JON FLANAGAN
Liverpool have had a lot of false starts with their local lads in recent years. Gerrard might still be captain, but Carragher is now a spirit in the Sky studio, Jay Spearing has waddled off to Bolton and Martin Kelly's been limping on and off the bench for most of this season. But Jonathon "Jon" Flanagan has become an unlikely Pro Evo stalwart in a FIFA Street team.
While Sturridge steams around the internet in his streetwear goth gear, and Sterling canters along the wings like Bambi with a New Jack Swing haircut, Flanagan looks like the gormless fall guy in a joyriding court case, stupidly taking the rap for his bastard mates. Perhaps he'll end up at Sunderland in five years, but much like Steve Bruce, another solid British defender with an unlovable head, for now he's a constant in a top team.
CB: SYLVAIN DISTIN
There's a tendency to confuse donkeys with heroes. Is Richard Dunne really an Irish legend, or is he just a big old lump who's thrown himself in front of strikers for what now seems like close to five decades?
For me, Sylvan Distin is both donkey and hero. He's a big old clanker who's been around for years (he's 36) but under Roberto Martinez he's enjoying a renaissance as a kind of modern libero; Eeyore with a Tony and Guy haircut. The highest praise you can give him is that at times it's easy to forget he played a good chunk of his career under Kevin Keegan.
CB: KOLO TOURE
I don't know if it's just that picture of Kolo "Francois" Toure peeping out from behind the shower curtain that's sitting in my subconscious. But something about Kolo Toure just cracks me up. He does nothing to perpetuate it, really, but every time he comes off the bench for Liverpool, I feel like a fat medieval king who's just had a terrified jester brought before me. I kind of expect him to do something hilarious, like smash a cross maniacally into his own net or provide a perfectly weighted assist to an onrushing Victor Anichebe, and quite often that's exactly what he does.
I'm not sure why you do the things you do, Francois, but I love it, so keep it up.
LB: ALEX BUTTNER
Alex Buttner is a player who exists simultaneously in two different worlds; Shrodinger's cat in a Fred Durst hat. He played in the Moyes era, and now the Giggs-Butt-Scholes power trio era, but something about him will always scream: "Fergie dementia purchase". He's a man who's both not wanted and not going anywhere, like an impulse buy from an old flatmate that still sits around your living room. You're sentimental about it, yet it doesn't remind you of a good time. He's become a cross that Manchester United must bear, as if he were left on the steps of Old Trafford as a baby and is somehow still being breastfed by someone at the club.
Since he arrived in 2012, he's only made 27 appearances in all competitions. You think, 'Maybe he was on loan?' but he wasn't. You think, 'Yeah, but he's only a kid,' but he's 25. You think, 'Ah well, he'll be off in the summer,' but he's already expressed his intention to stay. He's a distant ringing that won't go away, the closer you get to understanding who he is or what he does, the further he retreats into the undergrowth of their squad. The only thing we know for sure is that he dresses like a man who tries to chirpse girls on Oxford Street. The rest is a mystery.
RM: YANNICK BOLASIE
Aside from the fact that Bolasie played his first international game in the hoodest fixture on earth (DR Congo vs. Libya, away in a post-revolution Tripoli), he's played his part in Pulis' South London renaissance. A spindly, full-blooded winger whose touch can veer between Maradona-esque to Crouchian in the space of the same run, for the neutral, he's a joy to watch.
You get the impression that he's playing for his life every time he gets on the pitch. He's unrefined, insecure and trigger-happy. He's the Rust in a team of Marty Harts, the Sid Vicious to Mile Jedinak's Paul Cook, and it's good to have him in the league.
CM: JONJO SHELVEY
Shelvey's weirdness is perfectly typified by his performance against old club Liverpool this season. Before the match, he said he was going to treat it like any other game; keep his head down, not let the past get to him. By the end of it, he'd scored once (for Swansea), set up another two (for Liverpool) and then set up another (for Swansea). He spent most of the game panicking from box to box, like a spooked ostrich in a house of mirrors. His distribution veered between Zidane and Zombie Jesus. He has played terribly at points this season, yet has still managed to score one of its best goals.
He's a bizarre kind of player, an imposing yet erratic midfielder who for some reason wants to attack everyone and everything, like Yaya Toure with rabies. But at the same time he can appear stupidly delicate. He's capable of sublime skill and, during moments of obvious mental crisis – Shelvey is not very good at hiding these, at all – his teammates protect him like a haemophiliac prince. Plus he looks, in the words of a pal of mine, like "a friendly alien from Farscape".
Needless to say, he's a shoo-in for the VICE alternative team of the season. In fact, he's the fucking captain.
CM: NEMANJA MATIC
It'd take an honest Sunday League player to tell his teammates that he'll be "doing the Matic role today". You'll never find kids in playgrounds shouting, "Ah, sick! Just like Matic!" after a teammate runs into an opponent and wins the ball back by breaking his ankle in half. For Matic is not one of the Premier League's birds of paradise. He is one of its demolition men. A man who ruins beauty with challenges of bureaucratic officiousness and autocratic efficiency. If Claude Makelele was a bandit, Matic is a bailiff.
Had he played for Leeds in 1972, he'd be a hero. But in the modern Premier League, he's a sad Slavic cyborg with a cheap haircut. He's the book burner in Mourinho's free republic, and he's sort of amazing.
LM: EMANUELE GIACCHERINI
In 2012, Emanuele Giaccherini played in the Euro 2012 final for Italy, against Spain. He lined up alongside Balotelli, Buffon, Del Piero and Pirlo just after winning Serie A with Juventus.
Less than two years later, he's sitting on Sunderland's bench alongside Jozy Altidore and Liam Bridcutt. How? It's hard to say, but now he's just another sad face playing dominoes at Sunderland's lost souls club. Forced into telling youth team players what Iniesta is like in real life. At 28, it's unlikely he will find redemption. But at least he has Andrea Dossena to share his demise with.
CF: DAVID N'GOG
What's that I hear you saying? "Nah mate, N'Gog's not in the Prem any more. He's playing in Hungary or some shit." Simmer down lads, because David N'Gog is still a going concern in English football, currently on the books at Swansea. I mean, he's only made three appearances, in which he's only made three fouls, and at the time of writing, only five people have watched this video of him being introduced by ex-manager Michael Laudrup. (Unless it was the same person, five times. Perhaps David N'Gog.)
But he's there. Trust me.
CF: FERNANDO TORRES
Ah, Nando. The boy with the thorn in the side of his foot. The Kurt Cobain of the Premier League. The man who was touched by Midas in Liverpool and turned to stone at Chelsea. The living reminder that not every story has a happy ending. The league's most enduring and most endearing nightmare. The man who even Chelsea fans seem to still be rooting for.
Torres scores a goal, and things get worse for him. His career ladder is doused in treacle. He tried being a winger, but it didn't work out for him. He tries to be a striker but it's not happening for him. Every time he starts for Chelsea, you think, "He really looks up for it today, he's gonna smash it." But he almost never does. Typically, his most recent goal ended up in the net of a team he didn't even want to score against.
Where will it end?
MANAGER: ALAN PARDEW
Who else? The man, the myth, the rectangular framed glasses. The Mercedes coloured hair, the rape gag, the headbutt, the pineapple juice. The man who takes selfies with Babestation girls, the man who stole his fitness coach's dinner, explaining that, "When you're the king, you can do anything." The man who saved Newcastle and systematically dismantled them at the same time. The savvy buyer, the fire-seller. The genius, the idiot, the psychopath, the saviour. The Pards.
His team have been absolutely useless for months, he's played some bizarre teams, but they're currently ninth in the table with a few games to go. Only one place behind the massively acclaimed Southampton team. The fans hate him, but probably know deep down that things aren't going to get better with anyone else. Pardew is there, wreaking havoc, ripping the soul out of the team and quietly whispering, "Go on then, see if Steve Bruce will do you any better." His existence is a permanent nightmare for Geordies and one that will only get worse if he goes.
One can only dream of what he'd do with a team like this.
EDIT: We decided we need a bench – so congratulations are in order for Costel Pantilimon, Pablo Armero, Ravel Morrison, Saido Berahino, Papiss Cisse, Ashkan Dejagah and Ricky van Wolfswinkel
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