Yesterday I looked at the Riff-Raff of the Premier League, today it’s the varying degrees and forms of middle class existence. I bet you can’t wait, so without further ado:
Current League Position: 14th
Pre-season Prediction: 14th
Revised Prediction: 14th
You don’t know how tempted I was to throw this lot in with the relegation contenders. I do of course reserve the right to change my mind, and I just might. The deciding factor in putting them in here? I didn’t finish writing their section in time for yesterday’s column. Honesty eh?
Still, I struggle to see them finishing below three of my projected bottom six, but for only one reason: they still have Christian Benteke, god knows why he stayed another season. He’d easily be first choice for Spurs or Arsenal, for example.
So relegation most likely won’t beset Villa this season. However, an extended injury to Benteke would make things interesting. I reckon it’ll be next season, by which time Benteke will have inevitably departed that Villa fans will be shitting themselves. Why? Paul Lambert’s signings since he took over as manager have been uninspiring. The counter argument is that Lambert signed Benteke, but looking at all of his signings as a group Benteke’s the exception, not the rule. This is in part due to Randy Lerner not sanctioning much spending, another worrying sign. That gives Lambert little margin for error. So given those two realities are Villa fans confident that the Benteke money will be wisely invested? Not only will they have to improve a dismal squad with that money, but replace Benteke adequately too. That’s a scary proposition.
Yesterday I talked about the league wide inefficiency, or ineptitude if you prefer, of the quality of midfield play in the Premier League. Well Villa are its worst offender. Stoke are the other ‘contender’, though for a different reason: they deliberately try not to use theirs. Villa’s are a listless bunch. There’s no semblance of ingenuity or diversity in skill set from one player to the next. There’s nobody seemingly capable of seeing an early pass let alone having the skill to deliver it. All of them seem to be built from the same template and provide the same function; running, brainless running, reactive running, and yet more running. Add in a smattering of under hit passes, over-hit passes, and my personal favourite – passes which pass on responsibility, and you have incompetence. Oh, and last but by no means least, they also, from time to time, stand still and ball-watch, leaving opposition players free to run in behind, unmarked, to attack their defence, which yet again, as per the standard for most Premier League clubs, is populated by leaden footed yard-dogs.
Lambert’s tactics and planning also come under question. Villa are only capable of playing a brand of football that can come close to being categorised as effective on the counter-attack. Given the pace and strength of their first choice frontline, this isn’t a terrible tactic for a middle of the road side, as Villa are now, at best. But there are a lot of other mediocre sides in the division, and at times you’ll come across a side, likely protecting a lead, who’ll sit deep and ask the question, can you break us down? Villa’s main tactic when faced with a condensed pitch and a deep lying defence is to get the ball onto Benteke’s chest as quickly as possible and have Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agnonlahor making out to in runs from the flanks to match his flick ons. It’s essentially low percentage hit and hope stuff.
That Lambert has built a side without any semblance of the holistic abilities required to allow him any form of in game tactical adaptation has only further entrenched Aston Villa into the morass of Premier League nothingness and hopelessness.
I saw a fellow Liverpool fan on Twitter suggest that Andreas Weimann ‘would be a good signing’. It made me regret my self imposed ban of discussing football on Twitter. Such comments deserve derision. They’re also the sort of tweets that get retweeted by some smart-arse two or three years later, so the whole world can see how daft your opinion was with the benefit of hindsight. Meh. If I had to describe Weimann it would be Dirk Kuyt but with the pace and without the toadying seal-clapping of the fans after the game. As for Agbonlahor, he’s quick, and that’s about the size of it. Oh and these two become your best players if and when Benteke departs.
I’ve heard people defend the rank abjectness of this Villa side by saying that this is a young team, but it isn’t as young as you think. It’s an illusion really, which is appropriate as something has to underpin the Villa fans’ delusion that their club is still relevant, and has a chance of being so any time soon. What good is having youth, if it a) lacks the technical and or intellectual quality that’s likely to see it improve, and b) whatever talent is there is unlikely to be maximised by mediocre coaching?
It comes back to the same question, with Randy Lerner seemingly unwilling to seriously invest, just exactly where is this going?
Current League Position: 13th
Pre-season Prediction: 13th
Revised Prediction: 12th
Martin Jol’s jaw line is odd and mesmeric, oddly mesmeric, especially when he talks. It just doesn’t look right and its rectangular shape reminds me of Richard Kiel who played Jaws in the James Bond movie ‘Moonraker’. Mohamed Al Fayed, and Mohamed Al Fayed’s boring conspiracy theory surrounding the death of his son have both gone, mercifully, and so soon will Michael Jackson’s statue outside Craven Cottage, ditto. The end of an era. RIP.
Fulham have survived in the Premier League for quite a long time, and for the majority of it they’ve managed to do so with a side largely built with the aging rejects from bigger clubs. Throw in a few canny Bosman’s, a few loans every season to fill out the squad, and the odd signing – because even though they’re cheapskates they still get that obscene Premier League TV windfall like everyone else – and you have the formula that so many small clubs attempt but ultimately fail to emulate.
That they’ve been in the Premier League for twelve uninterrupted years is commendable. It probably helps that I have little interest in their fate. They’re just there, every season, like an unobtrusive piece of furniture that you never use. Because it never gets in your way and it doesn’t spoil the room’s ambiance you accept its existence and have no motivation to move it. I believe you call that apathy.
I recognise the hypocrisy of my position towards Fulham given my derisory comments yesterday about the ‘pointless’ relegation fodder attempting to do the same thing, but this is my review and my blog, and I’ll be as hypocritical and myopic as I like, so get stuffed.
Fulham are different in that they make a smart move or two every summer transfer window. So I do have a reason to view them differently. Good. This time they took advantage of Spurs’ attempts to sign every midfielder they conceivably could by getting a discarded Scott Parker on loan. Parker has a place in England’s World Cup squad to fight for, and in Darren Bent they have, and this isn’t hyperbole, a player fighting for his top flight career after a disastrous spell with Aston Villa. Their main financial outlay was on Dutch international goalie Maarten Stekelenberg from Roma. They needed to replace Mark Schwarzer, who was excellent for them and a large part of why they’ve survived relatively comfortably in recent years.
The rest of the side is solid and unspectacular, and aging, which could lead to problems in the near future. But in the here and now Fulham have a variety of attacking options with varying degrees of pedigree – Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Bent, and Bryan Ruiz. On any given day one of those three are liable to come up with something. Did you know that Darren Bent is the seventh highest active goalscorer in the Premier League, and is twenty-first overall, all time? Mind you that looks less impressive when I tell you that Emile ‘Ivanhoe’ (not joking) Heskey is seventeenth all time (again, not joking).
Regardless, Fulham’s universe still revolves around Dimitar Berbatov, as it should. As a Liverpool fan partisanship should make it harder for me to admire Berbatov’s game. It did with Eric Cantona, but not here. He’s one of my favourites.
One more mini rant regarding Berbatov, any footballing opinion espoused by anyone who is openly a detractor of his is to be immediately distrusted. The people who choose to ignore his immense technical ability and ingenuity to deride him for being lazy are probably the same kinds of people who religiously watch X-factor. Maybe they partake in the mindless hysteria surrounding its auditions; a phenomenon that Charlie Brooker rightly observed as ‘the Nuremberg rallies for dummies’. They’re also liable to believe that Gerry and Kate McCann killed Maddie. It’s not nice when someone’s judgment of you is predicated on silly prejudices and a lack of objectivity, is it?
WEST HAM UNITED
Current League Position: 15th
Pre-season Prediction: 11th
Revised Prediction: 11th
Does anyone else think of there’s some credence to the suggestion that Sam Allardyce’s reputation has exponentially improved due to the existence of the Big Sam parody account? Like all parody accounts the notion that it’s in anyway based on even the slenderest of realities makes it that bit more enjoyable. For example, I could easily envision Big Sam relaxing naked on a leather sofa watching Corrie thinking that Nigel Havers really is a loser.
Allardyce’s standing has also improved massively with me and other Liverpool fans since he gave us a combined £23m for Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing this summer. Cheers Sam.
One thing I will say about Sam Allardyce is that he is unfairly accused of being averse to flair. He’s always been a manager open to new ideas and employing a holistic approach tactically, especially at set pieces, albeit this ingenuity is an accompaniment to his main overarching ethos of direct balls to the target man. When Allardyce was at Bolton people focused on Kevin Davies as being symbolic of the agricultural football Allardyce looked to foment. The stat that was always brought up to support this accusation was that Davies was perennially the most fouled player in the Premier League, and the player who committed the most fouls. But Davies was merely one facet of Bolton’s side. It’s clear that Allardyce recognises that playing in straight lines all the time is predictable and without the unpredictability of the unaccountable you’re going nowhere. He always found a space for, and more importantly gave artistic licence to the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff.
This current West Ham side doesn’t have anyone remotely that gifted or mercurial. Unless you count a clearly past his meridian Joe Cole. This side is certainly more functional, and Allardyce has clearly attempted to recreate the Davies-Nolan dynamic with Andy Carroll and Nolan here. Carroll’s injured again and West Ham don’t really have another striker of note, unless you count Carlton Cole, who couldn’t find a club after his contract expired, and Mladen Petric, who wasn’t retained by Fulham. So I’m giving them a slight pass for their mediocre start.
Mohamed Diame continues to surprise me, and it’s good for West Ham that he does. He often didn’t start for Wigan when he was there, yet ultilised further forward since moving to West Ham he’s been their best player. He has skill, power, and drives through the middle of the pitch at speed with the ball, which is one of the more difficult things to do in modern football. I think of him as a poor man’s Yaya Toure. It’s strange how certain players get typecast into one position, but then flourish when moved to another. How many talents have been wasted down the years because of this?
Talking of talents nearly wasted, perhaps Ravel Morrison will provide the unpredictability element for this side. The hype has started since his goal against Spurs. Knowing how short termist and easily swayed by public and media sentiment the mediocres at the FA are, he should get a call-up soon. On a more serious point its another feather in Sam’s cap of reclaiming lost causes. How often did you see an Alex Ferguson lead Manchester United just give up on talent like they did with Morrison? Aside from allowing Paul Pogba to leave for Juventus for nothing, okay maybe I’m overdoing it with this point. Do you think there’s any chance Ferguson mentioned that in his autobiography?
What we do know is Sam Allardyce does one thing: he gets clubs promoted and then keeps them up, and he’ll continue to do it here.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Current League Position: 12th
Pre-season Prediction: 10th
Revised Prediction: 10th
Just imagine if the league only consisted of sixteen teams, with three teams still being relegated every season, as I propose it should, West Brom would probably be a fringe relegation candidate. That seems unfair, but when you consider that the Premier League’s motto is greed is good, and that they shamelessly encourage their clubs, sorry members to rip off their own fans, and then they run condescending and patronising adverts like this, well, why should I, in my idealist worldview, be charitable and allow for mediocrity in any form? Fuck it, make it a fourteen team league. Now that would be the Endlösung for the riff-raff. I’m not a racist or a fascist by the way.
Back in reality, West Brom are a decent team, who are well coached and who apply themselves. So they deserve their place in the Premiership. Steve Clarke has done well to maximise what he has, because on paper what he has isn’t that impressive. I can see a slight regression from last season. Lukaku and Lukaku’s goals have gone and have been replaced by a past his best Nicolas Anelka. It’s always fun to see how parochial the Irish become when you criticise Shane Long for being average. Anyway the clock’s due to strike twelve any second now and he’ll turn back into a Championship level pumpkin. Even though he made a complete tit of himself at the January transfer window deadline, Peter Odenwingie was actually pretty good for them during the first half of last season. I do like the signing of Stephane Sessegnon, he’s different to Odemwingie, which is a euphemism for ‘he’s a player with more subtlety in possession’, so that’s an upgrade.
Like Fulham this is a team that relies heavily on valuing what other sides fail to appreciate. And that means maximising the loan market. Morgan Amalfitano (on loan from Marseille), Scott Sinclair (from Manchester City) and Matej Vydra (from Udinese) are this season’s loan batch. Amalfitano has already made his mark with a goal at Old Trafford, like Sessegnon he’s crafty. Sinclair’s no Laurie Cunningham, but he is a decent winger with something to prove. Vydra scored lots of goals on loan at Watford last season. It’ll be interesting to see how he gets on if and when he’s given a chance. Looking at the Anelka, Long and Victor Anichebe (a waste of money – hey you can’t win ‘em all) group, Vydra should see game time sooner rather than later. The same goes for Saido Berahino, who looks a decent prospect. It just struck me that Colin Wanker would blow his load if he took over as manager with all the strikers West Brom have. Yeah, moving on…
Along with Southampton, West Brom are one of the few sides in the Premier League’s bottom two thirds who are strongest in midfield. That starts with Mulumbo and Yacob. As individuals they’re probably not good enough to play for one of the top six teams, but together they make an effective combination. More importantly they protect West Brom’s first choice centre backs; Jonas ‘Dickhead’ Olson and Gareth McAuley, who are both in their early thirties and couldn’t be categorised as good at any point in their careers. I bet Steve Clarke would love a bit of cash to invest here, and I reckon it’ll be his main focus by next summer.
What separates West Brom from the bottom feeders, and sides like Villa, is they have greater diversity of creative and defensive options in midfield. And this group was assembled without spending more money than their direct competitors. So if you’re a fan of a midtable side, and your midfield is rubbish, you shouldn’t accept the usual excuses of a lack of funds, or the club’s inability to attract players due to its size. In recent years West Brom have shown what proper organisation and astute scouting in the transfer market can achieve. I also want to thank them for revitalising Roy Hodgson’s career to the point that he was given the England job. We have a summer of high comedy awaiting us.
I derided unimaginative chairmen yesterday for taking the easy way out and hiring someone ‘proven’ from the managerial merry-go-round. But Jeremy Peace deserves credit for picking Steve Clarke. Clarke had been an assistant manager for over a decade, albeit a well respected coach at a number of clubs (Chelsea, Wet Ham and Liverpool). How often do we see clubs, particularly mid-table clubs, working on sustainable budget, who can easily be an injury crisis away from a relegation dogfight, go for someone completely unproven? West Brom deserve the reward of good manager for taking a risk, instead of plucking for the illusion of safety that has become fallaciously synonymous with experience. What good is experience if it’s of failure? It would be nice if other clubs investigated how and why West Brom came to choose Steve Clarke when faced with other more obvious alternatives. But that requires humility and curiosity and cutting short your holiday in the Algarve to do some work, doesn’t it?
Current League Position: 11th
Pre-season Prediction: 12th
Revised Prediction: 13th
It’s hard not to laugh at this mob, but I’ll try.
I could make some French jokes here, but that’s gotten beyond boring now, just as this column has for anyone reading it. Right back to being judicious, the state of their club certainly isn’t a laughing matter for Newcastle fans.
Why? We have the three stooges. The gifts that keep on giving.
Stooge number one is Mike Ashley. He is the chairman and owner of Newcatsle United, here he is downing a pint in one, while wearing a replica kit. Look at the state of that fat bastard. Here’s his latest faux-pas, which is clearly a pathetic attempt to control the spreading perception among many fans that he’s a clueless cunt. They believe he’s either incompetent at running a football club (true), or doesn’t give a shit about Newcastle’s prosperity (also true), just as long as his millionaire life isn’t interfered with by being made aware of fan unrest (true again). He wants all of the social glorification that comes with owning a football club with none of the responsibilities.
The alternative, more interesting, explanation is that Mike Ashley may have a passing interest in chaos theory and or is a disciple of Albert Camus’ Absurdism. Having a hierarchical structure that consists of himself, Joe Kinnear and Alan Pardew is his attempt to tear through the fabric of the universe, and or it is a coded message that life is essentially meaningless, so let’s just take the piss and see how long people can stand it. Or maybe the maxim that leadership and success starts at the top is true, and well, in this case I think we can judge Ashley’s leadership credentials emphatically.
Okay, so maybe I lied about trying not to laugh at Newcastle United. You just can’t not laugh at this.
Anyway, moving on to stooge number two. Director of football Joe Kinnear. Here he is, sounding slightly pissed where he pronounces the name of Yohan Cabaye, who only happens to be Newcastle’s best player, as ‘Yohan Kebab’, never mind, ‘water off a duck’s arse’, as they say. Here is a gory transcript of the bogus claims he made about his career in the same interview. And yet Kinnear was immensely unpopular with Newcastle’s fans before this even happened. That he was largely responsible for getting them relegated four years ago is. Mind you I look at this differently, his sacking coupled with Ashley’s complete disregard for reason meant we finally saw Alan ‘Emperors New Clothes’ Shearer as manager of Newcastle United. As far as schadenfreude goes, it was glorious.
Kinnear’s futility as Director of Football is less glorious. Newcastle failed to improve their squad beyond getting Loic Remy on loan, a move that has actually worked. You do wonder if there’s any credence in the conspiracy theory that Kinnear was planted as an excuse for Ashley not to spend anything. Kinnear’s likely incompetence would be the immediate focus and thus would shield Ashley from any blame. True or not, at this point you can understand why Newcastle fans would be inclined to believe such a theory.
And finally to stooge number three. The manager, Alan Pardew. Let’s start with this and with this. People in many walks of life would be considered toxic by potential employers for hypocritical xenophobia, or is that selective xenophobia? Failing that a deeply inappropriate jibe, which could easily be construed as misogynistic or homophobic, or both. But at Newcastle United, things are done differently. Mike Ashley doesn’t mind tainting Newcastle United’s rep by hiring someone like Pardew.
Random detour, but is Alan Pardew a draw for you ladies? The reason I ask is his time as Southampton manager was ended due to him (allegedly) porking one of the player’s wives. And then there’s this. I’m not sure what it is, if it’s a parody, a desperate attempt to seek attention, or just flat out desperate. Whatever, without a doubt it’s unsettling. This I know.
Perhaps I’m being unfair focusing on that. What is fair game is Alan Pardew’s managerial credentials, and Alan Pardew’s contract. So how is that eight year contract working out?
The Answer? No better than the man he replaced, who in the eyes of many, and critically many Newcastle fans, was unfairly sacked. Many suspect that Alan Pardew got the job because he was an acquaintance of Mike Ashley’s. True or not, Pardew has been no better or worse than Chris Hughton, it should be noted that Hughton got them promoted back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Until Pardew does do significantly better he’ll live under the pall of that accusation, fairly or unfairly.
Some of Pardew’s tactics can be charatiserised as illogical. Recently against Liverpool we saw playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa used as a centre forward. Maybe Pardew started studying Barcelona and felt he’d give Ben Arfa a go in the Messi role? Despite strange tactical choices thankfully Newcastle have some good talent at their club to compensate for Pardew’s tactical egotism, largely thanks to Graeme Carr’s scouring of the French league. You do wonder how long some of the French lads will put up with the circus though as they clearly have no allegiance to Newcastle. Cabaye nearly joined Arsenal in the summer, and Moussa Sissoko and Loic Remy could probably find themselves places in the squads of one of the top six clubs if they were so inclined.
I don’t think Pardew’s a bad manager, but nor is he a good one. He’s the epitome of a middle manager, managing a middling club to middling results. Perhaps Newcastle fans should be relieved by this outcome.
The reason I say that is just look again at three people responsible for the all major decisions at this club. Newcastle aren’t going anywhere fast until they get a proper owner who’s concerned more about success on the pitch, than hiring his mates and finding obsequious ways to be one of the lads living the dream of owning a football club. I’m not sure whether the Newcastle fans deserve to be derided or applauded for not airing their displeasure at the expense of supporting the team during games. It’s a tough spot they’ve been placed in. Ashley should go, but he won’t. Short of picketing the ground there’s not a lot Newcastle fans can do to get rid of him and his fellow stooges. Where there’s tragedy there’s usually comedy, but not here, this situation is just sad.
The Europa League Scramblers
Current League Position: 9th
Pre-season Prediction: 7th
Revised Prediction: 9th
Unlike Mike Ashley, Huw Jenkins is a chairman who actually gives a shite about how well he runs his football club, and he’s clearly a man with a plan. He’s thoroughly entrenched a progressive ethos at the club through purposely hiring a series of managers whose philosophies are very similar: Roberto Martinez (now managing Everton), Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers (now managing Liverpool) and Michael Laudrup.
Only Paulo Sousa’s reign failed to drive the club forward in any demonstrable way. Martinez got them promoted from League One (that’s the third division in old money), Rodgers got them promoted to the Premier League, and Laudrup has helped the club to their first major trophy (The League Cup) and their first appearance in Europe in over twenty years.
So how much further can they go?
In the short term, probably not much higher in the league. I fully expect them to prioritise the cup competitions once they have enough points on the board to ensure safety. If they progress in the Europa League, and it’s looking good on that front, the squad will be taxed in the Spring. They understandably don’t have much depth. The further they go in the Europa league, the more that competition is likely to be emphasized. If it’s a decision between prioritising the league just to finish seventh instead of finishing twelfth, or going full tilt for a European trophy, then it’s a no contest.
Once again, this is a club who is smart in the transfer market, you’ll notice that this is the recurring theme that differentiates the middle class from the bottom feeders. Laudrup’s used his intimate knowledge of Spain’s La Liga to unearth some real gems. Pablo Hernandez wasn’t one of them, it shocked me that he was available for only €7m and that nobody else outbid the Swans. Swansea have one of the best value for money signings in recent memory in Michu, who would cut the mustard for any Premier League club. I defy anyone to say that they’d heard of him before he arrived in England, yet they’re now moaning that their club didn’t sign him. Hindsight isn’t only pointless, it’s boring. I liked the fact that Michu was so categorical in deciding to stay another season, and it’s paying off too. He’s now in the Spain squad, and deservedly so. He’s the closest thing to Dimitar Berbatov in the land.
As a Liverpool fan I’ll be keeping an eye on Jonjo Shelvey’s development. There’s a player in there for sure. Let’s not forget he’s still only twenty-one. What he lacks in athleticism he more than makes up for in goalscoring instincts and a creative brain. He is, as we saw against his old club a few weeks ago, prone to brain farts, and the odd dangerous tackle. But he also scored Swansea’s first and created their second in the same match. I can’t think of a better mentor for him than Brian Laudrup. If he can’t learn anything from him about clever midfield play then Jonjo should pack it in.
Even if you’re sceptical of the signing of Wilfried Bony, and I agree that anyone’s goal record in the Dutch league isn’t an indicator of success in better leagues, his acquisition does at the very least allow Michu to play in favoured withdrawn strikers role, and Bony will surely be an upgrade on Luke Moore and that Israeli fella that Swansea had as their back-up strikers last season. He can play with his back to goal, and he has pace and strength. And remember, not all players adapt or settle into new clubs in a new league immediately. Sadly both patience and reason stands little chance in the era of instant gratification, where the incessant need to promote instant opinions on social media rules the day.
Whether Swansea can accommodate Shevley, Michu and Bony successfully, and get the best out of all three, will determine how well they do this season.
I’ll be watching as many of Swansea’s games as I can. I appreciate any side who looks to fill their side with pace, technique and creativity. They’ll be tough to beat at home, and at the very least will probably cause a few shocks, as they did last season when they beat Arsenal at Ashburton Grove.
Current League Position: 6th
Pre-season Prediction: 8th
Revised Prediction: 8th
How about Bobby Martinez? He had the unenviable task of replacing ‘The Winner’, even though ‘The Winner’ in question has never won a trophy of any significance, and Martinez has, at a much smaller club too. So if ‘The Winner’ is a winner, what does that make Martinez? A champion?
It’s certainly been a champion start by Everton. Even if this has been skewed slightly by their favourable schedule thus far. That win over Chelsea was good though, any time Mourinho loses, football wins.
What Martinez has done is improved the style and standard of Everton’s play. He’s a better, more discerning coach than ‘The Winner’, clearly. Everton’s passing is crisper and there is more movement in attack and more options for the man in possession. Part of this is down to the departure of the statuesque Marouane Fellaini, who was a central figure to Moyes’ direct style. Youngster Ross Barkley, clearly a gifted player, has been entrusted by Martinez to fill the void left by Fellaini, albeit to interpret it vastly differently, and he hasn’t let him down. Not that he was going to, as a bollard would be an improvement on Fellaini.
Everton have clearly improved their central midfield options. Gareth Barry may be past his meridian now, and as slow as ever, but by just having a pulse he’s a significant improvement over the recently retired Phil Neville and the laughably bad Darron Gibson. He also cost nothing. James McCarthy is a good young player who Martinez knows well. Leon Osman is still around and it’s clear that Martinez’s approach already suits him better.
Everton had an excellent transfer window overall. They get an A+ alone for rope-a-doping Manchester United’s ‘Winner’ of a manager into buying his favourite illegitimate son Fellaini for £27.5m. Essentially Everton replaced Fellaini and Phil Neville with two superior players in Barkley and McCarthy while netting a £13m profit. Getting Lukaku was a massive coup too. I’ll get to what Chelsea were smoking later on, but Everton are certainly having a celebratory toak on a Cuban at Lukaku’s performances so far. He’s isn’t just an upgrade on the Anichibe/Jelavic shite sandwich of last season, he’s a Royale With Cheese, if you catch my drift.
The sad fact is Everton need to operate this well in the transfer market just to maintain themselves as a top half team. This isn’t a club likely to go any further until Bill Kenwright stops his self serving dream of owning his club. His lack of financial knowledge or clout means that Everton’s first concern is making sure they can repay their annual debt on their overdraft. This, more than anything shows why Kenwright, if he’s a true Evertonian as he says he is, should sell. On the other hand I can understand his trepidation of selling his controlling stake to what would likely be some foreign Johnny come lately. English football is littered with horror stories of foreign owners buying clubs, ciphering off money for their own financial gain, before leaving the club as a husk. Kenwright got a close look at this process at neighbours Liverpool. Though in Everton’s case, given the existing state of their finances and the decrepit and embarrassingly dilapidated Goodison Park, if it went all Pete Tong the result would probably resemble the precipitous decline that befell Portsmouth. Knowing this, and knowing Kenwright, I’d imagine Evertonians would be nervous about Kenwright being largely responsible for picking the right owners.
In the near future Everton will continue to tick over, finish somewhere between sixth and ninth, with maybe the odd cup run thrown in. Long term things look at bit dicier. A large portion of the squad is aging, and inevitably their most sellable assets are their younger players like Baines, Barkley and Mirallas. There’s virtually no chance that Lukaku stays beyond this season. Perhaps ‘The Winner’ who’s never won anything will help them out by overpaying for more of their players? Bill Kenwright could help Everton a lot more if he sold the club to someone with the money and business acumen to drive it forward.
Current League Position: 5th
Pre-season Prediction: 9th
Revised Prediction: 7th
This is what Everton could easily be, if they had a relatively new stadium and an owner who has the ability to invest in players.
They’re also another team who are very well organised. They play with an excellent defensive structure and all the players exhibit a good level of tactical awareness. Their team pressing is some of the best in the league. Oh, I do love me a well coached team. The keystone to their success is in midfield. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama aren’t likely to create much, but individually, and as a pair, imbued by Southmapton’s well regimented off the ball work, they form the best defensive shield in the league. This is backed up by Southampton’s defensive record – fewest goals conceded thus far.
Because Mauricio Pochettino has instilled, impressively quickly, a successful tactical structure, the biggest improvements will come through upgrading the personnel. Particularly in attack. Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez are decent strikers, but the signing of Pablo Osvaldo from Roma suggests that Pochettino isn’t satisfied with them. I’m not sure he will be with Osvaldo in time either so expect Southampton to make another signing in attack soon. Gaston Ramirez is the only genuine playmaker at the club, what’s the harm in adding another? Ramirez may be on his way out anyway as he’s been used sparingly by Pochettino this season and last. Celtic fans will tell you that Artur Boruc isn’t to be trusted, how about a bid for Asmir Begovic? Jose Fonte seems a bit average, Maya Yoshida is shite, and that Norweigan lad (what was his name again?) has already been and gone. So another centre back, perhaps two, is needed. The flanks will certainly see investment at some point as Pochettino has mostly used Rodriguez and Lambert in wide areas, due to their tactical reliability and goal threat, but he’ll want bespoke options. And given Southampton’s strong financial backing they’ll be under no pressure to sell their best young players like Adam Lallana or Luke Shaw, should some of the richer clubs make a move, and they will, soon enough.
Southampton are set up to be a contender for a Europa league place, perhaps this season. Much will depend on whether they can sign the right players in January and if they settle quickly.
Last summer Southampton rightly elected to concentrate their spending on quality rather than quantity. They should do so again in January. If you have no money it’s often better to take a scattergun approach, particularly in the loan market, but if you’ve got the resources, you have to back your own judgment. That’s if you have designs of being anything other than an also-ran.
Clearly Southampton do, hence the sacking of Nigel Atkins. Typically, the drones in the media and on social media inevitably misunderstood the motivation behind the change of manager, bemoaning it as ‘unfair’. Well it’s now become clear that the decision makers at Southampton knew what they were doing, and what they wanted. They wanted a manager who could drive the club on, not barely keep it afloat. Because those running the club know what they’re doing and they’re ambitious, there’s a very good chance that Southampton will be a good side for a while. Pochettino’s success has already vindicated the veracity of everything in this paragraph. What a guy.
In the short term I fully expect them to hover around sixth place contention for most of the season, and if they improve again, in January, and next summer, and retain their best players, they could challenge for, and gain European football through the league. A lot ifs there I know. But it would be good to see a team, any team, actually attempt to break the top six monopoly and bloody a few noses through building conscientiously. Southampton have already served notice that they can mix it with the best and get a result so far this season. The hard bit is turning those isolated results into being a consistent expectancy and then dominance.
That’s the bloated middle class of the premier league dealt with, I’ve gone from those with a mild case of pramface whilst shopping in Asda, to the dickheads rocking a V-neck with a double height fridge full of goods from Waitrose. Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the Bankers and Hedge Fund Managers of the Premier League – the rich cunts who buy who they like whenever they like and whose fans act with a voraciously tactless sense of entitlement. More life affirming stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.