We’re fast approaching the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Yeah, psyched for it. Remember when Qatar was awarded it? The world was very different back in 2010. Crappy 3G smartphones. Alex Ferguson was still managing Manchester United. Prince and Leonard Cohen were still alive and touring. Donald Trump was just some cunt on a reality TV show. Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine either. The reason I bring that last one up is Qatar was awarded the 2022 edition of the World Cup at the same time as Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament. The votes were so egregiously and transparently corrupt its brazenness beggared belief. In hindsight, with Putin’s vanity charge in Ukraine and Qatar’s stadiums being built by slave labour, they’re unforgivable.
With the World Cup taking place in November and December, to accommodate this abomination of a tournament the Premier League season starts a week earlier than usual. So here I am, in sweltering heat (for Scotland), as we turn the world into a dust bowl (sustainable tofu in recyclable packets my arse), writing a column nobody will read, rashly making predictions about the Premier League’s final table next May, when there’s still five weeks of transfer business left. That mid-season gap to host the World Cup is another unusual variable. Remember how bizarre that Covid season behind closed doors was? This World Cup break could easily have similarly unforeseen effects.
It’s at this point that Oddball would get on my case for hitting him with the negative waves, but it’s hard to adopt another tone about the state of things. Everywhere you look you’re besieged by the kind incessant pessimism Moriarty is famous for in Kelly’s Heroes. It’s a successful cycle, driving us to seek distraction (me writing this as an example), as the news often presents a society and culture in terminal moral and intellectual decline; deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, the trans ideology being pushed so hard and so fast that it has led to children being used for medical experimentation, rail workers striking and being demonised by a heavily lobbied mainstream media as greedy, using fag packet economics to claim people earning below the mean wage wanting more pay would cause further inflation, ten mile long queues of tourists and lorry drivers at Dover, fuel bills tripling in October, while energy companies turn huge profits, which will likely take millions below the poverty line, and saving the best until last, wheeling out Christine Hamilton in her human form to pontificate that us plebs should pay for overnight hospital stays. Nothing works better than a Tory leadership contest to support the normalisation of these ideas and for us to foot the bill for these needless impositions.
Even the home page on your browser isn’t safe from it. The algorithms keep pushing me to switch my homepage to MSN. In the preview window shown to entice me the first headline that wasn’t related to the Tory leadership contest, the Royals (more stuff about Prince Andrew being a teflon nonce, Pegging and Fletching) or Love Island was “woman mauled by alligator”.
This clickbaitism is effective. The internet dominates our lives and consumes our attention, and our attraction and reaction to certain stories and people reveals how this bombardment of mis-information and crap has neutered our ability to think clearly. Virtually everyone who isn’t poor is now out of touch to varying degrees and that’s become a powerful mechanism, or gift, for those who wish to distract us from the erosion of our rights. Take Kylie Jenner (if the barometer for fame these days is Instagram followers, she clearly is) she takes three minute flights to avoid traffic across the LA basin, running up huge carbon emissions in the process. I found the response to this story (and shouldn’t we ask why this is news at all, and who benefits from it being reported?) equally contemptible as her grotesque show of privilege – that it was unfair because their sacrifice is wasted. The poor wee lams have to endure paper Starbucks straws disintegrating before they’ve finished their $17 skinny mocha frog gland latte.
This infantile wailing by entitled brats has infiltrated football fandom too. We now have fans slagging off summer signings minutes into their pre-season debuts, and this is not exclusive to fans of rivals clubs doing it for the “banz”. Support is increasingly conditional, transactional, even. A “no matter what it takes to win some football matches” demand has emboldened the Premier League executive to allow Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia in the door, this in turn encourages an ever growing population who pine to see their club be the next to win this morally bankrupt lottery.
Because nobody wants to be Burnley; perpetually at threat of relegation, scratching around on a punitive budget, only staving it off with wretched anachronistic football. I’ve been longing for their demise, and that it finally occurred this May should’ve brought me some enjoyment, but it was anti-climactic. I’ve now realised my antipathetic attitude was part of the problem. Instead of showing disdain for the same clubs, who, year after year, exist in a Groundhog Day vortex, frantically swimming against the current sucking them down to the Championship, often flailing in the process with desperation January signings and managerial changes, I should be pulling for them to upend the established order created by excessive individual and sovereign wealth that’s irrevocably stacked the odds against them.
Fat chance now that the traditionally big clubs (Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool) generate revenues that make them seem immune from failure – case in point, despite being mediocre for several years, both United and Arsenal only ever seem a win or two away from Champions League qualification by the time May rolls around. Liverpool were laughably bad at times during the first half of the previous decade yet were still far more successful than most clubs have ever been. Manchester City and Newcastle are owned by sovereign wealth funds and Chelsea seem to have a knack of landing on their feet by courting wealthy owners – the perks of being based in West London.
Everton’s dysfunction is the best example of the invidious position many Premier League clubs find themselves in. Most “know their place” and dare not speculate, accepting survival as success due the Premier League’s riches. The euphoric relief of Everton’s narrow escape (despite the cringeworthy pitch invasion) in May has eroded into dismay faster than Boris Johnson’s support among his MPs. There’s a sense of dread among Evertonians, that unless there’s drastic change, relegation will eventually find them, mixed with the realisation that even with billionaire backing, they are as far away from competing as ever. You suspect only their perilous financial situation (here we consider the downside to reliance on billionaire investment, if they get sanctioned, so too, in effect, does the club) and threat of non-compliance with financial fair play is stopping Farhad Moshiri from throwing away, sorry, investing more of, his money on sacking managers and paying huge sums to agents and clubs for players nobody else seems to want.
Moshiri clearly has grander ideas than fighting it out for safety with Southampton and Brentford. And fair enough, let’s not knock him for being ambitious. However, when we consider that Everton haven’t won a trophy in twenty-seven years, and have had far more relegation scraps than top four finishes since, his approach, especially when considering what must be overcome, smacks of delusion. For the last few years he’s been acting as an gambling addict would, that just one more shot at the roulette wheel, just one season of European qualification, or a new manager, will correct the course and change the club’s fortunes. This narcissistic psychological trap of expectation explains Frank Lampard’s presence, a complete fraud who’s winging it, with both parties trading on his name as player to maintain the illusion of relevance.
While, in a vacuum, I’m being hostile to Everton’s owner here, let’s also recognise that his actions don’t exist in one. I can’t abide those who claim the financial mismanagement of Everton has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi’s Premier League sportwashing operations. That’s as Tory a take as you can get. Sovereign wealth is here because the Conservative party is perpetually for sale to the highest bidder and they keep winning elections. Now, consider the political dogma the Premier League pegs to; greed is good, capitulating to the whims of billionaires and implementing austerity measures, which has widened the disparity between the rich and the poor, it’s only logical that this should also adversely affect the mid to lower tier Premier League clubs too. These clubs may earn more money now than ever before due to inflation, but comparatively they’re poorer than they’ve ever been.
But fuck ‘em, right? According to the likely future PM Liz Truss, “We must stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk and rewarding laziness.” “The bald fact is that the only successful approach to poor performance has turned out to be hard work”. Now let’s be a proper Gammon-Tory (I’m only eating British Cheese cause I love Brexit) cunt and celebrate the successful and admire their wealth, prestige and glamour. Everyone else can fuck off to the foodbank. This means I’m focusing on the race for Thursday Night Wankerdom, with trips to Moldova and Latvia as punishment, the Top Four Trophy Twatters and the Title Contenders. Because that’s what we want, and god damn it, our privilege demands and deserves it. Plus, in the unlikely event you’re still reading this, you’ll probably not want to read my thoughts on all twenty teams.
Thursday Night Wankerdom (including the über humiliating Europa Conference League edition):
Perhaps mentioning Newcastle United in this section this soon is a touch aggressive. Their squad (at the time of writing – a caveat you can universally apply due the transfer window still being open for a month) isn’t equipped for European contention. With their resources they should be, and it should be soon. Don’t kid yourselves, they’re not risking anything and will be making several more additions before the end of August. Newcastle were in the relegation places last December, and I’d love it, absolutely love it if they got relegated. Sadly, them finishing seventh is a far more realistic outcome.
Putting the other United, the proper one, in sixth, may be overly pessimistic. But are we sure they have a proper coach? We’ll see. He can’t be worse than the skin crawling obsequiousness of Ole to the Church of Fergie and that ridiculous German substitute teacher they parachuted in last season. What a debacle. Their signings so far suggests Erik Ten Hag isn’t too enamoured with the defensive options he inherited. I’d say that’s a promising sign. Whether a five foot nine centre back and a Dutch left back I’d never heard of, both signed from the Eredivise (a distinctly second rate league) are the required upgrades is another question. Either way, United need more signings before the close of August, particularly in midfield. They want Frenkie De Jong. De Jong seems as keen on the idea as Boris Johnson taking a paternity test or plotting a path to redemption through the introspection of self-critique. If they can purge Cristiano Ronaldo’s poisonous narcissism, they may just surprise, by finishing fifth.
Speaking of fifth, are Arsenal going to bottle the fourth place trophy again? That would be cruel. So I’m picking Spurs. Why? I think the quality of their transfer business can be questioned. Richarlison for £50m? Laughable. Talk of them challenging for the league truly is. Antonio Conte’s style of football, while it has been successful in other settings, isn’t built to win the amount of games it will take to finish above clubs who regularly amass more than ninety points every season.
Top Four Trophy Twattery:
Someone must finish fourth. Arsenal it is. They finally qualify for the Champions League, back again in the big time! You know, the competition that Arsene Wenger qualified for every season, but was turned on for because that’s all he ended up doing. Arsenal fans deserve hammering for this, as nothing encapsulates the destructive properties of excessive fan sense-of-entitlement more than what’s happened to Arsenal since they ran Wenger off.
There are genuine reasons to pick them. Signing Manchester City’s squad players is not a bad strategy, as they have an excellent squad. There’s certainly more pedigree (and value) than signing a centre back from Brighton for £50m. Plus Arsenal nearly finished fourth last season despite getting little output from the centre forward position. They likely would’ve gotten more with the same players, but Gabriel Jesus will certainly get you fifteen goals when utilised as the main man.
The biggest concern is the usual one – mental fortitude. You also have to wonder whether Mikel Arteta will survive if they flounder early. Central midfield has been a perennial problem too. They seem incapable of finding someone better than Granit Xhaka, and it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
For the second year in a row I have no clue what to do with Chelsea but to put place them third.
I mentioned Everton earlier. Chelsea are the reverse. They were flat broke in April. Now they have a rich American consortium who are spending similar levels of cash to Abramovich. Is landing on your feet a skill? They have it, they also don’t seem to have any centre forwards who score goals consistently. Can you win the title if Raheem Sterling (a fine player) is likely to be your top scorer? You can if you’re Manchester City, and Chelsea aren’t.
Another point of concern, the new owner is acting as a temporary director of football, and Chelsea are being linked to all and sundry. Now most of these players are of a loftier calibre, but it feels a tad scattergun. This reflects in the current constitution of the Chelsea squad. There’s talent here, but it’s been put together somewhat clumsily, like an FIFA FUT draft team selected on half a dozen Quaaludes. Perhaps it’ll turn out all Jackson Pollock, they still have Tuchel, who, outside of Guardiola and Klopp, is the best coach in the division (I’m not a Conte fan), and in terms of talent they’re better than those who have already been mentioned. It also appears they’re not done spending either.
The Title Contenders:
There’s little doubt Erling Haaland, who only cost £51m (it’s true, honest!), will bag quite a few goals. Will it be enough? Letting Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling leave, two players who played the majority of their minutes in wide positions, with no direct replacements, and playing with a dedicated centre forward, means a recalibration. Perhaps this makes them more predictable? The still have Foden, Grealish and Mahrez around, and Bernardo Silva (assuming he remains) to service Haaland from wide, not to mention De Bruyne, a brilliant player. However, with Grealish struggling to live up to his billing as a £100m Gucci ambassador in his first season, this squad now feels less deep in attack than we’ve been used to.
Hey, even I’ll admit I think I’m reaching a bit here. They’ll be brilliant, and have stretches where they decimate teams. Still, picking them to win the league is boring.
Which leaves Liverpool, who always seem to encourage scepticism about their prospects, and a good deal of it from their own supporters. My theory – Jurgen Klopp’s open disdain for the wider obsession with transfers which a lot of us equate to immediate progress. It just doesn’t vibe with what Klopp does best, improving players on the training pitch. And there’s a better explanation, Liverpool consistently overcome the correlation between wages and transfers spent relative to league position. People may not consciously consider it, but they are aware of it.
Despite losing four out of sixty-three games last season there are still some who believe Liverpool didn’t do enough in the transfer market. And maybe that’ll be proven to be true. Perhaps Darwin Nunez is the new Andy Carroll. Regardless, Liverpool’s impressive 2021-22 season is a reminder that the difference between winning and losing is very slight. That and perceptions are drastically warped by results. Liverpool needed penalties to beat Chelsea in both the domestic cup finals, lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final 1-0 (despite creating more chances) and finished in second to Manchester City by a point in the league, which, over thirty-eight game season, is not much.
This piece was wall to wall negativity about the negativity that’s throttling us, with a smattering of crap sarcasm. I’ve decided not to end it this way by picking Liverpool for the league. Just let it be a club that isn’t owned by criminals or a dictatorship that prevails. Because relatively soon I suspect that hope will be an impossibility.
Full table prediction:
2. Manchester City
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Manchester United
7. Newcastle United
8. West Ham United
9. Wolverhampton Wanderers
10. Aston Villa
11. Leicester City
12. Crystal Palace
13. Brighton & Hove Albion
18. Leeds United
19. Nottingham Forest