The Guy Butters Award for defying initial judgements – Bernardo
What a stinker Bernardo had at Watford on the opening day of the season. So bad, he didn’t start another league game until November 24th, making only one substitute appearance in the 11 intervening games.
As a result, many began to wonder if the Brazilian would be another Albion full back to written off as a flop. But he came storming back and featured in 20 of the remaining 25 games, by the end of the season earning the tag of Brighton’s first choice left back.
Bernardo is young, having only turned 24 since the end of the season. And he’s shown many times this season that he has plenty to learn, none more so than in that game away to Watford. But he’s got a lot of talent and his threat as an attacking full back has the potential to give Albion’s attack another dimension if he is let off the leash by Graham Potter next season.
And the comparison to Brighton’s other left back Gaetan Bong, a much more defence minded and less pro-active player, suggests just that. Having both played 22 times last season, Bernardo made 62 tackles to Bong’s 16, with both averaging a similar tackle success level. Bernardo made 34 interceptions to Bong’s 25 and unlike Bong managed to register an assist.
And at the end of the season Bernardo spoke of his progress since that infamous debut, saying: “I had to step up my physical condition, my strength and stamina. The team reached its main goal of survival and I played enough matches, especially at the end, and I feel I have adapted so I think it’s positive. Now I can work on this base and do even better”
The Mark McCammon Award for most cringeworthy moment of the season – Kyle Walker being booed as he received his Premier League winners medal at the AMEX. (honourable mention the starting eleven who played in the second half away to Fulham and gave away a 2-0 half time lead to lose 4-2)
I’m all for rivalry and feisty competitiveness, it’s what most of us want to see from our team and fellow supporters. But there are times when that crosses the line of decency. And this a perfect example of competitive jousting turning into petty and embarrassing one-upmanship.
Yes, Kyle Walker got away with a red card offence in the FA Cup semi-final and booing him during the game is a light-hearted pantomime-style retaliation, of the kind that football fan’s humour is famous for. But it should have been nothing more than that. Particularly given he hardly attempted to deceive the referee, this was instead just a moment of madness from Walker. In fact, as well as some pundits, the Video Assistant Referee saw the replay and decided it wasn’t a red card offence.
After the game that should have been that. But, for him to get booed as he received his Premier League winners medal, a moment that is the pinnacle of a career for a small group of fortunate players, is an embarrassment.
The Award for Most funny Albion related Social Media post – Milivojevic – all I want for Christmas is three points against Brighton
There can only be one winner for this, it has to be the post from the Crystal Palace official Twitter account that went viral subsequent to Brighton’s 3-1 win over them in the fixture it referred to.
Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic will be glad to see the back of the Albion for another season. During the pre-match interview this Twitter post referred to, he stated all he wanted for Christmas was three points against Brighton, a game Albion instead took all three points from by winning 3-1.
Then in the return fixture he was a marked man from the off, with one of the many fouls he received that day a notably firm one from Anthony Knockaert in the first minute. Firm doesn’t quite tell the half of it; he took a two footed tackle to the groin. Ouch. And once again the Albion took all three points. Double Ouch. Maybe next Christmas Luka.
The Award for the most irritating and most repeated line of Albion punditry – Brighton’s poor transfer activity.
You may have recently seen criticism of the club’s activity in the transfer market, some of which is valid, but it is largely done whilst ignoring the financial reality that the club is competing within as a lower-end Premier League club.
Brighton have one of the lowest wage bills in the Premier League. In the 17/18 season, the most recent that we have figures for, Brighton had the 2nd lowest wage bill in the league with only Huddersfield’s being lower. And whilst the club’s gross transfer spend in 18/19 season was estimated as the 9th highest in the country, it was done so whilst bringing in a whopping 15 players, making the average transfer fee per player estimated at around only £5/6m, which is a level of spending that doesn’t buy much in the current market at this level.
And whilst the club’s net spend since promotion was the 6th highest in the Premier League this is also exaggerated by the fact that unlike much of the competition, the club didn’t have Premier League assets to sell to offset against their spending. In fact, the club’s total estimated transfer revenue was only £12m, half that of the league’s estimated average.
On top of that, the squad needed strengthening to meet the standards required to make the step up to the top tier. And as Fulham have shown, even if you splash lots of cash it doesn’t ensure success.
It should also be considered that many of the players signed, like Billy Arce, Alexis Mac Allister and Percy Tau, wouldn’t have been signed with this season in mind so their signatures should really bare no judgment on this season’s performance.
Full disclosure, last season I awarded Albion’s head of recruitment Paul Winstanley and his recruitment team a TSA award for the club’s good transfer activity, but I’m not saying this to save face. This was praise that was commonplace at the time and I stand by my comments. In particular, the signings of Pascal Gross, Maty Ryan, Jose Izquierdo and Davy Pröpper, who were all crucial in our survival last season and that our top-flight status is continuing into next season. As were the following summers signings Martin Montoya, Bernardo and Yves Bissouma crucial during this season.
Go as far back as 2015 and pre the appointment of Chris Hughton as manager, the Brighton Argus were already praising the appointment of Paul Winstanley, and it’s been largely plain sailing even since aside from the odd blemish.
Of course, there will always be signings that don’t work out, that is part of the competitive market we are working within. And it doesn’t help if that outlier is your record signing. But to say Brighton’s transfer activity has been poor is short-sighted and lazy punditry.
The Billy Sharp Award for best opposition player performance at the AMEX – Eden Hazard (honourable mention to David Silva)
When it comes to best opposition player, it has to be Eden Hazard. The only repeat winner of an award from 2018, and on this evidence its little wonder why he’s heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid.
In the first meeting against his Chelsea side at the AMEX, he was at times stunning. And after the game it was clear to me that he surpassed any previous player as the best I had ever seen live.
And the first goal that day was of his making. After Chelsea somewhat casually sprayed the ball around the Albion defence, it came to Hazard and out of nothing he took virtually the whole Albion defence out of the game with only a few touches. With one more he found Pedro at the far post in space who prodded the ball home to give Chelsea the lead.
Chelsea then extended that lead which they held onto to get a 2-1 win when Hazard took advantage of some defensive indiscipline from Brighton. After receiving the ball in somewhat fortune circumstances, he strode forward and passed the ball past a helpless Ryan in the Albion goal.
Then came the return match at Stamford Bridge, another Chelsea win, 3-0 this time, and once again Hazard was the match winner. In a game which Albion did their best to destroy the spectacle of, Hazard starred making Chelsea tick all game. And he capped his performance that day with a glorious strike after once again dancing through the Albion defence.
It may be that there are better players we’ve come up against over the last two seasons, but when it comes to sheer awe-inspiring individual brilliance, Eden Hazard is as good as it gets.