As the majority of Europe’s major domestic leagues wind down for the summer, The Athletic’s writers and editors have had their say on the standout players from their various 2022-23 seasons.
Here are their verdicts…
Erling Haaland, Manchester City
Football is more nuanced than just scoring goals but even the artistry of Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva or the more muscular importance of Ruben Dias and Rodri, or indeed anybody else in the division, cannot compare individually to a man who has scored more than 50 goals (36 in the league) in his first season with a new club.
Whether you expected Haaland to struggle or thrive, he has exceeded those expectations.
At this point, no matter how good the other players are — whether at City or elsewhere — any argument for anybody else just seems needlessly contrary. “Ah yes, but if you look hard enough you will see that so and so did so and so”.
Sure, other players have done remarkable things. Martin Odegaard inspired something at Arsenal and any number of Brighton, Brentford and Aston Villa players helped their team achieve unexpected feats. At City, Kevin De Bruyne has come to the fore yet again. John Stones has played a big role in their third straight title win, too.
But listen, Haaland has scored 52 goals with two games still to play; only Dixie Dean has bettered that in the last 100 years. Not since football was in black and white has anybody been so ruthless in front of goal in English football. When it comes to individual awards, the decision is black and white once more.
Team of the year
Unsung hero of the year
Lewis Dunk (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Individual performance of the year
Erling Haaland (Manchester City 6-3 Manchester United, October 2)
Goal of the year
Ilkay Gundogan (Everton 0-3 Manchester City, May 14; first goal)
Women’s Super League
Sam Kerr, Chelsea
Kerr has had a quiet season by her usual ridiculous standards, but quiet for her still means 12 goals (and five assists) in the WSL, five more in the Champions League and a host of important ones on big occasions.
That is Kerr’s speciality, and something she always delivers. Regardless of her stats, the Australian proves time and time again that she is the player you want on the ball in those defining moments.
Kerr got the only goal as title-bound Chelsea beat eventual runners-up Manchester United in March, having also scored against them earlier in the season in the away fixture. She hit the winner against United in this month’s FA Cup final at Wembley, too. And it was little surprise that she netted twice in the title-clinching 3-0 victory at Reading last Saturday.
In terms of Chelsea’s season and the trophies they have this campaign, they owe so much to Kerr.
Team of the year
Chuba Akpom, Middlesbrough
If scoring goals really is the hardest thing to do in football, then Akpom just had to win this award. His 28-goal Championship haul put him seven clear of the next most prolific player, Coventry’s highly-rated Viktor Gyokeres. Only in four seasons since 2000 has the English second tier’s top scorer finished with more goals than Akpom got this term.
He was extremely consistent, never going more than two games without a goal and scoring in 22 of Middlesbrough’s 46 games (he didn’t play in eight of them). Their matches regularly featured a solitary Akpom goal, and that kept the points tally ticking over for a side who finished fourth.
That Akpom has been this season’s No 1 Championship marksman has come almost as a surprise. His best senior goal return previously was three years ago, when he got seven in 23 games in Greece’s Super League for PAOK following his departure from Arsenal. Now 27, the former England youth international has hit his peak.
There were few assists (just two) and limited build-up work but his carrying of the ball, pace on the counter and clinical finishing all caught the eye.
The aim now will be to ensure his 2022-23 isn’t a one-off.
Team of the year
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona
Most difference-makers tend to play up front and score at least 20 goals a season. At possession-oriented teams such as Barcelona, you might think a member of the midfield would play the most pivotal role. But this season in La Liga there has been no better performer than Ter Stegen.
It’s been a tremendous campaign for the German goalkeeper as the Catalans won their first Spanish league title in four years.
The 31-year-old has conceded just 17 goals in the 37 games so far — and four of them came after the champions’ trophy was secured. No goalkeeper across Europe’s top-five leagues has registered more.
With one final matchday to come this weekend, Ter Stegen has already equalled the all-time La Liga record for clean sheets (17), which has stood since 1994, set by Pedro Liano with Deportivo La Coruna. Barcelona won the league by building on their defence and he has been its most instrumental part, the key behind the club-record 13 1-0 wins Xavi’s side have registered.
After a tough period over 2021-22, let’s all recognise how Ter Stegen rose to remind us he is truly an elite goalkeeper.
Team of the year
Victor Osimhen, Napoli
This time last season, the up-and-coming striker tipped to rival Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland — at least in Serie A — was Dusan Vlahovic. The Serbia international had made a €75million (£65.1m; $80.4m) January move from Fiorentina to Juventus and scored 29 goals in all competitions, including a stunner on his Champions League debut away to Villarreal.
Osimhen, meanwhile, was struggling. He’d suffered another injury-hit season and had only scored five league goals going into February 2022. It looked like the money Napoli paid Lille for him in the summer of 2020 (around £65.1million) was expensive and excessive.
This season, though, he has delivered on his potential and doubled his valuation with a 30-goal season across all competitions.
Osimhen’s towering headers, telescopic limbs and plunging runs in behind were a joy to watch this season. Able to stay fit for longer, he scored the title-winning goal against Udinese and is poised to become the first African to finish as Serie A’s top scorer.
Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez has tried chasing him down, and maybe has his own claim to this award. But it’s hard to look beyond Napoli. Kim Min-jae, for instance, had an equally commendable season for them at centre-back.
Outside the top seven, Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo) has been quietly magnificent again but in Europe’s top five leagues, only Haaland and Mohamed Salah have been involved in more goals in 2023 than Osimhen’s 19.
Sebastien Haller, Borussia Dortmund
Haller only played half of the season and Dortmund finished second in the table after he missed a last-game penalty against Mainz. Yet, no one made more of a positive impact than the 28-year-old.
On the pitch, his belated introduction in the new calendar year instantly transformed Dortmund’s attack and, as a result, the title race. Wingers Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen, who had not scored a single goal up to Christmas, exploded into form thanks to his presence and intelligence. “By controlling the ball, he gave us the time and depth we needed,” coach Edin Terzic said.
Haller’s nine goals, five of which came in the final three weeks of the campaign, took Dortmund to the edge of heaven.
It wasn’t to be, ultimately. But there’s no doubt Haller was “the hero of the season”, irrespective of that final-day failure from the spot. By battling back to full fitness in less than six months after undergoing double surgery and repeated chemotherapy for testicular cancer, he was an inspiration to millions.
His first Dortmund goal even coincided with World Cancer Day. “To score today was a great message to everyone who is fighting today or will fight later,“ he said. ”It gives some hope, some courage. That’s it, you know? The days after will always be better.”
Thanks to him, they really will be.
Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
There is no surprise about the winner of Ligue 1’s player of the year — a title Mbappe has held in France for four consecutive seasons now. During this past year, however, he has underlined his credentials as currently the best player in the world, the game’s leading successor to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has been consistently decisive for an inconsistent PSG, who are champions again, while his exploits for France, in the World Cup, took him to new heights. The trophy went to his club colleague Messi, but Mbappe was exceptional. No player has scored more goals (eight) in the knockout phase of that competition now, and only five players remain in front of the 24-year-old for World Cup goals overall. His hat-trick in the final is already iconic.
In Ligue 1, he has scored 28 goals and remains on course to be the league’s top goalscorer, which would equal Jean-Pierre Papin’s record of five consecutive Golden Boots. That’s just one of many records to fall this year, including becoming PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer. Again, he is 24.
There has been some strong competition for the award this season, not least from Messi, who has 32 goal involvements in Ligue 1 and provided Mbappe with 11 assists, as well as Seko Fofana, the midfield engine behind the rise of runners-up Lens.
But Mbappe, now the captain of his country, remains the jewel in the crown of French football. He has etched his name into the history books this year, and there’s no doubting his status as the league’s best player. Did we mention he’s 24?
(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Samuel Richardson)
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