Like Groundhog Day, I’m repeating myself in these Premier League columns, regurgitating the same thought, but, alas, it’s true – the Premier League continues to decline at an alarming rate. Superficially obfuscating this is its immense wealth and a delusional form of servility to a deep rooted cultural notion that wealth is synonymous with, and invariably produces, class. In reality, the riches of the Premier League only serves to finance other, cleverer, foreign leagues (who now regularly outperform English clubs in European competition) who sell their players to Premier League clubs for exorbitant fees, and to cause an internal form of inflation within the Premier League; of wages for players whose abilities simply don’t justify it, and in transfer fees between Premier League clubs – in effect, this means the £10m level player now goes for £25m.
I needn’t have bothered writing that paragraph above, as the pathetic performances of English clubs in both the Champions League and Europa League since Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 is a more emphatic measure of its mediocrity than anything else.
Often we see English clubs suffer as they’re out-passed and out-thought by foreign opposition. It’s partly due to investment in an inferior calibre of player spliced with the continued mass worship of and adherence to archaic everyman principles, where strength, pace, stamina and power and having a big black fella of African descent in midfield, a weird and creepy kind of racial profiling, are more critical than intelligence, tactical awareness, team solidity and shape, technique and ingenuity. These physical attributes and stylistic beliefs have become mythologised and transformed into truisms of how to succeed in ‘our football’. These attributes have become simple solutions for team building, which is a complex endeavour. Taking the easy route, is, well, easier and it invariably rots the brains of many a fan and club chairmen, after all, it’s the fans that pay for this stupidity through their Sky subs and it’s the club chairmen who stupidly keep hiring the same people from the middle-manager-round-about expecting the next one to do better than the last.
There are other problems. Players, invariably English, receive hype before it’s warranted. It’s really a subconscious desperation of wanting to see genuine talent developed in this country that isn’t either technically or intellectually defective in some way. Dele Alli may have talent, in fact he does have it, but he simply hasn’t played enough games to have the opportunity to meet the hype that now surrounds him. Take Ross Barkley (his immediate predecessor of the media’s covertly xenophobic fawning focus) he hasn’t gotten better in the last two years.
Nonetheless this season has produced something interesting – other than Leicester City – that’s the syndrome of denial, and what happens when, invariably, hyped subjects don’t meet these expectations. A fitting example is how Wayne Rooney is sympathetically exonerated today for such mediocre performances and production. This is imbued by an even more peculiar phenomenon, namely that his career clearly hasn’t been as good as it’s now commonly perceived to be. Aggressively hyped as the next great English talent, and yes, Arsene Wenger was complicit too, he’s never produced at the world class level that his contemporaries such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have regularly occupied, and now, with his decline phase now apparent, excuses are being made for this, mainly, you suspect, so the pundits, commentators, opposition players, teammates and managers can excuse their participation in perpetuating this fanciful and ridiculous foreboding they once bestowed upon him.
In a way the disparity between the reality and perception of Wayne Rooney now and then, is a fitting comparable for the Premier League’s marketing set against its current reality. It’s completely reliant on its branding, a mythical self-prophecy, that its football is the most exciting, and therefore the best. Nobody can question it’s the richest, or the most watched, but if its current mediocre level carries on, it soon won’t be. Sure, for the degenerate gamblers, of which there are many in the Far East, and for a country that loves football even if that’s now brazenly extorted, it retains its purpose, but for fair-weather fans who want to watch high quality, exciting football, increasingly there are better alternatives.
I quite like writing about subjects I like, but writing this column is sucking the life out of me. Why? This season I’ve subjected myself to even more pathetic, utterly drab games than ever before. That’s time I’m not getting back. I’m also not getting back the time I took to write this rubbish (though it’s fitting given the subject, eh?), and neither will you if you’re daft enough to read on any further, so without further ado…
The Riff Raff (The Relegation Candidates):
Sub Division – Dead and Buried:
Pre-season Prediction: 17th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 18th
Revised Prediction: 20th
They’re the best example of how a Ponzi Scheme, albeit one that appears to be unintentional, inevitably fails in a sporting context, and in particular, this context, where exorbitant wealth is readily lavished on mediocrity, creating an inflated sense of self-worth and ultimately decadence in its subjects. For years Villa have acted as if they’re immune, ‘too big to fail’, from the eventuality of this process – they’ve sold their best players, replaced them with cheaper inferior versions and hired a slew of mediocre middle managers, or in Tim Sherwood’s case a fucking clown, to guide the ship towards the iceberg. So now, here we are, at last, the turd that won’t flush has seen enough flushes, and with the corrosive salt water finally winning, it’s been broken up and is ready to pass through the u-bend effortlessly. And yes, I know I’ve mixed too many metaphors together there.
Don’t feel too bad for Remi Garde – okay feel bad that the imbeciles who edit Aston Villa’s website couldn’t spell his first name properly when he was announced as manager. He’ll escape without any damage to his reputation, not even Guardiola, Mourinho or Ancelotti would keep this shower up. While Villa won’t finish with less points than the eleven (yes, eleven) that Derby County amassed in 2007/08, the second worst performance over a season in Premier League history is certainly in play. Sunderland finished with a whopping 15 points under Mick ‘one in the hole’ McCarthy in 2005/06. With eight points in twenty games, so far, Villa find themselves with a real shot of keeping some lowly company in the annals of historical futility.
Stan Collymore suggested that Villa should start preparing themselves for life in the Championship by signing some players better suited to its rigours – whatever that may mean. But why should Randy Lerner entertain that? He, sorry, Villa are guaranteed at least two years of eye watering parachute payments. So, after the expected scale back of the bloated Premier League wages spent on the dross they’ve accumulated, there’ll still be a sizable profit, and perhaps they’ll get promoted at the first time of asking? It’s another defect and effect of the grotesque TV deal – it de-incentivises smaller clubs or clubs with smaller budgets, or clubs who have been chronically mis-managed, from checking themselves and trying to build something sustainable. And if your owner’s a massive cunt who doesn’t give a fuck, just as long as he’s making some coin, well, then you’re really in trouble.
Then there’s this:
This is as low as it gets.
Sub Division – Things Are Looking Grim Jim:
Pre-season Prediction: 15th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 19th
Revised Prediction: 19th
The big man with the self-confessed big bellend (albeit only by his sui generis alter-ego) will be active in January, and by-heck does he need to whip it out and put it on the negotiating table. A central defender has already arrived and at least one striker will likely follow. It’s conceivable they could save themselves, as unlike Villa, they haven’t been cut adrift, but, right now, I can’t pick them to stay up. There is so little talent in this squad, and they’re the best example of why it’s daft to believe that pace and power trumps technical ability. Quick digression here – as the quality of the league gets worse (and its style and style of player anachronistically generic), surely it’s smart to go in the other direction? Even if Sunderland perish at least Allardyce will stick around, and probably get them promoted and then keep them up (it’s his speciality), before everyone gets tired of how insufferably twatish he and his football is (that’s his other speciality).
Pre-season Prediction: 16th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 17th
Revised Prediction: 18th
Wouldn’t it be great if two of the most egregiously greedy, and, in Newcastle’s case contemptuous, owners both got purged in one go? I have to pick Newcastle for relegation – their players just look spineless or disinterested (as the fella in video below puts it more eloquently and passionately than me), as is usually the case when a group of players have spent too long being guided by a plethora of clueless managers. And yes, their manager is as clueless as their last one, which given John Carver is John Carver, is quite an achievement.
The question is this – are Newcastle fans prepared to accept a four or five year stint in the Championship, just for the chance of purging the fatso, even if it has no guarantee of seeing Mike Ashley off? It’s almost similar to being on a zero hours contract – no security, no hope, constant worry, basically you’re living week to week with zero-respect for what you do.
Sub Division – Shite, But Staying Up:
Pre-season Prediction: 20th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 20th
Revised Prediction: 17th
I said previously that Norwich would be relegated, and that I was never more confident in anything. Just as well I didn’t put money on that. There’s talk, albeit, just from Twitter, that they’re planning on spending £20m in January. Some of that may go on Steven Naismith…okay, I’m gonna move on before I change my mind.
Pre-season Prediction: 18th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 15th
Revised Prediction: 16th
Like Leicester City, one of the few clear specks on the Premier League’s melanoma ridden back. It’s been done with a squad full of unheralded players too. Just goes to show what can be achieved with a bit of ambition and dedication to playing passing football. I see absolutely no reason why they won’t survive.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Pre-season Prediction: 14th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 14th
Revised Prediction: 15th
At roughly the 1:30 minute mark (perhaps less) a droning noise will replace the denial, the agonising and cringeworthy excusing of culpability and the rest of his everyman, terrace talk, hand-me-down, boilerplate drivel – which appropriately, matches his touchline attire of butch dyke tracksuit and skip-hat, a combination that no man over the age of twenty-five should wear. He’s the abyss of the human condition. Just think how demoralising it must be for others, when someone in a position of authority aspires to do things the same way just because it suits them, and for them to be satisfied with the same outcome every time. To surmise, boredom is insanity, unless you’re Tony Pulis, who, suitably, is too boring to ever be bored.
Pre-season Prediction: 9th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 10th
Revised Prediction: 14th
I’ll confess, picking them to stay up is risky. They’re sticking with their interim manager for the rest of the season – who knows, perhaps they’re in the running for Pep Guardiola? Yet, despite having won only one of their last six games, and having only picked up five points from their past six games, they still aren’t in the bottom three in either the form table, or the Premier League table proper. That struck me as remarkable, and they’re only likely to improve on that – regression to the mean and all the other memes.
Pre-season Prediction: 6th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 7th
Revised Prediction: 13th
Their season is instructive of the perils of being a midtable selling club. Sure, but aren’t all midtable clubs selling clubs? It’s a good point, but if you sell too much, or as aggressively as Southampton have done, essentially viewing every aspect of the club as fungible, and accrue too many injures at the same time, then add that to not quite nailing your signings as you’d previously had done, and you end up in lower midtable. Again, the decline of the Premier League has rendered them completely safe. Despite all injuries, and recent woeful run of form (three wins in their last twelve games!), they’re still seven points clear of the relegation places.
Pre-season Prediction: 19th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 16th
Revised Prediction: 12th
Looking at their squad I felt this was possible, just not likely. Their manager is a good tactician and their buy cast-offs from bigger clubs policy is a wise one. How they’ve done it has surprised me, here we see benefits of utilising a compact, but much ridiculed by the know-all hipsters as outdated, 4-4-2 formation that allows the two up front to attack the litany of weak defences and defenders that the Premier League is now festooned with. And it helps that this fella’s in the form of his life:
Sneaky (but not difficult) prediction – either Liverpool will overpay for Odion Ighalo, or Spurs will sign him to replace Harry Kane.
Pre-season Prediction: 12th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 9th
Revised Prediction: 11th
At least they’re interesting to watch and their matches often are. But where does playing brainless, cavalier, rush around in a panicked frenzied style like you’re two-one down and it’s stoppage time for the entire match football match, get you? Midtable it seems.
The good news for Bill Kenwright is that he can offer Bobby Martinez as a sacrifice to placate the natives for not challenging for the Champions League spots when Goodison Park is in a decrepit state. If he’s wise (pauses…) he’ll do this after he’s sold Romelu Lukaku (who’s having a terrific season and is a certainty to move on this summer), John Stones (who wants to leave and will) this summer and or Ross Barkley (more likely next summer – to take advantage of the English footballer hype syndrome) for massive profits.
Pre-season Prediction: 8th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 12th
Revised Prediction: 10th
Slowly but surely we’re seeing a stylistic evolution away from their ghastly Pulis incarnation to something more common and less despicable. Some of the less desirable traits still remain wedded to thugs like Glenn Whelan and Ryan Shawcross (who, staggeringly, I saw described as ‘a winner’ recently – god bless the internet) and they’ve only scored twenty-one goals this season. Only four clubs have netted fewer at this point, and they’re all potential relegation fodder.
As much as I admire Bojan Krkic’s skill and Mark Hughes for persisting playing him up front, we know he’s not a regular scorer, or a line leading centre forward. He’s a complimentary forward, an auxiliary runner and creator, ideally suited to the liberation of not being burdened with the expectations traditionally placed on centre forwards at top clubs.
Speaking of centre forwards, with the league in its current state, Stoke could go places if they found a decent one and added it to Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri. If they had, say, Romelu Lukaku, would they be a top four contender? Like Leicester City? Perhaps that’s all you need now – to find a striker who has a career season, and one other regular source of goals, plus a reasonably solid defence. Stoke have one of those three things, and potentially two. I’m scaring myself, but Stoke are potentially one signing away from finally finding out whether Lionel Messi can cut it on a cold, wet and windy night during November at the Britannia stadium.
Thankfully it’s more likely that Bojan, Arnautovic and Shaqiri will play their way onto the benches of the higher spending clubs before Stoke City are able to find this player.
The Europa League Contenders:
WEST HAM UNITED
Pre-season Prediction: 10th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 8th
Revised Prediction: 9th
What separates the teams in this section from the teams below them? Not much in truth. They play to their strengths and they have (slightly) better players and managers. West Ham play to their strengths well – counter attacking with pace, power and crosses, and defending on the low block. Ten years ago they would’ve likely been relegation threatened doing this, but nowadays? They’ll probably finish in upper mid-table.
Pre-season Prediction: 11th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 11th
Revised Prediction: 8th
They’re a variation of West Ham United. Essentially they defend in the same manner (albeit slightly better), they have a more gifted and intelligent midfielder in Yohan Cabaye to influence proceedings, and their firepower is provided by their wingers, using their pace to hit the by line, or in Bolassie’s case shooting at goal too often, so it’s no surprise they’ve scored less goals than West Ham. If they sign the right striker in January they could easily finish in the top six. The thought of Alan Pardew managing Crystal Palace to a top six finish, fuck me, what a time to be alive.
Pre-season Prediction: 1st
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 4th
Revised Prediction: 7th
Everyone will have their theory as to what caused this, but it hardly matters. Maybe they’ll finish the season trophy-less. They certainly won’t be in the Champions League next season (unless they win it – not likely). Mourinho is unemployed and cowed. Abramovich is spending a 0.7% of his Brewster’s billions on a squad of decadent twatcunts, and Stamford Bridge is still the ultimate symposium of rampant self-entitlement and the vilest, baseless form of glory-hunterdom going. The atmosphere at the Bridge has reached delightfully toxic levels now, nobody’s happy, as those very expensive season tickets are failing to provide the gratification of watching winners (that you’ve convinced yourself are winners, just like you) win, the football isn’t fluent or exciting and they can no longer indulge in the worship of a cult-of-personality figure, an act that mopes, fetishists and fascists tend to enjoy. They used to have two of these things, now they have none. Pickings are slim in one of Britain’s richest boroughs. Hard times.
So my message is this – let’s just enjoy this season and their suffering while it lasts, because they’ll be back soon enough.
Pre-season Prediction: 7th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 6th
Revised Prediction: 6th
If Jürgen Klopp is sensible he’ll try, or rather he should be willing, to jettison Christian Benteke in January should the opportunity present itself. This has precedent at Liverpool – Rafael Benitez binned Robbie Keane within six months of buying him. At first glance Benteke may have a good goal-to-games record, but a good striker he is not. When he plays his team suffers. Why? He’s isn’t an instinctive footballer. He doesn’t move like one, or think like one, and it’s an innate skill. Even if they don’t have top end pace or the best technique, the best strikers have to have this. Think of the best Liverpool forwards from the last twenty-five years (Rush, Fowler, Owen, Torres, Suarez and Sturridge) – all of them were or are killers; they could dissect the weaknesses of the opposition and recognise the opportunity that moving, and moving into the right space at the right time, brings to them and the team. With Benteke it’s the opposite; he slows everything down and gives his teammates less time and space to operate.
Benteke hasn’t started any of the matches in which Liverpool have scored more than two goals and won (which totals a rather pathetic four). In those games he only played 39 minutes total, and in only one of those matches did Benteke arrive from the bench with Liverpool not in a winning position (against Chelsea). Because this is such a small sample, it could easily be dismissed as circumstantial and put down to a squad wide inability to create and score, but with each dire offensive performance where Benteke is given central billing, this extreme becomes harder to ignore.
Back in July, when Liverpool bought him, I said that he’d be one of the main reasons Rodgers lost his job. That wasn’t true, as it’s clear now that Rodgers was out as soon as Klopp was ready to manage again. I also said Benteke would be an albatross for the next manager, provided it wasn’t Pulis or Allardyce. Well, I was right about that part of it.
Another question – will Klopp be allowed to make attempts to sign the three or four top quality £40m bracket players Liverpool require to ascend to title contender? Or will it be continuation of their idiotic faux holistic transfer policy, where Liverpool sign a number of prospects which they don’t bother to develop, and spend the majority of their money on players from other Premier League clubs, who inevitably fail to live up to the expectations required at a bigger club, but who are perceived to be better value because they’re seen as more likely to succeed in the short term?
Personally, I think Klopp’s not only disappointed with the quality of the Liverpool squad and the Premier League, but that his perception prior to his arrival of how things were, could be, or should be at Liverpool, simply don’t match the reality of what’s likely or possible. Most crowds are apathetic and most teams play a pathetic brand of football. He could’ve done a lot better than this. He could’ve managed in a country where supporting a football club still truly matters and is more than just entertainment or a business to many. He could’ve found a job that’s a lot easier than this, and deep down I think he now realises that. He could’ve had the next six months off and then managed Bayern Munich.
The Top Four Contenders:
Pre-season Prediction: 4th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 3rd
Revised Prediction: 5th
Anthony Martial looks like an excellent talent at times and David De Gea’s one of the best goalkeepers going, but other than that there’s little to be optimistic about from this United season – or looking at their squad, the immediate future. Worse yet, they’ve played football that’s been often dreadful and nearly always defensive. Even worse than that, there’s persistent talk of the adulterer (Ryan Giggs, in case you were unaware) taking over should Van Gaal be sacked. It’s inevitable that Van Gaal will leave at the end of the season as he doesn’t need this hassle at his age. As for his mooted short term replacement, if United fans remove sentiment or the misguided notion of there being any real value in employing someone who cares about the club in an animated fashion on the touchline from the equation, the likely reality of it should send shivers down their spines. When’s the last time a club in United’s echelon gave the manager’s job to someone with no prior management experience at any level? I just can’t think of an example.
Which brings us to Jose Mourinho, who, if you hadn’t heard, is available. The temptation to hire him, given what he invariably accomplishes at the start of his tenures, must be very tempting. That United haven’t moved to get him is a surprise to many. Not for a minute do I believe that Bobby Charlton (who allegedly loathes Mourinho for his classless antics) carries that much clout with the Glazers. They’re just being cheap, as sacking Van Gaal and bringing in Mourinho will cost them tens of millions*, and really, in the short term, is it worth it?
* People will say it’s the club’s money, but just look at the amount of money the Glazer’s have paid themselves (as “directors dividends”) from the club’s profits down the years, they clearly see it as theirs.
Especially when, despite all the flaws and mediocre performances, they’re still the best placed of all the clubs currently outside the top four to get back in. Not that I think they will. Rooney, with that contract, and for other reasons as explained in my intro, has become a sacred cultural cow outside of Old Trafford, yet is now an albatross to the club. Martial aside, none of their summer signings have panned out, and most of their better players are aging fast. That United are still in with a chance of finishing fourth with their most mediocre squad in over two decades, a mediocre squad that cost a fortune to assemble, speaks volumes about them and the general stupidity of English clubs in recent years, and that will make their failure to get there even more agonising.
During these last two and a half years their fans have been welcomed to the skittish real world of high managerial turnover, fungible philosophies, high transfer fees for second raters and the bottom line exacerbating the club’s inability to exercise the patience and courage it takes to build the dynasty they just destroyed so quickly.
Pre-season Prediction: 13th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 13th
Revised Prediction: 4th
My instincts (and my eyes) tell me they’re still a midtable team that’s overachieved over a decent but still smallish sample of games. They’ve conceded 25 goals so far this season, which is the most of any top half team, and that isn’t an indicator of a sustained Champions League push. Then again, someone has to be good enough to over-take them. Chelsea are too far back, and looking at United and Liverpool, or any of the other sides in the midtable malaise, I see no good reason not to leave them here. All they really need is for Mahrez and Vardy to average a goal a game between them for the rest of the season. Buying another striker in January would be sensible given Vardy’s recent injury and inevitable regression of form.
Their ascent will be lauded as good for the league, as refreshing, or some diversionary narrative that is peddled to prevent the truth from being fomented in the wider consciousness – that their lofty position has been aided by a damaging league wide decline. And as unfair as it may seem to Leicester City, their finishing fourth won’t help arrest it. Should they finish fourth, and somehow get through the third qualifying round of the Champions League, they’ll finish bottom of their group. Like it or not, these league co-efficients matter. It’ll take the Premier League several years to recover if they lose that fourth qualifying slot.
The Title Contenders (Though I’m Not Convinced):
Pre-season Prediction: 5th
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 5th
Revised Prediction: 3rd
It’s hard not to be impressed by Mauricio Pochettino’s body of work since he came to England. Me? I loved the fact that he did post and pre match interviews through an interpreter for nearly a year even though he could clearly speak the language. It wound up the Daily Mail reading and Soccer Saturday watching neds no end.
They won’t finish above City or Arsenal but they’ll finish in the top four, probably third, and they’ll manage this with Kyle Walker and Danny Rose being heavily involved. The only question here is whether Daniel Levy can resist the inevitable, enormous (clearly overcompensating after failure to placate the fans) bids for Harry Kane which will arrive from Chelsea and Manchester United (among others) in the summer. History says he probably won’t, and just as the sales of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale halted Spurs’ progress, so shall Kane’s sale. Selling your best player or players never works. When will teams realise it’s very hard to replace your best players, especially when the fallacious media and fan expectation that you should be able to do this and still improve the team in the short term continues, much to my irritation, to exist?
If Manchester United and Chelsea are smart they’ll first approach Spurs for their manager this summer, not Harry Kane.
The Title Contenders:
Pre-season Prediction: 2nd
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 2nd
Revised Prediction: 2nd
Throughout the majority of the process (yeah, I know that sounds pompous, and it is) of formulating (yep, again) my final league place predictions I was going to pick Arsenal to win the league, then this happened:
I imagine believing that Arsenal can win the league, season after season, is an experience similar to being water-boarded. Just when you think it’ll stop, and you can finally breathe normally, hope is ruthlessly vanquished as another wave makes you start to choke and sputter relentlessly.
That’s what a spectacularly dire performance and result will do. In truth everything that could go wrong against Southampton did, they conceded a spectacular goal, made rudimentary defensive errors and suffered the indignity of being one of the few clubs who were executed with panache by Shane Long. The evidence so far overwhelmingly supports that this was an isolated abortion, not the norm. The norm has been defensively solid (third best defence in the league, and best before the Southampton debacle), and even with the absence of Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal have kept on scoring. Largely thanks to the form Mesut Ozil (who has more than double the number of assists as the next Premier League player) and Olivier Giroud’s goals, both have been playing their best football since they arrived at the club.
Still, you wonder how much longer they can get away with a clearly finished Mathieu Flamini anchoring the midfield, and that they threw in that fucking abomination against a Southampton side in the midst of a horrific run of form makes you wonder, given what’s happened routinely, season after season, what psychological damage might occur if they incur another disastrous result and performance. So yeah, I lost my bottle, will Arsenal lose theirs? Let’s hope not, but hope, as Arsenal fans know, is essentially cruelty in waiting.
Pre-season Prediction: 3rd
Quarter-Way Point Prediction: 1st
Revised Prediction: 1st
They provide the best example that the Premier League’s television money only serves to inflate prices, and not elevate the standard of the league’s quality. Of course when you’re a petroleum funded club you can just keep buying until you get it right. City whiffed on Eliaquim Mangala and Matija Nastasic, and early signs suggest they may have (finally) gotten it right with Nicolas Otamendi. Total cost to fill one position adequately: (roughly) £80m.
I noticed something else – City’s spending has gotten more aggressive (or, to be more specific, concentrated on fewer players). This summer they signed Kevin Dr Bruyne and Raheem Sterling for £100m combined, before that they were content to broaden the scope and sign the likes of Stevan Jovetic for £18m, Alvaro Negredo (£18m), Jesus Navas (£14m), and Samir Nasri for £20m. Granted, the fees in the transfer market have mushroomed, over the last two years in particular, but not by that much.
Did you notice something else? Only two of those players listed above were signed from another Premier League club. It’s yet more evidence that it’s predominantly foreign clubs, agents and players who are the beneficiaries of the Premier League’s vast wealth, certainly not the clubs from any internal trading. All this huge spending has created a tax for all Premier League clubs when buying from abroad. The perception still exists that there’s better value for money to be found on the continent, and while it’s still broadly true for the middle class sellers and the riff-raff who operate in a different echelon of the market, the margins are no longer as pronounced as they once were.
Bottom line time – if you’re as wealthy as Manchester City it furnishes you with the opportunity to sign genuine quality; David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure to name just three, and the ability to pay whatever it takes to convince them to stay. When you get players of that calibre the failed signings don’t matter. Not when you can roll out a starting front-line that consists of Aguero, Toure, Silva, Sterling and De Bruyne. When picking a team to win the title it’s hard to bet against that, even if the squad depth, central midfield configuration and the manager’s future are all currently questionable.
One thing you can bet against is me looking forward to doing my final prediction column of the season in early March, but do it I will.