Go with a smile!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Poetic Justice

I suppose for the last few years, there hasn’t really been any football results where people have felt that it was an outrage. Last year, Man City won their first league title for 40+ years and most people were happy with that. Chelsea probably didn’t deserve to win the Champion’s league that year but many people were happy. Chelsea had been denied the chance to win the Champion’s league a few times before, most notably in 2008 and 2009, so it was good that they finally won it. They were happy for Liverpool to win the league cup, because of all their other troubles. This year, they’re quite happy for Bayern Munich to win the champion’s league, in spite of Borussia Dortmund being the fairy tale favourite, because they failed twice in the final, against Inter and Chelsea. The EPL was won by Manchester United to give Alex Ferguson a fitting send off, although there was the mischievous suggestion by Arsene Wenger that they bought Robin Van Persie, in contradiction to their normal policy of not buying older players, because Alex Ferguson badly wanted to win the league in his last year. The FA Cup was won by Wigan in a fairy tale.

There was a great achievement in 1999 for Sir Alex Ferguson to have won the treble. It was an incredible feat because they were all narrow victories. English sides have won the champion’s league four times and all four times were narrow victories in the final, although in 2008, the runner’s up would also have been English. It was a very intense and romantic treble because all three trophies were won by narrow margins. It took an incredible goal by Ryan Giggs to knock Arsenal out of the FA cup, it took a performance of a lifetime by Roy Keane to turn the champion’s league semi-final against Juventus, and it took two incredible injury time goals for Man U to beat Bayern. The league went down to the wire against one of the greatest Arsenal sides. But the fact is that it is very difficult to achieve the treble with an English side. The Man U side were unlucky against Portsmouth in 2008, when an arguably better team could have beaten them – there was no way that Man U could have lost the subsequent matches against WBA and Cardiff.

There have been two more trebles in the subsequent years. Barcelona achieved it in 2009, but it took some pretty dodgy refereeing and a Didier Drogba tirade to knock Chelsea out. Barcelona, though, only had to contend with a two horse race. In Spain you have your Valancias, your Athletico Madrids, your Sevillas, and your Bilbaos who can win the Europa leagues occasionally. But they aren’t like Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Inter’s win was more remarkable. But there are mainly only the three big clubs. This is not the Serie A of the late 80s and early 90s where you had your Romas, Parmas, Lazios, Sampdoria and Fiorentinas actively competing for the title every single year. As recently as 08-09, you had a season when Wolfsburg, Bayern, Stuttgart, Berlin, Hamburg and Dortmund all fighting for the title, but for the last few seasons, it’s turned into a two horse race – only Dortmund and Bayern are in it. And for all you know, Bayern could achieve the treble next week.

What happens next will be very interesting. It used to be that the big four was Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, from 2004 to 2009, with Liverpool dropping out of the top 4 just once – but they qualified for the Champions league anyway because of a freak win. Then after a year of transition during which Tottenham qualified for the Champions league, it’s been Man City, Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea ever since. But since Alex Ferguson has gone, things have gotten more interesting. The contenders for the champions league places are, realistically, Liverpool and Tottenham, other than those other four mentioned above. Alex Ferguson left behind Man U in a very good position, but there is always the chance that Chelsea or Man City or even Arsenal could mount a serious challenge for the title next season.

The paradox of the English Premier League is that it may not be very good at producing young English players. The academy systems of the EPL clubs don’t produce a lot of young talent. The Tom Cleverleys and the Phil Jones are pretty rare. Chelsea’s youth team system is a joke, and Mourinho has never been good at bringing young talent up the ranks. Wenger’s so-called youth policy consists more of scouting around for young talent from other clubs (Fabregas, Flamini, Walcott, Clichy). But they’re very good at attracting good managers. They’ve attracted Moyes, Ferguson, Wenger, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Hiddink, Benitez, Mancini, Villas Boas and now Pellegrini from other countries. And even there is a new batch of talented coaches at the mid level: your Paul Lamberts, Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarkes, Michael Laudrups, Roberto Martinezs, Nigel Adkins, Sam Allardyces, Chris Houghtons and Alan Pardews. Never has the English Premier League been so full of promising managerial talent as right now.

That said, it’s pretty remarkable that in a short space of time, 3 out of 4 of the longest managerial reigns in the EPL have been cut short: Alex Ferguson, Tony Pulis and David Moyes (although he was moving up to Man U). That means that only Arsene Wenger would be left among the long reigning managers. But that could mean that Arsene Wenger might finally be ready to end his “coming in fourth every year is in itself a trophy” and actually make a real push for titles. After all, since he last won the FA cup in 2005, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Swansea and Wigan have won trophies, and Arsenal has had nothing.


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