Premier League awards outside of the top six: manager of the year, signing of the season, flop of the year and best team
Another season ends which can only mean one thing: awards. With each year that passes by, the gap between the top six and the rest of the division looks to be widening in quality and financial resources.
However, as Burnley and especially Leicester have shown in the past few years, there is a chance to rival some of the bigger teams in the country.
The rest of the Premier League might not get as much attention, so here are the awards for the teams outside the top six:
Manager of the Year: Rafa Benitez
There are several candidates for this award, but Newcastle United’s Rafa Benitez deserves the plaudits purely because of what he was given at the beginning of the season.
While Brighton’s Chris Hughton and Huddersfield’s David Wagner, too, defied the odds of avoiding relegation, they, at least, had some sort of money to spend in the transfer window.
It is no secret that the Spanish manager has come to blows with owner Mike Ashley on more than one occasion. Benitez was left without funds until the final week of the window, which is why they missed out on some key targets that were ready to be given the green light and sign.
Both Huddersfield and Brighton spent north of £50 million, whereas Newcastle spent a total of £40 million - which was made on targets that were not first choice. They also failed to bring in a centre forward that they had identified because of lack of funds being released.
Benitez has done a remarkable job in securing the Magpies’ future in the Premier League for next season. The unity he brings to the squad is noticed by outsiders and the fact that he does not always sit back in the hope of a draw is a major plus point with the St James’ Park faithful.
Not only did the former Real Madrid boss keep Newcastle in the league, but he guided them to a 10th place finish. It really is an unbelievable achievement given he has a Championship-level squad at his disposal. If Ashley wants to keep the club and move forward, he simply has to release the funds and allow Benitez to go from strength to strength.
Signing of the Season: Pascal Gross, Brighton & Hove Albion
Unknown to most Premier League fans before coming to England, Pascal Gross has been one of the best players outside the top six this season.
It might have been his debut season with the Seagulls, but you wouldn’t have thought it was with how well he gelled with the team and pulled the strings at the Amex stadium. The German has been instrumental in Brighton’s safety this season, in which he scored seven goals and assisted eight.
Signed for just under £3 million, Gross has to be one of the biggest bargains of the last few years. With the economic landscape in the Premier League reaching new heights, Brighton’s acquisition of Gross for that amount of money appears to be a masterstroke.
The former Bundesliga player is Brighton’s key creative player and has found himself causing havoc in-between the lines of opposition defences. He might not be blessed with pace, but his spatial intelligence and being in the right position at the right time is what has stood out from his game.
Hughton should be able to keep ahold of Gross this summer and will hope that the German can continue to be a positive influence next season.
Flop of the Year: Renato Sanches
Signed on a one-year loan for £8 million, the Portuguese midfielder has to go down as a huge error in judgement by then Swansea boss Paul Clement.
The Englishman had worked previously with Sanches, having being Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant, but moving from Munich to Swansea was always going to be a massive cultural change, especially coming from Lisbon originally.
Just two years ago, Sanches had been one of the bright sparks in the 2016 European Championship with Portugal and had been signed by the German champions because of it. However, two years later, at Swansea, he managed to play just 13 games of English football throughout the season.
It has been a dreadful year for Sanches, who has had a huge dent to his confidence and looks lost out on the pitch. Even the most basic aspects to football, such as passing, look foreign to him.
Bayern Munich have said they are willing to give Sanches another chance under their new coach, Fredi Bobic. It might just be what he needs - proper, careful guidance for the next few years. Sanches is still only 20-years-old and so has time on his hands, but he must be put back together piece by piece with caution.
Best Team: Burnley
If you would have said that Burnley would achieve a Europa League qualification spot this season, you would have been laughed at. In fact, for most bookies, the Clarets were one of the favourites to be sent down to the Championship.
Sean Dyche has worked his magic yet again with Burnley and has shown the world why he is one of the brightest English managers in the game right now. The former Watford coach has shown his pragmatism at times to get through games, but also his consistency.
In a world where managers are hired and fired without second thought, Dyche’s stability in performance at the Clarets has been noticeable. He has built a team where they might not be blessed with individual excellence, but they deliver on that front as a collective unit.
Even with the news that Michael Keane would leave for Everton last summer, Burnley did not panic and spend the money they received on a new centre back. Dyche brought one of his own through the reserves and into the first team. That player was James Tarkowski: now a capped England player and one of the standbys for the World Cup.
There is no doubt that bigger clubs will start turning to Dyche from next season onwards, but the Englishman has, so far, kept his cool and carried on with the job at hand. Burnley have performed magnificently throughout the year and have a team spirit that looks unbreakable.
This article was written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box. Shop with us for all your official Premier League football shirts, kit and accessories.