Ibra, PSG dominate Ligue 1 awards
Newly crowned French champions Paris Saint-Germain swept three of Ligue 1's four main end-of-season awards on Sunday night and Zlatan Ibrahimovic walked away with two prizes. PSG's record-breaking season was recognised by the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP), but in truth les Parisiens can feel flattered to have received so many accolades when there were perhaps more deserving candidates in certain categories.
However, the big winner on the night was Ibrahimovic and that cannot be debated.
PSG's super Swede has been head and shoulders above everybody else in le Championnat this season and his phenomenal campaign was justly rewarded with a second consecutive Player of the Year gong. The 32-year-old has 25 league goals as well as 11 assists to his name and although this campaign has not yet been as prolific as the last -- when he managed 30 Ligue 1 goals -- his all-round contribution and performances have been of far superior quality.
The towering striker beat off competition from PSG teammates Thiago Motta -- another deserving, if understated candidate for the award -- and Thiago Silva, as well as AS Monaco's James Rodriguez. In reality though, there was no debate for this category. The capital club's No. 10 has already called this campaign the "best season of my career" and even without taking into account his incredible European form -- breaking Carlos Bianchi's club record of 39 goals in all competitions set in 1977-78 in the process -- the Swede was a deserved winner.
On top of his Player of the Year award, Ibrahimovic picked up the Goal of the Year for his sublime scorpion kick effort against SC Bastia. Up against PSG teammate Edinson Cavani, EA Guingamp's Claudio Beavue, SC Bastia's Djibril Cisse and Olympique de Marseille's Andre-Pierre Gignac, the Parisien star's audacious flicked effort in a 4-0 mauling of the Corsicans was the unsurprising winner.
More surprising though was Marco Verratti's selection as the Young Player of the Year.
The diminutive Italian midfielder was selected ahead of Monaco's Rodriguez and Layvin Kurzawa, as well as Toulouse's Serge Aurier and should be considered the surprise winner of the award that Florian Thauvin collected the season before. Verratti has enjoyed an encouraging campaign, building on the promise displayed in his debut season in Paris, but Rodriguez has arguably been more decisive for les Monegasques. The principality outfit have done well to finish second immediately after returning to Ligue 1 -- not to mention spending large sums of money to re-shape the squad -- and Rodriguez has been their standout performer.
If Verratti winning the Young Player of the Year award was debatable though, Salvatore Sirigu walking away with his second consecutive Goalkeper of the Year title was downright contentious. The Italian has been a clear second to Lille OSC's Vincent Enyeama -- who was 114 minutes away from breaking Vincent Huard's 1992-93 record of 1,176 consecutive minutes without conceding back in December -- all season and the Nigerian has kept a European joint-record number of 21 clean sheets.
Sirigu won last season's award mainly thanks to his breaking of Bernard Lama's 697-minute PSG record of not conceding a goal, as well as the fact that he kept a total of 22 clean sheets. This campaign, he has only managed 19 and the award arguably owes more to the defence in front of him than his individual merit. Nigerian international Enyeama can rightly feel aggrieved, as can les Dogues who did not even see Marko Basa or Simon Kjaer selected in the overall Team of the Year. Also of note for PSG on the subject of the Goalkeeper of the Year category, Alphonse Areola -- on loan at RC Lens -- also landed the Ligue 2 prize and made it a positional clean sweep for the capital club.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc losing out to Lille's Rene Girard for coach of the year was less of a surprise, although Olympique Lyonnais' Remi Garde can feel aggrieved perhaps. Le President has done an excellent job -- better than many predicted when he took over at the Parc des Princes last summer -- but Girard's achievements with LOSC and Garde's admirable exploits with a depleted Lyon side arguably deserved the recognition more. EA Guingamp's Jocelyn Gourvennec was surprisingly overlooked completely -- despite ensuring the Breton side's improbable Ligue 1 safety and leading them to a miraculous Coupe de France title -- while Monaco's Claudio Ranieri was the other also-ran.
In total six PSG players were named in the Ligue 1 team of the year, with Silva, Motta and Cavani joining main prizewinners Sirigu, Verratti and Ibrahimovic in the UNFP best XI of the season. Bastia's former Parisien goalkeeper Mickael Landreau also received an honorary award as he announced his retirement from professional football at the end of the season. The PSG stopper between 2006-09 has made 617 appearances altogether in le Championnat ahead of his final league game against formative club FC Nantes this weekend.