By Brendan Boylan,
In one way, one seven day period changed Soccer as we knew it forever more. There’s no way, you see, to sugar coat the fact that Manchester City and Chelsea bought their way to the trophies they recently accrued. That said, it would be unfair to make that the sole judgement in either case. City played as mesmeric a style of football as was seen since Arsenal were at their zenith under Arsene Wenger.
That’s starting to seem like a long time ago now.
To dwell on the monetary ingredient devalues sporting skill. In most cases, players don’t determine their own value, they just demonstrate it on the pitch. And when they do, those who employ them tend to reap the benefits. Whether we like how they got there or not, Manchester City built a squad and played a quality of football of the 38 game league season which, realistically, nobody could match. Thus, the light blues emerged as worthy champions.
The story of Chelsea’s success – this season at least – is a little different. One suspects there will forever by a nauseating feeling in this seat regarding how Roman Abramovich has changed the culture in football. Sadly, success is now seemingly dependent, first and foremost, on how much money a unit has. Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the oligarch’s cash injection, under Jose Mourinho, trophies came as quick as big name signings.
However, it was when – in the eyes of the ruthless Russian – imperfections began to creep in that the farcical and ridiculous manner in which he operates became obvious. Naturally, when success comes, expectations rise, but at Stamford Bridge, the demand for constant success became unrealistic and unreasonable. Worse still, the owner repeatedly thought that sacking the manager was the solution to all his problems. If there was a problem at all, it had more to do with players not being good enough than who was in the dugout.
Abramovich’s mindset either couldn’t or didn’t want to see this. So, sack the manager became the cure of all evils. In his book at least. What it actually did, though, was send football into a dangerous malaise as other clubs have employed the same harsh – and in most cases unwarranted – treatment to some genuinely good men. Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Mick McCarthy, Andre Villas Boas and Alex McLeish all lost their jobs due to the cut throat nature of the soccer world now.
They are all decorated performers in their own right and none of them deserved their fate. But when somebody like Kenny Dalglish gets the axe it’s time to sit up, take notice. Yet another case of wealthy owners – with probably little understanding of the nuances of English football – making a financially based decision rather than one based on anything that happened, or didn’t, on a pitch.
Remember, earlier this year, Dalglish guided Liverpool to their first trophy in several seasons and they also made it to the FA Cup Final. Again, unrealistic expectations decreed that wasn’t good enough. A Premiership title and Champions League football had to be the end result. Every club would love that, but here’s the thing – reflecting on their undoubtedly glorious past – it seems to have gone un-noticed that, with the exception of maybe a handful, Liverpool’s players simply aren’t enough. Having Dalglish and Bill Shankley as a double ticket on the line wouldn’t make an iota of difference. Fenway Sports Group say they are searching for the ‘right man’ to take the club forward. What they should be doing is at least trying to bring in more quality players. Only what transpires on the pitch can really make the needed difference.
With the notable exception of Martin O’Neill – who seems to bring a touch of genuine genius wherever he goes – changing managers has proven to be a flawed attempt at evading trouble. Terry Connor replaced McCarthy at Wolves but they still went down. QPR only stayed up because Bolton lost – so Mark Hughes – wrongfully sacked by Man City himself – hardly improved things that drastically from where Neil Warnock had them. Aston Villa have had more managers since the inception of the top division as it currently is then Sir Alex Ferguson has had captains during nearly 26 years in charge at Old Trafford. And the Birmingham based outfit are still no better off.
Managerial messiness cannot be good for players either. Right, so player power is hardly a desired development either, yet, after another needless culling, there’s an inescapable feeling that the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and/or other senior members of the Chelsea set up spoke up to Abramovich after AVB got the boot and sought the installation of Roberto Di Matteo.
If the all powerful one did listen to someone, he should do it more often. Di Matteo seems to have re-stitched a lot of torn fabric in what is, partly at least, an ageing quilt and turned into one of the stories of great warmth in an utterly chaotic season. Having eventually and, let’s be honest, somewhat surprisingly landed Abramovich’s holy grail – and tucked away the FA Cup for good measure as well – surely, as the man who oversaw it all, Di Matteo should be a shoo in to get the job on a permanent basis. There are no such certainties with the Roman empire though!
I like Di Matteo. Sam Allardyce and Ian Holloway. These guys are proof that, in an often poisonous, money driven environment, there are still a few good men in football. At boardroom level that is. The last pair named were in charge of clubs that got relegated last season, but, those in control at West Ham and Blackpool appreciated the genuinely good men and valuable assets they had at their disposal.
Allardyce has repaid the faith shown in him, in spades. Holloway seems sure to garner success again too. Which leads us nicely back to Mr Wenger. He’s now gone eight seasons without a trophy – there are reasonable people at Arsenal too seemingly. Towards the end of the last campaign, they built a fair bit of momentum. There’ll now be pressure on the boss to deliver on it. Patience is scarce in most places in that business.