This is the best time of year for a football fan; the optimism, the dreams, the anticipation and above all, curiosity. In theory, even Fulham can win the league; if 7 of their players became world-class, but alas it isn’t going to happen.
Not in this time and age; the days when Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Man City, Huddersfield, Leeds and Blackburn could win the league are over for now. Any Premiership team can put 11 good players on the pitch but to win the cup, you need 22 world-class players; that would cost you $200m a year, when the prize money is $150 – do the maths.
When you look at West Ham in the late 90’s to 2000’s then you see a potential championship team that failed to stay together; Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Freddie Kanoute, Glenn Johnson, Michael Carrick, Nigel Reo-Coker, Jermaine Defoe, Anton Ferdinand, and the list goes on.
If they had the money to hold on to all those players then a title was certainly a possibility but instead they ended up bankrupt and relegated. In the old days, the title wasn’t everything, there are teams from the past that ended up in folklore without winning the title; like Ron Atkinson’s West Brom of the 70’s who were the Arsenal of their day with great black players like Cyril Regis – a definitive no.9, Brendan Batsen a marauding wing-back and the unplayable playmaker Lawrie Cunningham who was admired by Pele but sadly died of a car crash after signing for Barcelona.
Leeds United is the ultimate example of over-reaching your finances but the big clubs have always poached the best of the rest; John Barnes was such a mercurial player that he, along with Luther Blisset, took Watford – a town the size of Gitarama to be the second best team in Europe.
Liverpool came knocking for Barnes but he didn’t like that he had been racially abused by Liverpool fans during a game where he demolished their defence like they were children.
Year after year Liverpool came back with more and more money and then Barnes silenced the Maracana in Rio with 120,000 fans as he scored the goal voted the best ever seen on Brazilian soil; he dribbled and hypnotised defenders to dink it past a bemused goalie – he had to go to Liverpool now, AC Milan bought Blisset and Watford sank without a trace.
The protagonists have become the coaches and a handful of star-players; this season is about a mental battle between four men with Championship pedigree.
Alex Ferguson is still favourite but has chosen to make issues hard for himself, he has never replaced players that were essential to his team; he has never replaced Roy Keane with another tough-tackling midfielder, and Giggs and Scholes need a replacement soon.
He is going to change the whole script and not replace Ronaldo when he has Berbatov, Rooney, Valencia, Nani, Macheda, but you feel he will dip into the market.
Benitez is the one with the wind in his sails, last season was the first where he actually challenged for the title although he is struggling to hold on to his players with Real wanting Alonso, Barca wanting Mascherano and David Villa refusing to contemplate rainy Liverpool.
Benitez realises he has to bring more variety to his game with less reliance on Torres and Gerrard; he is in the hunt for Ashley Young but looking at his treatment of Ryan Babel, I wouldn’t want Young to have his game stifled.
Ryan Babel is the perfect partner for Torres with pace, movement, skill, awareness as well as being unselfish but he finds himself barely on the bench. The 4-5-1 has never won the Premiership, he can try and call it a 4-3-3 but it is negative football, cynical score chasing is the character flaw that denies Benitez true glory; he won’t risk anything and uses players like lego blocks without thought and dynamism.
Ancelotti is a yes-man trying to learn to say “Yes” instead of “Si” but he’ll also have to learn YES in Russian; at AC Milan he didn’t complain even though some of his players were so old that they were losing teeth and were late for training because they had to collect their pensions.
Wenger as ever is the great unknown; he has stunned everyone with his silence and I am uncomfortable with this.
He has sold Adebayor, Kolo Toure, and Barca are ready to offer up to $100m for Fabregas; but he cannot lose the core of his team, Arsenal without Fab is less of a team. Wenger is planning a coup and as a Spurs fan I am worried about what the professor might do in this chaos