The "Michael Scott World's Best Boss" Award for Manager of the Year
Unai Emery: While he may not have singlehandedly turned around profits at the Scranton branch, Emery has led Aston Villa from the brink of disaster to legitimate contenders for the Premier League title.
The Spainard was the butt of many a "good ebening" jokes at the end of his short tenure with Arsenal, but returned to England with a point to prove. When he took over for Steven Gerrard in October 2022, Villa had nine points through 11 games and were flirting with relegation in 17th place. Just over a year later and the Villans are just three points off the top of the table, and have proven they're in it to win it with statement wins over Man City and Arsenal.
Emery has a 62% win percentage since taking over, and what's most remarkable is that he's transformed the club with the same group of core players that looked clueless under Gerrard.
New signings have gelled too. Moussa Diaby (€55m) and Pau Torres (€33m) have made an instant impact at Villa Park, showing that "Aston Sevilla's" once maligned transfer strategy is now spot-on. The club's ambitions clearly stretch beyond European qualification, with former Sevilla sporting director Monchi willing to spend big money on the players Emery deems a fit.
Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition, but you've been warned. 🇪🇸
The "Almost as Good as Bellingham" Award for Wonderkid of the Year
Florian Wirtz: The 20-year-old is setting a new standard for what's possible after returning from a devastating injury. After tearing his ACL in March 2022, Wirtz returned to the pitch the following January, and his impact was felt more suddenly than a nine mg Zyn.
Through 15 games without the German midfielder, Leverkusen were in 12th place and had only scored 25 Bundesliga goals. Since Wirtz's return, Die Werkself more than doubled their goal output on the season (57) and finished in sixth place, securing a Europa League spot.
Xabi Alonso's side have been even better this season. Leverkusen are the only team in Europe's top five leagues without a loss, and unexpectedly lead the Bundesliga nearly halfway through by four points. In his role as the team's primary creative outlet, Wirtz has played a huge part in Leverkusen's success, with 8 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season. 💫
The "Holy Shit, How did That Go In?" Award for Goal of the Year
Alejandro Garnacho: As much as we'd love to give this award to some bloke named Callum whose stunning Sunday League goal made it abundantly clear that he was the only player on the pitch was a BAC below the legal limit, it had to be Garnacho's bicycle kick against Everton.
The goal – which some called the best ever – instantly evoked memories of Wayne Rooney's strikingly similar effort against Man City in 2011, and even drew comparison to Garnacho's idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.
For those unimpressed (probably my dad): Do you have any idea just how difficult it is to track down a blistering cross, and in one swift motion wildly swing your foot to make perfect contact with the ball, all while doing a near backflip? Thought so. 👏
The "Baldur's Gate 3 Has Nothing on This" Award for Game of the Year
Liverpool 7-0 Man United: It's not often I remember where I was for a particular game, but how could I forget for this beatdown?
I was on ski vacation in Chamonix (not to brag), and had just settled into dinner at a restaurant where the game was on downstairs. By the time my friends and I had finished eating, the score was still 0-0, and – not being the sort to pay €10 for a Kronenbourg – we headed back to our AirBnB to pre-game before heading out an establishment aptly named "The Pub."
By the time we arrived some 45 minutes later, I was unbothered to see a sad-looking fellow outside sporting a Man United kit and drowning his sorrows in a mysterious brown liquid. Knowing his team's fate already, I asked him what the final score was and was shocked when he replied back, "seven - nil mate," shaking his head in disgust. I couldn't help but crack a smile.
My personal experience aside, this match turned the tide on United's outlook as a club. The look on Gary Neville’s face said it all.
Fresh off a Carabao Cup title, the Red Devils had finally found the manager that would lead them to the promised land in Erik ten Hag, and the goalscorer that would fill the void left by Robin Van Persie in Marcus Rashford.
That all changed in a glorious 90 minutes, that were so humiliating for United their captain asked to be subbed off. The win firmly reestablished Liverpool among the league's – and Europe's – elite, and the Red Devils have never been the same since. 🪦
The "Give the Man His Damn Roses" Award for Most Underrated Player of the Year
Antoine Griezmann: What is it with the media not giving the Frenchman the recognition he deserves? Is it the pink hair? Corny Fortnite-inspired celebrations? The fact that he plays for a team in the shadows of Barça and Real Madrid? The uncanny resemblance to the average Subaru owner?
Whatever the reason, Griezmann's play in 2023 sent a clear message to those continuing to overlook him: He's a top-ten player in the world.
Call me crazy, but the numbers back it up. Griezmann recorded a staggering 16 goals and 19 assists for Atleti last season, and had the highest average match rating in La Liga at 7.69. He continued his stellar form for France, with Les Bleus going undefeated in competitive matches in which he started (with a +26 goal differential, no less). With his brace against Getafe last week, Griezmann also became Atleti's joint-top all-time goalscorer with 173 goals – a record that shouldn't last for long as the 32-year old is scoring once every 134 minutes in La Liga this season (11 goals).
What's more impressive is that Griezmann has managed this all without a regular position. He played damn near everywhere last season – including left-back – showing that he's as versatile and willing to put in a shift as he is talented.
In ten years we'll be talking about Griezmann as a France and Atleti legend, so let's take a moment to appreciate his brilliance while he's still at his peak. 🌹
The "John Hancock Declaration of Independence Type Beat" Award for Signing of the Year
Declan Rice: $131 million is a fuck-ton of money. That's enough to buy 104 million Cristiano Ronaldo NFTs from Binance's CR7 collection. Fortunately for Gooners, Edu and Stan Kronke run a tighter ship at Arsenal than I do with my personal finances, so the money the club made from selling firearm-related paraphernalia went to good use, unlike with me.
The club-record acquisition of Rice in July was not without its fair share of criticism, but the midfielder's form in his first 26 games for Arsenal has been nothing short of superb, silencing the naysayers and already receiving comparisons to Premier League legends.
Fresh from leading West Ham to their first trophy in 43 years in his last appearance for the club, the 24-year-old has slotted in seamlessly at the Emirates, where his ability to disrupt opposition attacks and collect the ball in the midfield have already made him an indispensable member of Arteta's squad. Rice's average match rating of 7.23 is the highest of any CM in the league not named Rodri, and he has already scored twice in stoppage time to rescue points for the Gunners.
While other signings like Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane, and Jérémy Doku have impressed, no signing singlehandedly elevates a team into title contenders like Rice does Arsenal. 🍚
The "Donald Trump School of Social Media" Award for Post of the Year
Al-Hilal: After Neymar went down with an ACL and meniscus tear in his left knee while on international duty with Brazil, his club posted a laughably out-of-touch photo to wish him a speedy recovery.
Fans ripped Al-Hilal for the photo choice, with some initially believing it had come from a satirical account. It's funny to envision some clueless intern choosing not one but two photos of Neymar writhing in pain and calling for medical help to be featured in the graphic, and even funnier that Al-Hilal's social team signed off on it. 🤦♂️
The "Noah Kahan Where the Fuck did This Guy Come From" Award for Breakthrough Star of the Year
Serhou Guirassy: For those of you like me who aren't tuned into the folk-pop music scene, you likely had a moment in 2023 when you saw the name "Noah Kahan" for the thousandth time (probably on Hinge) and said to yourself: "Who the fuck is this guy and when the hell did he get so big?"
I had a similar reaction when seeing Guirassy's name on the Bunesliga top scorer charts every week, so decided to watch the man play. What I saw blew me away.
The 27-year-old Guinean scored a proper poacher's hat-trick in Stuttgart's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg in October, demonstrating a cool-as-a-cucumber presence in front of goal that's rivaled only by prime Cristiano Ronaldo. No, really – he's that composed in front of goal.
While he won't dazzle you with pirouettes or outside-the-box curlers, his off-ball movement, predatory instinct, and ability to score with any body part make him Europe's most lethal striker.
Guirassy needed only eight shots to score his first eight goals this season, en route to a Bundesliga record with the most-ever goals (13) through seven games. He's now the league's second-leading goalscorer with 17 goals in 14 appearances, and is the focal point for a Stuttgart team that are wildly outperforming expectations, sitting eight points behind leaders Leverkusen in third.
Much like Kahan – who received a Grammy nomination for best new artist – Guirassy is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and it's just a matter of time until the world’s top clubs (and record labels) come knocking. ✊