Over the past nine months I’ve watched something in the vicinity of…actually, I can’t even harbour a guess, but a lot of Premiership football: between Sportsnet’s three live games every Saturday plus the occasional game on Fox Sportsworld, my football obsession was properly nurtured in 2004/05. But despite this fact I haven’t written nearly enough about “real” football on this blog as of yet. I aim to correct this oversight in the next couple weeks with entries about the Premiership season that was, the Champions League final, and England’s bid to win the 2006 World Cup.
First to the Premiership. Having watched a lot of games this season I’ve decided to throw objectivity aside and let personal bias do the talking. I have four main points…and for lack of any real creativity at 5:32pm on this sunny Monday afternoon I’ll simply jot ’em down in point form and let you fill in the gaps.
At what point do we concede that Chelsea’s first title in fifty years is the most illegitimate sporting victory since Michael Johnson’s claims to the “World’s Fastest Man” title after the 1996 Summer Olympics? Seriously, how has the English football media not been making a bigger deal out of this? The title was bought, pure and simple. Say what you will about the team’s attacking flair, about its solid defense and its world class ‘keeper, about its inspirational captain and its “special” manager: this was a championship wrought in Roman Abramovich’s dirty two hundred million pound investment. Sure, Chelsea did some exciting things on the pitch…but come on: you could have turned Southampton into Premiership champions with that kind of cash. Remember when United were winning all their trophies back in the late 90s? That was with a team whose heart was entirely homegrown–Beckham, the Nevilles, Butt, Scholes, Giggs, all of them part of the finest youth system in the country. Chelsea, meanwhile, had exactly one homegrown talent on the pitch when they won the league against Bolton Wanderers (John Terry, the aforementioned inspirational captain). Everybody else was bought. Every last one of them. Does anybody else see the problem here?
Remember last season, when Arsene Wenger was using the two domestic cups as excuses to give his reserves a run-out? He caught hell from the British football media for that. So what happened? Phillipe Sanderos, Matthew Flamini and Robin Van Persie all made enormous contributions to the Gooners’ second place finish this season. Say what you will about Wenger: he done good with his young players, and as such I’m far more willing to lavish him with praise than that prig Mourinho.
United didn’t have a very good year, especially by their lofty standards. The goalkeeping situation is a mess–seriously, does anybody apart from Sir Alex Ferguson really see Roy Carroll as a number one ‘keeper?–the defense was erratic, the midfield is ageing and the strikers were frequently without teeth (Ruud van Nistelrooy had a particularly poor season, although to be fair he was just hitting his stride when an injury felled him back in November). Apart from a few isolated highlights (Wayne Rooney’s magical debut, the 4-2 win against Arsenal at Highbury), 2004/05 was largely forgettable for Manchester United. Yet there were still a few bright spots: Rooney was phenomenal in his debut season, Gabriel Heinze was a revelation at left back, Cristiano Ronaldo continued his rapid development (and started cutting back on his diving, thank goodness) and Darren Fletcher began asserting himself in the midfield. The team still has a few glaring needs–most obviously between the posts, although I’m still hoping Tim Howard develops into the ‘keeper he showed flashes of becoming last year–but it won’t ever stray too far from the top of the table. Not even with an idiot American owner at the helm.
Finally, Southampton were so spectacularly bad this season that relegation was the only just ending to their campaign. Three managers in nine months? Come the f*** on, Rupert Lowe. This is the team that was fourth in England at Christmas in 2003; now they’re in the Coca-Cola Championship and praying that Niemi, Quashie and Crouch stay on for a go at instant promotion. Lofty ambitions? Probably not–Saints certainly have the quality to bounce right back. But with due respect, without Lowe’s shenanigans they probably wouldn’t be in this predicament.
Steve’s Premiership Team of the Year (4-4-2): Petr Cech (Chelsea), Tony Hibbert (Everton), John Terry (Chelsea), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United), Arjen Robben (Chelsea), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Tim Cahill (Everton), Stuart Downing (Middlesborough), Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Andrew Johnson (Crystal Palace)
Subs: Shay Given (Newcastle), William Gallas (Chelsea), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Peter Crouch (Southampton)
Manager: Bryan Robson (West Bromwich Albion)
On a semi-related note, the fantasy football juggernaut that is Team Awesome finished second place in this year’s “Take Me Too Seriously!” league. Mad love to HLP Paul for his wire-to-wire success this season; Paul, welcome to the top two! And to Hwatele, who finished a respectable third in his rookie campaign: looking forward to next season.