The VICE Alternative Team of the Premier League Season 2014/15
An XI made up of the league's most weird, fascinating, depressing and terrifying players.
It feels like an awful cliché to start this off with "what a strange season it's been", because this is the Premier League, and it's always a bit strange. Unfortunately though the inherent weirdness of this league of braggarts, bastards, mercenaries and misers was tainted this time round by an inescapable sense of decline. While there was plenty of fun to be had, there's little doubt that the Premier League is slipping down the quality rankings, becoming the Isle of Wight Festival to La Liga's Glastonbury, where it's £10 for a hot dog, the beer tastes like police horse piss and John Terry serves as a kind of ever-present Paul Weller character.
But then again, most fans of the Premier League couldn't give a fuck about the positional skills of Jose Gimenez, the future of Kevin Kampl or Andrea Pirlo's 30th season. Hell, most people still aren't quite sure which one Xavi was.
No: we love the Premier League because it's a palaver. Weird, stupid things happen constantly; it brings out the beast in us, rather than the geek. It's a league that inspires continental sophisticates like Cesc Fabregas to ping balls at the heads of men like Chris Brunt, it's a league where managers threaten journalists, where Ashley Young starts ahead of Angel Di Maria, where Hull strikers wear wigs and Dejan Lovren is technically the best defender.
So, in honour of that, here's our yearly verdict on the league's most fascinating, inspiring, bizarre, depressing and/or terrifying players. Oh, and we're playing 4-4-2, 'cause it's England and that's what works.
GK: STEVEN HARPER
The funny thing about watching football for most of your adult life is that players who you never expected to become legends find themselves with such a status foisted upon them, like a famously inept village lollipop lady who gets an MBE out of nowhere, just through sticking about.
Aside from maybe Newcastle fans, Steven Harper was never a hero to anyone. He was a committed but workmanlike keeper, whose name is mostly associated with bench-warming rather than shot-stopping. But this season, two years after his testimonial, he returned to first-team action for Hull and was treated like Benazir Bhutto by the fans and commentators alike. He did alright, but Steve Harper is not defined by magic moments, he is a walking (or sitting) human monument to patience, perseverance and appreciating the little things, like a Shay Given injury.
For that, he makes our squad.
RB: CARL JENKINSON
Carl Jenkinson was the ultimate Gooner, an over-groomed dead-eyed banter merchant from a new town who famously had Arsenal bedsheets at his parents' house in Harlow. Had he not actually gone on to play for Arsenal, you could imagine him wearing the new home kit on the first day of the season, with the name of a player who hasn't even played yet printed on the back, in a pub in Stevenage, calling the referee a mug and walking over tables on the way to the bar.
But Arsene Wenger seemed to have all but ended his Emirates dream by shipping him out to West Ham, preferring the more modern talents of Mathieu Debuchy and Hector Bellerin. Against all the odds, Jenkinson has found a new lease of life as a player. Together with Aaron "How To" Cresswell he's formed a full-back partnership to rank alongside Cafu and Carlos. Jenkinson might be chiefly famous for his overuse of the word "banter" but he's also living proof that footballers' lives can have a second act, and that being a Gooner is not a terminal condition.
LB: RYAN BERTRAND
There's a horrible lineage of players who start young and hot at big clubs before gradually drifting away from the zeitgeist: Cleverley, Frimpong, Martin Kelly, et al. But Ryan Bertrand, the ex-Chelsea full-back who can boast of starting a Champions League final months after returning on loan from Nottingham Forest, is bucking that trend in style.
Surplus to requirements at Chelsea, he's now found himself in the rare position of being on the official players of the season list. Why? Because Bertrand represents a rare kind of hope in the English game, one that says maybe there is a future for young players who are thrown out into mid-table, that not everyone is a Michael Johnson, and that if you keep out of Mahiki, you can find yourselves among the big boys once again. Although his career trajectory is worryingly similar to that of Glen Johnson, once another young full-back let go by a big club only to find acclaim elsewhere... so maybe just stay away from the bathroom section of B&Q.
CB: FABRICIO COLOCCINI
Our first centre-back comes in the shape of Fabricio Coloccini, the rapidly eroding rock at the heart of the Toon defence. Coloccini was once a highly rated player, the kind whose name Arsenal fans would cry out for whenever they conceded a 78th minute Ashley Williams header. He's played alongside Messi and Mascherano. He has positioning, strength and the "Iron Maiden at Rock In Rio" haircut to mark him out as a kind of Tyneside Puyol.
But this season, his team have been utter shite.
Coloccini, having played with enough decent players to know that his team are shite, apologised to the fans in a gut-wrenching confession of ineptitude. It was football's version of Cherie Blair's "I'm not superwoman" speech. He then had a "bust-up" with Tim Krul. Apparently he's lost the dressing room, but you can't help but feel you'd probably be in the same position if you'd gone from playing alongside Riquelme to Riviere. Chin up, Fabio, and remember the golden days of Pards and Shola.
CB: PHIL JONES
The days when Phil Jones was viewed as some kind of super-versatile Lothar Matthaus figure created in a petri-dish at Castle Carrington by Sir Alex Frankenstein have long gone. For a while, people found great excitement in speculating into what kind of player he would fully mature. Would he be a sweeper? A full-back? A free-roaming defensive forward? The possibilities seemed endless.
Sadly, it's become clear in the last year or so that the answer to that question is: Richard Dunne but not as intelligent. He grunts, he gurns, he puts his head in the middle of things but he always seems to come out the loser. But for his enduring passion and fearlessness in the face of his inevitable departure to Sunderland's back four of lost souls, he makes our XI.
RM: AHMED ELMOHAMADY
It's often said that there's a lack of characters in the game, that sponsorships and media training mean we won't get another Ketsbaia, or a Curcic, or even a Nile Ranger. But maybe we're just looking in the wrong places. Maybe some of those names that are just always there have hidden depths of madness.
Ahmed Elmohamady is one of those players that always seems to have been there, but we forget him, because he played for Sunderland and Hull. Elmohamady is secretly the Premier League's great maverick, a galavanting, haphazard winger with a great right foot and a penchant for gamesmanship. He's got an outrageous dive, a "hand of God" incident and a hysterical "Doncaster Warehouse" celebration dance under his belt. Yet to many, he's just a name that slips into our consciousness when we're passed out on the sofa for the penultimate 1-0 on MOTD.
LM: CHRIS BRUNT
Forget what you heard: with his fondness for running in straight lines and hammering the ball at the goal with his left foot, Chris Brunt is the Belfast Bale.
WATCH – Our film about football's most famous mutual loathing, Rangers & Celtic: – – –
CM: JONJO SHELVEY
Regular readers will know that I and VICE UK in general have something of an obsession with the artist actually christened Jonjo. We've called him lots of things: "a spooked ostrich in a house of mirrors", "Zombie Jesus", "a haemophiliac prince", a "friendly alien from Farscape". And while he remains a bizarre player, Shelvey has matured this season, outgrown a few of his eccentricities and seemingly reined in his chaos factor. He's become a bedrock of Garry Monk's lean, mean Swansea team, and he can still really ping them when he gets space to let fly. He's captain material – England captain material, maybe – and at 23, who knows what heights he can scale. Romford has a new Pele.
CM: RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK
Let's face it: Daniel Sturridge didn't turn out to be as cool as we'd hoped. Sure, he wore a bit of Hood By Air, but really, he's just a rich bloke with a bad knee who likes Drake. He never graduated to Cottweiler, he never went to a Tri Angle showcase, he was only passing through the cool world. Maybe the hipster footballer thing was a fallacy in hindsight. Who knows.
But in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the Prem has found a different kind of cool; a natural, unforced, Paul Newman kind of cool. It doesn't matter if he likes Banks or not, because at 6-foot 3, with eyes that say "girl, your boyfriend ain't here tonight", Loftus-Cheek looks more like the romantic lead in a Rihanna video than an England Under-21 water carrier. His style on the ball is graceful, but commanding, he strides rather than legs it, he moves through banks of four like Baryshnikov on ice. He's quietly the coolest, sexiest player in the English game.
CF: BAFETIMBI GOMIS
Bafetimbi Gomis is undoubtedly the swaggiest player in the league; with his androgynous facial features, he looks like he might have had a Fader cover feature at some point, and he's prone to wearing Will I Am-esque ghetto dandy clobber around the streets of Swansea, which alone should be enough to put him on this list.
For years, he was just a name that was perennially in the BBC gossip column, a strong £5m European striker. But at the age of 29, he's finally in the Premier League and firing on all cylinders.
CF: DIEGO COSTA
Can you imagine anything worse than a night out with Diego Costa? He'd be trying to organise a fight to the death with anyone who smudged his shoes, slapping bouncers, trying to run away from taxi drivers, defending the honour of every woman he saw and photobombing every selfie with his strange, Bicentennial Man smile.
Costa might be mad, he might not be quite as good as we'd hoped, but he's surely one of "the game's great characters", as the cliché goes. Harry Kane might have scored more goals, but who would you rather go to the trenches with? With his tenacity and his possible insanity, Costa isn't the flashy South American forward we thought he was – he's a League Two warhorse with much better finishing and slightly better fitness.
MANAGER: JOHN CARVER
Pearson might be crazier, Pardew might be sleazier, just about everyone else might be better, but nobody's got quite the steez that Carver has. A man whose face has been bitten down by decades of pitch-side bollockings and referee's reports, he's the saltiest old dog in the league. Not to mention the fact that he is, by his own admission, one of the best managers out there.
BONUS HOT TIP FOR NEXT SEASON: NIGEL PEARSON
Nigel Pearson may have officially retired back in 1998, after Bryan Robson's Sporting Club Middlesbrough were relegated to the old First Division, but I wouldn't bet against him making a comeback. He started the season managing from the stands, he ended it on the bench. He's surely edging ever closer to an on-pitch comeback. If any manager in the league is capable of subbing himself on purely to elbow Jonas Olsson in the small of the back, it's Pearson. Leicester have stayed up, but I'd be shitting it if I were Wes Morgan right now.