It is quite staggering just how much change has happened in the Premier League over the past few days. Tony Pulis has “mutually” walked away from Stoke City, which actually means he was sacked without ceremony by Peter Coates. Arsenal have been linked with any striker that has a £30 million price tag, whilst everybody’s favourite little Russian nuisance said a heart breaking farewell to Arsenal on Twitter. I shed a tear.
More so than any other season I can remember, clubs are acting rapidly to tie up transfer deals, appoint new managers and sell players. Everybody is looking to get ahead of their rivals early on and probably the most pro-active club yesterday, was Fulham, who went about signing Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta on free transfers. I know nothing on Boateng, but I know of Amorebieta; an imposing defender who has been a key figure at Athletic Bilbao for eight seasons. Arsenal were interested in signing Amorebieta last summer and maintained an interest in January, but nothing happened. There was contact made between Arsenal and Athletic Bilbao, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen and Fulham have landed a very good defender on a free transfer, tying the Venezuelan to a four-year contract.
Fulham have got some frightening individual talent, but are let down by a base that just isn’t “solid.” The acquisition of Amorebieta will surely amend that.
It has also been announced in Spain, that Malaga manager, Manuel Pellegrini, will be leaving the club and is set to take over at Manchester City.
Like Amorebieta above, my knowledge on Pellegrini is little, but what I do know, is that Pellegrini just guided Malaga to the quarter-final stages of the Champions League, only losing to Borussia Dortmund through two cruel, late goals. He managed all of this under the heavy cloud of key players such as Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon leaving in the summer, amongst others.
Clearly, Pellegrini is a manager who can lead men through a difficult time and under Roberto Mancini last season, Manchester City lacked that kind of guidance when they were fighting amongst themselves. For me, Pellegrini is the right appointment for Manchester City and about the most sensible one they could have hoped to have made.
Right, that’s yer lot from me today. See you tomorrow!
Do you wanna know why I typed that in caps lock? Because Tony Pulis has “mutually walked away from Stoke City after chairman Peter Coates sacked him for a sh*t run of results.” There’s nothing “mutual” about Pulis’ departure, he’s been sacked. Why? Because Stoke City have stagnated badly. Pulis has one way of playing football and it’s not a sustainable method.
If a new manager were to arrive at Stoke, could he get them playing passing football? Of course he could. For those who think not, look at the quick transition that Owen Coyle made at Bolton Wanderers when he first arrived to replace Gary Megson, who played an awful brand of football. Bolton were a team of cloggers and “experienced pros” but a different style of management brought the best out of them and under Coyle, they started to play good football. With a whole summer under a new manager, if that’s sorted quickly, then Stoke will be fine next season. They’ll be stronger without Pulis and I don’t see them being relegated.
Stevan Jovetic to Arsenal
Italian journalist, Tancredi Palmeri, yesterday broke the news that Arsenal had launched an official bid of £24.5 million for Fiorentina player and Montenegro international, Stevan Jovetic. There were then reports that Jovetic’s agents were in London to discuss a potential move. It’s also said that Jovetic hasn’t decided between Arsenal and Juventus yet, but an early, bold move by Arsenal has set the race for signature and caught the Serie A winners cold.
Jovetic, should he sign for Arsenal, has the qualities that dictate he could play across the entire front line. Supremely gifted, Jovetic is that extra yard of quality that Arsenal have missed this season in matches against the big teams. He possesses a Suarez-like ability to dribble through crowds of players, but his goal record has been highlighted as a weakness. Personally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to it. I looked at his stats yesterday and I think, without time to look right now, that Jovetic scored 14 goals in 31 appearances last season for Fiorentina. The guy is only 23, still in the development stages of his career and in a better team, Jovetic will prosper.
What Jovetic isn’t, is a specialist striker. As I say, he could play across the entire front line and even behind another striker. Life the specialist defensive midfielder, the specialist striker is a dying breed; you have to be so much more than a lump of meat who scores goals. What that means for Arsenal, is that with only Jovetic, Olivier Giroud and the incoming Yaya Sanogo, there is room for one more striker of a quality calibre at Arsenal. With Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott both tried in roles as striker at various stages last season, it could mean that one or the other could be seen primarily as a striking option. If that were to happen though, then a right or left-winger would need to be signed.
What is a certainty, that even with Jovetic coming, if it is indeed true, that Arsenal will still need more forward options, whether it be on the flanks or through the middle. Arsenal are from done with their transfer activity.
Kolo Toure to Liverpool
Ben Smith of BBC Sport reports that Kolo Toure will move to Liverpool once his Manchester City contract expires in June. Once dubbed the “African Cannavaro” by Italian press, Toure only made 18 appearances for Manchester City in all competitions and was left out of their Champions League squad.
The rumours are that Brendan Rodgers wants two central defenders after the retirement of Jamie Carragher and the departure or Martin Skrtel imminent. Kyriakos Papadopoulos is Liverpool’s priority signing, but an asking price of £20 million for the Greek international could prove to be too much, even for a club which spunked £35 million on Andy Carroll. Alternatively, Liverpool could turn their attention to Swansea City captain, Ashley Williams and rumours are that Winston Reid is being measured up by two other Premier League clubs, with Arsenal being one of them.
Real Madrid have officially announced what we’ve all been expecting since about November: Jose Mourinho is leaving Real Madrid after three years in charge, in which time he won the league and Copa Del Rey. Mourinho will take charge for the final time against Osasuna on June 1st, at the Bernabeu.
Nobody in Barcelona will miss his mind games, that much is for sure. Constant barbs in the press and provocative behaviour, paired Mourinho’s quality for coming straight into a new club and making an impression, meant that he eventually overhauled Barcelona last season and won the La Liga title. In the final weeks of last season, Barcelona had looked weak, while Real Madrid were strong and dominant. From that moment of winning the league, Real Madrid were expected to march on this season and win it again. Pep Guardiola had departed, Tito Vilanova took charge of Barcelona and they looked there for the taking.
As many people questioned just why Real Madrid were performing so far below standard, it became quite apparent as this season aged. Fights with players and mind games lead to factions of the dressing room opposing Mourinho, none more so than Iker Casillas, a pivotal character at the club who had been cast aside. Other dressing room leaders, such as Pepe, had also turned against their manager. Cristiano Ronaldo had already turned against his compatriot months, if not years ago.
When appointing Mourinho as club manager, there has to be an acceptance on all parties concerned as to what this divisive character brings. It can’t be argued that Mourinho doesn’t bring success, as he will win trophies. He was with Inter Milan for two years and won four trophies. In three years, he claimed five trophies for Chelsea.
If so successful, why does Mourinho not stay anywhere for more than four seasons? Because after a certain time, his methods become psychologically straining. There are always players who work for and against Mourinho and it’s when in his second or third season at a club, where he needs players to fight and back him after some negative press, or a string of poor performances, that Mourinho is found wanting, for his players won’t back him. Or at least, not all of them.
Mourinho isn’t going to be the type of manager who stays at one club for seven years and nurtures youth players, for he has no time for that. Nurturing youth is a risk because of their inexperience and there are no “guarantees” as to whether they will play well from match to match. Losing matches and missing out on trophies hurts Mourinho’s CV, meaning young players won’t be risked in important matches under Mourinho’s charge.
For me, the best managers recalibrate and adjust to their external and internal surroundings. They are always great at being able to judge the landscape in which they work and alter their methods slightly to adapt, yet still continue to win as normal. Jose Mourinho is not that type of manager. For all of his trophies, he remains under a certain band of managers whom he cannot compare to.
The contrasting situations between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at the end of 90 minutes on Sunday, spoke volumes for the importance of Champions League football.
On the one hand, Arsenal celebrated as if they had lifted a trophy, for which they have been criticised for. “Fourth is not a trophy, this just shows how far Arsenal have slipped.” Granted, Arsenal have slipped, but to hammer them for celebrating a win with their fans, a win which saw them finish above their rivals no less, is a genuine cause for celebration. Robin van Persie lead similar celebrations to the travelling Arsenal support at Stamford Bridge last year, a match which Arsenal had won 5-3. This result brought an end to Arsenal’s woeful start to the season and was massive for morale. Rightly so, Arsenal celebrated with fans as if they had won a trophy.
But, Everton didn’t dance around when they finished above Liverpool in the league? No, but that’s because the rewards weren’t so big financially. What finishing fourth has done for Arsenal, with their new sponsorship deals, has given them financial parity in the transfer market with every other football club. Arsene Wenger is sculpting together a new side after the destruction of his old one, which was dubbed, “Project Youth.” People quickly forget how long that team took to build and underestimate the damage its break-up had on Arsenal. In creating a new squad, Wenger can’t be questioned for spending money over the past two seasons.
A lot of the signings that Wenger had made however, are replacements for those who have left, or players for squad depth. Very few have been investments in the calibre of a Cesc Fabregas or a Robin van Persie. Now, with the money available and rumours growing from strong sources regarding Arsenal transfers, there was a feeling of optimism yesterday amongst the Arsenal support. For me at least, the celebrations weren’t just for finishing in front of Tottenham and finishing fourth, but at the prospect of kicking on now.
In his post-match interview, Theo Walcott spoke of the need to be celebrating titles, not fourth place finishes and he’s absolutely right. Now is the time for Arsenal to kick on and there is a genuine optimism that they will.
As Arsenal’s players were celebrating and dancing in front of their away support in Newcastle, Tottenham players had their heads down in gutting disappointment. They’ve been at their maximum this year and have been able to boast one of the Premier League’s star performers in Gareth Bale, who has rescued Tottenham countless times in the dying minutes over the past few months. Tottenham have also been able to boat the league’s most consistent centre-back in Jan Vertonghen and were 7 points clear of Arsenal with ten matches to go in March. One month later, Arsenal had recovered and taken over fourth spot.
The possible permutations of not qualifying for the Champions League, are very dangerous for Tottenham. Financially, they cannot compete with any of the top four, nor are they a bigger club and thus can’t attract the same level of players. If Tottenham were to bid for a really big player, they then have to persuade him to join a club that isn’t competing in Europe’s top competition. Clubs interested in signing Gareth Bale will lay siege to Daniel Levy’s office for the next few months, which is a huge worry.
Like Arsenal, finishing fourth was the grounds for building on and strengthening their position. That Tottenham didn’t succeed will make a for a large degree of uncertainty over the summer. Bids will come in for Gareth Bale and if Real Madrid start asking, then the Welshman’s head will be turned very quickly. As Gary Neville said yesterday, it’s important that both teams come flying out of the blocks in the summer transfer window, but maybe more important for Tottenham, who now have to endure an assault on their club for Gareth Bale and potentially, Jan Vertonghen, who is allegedly attracting interest from Barcelona.
Well, what a week we’ve had. Sir Alex Ferguson managed his final game at Old Trafford last Sunday, Paul Scholes played for one last time before retirement and now, despite declaring he might stay with Paris Saint-Germain for another year, David Beckham has announced his retirement.
My formative football years were probably defined most by David Beckham. There were plenty more talented footballers than Beckham; my own team, Arsenal, had a plethora of better players, as did most of the big clubs in Europe, but there was still nobody like Beckham. For me as a kid, it was the stories of him sleeping with a football when he was my age, spending every evening in his local park practising with a ball at his feet, with an immense determination to make himself better. Then, as a starry-eyed child, I’d see the TV adverts, his trophy wife, Victoria Beckham, the clothes, the hair-cuts and everything else that screamed David Beckham and I wanted it.
Of course, it isn’t just me who wanted to be Beckham; the majority of people did at some point in their life. Even grown men would sculpt their looks to be just like Beckham. What was important though, was that Beckham had worked tirelessly to get to that point and even then, when he was at the top, he’d still practice with fearsome dedication to improving his game and working on those world famous free-kicks of his. This meant that people believed they too could play at the top level and for young children with a dream, that’s very important. Beckham wasn’t blessed with bags of natural talent, what he had he worked very hard for.
David Beckham’s activities off the football pitch will subjugate everything he did on it as people reflect upon his football career. That might be unfair on Beckham, but when godparents to one of their children are Elton John and Elizabeth Hurley, you can’t really expect anything less! Beckham also had a welcome party thrown for him in Los Angeles, at which Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Will Smith, Jay-Z and George Clooney attended. Could you imagine celebrities with such a high status attending a welcome party for Wayne Rooney?
I can’t afford the time to sit here and type through Beckham’s career, highlighting the highs and the lows. Personally, I’ll cast aside the celebrity status and remember Beckham for the footballer, and in particular, that awesome, incredible, excellent, superlative-busting moment against Greece as England looked for a win to secure progression through to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
I remember watching that match at a friend’s house and I vividly recall a succession of free-kicks as time ticked away on the match. Draw, and England would have to compete in a play-off match to qualify for the World Cup at the expense of Germany. One goal was all that was needed and with every free-kick that had been awarded, we all celebrated in the belief that Beckham would score. Of course, the git would miss every single one he fired until the 92nd minute, when he hit a free-kick into the top corner to send England to the World Cup. It was a wonderful moment and we celebrated wildly.
It’s strange when I recall that moment, because just a few years earlier, Beckham had been the most hated man in England for getting sent off at the 1998 World Cup in France. Effigies of Beckham were burned and he suffered horrible abuse at every Premier League ground in the country. To go from that, to the most celebrated man in the country at that time, was remarkable. His powers of recovery were great and they have been all his career.
At the 2002 World Cup, England played Argentina in the group stages and awarded a penalty, Beckham, acting as captain, took the penalty and dispatched, letting years of torment rush out in his celebration, which is another of my favourite football moments and another good example of Beckham’s ability to bounce back.
Beckham was frozen out of the Real Madrid team by Fabio Capello in his final season. Much hard work in training meant Capello could ignore him no longer and Beckham’s form in the final months of the La Liga season were brilliant, to the extent that Madrid won their first trophy in three years. Later, the same manager would freeze Beckham out of the England squad, before he fought his way back once again, with only injury picked up at AC Milan preventing Beckham going to the 2010 World Cup.
An immense ability to recover from set-backs, never feeling sorry for himself and all the hard work he put in to get to where he now stands, makes Beckham an inspiration and role model for children around the world. Anybody for that matter can look to Beckham for motivation and I’ll always remember him specifically for providing one of my favourite football moments.
It was a big night yesterday as I made a goal scoring return to 7-a-side action, turning my marker impressively on the edge of the penalty area, before rifling home an unstoppable shot… Oh, you’re here for my thoughts on the Chelsea match? Well, that opening was suitably awkward for me…
Okay, so Chelsea won the competition that nobody wants to actually compete in. The early rounds represent facile challenges in the ghost towns of Europe for the more “established” clubs such as Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan and so on, distracting them from the more serious matter of doing well in their own leagues and qualifying for the illustrious Champions League.
Early on, the big clubs use their squad players, scraping by so as not to wear their best players out too much. It’s an irritant and frankly, a disappointment to qualify for, the Europa League. None of the bigger sides want to be there, but as the competition gets into the latter stages, your Chelseas and Tottenhams start thinking, “Ooh, hang on, we could bloody well win this.” So, they put a bit more effort in to try and win the tournament. I love the Europa League for that; nobody could give a damn about winning it in the early rounds, they just want out of it but come the quarter-finals, it’s almost embarrassing to lose it.
Embarrassing to be there in the first place, but an equal embarrassment not to win it. Does winning the Europa League thus make it a bit awkward? Well, yeah. The celebrations if you’re Chelsea are a bit muted, I mean, it’s hardly story-telling stuff, is it?
In all seriousness, well done Chelsea. There was a time this season when they looked a lost cause; their own fans were against the manager, Roman Abramovich was taking some flak and a few select players were starting to feel the wrath of the fans (Yossi Benayoun, in particular). A hostile environment can be handled if it’s from an external source, such as opposition fans or the media writing negative articles, but it’s a different situation to manage when that hostility emanates from an internal source.
It’s for that reason – managing an internal hostility (their own fans) – that makes Rafael Benitez’s time at Chelsea a successful one. He’s had to manage a team who have had to face playing in a stadium throwing vile abuse at their own manager. It takes great leaders to rise above that and keep confidence in your manager, but an even greater leader to keep those players together and believe in your methods. After a poor time at Inter Milan, Benitez has definitely showed that he is still a very capable manager. Third place, two semi-final appearances and a trophy is hardly a bad season by the average standard set for teams. Granted, it isn’t the FA Cup and Champions League double of last season, but this season has still been a relative success.
For Rafael Benitez, it’s been a great season to put on his CV. I’d advise him that he doesn’t go on about winning the Europa League TOO much though. Just joking. Congratulations Chelsea and thank you for showing that the English are still a force in Europe!
Since the turn of the new year, Arsenal have been much improved from the team that started this season. In actual truth, Arsenal started well, looking a very compact side with a neat balance between attack and defence, particularly impressing critics in a 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield. A bit of Arsenal’s attacking verve had taken a knock as they focused a little more on the defensive aspect of their play, but it was a welcome change.
Having sold key components of the old Arsenal side, in Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, Arsene Wenger has been forced to conjure up a different side capable of competing for trophies. Like-for-like, the new replacements may not be as good, but since January 1st, the likes of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have worked out how to become more effective. Cazorla for example, has been very good all season, but has been a lot more consistent in the second half of this season.
What I’m trying to say, is that Arsenal look much more of a team now, although far from a finished article. Of the 18 Premier League matches Arsenal have played in 2013, they have won 11, drew 4 and lost 3. It could be better, but according to Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s points tally for the second half of the year is similar to Manchester United’s.
How Arsenal finish this campaign, will have a massive impact on how they perform in the next season. Champions League qualification is a must and if that’s achieved, Arsenal will be in the luxurious position of having a lot of money to spend on their top targets. With much luck, the world class talents that take a side that extra mile in a game will be at the Emirates Stadium and this Arsenal side can continue to grow. Finish in 5th and qualify for only the Europa League however, and targets such as Steven Jovetic won’t be so keen to join when other teams will be able to guarantee him Champions League football.
There is still a job to be done – one game left – in which Arsenal must win against Newcastle United to secure Champions League football for another season. Arsenal have been holding off Tottenham Hotspur for a month now and it’s all down to this last game. Win and Arsenal are in the Champions League. Lose and Tottenham beat Sunderland at White Hart Lane, then it will be Spurs playing in the Champions League.
Despite getting the much-needed results, Arsenal haven’t been “sparkling” throughout their unbeaten run. Arsenal have had to dig very deep for three points against Norwich City, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, QPR and Wigan Athletic respectively.
Yes, I included Wigan in that mix, a team who were seemingly swept aside 4-1 just last night, but the score doesn’t reflect the trouble Arsenal encountered on their route to those three points.
Lukas Podolski had put Arsenal head in the 11th minute with the easiest header of his career. For the first half an hour of the match, Arsenal were on fire, surging forward in numbers and zipping the ball around the pitch at dizzying speeds. Laurent Koscielny was culpable of missing a fantastic chance from a corner and soon enough, Wigan promptly found their feet and started to come back into a match that looked dead to them. Shaun Maloney, with time running out in the first half, ran at the Arsenal defence and as Mikel Arteta came to close him down, Maloney pushed the Spaniard, but Arteta’s strength was too great for the tiny Scottish international and he fell over. Mike Dean awarded a Wigan free-kick for Maloney’s push on Arteta and predictably, Maloney netted from the set-piece.
Wigan then started the second half desperate for a second goal to defend, knowing they would tire physically. They nearly got that second goal when Arouna Kone and Maloney combined inside the Arsenal penalty area to produce a good stop from Wojciech Szczesny, who spread himself to deny what would have been a well-worked goal.
Wigan’s period of pressure started to wane and soon enough, Theo Walcott put Arsenal ahead, having been set-up with a cross from Santi Cazorla. The tiny Spaniard then played Podolski through to lob over Joel Robles and claimed his fourth assist of the evening when he sent Aaron Ramsey clear, who made a lung-busting run with the ball to finish past Robles for Arsenal’s fourth and a consequential ending of match and relegation for Wigan.
A period of nerves highlights how much further Arsenal have to go before they’re a fully functional team again, but coming through this challenge successfully and seeing off Tottenham will provide a great boost for their belief. Fourth place isn’t ideally what Wenger wants to be competing for and if his team continues to grow and sustain this form, there is no reason the current team can’t compete for honours next season, but they must finish this season in the Champions League places.
Sky Sports News broke the story we already knew last night, confirming that Roberto Mancini has been sacked from his position as Manchester City manager. Manuel Pellegrini, the current boss at Malaga, is set to take over the now-vacant job opening, despite dismissing that an agreement has already been agreed.
Looking back through the JFG archives, there are a few articles in which I say that Mancini would be sacked in the summer, such as this one from the Manchester City defeat to Ajax (click here). My exact line, word-for-word, was: “No success in the Champions League will mark the end for Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.” Just a year after winning Manchester City’s first league title in years, Mancini’s dismissal seems quite harsh. How can you sack a man who does that after just a year?
I’ve read two things this morning that corroborate with my opinions on Roberto Mancini, the first being a series of tweets from German journalist, Raphael Honigstein. He says that the Mancini sacking reminds him of Felix Magath’s sacking from Bayern Munich in 2007. Magath had won back-to-back doubles, something that had never been done before and that still couldn’t save his job. The reason for that, Honigstein says, is that Magath’s Bayern team was constantly outplayed in Europe and relations with the players and board had become so bad, that it was implausible they could work together.
The second bit I read this morning, is a piece written by Ian Herbet of the Independent. In the article, Herbert speaks of Mancini’s somewhat inhospitable temperament, an example of this being a chance conversation with one of his staff in the Etihad car park in April of last year. Said staff member spoke of Mancini, “always challenging you”, before quickly adding that was a “positive thing”, a response which didn’t sound true at all from Herbert’s position.
Another story is of Mancini refusing to participate in a “player acquisition meeting” during Garry Cook’s tenure as chief executive. The story goes that Mancini sulked and sat with his faced down, looking at his feet for nearly an hour and a half. Interestingly, a guy called Ferran Soriano arrived as City’s new chief executive last summer, an individual who is considered to be quite the expert on management theory, even writing a book on the subject. Soriano is the man who wouldn’t hire Jose Mourinho for Barcelona because he generated media conflict and was a potential source of conflict within the club. Look at Mourinho at every club he’s been at and there has always been conflict between him and a certain band of players.
Referencing the article once more, Herbert says that Soriano believes in the potential of individuals to change their management style . At Barcelona, he encouraged Txiki Begiristain to coach the coach, Frank Rijkaard, in becoming more authoritarian, which worked for a while. Mancini isn’t so malleable.
On the Manchester City bench, David Platt has revealed before what Mancini can be like, constantly picking fault with passes, positioning and when and when not to take shots on goal. Mancini is in constant frustration when others don’t think like him and very rarely accepts that somebody else has a better method. This attitude is evident in his playing days, where he was notoriously difficult to manage.
For me, that tunnel vision limits Mancini as a manager. He can rarely think outside his own box and is known to sulk when he doesn’t get his own way. Mancini spent £50 million on improving a title-winning side last summer, but has seen the team regress. Admittedly, he failed to sign the targets that were high on his list, such as Daniele De Rossi, Javi Martinez and Robin van Persie, but he hasn’t signed Akpo Sodje, Sam Togwell and Bilel Mohsni, has he? Instead of his priority targets, Mancini signed Matija Nastasic, Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia and Maicon. Hardly slouches, are they?
Many have also said that Mancini missed the option of bringing on Nigel de Jong in matches to push Yaya Toure further forward. This relates back to my theory on Mancini’s tunnel-vision not being suited to adapt. If a team misses one bang-average defensive midfielder, then what does that say about the squad and the manager in charge of it all?
Due to difficult personal relationships and a reluctance to accept different ideas, Mancini has seen a title-winning team of his destroyed in Europe for the second time in his career. As a result, he’s been dumped. For me, the sacking has been coming since October and because of the atmosphere he has created at the Etihad Stadium, it’s fully deserved.
Well, I had plans on making Mat write this post, him being the Leicester City fan, but I don’t have the heart to put him through that kind of trauma.
I’ve used this website to broadcast my feelings about the play-offs on more than one occasion, but I won’t deprive you of another moan about the system. There are three spots available in the Premier League for those coming up from the Championship. Those coming down from the Premier League will have finished in the bottom three positions, as over 38 games throughout a season, those three teams have been the worst on a consistent basis. Any league campaign, whether it be in rugby or football, should be based on the quality of a team’s consistency. Those who are the best get rewards and the worst teams get punished.
Infamously, the Championship, League One and League Two work a little differently. The three teams coming down from the Premier League are replaced in the next season by three from the Championship. Two of those teams promoted will have done so by being automatically promoted, owing to their league finish of either first or second place. If you finish outside of that top two however, there is a four-team battle for promotion. Third plays sixth and fourth plays fifth in a two-leg tie to decide who goes into the final, with the winner of that progressing to the Premier League.
Leicester City won just three of their last ten league matches and finished the campaign five points closer to the relegation zone than they were to league leaders, Cardiff City. Leicester also finished eleven points behind second place Hull City, with the gap between Leicester and 19th place Huddersfield Town shorter.
Logically, does a team closer to 19th place than 2nd place deserve promotion? Of course not. The team that has been third-most consistent throughout the course of the league season deserves that honour. There are three places available in the Premier League every year, and the best three teams in the Championship deserve promotion.
For any Leicester supporters reading this, please don’t think I hate your club, as that’s not the case at all. The play-offs has the potential to punish teams who deserve promotion.
I know why the play-offs exist and I know the benefits financially to the league. That doesn’t justify anything though, it only goes to show the whole thing is little more than an incentive for TV coverage and money.
It does offer great games, however. Yesterday between Watford and Leicester was no exception. Watford trailed 1-0 to David Nugent’s goal from the first leg and, obviously, needed a big performance at Vicarage Road. After the last day horror against Leeds United to deny them automatic promotion, it also required immense mental fortitude to forget two bad matches.
Matej Vydra, who hadn’t scored for Watford since February, opened the scoring with a wonderful goal, straight out of the Robin van Persie DIY book. A pass fell over Vydra’s should and he volleyed first time past a helpless Kasper Schmeichel. Shortly after, Nugent put Leicester ahead on aggregate once more. Vydra stepped up once more and finished coolly to give Watford a 2-1 lead and bring his side level on aggregate.
As nerves increased on both sides, the match became a bit cagey and with seconds left, Leicester’s French midfielder, Anthony Knockaert, wriggled his way into the penalty area and went down in excessive fashion due to a challenge from Cassetti. It was not a penalty, but all the same, it was given.
A few years earlier, another Frenchman by the name of Yann Kermogant missed a penalty for Leicester in the second leg of a play-off semi-final. Surely history couldn’t repeat itself? Score this and Leicester were in the play-off final. Knockaert stepped up…
… and history repeated itself.
Manuel Almunia saved Knockaert’s effort and the rebound, before the Spanish goalkeeper launched the ball to the right-wing, a cross was sent in after a run on the right, the ball fell to the back post, was flicked back into the area and there was Troy Deeney to half-volley a shot past Schmeichel into the Leicester net. Fans spilled to the pitch after what was the most amazing, absolutely brutal final 20 seconds to any match in the history of football.
I’m indulging in histrionics there, but the way it felt watching it at the time was unbelievable. In one breath, Leicester just had to score a penalty to get into the play-off final. In the next, Watford had broke and scored.
Mat then sent me a text which read as, “I feel like dying.” It’s a horrible way to lose a match and I really hope somebody puts an arm around the back of Knockaert and consoles him, which I’m sure everybody did. The young Frenchman was clearly distraught and his season shouldn’t be summed up in a crazy 20 seconds. Knockaert has been one of Leicester’s better players this season and certainly didn’t deserve the reaction he got from fans via social media.
Not that Mat will thank me for saying this, but I’m happy Watford won. They deserve Premier League football next season.
As for Leicester, I can see Nigel Pearson being sacked, though I think it’d be better if he stayed on as manager. Leicester’s greatest problem has been consistency and I’m not saying keep the guy for the next eight years for the sake of stability alone, but Leicester need to steady the ship now, regroup and they’ll be better for it.
After two full days of emerging news on the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes moving to Manchester United and more stuff on Ferguson, I thought it’d be refreshing to change tune for this morning. Don’t get me wrong, Ferguson is well-loved here at JFG Towers, but there’s only so often I can type, “Sir Alex Ferguson” before I begin responding to his name.
Before Ferguson selfishly hogged the headlines, The Daily Mirror broke a huge story on Arsenal, just moments before the Ferguson news, revealing that Arsenal had negotiated a £170 million kit-deal with Puma. Swiss Ramble, who is astonishingly accurate with finances, said that Arsenal’s deal, with add-ons, will be £34 million a year; the biggest kit deal in the world. Well, the biggest until Manchester United renew their deal with Nike, but that isn’t the point; this is a massive step forward for Arsenal.
Previously, it could be argued that Arsenal’s poor commercial deals were holding them back from competing at Europe’s highest level. Well, now that they’re pulling out deals superior to the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, there’s no excuse for Arsene Wenger not popping the Bayern Munich starting XI in his shopping trolley. Obviously, that’s a joke, but they can now compete for the best players and already the names have started to trickle into the news.
Yeah, that one stunned me at first, but Pedro from Le Grove posted this on his Twitter account:
Rooney to Arsenal is a very interesting prospect, although one I consider highly unlikely. Arsenal could afford to pay the high premium, but for the money they would actually spend on Rooney, you could get a better, younger, more talented player for about £10 million less. Rooney is a leading English international, so will command a higher fee whereas Stevan Jovetic isn’t going to cost quite as much and is a better talent in my opinion.
Still, the point here is that Arsenal’s ambition is growing and if that ambition actually converts into players arriving at the Emirates, then next season looks to be fantastic already for Arsenal.
Right, that’s all from me today! See you tomorrow.