With the appointment of a new head of UEFA impending in just under three weeks’ time, there are a lot of decisions to be made which will shape the way European football grows in the next few years, massively impacting how everybody around the world views our sporting continent. One of the most prominent papers on the gleaming desk of the next incumbent of the hot seat in Nyon, Switzerland, will hold the proposition of whether headlining UEFA competitions, the Champions and Europa Leagues, should be scrapped in place of a new European Super League. We know that frontrunner for the Presidency, Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, isn’t keen on the idea of this mega money-spinning exercise, but with growing support for the move from leading clubs around the continent, there could certainly be a change in the way European football is played, as well as governed, before too long. Is it actually a well-thought-out and progressive plan, though, or would it turn football on the richest continent of the globe irreversibly down the wrong path, wrecking its future? Would it jeopardise UEFA’s credibility (well, what’s left after having an officially corrupt President for the past nine years) across the vast area it serves, especially in minor nations who might feel more than a little miffed about being rejected from such a tournament? And how would such a change be carried out even if it was passed through?
Well, such questions can only be replied to with estimated answers for now, but I’ll do my best to explain why I believe in this proposed competition, despite my regular lamentations over greedy officials creating tournaments akin to this to make money. There a lot of unknowns so far that will only be clarified over time, such as the final plans being put forward for this tournament from a serious authority, such as a collection of top clubs, managers or players, and most importantly who will take over UEFA, succeeding the man who should’ve been destined for the FIFA presidency, Michel Platini. Without these vital facts to the story, we have to fill in the gaps ourselves, so we can imagine where the future might take us. Assuming Ceferin does take over (although he will be pushed to the line by Michael van Praag and less by Angel Maria Villar), it would be hard to see the project getting off the ground under his leadership, unless his power changes him, and like many other politicians, he fails to deliver on his promises. As current Slovenian FA President, he has a duty to stand up for his nation at UEFA conferences, and part of that duty encompasses protecting minor nations (such as Slovenia) and their clubs from being ignored on the continental stage, and that they get what they deserve in terms of money, opportunity and rights, as everyone else. Considering this then, it would be hard to see him change his stance on the whole European Super League idea. But you never know, it’s not as if Platini delivered upon all his promises during his reign, and in reality, Presidents do have to listen to their people every once in a while, and for Ceferin, those people would be the fans, clubs and players, not just his advisors.
So, with a little luck, this project could, and should, definitely get at least an investigation into the possibility of from Ceferin and his team of 54 Heads of FA’s around the continent, from England to San Marino and Germany to Gibraltar (and a fifty-fifth soon arriving with Kosovo, once they pass a few checks from UEFA). This investigation will at least entertain the possibility for the supporters across the continent, and maybe even open the stubborn eyes of those not so keen, so it could definitely provide some encouragement for the future of UEFA being an open-minded and progressive organisation for everyone. With the current system turning a little stale for most fans across the continent (I know it is for me), this may be the perfect time to give it a shake-up and change UEFA’s tournaments for a competition-hungry and BT/Sky Sports-subscribing generation who would love the opportunity to see all their favourite names in one place.
You see, that is the way the European Super League would work, with all the best clubs and players competing against each other in a top league of ten to twelve sides, and hopefully another three or four leagues using the same system below this with clubs with lower coefficient rankings. Each league would have promotion (except from the top, obviously) and relegation of maybe two spots, giving lesser sides the opportunity to progress through the ranks to potential glory. Honestly, this could give smaller sides a better opportunity than they get in the Champions League and Europa League, as they usually get pummelled in the group stage against sides like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and facing off against clubs with similar capabilities would improve their outlooks and form. While admittedly it could limit their opportunities in terms of sell-out home matches (as fans in countries such as Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, for example, would all want to see their side play Man United or Barcelona), these clubs may see it as a chance to become the best of the rest, getting promoted to face those at the top.
Qualification would be much the same as it currently is for both the Champions and Europa Leagues, with clubs in the top three of the top nations qualifying (no matter whether you were involved the previous year) automatically, and the fourth place side having to go through the preliminary phases with the champions of smaller nations. Only sides who won the tournament, or any of its respective leagues (which could be called leagues A, B, C, D and E) would be exempt from having to finish in qualifying places, such as the top four of the Premier League, and if these sides finished fifth, they would take the place of the fourth placed side, like Chelsea did a few years ago in place of Spurs after beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. There could be a cap of a certain number of sides, possibly three, from a nation in each league, to stop the domination of a certain country, such as Spain in the Champions League with the Madrid’s and the Europa League with Sevilla recently. After all, the whole concept of the European Super League is to make exciting competition for the masses, so four Spanish or English sides all competing in the same group of twelve sides or so could make the tournament a bit predictable and boring for those outside the major nations.
And how would the champions be decided then? Well, (remember, this is if I was making the rules), each club in each division would play 22 matches (twice against each of the other eleven sides in their league), with three points awarded for a win and one for a draw. The winner would be the one with the most points, or in the event of a tie, best goal difference. Simples. But if UEFA needed a showpiece to really drag the viewers in, rather than a steady, season-long league system, then there could be a ‘final’, between the two top sides after their 22 matches, facing off at a neutral venue to decide the best side in Europe. With the top sides having to all face each other an equal amount of times, a level playing field should increase the drama for all those watching, as if Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Leicester City think they are the top force in Europe, they will have to prove it by beating each other, rather than clubs like Legia Warsaw, FC Rostov or Ludogorets Razgrad, to the prize.
Yes, I know, my version of the rules may be a bit confusing, but to round it up, the concept is pretty similar to a mini-Premier League, with fewer clubs, but the same concept, other than possibly a final deciding the victors. In actual fact, it’s more similar to the impending UEFA Nations League (ironically, as Ceferin would back that but not the European Super League), as the top sides get to face the other top sides, with world class players having to compete against their equals (in ability and wage), rather than a few nobodies playing for the side that finished second in the Kazakhstani league, or something obscure like that. It makes a lot more sense really, and proves that era-defining clubs like Barcelona can be beaten, but only if they are drawn against other great clubs.
For fans, too (well at least the Sky/BT Sport-subscribing ones), the Super League would be a massive step forward, as in this country we don’t get to witness the best international players live very often. Well, I certainly don’t as a non-Sky/BT Sport customer who can only really view the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on YouTube or during the Euros/World Cup. And no, before you say it, the solution is not to pay the subscription fee to Rupert Murdoch and his goblins at Sky, nor their brethren at BT, as I should hope you know my thoughts on their monopolisations of the market by now. Realistically, I know that Sky and BT would also snap up the rights to this new league, but if ITV or BBC (preferably the latter) could get some highlights packages, it would be just as good for those of us with morals. I know that, being in the non-BT/Sky cut of the population, I would be happier than I am with the current system, as I would be safe in the knowledge that I could at least watch highlights, tune in to and read live updates of these great matches that would take place, rather than just have to bypass each meaningless match.
Honestly though, for a player I really admire and would love to see more of, other than in the Olympics and the World Cup back in 2014 (it seems a long time ago now), I don’t think I’ve seen Neymar live at all in the past few years (this is just one example by the way, I’m sure there are many others). This is also the case for millions of people out there, as a whole generation of amazing footballers are bypassing us because Sky and BT have capitalised on the UK’s obsession with football and stolen it from our screens. To see (or not, as the case may be) so many great players pass us by is a sad state of affairs, and proves that this new tournament wouldn’t fix every problem that arises in modern day football, especially for the fans.
First off, this new concept has kept itself worryingly secretive ever since Real Madrid President Florentino Perez stated his intention to lobby for its introduction back in 2009, so it hasn’t got credible reason for confidence and backing from fans or officials yet. It does seem like a selfish reaction from the top clubs in practically the world, as all your favourites including Los Blancos, Barcelona, Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea have been reported to mull over the deal, in response to the relatively meagre offerings UEFA hands clubs for winning or at least doing well in the Champions League. For example, Real only received £80 million for their entire winning run last season, less than they would need to pay for Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale again, which is pretty disappointing considering how much UEFA must draw in from broadcasting deals and sponsorship (the Russian state-backed, Arctic oil-drilling Gazprom in particular). £80 million doesn’t even cover one Manchester United transfer these days, nor probably a transfer window’s worth of spending by West Ham, so it won’t go very far for a club like Real Madrid.
Taking control back into their own hands, these clubs can receive funds directly from sponsors and TV companies, so it doesn’t have to go to ensuring that the middle man, UEFA, can keep restocking its offices in Switzerland with champagne and caviar. I’m sure sponsors would be queueing around the street for the chance to get in on the act by attaching their name to a tournament which would no doubt fast become the most popular club competition in the world. But is this what we as fans want? Well, if this happened, clubs would obviously have more funds to spend on players, and that would ensure that the £100 million mark for a player is reached sooner rather than later, for better or worse (definitely the latter if you ask me). But more importantly to fans, it could encourage higher ticket prices and more exclusive opportunities, pushing the average man on the street out of the ground.
Secondly, it brings the entire concept of knockout competitions into disrepute, as it would reject UEFA, and pretty much any national cup system, by radically opting for a league-like set-up which would shatter the establishment by making a clique of the top sides and forcing UEFA to go along with them. Realistically, UEFA and Ceferin will make it as tricky as possible for Perez, Ed Woodward, Josep Maria Bartomeu and any other club representatives at the table to make any progression towards their goals, but that could turn out to force both sides further apart. This would only cause the biggest clubs to irreversibly reject the Champions League, maybe even refusing to compete until they get their way, and nobody wants that. When thinking that far ahead, UEFA would lose all respect if they let things go that far. In my mind, I can only see things escalating to that point in only really three or four years, in which time the whole idea could be shelved, so don't expect any immediate movement from either side on this subject, especially not as Ceferin or van Praag (fairly unlikely) is settling into the top seat. Instead, there will be a whole lot of hand-shaking, talks over dinner and sucking up going on across the continent over the next few weeks and months.
Theoretically too, the heads of FA’s Europe-wide shouldn’t be too keen on a big-club split from the governing body, as it then disregards their importance too, because if clubs didn’t have to answer to UEFA, the respective FA’s wouldn’t have to either. Also, if the Champions League was dissolved, so could each country’s domestic cups, such as the FA Cup in England, as the big clubs would either have to complain about facing off against lower-league opponents or face the threat of being called hypocrites for nit-picking on the continental stage but not nationally. I don’t think anybody in this country would be keen on removing (or even changing) the FA Cup, such is its heritage and importance to us all in England (and for six Welsh clubs), the old saying that ‘anyone can beat anyone’ on its stage being effectively part of our national mentality. So why do we see the Champions/Europa League differently? Well, they aren’t as well established or loved, as the fixtures to and fro between countries west and east, north and south, and we can’t keep up with it all, retaining interest and intrigue, especially when 99% of ties don’t involve our clubs, with the only national representation being from Manchester, London, Glasgow and on occasion, Leicester (it still sounds crazy to say). So as a result, we’ve never really fallen in love with the competition. Well, most of us. Liverpool fans still hold onto it as their only claim to being dominant over every other English club (having won five times), but the days of Liverpudlian forays into Europe (especially successful ones) are numbered.
As a result, I think UEFA need to bring something new to the table. No, ensuring four automatic spots for England, Spain, Germany and Italy will not do the job, as the first two always get four clubs in that far, and the latter two’s third and fourth placed clubs are just happy to be there most of the time. It might well quieten the naysayers for a bit, but UEFA won’t have long before their current changes backfire, as smaller nations will realise that this may be the start of something bigger, as their spots get lost to Inter Milan, Sevilla and Schalke, for example, and they get pushed out to the preliminary stages, where they will get demoted into the Europa League. So honestly, any selfishness from either side will be met with anger, and there can never be an agreement that everyone can settle on, nor any that would suit one and all.
What would you do in this situation then? Try and appease the top clubs by offering them more places in the competition like UEFA has just done, stick to your guns and keep your colleagues in smaller nations satisfied by keeping the current system, or give in to the top clubs, and your biggest names, by giving them reins to do what they wanted? Either way, I seriously think the position of UEFA President could be a poisoned chalice for Ceferin, as he won’t make everyone happy in the way I’m sure he’d have dreamt about when he put his name forward. He’s inherited (or is about to at least, unless he’s already bought the votes of each nation) an impossible challenge, an impending disaster of colossal qualities and a broken system from Michel Platini, and I’m not sure he’ll be too grateful for that, nor too prepared for the eventual drama. All he can do for now though is state his cause, whose side he is backing, and wait for the results. The thing is though, I can’t help personally feeling he is wrong, and that UEFA should listen to what the clubs they dictate have to say, at least staying open minded and attentive to any suggestions the clubs have. While it may be a money-making concept designed by Perez and the rest of the big cheeses across Europe’s major cities and clubs, it’s difficult not to at least entertain the idea of, and for me, it’s a leap into the unknown that should be explored somewhere down the line, providing it doesn’t bulldoze the European footballing landscape. After all, who wouldn’t want to find what would happen if Mourinho, Zidane, Conte, Guardiola, Enrique and Ancelotti, or Ibrahimović, Ronaldo, Bale, Hazard, Aguero, Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Lewandowski all went head-to-head on a fortnightly basis?
It’s no secret that in football, you have to be a rich (or very lucky) man to succeed. In fact it’s something I must have mentioned at least 20 times or so throughout the existence of Talking Points this year, and it’s an easy target really as it is so prominent across our culture here in the United Kingdom and further afield, as so many tune in to the Premier League and increasingly the Championship every weekend. But as a wise man once said, money is the root of all evil, especially when you prioritise it over actual human morals in the face of cold-hearted business. Realistically, you’re only going to enjoy money for a very short overall period of your life, and it can’t fill in the gaps which deeper feelings like love provide. But there are still so many individuals around in our society who will make themselves unhappy and unfulfilled in later life in order to make a tidy profit from a piece of business. And one area of our daily culture where these select people are so prominent is sport, particularly football, the most popular participation sport in the world, and therefore the easiest to latch onto in the pursuit of cash. But, as far as I can see, nothing has happened to deter such acts from continually occurring, for example just this summer as the record spend for a transfer window by an entire league is set to be broken, possibly even to the £1 billion mark. Yes, that’s right, £1,000,000,000. I can tell you’re sat (or stood, I’m not excluding anyone) there right now reading this thinking that isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things.
Just in case then, I’ll put one billion pounds into perspective. According to Prudential in a survey carried out last year, the average spending’s of a person in Britain throughout their entire lifetime (which is, roughly, 81 years here) totals only £1.5 million, with the average tax spend taking up just over £250,000 of that total. Seriously, a club in League 1 or 2 could spend more than your lifetime tax expenditure in one transfer, and one in the Championship could spend more than you ever do on clothes, food, holidays, gifts, football tickets and honestly, all your memories. Now when you think about it like that, it is very sad, isn’t it? All your lifetime’s achievements, stories, actions and opinions are worth less than one single transfer, of a player who will undoubtedly leave after two or three seasons of disappointment. There is no sanity behind the inflation of prices football clubs have forced. Having once been the sport of amateurs, lovers of the game, it has been stolen by Russian oligarchs, Chinese government officials, Arabian royalty and oil dealers and American business owners, all of whom don’t actually care about the clubs they invest in. After all, who from Moscow, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi or New York grew up idolising and dreaming about owning Wolves, Nottingham Forest or Sheffield United? Nobody, that’s who. They are only in it to make a profit and move on; they’ve got enough money to keep themselves in their mansions even if it does fail anyway. Invest in a few players, watch ‘your’ club get promoted and win a few cups, and you can make a quick exit once things turn pear-shaped as you’ve already made your millions. Not a bad life, is it?
But it’s not just the clubs’ fault. They may have the say on their own futures, but the leagues ultimately spell their fate with their rules and approach towards investment. It could be easily argued the Premier League is the most open-minded and carefree league in the world when it comes to this, as their system works brilliantly into drawing the cash in. Utilising our shared obsession with a simple ball game in this country, the EPL executives have planned out to keep upping the ante every year, finding the highest bidders for broadcasting rights, who at the moment are Sky Sports and BT Sport, reaping the rewards from their partnerships and spreading plenty of that money (£5.14 billion right now) across each club. From this, the clubs are encouraged to throw the wads of cash at the best managers and players in the world, so they can have whoever they want, and considering these players are rated so highly, the masses of viewers will flock to watch them, either around the grounds or over the television. It’s a vicious cycle that increases in power every single year, and it’s only now that it is touching a height never seen, nor even imagined, before. The £1 billion spending height. The kind of height that would take the lifetimes of 650 averages Britons, maybe even more depending on how far they exceed the £1 billion pound bar by, to equal. A small village’s worth of people, with around 52,975 combined years, or 19,335,875 days worth of bittersweet memories, all of whom are worth as much as a single transfer window of players moving this way and that to the avail of possibly scoring a few goals or keeping a few clean sheets in the next season.
As times get tougher for the ever-growing working class population in the UK following the 2008 banking crisis and this year’s decision to leave the European Union then, why should those who are the money be allowed to throw it away on pointless things like a football club? I mean they’ve clearly got enough money to flutter it on a club of their choice, but then a lot of the millionaires (and billionaires) who have homes in this country don’t even pay all their taxes, so what is that all about? Surely they can’t have life all their own way, while we sit here and look up to them (as the old John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch goes), knowing our place? It was meant as a joke that the working class were supposed to keep in their own class and constantly be left dreaming of what it would be like to be richer and more fortunate, but our society appears to have taken it seriously over the past 30 years. So while the millionaire owners of our clubs can swoop in and keep making a profit, we have to keep paying up for tickets in higher and higher amounts every year, just to see our local club do their community proud and maybe, but very rarely, win a trophy?
Maybe all of this is an argument for another day, but it all fits in to the subject of record spending as we are the ones who, as per usual, pick up the bill for the top 1%’s luxuries and little games. I suppose the overall point I was looking for with this week’s blog was if the Premier League is actually relatable anymore, and I honestly, looking at it right now, can’t say that I see any normal humans in amongst all the madness of that single league. None of the players, managers or board members in there live lives quite like ours, and I don’t think many of them (other than the politicians on the boards of most clubs) could honestly survive in the normal world, working office jobs or putting mental, rather than physical, skills into practice. But while going out there every week in the EPL, those same players and managers keep people like me; journalists, (I’m not pretending to be one yet), photographers, broadcasters and sponsors in stable jobs. It’s an unbelievable, ironic paradox that is a keystone of the strange, strange times that we live in. One thing cannot live without the other, and the world would certainly be a much duller place without both sides of the footballing ‘community’.
But should the fact that footballers keep people in livelihoods allow them to command such astronomically massive fees for their services and put their lives so out of proposition with the rest of us? No, I think we can all agree that it shouldn’t. So why does it still happen? Well, human beings with incredible (or sometimes questionable) physical skills have always been held in high esteem by others, and to watch them compete against each other for glory, history and most unpalatably money, has been a tradition for centuries, no matter where in the world you are. The only difference with football is that it has been the most popular, so therefore most attractive to sponsors and money men, who can afford to pay players and managers more and more to secure their loyalty and skills to eventually win a trophy or two. Ever since these money men were looked at with glee by every club across the country, they have used their ever-increasing fortune to out-compete each other on the world stage, paying more and more to the players, who are only too happy to take the money, more often than not fail to perform, and not worry themselves about what it is doing to the sport. After all, they’ve been taught throughout their footballing careers to just focus on their work on the training ground and turning that into performances on Saturdays and Sundays. Well, actually you can add Mondays, Fridays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to that list as they have to play every day of the week these days to get as much television income as they can fill their boots with.
Even on the way up the rungs of spending, ever since arguably 1966, through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s, there hasn’t been all that much opposition to the constant pursuit of world record transfer between Man United, Real Madrid and Barcelona (in more recent times at least), and when you think about it, that is a little worrying. From Johan Cruyff to Diego Maradona, Luis Figo to Zinedine Zidane and now Cristiano Ronaldo onto Gareth Bale, there has been steady progression of the world record transfer fee (actually quite a steep jump from the £56 million for Kaka onto the £80 million for Ronaldo), and people took it as just a sign of the times, with a shrug of the shoulders. It’s just what happens over time, isn’t it? Well, it didn’t have to be, but in the hunt for success, people, especially millionaires, will do whatever they have to. But what was so shocking to me was the total lack of response to the fee that Paul Pogba commanded this summer, an unprecedented and yet somehow disappointing (?!?) figure of £89 million. The tabloids all expected (well, maybe not, but they at least tried to make it seem like they did, and as a result sensitized the population to it) £100 million, but that was ultimately unrealistic as that is a record for another day and a much better player. But seriously, there was scarily little reaction to a club, who haven’t even won a league title for three years, spending £89 million, yes £89,000,000 on a single man, more on the promise rather than his current talent. More focus was put on the fact he was returning to his old club than the fee, and that just totally misses the point, latching on to a meaningless side to the story rather than the real important and thought-provoking one, the spending. As far as I’m aware, barely an eyelid was batted at that, and that is seriously disappointing and a discredit to our generation of not only football fans, but human beings.
As a result of all of this then, the disparity football, at the top level, holds with the outside world is visible in every single photo, video and journalistic piece, as money revolves around everything that happens, but not at all in an ultimately important or life-changing way. Sure, everybody in the normal world has to make money to succeed, it’s one of the basic and (arguably, and it would be a very long argument) failing principals of our society, and something everyone is brought up to understand, but in the real world money is worth the most on useful things. Healthcare, food, clothes, houses and cars, things which help you survive and prosper, rather than the trinkets we all pick up along our travels and while ‘cute’ or ‘funny’, usually pretty pointless and unimportant. On the grander scale, money is used by governments the world over for vital public services like hospitals, schools, prisons, railways and motorways, while also putting some aside for pensions, benefits and council budgets. That’s how the world works, and every pound means something to each corner of society as money keeps revolving itself around society as when the people spend money, companies can invest in restocking or investing, and their workers can get paid, and the government can support these people with high interest rates, so they can lower them when the market becomes unstable.
But football makes a joke of all of this, as at the end of the day football is no different to the trinkets I was talking about; often pointless, unmemorable and in the grand scheme of things, not important to our world. Sure, it’s a nice thing to have, but your life doesn’t and shouldn’t depend on it, it’s entertainment. Basically, footballers are just glorified reality TV stars, paid to keep performing and entertaining us, no matter how annoying they can be sometimes. There are the ones who you gravitate towards, and the ones who hate, but all footballers at the EPL level are ultimately in the same boat; they can be replaced and the system won’t fail if they do leave. So why is so much money thrown at each aspect of the system then? Well, it’s all part of the show, isn’t it, as money creates news, and news creates drama. It is what makes the top level of the game unique and entertaining, to know who can do what and how much each side is able to spend, to be able to predict who will succeed or fail. It’s what those at the top of the game want, and it is a winning formula for their continued success in promoting football even further across the globe, because believe it or not that is possible. There are still areas which need to fall under the spell, until a lot more money can be made and spent.
The thing is, the freight train that is top level football cannot be stopped, and it will continue to rumble on at an alarming pace. Soon enough, in just two weeks’ time, the £1,000,000,000 mark will be reached in this Premier League summer transfer window (it’s around £850 million at the time of writing I think), just as Arsene Wenger reluctantly digs into his pockets to sign a proper striker. A sideshow to that freight train was the world record transfer fee for Paul Pogba paid by Manchester United, something that apparently didn’t particularly matter, as life continued as normal just the day after. But life in the world of football is never normal, and whether you see that as one of the joys of the sport or a horribly escalated disparity between a sport gone mad and everyday life is up to you, but I can’t help feeling it’s the latter. It will never change though, and more spending records will soon be set without us even noticing, until one day, maybe the sport will run out of billionaires and madmen, and return to its honest and thriving roots. I seriously doubt it though. As long as the sport remains exciting, the more investment there will be into it. It’s just one area of our crazy world where as per usual, things get out of hand and there are no strong captains at the helm to steady the ship and return things to the golden days, so we all carry on off course. It’s not the way it’s meant to be, but it suits quite a few so we’ll settle for it. For a lot of others though, we don’t want it like this, but we don’t have an equal voice compared to those who are blessed enough financially to overrule anything we question. It’s an imperfect cycle which ruins the sport that we love, but there’s nothing we can do about it, and that is the truly mad thing.
Hello again, its strange meeting like this again, isn’t it? Anyway, shall I carry on with my predictions? Are you ready for them? Alright then, here they are, you may not like them but it’s only my opinion, and you can express yours in the comments. Brace yourselves…
1st (Champions): Arsenal
Okay, okay, okay; I know what you’re thinking. Arsenal winning a title? It’s an unexpected phenomenon these days, about as rare in the Premier League era as a blue moon being seen in the night sky (they’ve only won it three times since the EPL’s inception in 1992, the last being in 2003/04), and as a result, Arsene Wenger and his side have become the butt of countless jokes. The very fact that the board have kept Wenger in place, even through the era of moving from Highbury to the Emirates, is a testament to the faith they have in him and the patience they have in allowing him to strike when the time is ready. However, it could be argued that it is also a representation of the lack of ambition they have, but there’s no doubt that the Frenchman will want a definitive last hoorah before his ever-impending retirement. And I really believe that the success that he has sat on his hands for over the past decade (minus two FA Cups) can come this year.
Let me explain. Well, first off, Wenger is a master tactician with a settled and well-stocked squad. He is the only manager in the predicted chasing pack this season with the decades of experience the last few managers who have lifted the trophy had in bucket loads (although admittedly Jose Mourinho is a bit of an exception to the rule). Claudio Ranieri, Manuel Pellegrini, Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti were all true connoisseurs of the beautiful game, with veritable suitcases full of plans and background knowledge on each and every club they came up against, which ultimately told in the trophies and honours that they now have to their names.
Even despite this, these great managers all had to have great squads with whom they could mould into a style they believed in and rely upon when the going got tough. Every team has to have a star, but also a top quality assemble cast who can support their lynchpin and take the reins when required, to achieve their goals, and for me, with the addition of one or two late signings by Wenger, Arsenal will be the side best gelled and equipped with these pieces of the puzzle. They have Alexis Sanchez, their main man, in great form and ever-improving in his role cutting in from the wing, and they also have Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, who all have the vast amounts of ability to put in game-winning performances. Some argue that these players are title-winners, but I think that they, along with the huge amount of great youngsters the Gunners have coming through (Alex Iwobi, Gedion Zelalem and Takuma Asano etc.), all have the ability to fight at the very top of the game because they understand each other so well. As long as the players around them, plus the addition of maybe another striker and a defensive midfielder to replace Mathieu Flamini, perform, I really think this can be Arsenal’s season to step forward and get the top prize. Let’s not forget, too, they finished second last season, behind only the surprise act of a century, but more on them later…
2nd: Manchester City
Considering Manuel Pellegrini left the Blues in such a good position at the end of his reign, with another season of Champions League football (providing they can get through the final qualifying phase) and world class figures such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne in top form, Pep Guardiola has got a pretty good base upon which to achieve success this season. Better than most, that’s for sure, especially when adding the bank balance of a Saudi Sheikh and one of the best all-round squads in the whole of Europe into the equation.
Unfortunately for those in the light blue half of Manchester, I just don’t think this year will quite be the time for Guardiola to grab yet another gong for another very competitive club. I personally think his style is a little too demanding for a side which hasn’t lived up to expectations the season before he has arrived, as he is used to entering clubs during, or just before, their golden periods, à la Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and hasn’t proven himself in any other situation. And I don’t really think either that he quite has all the aspects of his squad covered, as he seems a little spoiled for choice, especially in midfield, and that might count against him later in the season, as every player will want game time, and I really can’t see a place for their new signings Nolito and Leroy Sane in their side, the latter of whom cost a lot only to progress by being brought on as a sub this season. They have enough talent, but I think they rely a little too much on individual brilliance rather than teamwork and Guardiola will have work to do to change that. Not yet for them I think, but their time will certainly come soon.
3rd: Manchester United
Here lies another great side looking immediately brighter under new management, having spent massive fees to secure the world class signatures they needed to once again achieve competitiveness, and it’s our other Mancunian collective. Having seen Louis van Gaal being bundled out the back door of the club just hours after his FA Cup success in May, I and many others were disillusioned with United’s hierarchy’s, as it seemed LvG’s youthful side were just blossoming into fruition. But ever since then, the Glazers, Ed Woodward and David Gill (among others) have clearly chosen big names and commercial revenue over heritage and club core values, and only time will tell if that approach pays off. But one thing there’s no doubt about is that Jose Mourinho has swept his trademark arrogance and money-money style all across the red side of Manchester ever since he walked through those doors, and for now he is totally the right manager for United. He has the pedigree, the tactical nous and the connections required to fit in a club looking desperately for direction and success in the wake of the disappointing stall they’ve had ever Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
But even with the absolutely game-changing signings of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, I can’t yet see United quite challenging properly (into the final two or three weeks anyway) for the title, as they don’t quite yet have the stability, consistency or strength in depth to last the whole season. Maybe they need a better defensive pool, considering Daley Blind, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have all been pushed back there over the past 12 months, as with their attacking ranks looking very healthy, keeping goals out, especially against top strikers like Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Olivier Giroud, could be their downfall this season, stopping them winning the title. Again though, like their noisy neighbours, United will give it a good shot and will look much more like realistic champions given a season’s gelling.
Predicted for big things in London after just a few good games at Euro 2016 in charge of his country, Italian Antonio Conte could be forgiven for thinking he could play the Premier League like a harp, easing into the Roman Abramovich mentality of winning title after title in just his first season. But being the pragmatic and passionate man Conte is, he won’t be taking anything for granted and will realise he will have to do something special to revitalise what looked like a spent force at some points last season, flopping from the high of being champions to (exactly) mid-table melancholies in the space of just a year. There is a big repair task being carried out in West London, and some of the new building blocks appear to be very sound investments; unexpected star N’Golo Kante nabbed from Leicester and highly promising Michy Batshuayi won in the wake of interest from other top clubs providing stable talent able to make impacts from the bench throughout the season. But their notoriously bloated squad still has deadwood left over from previous regimes; Michael Hector, Victor Moses and Loïc Remy all still at the club despite being forgotten by most fans, offering nothing but depth to an already well-stocked pool of players from near and (more commonly) far across the globe.
What the Blues also require to get back in the running late into the season is their big names getting back into form, as Diego Costa, John Terry and Cesc Fabregas all appeared to fade deeper into disarray as continental qualification slipped out of their reaches last season, so they will have to be revitalised. This will be especially difficult with the stubborn Costa, but Conte being Conte, brash and expressive on the pitch, will shout some performances out of the big number nine. For me, though, this year is only a consolidation year for the Blues, but they will squeak Champions League qualification out of it.
After writing such an encouraging story of young British players flourishing under an open-minded and exciting manager last season, Spurs had probably their best season during the entire Premier League era, and it goes without saying that they will want to improve upon that positivity this time around. It will be much tougher though, as both Manchester sides, Chelsea and Liverpool will all be hurting since their last campaigns and will be hunting the opposition down. For this reason, coupled with the facts that Mauricio Pochettino and his side benefitted a little from other side’s inconsistency (which in some cases they did inflict), and also haven’t majorly strengthened since last May, I don’t think they can quite live up to their previous accomplishments and sneak into the top four. Instead, I think Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Eric Dier might have a little bit too much pressure heaped upon their shoulders at such young ages and this might be the year they falter under it. For me, Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama aren’t really the right figures for a side quite as free-flowing and expansive as Pochettino’s Spurs either, and might prove to be liabilities come the tough periods of the season, as they both play quite rigid, physical games which don’t correlate with their teammates. Then again, it could prove that Wanyama and Janssen provide something Spurs are missing, something that stopped them from closing out their title charge last season, and I could be totally wrong, but I just can’t see them adding anything. For me, they will fall behind the big spenders back into their rightful place this year.
This is a tough one to call really. Liverpool could have a fantastic season for once, but they could also so easily fall back into their safe zone of Europa League mediocrity yet again. A lot hangs on if Jurgen Klopp can instil his proven, if unusual, managerial niche onto his inconsistent and injury-friendly bunch of players, who must improve and live up to expectations for once if they want a top four finish. I have to say, overall, their signings look unspectacular at best, with Ragnar Klavan and Alex Manninger only shoring up stretched resources with little in the ways of talent, Loris Karius and Marko Grujic recruited to develop for the future, and Joel Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum both being players with questionable long-term ability. Their only real quality signing has been Sadio Mane, the vastly in-demand winger with plenty of unquestionable skill, who can certainly play his part alongside the club’s star players, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge to both create and score the goals they need to shoot up the table.
But it will be at the back where the damage is done to their top four chances, as the continually shambolic Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno will surely prove only to continue their trend of disappointment, tearing apart the good work their attacking players do. And Gegenpressing has a lot of work to do to sort shoddy defending out.
7th: West Ham United
Moving into one of the best new sporting stadiums in the world, with a side complete with the respected and feared names of Dimitri Payet, Sofiane Feghouli and Andre Ayew all competing in continental football this year, West Ham fans are rightly on cloud nine right now. They have prospered after leaving Sam Allardyce’s ‘19th Century football’ behind for Slaven Bilic’s high-stakes, methodically planned, high-speed tactics, and the future now looks very bright for the East London side which, just five seasons ago, plummeted down into the Championship. Bilic has found success even in the wake of his widespread squad changes, with only Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Winston Reid, Adrian and Cheikhou Kouyaté and Enner Valencia surviving really as first-teamers from the Allardyce period to the Croat’s. They have survived not only because of their attributes, which include but are not limited to; height, physicality, loyalty, passion, pace and passing, but also because they have offered Bilic more than any others with their knowledge and unrelenting determination to keep coming back and giving their all.
So given the consistency of the current crop, all Bilic theoretically had to do this summer was recruit more strength in depth and Europa League quality individuals, and he has certainly done that in bulk. It’s as if he entered the IKEA of transfer windows, only going there to buy one or two things but ending up discovering items he never knew existed and would improve his life so much, and also gorging himself on the Swedish meatballs while he was there. He certainly had fun; recruiting six new players who I think will all fit well into his style; Havard Nordtveit providing back-up for Kouyaté, Feghouli taking the place of Victor Moses, Ayew slotting straight into the striker’s position and Arthur Masuaku, Gokhan Tore and Jonathan Calleri all fitting into the squad as competitive replacements once injuries take their toll. All this should result in another solid, and memorable, season for the Hammers.
Having finally ridded themselves of the ultimately unsuccessful boss that was Roberto Martinez, I believe it is time for Everton to flourish under a new era in which the ever-improving Ronald Koeman can finally shock some confidence into the talented players that they do have at Goodison Park. They’ll have to require a bit more bite than the ineffective side that Martinez stubbornly persisted with, as Koeman prefers a bit of steel to his teams, and with signings like Ashley Williams a few days ago, they are shaping up to be a pretty solid side, even with the loss of John Stones. Providing Romelu Lukaku stays for the remainder of the season, I really think Everton can push back up to their glory days of Europa League qualification if they work to the standards Koeman demands. In short, a much more positive season predicted.
9th: Leicester City
So here is where we find our defending champions on my predicted table then! Well, if you believed Claudio Ranieri in all his press conferences this summer, you might’ve thought he didn’t even care about this season following the total once-in-a-lifetime seismic shock that was their title win, but I’m sure his easy-going demeanour is flipped on its head when it comes to the training ground. The Italian entertainer will be deep into his notes for each and every team they visit this season, prepared for most eventualities, but realistic in his expectations, probably thinking in his head mid-table, but not wanting to temper his player’s hopes to any kind of ceiling, as with Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater on their books, anything is possible. The importance of individuals in the dressing room who have the experience of winning a title is vital and cannot be understated, but losing N’Golo Kante, to a team which absurdly could’ve been their title rivals, should prove to have a massive impact on their confidence as he was the glue that held their title charge together. Gaining Ahmed Musa, who is a quality striker, was a good use of the income they received from Kante’s sale, but it will by no means make up for the ghostly shadow that will cover Leicester’s season. So the magic might not stick around in the East Midlands soon, but for Leicester’s lowly standards over a year ago, a ninth place finish might’ve been seen as a miracle. It just goes to show what difference a year can make in football.
10th: Stoke City
Having benefitted slightly from the inconsistency of their mid-table partners for the past few seasons (as well as also, to their credit, putting in some very creditable performances against the top clubs), this might just be the year for Stoke to slip a place or two down from their steady finish of ninth, having parked up there for each of the past three seasons. Mark Hughes, who most Stoke fans questioned prior to his appointment, has built a solid base for future accomplishments with his unlikely and spectacular signings, for example Xherdan Shaqiri, Marco Arnautovic and Bojan all coming in and backed up their fees with solid, match-winning performances. Giannelli Imbula is another top signing who could prove vital this year, dictating play in the middle, and the additions of Joe Allen and Ramadan Sobhi should add some useful guile and pace to their build-up play. All in all, Hughes has got the right squad to challenge for a top seven place, but for me, the strength of others this year will push them down from their perch, leaving them exactly mid-table, but probably still content of their achievements.
Well, there you go, those are my predictions for this season for each and every club involved in the continuous drama of the Premier League this season. Brighter outlooks for many, but gloomy times ahead for a certain few. We’ll see in late May if my predictions pay off, and you can leave your predictions down in the comments if you want to tell me who you think might do well this season. Who will be champions? Where will Leicester finish, and will we see someone else emulate them? Who will be player of the year, and who will win the golden boot (I’m going for Alexis Sanchez and Zlatan Ibrahimović)? There’s plenty of predictions to make, but they will only come to fruition or be proven wrong when the actions all ends and the EPL closes up shop on 21st May, over nine and a half months away now. But let’s not wish it away too soon, and just enjoy the entertainment that will unfold before our eyes, the stars that will be born and the careers that will be brought to a climax, the shocks and the comedy, the crazy and the sad, all tied into one neat, magical package; the Premier League. It has its faults, but it’s impossible not to love it.
So, we’re here again for another nine months or so of pure entertainment in the form of Premier League football, complete with all of its lovable managerial dramas, table-topping twists and relegation-zone turns, massive upsets and most of all great matches. It’s an effervescent cycle of sport which you cannot help but take intense interest in, and that’s why it is the top league for fans, sponsors and players all over the globe. Naturally, then, there’s bound to be a lot of discussion and argument over who will do what this season, whether a certain team, player or manager will succeed or fail. So this week I thought, just to join in the fun, I should reveal my thoughts on who will be the movers and shakers this season, who will finish where come the end of the 380 scheduled matches in late May 2017. It certainly seems a long time away now, and it will definitely feel longer in the deep, dreary nights in December, from Stoke to Middlesbrough, when the matches will drag into the sub-zero winter evenings and the injuries will force managers to deal their hands, digging deep to achieve consistency. It will be unfathomably tough for any side this season to eventually pull away enough from the others to even stand a chance to win the title, but for others it will also take a lot of guts and fight to save themselves from the dreaded drop. So without further ado, shall we get on with it and see who my picks for triumph or disappointment are this 2016/17 EPL season?
Right, I’m going to start with the bottom half (top half tomorrow as I like to ramble a bit, so I’m splitting this blog into two parts). Watford are my pick for 11th, which would be a strong improvement upon their 13th place finish last season, in which they upset the apple cart and impressed many across the country with their early season and FA Cup form. Even despite this, the rugged, below-the-radar tactician Quique Sanches Flores, or QSF as he became affectionately known as by the Watford fans, was shown the door to the surprise of no-one after the constant threats the unrealistically ambitious board gave him to improve or be culled. It may have been unfair on Flores, but the Pozzo family at the top have made another great appointment in new boss Walter Mazzarri, who has seen all that Italy has to offer on a footballing scale, and is ready to take the challenge that the Premier League poises. Having inherited an overachieving but slightly ageing squad, he has immediately invested, similarly to Flores last summer, in promising foreign talent, for example Isaac Success, Christian Kabasele, Juan Camilo Zuniga and Brice Dja Djedje (a great signing in Football Manager at least), who should all prove to be sound investments come the tough periods of the season. Jerome Sinclair is also another decent purchase, shoring up the forward line when Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo aren’t firing, which should make the Hornets much more consistent this season, pushing them up a place or two from where they ended up last May.
Having lost another ever-improving boss in Ronald Koeman to Everton (after his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino left for Spurs three years ago), and top players like Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle, Southampton will have to show that they can yet again recover from big losses to finish in and around the Europa League places. For me though, this time they won’t reach their lofty targets, as new boss Claude Puel doesn’t have the reputation nor the experience required to push an already over performing side up the table. He hasn’t done much to put his stamp on a squad which at times last season appeared a little stretched, selling three of their best players in Mane, Victor Wanyama and Pelle for big fees, and replacing them only with Alex McCarthy, Nathan Redmond, Jeremy Pied and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who are solid if unspectacular purchases that will add a little more flair but lose some physical strength. Personally, I would say they have taken three massive steps backward and only four small ones forward, which will ultimately prove to force them down, fairly dramatically for me, the table to the upper bottom half of the standings. Their style of play has yet to be put to the test too, and Puel will have to get off to a good start to get anything out of this season, as they can’t rely on trying to recover later in the season as they simply don’t have a manager with the experience to pull through in unique situations such as those.
13th: Crystal Palace
Life looks much sunnier as a Crystal Palace fan these days; out of the financial struggles they had when slumbering in the mid-sections of the Championship and now investing heavily in exciting new talent while replacing their stars who may want to move on to pastures new on bigger wages. An FA Cup final finish and 15th place was a very respectable turnout for them last term, but Alan Pardew will want to strengthen upon that after missing out on the England job and push his team further up the reaches of the Premier League, sharpening up their consistency over the longer stages of the season. Having added James Tomkins, Andros Townsend and Steve Mandanda, two proven EPL talents and a very solid Ligue 1 goalie, to their already competitive squad, I think the Eagles can push up the table and possibly put in another great cup run considering the strength in depth they do have, notably with Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie, Townsend and Bakary Sako all options on the wing. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that they’ll finish the season near the top of the dribbles completed charts.
Another side under new management for the start of this season (six others, with another on the way with Hull), the Black Cats have a definite mental resolve more powerful than most others, having survived relegation from impossible positions three consecutive times, but won’t be wanting to appoint another manager late into the season in order to survive. This time, though, with the experienced but recently unfortunate David Moyes at the helm, I do think they can survive with a few more games to spare, possibly reaching 45 to 50 points or so by the end, rather than their usual 40. Such a calm and reassured figure during his, what would now be considered Jurassic, reign at Everton, Moyes capitulated into a desperate and bemused figure during his short lived stays at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, and he just needed the right job to get back into his managerial stride. Then came the opportunity at Sunderland, which was perfect for his style; a side with a restricted budget, a few decent players but not such a great pedigree, one that he could shape into his own by taking his time to recruit the right players and get them fighting for vital points. He has his faults, and so do most of his players, but they can be put to the side as long as they work together to move up the table to more comfortable surroundings, and I think they can do that. Wahbi Khazri, Fabio Borini, Adnan Januzaj, Patrick van Aanholt and Jeremain Lens all provide talent great enough for arguably a top half side, and Jermain Defoe, Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea will add bags of experience and knowledge to a side lacking slightly in leaders elsewhere, so I think they have the basics for a good season. Moyes just has to gel everyone together with the right tactics to make his debut year a success.
With signings in the calibre of Alvaro Negredo, Victor Valdes and Victor Fischer over the course of the summer, ex-Real Madrid assistant manager Aitor Karanka is assembling a very well stocked squad in preparation for what is always a tough first season as a promoted side. Middlesbrough should’ve never really been out of the EPL in the first place really, considering how good they were when I first really got into football; collecting Match Attax cards, as they competed in the top half for years but hit a rocky patch with Gareth Southgate as boss and could never quite hit the heights to gain promotion back up from the Championship. But here they are again; back in the big time with some pretty decent players and a great young manager in charge, this season could be very prosperous for them. Some players will have to stand up and be counted for them though other than their big name signings; while Grant Leadbitter as captain is sure to fight the cause, mainstays like Ben Gibson, George Friend, Jordan Rhodes and Stewart Downing also will be vital throughout the season if firstly they want to stay up and secondly they want a mid-table or slightly lower finish, with over 42 points or so. Karanka I think can draw some gritty performances from them though, and they can emulate Bournemouth from last season as the most successful promoted side.
16th: Swansea City
With Francesco Guidolin still in charge despite some iffy rumours at the end of last season for him, Swansea have gone under the radar a bit this summer, with their most exciting moment coming with the reveal of their lovely new blue away kit. Seriously, so little has happened for them that when they sold Andre Ayew to West Ham last week they must’ve jumped off of their seats at the club for the news, even if it meant the loss of arguably their best player. Luckily enough for them, Fernando Llorente and Borja Baston have come through the door to fill the Ayew, Eder and Bafetimbi Gomis-shaped holes up front, and Mike van der Hoorn has been bought to shore up the defensive numbers. But one massive loss they have endured was the sale of Ashley Williams to Everton just last week, their captain sold to what could’ve been their mid-table rivals, but now a team that should pull far away from them. Guidolin should probably have a plan, but to sell your captain, your fans favourite and rock at the back is a total crime for any lower-half EPL side, and should spell a tough season for the Swans. Honestly, I just can’t see the Welsh club recovering from such a massive loss, and providing they sign a decent replacement, I can only see them scraping a last-minute survival battle to stay up, even if the goals of Llorente and Baston win them a few games, they’ll lose as many as a result of shoddy defending. The likes of Lukasz Fabianski and Gylfi Sigurdsson will have to emulate their form of last season to salvage much from this year, and for Guidolin to keep his job until the end of the season.
17th: AFC Bournemouth
Eddie Howe, with all of his youthful bravado and right-mindedness tempered with surprising amounts of calm and tact, masterminded a solid and unexpectedly good season for his beloved Cherries last time around, and he’ll be hoping for another this year. For me though, the strength of others may just push them down a few places down to the edge of the relegation zone, as results like the ones they got against Chelsea, Manchester United, Southampton, Everton and Leicester (two draws against the champions) last year might well prove tougher to see out. All of those sides are all spending crazy amounts to have a shot at success, and a small side on the south coast, with a capacity of 12,500 or so at Dean Court, can’t compete. The signatures Jordan Ibe and Lys Mousset could prove to be pretty astute from Howe, but they are unproven for such expensive purchases (on Bournemouth’s scale) and might be a bit inconsistent at their age, whereas Lewis Cook, Emerson Hyndman and Nathan Ake (on loan) are only really squad-bulkers and future prospects. Luckily enough for Howe, he has kept the spine to his side and fleshed out the bones, but I think they’ve haven’t quite strengthened on the levels of others and might see a tight squeeze to avoid relegation come late May.
18th (Relegated): West Bromwich Albion
Now this might be a bit of a controversial one, but I tip West Brom for relegation every year, and it never pays off, but I just have an instinct (it will be wrong again now I’ve said it, won’t it?) that this will finally be the year they face the drop. My big reason behind this is that they simply haven’t spent in big amounts for years now, and they won’t survive in this kind of business without coughing up these days. Their squad does look a bit bare these days; Salomon Rondon their only real star capable of winning matches on his own, with Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans and Craig Dawson arguably their only other top-half quality players. Most other individuals seem a liability for Tony Pulis; Ben Foster getting inconsistent with age, Claudio Yacob a walking red card, James McLean more up and down than a rollercoaster and Saido Berahino probably only a missed birthday cake away from finally leaving the club. Another reason is that Tony Pulis doesn’t excite the fans with his style of play, and when you are involved in a relegation dogfight you really need the fans to be on your side; just look at Aston Villa and Newcastle, whose fans deserted them after years of bad treatment, and where they both are now. Long throws and defending sides to death simply won’t work these days the same way it did for Pulis at Stoke, and I think this season could finally spell the end of his luck at some points in his career, battering his ego and finally ridding the Premier League of the bogey team (especially for Man United) that is West Brom. Nothing against them as a club, but I just think if I was to remove one realistic side by choice from the Prem, it would be pretty likely to be them.
19th (Relegated): Burnley
For a Lancashire town with a population of just 75,000 or so, Burnley have continually performed above themselves on the world stage that is the globally-televised Premier League, and it is no coincidence that they have bounced back to the top level after staying loyal to Sean Dyche as manager. The ‘Ginger Mourinho’ as some called him, is a very confident and adept manager, but it has been the case that his managerial style is often a little too easy to read for top level opponents and he has fallen short a little bit when really challenged. Maybe that’s also because he hasn’t had the vast war chests of those above him before, and hasn’t drawn enough out of his regular players, but he still has much more to show at this level before he departs again. And I think that departure will be, unfortunately for the Claret’s fans, at the end of this season, as their squad honestly doesn’t have enough about it to upset the top sides nor grind out consistent results against the sides around them. We can commend Dyche for staying true to home-grown talent (23 of their 29 players are British or Irish), but it might be that transfer approach that holds his side back from better things. Nevertheless, Tom Heaton, Ben Mee, Michael Keane, Andre Gray and Sam Vokes should all have good seasons, leading from the front, but besides them I can’t see many who have the consistency or the ability to chip in with match-winning performances, assists, goals or clean sheets which all prove decisive when you are battling relegation.
20th (Relegated): Hull City
Well, this one seems easy enough (edit: at least it did when I wrote this on Friday night, before their win against Leicester). For what should’ve been such a capable side, with Steve Bruce the safe hands in charge, everything has gone wrong this summer. Bruce has resigned after coming to loggerheads with the tight-pursed Allams who have final say on everything at the club, only one signing has come in (Will Mannion, realistically only a fourth choice goalkeeper), the club doesn’t have a permanent manager going into the first few weeks of the season, and the squad looks threadbare. This is all the fault of the Allams though, it had nothing to do with Bruce, as he had his hands tied because the Allams didn’t get their wish of franchising and rebranding the club the ‘Hull Tigers’, and wouldn’t let the fans or the manager have any part in the running of their club as a result. This is not the plot of a bad sports film where the fans overthrow the evils villains who have sucked the life out of their club, this is the painful reality for Hull fans and ultimately it will result in the immediate relegation of their side before their time in the spotlight has even begun. Without a proper manager or the funds to make any signings, the club can only go backwards, as they simply can’t keep up with resources only good enough for the league below, when clubs around them have world class stars signing up just to be a part of the Premier League. The biggest star Hull have? Tom Huddlestone or Abel Hernandez maybe, but neither of them have been in great form recently, and personally I’d say their best player is in fact Andrew Robertson, who for such a young man (at 22) will not be able to carry the team on his own. Seriously, Hull only have 18 current senior players, or 15 outfielders, to choose from this season (16 or 13 for the first few months as Moses Odubajo and Michael Dawson have long-term injuries), and that is not good enough by any stretch of the imagination. But what can you do when you aren’t given any money to spend, on transfer fees or wages? You are powerless, and all you can do is try to organise the few troops you already have, no matter how desperate the cause. And believe me, after a string of losses for this Tigers team, it will seem very desperate.
So there are my predictions for the bottom half this season, make of them what you will, and leave your thoughts in the comments on who you think might go down this year if you like. I’ll see you again tomorrow for my top half predictions, and the only spoiler I’ll give you for now is; brace yourselves!
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!