Assuming that supporters of 1996 Coca Cola Cup runners up The Leeds United do not decide to turn this year’s Brighton Player of the Season Award into a rigged vote of the sort rarely seen outside of North Korea again, there can surely be only one man winning the big prize for 2021-22.
With an honourable mention to Joel Veltman, who has been his normal model of consistency, it has to be wild-haired Spanish left wing back Marc Cucurella who caps a remarkable debut season in English football with the crown.
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 enjoying dinner in my favourite Italian restaurant following his first Amex appearance against Leicester City back in September. Not only is Cucurella a great football player, but he also appreciates fine dining.
It seems unlikely that any other Brighton fan (or Leeds fan) will be voting based on where Cucurella choses to enjoy a Sunday night pizza. 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 has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. When Brighton sign young players from foreign lands, they tend to need time to adapt to the frenetic pace and the increased physicality that is the hallmark of English football.
Alexis Mac Allister. Jakub Moder. Moises Caicedo. Even reigning Player of the Season Yves Bissouma needed 18 months to establish himself as a first team regular with the Albion.
Not so Cucurella. He was thrown into the team at the first opportunity following his £15 million capture from Getafe. There has been no looking back since then, Cucurella establishing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet.
Not many 23-year-olds make such an instant impression, especially at Brighton where carefully mapped development pathways focus more on helping players make a long term impact rather than going straight in at the deep end.
The second reason Cucurella is the Albion’s Player of the Season is because of what we have seen from him since January.
The sale of Dan Burn to Newcastle United, coupled with injuries to Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk, has left Graham Potter short of centre backs to play a three-man defence.
Potter’s answer has been to use Cucurella as a central defender, a role he had never fulfilled in his life before arriving in Sussex. Learning a new position is a challenge at the best of times, let alone learning on the job in the high-pressure bear pit of Premier League football.
Yes, there have been a few speedbumps in the road. Cucurella’s form dipped when the Albion went on that six game losing streak between February and March, leading many of us to wonder if Potter’s determination to repurpose his flying Spanish wing back as a centre half was misplaced.
Since the win at Arsenal however, Cucurella has looked totally at home in a back three. Not only that, but recent weeks have shown him to now be adept enough in the role to combine his duties as a central defender with the swashbuckling runs forward that were his trademark at wing back.
The ability of Webster to step out of defence with the ball at his feet is a calling card that has seen him linked with an England cap. Cucurella playing as a centre back takes such a skillset to a whole new level. Should Potter continue to use Cucurella as part of the back three, then he will fast become the most unique central defender in the Premier League.
Reason number three why Cucurella should be Brighton Player of the Season? He is just fun to watch. Albion fans have a long and proud tradition of voting for solid professionals to win the award rather than flamboyant attackers.
Leon Knight’s 27 goals in the 2003-04 Division Two playoff winning campaign were not enough to take him to the Player of the Season crown ahead of Guy Butters.
Neither Glenn Murray nor Elliott Bennett could prevent Adam El-Abd winning the vote in the 2010-11 League One title season. Tommy Elphick, Andy Whing, Matthew Upson, Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk… the roll call of previous winners is pretty much a who’s who of defenders.
Cucurella might be one of those in name, but in reality he is so much more.
Watching him charge forward to pop up in unexpected positions has been one of the joys of watching Brighton this season, particularly at the Amex where entertainment has often been in short supply.
He has proven to be as important in attack as he is in defence. There are not many players that you can say that about, marking Cucurella out as the full package.
Chelsea and Spurs have been rumoured to be interested in his services at various points this season. It would not be a surprise if a concrete bid came in from one of the biggest clubs in Europe over the next year.
Albion fans should make the most of Cucurella whilst they can. He is a special talent who has shone brighter than anyone else in what could end up being a record-breaking season, thanks to largely to Brighton’s form on the road. His skillset so suited to playing on the counter attack has been a huge part of that success away from the Amex.
And did I mention he has a great taste in pizza too? Vote Cucurella.