Monday, June 01, 2009

HEGS / Mundo Albiceleste Award 09: the nominees

The nominations have been counted for the 2008-2009 HEGS / Mundo Albiceleste Award for Best Argentine Abroad, and they're an interesting bunch. Four players were nominated, and last year's winner Carlos TEVEZ isn't among them. The top flights of Italy, Spain, Mexico and England have provided us with the nominees, of whom three haven't previously been nominated. The players are listed below in alphabetical order. Voting opens as soon as this post is online, and if you wrote in to nominate a player your previous choice won't be counted (in case you've since changed your mind). Email your vote (one player only) to The deadline is midnight Argentine time (4am BST) on the night of Sunday, 21st June (after the penultimate round of the Torneo Clausura).

Christian GIMÉNEZ (Pachuca Club de Fútbol, Mexico)

Formerly of Boca Juniors, Unión de Santa Fe and Independiente, 'Chaco' GIMÉNEZ has come on leaps and bounds since leaving his homeland for Mexico, first with Veracruz and then with América before joining Pachuca in 2006, winning that year's Copa Sudamericana. During the 2008 Apertura he's provided plenty of goals - he's the highest-scoring Argentine in Mexico with nine - and they've often been vital, as with his doubles against Tecos UAG (Pachuca won 3-2) and Santos Laguna (2-2), as well as his unbelievable hat trick against Necaxa, shown in the video below. His creative presence has played a huge part in getting Pachuca - who hail from the city in which Mexican football was born - into the final of the Clausura, the second leg of which was played last night.

Mexican sports paper Medio Tiempo put GIMÉNEZ in their Team Of The Week on four occasions during the regular season (naming him best player of the weekend twice), as well as both the quarter- and semi-finals. He's featured in that selection both as a forward and as a midfielder, showing his versatility when called upon. Perhaps most tellingly of all, though, he's made it into a rather more meaningful selection: Diego MARADONA has called him up (along with fellow Mexican-based Argentine, goalkeeper Federico VILAR of Atlante) to the national team squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Colombia and Ecuador.

Lionel MESSI (FC Barcelona, Spain)

A year ago, MESSI was more impressive than eventual World Player Of The Year Cristiano RONALDO over two legs of the European Cup semi-final between Barcelona and Manchester United, but finished on the losing side as Barcelona ended a torrid season without a trophy. MESSI, who'd been injured for a fair bit of the campaign, was one of few Barcelona players to escape censure from the club's fans. When RONALDINHO was sold there were boots to fill, and with new boss Pep GUARDIOLA's policy of evolving the team rather than drastically overhauling it, the feted Barça #10 shirt went to MESSI. The only question marks we've had prior to 2008-2009 were just how good MESSI might be if he had a full season (or thereabouts) uninjured. This time, we found out.

Barcelona have enjoyed the most successful season in the history of Spanish club football - not even Alfredo DI STÉFANO's legendary Madrid of the 1950s managed to win the First Division, Copa del Rey and European Cup in a single season - and whilst the midfield have been magical and his fellow forwards lethal (100 goals scored in all competitions between MESSI, Thierry HENRY and Samuel ETO'O, with the team as a whole hitting a terrifying 158), MESSI has been out of this world. Early in the season the Spanish press introduced Atlético de Madrid's visit to Camp Nou as a battle to decide the best player in the world - MESSI or his fellow Argentine Sergio AGÜERO. With MESSI unplayable, Barcelona were 5-1 up at half time and ended up winning 6-1. No contest. There was also a standing ovation from a packed Santiago Bernabéu as they recorded their biggest ever away win over Real Madrid, 6-2. His passing continues to improve, his goal ratio has shot up (from 10 goals in 28 league matches in 2007-08 to 23 in 31 this season), and his running with the ball is as utterly unstoppable as ever. He was also European Cup top scorer, and his goal in the final showed he can even head it when the opportunity arises. RONALDIN-who?

Diego MILITO (Genoa Cricket & Football Club, Italy)

If scoring goals in Italy is not longer quite the nigh-on impossible feat of past years, it's still a hell of an achievement when a player manages to do it at the rate El Principe has this season. After a more than respectable (personally) 2007-08 in which he hit 15 goals in 35 games for a Real Zaragoza side that got relegated, MILITO moved back to Genoa, where he spent two seasons in the middle of the decade, and put in the highest scoring term of his career. Twenty-three goals in just 31 matches - 22 in 30 in the league - gave him third place in the Serie A scoring charts, behind Zlatan IBRAHIMOVIC - who he'll be joining at Internazionale next season after José MOURINHO had his head turned.

Genoa's 5th place in Serie A is their best finish since they were 4th in 1990-91, and MILITO scored 40% of their goals. His total included a hat trick in a 3-1 win in the derby della Lanterna against Sampdoria - the first player in the fixture's history to score three goals. Next season he'll be joining a club who are expecting not just to compete for the league title but to win the thing - anything less would be a disappointment. His feats with a less fashionable side this season suggest he might just be the old-fashioned centre forward Diego MARADONA wants for the selección.

Pablo ZABALETA (Manchester City, England)

It's been a funny season at Manchester City, but then it always is. Investment from the Middle East has meant all bets are off on what exactly the club's expectations will be next season, but with a slew of signings expected in the summer ZABALETA is one player who shouldn't be sweating on his place too much. Brazilian ROBINHO was the more eye-catching of the late August signings last year, but whilst he's struggled to settle completely in England and on the pitch, ZABALETA has slotted right in and has already shown the form that made him a regular starter for the Espanyol side that reached the final of the 2006-07 UEFA Cup during his time in Spain.

He was sent off against Liverpool in October (only the second red card of his career), but was named the club's player of the month in January, the month in which he scored his only goal of the season - and his first for his new club - with a ferocious volley to win a tight match against Wigan Athletic. City finished the season tenth and won't therefore be playing in Europe next season, but whilst there's been plenty of chaos around him, ZABALETA's got his head down and delivered. He's only the second defender to be nominated for this award after Javier ZANETTI's third place in 2007, a fitting distinction as there are those who see similarities between the two. ZABALETA can only take that as a compliment, and if he carries on with City the way he's started this season, he could prove just as valuable to them as any more glamorous signings they might make.

A note about the videos: These are for illustrative purposes only, and the reason MESSI's is so much longer than the others is that he's the only one of the three to be playing for a fashionable enough club for someone to have spent the time to make that thing on him. Had we been able to, we'd have posted season reviews for all these players, but the videos, in any case, aren't what you're voting on.


messidona19 said...

This is a video of his goal against Wigan.

messidona19 said...

I gotta say i'm pretty impressed at C.Gimenez's hattrick! 3 beautiful goals! and I'm surprised that Zabaleta was nominated ahead of Higuain.

Sebastian said...

Thanks a lot for the video, Messidona! I have added it to the post.

Regarding the nominees, it wasn't up to Sam or us to select them. It was up for the voters to nominate the players.

I think HIGUAIN had a better season than ZABALETA, but I didn't vote for either of them.

Mohd said...

is this for real? no Higuain and Zarate!! even zanette who at 35 lead Inter to the title without ever having a bad game!

p2bn said...

OOOOO.....those goals by Gimenez are absurdly amazing. Just super class. Now I am excited about him. But my vote this year is clear.

Vamos Argentina