So here we go again, another Premier League season is about to begin. Usually this should induce a feeling of excitement as football’s one of the few things that manages to make the uncertain and uncertainty that is the future seem enticing. Now, there is only dread, dread at watching a slew of (mostly) mediocre teams play mediocre football, while a series of Sky promotions, made by the sort of wankers who buy Hard-Fi’s albums, seek to regale me that this product is truly ‘the best league in the world’. Just thinking about living through the next nine months of this is already making me weary. At this point taking some designer Meow Meow (Mephedrone to clarify and no, I haven’t come across that slang term either) and cutting off my own Johnson seems more appealing.
So far this summer transfer spending has been relatively reserved compared to past years, only €700m has been spent by Premier League clubs, compared to that €1.2B throughout 2014/15. I’ll caveat this by saying there are still a few weeks of the window left, so we can’t rule out Liverpool buying two Southampton players for £50m, Daniel Levy selling someone, okay, that would be Harry Kane, at the last minute, to ‘maximise profit’ or Chelsea buying several high priced European prospects and then sending them to live in a caravan in Arnhem for a year or two.
This modesty feels like the calm before the storm. Measured it is not and I use modesty with irony, as the Premier League has, to date, spent comfortably more money on transfers than any other league so far this summer (almost as much as La Liga and Serie A combined, the second and third highest spending leagues). This is the last season before the grotesque and behemoth £5.3B TV deal kicks in. The kind of raise that exposes austerity as a lie, as the the global subprime and derivatives fuelled crash of 2008 clearly hasn’t affected the ability of the swollen middle class it helped create to be able to afford their extortionate Sky subs. These escalating deals have made winning the Championship playoff final more lucrative than winning the Champions League final. If you think Raheem Sterling going for £49m is mental (it isn’t, somehow), or Christian Benteke going for £32m is crazy (it certainly is), just wait for the fees that’ll be agreed next summer, they will redefine insanity. The agents and players will want a cut, whether that’s transfers, loyalty bonuses, or negotiating new contracts. There’s £500m extra out there to be had per season and they’ll have it, all of it, if possible.
Those hoping for the financial bubble to burst in English football are going to be disappointed. It should be clear by now that certain industries are less susceptible to failure than others. The Premier League is not only a sport, but an entertainment to many. It has to fail on both counts, over a number of years, before its revenue streams will start to depress. Indeed the overall quality and depth of talent in the league is at a recent low after years of steady decline, caused by dopes over-paying for sub-standard players, yet the revenues keeps rising to feed this dreadful addiction. Hopefully this season will prove to be more exciting than last season, which shouldn’t be difficult, as we saw a non-existent title race and a relegation battle that was doubly depressing, in that it barely had any scope for schadenfreude and was truly a race to the bottom of a bottle.
As per usual I’ll go from worst to first and include last season’s finishing position, for no good reason it must be said. I’ll write a quarter way point update in late October with revised predictions for no good reason other than I can and have done for the last two years. Anyway enough of the rambling, and err, on to a whole load more of it…
The Riff Raff (The Relegation Candidates):
Last season’s placing: 3rd in the Championship (promoted via the playoffs)
Pre-season prediction: 20th
Just by winning the Championship playoffs they’ve already won. Even if they’re relegated they’ll get roughly £65-70m just from the television money for this season. Then there’s the parachute payment, now only for two years instead of three under the previous deal and probably worth upwards of £80m thanks to the behemoth new TV deal. That £80m is likely to be more than most clubs in other top level leagues in Europe will receive in TV revenue over the same two year period, ahh, the wealth of the Premier League.
So it’s no surprise that all the promoted clubs might be less inclined to speculate to accumulate, because they’re going to coin it regardless. Norwich City’s biggest buy of the window thus far? The painfully ordinary Robbie Brady for £7m from relegated Hull City, and that signing won’t alleviate what’s likely to be every promoted club’s biggest obstacle to survival – scoring goals. Sure, Nathan Redmond is a good dribbler and will create chances, but it’s hard to see any of their current strikers converting chances consistently; Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper, Ricky I’mcertinlynotVan Persiewinkle, and the immortally shite and all round tosser that is Kyle Lafferty. That group has the potential to make Liverpool’s strikeforce of last season blush. I do like the signings of Andre Wisdom (on loan) and Youssuf Mulumbu (on a Bosman), solid players both, but without any further additions in attack I expect they’ll plummet like an elevator that’s just had its cable cut. But no matter, Premier League level revenue, guaranteed, for three years! Let’s be having that!
Last season’s placing: 2nd in the Championship
Pre-season prediction: 19th
The United Nations (with 22 different nationalities represented) in their squad (as of now) and probably likely to be just as ineffective in securing Premier League survival as the real thing is against fighting autocracies, plutocracies and stopping superpowers from spending significant chunks of their GDP on militarisation, just so they can illegally flatten third world countries to foment the perpetual ‘War On Terror’, which in turn is used to justify the continued militarisation. Good stuff eh?
From Watford’s point of view I get the allure of going for players with pedigree. Take Jose Manuel Jurado: not yet thirty he’s played for Atletico Madrid, Schalke 04 and Spartak Moscow. Clearly he’s a player with ability, as he started consistently for those clubs in the Champions League. But that was then and this is now, and that’s the problem, in most cases Watford are getting these players on the downslope of their careers, or in the case of Etienne Capoue, someone who failed to live up to the hype and therefore failed get into a mediocre Spurs midfield.
But for a club like Watford it’s a strategy not without merit. It’s the equivalent of throwing darts at a dartboard. You’ve got three darts and you only need to hit the bullseye once, so realistically, if only one of every three signings you make of this kind works out, that’s a success. If you repeat the process several times you’ll increase your odds of finding enough players capable of adapting to the Premier League relatively quickly to make you competitive. I’ll say this, I don’t think either they or Norwich City are going to survive, but if I’d had to pick, I’d rather roll with Watford’s squad of failed prospects and has beens than Norwich’s never weres.
Last season’s placing: 1st in the Championship
Pre-season prediction: 18th
Their manager, Eddie Howe, is being posited, largely helped by a combination of vacuous Twitter hype based mostly on ignorance of the subject, and the usual xenophobic and myopic little English media, as evidence to support a long standing FA narrative about their coaching badges helping to bring through talent. Have we all forgotten that Roy Hodgson was selected to manage the national team?
I’ll freely admit I have no idea about Bournemouth as I don’t watch Championship football. I don’t have much of a life, so that isn’t it. And yes, I’m a snob, but that’s not it either. I really do think it’s more to do with getting older. It reinforces the certainty of finality and that it’s drawing ever nearer. Now I detest the idea of willingly sequestering my time to watch something that I know to be inferior. Why do it? Why did I ever do it? It’s probably why I don’t watch movies anymore.
In winning the Championship title they scored the most goals, and as scoring enough goals is the best route to survival, I’ll give them the best chance of the promoted sides of staying up. Plus, one promoted team has remained in the Premier League for at least the past five years, but that has to end eventually, because everything does.
Last season’s placing: 17th
Pre-season prediction: 17th
Before every season I keep thinking this will finally be the year they go down. God knows they’ve flirted with relegation steadily since Martin O’Neill’s departure. Now with the departures of Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph (their ‘best’ players), and a slew of new signings, many of whom are unproven commodities or simply people I’ve never heard of, not to mention tactics Tim’s hubris that’s really epically oblivious idiocy and, yeah, his tactics, and well, there’s some serious scope for calamity…
…or maybe they’ll just flounder again, rope me into believing this is the year, before a managerial change or an inexplicable upturn in form (perhaps both?) during March and April brings four wins in six games and they survive again.
I’m going for the latter. Perhaps the inverse will happen this time? They’ll start reasonably well, an artificial confidence will breed decadence and when the wheels will come off (this time) they’ll be ill-equipped, both psychologically and in talent, to stop the rot. Now, that sounds good to me.
Last season’s placing: 16th
Pre-season prediction: 16th
This season I’ll be focusing on the phenomenon of a Ponzi scheme, and whether it’s currently in operation at Premier League clubs. The idea of a Ponzi scheme being used in sports isn’t my idea. It was first suggested by Grantland writer Rafe Bartholomew that the owners and front office personnel of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA are currently running a Ponzi scheme. The accusation was partly, it has to be said, made in jest. For the last three years the 76ers have been losing on purpose (tanking), and have attempted to entice their fans to stick with them with the inferred promise and intention that this “process” of repeatedly losing over a number of years will ultimately (inevitably?) lead to the acquisition of a talent (or assets) so transcendent that it’ll force them to make other subsequent moves to improve, and in doing so they’ll avoid the mediocrity that besets most teams who attempt to win through other means. They (the 76ers owners) say they’re prepared to stick to this plan, no matter how long it takes to succeed. The diehard fans will buy into this either due to loyalty to the team or the intellectual gratification that may come from supporting this process from its beginning through to its successful conclusion.
Crucially the 76ers can do this without losing money, whether the casual 76ers fans believe in this process is a financial irrelevancy. Any dissention or aversion to the process, by virtue of not attending games to watch a terrible team, is neutered by the NBA’s revenue sharing model, and by limiting their current expenditure on players. The 76ers can afford to go through a period of limited fan engagement and therefore revenue during “the process” and still profit. Hence it being compared to a Ponzi scheme – as long as the 76ers can sell the hope that the process will work, that’s enough. It doesn’t actually have to work for the owners to make money, so why not say you’ll stick to it for an indefinite period? There’s simply nothing to lose. Now apply the same rationale to a Premier League club, who instantly comes to mind?
Just to clarify, Wikipedia describes a Ponzi scheme as thus:
A Ponzi Scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.
Now I must add the important caveat – a Ponzi scheme must ultimately cost someone else something; most likely to be time and money and in the specific case of Newcastle United fans the anguish of hoping that Mike Ashley will ‘fuck off’ being suffocated year after year. The only question remaining is this: how long does the perpetual loyalty of Newcastle’s fans, that essentially underpins and funds Mike Ashley’s Ponzi scheme, last?
We must give Ashley credit, because running a truly successful Ponzi scheme like this for as long as he has done, at Newcastle United and in the Premier League, for personal profit, is a difficult balancing act. Ashley’s Ponzi scheme only works for him if he has access to the Premier League revenue and by convincing the fans to fill St. James Park. That’s certainly more difficult than the circumstances of running a thought experiment on a NBA team. There is no relegation in the NBA for a start. Ashley’s also dealing with an odd phenomenon that only exists in football, and is particularly prevalent among Newcastle fans – the inherent belief that the club should always be a top-of-the-table contender, regardless of whether it has been historically or recently. The perception now exists that Ashley is the primary impediment to this right, and while that’s true, he’s not the only reason Newcastle are seen as underachievers within English football. In truth there are bigger clubs with more resources and more lustre than Newcastle, and this was so before Mike Ashley arrived.
Just avoiding relegation last season was a gift to Ashley, as it gives him scope to remain in situ on his terms. Expectations among the fans are depressed now, naturally, after years under his stewardship. Ashley’s remained in charge because he’s able to recognise, manipulate and exploit the volatile and fair-weather psychological aspects of fandom.
Ashley knew after a close scrape with relegation, mixed with the growing fan unrest at three years of minimal spending which has led to a decline of the squad’s quality and lowered expectations, he had to sanction the £40m in spending we’ve seen so far this summer. Of course Ashley has his own motivations for making sure Newcastle remain in the Premier League, so hiring a superior manager in Steve McLaren should ensure that improvement more than the money they’ve spent. These moves marry with the perception among Newcastle fans that things can only go better than they did last season. Signings made in pre-season and the beginning of a new season on the horizon encourages an irresistible cocktail of hope, because for Newcastle fans clinging to any kind of hope, no matter how relatively meagre it is to what they really want, is a welcome distraction from the depressing reality of the dismal present. Artificially imbuing this annual ‘process’, especially as given the recent context of frugality he’s smartly created it was a complete surprise, Mike Ashley now has some breathing room. Sure, but he had to spend £40m in the process, and that’s a dent to his profit, right? But remember that will seem like chump change when the new riches of the TV deal falls into his lap. Making sure Newcastle (read Mike Ashley) are in position to receive that money is the priority.
There’s a sickening paradox for Newcastle United fans, the only way to destroy the Ashley carcinoma and ensure the patient doesn’t keep relapsing back into this cyclical malaise, is relegation, and not only that, but the doses of chemotherapy must be strong and prolonged. When Newcastle last went down Ashley was able to hold on, as the club got promoted after only one season. To kill off Ashley Newcastle United would need to remain outside of the top flight for three years, as for the first two years outside the top flight the club will receive sizeable parachute payments, and, given he’d invariably cut costs at draconian rates, that’ll still mean a profit for Ashley. The pitfalls of this are obvious. The Championship is full of well supported bigger clubs that have been relegated due to financial mismanagement or just sheer incompetence – Leeds United and Nottingham Forest to name just two – that have yet to recover and maintain top flight status. So the question becomes – is the despair at watching your team flounder, albeit in the Premier League, and fattening a fat bastards already fat fortune, better than seeing him off, but without the guarantee of getting back top level football, and not only that, expecting to succeed when you’re there? I honestly don’t know, but that’s the cost of doing business and partaking in a multi-billion pound industry, it’s invariably open to corruption and sometimes people lose.
Last season’s placing: 16th
Pre-season prediction: 15th
They survived and Dick Advocaat cried. Aside from Nigel Pearson being Nigel Pearson and anything Jose Mourinho or Alan Pardew said, this may have been the most uncomfortable moment of last season.
Sunderland fans aren’t likely to be comforted by the lack of improvements in attack. Indeed Sunderland survived due to conceding fewer goals during the run in. Credit goes to Advocaat here – they were more organised (or compact, if you prefer) and he finally split up the decrepitly disastrous that was disastrous because it was decrepit centre back partnership of John O’Shea and Wes Brown, who’ve now reached the point of their careers where they look like they’re playing through treacle with arthritic hips. Keeping Sebastian Coates for £4m was a steal, partner him with Younes Kaboul – who can be error prone but that’s an improvement over the equally error prone Brown, and Kaboul is, at least, mobile – and there should be a significant improvement within the team framework which Advocaat installed.
The hope here is that Jermain Defoe performs better than he did after his mid-season arrival, if this occurs it will go a long way to ensuring safety far sooner than it was achieved last season. But pretty it won’t be.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Last season’s placing: 13th
Pre-season prediction: 14th
If you hate reality television and want to hasten the format’s destruction you’ll be hoping that a show called ‘Tone being Tone’ is greenlit. Nobody will want to willingly expose themselves to the agonising spectacle of a middle aged fella wearing a skip hat, who dresses like a paedophile during matches, talks like the man from the Ronseal adverts during interviews and barks demeaning single word expletives to his players with the same frequency of a chip-on-his-shoulder arsehole trapped in a drunk tank on Saturday night.
Well, except in the Premier League, where we willingly expose ourselves to this ghastly spectacle, and worse yet, this bollocks – a bank of four and five, pumping your elbows and playing for set pieces, ‘works’. Of course, we all accept the truth, with any medium there’s good and bad, and it always imitates its subject on some level. This analogy makes Tony Pulis an artist, so feel free to blowtorch your genitals or drink a gallon of bleach rather than think about this anymore.
Last season’s placing: 14th
Pre-season prediction: 13th
It’s a shame that Nigel Pearson has left the building, not only was he the Premier League manager most likely to become a serial killer, a sort deluxe Patrick Bateman with a flat-top, but I’m convinced he was addicted to ‘The Thick Of It’, and modelled his leadership style on this man:
Sadly Pearson’s channelling of Tucker lacked the creative imagery or eloquence of his prose and, lead to, well, extremely uncomfortable and at times bemusing behaviour that lacked panahce, unless strangling opposition players is now considered normal? Leicester did survive in the end, somehow, well, by playing attacking football. It’s simple mathematics that the difference between a loss and a draw accrues you half as many points as the difference between a draw and win. Embracing risk works, especially as it mitigates a woeful defence. Last season Leicester conceded the fourth most goals in the division, but they survived because they scored as many goals as Swansea City, and more than any other bottom half side except Everton.
So, how will Claudio Ranieri get on? In the English media he’s dubbed as the Tinkerman – essentially a derogatory euphemism for rotating players (which is now the vogue and considered a necessity by the sports scientists), and it was often framed as an accusation of otherness by the old-skool mediocre blowhards Sky regularly employed during the last decade, when representing casual xenophobia and misogyny in the media was deemed acceptable, as it was considered an unassailable part and authentic depiction of English football culture.
The worry for Leicester City fans? That Ranieri is overly pragmatic where Pearson had no cause to be. As warped as it sounds, with Leicester City sinking Pearson could stick to his guns due to his antics, as he looked like a condemned man with nothing to lose, so why not stay the course?
One thing I will say, I like the ambition being shown by Leicester City here. Usually when a club survives the manager keeps his job, but ascribing to the survivalist mode in the Premier League is to be willingly held hostage to the law of diminishing returns. Midtable and perennially relegation threatened clubs who don’t invest in players and who hire the so called survivalist specialists on the managerial merry-go-round eventually get relegated. That fate may still beset Leicester, but at least they’re not taking the clichéd route to the destination.
Last season’s placing: 11th
Pre-season prediction: 12th
Kenwright’s austerity continues and so that glass ceiling remains. Both Bobby Martinez and David Moyes are by no means great managers, but they’re not bad either and the conditions they faced and face at Everton didn’t and don’t favour success – success in this context meaning challenging for a top four finish. I think it’s fair to say the perceptions of their abilities have suffered as a result having managed Everton. Everton are still in the Premier League largely thanks to their ability to sign players which can be sold for a profit later on, or rehabbing other club’s aging cast-offs to fill the squad. If not for Moyes and Martinez making that work and their youth academy producing Wayne Rooney, John Stones and Ross Barkley during the last decade, they’d be in the Championship by now.
Let’s face it, despite all their sanctimonious public preening and faux outrage at derisory offers, John Stones will be sold to Chelsea. It’s what Everton do as well as anyone – maximising return. In turn Everton will spend 50% of his fee on replacements and they’ll (sorry, Kenwright will) hope the pattern will repeat itself and he gets to live the ‘dream’ for a few more years. Some might wonder if he’s really a Liverpool fan at heart. Who dreams of owning their boyhood club just to show a staggering lack of ambition, perpetually linger in mediocrity, while allowing the club’s infrastructure to crumble to the point where it now looks embarrassingly antiquated in comparison to Swansea City?
Bill Kenwright’s tenure as Everton chairman when married with a steadily dilapidated Goodison Park reminds of this quote by Jamie McDonald from ‘In The Loop’; “Well, if it isn’t Humpty Numpty, sitting on a collapsing wall like some clueless egg cunt”. In this case the wall’s collapsing very slowly, but collapsing nonetheless. They’re the next Aston Villa in waiting.
Last season’s placing: 10th
Pre-season prediction: 11th
I’m done doubting Alan Pardew. Look, I’m just gonna say it, he’s a decent manager. Not only did he survive Mike Ashley’s Ponzi scheme, but he improved his professional (not personal) reputation in the process. Go on, admit it, that’s an impressive feat. Regardless, he remains a massive dobber and the next ‘famous’ person most likely to be caught by the tabloids wearing a Nazi uniform while hosting coked up hookers at his pad.
Also impressive was his transformative effect on Crystal Palace’s fortunes after he arrived, doubly so considering their midfield options were as appealing as drinking lukewarm granny pish straight from the bedpan. He’s probably slightly past his best, but getting Yohan Cabaye is a major coup and a staggering upgrade. Better yet Palace hasn’t sold anyone of note. Though let’s be careful here, both Liverpool and Spurs may make one more big money signing, and Yannick Bolasie is just the sort of decent player they love to staggeringly overpay for. Though if you’re Palace, you might want to wait until next summer when the transfer fees for the middle tier players will inevitably escalate to an unfathomable stratosphere.
Regardless they’ll survive easily as Pardew gets it. The ‘it’ being attacking in numbers pays off. So expect Palace to continue to employ at least three attackers at all times. There’s Bolasie’s pace and power, Comor Wickham’s annual mini goal burst, Glen Murray’s elbows, Jason Puncheon’s penchant for vacillating between the inept and exceptional and Dwight Gayle’s mastery of the dark arts, be it jumping into centre-backs late, diving, and the feigning of injuries to waste time so effectively that he makes true thespians jealous.
WEST HAM UNITED
Last season’s placing: 12th
Pre-season prediction: 10th
What do Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United all have in common? They were all relegated shortly after Big Sam left the building. West Ham fans are generally speaking, aesthetes. They want to see expansive football, which isn’t big Sam’s forte; he’s the best survivalist in the business. You want to remain in the Premier League? You hire him.
I should probably laud his departure, as it’s both an affront and rebuttal to the prevailing shitty pathology that many Premier League chairman, fans, managers and players display, where a combination of pride, professional pride and greed has made survival the ultimate objective at all times. If you’re a small to mid-sized club and survival is achieved you can justify the means, whatever they may be and however ugly they are.
But West Ham is one of the few exceptions, of sorts. If you gave West Ham fans the choice of attacking football and the serious threat of relegation, or counter attacking and low block defending whenever you lead and midtable safety, I suspect most would pick the latter, but many might hesitate before answering. This leads to an important hypothetical argument, what’s more important? Surviving, but by playing agonising and dull football, or being relegated, but revelling in the excitement of your team playing in games which they lose 3-5, or 2-4? Those extremes are crude, granted, but what’s worse? Boredom or losing?
So what of Slaven Bilic? He’s certainly got a sexier resume than The Big Man and he’s a member of a band called ‘Rawbau’ – I don’t know what that means and I don’t know what his hiring means for West Ham, but I’m intrigued. Intrigued to see what he does with the albatross that is Andy Carroll (fast becoming a crock too). I’m intrigued by their signings – Angelo Ogbonna (an Italian international and squad player at Juventus), Pedro Obiang, Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini, and most of all I’m intrigued to see how it all fits together with Big Sam’s favourites and whether it can work.
At least we’ll always have this:
Last season’s placing: 8th
Pre-season prediction: 9th
It’s official, Twitter has spoken, Andre Ayew is now 34.72 percent better than he really is because Swansea City brought him in on a Bosman, and that ‘we (insert club here) will probably regret it (not signing him)’, until proven otherwise.
Meanwhile something interesting is going on here, basically, quietly, the idea that managers are fungible is being introduced into the lexicon of English football. Swansea City has performed at a consistent level under three different managers with the standard turnover of players that occurs over a period of time. It might have something to do with them hiring managers and signing players, who, broadly speaking, fit an established ethos decided upon by the club’s hierarchy. Perhaps this consistency is just lucky, and it will end, but if it doesn’t, what then?
Last season’s placing: 9th
Pre-season prediction: 8th
It struck me that when it comes to deciding upon which order the clubs in this section will finish in, I’d be as well just drawing them randomly, except Stoke City, who have finished 9th for two straight seasons. In a league that offers similar financial rewards to mediocrity as it does the Champions or those who finish last, that sort of consistency should be rewarded with something, something special. So I’m predicting they’ll finish eighth, bet they’re made up about it.
Should I be impressed by the calibre of players they’ve shown interest in this summer? Yeah, probably, but its Stoke City and Mark Hughes, so they can get tae fuck.
Champions League Pretenders:
Last season’s placing: 5th
Pre-season prediction: 7th
I’ve already looked at Mike Ashley’s rather blatant Ponzi scheme. The one FSG (Fenway Sports Group) is running at Liverpool is trickier to spot, but look close enough and it’s there.
You see, they arrived with their own rather arrogant we know how to succeed in North American sports narrative. With the proviso of FFP (Financial Fair Play) being introduced and policed properly, they’d expose the market inefficiency or inefficiencies that currently exist within the sport. Just as they did in Baseball, they’ll succeed by demolishing the conventional wisdom currently used by all top clubs in football – namely that keeping your best players and investing in top level proven talent to build a team, you know, the kind that Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus or Barcelona use, just isn’t necessary. You can monetise and then sell your best players regularly, then use a mixture of spreadsheet stats (or sabermetrics) and scouting to buy a slew of prospects and replace the stars with inferior but still (relatively) expensive but systemically undervalued players in their primes and still win. Smartly, this process appeals to a widely held trait among Liverpool fans, a sense of idealism and superiority even, that’s fomented by a weird revisionism of how the club’s historical successes were achieved. Now that fallacy is being wielded against them to help impose a new one, all for the purposes of being conned out of their money.
The new development of Anfield is the smoking gun. It’s being built to maximise corporate revenue streams, and the club will pay for it. Who honestly thinks any of that money will be channelled into signing players, or funding wage increases?
But the real intent of this scheme, and where it differs from Newcastle’s, is to identify and then buy enough young talent that can be sold for a huge profit later on. To do this on a large scale, money is required, and that’s the problem for FSG, they don’t want to spend it. It’s an extension of the dartboard analogy I used to describe Watford’s transfer policy, only its intention isn’t Premier League survival but to create the illusion of genuine contention.
Many will focus on the fact that since FSG took over Liverpool has spent roughly £150m net over a period of five and half years. Not a paltry figure, but consider this – that figure includes the sales of Fernando Torres (£50m), Luis Suarez (£75m) and now Raheem Sterling (£49m), to name just three, and now the departure of Steven Gerrard.
Among Liverpool fans net spend is firmly entrenched in the fanbase’s consciousness and the debate around it is perpetual. But net spend only matters when you’re forced to replace your best players and when you’re supposed to be looking to improve the team at the same time. Doing the latter’s hard enough without have to do the former too.
I’ve been trying to think of examples where a team has succeeded in consistently doing this, but, as of yet, I haven’t found any. Simply put, that £150m spent over five and a half years isn’t enough. Certainly not when the club’s continuously selling its best players, and especially when it comes to replacing Suarez, whose sale and its legacy should’ve taught both FSG and Liverpool fans that in a culture obsessed with money and valuing entities, sometimes certain things, or certain players, are simply invaluable.
Nope. Sterling was sold this summer and everyone was bullish about getting top whack for that greedy little cancer. But let’s look a little closer at the machinations behind both of Liverpool’s recent big sales. Nobody and nothing forced Liverpool to insert a release fee clause in Suarez’s contract, essentially hastening his departure by letting all other clubs know what the club thought he was worth. Why did FSG forget to offer Raheem Sterling a contract extension last summer? It wouldn’t be because he was only on £35k a week, which was a bargain, so why spend more than you need to? A year on and FSG returned to lowball him this summer, helping to facilitate his exit to a club who was prepared to pay him what he wanted, and more importantly from FSG’s perspective, it realised a huge profit in the process.
And that’s another FSG trick, using the media to demonise players who don’t buy in to the project or who appear greedy for leaving. Sterling and his moronic fantasist of an agent certainly helped FSG’s press strategy, and it obscured the fact that once again Liverpool has willingly allowed one of its best players to leave, that they’re simply not prepared to spend the level of wages required to keep their best players, or spend the money required to sign a replacement of the same calibre. Luis Suarez left for a club who has just won the League title and the Champions League. Raheem Sterling left for a club who have qualified for the Champions League for five straight seasons and who were league champions a year ago. I’m sure Suarez regrets his decision and Sterling will come to regret his. Meanwhile Liverpool are coming off a rudderless season that ended in calamity. What incentive does FSG’s strategy give these players to stay? How can this be reconciled with a cogent attempt to build a team?
If FSG can induce a big sale per season, or, more likely, every other season, and combine it with the usual net spend, they can sell the illusion of ambition. Better yet it also ring-fences the extra profits to be earned from a combination of the increase in TV money due to come in next year, and Anfield’s increased capacity of corporate seating. Meanwhile, to help, the fans can be kept pre-occupied with the likely prospect of a managerial change, or a new director of football arriving to overhaul a scouting department which has been roundly ridiculed for consistently ‘wasting money on shite’. This excitement can be embellished with the prospect of the money from a large sale (most likely to be Philippe Coutinho) being given to the new manager to spend on new players to construct a new team. The promise of a new direction brought by changes to the footballing architecture, as we’ve seen the summer, with Brendan Rodgers being given more control over transfers, can keep hopes alive that the current financial limitations set by FSG’s ethos aren’t the problem, it’s just that they haven’t found the right people to make it work. All they need to do is keep shifting the goal-posts, and find a new fall-guy with each sixth placed season that occurs. However, with FFP exposed as lip service, this approach has little chance of providing the success that fans crave.
The effect of this is that Liverpool has gotten considerably worse after being on the cusp of success. Now allow me to indulge in a hypothetical here. Say Luis Suarez didn’t have a release fee clause in his contract, and the owners were prepared to spend the £30m net they have on average since their arrival, what might the team have looked like and achieved?
Bear in mind that Liverpool nearly won the league with a thin squad, but they also had an attack that featured Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. They added Emre Can and Rickie Lambert to the squad before Suarez left. They could’ve easily kept Suarez, offered Raheem Sterling a new deal, which he’d earned, convinced Daniel Agger to stay one more season, and still had enough money left over to sign, say, Adam Lallana. Not to mention prospects like Tiago Ilori and Jordon Ibe would return to bolster the squad further. Perhaps that team doesn’t score the hundred goals it did the season before, but does it, with an improved squad, finish sixth, as it did last season? I doubt it, and that’s just the point. FSG have increased corporate and sponsorship revenue and cut the squad’s wage bill and sold “assets” regularly enough that they now don’t need the Champions League revenue to make a profit. They’ll take it if they can get it, but they’re simply not prepared to sanction any increase in spending to achieve it. The methodology works, for them, just not for Liverpool’s chances of success, and success means silverware, not fourth place. Meanwhile, with the new TV deal soon to arrive, the value of the club, and all Premier League clubs, will rise significantly.
As for Brendan Rodgers? Well he cannot be absolved in all of this. He’s complicit in this decline, as too many of the signings, whether he agreed with them or otherwise, have flopped or underwhelmed. Now he finds himself cornered, as FSG have cynically set him up to take the majority of the blame if this season leads to another failure. They’ve publicly made sure everyone knows they’ve finally granted Rodgers the autonomy over transfer that’s traditionally given to English based managers.
Faced with an attack that’s been decimated by the departures, the injury to Sturridge and the lack of suitable investment to replace them, Brendan Rodgers has made the wrong bet. Instead of signing a striker with skill to drop deep or the pace and intelligent movement to puncture defences, either by running in behind or linking up with the likes of Milner, Coutinho and Lallana, he’s signed Christian Benteke. Benteke is a mediocre footballer, an anachronistic back to the goal type who takes up illogical positions outside of the box, and makes predictable robotic runs. He’s completely ill-suited to a team who intends to play a possession based game on the front foot, as Rodgers has done or attempted to do during his entire tenure at the club. Or perhaps that’s being too optimistic? Perhaps Rodgers intends to shift gears completely, and play to Benteke’s strengths. So that means more direct passes from the defenders to his chest, the pumping of elbows to get midfield men in support, but keeping enough men in reserve in an attempt to protect Liverpool’s woeful defence and the technically deficient workhorses from self-harming. This would invariably make the attack less potent. However, the change to a more atavistic, agricultural style would suit the unsophisticated and expensive mediocrity that Liverpool have accumulated and emboldened – Skrtel, Henderson, Lovren and now Benteke – who, worryingly, all appear to be favourites of Rodgers, but it doesn’t and they don’t mesh with what Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s best player, does best.
I’ll probably regret putting Liverpool this low. But the level of proven talent is dwindling and that’s a reflection of FSG’s protection and emphasis on their Ponzi scheme above anything else. You could talk yourself into them possibly challenging for a top four position if the facility to make a couple of quality signings before the end of the window somehow miraculously appears, Daniel Sturridge returns from injury in September, Phil Coutinho continues to impress even if those around him are simply incapable of matching his skill or intelligence and Roberto Firmino replaces some of Suarez’s unpredictability and goals. If only things were that easy. Still, on the bright side, Liverpool have some good players and prospects, but you wonder how long the likes of Coutinho, Sakho, Firmino, Sturridge, Emre Can and Jordon Ibe will want to stay, especially as FSG’s Ponzi scheme is designed for them not to, or ultimately, even want to.
Last season’s placing: 7th
Pre-season prediction: 6th
This lot have actually exploited the Ponzi scheme at Liverpool, after all, there has to be winners and losers in a Ponzi scheme. There would be some justice if this resulted in them finishing above Liverpool, so why not? There just seems to be a cogent and realistic idea of who and what they are and what they’re trying to achieve. Mind you, for a parasite to survive it needs its host to remain alive, or in Liverpool’s case, remain completely delusional that signing players from a league whose overall standard is in decline, and for far more than they’re worth, is a good idea. Finishing above them might shatter the illusion.
I’ll probably regret putting them this high, as I don’t think Graziano Pelle will repeat last season’s tally and will Jay Rodriguez ever be the same again? Also, another prediction; by the end of this season Jordy Claise will be sought by many if not all of the top four clubs. They’ll also sell Ward-Prowse to Liverpool for £35m after they’ve sold Coutinho for £60m to Barcelona, the difference being Southampton will probably spend that £35m well.
Last season’s placing: 5th
Pre-season prediction: 5th
So perhaps Daniel Levy’s trying the continuity route? Because god knows sacking two Directors of Football and eight managers in fifteen years and routinely selling the club’s best players has worked so well. Perhaps we can consider this as an attempt to expose the Premier League’s placebo effect that afflicts poorly run but (relatively) wealthy clubs: spend a fortune on players and finish 5th or 6th, spend little, as Spurs did last summer, and still do the same. The league is that mediocre, so if you’ve got enough decent players, and your manager has a plan and sticks to it, why, like Liverpool, bother to spend more?
They’ve done nothing this summer other than sell a few of the failed signings from the Gareth Bale windfall. Kieran Tripper is probably better than Kyle Walker, due to not being comically thick I’ll bet, and Toby Alderweireld is an upgrade on Younes Kaboul, by virtue of just being fit.
I’m putting them above Liverpool because they’ve earned it, as they’ve finished above them on a consistent basis for the last few years. They’ll do so again. I think they’ll be quite decent defensively, and they’ve developed a tendency of beating the smaller clubs consistently. However, they won’t sniff the Champions League unless they invest significantly, their net spend is in the black so far, thanks to dumping the utterly shit Paulinho to some glue sniffing eejit Chinese club. There’s certainly scope for Spurs to do more business.
Some might say it’ll be a successful summer if Harry Kane is still there beyond the end of it, but that attitude stinks of a lack of ambition, and is indicative of a club that’s become cowed into accepting its current station as inevitable.
Title contenders (But I’m Not Convinced):
Last season’s placing: 4th
Pre-season prediction: 4th
Love, love, love their summer so far. Can’t criticise a single move they’ve made.
They were able to finish fourth due to a combination of Liverpool’s implosion and their own regression to the mean, but this isn’t like the Ponzi scheme at Anfield. United need that Champions League revenue every year and they know pumping it into Fellaini’s chest didn’t get them back into it, and it isn’t the answer to maintaining it or improving their chances of winning stuff.
People will point out that Bastian Schweinsteiger’s fitness record hasn’t been great recently, but it doesn’t matter. With Morgan Schneiderlin (I still can’t spell it without checking) and Ander Herrera in their primes, and Daley Blind as contingency, United only need him and Michael Carrick to play roughly twenty league games each. That’s manageable. Their array of midfield options is now easily better than their local rivals.
Elsewhere there’s still work to be done. The rumoured dumping of Jonny Evans would be addition by subtraction, and I’d feel a lot better about their chances of challenging for the league if they’d upgraded on Chris Smalling (his feet are too slow) and Marcos Rojo (who should be put on Ritalin) and another striker is brought in. Relying on Wayne Rooney, soon to turn thirty (WTF!), seems like an unnecessary risk. Especially as Van Persie’s gone, and selling Angel Di Maria to PSG should bring in some serious cash to get someone good, someone better than Harry Kane. Alexandre Lacazette perhaps?
As for Di Maria, his signing was a complete failure, and it’s no surprise as he was signed for completely the wrong reasons. It was done solely to appease the supporters after a disastrous season, and assure United’s sponsors, that through wealth, its name could still resonate among the elite, even without trophies or Champions League football.
Replacing someone who clearly didn’t give a shit has other benefits. Memphis Depay will be motivated to prove his abilities belong at a higher level. Some might say that it also helps clear the path for Adnan Januzaj to play more often. But I’m not convinced by that one, as Van Gaal often preferred Ashley Young last season. Perhaps all the nauseating hype surrounding him isn’t justified?
I just don’t see any way they don’t finish at least fourth.
Last season’s placing: 2nd
Pre-season prediction: 3rd
They’ve paid the price for signing too much overseas rubbish, rubbish with clubbed feet at that. Now, if it was English rubbish, no problem, they’d just dump ‘em, recoup a good chunk of the cash they’d wasted and sign a few others.
The home-grown rules are fucking them over – it’s limiting the pool of players they have to choose from and it’s forcing them to decide who they can and can’t keep. They’ve just sent Stevan Jovetic on loan to Inter Milan, just to (presumably) open up a squad place for a new foreign signing.
Honestly, with FFP exposed as a sham, and after succeeding in signing Raheem Sterling, I’m surprised that bids haven’t gone in for Gareth Bale, John Stones, Harry Kane and perhaps someone like Jordan Henderson (Liverpool’s owners would sell their mum’s slippers if it brought them a profit).
Bottom line – the key here is keeping Sergio Aguero fit. There’s a considerable drop-off in quality and a sizeable difference in style of forward play to Edin Dzeko and Wilfried Bony. That’s if Dzeko stays, he’s close to joining Roma, and if he goes City will bring someone else in, and that player, stylistically, should resemble Aguero. Aguero markedly permeates how teams defend. Which brings me back to Jovetic, yes he was injured too often, but he was the one striker in the squad who was most capable of replicating Aguero’s movements.
Their central midfield options are still weak, relative to their competitors, as I write. Fernandinho and somebody good? That could work. But none of the combinations they have available right now look appealing or sensible.
Also, Frank Lampard’s gone. He offered City goals from the bench and from midfield last season. I just don’t see who’ll do what he did for them. While he may not have been the all-round force that Steven Gerrard was, or offered the creativity that Paul Scholes did, his contemporaries and the players he’s often compared to, but when it came to scoring goals, particularly shooting from distance with power and accuracy, he was certainly the most prolific of the three, as the video below shows. There are some mighty fine goals in this compilation:
Back to City – they’ve been linked to Kevin De Bruyne, a fine player, and that would likely mean Yaya Toure dropping deeper. Utilising such a line-up means plenty of space for the opposition to exploit. Against the cannon fodder at home this won’t be a problem, City will overwhelm most sides, but the better teams could pick them off. It’s up to Pellegrini to find the right balance in the right situations, do that, keep Aguero fit, and get another central midfield and central defensive upgrade in and they should challenge. That we’re talking about them just, just challenging for the league considering the money they’ve spent is utterly astonishing.
And on that point I’m staggered Txiki Begiristain is still employed. He bought Eliaquim Mangala for £42m – now there’s some debate about the true fee, but even if it’s only £32m, as claimed by many City fans, that’s still a hilarious waste of money on player who’s a complete waste of skin. Perhaps Mangala was a binman who happened to just be loitering about out of sight when Txiki was conducting a drugs deal with a Portuguese cartel that, like City, uses a football club as a front for laundering money. So Begiristain signed Mangala, who had successfully blackmailed him and the Portuguese (of course). Poor Txiki had to claim Mangala was a) a footballer and b) cost for the exact same amount of money as the drug deal to cover the money trail. After watching Mangala play last season, no other explanation makes sense.
Last season’s placing: 3rd
Pre-season prediction: 2nd
Petr Cech’s a huge upgrade over the two flappers Arsenal employed last season, great, terrific.
I’m also a believer that you can win the league with Olivier Giroud up front. Okay, so Danny Welbeck’s a bit shit, but Theo Walcott’s fit again and Alexis Sanchez was terrific in his debut season, so no problems there. Scoring goals has never been an issue for Arsenal, spates of injuries, which exposes their lack of depth, and mini-implosions are their du jour.
But as an Arsene Wenger admirer the lack of significant transfer activity so far this summer is exasperating. This summer there’s no excuse for not spending, they’ve qualified for the Champions League for seventeen, yes, seven-fucking-teen years straight. They don’t have to wait until the end of the window with Champions League qualification assured to spend, because they’ve qualified for the Champions League group stages automatically this year.
I still see a squad that’s lopsided; there’s a huge array of attacking midfield options, but not nearly enough depth or quality at full back or in central midfield. What happens if Francis Coquelin gets injured? Who plays the pivot positon? An ancient Mikel Arteta? A brittle Jack Wilshere? Mathieu Flamini? He can barely get close enough to people to kick them anymore.
Wenger’s making this more difficult than it needs to be. Buy some players. The money is there and while Arsenal isn’t Barcelona or Bayern Munich, it’s still a highly desirable destination for most players. A couple of canny purchases of real quality added to what’s already there and they’re the side best equipped to challenge Chelsea. I’d absolutely love it, love it, if Wenger, a class act, stuck it to that brat cunt Mourinho. Sadly I’m sceptical we’ll see any further purchases by Arsenal, and we’re at the point where people now mistake Wenger’s confidence and belief in his players (and by extension his ability to spot and nurture talent) as petty frugalness. While there’s time left in the window hope will remain ‘open’ that I’m dead wrong about Wenger believing that he doesn’t need to do anything further. He does, and surely he must know.
One last thing, can someone explain to me why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain receives so many endorsement opportunities? I just don’t get it. He’s probably a nice lad and everything, but he’s just not that good. He turned in one of the worst performances I saw, anywhere, last season at Anfield. He couldn’t pass, at all. It was staggering. Seeing him appear alongside Philipp Lahm and Gareth Bale in that BT billboard ad is laughable, but at least he’s standing next to Joe Hart, so there’s that.
You’ll notice I’m not convinced by any of the three teams in this section as title contenders, and that’s because they’re clearly inferior to:
Last season’s placing: 1st
Pre-season prediction: 1st
They’ll win the league as comfortably as they did last season. And why not? They’ll have the best defence again. They’ll score enough goals. They have the deepest squad. They’ll beat their rivals at home and draw against them away. They’ve got the league’s best player in Eden Hazard (good though he is, this is another indication of the league’s declining quality), not to mention Cesc Fabregas, who, unsurprisingly, was terrific last season. They also encompass everything that’s great about modern football the Premier League and its intrinsic links to Thatcherism:
A non-dom owner, who attained his wealth by exploiting the loopholes that inevitably existed in a culture and society that was ill-equipped to understand the complexities of and adapt quickly enough to a deregulated capitalist system still in its infancy.
A sociopathic manager, who’s become so myopic and preposterous you’re almost inclined to think he’s a comedian who decided to play the long con, but who actually ended up being so good at playing the con, that he started to believe it and abandon the ruse part altogether.
Their players include a racist captain, a spit throwing striker, and an assortment of other cunts that Mourinho makes even more cuntish by having them mimic his cuntishly rabid sense of entitlement and brat like behaviour in times of failure. It’s no surprise really as Mourinho comes from a family of fascists, and while that doesn’t make him one, you can see it as the genesis of his persecution complex which he spreads everywhere he goes. Fascists believe themselves to be superior, and when they’re proven not to be it shatters the illusion.
Then there are other, smaller irritations, such as the myopic xenophobia and racism shown by their fans and the lip service the club pays towards dealing with them. The uninspiring style of football they play despite having some quite exciting players. Jeremy Clarkson ‘supports’ them, and that the club reeks of the Tories and Tory like privilege, even the club’s colours match.
This column will return in October, I dunno about you, but I can certainly wait for it, the same way I can wait to eviscerate my testicles with a blowtorch.