A Man for All Seasons

This is the time of year when my calendar becomes tricky; most of my year is spent making time for football, there is so much to watch. Sadly for this year, there is no World Cup or Euro to enjoy, so I have two months to fill before normal service resumes.

This is the time of year when my calendar becomes tricky; most of my year is spent making time for football, there is so much to watch. Sadly for this year, there is no World Cup or Euro to enjoy, so I have two months to fill before normal service resumes.

At times I get so desperate I even walk to the local park to cheer little children playing. By the beginning of August, we will all be in that dream time; that moment just before kick-off when everything is possible, Spurs can win the league, even Man City fans can dream of Champions League.

Then it all settles to the usual routine; the top 4 are untouchable, the other 16 fight for scraps. Last season promised so much with Aston Villa seemingly able to do the unthinkable and crash the top 4; alas we all know what happened as they imploded while Arsenal regained their footing.

When you look at the Premiership, you see an unstoppable evolution separating the top 4 from the rest; it is like feeding a crocodile, the more you feed it, the more it grows and then you have to feed it more.

A team has to be able to bet high stakes to crash the party; Manchester City is owned by Arab oil billionaires and is desperate to splash the cash with $150 m bids for the likes of Kaka. Looking at the recent history of English football, you see the reasons for the current state of the game.

English clubs rose in prominence in the 70’s, sadly hooliganism was a major part of the game but the clubs were dominant on the pitch. After a brief dominance by Bayern, Ajax and Saint-Etienne, English clubs won 7 out of 10 from 1976-1986.

Nottingham Forest (2) Liverpool (4) Aston Villa (1); so the European Cup was becoming an English affair and the other nations resented this.

The Heysel disaster of 1986 saw 43 Juventus killed fans in a hooligan attack and this was the perfect opportunity to reset the power structure.

The 5 years when English clubs were banned were catastrophic for English football; at a time when football was making giant strides on the continent, English football was stagnating.

The governments on the mainland helped professionalise football; with subsidies from regional governments, new stadia, coaching badges were required so coaches were schooled in science of football.

I remember watching Derby County x Aston Villa in 1989 and a defender was smoking in the tunnel; meanwhile in Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, it was a different world with nutrition, conditioning, video analysis, massage, and the general scientific approach taking hold. Even when English clubs returned to Europe in 1992, they were playing a game of catch-up.

Alex Ferguson was the first to bring that new approach to the Premiership and that gave him the edge until Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996.

Wenger brought another level of professionalism by micro-managing his players’ lives in minute detail and adding sport psychology to the arsenal of a Premier Manager.

The Premiership is a triumph of marketing with $6 billion generated annually by just 20 clubs; the colonial history of England, the language, the product is great and Asia loves the premiership, so the premiership is miles ahead of any other league in terms of money.

Sadly, in terms of skill, it lags behind other leagues partly due to the pace of the game which doesn’t allow pondering a pass and the English aversion to skill as they prefer hard work.

The lack of a national coaching structure has meant generations of players were brought up with all the wrong values; poor in tactical awareness, poor in skill, and this meant the English imported all they needed.

When Chelsea wanted to replace Hiddink, there was not a single British coach considered, not even Davis Moyes or Martin O’Neil not even Roy Hodgeson who has managed Inter Milan.

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