The Wiggins/Stanning/Glover effect has brought the absurd, astronomical emoluments of Rooney, Terry, Tevez, Aguero and co into critical perspective. All right, Sir Brad trousered £350,000 or so winning the Tour de France (though he did share it with his Team Sky compadres), but those rowing gals… four years of slog, rising at dawn, collapsing in bed totally knackered, and for what financial reward? Helen returns to an ice-cream shop in Cornwall, Heather faces another tour of Afghanistan in the militia. None of the rowers will undergo the sheer fatigue of choosing a Bentley, a mansion or two or three in the Golden Triangle. They certainly will not be dwarf-throwing in exotica, or dressing in Dolce and Gabbana, or investing millions in the Cayman Islands.
It’s time for the British public to get real, and football clubs to embrace reality. The Premier League is the “Emperor’s New Clothes”, where all his courtiers, lickspittles, sycophants, patronisers, fawners and obsequious wets were obliged to admire his attire, waiting for one fearless young boy, clutching his Bovril and meat pie, to expostulate, “The Emperor is naked.” The coming season is the watershed. We’ve seen cabaret football from Spain, glorying in the pure skills and near genius of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and co.
Fans of Chelsea will, by now, be in high dudgeon, crying “We won the Big One!”, the Champions League. A worldwide audience disagrees. Chelsea’s negative football cast the game back to the Dark Ages. Either football is the Beautiful Game or merely some primitive, tribal, ultra-disciplined game played by cavemen.
So, here’s the watershed. Abramovich has seen the light. He’s taken the reaper and binder to the old guard, bringing in quality players of known pedigree: entertainers, artists, innate talent. It will unveil itself at the People’s Republic of Wigan on Sunday. The pie-munchers of Wigan themselves have morphed into aficionados of the Beautiful Game. Tired of rumpty-tumpty footie, Roberto Martinez, a lover of Chunky Steak Pies and the Corrida, instilled in his artisan players the Spanish mantra – pass and move, work the ball, utilise space. It was like learning the alphabet for his players, but they responded. A cornucopia of pies descended from heaven when Wigan stayed up.
Likewise at the Colosseum. Swansea humiliated Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish last season with a swashbuckling display that left Anfield bemused. From that day Brendan Rodgers was factotum elect. He needed that Swansea midfield, with that former Home Secretary, Leon Britton. Alas Sigurdsson and Britton are out of reach; but Rodgers looks to have bagged Joe Allen, a pocket Iniesta. Lovers of the game wish Roy Rodgers, and Trigger, well.
Manchester City will know that Europe will have to be conquered. Failure in the Champions League against Napoli and Bayern, plus a flop in the Europey League, blew a cold wind through the Etihad. The Premier League title won by City doesn’t cut it in Singapore. David Silva is the flashing rapier, he needs an épée and a broadsword to back him up.
Across the city, Rob Roy’s twitching sporran is already on fire. He has to play five top teams away after European fixtures. To hell with computers, let’s do it like Alan Hardacre did it in Blackpool in the olde days, deal the clubs like a hand of cards. At the start of last season, Rooney was on fire. Welbeck, Young, Nani, Valencia and especially young Cleverley played United’s traditional footie. Alas, Vidic and Cleverley were hurt, and Scholes and Giggs, who really should be in pushchairs on Brighton seafront, were pressed into service. The cracks showed in away games at Wigan and at the Shrine. Beware all pretenders. Rob is ferocious when cornered. Meanwhile, in a dark corner of New York, the Glazers are up to their usual tricks. When does righteous indignation become unrighteous, even riotous?
Where’s my hero, ‘Arry O’Redknapp? Flounced out of Spurs, spurned by England. The supreme entertainer, a joy to be with, creator of super teams. And what of James (Kevin) Bond, sibling of the flamboyant John? Come back – soon.
So, of the aspirants, the Arsenal remain. Years of fruitless pioneering of the Beautiful Game with no silverware, Arséne’s thatch has turned a lighter shade of grey. My prediction: Manchester City champions; then Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs. Newcastle and Everton will feature. The rest are making up the numbers, scrapping to stay in the money.
I’m afraid Southampton and Reading, newly promoted, do not stir the blood. Fact is, and this is heresy, the positive footie will be in the Championship, as it’s now named. Pedigree, history, stamped all over it. Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Blackburn, Leicester, Leeds, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough. Illustrious clubs, fallen on hard times, but what history! League championships, European Cups, FA Cups. There’ll be some fantastic matches, goalless draws will be scarce, this lot are playing to win.
Premier League Football kicks off from Saturday at 3:00pm on Radio 5 Live and 4:30pm on ESPN