Football is a team game, but it’s amazing how much of an effect one individual can have on his ten team-mates. Witness Jimmy Bullard’s match-winning performance for Fulham against Aston Villa at Craven Cottage yesterday afternoon. His return from a long-term injury has lifted everyone at the club; it’s no coincidence that Fulham struggled in Bullard’s absence.
Bullard is a talismanic player who makes his team-mates play better. Every team has one, although not all clubs are lucky enough to have a charming, talented player like Jimmy, whose love of the game shines through in everything he does. Below, I pick just one player from each Premier League club who fulfils the Bullard role. Here are my picks for the most valuable players at each Prem club:
Arsenal – Cesc Fabregas
Young, foreign and gifted, Fabregas defines Arsenal in the 21st century. Cesc’s recent emergence as one of the most talented playmaking midfielders in Europe has greatly diminished the negative impact of Thierry Henry’s departure to Spain. When he plays well, Arsenal play well.
Aston Villa – Gareth Barry
I’m not convinced that Barry will ever be fashionable enough to hold down a regular place for England, but his immense worth to Villa can’t be disputed. He’s loyal to the club, admirably professional and, above all, a damn fine midfielder.
Birmingham City – Damien Johnson
Like Barry, Johnson is his club’s captain, and with good reason – he’s fiercely committed and hard as nails. And like Barry, Johnson is often unsung, probably because he’s an old-fashioned pro with limited appeal to tabloid sport editors.
Blackburn Rovers – Brad Friedel
The tank-like Yank is one of the best keepers in the history of the Premier League. I’ve lost count of the number of points he has earned for Rovers over the years.
Bolton Wanderers – Jussi JÃ¤Ã¤skelÃ¤inen
What I said about Brad Friedel applies equally to the big Finn – reliable, world-class goalkeepers are priceless. How Jussi never ended up at Man Utd or Liverpool is beyond me.
Chelsea – Michael Essien
Chelsea have several potential MVPs in their expensive squad â€“ captain John Terry, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech all come to mind â€“ but for my cash, Essien is the most valuable of them all. As the Ghanaian is currently showing at the Africa Cup of Nations, he’s a born leader, more in terms of pure performance than anything else. Is there a more complete footballer in the world? I don’t think so.
Derby County – Darren Moore
In the context of the Premier League, I’m not sure that Derby have any valuable players. I’ll give the nod to Moore, who is a stalwart defender and one of the most decent guys in football to boot.
Everton – Mikel Arteta/Tim Cahill
I can’t separate these two so they can share the honours.