Better late than never, Mr Angry, patience of a saint, celebrity fan and MVP - the alternative Leeds United awards

It was typically modest of Stuart Dallas, if not entirely correct, to suggest that anyone at Leeds United could have picked up the Player of the Year Award.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 7:24 am
FIERY CHARACTER - Raphinha has shown his pace, skill, vision, movement and anger on the field for Leeds United this season. Pic: Getty

That was his third of the night, at the club's Elland Road end-of-season ceremony, following his Goal of the Season prize for that cracker of a winner at Manchester City, and his retention of the Players' Player of the Year award.

Last year he insisted the Player's Player award was not something he had sought because the promotion and the league title were not about him but everyone involved.

And yet he has become, in his own quiet way, a talismanic figure for the Whites. If his 2019/20 exploits, as one previously considered a bit-part player, raised eyebrows then what he did this season raised the bar for everyone at the club, £27m signings and all.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

When Rodrigo signed for Leeds last summer he was already showing signs of the required modesty and respectfulness to fit into Marcelo Bielsa's dressing room, but even for the most humble of operators, the idea of a Northern Irish international with no top-flight experience who cost the club £1.3m leading the way for over £100m worth of new talent would have been fanciful.

That is what happened, however. But the Cookstown native's 2020/21 season, his goals, his mentality, ability and versatility have been written about in the pages of the YEP with a consistency akin to his own performances this season.

So here are some alternative Player of the Year awards, including one that will never adorn the fireplace mantel at Rodrigo's West Yorkshire home but should fill Whites with a little more excitement about the Spaniard's second season in English football.

The Better Late Than Never Award

DOUBLE ACT - Leeds United head coach and his interpreter Andres Clavijo. Pic: Getty

Winner: Rodrigo. Runner-up: Diego Llorente

Llorente was a strong candidate, having suffered a frustrating series of niggles that had Leeds supporters questioning the defender's physical capability of handling Bielsa's regime and English football. They need not have worried, as the last three months have proven. His aggression and love for the physical battle have shone in some stirring performances. But for coming to the party dressed as his real self in the final four games of the season, Rodrigo takes this one. Bielsa always told us the former Valencia man could show what he was capable of this season and he did, putting the Covid-19 and injury disruptions behind him with four well-taken goals, a lovely assist and all the movement and energy needed to play in the Leeds attack. If, with a pre-season at Thorp Arch behind him, he can play at this level next season then Leeds will see the real Rodrigo and discover why they paid so much for his services.

Anger Management Award

Winner: Raphinha. Runner-up: Luke Ayling.

Ironically enough the runner-up and the winner have played quite a lot on the same side of the pitch and in the final game of the season Ayling's anger, most often directed at officials, was sparked by Raphinha's halting of a move started by the full-back. Ayling is a vocal player who calls his team-mates out for poor play - at West Brom he told Raphinha to 'do it properly' in no uncertain terms - and praises them loudly when it's earned. He is also a lino's nightmare. But Raphinha is a different animal, a furious one. When moves break down, team-mates don't convert his passes or when he squanders opportunities he goes from zero to rage in the blink of an eye. Often it's the mark of a fierce competitor and Raphinha is certainly that. The man loves goals and he loves winning and that has driven him to entertain and thrill in his debut Premier League season. Off the pitch he comes across as a relaxed, friendly sort. On it he's an angry, angry man.

Patience of a Saint Award

Winner: Jack Harrison. Runner-up: Jamie Shackleton.

Jamie Shackleton's time will surely come. It threatened to, this season, but the emergence of Stuart Dallas as a very good Premier League midfielder stopped the homegrown youngster from getting the game time he might otherwise have enjoyed. But the winner of this award is Jack Harrison, who is still awaiting the passes from Mateusz Klich at Burnley and Tyler Roberts at Southampton. A willing runner, he is almost always in the right place as an option for team-mates, particularly on the counter attack. Moreover, he plays on the left with Gjanni Alioski, a man whose raison d'être is to try the patience of others.

Lifetime Service Award

Winner: 'Leeds-born Stuart Dallas'

A joke that feels like it's lasted our whole lives. Ever since a national broadcaster proved it's not always good to talk, by referring to Northern Irishman Dallas as a homegrown Leeds talent, the joke has put in a tireless shift. Its retirement is hard-earned, well deserved and long overdue.

Celebrity Fan Award

Winner: Henry Winkler. Runner-up: Ronaldinho.

Leeds worked the celebrity angle hard after winning promotion. Remember Kalvin Phillips sitting on a sofa with Dua Lipa? Shirts were sent to all manner of famous faces and they duly obliged with selfies, bringing eyeballs to the brand. But you can keep your influencers, Gen-Z favourites, pop stars, rock stars and rappers. Ronaldinho, the idol and family friend of Raphinha, now has a Leeds shirt and that was just about the coolest thing to happen until the Fonz put a Leeds scarf on. We can now forgive Henry Winkler for Little Nicky. It's all thanks to Wetherby actress and Leeds fan Jessica Barden, who appeared in Jungleland, directed by Winkler's son Max. Barry Zuckerkorn is a Leeds fan. Coach Klein is a Leeds fan. Dr. Saperstein is a Leeds fan. Happy days.

Villain of the Year

Winner: VAR. Runner-up: various punditry artists

Lots of people said things about Leeds they either didn't mean or didn't fully think about before saying them. There was unwarranted criticism, prophecies of doom and tactical or transfer suggestions that made little to no sense. But the real villain of the piece this season was VAR. It cost Patrick Bamford goals, it cost Leeds in general, it cost us all our peace at some point. It has to change. Football is not lines and armpits and lengthy delays. Having never felt particularly aggrieved by the use of video technology in rugby union this writer felt quite comfortable with its introduction to football but this is simply not it. Give me imperfection and goals over inconsistency and a fun sponge.

The Sound of Silence Award

Winner: Manchester City bench. Runners-up: Southampton fans.

The noise the Saints fans made at St Mary's was a tonic for a sport that has lacked its very soul for so long, but it was a nice moment to enjoy that second or two of complete quiet when Leeds put the ball in their net. Much nicer was the deathly hush that descended over the Manchester City bench when Dallas ran in to score the winner at the Etihad. Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and pals had been screaming, giggling and cheering their team-mates on to what they felt was an inevitable winning goal. Dallas silenced them in the most unexpected and glorious way.

Back from the Dead Award

Winner: Elland Road pitch

It was becoming a talking point, a sore spot and a genuine danger to the ankles and knee ligaments of some very expensive footballers, until with the aid of a short break, Leeds United's groundstaff turned the freshly-laid emergency pitch into a playable surface. By the time Leeds beat Spurs on Spurs-grown Elland Road home soil, we no longer noticed or spoke about the pitch. Work has already begun on the full revamp of the drainage system and pitch. A carpet is expected for the 2021/22 Premier League season.

The Ian Poveda Award for Speed.

Winner: Tottenham Hotspur.

Jose Mourinho was still talking, via Zoom, in his post-match press conference following Spurs' win over Leeds when stewards started asking the attending members of the press to pack up their laptops and leave. There was a similar rush to usher the media out of other stadiums but if it was a race, Tottenham won it by a length. It's a beautiful stadium, mind, if you're into shiny new colossal things. It will look and sound incredible when Leeds fans visit.

The Glynn Snodin Award for Warmth

Winner: Leicester City. Runner-up: West Brom.

No one in football is warmer or more effusive in their greetings than Glynn Snodin, but Leicester City pipped West Brom to the title. Staff appeared genuinely, almost alarmingly pleased to see journalists at the King Power Stadium. Some writers receive a more lukewarm reception upon arrival in their own homes.

The Tim Booth and Gordon Strachan Unlikely Friends Award

Winners: Marcelo Bielsa and Sammy Lee. Runner-up: Gjanni Alioski and several opposition managers.

Gjanni Alioski always found time and something to say to opposition bosses. He and Roy Hodgson enjoyed a lengthy chat at Elland Road, he chewed Jose Mourinho's ear off and took time while lining up a throw to engage in discourse with Steve Bruce. But sights don't come much more unlikely than Bielsa and Lee arranging to swap jackets at full-time. The pair got along famously at West Brom earlier in the season and evidently think a lot of one another. Bielsa's best mate in the Championship was Tony Mowbray and as much as the national press want to write about the Leeds head coach and Pep Guardiola, the most affectionate touchline scenes were reserved for Sam Allardyce's assistant.

Most Valuable Person Award

Winner: Andres Clavijo.

Goalkeeping prodigy Illan Meslier, 17-goal Patrick Bamford, award-hog Dallas and of course Bielsa himself were all strong candidates but for allowing the world to enjoy and fully comprehend the head coach's press conferences and for being calm under incredible pressure, Andres Clavijo is the winner. Not only is he an analyst but he's Bielsa's interpreter to the world and after a 2019/20 when too much of Bielsa's wit and wisdom was lost in translation, Leeds press conferences have been so much easier to follow, simplifying a journalist's life and allowing supporters to better understand their head coach. What's more, the chemistry between the two has added a light-heartedness that cuts through the Zoom awkwardness.