So yeah, another season. Time flies, doesn’t it?
And during transfer season so does the money. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss where it’s going and to who.
I’d imagine many of you were left aghast by last summer’s grotesque, excessive, vacuous, often profligate, and quintessentially Tory spending in the transfer market. Well, this summer’s spending, and the associated media hype that this level of unregulated consumerism masquerading as competition (laughably, this is Financial Fair Play according to UEFA) is enviably aspirational, will probably heighten your exasperation still more.
We all understand the mechanisms of inflation – an entity’s value is driven by its perception, supply and demand. It’s the rate of inflation in football that’s becoming a nebulous concept. The mistaken scepticism many fans on median incomes hold of football’s current economic sustainability occurs when attempting to relate the industry’s rate of inflation with normalcy.
To compensate for this growing disparity we forlornly and piously point to other examples of shock market corrections – the housing market, or banks trading hollow Derivatives, to enrich the delusion that a one will soon descend on football and ground its avarice. But when clubs such as Everton, who play at the antiquated Goodison Park (the most polite euphemism possible – it’s a dilapidated shithole), have paid £30m for Jordan Pickford (who has thirty odd Premier League games in his career) and is being encouraged by Swansea City to bid £50m for Glyfi Sigurdsson, you’ll wonder if it’ll ever come. And if it does, so what? There’s currently another housing bubble on the go, and banks and bankers are still paying themselves exorbitant bonuses for ‘creating wealth’.
The recent transfer of Neymar to Paris St. Germain offers us a point of reference for the new normal. Many are bemoaning it as excessive and damaging, but think about this – if Kyle Walker is worth £50m, then surely Neymar, a significantly better player who plays a far more influential position, is worth at least four times that? Two wrongs don’t make a right, but juxtaposing both deals appropriately contextualises the current market, and makes the fee paid for Neymar seem logical.
Not to go all Adam Smith, because I, as with most others, find economics boring, but the Premier League and those who occupy the highest echelon of the Champions League food chain definitely belong to a partial equilibrium. Just as we all need and want better houses, and mortgages and credit cards to be reliable consumers, and because of their popularity, demand and necessity, and proclivity for raking in huge revenues, like football, they are made immune from absolute collapse. Sure, they can be hijacked by greed to the point where it threatens to veer out of control, but ultimately we’ll forgive, forget and (maybe) tweak the laws and regulations after a government inquiry, because these are things we can’t live without.
I can’t live without a good game of football or my writing, so this annual tradition, the only tradition this blog has, continues. It’s true that nobody wants to read any article of over a thousand words anymore. So, unlike past editions, in an effort to conform, I’m going to focus on my projected top six. They’re basically the six clubs who ‘matter’. And yes, they’re the richest clubs. They spend the most, have the best players, the best managers, and receive the most attention. They also have the most clickbaity drooling on a bar stool takes written by hacks and frauds on the utterly cynical and dreadful ESPN about them.
But before that, here’s how the have nots will finish – because if you’re in the business of making terrible predictions, you should be thorough about it:
19. Swansea City
18. Brighton & Hove Albion
16. Newcastle United
13. West Bromwich Albion
12. Crystal Palace
10. Stoke City
9. Leicester City
8. West Ham United
Now, to the teams that actually have a shot at winning the league
Right now things don’t look too bad. They could easily be much worse. Sanchez and Ozil are still in situ. Lacazette has been signed and should be an upgrade over the Welbeck/Giroud/Walcott morass. In most circumstances this might be cause for optimism, but this is Arsenal. The fans are fed up of the club’s frugalness. Sanchez, Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain are in the final year of their contracts, and all could be sold before the end of August for the right price. The central midfield options, Ramsey aside, look thoroughly mediocre. Jack Wilshere’s all but finished at this point and the squad’s key defensive players, namely Cech and Koscielny, are past their meridian now with no reliable alternatives currently available in the squad. Talk of further signings has petered out and, for the first time in eons, there’s no Champions League football, which has acted as life-raft to maintain a tiresome narrative of financial stability igniting future ambitiousness.
Bottom line, there’s far more scope for calamity than success. I’m a huge Arsene Wenger admirer (and not only because he’s a reformed child-snatcher), but quite why he’s subjecting himself to this scornful scrutiny, partly due to operating in a reserved manner during a climate of extreme market inflation, is, from the outside, unclear. He must love his job and the game, or he’s just determined to prove a point to the bitter end.
And it will be bitter.
Speaking of proving a point, Jürgen Klopp’s at it too. But ultimately what good will it do him and Liverpool?
Despite being a staunch advocate of player development as a road to improvement rather than just blithely signing players, at the end of last season Klopp stated he wanted (needed?) five or six signings. So far he has three, and the two he wanted most, Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita, haven’t been signed and don’t look as though they will be.
And that’s an issue, for a number of reasons. Liverpool fans crave league title success every season, despite the club consistently not spending enough or keeping its best talent to expect it.
They, FSG – Liverpool’s owners – know that Jürgen’s patient, and not a whinger. Therefore Klopp presents a nasty predicament – he’s the best manager Liverpool have had since Rafael Benitez. However, his diplomacy and ethos allows FSG to fleece the club and extort the fans. The pretence of their narrative has been established: that it is Klopp’s choice, not FSG, or the ineptitude of the footballing apparatus they’ve provided to ‘assist’ him, that’s responsible for their perpetual transfer inertia. One wonders what Klopp will think privately if there are no more signings before the end of the window. If not, Klopp’s affable public persona may evaporate quickly.
Thankfully Liverpool will be exciting to watch again. But, in terms of title contention, the club has the look of a pretender, a second-rater. The squad’s still weak and their defence will continue to be mediocre, a problem that all but one of my projected top four doesn’t have.
4. Tottenham Hotspur
Speaking of inactivity…but this lot are the winners of the summer. Why should Spurs be immune from stagnation, when Arsenal and Liverpool and Manchester United, through post-Ferguson ineptitude, have shown what its result tends to be? But that’s the narrative they’re being afforded by many. My theory – continuity becomes an envious virtue when Englishness is in its vanguard and it provides a vehicle for Brexiter xenophobia to be projected. You wonder what Spurs could achieve, and might have, if they found at least one player who was as productive as Alli and Kane, but from a wide position. They’ve certainly tried over the last few years to find such a player since they sold Gareth Bale, with limited success.
Mind you priorities, and that, innit? Spurs have to fund that new stadium of theirs. Then they can charge their fans more, and more of them, every home game, allowing that awful grasping twatcunt ‘Sir’ Philip Green to make even more money. What a shame.
3. Manchester United
The sociopathic eye gouging and shitcoat wearing amalgamation of Alan Pardew and Patrick Bateman is as insufferably cuntish, myopic and hypocritical as ever with his batshit proto-fascistic shtick. United fans will put up with his prickly diva nature and regimented brand of football because he’s seamlessly woven both aspects together, one necessitates the other you see, and it tends to produce trophies.
But I suspect most United fans – and perhaps most of their players too – secretly loathe him. If and when the success stops the resentment that they’ve had to begrudgingly conceal for all that time will become public.
Is Romelu Lukaku worth £75m? He’s nowhere near as gifted on the ball as Ibrahimovic. While Ibrahimovic may have scored seventeen league goals, you wonder if United might be better served by Lukaku’s mobility and willingness to use it in space over Ibrahimovic’s gravitational instincts to the ball during build-up play. While he would’ve cost a good deal more, Harry Kane would’ve been a better choice I reckon. Cash is one thing United are not short of.
Some criticised the signing of Matic as another example of Mourinho’s desire to prioritise the short term for his own benefit (which explains, partially, the motivation for virtually every managerial decision ever taken), but with Matic you know what you’re getting. Plus, anything that reduces Fellaini’s involvement on a football pitch is welcome, for them and us.
For what’s it worth, I think it’ll be a close fight between all four of the clubs I have placed between sixth and third, and they could finish in any order. I’ve put United third because I feel very confident that Antony Martial will rebound, resuscitating his reputation as one of the most promising younger players around. And being a Mourinho side, they’ll have either the best or second best defence again (they had the best last season), and that tends to get you a top four spot.
However, I don’t see United or any of the other three sustaining a challenge for the league. It’ll be fought between…
Who concisely sum up the new transfer market reality – I’m not convinced they’ve actually improved their first eleven despite spending roughly £150m on three new players. They’ve yet to sign a replacement or competition for Victor Moses at right wing back. The suspicion here is he’ll regress, because, well, until last season he hadn’t been decent never mind good for years.
It’s unlikely they’ll go on a similar run of victories as they enjoyed last season, but like last season I fully expect them to excel defensively, conceding few goals (they had the third best defence last season), a formula that keeps you in games. I just don’t see them scoring eighty-five goals again. Alvaro Morata has never been a prolific goal scorer, and while Chelsea fans might deride Diego Costa’s treachery today, I think they’ll soon bemoan the affect the absence of his intensity will have on the team’s attacking play, as well as its boost to their opponent’s comfort and morale at not having to face the nasty swine.
1. Manchester City
Now this is a team that will score a shitload of goals, and it’ll need to if they’re to win the title, therefore protecting Pep Guardiola’s anointed genius status intact. Just what good is Bernardo Silva to you when you already have David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and LeRoy Sane? I don’t know, but I’m sure Guardiola will find some use for him, and with all that creative talent he’s under no pressure to adapt immediately.
Signing Kyle Walker didn’t make sense. He’s a £50m imbecile, who, if there was any justice in the universe, would have Stephen Hawking’s body. The fee is, as for most English payers, the result of the FA’s reductive home grown quota rules. Thankfully Guardiola manages Manchester City, who has more money than sense, and he was sensible enough to sign another right back. Bernard Mendy is a significant upgrade over the Kolarov and Clichy shit show on the other flank.
Despite all of this spending, the team and squad still appear to have inadequacies. The current midfield pairing is likely to be a combination of Yaya Toure, who can’t or simply isn’t willing to cover the yards in midfield, a past his prime Fernandinho, or Ilkay Gundogan, who is coming off another significant injury. We should expect another signing here.
Central defence is the biggest concern, we know John Stones can’t defend, we have ample evidence now. This won’t be a problem if Vincent Kompany can stay fit, but he hasn’t for the last two years. Perhaps City will gazump Chelsea and Liverpool for Virgil Van Dijk? I think they should, just to be safe.
Nonetheless, these are first world problems, which is appropriate, given Manchester City are backed by a sovereign wealth fund who have invested the GDP of a third world African country on transfer fees, player and staff wages and agent fees. At some point such sustained insanity must produce a sane result.