A real fairytale
As the multi-billion pound industry that is the English Premiere League drew it’s final footballing breath last season, it was perhaps reasonable to suggest that the often sighted claims of footballing dreams coming true against all the odds actually came to fruition. For once this wasn’t sounding like a Super Sunday soundbite. Leicester City‘s formidable rise to the top of the pile has been the stuff of fairytales, no doubt, but in a greater context it heralded one of the strangest and least predictable campaigns of the modern Football era.
Money and specifically the sharing out of broadcasters’ finances has not only moved the goalposts for your Russian Oligarch or Middle Eastern Oil Baron, it’s made the English Premiere League football unreasonably exciting. The dictum that money buys you titles was only partially true last season (both domestic cup finals were captured by the wealthy Blue and Red halves of Manchester). The evening out of the Premier League’s footballing powers meant every side was literally capable of beating everyone else. Whilst other European Leagues snoozed their way to their predictable Champions (Spain = Barcelona, Germany = Bayern, Italy = Juventus and France = PSG), the Premier League went and gave us a fable (perhaps one worthy all of the investment after all?). Americans were having elocution lessons so they could pronounce Leicester correctly, demonstrating this dream-like reach. Amongst all this craziness the increasingly humble Leicester manager, Claudio Ranieri played a masterclass hand of Zen like tactical nous.
Leicester City‘s formidable rise to the top of the pile has been the stuff of fairytales, no doubt, but in a greater context it heralded one of the strangest and least predictable campaigns of the modern Football era.
Tottenham brought the English youth and lost some of their Spursy tag, whilst West Ham and Southampton both showed competitiveness. The only certainty of a wayward season was that Arsenal would finish above Spurs (sigh) and claim their top 4 trophy. The former champions Chelsea imploded spectacularly into Jose Mourinho stardust whilst receiving scant sympathy. Both Manchester clubs were saddled with managers past their sell-by dates. Louis Van Gaal gave good entertainment as he batted his way through Mourinho speculation, whilst the humble Manuel Pellegrini retained his dignity despite his side’s mediocre performances. Liverpool sacked the ‘outstanding’ Brendan Rodgers and replaced him with the charming, reasonable and very tall Jurgen Klopp. As the season ended, you could see Klopp’s methods were seeping through. Powerhouses Newcastle and Aston Villa lost their seats at the grand banquet, their carelessness denying those clubs even more of the future lucrative pie. All the while Leicester from mid-season on managed to close out games more impressively than everyone else.
On strictly personal terms the 2015-16 season was so much fun. One season wonder Harry Kane carried on with even more aplomb and flakey Spurs showed some steel amongst some really scintillating football. Even more satisfying was the sense that many of the young players in the Spurs side were likeable. It also made supporting England at the Euros bearable, despite Roy Hodgson’s incompetence.
Are you a red or are you a blue?
With the summer break meaningless as Euro 2016 kept footballing diaries full, the forthcoming Premier League seems more star-studded than ever – with most of world football’s coaching heavyweights finding their way to dear old Blighty. The Premiere League now has it’s own Magnificent Seven – these teams all realistically have a chance of winning the title. Considered the greatest coach of this generation, Pep Guardiola has turned up at Manchester City – a club it’s fair to describe as filthy rich. I find Guardiola a seriously weird character, with each passing season his tics and gesticulations from the touchline becoming more exaggerated. He seems to be someone more admired than loved. Pep inherits a talented yet oldish squad. Many are asking if Guardiola will manage to cope with the unique pressures associated with the Premier League. I get the feeling Manchester City will become a more consistent, possession–based beast under Pep. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them win the title.
I get the feeling Manchester City will become a more consistent, possession–based beast under Pep. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them win the title.
Manchester United bowed to the inevitable and replaced Louis Van Gaal with the perpetual enfant terrible Jose Mourinho. After last season’s massive fail with Chelsea, The Special One lost his ‘special’ tag. The footballing tabloid pages are already in overdrive at the possible Pep vs Jose scenarios (after their contentious time opposing each other in Spain) – whilst the added spice of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will surely bring those Manchester derbies to the boil nicely. I expect Utd. to reflect Mourinho’s pragmatism and be a tough side to play. Alternatively, this could be a season too far for both Zlatan and Rooney as frontline strikers. As Mourinho’s teams historically respond to his tactics very well in the first season, I still expect Manchester United to be challenging their neighbours for the title. I like Jose and his controversies, but he has to really deliver this season if he wants to be considered amongst the elite and not seen as a spent, destructive managerial force.
The showman arrives
Chelsea had the worst title defence I can remember last season, finishing a distant 10th and losing an aura of invincibility (especially at home). Antonio Conte, probably the coaching star of Euro 2016 with a seriously limited Italian side, has much to do to make Chelsea Top 4 material. The lack of European football should help Chelsea manage their squad better, but I still think they’ve fallen a little too far off the pace. However much charm Conte will bring to the Premier League, this softly spoken – yet often rabid on the sidelines – Italian isn’t a miracle worker. I think it will take Conte a season to settle, and if the Russian owner keeps his patience, I expect a stronger Chelsea the following campaign.
News that Jurgen Klopp won’t talk to the Sun newspaper reveals a man who has very quickly bought into the soul of Liverpool football club. Jurgen is so likeable, surely ‘man’ and ‘crush’ were two words purely tailor made and glued together especially for the German. Importantly, on the pitch The Klopp Press is present too, and expectations that Liverpool break the Top Four this season (BIG PREDICTION!) shouldn’t be too off the mark. I just wish Mr Klopp had found some space in his side for the erratic but lovable man-child Mario Balotelli. I guess I have to give up on that dream.
Arsene the mule
The most reasonable coach in world football (and the longest serving) Arsene Wenger could be having his last season at Arsenal (at least his contract says so). Although Arsenal fans won’t admit it, last season was a disaster for the club: the title should have been theirs. They were the only one of the ‘presumed’ Top 4 to be seemingly consistent. In real parlance this actually means they had lots of injuries to crucial players, got knocked out of the Champions League in the last 16, and lost lots of games they shouldn’t have. All the while, Wenger showed his usual stubbornness and semi-reasonable excuses post matches. The Arsenal faithful groaned with their usual nonchalance. I secretly admire Arsene, his intelligence and avoidance of football cliche have enlightened the game. But I have the slight feeling this is one season too many for Mr Wenger and Arsenal will miss out on that Champions League Qualification trophy (sniggers). Why the sarcasm you wonder? Of course, I’m a Spurs fan.
For the first time in my life, Tottenham have a coach that’s more in demand than Arsene Wenger. Maurizio Pochettino has been linked with every club from Real Madrid, Manchester Utd, the England team and more seriously, the Argentine national team during the summer. Not only has he assured Tottenham their highest Premier League finish and Champions League football, he did so on a similar spend to Leicester last season (i.e. the price of a bag of salty peanuts in footballing terms). Changing Spurs mentality has been key, and although Spurs ended the season badly, it was only once the title had all but gone. I expect my beloved lilywhites to keep improving and challenge the big(ger) boys once again.
Will the Tinker Man tinker?
So what of last season’s Champions Leicester? Claudio Ranieri has lost his remarkable defensive shield Kante, but at this stage has kept the rest of the Champions together and found some more obscure additions. I think Leicester may not go far in the Champions League, but this team have already been written off this coming season. Apparently it was all a one-off dream. Normal service will be resumed. It’s one of the reasons I almost hope Leicester do this again – win the Premier League title. If you take last season’s points total, and the last seven games of the previous season, Leicester City are unquestionably the strongest team in the Premier League for over a calendar year, at least according to wins and points accrued (the things you need to win titles funnily enough). I wouldn’t bet against them. Also Claudio is a true gent possibly on his last ride.
West Ham United, in the steely surroundings of their new Olympic Stadium home should still be a challenge to the natural order thanks to their excellent manager Slaven Bilic. The Dutch general Ronald Koeman newly arrives at Everton this season and inherits a squad full of promise. The surprisingly upward Southampton FC may not be quite as effective this coming year. Their new coach, Claude Puel, has had a more than distinguished career in France, but untested in his new environs, how will he cope in the rough and tumble of the Premier League? Of the rest, Crystal Palace, Stoke City and West Brom have some real sense of continuity on their side. The recently much discarded and humiliated David Moyes pitches his mast at Sunderland, a chance to re-establish his tarnished reputation perhaps? I expect all three teams who came up to be relegated: sorry Hull City, Burnley City and Middlesbrough Utd. fans. But Watford Town and Swansea City could easily be caught-up in that drowning game.
A rebuttal to the money men that riches can’t buy you love, and it sure as fuck can’t buy you football.
Was last season an oddity or a new reality of Premiere League unpredictability? A rebuttal to the money men that riches can’t buy you love, and it sure as fuck can’t buy you football. One can only dream. But if the sport in general is to retain a long term appeal, then the fairytale, the romance and the ‘what the fuck just happened against all odds’ must thrive. Let’s hope the Premiere League leaves us dreaming a little longer.
Winners: Manchester City.
Top Scorer : Harry Kane
First to go down: Hull City
Signing of the season: Paul Pogba.
First managerial casualty: Walter Mazzari.
Biggest flop: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.