Last week may have seen the first significant news of the football off-season, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Following the retirement of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, and David Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford as his successor, there has been plenty more big news in the past seven days.
One question in football has never been answered by the owners of the world’s elite football clubs: When is the right time to change your manager?
I’ll start with the obvious ones – probably not, say, within five months of winning you the Champions’ League title you have craved for almost a decade, not the day after claiming your club a league crown but doing so “in the wrong style” (a la Bernt Schuster), and probably not simply because you’ve just bought the club and you’d quite like a more high-profile manager.
The thing is, there doesn’t really seem to be a right time for change.
This week in Europe may have turned into the week of the comeback for the English quartet, but there can be little doubt, if any lingered, that the Premier League’s finest are no longer Europe’s dominant force.
Remember that spell when there were three English clubs in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League every year between 2008 and 2010?
At this time, footballing knowledge suggested that the continent had been conquered by Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. Well, can you really see that happening this year?
With one Premier League match played, and football having returned from its slightly shorter than usual summer break, if the season were to abruptly end before tomorrow’s action begins, Fulham would have narrowly lost out on their first ever Premier League title to neighbours Chelsea, while Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers would be heading back to the Championship having failed to find the net in the top flight.
Although, while Cottagers supporters struggle to contain their nosebleeds and Swansea City fans organise an open top bus parade for legendary manager Michael Laudrup, we must remember that there are 37 games remaining (for most sides), and plenty of time for the table to take on a more predictable appearance. However, although it is impossible to assess a side’s ability and probable fortune this early on, it is worth taking a look at what is likely to transpire over the next nine months.
Had I written this piece four days ago, it would have looked a lot different. Arsenal’s prospects ahead of the 2012-13 season are now up in the air just days before the season is due to begin following the sale of Robin van Persie this week to arch-rivals Manchester United.
Arsenal’s primary concern was always about dealing with van Persie’s future. The Dutchman had confirmed he would not sign a new contract, so they can surely not afford to let him sit out his final year before leaving for nothing.
Robin van Persie has shown Arsenal none of the respect the club and its supporters deserve. Perennially injury-stricken, the 28-year-old only demonstrated his full potential during last season. Until then, van Persie had missed at least 10 games every year.
Despite this, his goalscoring record for Arsenal is hardly shameful. 96 goals in 194 league games, more or less a goal every two matches. The frustration and disappointment of Gunners supporters is entirely understandable, as on so many occasions over the past year, van Persie has been carrying the team.
When the news about Arsenal captain Robin van Persie was released last week, it was to be expected that Gunners supporters would take to social media in their droves to bemoan the impending departure of their hero.
A personal friend of mine referred to van Persie as “spineless” for leaving the club in its current state (without a trophy for several years and following a considerably poor season) and as current captain.
What he is forgetting, however, is that Cesc Fabregas, a former Arsenal skipper, departed when the Gunners were in a similar situation. He argues that the Spanish midfielder’s decision to leave was more justifiable, as he was moving on to his childhood team, FC Barcelona.
You know how sometimes you take a big gamble on something, knowing that if it pays off you’re in a fantastic position? Well, sometimes that gamble falls flat on its face and leaves you facing a catastrophe.
That’s kind of how Arsenal probably feel this afternoon.
Robin van Persie has announced via his official website today that, because he and the club “in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward”, he no longer has any intention of extending his current contract, which has a year left to run.
Arsenal’s big summer plans, centred around the already-sealed arrival of Lukas Podolski and the almost confirmed signing of Olivier Giroud, have supposedly left them in a far stronger position to attack the Manchester clubs in next season’s Premier League. That, however, all hinged around van Persie.
Once again the football world has been shocked, if not actually surprised, by the actions of those who ‘run’ the game. UEFA has slapped a £80,000 fine on Nicklas Bendtner. What is Bendtner’s crime you ask? Well, he has terrible taste in undergarments.
The man who bagged himself a brace against Portugal revealed the sponsorship during a goal celebration. The outrage is not so much about the amount of the fine, or the one game ban attached. The real shame of it is the comparison to recent racism fines dished out by UEFA. Bendtner’s fine was more than the £64,000 sum Croatia faced due to their fans racially abusing the ever adorable Mario Balotelli. It is not the first time UEFA has handed out pitiful fines for racial abuse by various groups of fans across Europe.
Arsenal striker Bendtner, who spent the past season on loan at Sunderland, said the boxers were “just a lucky pair of pants”.
The ultimate round of matches of the 2011-2012 Premier League season had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. In this vein, footballing clichés were wheeled out by the bucket load. At Manchester City, it really was a game of two halves, as the league leaders thoroughly pummelled the Queens Park Rangers defence, peppering shots at Paddy Kenny and any other body the R’s could get in the way. 44 of them, in fact. With Manchester United maintaining a 1-0 lead over Sunderland for the majority of the game at the Stadium of Light, all eyes were on the Etihad Stadium. Pablo Zabaleta set the Citizens on their way just before half-time, at almost exactly the same point as Bolton Wanderers completed their turnaround against Stoke City to take a 2-1 lead. QPR were relegated, Bolton were staying up, and City had a hand on the trophy. Surely this would be it from Mark Hughes’ ultra-defensive side?