I’m sure many of us were overcome with excitement at the return of the Premier League last night. Whilst it took a bit of time to get used to the diminished atmosphere (cue City jokes here), it was still a triumphant restoration of the sacred game. Yet, I think there are a handful of players who will shine without the crowd pressure that can weigh one down. These are the real mavericks who may feel constrained in a typical Premier League encounter. Players who, when confident, thrive.
What I found alarming when devising this piece, was that the players I thought of were mostly black. For me, the abuse players get is intrinsically linked to racist sentiment in football culture. We can pretend it’s not apparent, but it festers under the surface. I really hope that we start to see real change after the powerful movements of the past few weeks. Moreover, can you imagine how mentally strong footballers have to be to continue believing in oneself even though thousands of people want you to fail? It’s really quite remarkable. I think the amount of abuse footballers get is disgusting; most of them are great role models. As I say, hopefully we see a transformation in this behaviour.
So, without further ado, here are the 5 players I believe will stand-out in the remaining games:
- Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba is a genius. I’m a City fan, but my goodness, I am in awe of this man. The graceful presence, the passing range, the charisma… the list goes on. Sure, he can be a frustrating figure at times, displaying a certain despondence and deficient work-rate. But on his day, he’s up there with the very best. I do feel Pogba gets a hard time from fans, especially his own. Yes, it looks like he wants to leave, but the man carried the entire club last season, and I think that was under-appreciated by the masses. Without the jeering and obscenities hurled from so-called ‘fans’, I expect Pogba to hit the ground running. Moreover, if he does want a transfer this summer, then he’ll want to attract suiters, who will have to pay a handsome fee. Pogba is world-class, and I expect that talent to show regularly without crowd pressure.
2. Raheem Sterling
As we all know, Raheem is up there with the very best of humankind. He’s my favourite player for both his excellence on the pitch and his inspiring work off it. The amount of abuse Sterling has received over the years is abhorrent. I think of the recent Chelsea game, where fans openly racially abused him when collecting the ball. He is always a target, mainly because he’s such a threat. Sometimes Raheem can go missing in a game. Last night’s wonderful strike was the first time he’d scored in 2020. Yeah, the league has been postponed since March, but that was still a two-month goal drought. He has the freedom to just play, and I really expect him to impress against Liverpool, without the away fans getting in his head. A lot of goals await and I’m excited for it.
3. Tammy Abraham
Tammy went through a real purple patch earlier in the season, scoring the majority of his goals in 3 games on the bounce. However, he was poor in the second half of the season and looked devoid of any real conviction in his scoring ability. I feel that the empty stadia will aid him in focusing on his game and I expect a lot of him from these last few games. Plus, with the Timo Werner deal just being announced today, he will need to up his game to compete for a starting spot next year.
4. Luke Shaw
The only white player to make this list, and even then, most of the abuse Shaw gets is for supposedly being overweight! I think he’s been excellent at times during this season, but needs to ramp-up his consistency to reach his potential. Portions of the United fanbase appear quite hostile to the young left-back, so this stretch of games could be a catalyst for him. If he plays well, he will gain confidence going into next season, and even if United sign another left-back, I still expect him to compete for a starting birth. A top player on his day and if he gains that inner-belief, he will be a regular for club and country.
5. Dele Alli
The ultimate maverick for me. For his first 3 seasons at Spurs he was sensational, especially his second year. The sky was the limit for Dele; however, last season was disappointing, with injuries preventing him from gaining any form. This season he has fluctuated from the spectacular (think of the goal against United) to very ordinary (Norwich away). The talent is there but the consistency hasn’t been quite there since his 18-goal season. He is the target of a lot of hostility from crowds and the way he was treated in the media recently was disgusting, something I will touch upon in the next episode of the TNS podcast. He’s banned for the next game, but when he returns, I expect him to shine without verbal taunts from the stands.
It’s hard to ignore the crowd when they’re antagonistic towards you. Thousands of people waiting for you to mess up. These players all have the potential to be up there with the very best in the world in their position. They are often unfairly targeted by fans and the media alike, and removing crowd hostility should allow them to play with complete freedom.
Do you agree with this? Are there any other players who you think should be in this list?