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The English Premier League: As You Like It

The English Premier League: As You Like It

The shutters have come off the football transfer window and the season has begun in earnest. With only one month available to managers and football clubs to get their houses in order, new tenancy agreements will start exchanging hands. It’s unquestionable that this has been the weirdest, most unpredictable and open season for years. The usual trigger happy chairmen and boards of governors have so far shown restraint; with the exception of Blackburn and Newcastle, who sacked relatively, the most high profile managers. But this time of the season has also seen what will pass for bold statements made by clubs. The delay in the usual merry-go round of managers is a clear reflection of the nature of the league and the league table this year. The gap between teams is so small, that one win and a draw is enough to catapult a team out of the relegation zone and on to mid table. This might be the reason why the usual panic to sack managers has not set in …yet. There is some belief all round that all is not yet lost and that there is plenty of time to catch up. But recent results may change that.  (Photo:  Abdulai Mansaray, author)

Talking about a weird season, Blackburn, who had recently been taken over by a Chicken firm, told the footballing fraternity that they had tabled a bid for Brazilian legend, Ronaldhino. Some have called it a statement of intent, while others have seen it as a mark of ambition. In my book, it’s called delusion of the highest order.  In football, nothing is impossible and yes, Blackburn is capable of signing Ronaldhino…. on play station or if he is allowed to play with Zimmer frames. Blackburn is known for their perennial relegation scrap; no wonder Sam Alladice was drafted in to do his recovery job as manager. True to his credit, he snapped Blackburn out of the jaws of relegation.

When a team like Blackburn is in the dumps, and with his waning football prowess, it is not someone like Ronaldhino you want alongside you in the trenches, on a cold winter night. When it was revealed that Ronaldhino was going back to Brazil, attention was turned to David Beckham; another statement of ambition, as the owners would have you believe. Not to be outdone, even Sven Goran Erickson of championship side Leceiester City Football Club also made his intention to sign Beckham known. The relationship between Beckham and Eriksson is well documented, but there was no way in cat’s hell that he would be plying his trade at Leceiester; even at the tender retirement age of 35.

The common denominator with these so-called bids is the comical value they generate for the average football fan. Managers and owners have since found a new way to pretend to satisfy the fans’ insatiable desires to see their teams go places. This cunning strategy has only boosted the comedy value of Blackburn and others. As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. Since the owners expressed their delusional ideations, Blackburn as a club, is fast becoming a household name in India and the sub-Asian bloc. You can see the Hollywood and Bollywood effect that these two names conjure when linked with these clubs. In his heart of hearts, you just know that the Manager would have little say in that decision to buy Beckham. Steve Kean would rather have six grinders, bruisers, and water carriers to one Beckham. Of course the shirt sales back in the sub-continent would make any bank manager happy but for God’s sake, these guys should stop taking fans for mugs.

Harry Rednapp is the modern day football Houdini who continues to pull rabbits out of the bag. I like his style of play and he is currently giving football fans value for money. His open style of play puts him among the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona, when you talk about the entertainment value of the beautiful game. He has done so much that he is now been touted as the heir to the Cappello throne, for the England job; which many football pundits believe is long overdue. But I cannot understand his reason for wanting to sign David Beckham on loan. This means that if he signs for Tottenham, he will play a couple of games to get match fit, play five more and go back to LA galaxy.

Beckham will come with a high profile; he will sell shirts and put the turnstiles on over drive. As a bonus, he’ll give the Tottenham fans another new hair style but I cannot see the football sense of signing Beckham at this stage of the season, other than for the commercial and circus effect it is bound to generate. At present, Tottenham are playing one of the best footballing styles for some time. It’s a breath of fresh air. They are now fully fledged members of the high table. They are doing well. Why fix it when it’s not broken? With Beckham on board, anything Tottenham do from then on will  all be about Beckham; hence the circus effect.

Harry has two of the most prolific wingers in Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. In addition to their quality, and in contrast to Beckham, they have more mileage on their side. Beckham will only slow their style of play and make it more predictable. Apart from crosses and free kicks, what more can he bring to the party? Oh yes, he will bring experience of how to win the premiership, but that won’t even pass the threshold of the dressing room. I am sure that Peter Crouch will beg to differ on this, as he will hope to benefit from those trademark crosses….provided he gets a game. I remember in seasons gone by, Kevin Keegan of Newcastle was leading the premiership table by 12 points when he signed Faustino Asprilla, unnecessarily I should add. We all know the outcome of their demise as their title ambition was spectacularly derailed; resulting in his now infamous  tirade” I’ll love it, I’ll love it if we beat them”.

As the season of delusions goes, it couldn’t get more prominent than Solomon Kalou’s bold statement early on in the season that Chelsea will win the premiership title by December. At the moment, they cannot even buy a goal, even though goals are in the January sales now. Their most recent defeat at the hands of bottom club, Wolverhampton Wonderers is testament to the demise that is slowly eating up Chelsea. When this trend of bad form coincided with the sacking of Ray Wilkins, the problem was seen as just a minor structural ripple. This latest result shows that the problem with Chelsea is officially organic. No wonder, Ancielotti was considering himself a lucky man for still being in a job. Today, he is one of the three dead men walking; with Gerard Houllier, Avram Grant and Roy Hodgson all in tow. Ancielotti has not thrown in the towel for the title race yet, but has well as done so in a veiled attempt to divert their attention to the Champions League, the Holy Grail as the main focus this season.

As a prelude to the Arsenal –Manchester city game, Arsene Wenger took a veiled Gaelic swipe at the obscene use of money used by his counterparts up north. We know Wenger as an astute man, who believes in the ethics of total football. No doubt that he has brought a lot to the premiership. He recently stated that he would not boss Manchester City even if he was given the opportunity; because of their outrageous use of their petro-dollars; which ironically, we all contribute to at the petrol pumps. Because of their financial muscle, they have first refusal on players, and can pick and choose from the best bunch of players on the planet.  Wenger’s ideology, like Sir Alex Fergusson to nurture young talents is admirable. But unlike the latter, he is reluctant to dilute his squad with the 30-million finished article.

So when he accuses Manchester City of their behaviour, you cannot help but think that it is the classic pot calling the kettle black. Arsene snatches these young kids like Fabregas, from the cradle of other clubs and turns them into household names. Admirable, but like Manchester City, he is also using his financial clout and the prospect of playing for a glamorous club as incentive to wean and lure these kids from their maternal clubs. The only difference is that, Arsenal put in a lot of effort in fine tuning these talents, which in itself, is credit to their scouting ability. But to lambast Manchester City for the same thing, though at different levels is rich, coming from Arsene Wenger.

The only redeeming factor knows that if Wenger was in charge of the World’s banks, with his background in economics, we would have been spared the recession today. Ask the Arsenal board and share holders.  Arsenal football club has endured a 5-year trophy less fallow period. The excuse has been that he has a young team that will grow and take the premiership by storm; that is when they become men. True to his credit, they have come close but yet so far to winning the title in the past two seasons. This is their defining season.  Arsene knows that if he fails to land a trophy this season, even the most die-hard Gooner will lose patience and will start calling for his skull. They have a better chance of winning the title this season. The only question is, you wonder this supposedly young side will have the mental strength to withstand the expectation level to deliver, following their barren seasons.

While the premiership has been serving up an unusual season, you cannot help but wonder how Manchester United are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League, with games in hand on their rivals. After drawing nine of their ten away games, a series of inexplicable loss of concentration, even Nemanja Vidic, the captain is struggling to understand how they are at the top of the cherry tree.  The scary bit is that they have not been playing well. They are still in first gear, but seem to sleep walk their way to the title.

It will be foolish to conclude that the trophy is in the bag, considering the nature of the strange manner of the premiership this season. Manchester United remains unbeaten and with their penchant to play better during the second part of the season, God help us. Rooney, who took over the mantle from Ronald last season, is not scoring; still recovering from the world cup hangover. The strike force is not as potent as years gone by. So when the Champions league resumes next month, you wonder whether their form will stand the test of time. Don’t hold your breath, as it is not over until the fat lady sings.

As for Roy Hodgson, the bells tolling for the death of his managerial stewardship at Liverpool are getting louder. Just when you think that defeat at the hands of Wolverhampton Wonderers a week ago was a one off, Blackburn pile the pressure with a 3-1 defeat. Hodgson’s Liverpool career was doomed from the first day. He was even touted to replace Cappello based on taking Fulham to the final of the Europe Cup; a poor imitation of a continental trophy anyway. The legacy of Benitez, good or bad will hang over him; especially now that Benitez has returned to Merseyside; following his unsavoury and short-lived marriage to Inter Milan.

The season is hotting up. There are a lot of twists and turns to come, if the current situation is anything to go by. Meanwhile, the usual “support and backing” from chairmen has started raining in. Gerard Houllier and Ancielotti have come out proclaiming that they have the full support of their respective boards and chairmen. We know what traditionally follows these statements from them; the sack. As for the fans, it promises to be a good season, so whether a pundit, armchair fan or just a boring spectator, stay glued as the best is yet to come. No one is going to run away with the title and you can never tell the relegation candidates as the musical chairs keep going. If you are the last man to leave the room, please don’t forget to turn the lights out.

Abdulai Mansaray, UK

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