Assuming fans of 1996 Coca Cola Cup finalists The Leeds United don’t decide to turn this year’s Brighton Player of the Season Award into a rigged vote of the kind rarely seen outside of North Korea, it Surely there can only be one man winning the grand prize for 2021-22.
With an honorable mention to Joel Veltman, who has been his usual role model of consistency, it has to be wild-haired Spanish left-back Marc Cucurella who crowns a remarkable first season in English football with the crown.
Both chapter and verse could be written about why Cucurella is a deserved Player of the Season winner. To be honest, I was sold the moment he was spotted having dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant after his first Amex appearance against Leicester City in September. Not only is Cucurella a great football player, but he also appreciates gastronomy.
It seems unlikely that another Brighton fan (or Leeds fan) will vote based on where Cucurella chooses to enjoy pizza on Sunday night. So instead, here are three reasons why he would be a worthy winner that have nothing to do with four cheeses or garlic bread.
The first comes from the way he approached the Premier League like a duck to water. When Brighton sign young players from foreign countries, they usually need time to adapt to the fast pace and heightened physicality that characterizes English football.
Alexis MacAllister. Jakub Moder. Moises Caicedo. Even reigning player of the season Yves Bissouma took 18 months to establish himself as a first-team regular with Albion.
Not so Cucurella. He was thrown into the squad at the first opportunity after his £15million snap from Getafe. There has been no turning back since then, with Cucurella establishing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet.
Few 23-year-olds make such an instant impression, especially at Brighton, where the carefully mapped development paths are more about helping players make a long-term impact rather than getting straight to the bottom of things.
The second reason why Cucurella is Albion’s Player of the Season is because of what we’ve seen from him since January.
The sale of Dan Burn to Newcastle United, coupled with injuries to Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk, left Graham Potter short of centre-backs to play a three-man defence.
Potter’s response was to use Cucurella as a central defender, a role he had never fulfilled in his life before arriving at Sussex. Learning a new position is challenging at the best of times, let alone learning on the job in the high-pressure bear pit of Premier League football.
Yes, there were a few speed bumps on the road. Cucurella’s form plummeted when Albion went on that six-game losing streak between February and March, leading many of us to wonder if Potter’s determination to reuse his Spanish flying wing as a halfback -center was moved.
Since the win at Arsenal however, Cucurella has looked totally comfortable in a back three. Not only that, but the past few weeks have shown him that he is now skilled enough in the role to combine his duties as a centre-back with the sword runs that were his trademark at the back.
Webster’s ability to come out of defense with the ball at his feet is a calling card that has seen him linked with an England side. Cucurella playing as a centre-back takes such a skill set to a whole new level. If Potter continues to use Cucurella as part of the back three, he will quickly become the most unique centre-back in the Premier League.
Reason number three why Cucurella should be Brighton’s Player of the Season? He’s just fun to watch. Albion fans have a long and proud tradition of voting for solid professionals to win the award rather than flamboyant forwards.
Leon Knight’s 27 goals in the 2003-04 Division 2 playoff-winning campaign weren’t enough to earn him Player of the Season honor ahead of Guy Butters.
Neither Glenn Murray nor Elliott Bennett could prevent Adam El-Abd from winning the vote in the 2010-11 League One title season. Tommy Elphick, Andy Whing, Matthew Upson, Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk… the call of previous winners is pretty much a who’s who of defenders.
Cucurella may be one in name, but in reality, he is much more than that.
Seeing him charge forward to appear in unexpected positions has been one of the joys of watching Brighton this season, particularly at the Amex where entertainment has often been scarce.
He proved to be as important in attack as in defence. There aren’t many players you can say that about, marking Cucurella as the complete package.
Chelsea and Spurs are rumored to be interested in his services at various times this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if a concrete offer came from one of Europe’s biggest clubs within the next year.
Albion fans should make the most of Cucurella while they can. He’s a special talent who shone brighter than anyone in what could end up being a record-breaking season, thanks in large part to Brighton’s form on the road. His skills so suited to playing on the counter-attack were a big part of that success away from the Amex.
And did I mention he also had a good taste for pizza? Vote Cucurella.