We have learned so much from the English 2010-11 campaign, haven’t we? Manchester United crowned league champions; Chelsea runners-up; Arsenal trophy-less, again; Manchester City’s millions finally rewarded; Wolves, Wigan and Blackpool in a last day relegation dogfight, among others…
Sir Alex Ferguson made controversial statements that upset a few referees, while leading United to a record 19th league title and a Champions League final. Man City’s Carlos Tevez threatened to leave the club. Chelsea’s manager spent the season fearing for his job. Kenny Dalglish answered Liverpool’s SOS with typical heroism.
Of course, I am joking, for these events could have been scripted in August and few pundits would have disagreed. But not everything has passed with a tedious predictability, as there are topics of interest behind the blatantly inevitable.
Who could have foreseen Chelsea’s almost ridiculous £50 million (panic) buy of the declining Fernando Torres from Liverpool, as they scrambled to achieve European success and recover ground on United at the top of the table? ‘Nando’ is a class act but one suspects recent injuries have created something of an expensive gamble.
And who would have predicted that Liverpool would have replaced him immediately with the promising Newcastle striker Andy Carroll at the absurd price of £35 million? Surely his ill-advised, greasy pony-tail would have kept the price down if not his lack of experience at the top level!
While we debate Chelsea, it is a widely-held theory that their season began to crumble when their respected coach Ray Wilkins was dismissed. I suppose with a lack of pace in defence, with unimaginative midfielders and injuries hampering star striker Didier Drogba and goal-scoring midfielder Frank Lampard there could be only one outcome – the manager’s right-hand man was responsible. Not.
Although Man United’s success has been no surprise, it is slightly bemusing when you study how they did it. Their midfield consisted mainly of an average work-horse in Darren Fletcher, a defensive-minded yet neat passer in Michael Carrick deemed inferior for England, the ageing and declining Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs, brought in-field now he has lost his pace as he approaches 40 but still a class act.
It just shows how Ferguson has magically cajoled a team clearly not as talented or enterprising as his former editions yet still end triumphant. It also points to key contributions from others and inspirational skipper Nemanja Vidic and new goal-hungry Mexican striker Javier Hernandez would be standouts.
Liverpool’s resurgence under the club’s favourite son ‘King Kenny’ was no surprise but the extent of their improvement probably did shock. Given that ‘Pool’ have been regarded a two-man team in recent seasons through the influence of Steven Gerrard and Torres it’s more impressive they should progress after the exit of the Spanish striker and with Gerrard largely injured.
It seems that their squad for too long has possessed too many average journeymen, many from Spain or South America, and former boss Rafa Benitez must accept much of the blame for assembling an expensive, under-performing unit.
Roy Hodgson, fired in January, was unlucky but he was always going to be the fall guy. Especially with the new owners desperate to win the love of the Kop and there was never going to be a better way of achieving that than hiring Kenny.
The future under Dalglish has to start with a healthy shaving of the dregs left from the Benitez era and a shrewd recruitment drive with quality British players at the core. This, after all, is what made Liverpool great in the 1980s, with a few exceptions like Grobbelaar, Johnstone and Molby.
Expect moves for Blackpool’s playmaker Charlie Adam, Aston Villa’s creative though inconsistent Ashley Young and Bolton’s ever-improving defender Gary Cahill.
Maybe a couple of the greater surprises of the campaign were the struggles of the clubs that play in claret and blue – Aston Villa and West Ham. While Villa narrowly battled their way out of relegation, West Ham were relegated first.
Villa suffered immediately after Martin O’Neill’s cruelly-timed resignation four days before the new campaign. Successor Gerard Houllier failed to win over the fans and may be gone, through illness, before he has the chance to better his legacy at Villa.
West Ham on paper have a team that should have been firmly ensconced in mid-table with an international core through the middle with England players Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. But this probably shows you why success is not earned on paper and why England are no good.
On closer inspection, with the exception of the impeccable Parker, this trio have been fortunate to wear the England shirt. Green was the man who threw the ball into the net in England’s first game of the 2010 World Cup. Upson is the man who is better in his own mind than anywhere and Cole is decent but not England decent.
Add to these, ageing ‘has-beens’ drafted in on pricey loans such as Wayne Bridge and Robbie Keane and it was an accident waiting to happen. As for sacked boss Avram Grant: has anyone seen a more lifeless creature at a match? Imagine his team-talks? Probably more like bed-time stories without the adventure but with the sleepy results.
All in all, even with the obvious outcomes, it has been a thrilling season and more so because of the closeness between mid-table and bottom. Sunday’s relegation finale will be a nail-biter for the six clubs involved and pure theatre for those not. But better than being predictable though, eh?