As with most fans of the beautiful game the excitement of a new season encroaches steadily. Each step builds your anticipation – in early June the transfer window opens, at the start of July the first wave of players report back for the start of pre-season training. By mid-July there’s perhaps a new signing or two or three, the pre-season friendlies have started and the better players start to arrive back from their holidays.
By August it has built to a crescendo of bad bets, rampant misguided optimism even among the most pessimistic about their team’s chances, and in my case, against my better judgement, adding to my track record of misjudged predictions (because there aren’t enough league preview/prediction pieces on the internet right now) and another massive fucking column of rubbish (ditto).
Every one of these stages is a cynical and fickle endeavour. But it is what it is. The first match day weekend of the new season usually sees the mass enthusiasm for football at its height. It’s the new toy syndrome, spliced with reinvigorating petty tribalism through long standing rivalries and the chance to settle scores and vanquish disappointments from last season. It helps that it’s still summer too, winter seems far away and the memories of last December’s hideously drab matches have been sequestered right to the bottom of the subconscious bin.
That’s how it’s usually gone, but not this time, not for me. The new Premier League season has snuck up on me, it’s already mid-August, and I’m completely ill-prepared for it, specifically for it to begin again. It’s made me ponder my own existentialist perceptions too. Have I been unwittingly preoccupied with something else? Is my perception of time shifting, is it passing quicker the older I get?
I suspect this is actually pure apathy. One thing the incessancy and ubiquity of news of any kind, and all the forms in which it is disseminated, has done is make following any one subject completely unbearable. You can apply this to any subject too – politics, darts, the weather, Wimbledon, The Zika virus. But it harms football’s the most, because the mass media coverage makes it appear to be completely and utterly vacuous when it’s a sport of some merit.
Back in the early nineties you had to check Ceefax once a day, buy a paper, or listen to the radio to find out anything transfer related. Now you have this information instantly, in many forms, whether it’s the Sky Sports News luminous yellow breaking news bar, Twitter, Reddit or forums, you can’t get away from it. To do so requires a conscious concerted effort. These mediums are so invasive and well populated that they’ve corrupted the reportage of football news. Rumours fast become assumptions and are then reported, or retweeted, as facts. In football parlance ‘apparently’ is now a euphemism for a baseless Twitter rumour that may or not become a fact, but it is implicitly implied that it will, mainly for the person relaying the information to attain the cheapest form of gratification – significant attention.
Fortunately, thanks to my apathy, which includes finally accepting I have no control over things I can’t control, I’ve been able to insulate myself from the tawdry, tiresome spectacle that is transfer season in the mass multimedia age. Even so, it was very hard for anyone to avoid the Paul Pogba gavage. Here was a self-perpetuating news story, even when there was no news it was brazenly manufactured for clickbait, with ESPN.co.uk being the worst offender. They had opinion masquerading as news in anticipation of there being news. There were hourly updates, articles that contained selfies with people he’d met on the street, where he was on his holiday, and how much money his agent wanted to conclude to deal. I strongly suspect I may have missed the articles analysing whether Pogba likes niche porn, or reporting a tweeted picture from the cleaner at the hotel Pogba was staying at showing the massive shite he’d done twenty minutes earlier.
Another root of my apathy is the sheer extortion behind the grotesque inflation that’s seen transfer fees, parasitic agent fees, ticket prices and player wages rise at an unconscionable rate over the last year. If you thought the housing market bubble built on derivatives and 100% loans of the last decade was a disgraceful debacle you’ll probably struggle not to equate it to football’s rampant greed. Just as the right to buy was initially a way to entrench the lower to middle income classes in debt and to make money from them, then privatised for the wealthy to make even more, so too football is following a similar pattern. Prices have risen in all areas, and it’s been justified as having to align with the obscene new eight billion pound television contract for domestic rights that starts this season. Fans, whether through their Sky and BT subscriptions, or through season tickets, are paying prices well above inflation to finance wages that are rising well above inflation. It’s yet another mode of transferring a substantial volume of wealth to millionaires and billionaires. The nauseating apolitical justifications are the same too, football is entertainment and you’re paying to be entertained, just you’re paying all that interest so that in twenty years you’ll own the title deed to your house. Nothing material really changes except the cost. Paul Pogba now costs £100m, £90m, or whatever it bloody was. It’s just another slight amendment to what things were like three years ago, so you can sell it as this being the new normal.
And we accept this as it’s hard to reject materialistic aspiration, because it’s so enticing. Specific to football, the Thatcherite notion reigns supreme, namely that wealth automatically equates to class and quality, and this is now a cultural inherency. That’s why the Premier League can still brand itself as the best league in the world. It’s been a subtle shift over the past twenty years, but now we understand and accept that this statement isn’t extolling its quality or excitement, but primarily its wealth.
Right, okay then, so why do we still watch football? Because when the game starts it’s a sanctuary, for ninety minutes the sport’s dire external contexts of ghastly excesses and irritable additions disappear. It’s the only constant in a world with so few; eleven versus eleven, a game of tactics and skill. Everything else, your problems, its problems, fade away, and when the game ends and its issues return, you can leave them behind, provided you can stay off the fucking internet.
If you can avoid the recidivist hand-me-down media hype, there’s plenty of intriguing stories among the twenty Premier League teams. Some are acting like paupers, others neuvo-riche, some are still without a manager, some even have absentee owners brazenly extorting their fans.
Three of the perennial top four finishers have new managers, but ignore the latest marketing tactic that’s being employed by the Premier League’s acolytes its commercial business partners, that it’s now become the hub of top managers. Talk about desperate. The league, as ever, will be decided on the pitch, by each team playing thirty-eight games. So, how’s it gonna unfold? I offer up some predictions and comments, which will be scornful, contemptuous, cynical and even patronising, which is appropriate, as it mirrors how the subject treats and views its observers. But just remember this – it’s not a question of me being wrong, it’s how badly wrong I’ll be.
So here we go, from worst to first:
Last season: 4th in the Championship (promoted via the playoffs)
2016/17 Season Prediction: 20th
Significant arrivals: None
Significant departures: Steve Bruce (manager, resigned in July), Mohammed Diame (Newcastle United – £5m)
Yep, that’s right – at the time of writing there’s a debate as to whether the club’s going to be sold or not (to yet another Chinese consortium, possibly), they’re sans a manager with a Championship calibre squad that’s seen one of its better players leave. A recipe for survival it is not.
They’ll hire a manager quite soon. They have to, at least before the end of the window, so whoever it is can bring in players, even if it’s only on loan. Mind you, it would be funny if they didn’t. Perhaps this can be an experiment/revival? Brian Glanville never ceases with his wearisome anecdotal eulogies of footballers ‘successfully’ picking the team among themselves in the 1930’s. Let’s see if an altruistically based footballing meritocracy can work in 2016, when every marginal top flight footballer is fighting for the opportunity to take home his cut of that £8B TV deal.
Anyway, we’re getting off track here, so what of the five-hundred pound elephant that’s lingering as bad breath does? Hull City won the smaller club lottery, and this precise scenario is the incentive for businessmen from both home and abroad to buy English football clubs. Promotion to the Premier League, even just for one season, means that Hull City is guaranteed £160m over the next three years. That’s one of the failings, or downsides, to equally distributing the TV prize money among all twenty Premier League clubs and having a parachute payment scheme for those that are relegated: it can easily dissuade promoted clubs from investing. Why spend £50m on transfer fees and the higher wages Premier League players demand, and their agents expect Premier League clubs to pay, and still go down, when you can spend relatively little (like Burnley, who we’ll soon get to) and achieve the same result? Many of these chairmen/owners are businessmen first; they see it as losing guaranteed money.
I’ve mocked Steve Bruce in the past for walking away to protect his cod reputation as the solid dependable type manager. That said, the timing of his departure wasn’t made with his considerable powers of foreseeing his own failure. No, it is the inevitable consequences of the cynical frugality of Hull City’s owner Assem Allem. By not being allowed to spend a penny on a newly promoted squad in the wealthiest league in the world, Steve Bruce, as any manager with a modicum of self-respect, or, and I hesitate to use the word in this context, ambition, was right to leave. That he thanked the Honorary President, not the owner, in his resignation speech, was telling.
Perhaps none of this matters and Hull City will take their first steps to doing a Leicester City by consolidating their top flight status? However, at this point in time, there’s nothing to suggest this is anything other than another example of legal kleptocracy in effect at a football club. They’re just the latest conduit for a businessman having the good fortune, or mis-fortune, depending on how you feel about it, to own a football club based in England and who’s arrived during a grotesque financial spike. The minute Hull City got promoted the value of the club rose exponentially. Whether he retains ownership, or sells up, Mr Allem can’t lose.
As for Hull City, they’re going to lose rather a lot of games. It’s hard to see them matching the wretchedness of Derby County’s 2007/08 vintage, but they could easily be as dire as Aston Villa managed to be last season.
Last season: Championship champions (just to emphasize how ludicrous its branding is)
2016/17 Season Prediction: 19th
Significant arrivals: Steven Defour (Anderlecht, £6.5m), Nick Pope (Charlton Athletic, £1m), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton, £2.5m – one of Iceland’s Euro 2016 heroes), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool, on loan)
Significant departures: Joey Barton (Rangers, free – Yes, you read that correctly, Joey Barton may play in an Old Firm match soon – can I bet on him going back to prison?)
So, the mutant adult baby, ginger goatee and sideburn sporting, finger sniffing, maroon suited, pseudo northerner and plagiarist of the auld fashioned manager trope, Sean Dyche, has returned. Among the tiresome gavage of Paul Pogba’s mooted transfer to Manchester United I managed to hunt down some news on Burnley football club. Some of it included Sean Dyche espousing about his predicament. He mused, to paraphrase, on ‘the difficulties of this market’, but it makes no sense to me, as Burnley haven’t spent any money, yet they’ve made a fortune from their last Premier League appearance two years ago, and will make a guaranteed £160m over the next three years due to being promoted again.
Nobody is expecting them to spend £50m on players, nor should they. But four players in (so far) at £10m would make some Championship clubs blush, never mind a Premier League club. The very least they can do is give themselves a realistic chance. They didn’t spend any money last time, and look what happened.
Last season: 17th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 18th
Significant arrivals: David Moyes (Manager), Papy Djilobodji (Chelsea, £8m), Paddy McNair (Manchester United, £4.5m), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United, Loan), Donald Love (Manchester United – I’m sensing a theme here, £1m)
Significant departures: Sam Allardyce (Manager, England – stop laughing, actually, wait, I think I’ll join you), Emanuele Giaccherini (Napoli, £1.5m), Danny Graham (Blackburn Rovers, Free), Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Yann M’Vila (Rennes, End of loan)
Last season they survived thanks to the sui generis abilities (which, appropriately, only suit their purpose) of their former manager, and that their ‘neighbours’ were a basket-case ran by clowns who decided it was a good idea to keep Steve McClaren in charge for most of the season. Now both of those advantages have gone.
Normally I’d say this would be a good club for David Moyes’ mores of winning without winning. He doesn’t need time to depress expectations as they’ve already seeped into the collective consciousness at Sunderland, and, looking at the squad, no wonder. Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea feature prominently, you could make a good case that Jermain Defoe, now aged thirty-three, is their best player. Moving away from this core, all of them well past their meridian, is surely a must.
There are glimmers of hope; perhaps Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Kone or Paddy McNair form a solid foundation in defence. The Moyes’ form of motivation could galvanise another mentally fragile relegation candidate into midtable as he once did at Everton. Maybe there’ll be a few more additions before the end of the window. Middlesbrough, Burnley and Hull City are newly promoted, and will likely struggle, while Swansea City and Bournemouth are hardly great shakes.
In reality Kone may leave and is being linked with moves to other Premier League clubs. What Moyes did when he first arrived at Everton was well over a decade ago. After seeing so much money being wasted on dross in recent years, how much money is Ellis Short prepared to invest?
You could successfully debate any of these points either way. But there’s a different reason why I’m picking them to go down. They’re Aston Villa’s successor, a Premier League club that’s become psychologically rotten with years of neglect. This has bred complacency and through necessity solidified a complete disinterest in anything beyond grim survival. Eventually that morphs into the smell and look of a desiccated, diminished squad with dubious morale, that’s subconsciously hoping to be put out of its misery of having to endure yet another futile annual struggle. Once this form of defeatism becomes perpetual I’ve yet to see a sufferer recover.
Last season: 2nd in the Championship (promoted automatically)
2016/17 Season Prediction: 17th
Significant arrivals: Marten De Roon (Atalanta, £12m), Victor Valdes (Manchester United, Bosman), Viktor Fischer (Ajax, £4.5m), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton, Bosman), Antonio Barragan (Valencia, £2.5m), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, Free), Alvaro Negredo (Valencia, Loan), Fabio (Cardiff City, £2.5m), Bernardo Espinoza (Sporting Gijon, Bosman)
Significant departures: None, unless you still consider Jonathan ‘Village’ Woodgate to still be of relevance.
Viktor Fischer is your now diminished previously hot prospect, ubiquitously wanked over by the Twitteratti, Football Manager playing, academy crèche voyeurs, mainly for his performances in under-eighteen tournaments five years ago. These dickheads have been moaning that their side hasn’t signed him, mainly ’because he was cheap’. Sure, at least they’re being consistent about this and him, but that’s driven entirely by the self-serving hope of imbuing a delusional notion of renowned amateur expertise, which in practical terms is a petty, vacuous form of vindication. If he cuts it at Middlesbrough they’ll get to say ‘I told you he’d be worth the risk’, and quoting their original comment to their active 68 followers as proof. Back in the real world, a club like Arsenal can’t afford to sign a perma-crock who’s only ever played, and sparingly at that, in the Eredivise and has never lived up to his YouTube legend. Well, they could, but then you’d have to be as hilariously disingenuous, and hypocritically pious about attempting to do it (but actually not) as Liverpool has been over the last four years.
Bottom line – Middlesbrough aren’t betting on Fischer panning out. If he does, it’s a bonus, and if he proves his talent and becomes ‘Premier League proven’ Middlesbrough will likely survive, make more money as a result, and then make even more by selling Fischer. The fans of the club buying him, also liable to be Twitteratti, Football Manager playing, crèche voyeurs, will then moan about not buying him a year earlier. After all, as good neo-liberal consumers, they have the right to demand value for money from their Sky subscriptions.
I’m picking Boro to survive. Aitor Karanka seems to be a pragmatic tactician (mainly because he’s foreign, and English coaches are generally dismal Neanderthal types), they have some Premier League veterans in their squad (basically, players I know) and, most importantly, unlike Hull City and Burnley to date, they’re investing in players who’ll probably make the team better. We should forgive Steve Gibson’s past indiscretions and gross misjudgements in appointing managers, or, staggeringly, joint managers when he brought in Terry Venables to assist Bryan ‘Tampax’ Robson’s tragic deer in the headlights ineptitude, as he wants Middlesbrough to be in the Premier League. Remember, he’s now a rarity – an owner who’s an actual fan of the club.
The only issue here is that with many of their signings they’re banking on past performance and reputation, not contemporary reality. Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo would’ve been terrific signings four years ago, but then Middlesbrough wouldn’t have been able to get them then. At least Valdes cost nothing, and Brad Guzan’s been signed as a contingency, and Negredo’s on loan, so if they go down they’re not stuck with an player on the wrong side of thirty on a high five figure a week salary.
I’m curious to see how this lot fits together and if Jordan Rhodes, the latest Championship striker with a good goal record, can translate it to the Premier League. Historical precedent suggests the odds are against him, but when you think about, that kind of clichéd bollocks means nothing. He’s either going to cut it, or he’s not.
Last season: 16th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 16th
Significant arrivals: Jordon Ibe (Liverpool, £15m), Nathan Ake (Chelsea, Loan), Brad Smith (Liverpool, £3.5m), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham, Free), Lys Mousset (Le Harve, £5.5m), Lewis Cook (Leeds United, £6m)
Significant departures: Matt Ritchie (Newcastle United, £10m), Juan Iturbe (Roma, End of loan), Tommy Elphick (Aston Villa, £3m), Lee Tomlin (Bristol City, £3m), Glenn Murray (Brighton & Hove Albion, Loan)
Some are picking them to down, but I just don’t see it. They’ve got Callum Wilson back now and their signings seem entirely logical for their needs. Jordon Ibe may not understand how to attack space without the ball at his feet, but when he’s in possession he brings the pace and strength to right flank that Matt Ritchie, for all his tenacity, did not. Nathan Ake is a defensive upgrade over Charlie Daniels. These sound like improvements to me.
Speaking of things that haven’t improved (and probably never will), why didn’t Eddie Howe receive any consideration for the England job? Smart coach, his teams work hard, commit men forwards and they have the courage to pass the ball under pressure, the latter being a facet that England still struggle with. Howe insists on his teams doing it even if the skill to do it successfully is sometimes lacking.
I think we all know the answer as to why, Howe is ‘unproven’, whatever that means – and mediocrity tends to attract the like. If not for Leicester City this would’ve been the story from last season, before the start of last season virtually nobody, including their own supporters, picked them to stay up, but they did, comfortably. I’m very confident they will again, which should make their supporters very nervous.
Last season: 12th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 15th
Significant arrivals: Fernando Llorente (Sevilla, £5m), Leroy Fer (QPR, £5m), Mike Van Der Hoon (Ajax, £2m), Borja Baston (Atletico Madrid, £15m)
Significant departures: Andre Ayew (West Ham United, £20m), Eder (Lille, £4m), Ashley Williams (Everton, £12m), Alberto Paloschi (Atalanta, £5m), Bafetimbi Gomis (Marseille, Loan)
My initial position – providing Glyfi Sigurdsson and Andre Ayew would still be there post August 31st, so too would Swansea City when I write my preview for the 2017/18 season. But now that Ayew’s gone to West Ham, I’m hesitating. Getting Llorente for £5m in this ludicrous market is an excellent signing, and they’ve broken their transfer record on Borja Baston, at £15m. However, replacing Ayew and potentially Ashley Williams, won’t be easy. Thankfully Francesco Guidolin has years of experience managing a litany of small Serie A clubs to safety, and he did it with Swansea last season too. In fact, you could say he’s the Italian Sam Allardyce, I was thinking of comparing him to Tony Pulis, but that would be insulting to the man.
Sadly, they’re likely to be another club who’ll play a very reductive, defensive brand of football, which is becoming yet another result of sharing the TV revenue equally.
Last season: 13th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 14th
Significant arrivals: Walter Mazzarri (Manager, last managed Internazionale in 2014), Isaac Success (Granada, £12.5m), Brice Dja Djedje (Marseille, £3m), Camilo Zuniga (Napoli, Loan), Christian Kabasele (Genk, £5m), Jerome Sinclair (Liverpool, £4m)
Significant departures: The immaculately styled Quique Sanchez Flores (Manager), Jose Manuel Jurado (Espanyol, £1m), Almen Abdi, (Sheffield Wednesday, £3m), Miguel Layun (Porto, £5m)
Was it wise to reject £25m, or whatever ungodly amount it was, from Leicester City for Troy Deeney? If they’re following the Udinese model then it’s unlikely his value will ever be higher, but then, with the way transfer fees are inflating, who knows?
It’s fascinating to see the Pozzo family encroach on the Premier League, where the big money is to be made by successfully running their Udinese model. They already own Udinese and Granada, giving them shareholdings of clubs in three of Europe’s top leagues. It poses several questions, do we need more active modes that maintain the purity of competition within sport (but only if you consider football not to be a business) and should multi club ownerships be allowed? We’ve already seen a number of transfers occur between the three Pozzo owned clubs, which could easily lead to forms of financial venality. That most people aren’t arsed, and that it is allowed, confirms what we know, that capitalism, not the sanctity of competition, comes first, always.
The good news is that Mazzarri’s teams have a tendency for expression, here’s hoping.
West Bromwich Albion
Last season: 14th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 13th
Significant arrivals: Matt Phillips (QPR, £5m)
Significant departures: James Chester (Aston Villa, £7.5m), Victor Anichebe (Released), Stephane Sessegnon (Released)
Just as a credit card should be the practical euphemism for materialism I’ve come to accept that Tony Pulis should serve the same function for nihilism, but then I’m relatively intelligent, and attracted to endeavours of sophistication. Sadly, when it comes to football, these rules seldom apply, so few would agree with my analysis.
How else do you explain the perpetual implementation of a philosophy that willingly produces terrible football and a litany of drab matches as anything else? Actually, I’m not as intelligent as I’d like to think, because nihilism isn’t right. To believe in this is to believe in misery, so sadism it is then. Tony Pulis, the recidivist sadist.
Normally I’d feel cold upon hearing the news of yet another grasping Chinese consortium taking over a European football club, but in this case I only feel decidedly lukewarm. Why? I’m watching The Sopranos again. The writing in it is amazing, and it’s hilarious. Junior Soprano has a great line in it that has some relevance here. Did you hear the one about the Chinese godfather? He made him an offer he couldn’t understand. Let’s hope that repeats itself in this context with Pulis waking up tied down to his bed receiving water torture. A crude thought, admittedly, but also suitably, just like a Tony Pulis side.
That the Baggies have made no signings yet is heartening for those of us who want to see Pulisball cowed into irrelevance. Dare we dream?
Last season: 15th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 12th
Significant arrivals: Andros Townsend (Newcastle United, £13m), James Tomkins (West Ham United, £10m), Steve Mandanda (Marseille, Free)
Significant departures: Dwight Gayle (Newcastle United, £10m), Alex McCarthy (Southampton, Free), Marouane Chamakh (released), Emmanuel Adebayor (released), Brede Hangeland (released)
Look, we already knew that Alan Pardew was a walking Patrick Bateman in waiting creep like toucher but he even he outdid himself with his dad who is slightly pissed dancing dreadfully at his daughters wedding routine at Wembley in May. After Leicester City, it was clearly the highlight of another drab flaking scab of a Premier League season.
What made it so majestic? It wasn’t his blissful (but only to him) lack of self-awareness or his laughably quaint misguided confidence, detrimental traits he’s exhibited on a number of occasions, nor was it that it occurred during the FA Cup Final. That Palace conceded an equaliser shortly after it, then lost the game in extra time, despite having a man advantage, made it a transcendent social media meme of silly presumption. It makes you wonder what ludicrously lude or rude act he’ll do next in a moment of exalted levity – take a selfie of his ringpiece on the sideline? Anything’s possible with Pards.
Speaking of silly, Palace and Pardew are the latest to be roped into thinking Andros Townsend isn’t a fraud who won’t ultimately disappoint them. His signing doesn’t make much sense, as Palace, given they aren’t a club with huge resources, weren’t short of wide players with pace. He’s a downgrade on Bolasie should he leave as expected.
What Palace really need is a striker. Given the choice Michy Batshuayi understandably went to Chelsea and now they’ve one of a number of clubs thinking about going for Christian Benteke. Normally I’d lambast clubs for wanting a player like Benteke, because there’s so many unthinking thinkers running Premier League clubs, who hire equally mediocre managers who can’t identify and nurture talent, that anything construed as proven is viewed as a safe investment to them. It’s both an abdication of responsibility and eschews risk. However, let’s try to be fair for once and look at it from Crystal Palace’s perspective – what value does someone like Christian Benteke have to them, given the dismal second half of the season they’ve just gone through, when adding fifteen goals to their season probably transforms it and ensures they get that £80m of TV money every season? Then spending £30m for someone like Benteke seems like a sound investment, particularly given their style of play. To pluck up the courage to take the plunge, they’ll need to be placed into a desperate state. To ensure this they’ll probably wait right until the deadline, and convince themselves using the straw man argument ‘that had Villa not sold him they’d have survived’ or some utter drivel of its like.
Benteke will move to a midtable Premier League club because his aborted stint at Liverpool won’t be stigmatised by the middle tier sides. The league is awash with proven Premier League retreads that had a shot at one of the top six sides and were sent packing. In particular Newcastle, West Brom, Sunderland and Everton have squads full of them. I think it’s safe to say that with Townsend arriving and Benteke possibly to follow him, Crystal Palace will soon join that miserable bunch.
Last season: 6th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 11th
Significant arrivals: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Bayern Munich, £12.5m), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City, £12m), Jeremy Pied (Nice, Bosman), Alex McCarthy (Crystal Palace, £3m)
Significant departures: Sadio Mane (Liverpool, £35m), Graziano Pelle (One of those fucking Chinese clubs, £13m), Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur, £11m)
It’s an interesting test case, will Southampton, the epitome of midtable selling club, and that includes their managers, finish above the team they sold their manager to? It poses another question – if you’re only aiming to exist in midtable, does it even matter who the manager is? Southampton has done this with both Pochettino and Koeman, and have continued to stay well clear of relegation scraps. The idea, as far as I can tell, is that the process and structure find the correct personnel, until it doesn’t. It’s no better a model than any of the others, I suppose.
They’ll be safe because, well, have you seen the state of some of these other clubs? Plus Southampton has a cannier transfer apparatus than most (Liverpool fans are nodding right now). But there are signs of a slight decline on the horizon; there’s a lot of change occurring here; Claude Puel has a decent record in France, but then he was managing Monaco and Lyon, two of the better sides, and he hasn’t won anything since 2000. They’ll need replacements for Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane, both were inconsistent, but they did score twenty-two goals between them last season, roughly a third of Southampton’s team total of fifty-nine. Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg appear to be decent signings but are highly unlikely to match that total, or even get near it.
In truth this is a bit depressing. They’re yet another club with the capability to be more ambitious, but who instead settle for the Premier League revenue and to augment this by exploiting other, usually bigger, stupider, clubs in the transfer market.
Last season: 11th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 10th
Significant arrivals: Ronald Koeman (Manager, Southampton), Ashley Williams (Swansea City, £12m), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, £1m), Idrissa Gueye (Aston Villa, £7m)
Significant departures: Roberto Martinez (Manager), John Stones (Manchester City, £47m)
So then, Ronald Koeman takes over from the haplessly naïve and maligned Bobby Brown Shoes Martinez.
Superficially this appears to be a sideways move for Koeman. Southampton are a selling club, but so are Everton. Southampton are in the Europa League, and Everton aren’t. The Saints have finished above Everton in each of the last two seasons. Koeman has every right to believe this is largely down to him, but, well, why leave for Everton?
The assumption has to be he’s getting more money to spend and or control over recruitment, but we’ve yet to see any evidence of the former, and by Christ do Everton need to get younger. Many of their core players are aging, two of their three most valuable assets, John Stones and Romelu Lukaku, have already gone or are openly agitating to leave. Should Lukaku go Everton will bank over £100m for the pair, but how much does that get you in this market, especially with the end of the window closing in when clubs tend to become more reluctant to sell and place a premium if they do?
Their signings, so far, have yet to remedy Everton’s impending crisis – the age of the squad. I simply couldn’t believe that Yannick Bolasie, who’s likely to arrive, was twenty-seven. Ashley Williams is a solid centre-back, but he’s the wrong side of thirty, and so is Phil Jagielka, who looked finished last season. And just what will Koeman do with Oumar Niasse? He of wanking injury that required surgery on his wrist and stopped him from playing. Honestly, I’m on tenterhooks here.
Bottom line – Bill Kenwright’s now off the hook for all these embarrassments and ineptitude. Farhad Moshiri is the anointed one, he’s the saviour who will inject the capital Everton desperately need to rebuild not only the squad, but to solve Everton’s biggest problem, finding the site for a new stadium.
I’m highly sceptical, because, and it seems vulgar to say it, but Moshiri is only worth a billion quid, give or take, and just how much does that get you in the Premier League? £200m buys you 49.9 percent of Everton, a midtable club with an aging squad and a decaying stadium. As a significant shareholder, how long does it take to make a £200m through Premier League revenues? Not long, and it takes even less time if you’re a selling club perennially selling players for large transfer fees. The timing of Moshiri’s arrival, in February, knowing as he did that the new television deal was about to kick in, smacks of a businessman buying in at just the right time.
They key to it all is remaining in the Premier League. What’s the most cost effective way of protecting the return you receive for Premier League participation? Hiring a manager who’ll keep you there. Ronald Koeman’s gonna regret this, and quite soon.
Last season: 9th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 9th
Significant arrivals: Joe Allen (£13m, Liverpool), Ramadan Sobhi (Al Alhy – nope, me neither)
Significant departures: None
The signing of Joe Allen is another positive step in the gentrification of Stoke City from their years of slumming it with plebeian Pulis. Allen’s strength is Glenn Whelan’s weakness – circulating possession. While that helps, it alone doesn’t solve Stoke’s biggest problem, other than them being Stoke City, a lack of goals. Only six clubs, including the three that were relegated, scored fewer goals last term. Unless there are further reinforcements, namely a good centre forward, I won’t be putting them higher. They may finish sixth but only if Leicester City turns into a pumpkin, as all the self-styled experts expect, and the rampant self-loathing of unfulfilled expectations and ongoing monetisation-scheme at Liverpool constricts everyone’s confidence again.
Speaking of Liverpool, Stoke City should be looking to buy another of their rejects – Christian Benteke. He’s a terrible fit for a club who is asked to play possession football against Catenaccio and for a club that expects to win more often than not. Stoke City aren’t at that point, but, here’s the irony, Benteke is the sort of signing who could help them get there.
West Ham United
Last season: 7th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 8th
Significant arrivals: Andre Ayew (Swansea City, £20m), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia, Bosman), Havard Nordtveit (Borussia Monchengladbach, Bosman), Arthur Masuaku (Olympiakos, £6m), Jonathan Calleri (Maldonado, Loan), Gokhan Tore (Besiktas, Loan)
Significant departures: James Tomkins (Crystal Palace, £10m), Alex Song (Rubin Kazan, Bosman)
This is the true legacy of the Olympics – a dreadful stadium, built, then (poorly) redesigned for £701m and all of it paid for by the taxpayer, is being leased to a tenant (and independent company) who’ll pay only £2.5m per season and gets to keep all the revenue from any gate receipts.
This is a scandal. But thankfully for West Ham they received even more good luck as Brexit occurred, so this news got buried. The squatting bastards.
It’s yet another reason to hate this twatcunt:
Last season: 8th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 7th
Significant arrivals: Marko Grujic (Red Star Belgrade, £5m), Sadio Mane (Southampton, £35m), Lorius Karius (Mainz 05, £5m), Joel Matip (Schalke 04, Bosman), Ragnar Klavan (Augsburg, £4m), Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle United, £23.5m)
Significant departures: Jordon Ibe (Bournemouth, £15m), Martin Skrtel (Fenerbahce, £5m), Joe Allen (Stoke City, £13m), Brad Smith (Bournemouth, £3.5m), Jon Flanagan (Burnley, Loan), Kolo Toure (Celtic, Bosman)
Jürgen Klopp faces an unenviable task – he and we know Liverpool’s psyche is rotten, where rampant self-loathing is fomented by their unfulfilled sense of entitlement. Not to come over all Oliver Stone on another conspiracy theory rant after his fifth line of cocaine, but Klopp’s submissiveness to Liverpool’s owners and their brazen penny pinching has no shot at lancing that boil, and will ultimately see him become FSG’s next patsy.
FSG have Liverpool fan’s desperation for any avenue of hope thoroughly sussed and are milking their loyalty to club by offering them a new one regularly, whether it be a new manager, or a new structure to improve the club’s moronically pious and illogical recruitment policy. It’s a variant of a simple business strategy: when a business is failing and the consumers are becoming wary – rebrand it.
They deserve an immense amount of credit for their ability to manipulate their ‘consumers’. They’ve managed to complete a conversion faith amongst the masses too, splicing the euphoria of Klopp’s arrival, as the fans were desperate for any kind of evidence of how relevant the club’s name still is, with his resolute self-belief and track record in unheralded and youth player development, and seamlessly transposing their monetisation formula as being synonymous with Klopp’s ethos in the transfer market.
I suspect that at some point during the season Klopp’s going to realise that your average football fan in England, as well as the cultural expectations around top level football in general, are just too vacuous and fickle for what he wants to try to do. Nobody expected him to work miracles at Dortmund, but because of what he did there they now do at Liverpool. As we’ve seen with Arsene Wenger, attempting to build a side while resisting or even eschewing the capitalist faith, and then failing, as most do, is portrayed as arrogance, or even worse, a form of intellectual vanity.
But fuck the context and what it means, the summer signings to date just smack of mediocrity and doing things on the relative cheap, and as with past transfer windows this leaves Liverpool with many defective players. The weaknesses in that horror show of a second half against Sevilla in the Europa League final remain; Jordan Henderson’s a fraud who interprets the central midfield position the way as Labrador who was deprived oxygen at birth would, and he’s still the club captain. The homeless man’s Shay Given, Simon Mignolet, will start the season in goal. Nobody knows if their centre-backs are up to it. Their midfield is a sieve with little ability to facilitate the quick transitions Klopp demands. Sure, they’ve got quality in attack and will score goals, but they had that last season too and finished eighth.
As a pre scientology Tom Cruise said in the movie Cocktail “all things end badly, otherwise they wouldn’t end”. This is going to end badly, and this season will just be the beginning. Let’s just hope that when the Liverpool fans mistakenly turn their coats on Klopp, a good guy who loves what he does, in a biblically ugly fashion, that he isn’t demoralised by it.
Last season: 1st
2016/17 Season Prediction: 6th
Significant arrivals: Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96, £3m), Luis Hernandez (Sporting Gijon, Bosman), Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, £17m), Nampalys Mendy (Nice, £13m), Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia Krakow, £7.5m)
Significant departures: N’Golo Kante (Chelsea, £30m), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim £8.5m)
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.” – Socrates
That’s Socrates the philosopher, not the footballer, though in this case it would’ve been much better if it had come from the chain smoking Brazilian maestro, wouldn’t it?
So why sixth? It’s half the way point between where they finished last season and the season before last. Point being, I have absolutely no clue what happens next, so it seems like the wisest and most craven prediction I could possibly make.
Last season: 2nd
2016/17 Season Prediction: 5th
Significant arrivals: Victor Wanyama (Southampton, £11m), Vincent Janssen (AZ Alkmaar, £18.5m)
Significant departures: Alex Pritchard (Norwich City, £8m)
Going close, the most damaging thing is to believe that going from first to second largely depends on things under your own control, namely, improving your own performance in isolation will be enough. No two seasons are the same, things fluctuate, and there’s a good chance most of what will happen this season will not mirror the last.
And we all know it, even if we aren’t prepared to accept it. Last season was their opportunity and watching their laughable petulance at Samford Bridge in late April you get the impression that the Spurs players understood this, but had no way to repudiate and purge it in a satisfying manner. They blew it, drawing too many matches, including that one.
Simplistic and selective it may be, but the mathematics can’t be disputed – two draws get you fewer points than a win and a loss. So, are Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama the players to change some of these draws into wins? Probably not, as they aren’t certain starters, but they do provide better depth which Spurs will need with Champions League football, which just adds to the different challenge they’ll face this season. Given the prize money involved they won’t be able to justify sacking it off, as they did with the Europa League last season. Will Pochettino shade his approach towards committing more numbers in attack? Does he need to? Maybe his tactics were their strength, and it’s the lack of quality they have in certain positions that betrayed them? The latter’s my suspicion. Perhaps some of those draws will become defeats and wins anyway, that last season was bad luck, an anomaly, and they’ll regress to the mean and all that? But those are complacent justifications and Pochettino doesn’t strike me as the sort to leave things to chance. He’s proactive in his own measured way.
One that last point, I find it absolutely staggering that Spurs and Pochettino haven’t, and seem to be in no great rush to, improve their options at the full back positions. There’s plenty to admonish about Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, that they’re even rated at all, or how utterly oblivious they are to common sense. Their playing style can only be described as hunter gatherer brain chemistry attempting to be constrained by bourgeois modernity – for example there’s nothing more disingenuously bourgeois than sticking a mobile phone up your arse in a dogging zone of your local park. Though subjecting Kyle ‘if he didn’t have pace he’d be an ex Phones4U employee’ Walker to such torture, or pleasure, depends on how it’s done, may improve his awareness of his defensive positioning. Anything’s worth trying with that clown.
There is progression, however, as Levy hasn’t sold Harry Kane, or anyone remotely of value, and Pochettino has extended his contract. Though, there’s still time for the former to change, but it appears Levy’s content to pocket the extra TV revenue instead. He’ll say that had Spurs won their battle to move into London’s biggest modern legacy of shame, the Olympics, taking the title from the Millennium Stadium, in particular its white elephant of an Olympic Stadium, that more money would be available for players. All I’ll say is that this man is a friend and associate of the horrible grasping cunt that is Philip Green. Glean from that what you will.
We’ll see if this form of disingenuous stability equates to sustainability, or improvement, and also, whether they stick with it, as most clubs tend not to if the results aren’t immediately favourable. I suspect a lot of the online self-proclaimed amateur intellectuals would like this to be the case, as it means conventional wisdom and our perception of it as a fact, can be lazily conflated. But in this context I don’t think they’ll be allowed to. More than ever winning football matches in the Premier League is about having the individual quality that can puncture through the current vogue of neuvo-catenaccio that most mid-table clubs employ to survive. Spurs, as last season showed emphatically, still don’t have enough quality to consistently do that.
Last season: 10th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 4th
Significant arrivals: Antonio Conte (Manager, Italian national team), N’Golo Kante (Leicester City, £30m), Michy Batshuayi (Marseille, £33m)
Significant departures: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth, Loan), Bertrand Traore (Ajax, Loan), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland, £8m), Mohamed Salah (Roma, £13m)
No team underachieved more last season, now they’re managed by a serial overachiever, both as a player and a manager, in Antonio Conte. I like this hiring. Even so, picking a team to go from ninth to first seems, I dunno, unfeasible and unreasonable, but then so was picking Leicester City to win the league last summer.
This is also an opportunity to either promote or dispel the narrative that having no Champions League football is directly correlates to improved Premier League results. Personally, for clubs such as Chelsea, who are accustomed to be being in the Champions League, and have a squad built for it, I think such a hopeful proposition is complete tosh. This debate has arisen due to recent examples; Liverpool in 2013/14, who finished second (largely thanks to Luis Suarez having one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen), Manchester United in 2014/15, who finished fourth (mainly thanks to Liverpool imploding after monetising Suarez) and of course Leicester City last season, who were a complete outlier. Whichever angle you come at it from Chelsea’s decline was inexplicable, even with Mourinho engendering animosity and the club taking the eye off the ball to some extent (the squad needed to get younger); they were the defending champions for fuck’s sake.
Expect Antonio Conte to focus on bringing Chelsea’s identity back – solid defending in numbers with quick counter attacks. N’Golo Kante should provide energy to a midfield that was lacking, and on that point Conte won’t put up with Fabregas’s ‘I’ll try when I like’ bullshit from last season. Whether selling Diego Costa and replacing him Romelu Lukaku, as mooted, is an upgrade in talent is questionable, but it may be a better stylistic fit for Conte’s tactics.
It wouldn’t surprise me if they challenged for the league and even won it. The talent is still there.
Last season: 5th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 3rd
Significant arrivals: Jose Mourinho (Manager, last managed Chelsea in November of last year), Eric Bailly (Villarreal, £32m), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG, Bosman), Paul Pogba (Juventus, £90m, just the £90m), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund, £35m)
Significant departures: Victor Valdes (Middlesbrough, Bosman), Paddy McNair (Sunderland, £4.5m), Adnan Januzaj (Sunderland, Loan)
Ed Woodward is clearly a desperate man. His last two hires have failed to reach the Champions League in two out of the last three seasons. How else can we view him bringing in the Special Needs One, Jose Mourinho, a walking disgrace as per the video above, who’s openly despised by some United legends, and whose track record of long term sustainability is at odds with the tradition and vision of United’s greatest most successful and longest serving managers, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson? How does giving Zlatan Ibrahimovic, aged thirty-four, an obscene amount of money, help the development of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford? Is spending £100m (or whatever it ends up being) on Paul Pogba (what? It’s finally over?), a player they sold for £800k four years ago, really necessary? Every single one of these moves comes across as excessively flash, just as a former A list celebrity fallen on hard times would choose to degrade themselves on reality TV shows. Either that or it’s akin to a desperate midlife crisis complex where you try to relive your past glories with even more extravagance to compensate for something that cannot be reclaimed. You acquiesce to vanity and materialism, you get a tummy tuck, hair transplant, buy yourself a Russian wife twenty years your junior and you and her matching his and hers convertibles. But does it equate to happiness, or does the Russian wifey eventually pay to have you killed?
What we can be happy about is that Jose Mourinho finally gets to work with Marouane Fellaini, it’s a spiritual, philosophical union of sociopathic nastiness and cheating.
More importantly, how will Rooney and Ibrahimovic co-exist? Will it lead to United scoring more? They scored a pathetic forty-nine goals last season. We know Mourinho isn’t inclined to expansive, bold football, but even so it’s hard to imagine United failing to transcend that total, though this could be offset by some regression at the back, where United were very good last season, thanks largely to David De Gea.
Sadly, Mourinho’s already up to his usual shithousery. It was odd that he talked of it taking time to move away from Van Gaal’s tactics, when they’re awfully similar. Being employed again allows him to partake in a favourite hobby of his – taking swipes at Arsene Wenger, as this quote emphasises “What matters to me is only what happens in my house, not the house of my neighbour.” His fascination with Wenger is peculiar. Why does a man who’s won so much care about the opinions of someone who is publicly derided by many for failing to win the competitions Mourinho does so regularly? It can’t be adulation, which is a necessity for Mourinho’s ego, as Mourinho is fawned over significantly more due to being the embodiment of unashamed Thatcherite success, and a gift for a vacuous twenty-four news channel that’s frantic at the thought of its chosen medium losing its lofty place in the sports news market. My take – Mourinho’s perpetually afraid of Wenger beating him by spending significantly less cash and by playing a more enticing brand of football. Then the question would be posed, could Mourinho do that in the Premier League? He’s doing everything he can to sell the idea that his career in management, since he left Porto, hasn’t been unduly aided by staggering advantages over most of his competitors, and that such advantages are entirely fair due to who he is. Nobody would argue he isn’t good at what he does, but for someone who believes they’re the best at it, anything that questions this narrative is a threat.
Regardless of the ensuing circus, I’ll hedge my bets here. Mourinho tends to bring immediate improvement wherever he lands and that should mean Champions League qualification. This is all Ed Woodward and the Glazers care about, because it means they can continue to sell the lie to their ‘commercial partners’ that Manchester United’s ‘product’ is still matching its elite business status.
Last season: 4th
2016/17 Season Prediction: 2nd
Significant arrivals: Pep Guardiola (Manager, Bayern Munich), Nolito (Celta Vigo, £15m), Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras, £27m – but doesn’t arrive until January), Leroy Sane (Schalke 04, £42m), John Stones (Everton, £47m), Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund, £23m), Stevan Jovetic (Internazionale, End of loan)
Significant departures: Edin Dzeko (Roma, £9m), Martin Demichelis (Espanyol, Bosman)
Finally, all those Sky Sport acolyte Little Englander sceptics of Pep Guardiola’s foreign sophistication successfully translating to ‘our football’ (a wince inducing favourite phrase of Graeme Souness) will be put to the test. Well, maybe. He’s pitched up at Manchester City, who have unlimited funds, and some quite good players that were involved in their last title win three years ago, so there’s a get out for them if City win the league. If Guardiola wins the Champions league, which you suspect is his main brief, to exalt the vanity of the owners, they have nowhere to go.
Somehow, despite all the resources City have, this squad feels incomplete. Joe Hart is an average keeper. There’s still no reliable backup for Sergio Aguero, who, brilliant though he is, has been prone to muscle injuries. Wilfried Bony hasn’t panned out, and may not be Guardiola’s type anyway. Leroy Sane is an upgrade on Sterling, or he is at the moment. Sane’s hasn’t been mercilessly picked apart, but it’ll happen soon enough. The fee for John Stones was laughable and necessitated, partly, by City’s lack of home grown players, another reductive FA obsession that has its roots in latent xenophobia. Ilkay Gundogan could be the real difference maker here, he has the skill and vision that City have lacked in midfield for years now, but, as with Aguero, there’s a history of serious injuries, can he stay fit? We know that Stevan Jovetic, who’s returned from a loan spell at Internazionale, cannot.
If Aguero can stay fit for the first half of the season, then City are sitting pretty, as this lad (below)* is set to arrive in January, and he looks, well, electric?
*Yeah, I know, I’m a hypocritical twat. I’ve just posted the kind of YouTube compilation that the Twitteratti, Football Manager playing, academy crèche voyeurs cry wank over.
Anyway, City should win the league, they have all the advantages imaginable and they have the most talent. But, well, if you’re going to be contrarian, you might as well go for gold…
Last season: 2nd
2016/17 Season Prediction: 1st
Significant arrivals: Granit Xhaka (£30m, Borussia Monchengladbach)
Significant departures: None, unless you consider the corpses that are Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky to be of any value.
You know what? Fuck it. Nobody’s gonna read this anyway, or, to be more forgiving to myself, they’re not going to read this far.
Yeah, I fully accept that the guffawing scepticism of such a prediction isn’t misplaced. It’s quite rational; they’re short of depth at centre back again, they still don’t have a reliable alternative to Olivier Giroud, and the injuries haven’t waited until the mid-season point to pile up, but, well, how do I explain…
Arsene Wenger’s predicament can be compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s; some of his own are his biggest detractors, who think he must change his dogma because it won’t succeed. Those who vehemently oppose him, and the disaffected who support the party (or team – for the sake of the analogy) but not him, deride him for being (relatively, but actually) pseudo communist. They’re convinced this (but not their disingenuous form of watered down Blairism) is incompatible with me-first aspirational free market consumerism which most appeals to the bloated middle class mythical floating voters. After all, so goes the rationale, why should anyone do without, especially when you don’t have to? The scepticism is a latent fear that his success will expose the appealing to aspiration is necessary myth, and specific to the footballing context, that if you’re lacking something, you must spend money to fix it. Fans want success, and in an era of instant multi-media access which has made it easier to gorge yourself on your chosen obsession, they want it as quickly as possible. For fans, spending money to rectify the team’s current deficiencies always appears to be the simplest route. Leicester City bucking the trend was a black eye for the aspirational whiners, but if Arsenal and Arsene Wenger win the title this year, it’s a full blown crisis of confidence for the forum and Twitteratti transfer window solutionists, and, even better, the cult and cultists of Sky fucking Sports.
What we can do is learn to be balanced, where the truth is more likely to lurk. Much like the Parliamentary Labour Party’s attempt to ouster Corbyn is a dogmatic endeavour based on a perception that they assume voters want what they do, and something which is not a fact until it’s tested, that he can’t win an election, so too we can try to apply a balanced argument to Wenger’s reticence to buy instead of developing. What’s wrong with admitting that spending more cash is a good indicator of success, but that it isn’t definitive? I suspect Wenger will end up taking the balanced approach, Arsenal will buy the centre back they need before the end of August, they may even buy another striker. Add this to Granit Xhaka, who has already arrived to bolster the depth and tenacity in central midfield, and the strength of the squad could look very different a month from now.
Despite this entire column being full of cynical and patronising commentary, why not end it on a romantic note? Leicester City’s league title win followed by a much maligned Arsene Wenger leading Arsenal to their first title in over a decade would do much to destroy the destructive modern clichés and myths which have enchained English and Premier League football. It might, just might, permeate and enlighten the common views of what it truly takes, beyond having money, to succeed in football ‘on the island’. Expose enough of them and the fashion may change, and the football might just start to match the hype that’s created a defective morass.