When you think of the best Premier League performers over the past decade, a lot of the same names crop up. However, there have been a handful of surprises too, those players who enjoyed the sort of seasons few could have predicted. Here are five players who broke out to end up in that year’s team of the season.
Abou Diaby, Arsenal, 2009-10
When Arsenal signed Diaby from Auxerre back in January 2006, he was already being compared to Patrick Vieira. Signed as a long-term replacement for the former skipper who had left for Juventus six months earlier, there were big expectations and even bigger shoes to fill for the teenager.
Diaby was in and out of the first team in his first few seasons, in part due to injuries, but he really made his mark in a big way in the 2009-10 season. The way he glided from box to box really was reminiscent of Vieira, using his leggy frame to both break up play and break forward with the ball.
The midfielder scored six goals in his 29 league appearances, but his all round play was even more impressive, averaging three tackles, three interceptions and three successful dribbles per 90 minutes. What followed was a spate of debilitating injuries that ensured Diaby would start just 23 Premier League more matches before his contract expired in 2015. Rating that season: 7.76
Charlie Adam, Blackpool, 2010-11
Blackpool’s stay in the Premier League was short-lived but boy was it a memorable one for their fans, and an exciting campaign epitomised by the form of midfield maestro Charlie Adam. He had been a real star turn in the club’s promotion bid, but few could have predicted the ease with which he would step up to the top flight.
At the time there was little he could not do. He scored 12 goals, set up eight more all while while averaging 3.3 shots, 2.1 key passes and even 1.7 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. His range of passing grew great praise – even if his meagre pass completion of 72% disproved that theory – while a combined average of four tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes proved his workrate without the ball too.
Adam put in a superhuman effort but Blackpool failed to beat the drop. He was one of seven nominees for the PFA’s players’ player of the year. Having rejected what Ian Holloway called a “disgraceful” bid from Liverpool in January, the club agreed to sell him in the summer. Adam played a decent chunk of the 2011-12 season for Liverpool but his career began to unravel pretty quickly thereafter. Having seven seasons at Stoke, where he was in an out of the team, the 34-year-old is now playing for Reading in the Championship. Rating that season: 7.48
Marouane Fellaini, Everton, 2012-13
Marouane Fellaini had been a regular for Everton for a few years, but in the 2012-13 season he became more recognised for his talent than his unavoidable physical presence or hair. His performances in the Everton midfield that season are what convinced Manchester United to allow David Moyes to bring Fellaini with him to Old Trafford on deadline day in 2013.
Fellaini scored 11 goals this season, having netted just six in the previous three Premier League campaigns combined. His shift in position from a defensive role to a position in the final third where he could disrupt the peace reaped real rewards. Whereas Fellaini had previously been winning aerial duels in the middle of the pitch, he was now doing so further forward and proving to be an absolute nightmare to defend against. Winning 2.6 tackles and 4.8 aerial duels per 90 minutes higher up the pitch helped him earn eight man-of-the-match awards and a lucrative contract in Manchester.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal, 2013-14
Though Ramsey was a regular and consistent performer before and after, the 2013-14 campaign was a real bolt from the blue. Having scored just six league goals in four seasons at the Emirates, he bagged 10 and registered a further eight assists from just 23 outings in what was a breakthrough year.
His efficiency in the final third was remarkable and utterly unexpected given his record before the campaign began, with relatively modest averages of 2.6 shots and 1.6 key passes per 90 minutes highlighting the quality of his end product. He was also winning possession at a phenomenal rate, producing 3.9 tackles per 90, with his tireless displays winning over the fans.
Though Ramsey failed to hit the same heights thereafter, with injuries again stunting his development, he would prove to be a big asset throughout his time at the club. Juventus noticed as much, snapping him up on a free transfer last summer. In a career of highs and lows so far, there’s no doubt that the 2013-14 season – when he also scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final – was the peak to date. Rating that season: 7.76
Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton, 2014-15
Following two impressive if unspectacular seasons on the south coast, Schneiderlin made a big impression in 2014-15. The Frenchman played a pivotal role as Southampton secured a place in the Europa League qualifiers – something they ultimately failed to capitalise on after the midfielder moved to Manchester United.
Schneiderlin earned that move by putting in some superb defensive figures, completing the most tackles of any midfielder in the league (3.9 per 90 minutes) along with 2.8 interceptions. He also retained possession with ease and proved the perfect platform from which to build in the middle ground, completing 89.3% of his passes.
In truth, Manchester United was not a good fit for a player who did so much of his best work without the ball. He posted decent figures at Old Trafford, but his importance was limited. A move to Everton the following season promised to bring back the spark to his stunted career but Schneiderlin has failed to rediscover the form he enjoyed in that last season at Southampton. Rating that season: 7.51