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.
Deadline day once again produced its usual mix of excitement, hyperbole and confusion yesterday, with a standard assortment of a couple of ‘blockbuster’ moves and many, many loan deals done between Premier League teams and lower-league clubs.
As is our duty, though, we’ve dredged through the rumours, the hopes and the hogwash to bring you the ten most intriguing deals of yesterday’s shopping frenzy…
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.
Atlético Madrid won the Europa League last night, thanks primarily to a concerted display of attacking football from Radamel Falcao. The Colombian hit man has netted 12 times in the competition this season, and this impressive strike rate will likely see England’s big guns make a move for the 26-year-old in the summer. Still, if you asked Harry Redknapp, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Roberto Mancini or any other manager from the footballing “elite” of this country, they would tell you that the Europa League is a worthless competition. Some may even go so far as to suggest that it ought to be abolished, because it simply “doesn’t matter.” Tell that to the Spanish. And the Portuguese.
The disdain for the Europa League in England is typical of the haughty, arrogant manner in which we judge the various merits and weaknesses of our own competition, which disgracefully extends to the Premier League and nothing else, and that of the rest of Europe. Are we missing something here? The answer is yes. Far from being some sort of mickey-mouse, two bit little tournament, the Europa League is the second most prestigious pan-European competition.
Well, the inevitable happened again. Chelsea fired a manager. Big deal.
Andre Villas-Boas has looked ready for the chop since Christmas. The youngest manager in the Premier League, in his third season as a manager, sitting in the hottest seat in world football? Working for the most trigger-happy owner in top-class sport with a record of three wins in 12 games? Fighting a losing battle in seemingly trying coerce a group of veteran superstars into his new-age training and tactical methods? It could never last.
And yet, after casting aside numerous more successful managers without a second blink, that trigger-happy owner didn’t want to fire this one.
Wales’ defeat to Costa Rica in the Gary Speed Memorial game Wednesday was a wonderful and emotionally charged occasion – the score excepted – in which Welsh football paid its last respects to a man who over the past twelve months had transformed the fortunes of the Wales national side. The maturity of Speed’s sons, 14-year-old Ed and his brother, 13-year-old Tommy, was moving to witness and personified the class and dignity of their father, who tragically took his own life last November.
In his post-game press conference, new manager Chris Coleman, who attended this game as an observer to the Welsh squad following his appointment last month, spoke equally touchingly of Ed’s addresses to the Wales players and to an assembled audience of more than 400 of Speed’s former footballing friends, colleagues and mentors.
The whole event served as a fine and fitting occasion on which Welsh football can begin to draw a line under the Speed tragedy and move forward in its ambitions to continue its climb under the rankings and get back to pushing for qualification to major tournaments.
The problem is, Coleman may well find that progress difficult to sustain.