Posts Tagged ‘man city’
It’s not without a sense of irony that the high cost of tickets for Premier League matches was thrust into the spotlight by Manchester City supporters.
The £62 ticket price for a ticket to watch their team play away to Arsenal was no more than Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs have had to pay for the equivalent fixture. In fact, when considering that those four clubs have consistently provided Arsenal with their biggest games of the season, visiting fans of that quartet will have had to pay top prices at Arsenal for as long as the Premier League has existed.
Man City will likely be the only one of that group of clubs rated by Arsenal as “Category A” opponents who don’t have 3,000 fans willing to pay such a high price, and for a club whose fans have often boasted about both their numbers and their loyalty – as was often the case whilst averaging 28,000 in League One – it’s surprising that there isn’t high enough demand to sell their full ticket quota for their first visit to the Emirates as Premier League champions.
However, when considering that even a must-win match in the Champions League was played out in front of almost 8,000 vacant sky blue coloured seats, perhaps the club simply don’t have the size of following that has previously been claimed. There could have been no complaints at the £35 cost of a ticket for the clash with Ajax – especially when compared to the 80€ admission cost of the reverse fixture.
The other irony about the issue having been forced by Man City fans is that clubs like Arsenal have been affected more than most by the wealth of cash thrown around firstly by Chelsea, and then, more recently, Man City themselves.
In racking up huge annual losses through the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds directly from the pockets of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, both Chelsea and Man City enjoyed the kind of spending power with which no sensibly run club could compete.
In a short space of time, Arsenal went from having consistently been one of best teams in the land, to one which could no longer compete with the best at the league’s summit. Most of the club’s star players have opted to leave due to the lack of silverware, and with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules due to take effect from next year, Arsenal face a huge challenge if they’re to strengthen enough to challenge for a league title in the near future.
Of course, none of that may be enough to justify such a high cost of tickets. But if Arsenal are able to demand up to £126 for a single Premier League match and still see the stadium full for almost all of their games, then why should there be any pressure to lower their matchday prices? Why shouldn’t Arsenal be allowed to maximise their income in such a highly competitive sport? And why should they be condemned for simply trying to compete with clubs who have been fortunate enough to find themselves bankrolled by foreign multi-billionaires?
Last year’s league titles in Spain and England were won by the two costliest football squads in history, and the Champions League won by the next biggest spenders over the last few years.
All three of those successful teams were able to invest heavily before the new financial rules take effect. Man City fans might do well to recognise that they, like Chelsea and Real Madrid, were able to spend vast sums of money in a way that their rivals couldn’t match at the time, and won’t be allowed to in the future.
Arsenal are simply one of a number of clubs doing whatever they can to remain as financially competitive as possible. And in an imperfect footballing world, no one should blame them for that.
The best league in the world. The most popular league in the world.
Both are common phrases to hear, when describing the English Premier League. Of course, they’re almost always used by British journalists or ex-players covering the English game on TV.
The recent announcement of the FIFpro World XI for 2012 was heavily criticised by many of those same British-based experts, after it consisted entirely of footballers playing for clubs in the Spanish Primera Liga.
How could it be possible that the Premier League was not represented, they asked? There were no questions of why the team included no players from the German Bundesliga, or Italy’s Serie A. But then they aren’t considered as being the best league in the world.
The most controversial omission was Robin Van Persie, who was the best player in England during 2012. He was overlooked, legitimately, in favour of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao. The first two require no justification, though even Falcao managed to outscore Van Persie over the calendar year – as well as making a significant contribution to Atletico Madrid’s Europa League and European Super Cup wins.
There’s no question that the English league is the most hyped in the world, and it may even be true that it’s the most popular. After all, the revenue generated from worldwide TV rights are unmatched by any other top flight football league.
Whether it is the best though, is an entirely different question.
La Liga is generally seen as the next best league – again, based usually on the judgement of English-based experts alone. So in explaining the reasons why the Premier League rules, it is merely a case of those very people detailing why it is better than La Liga.
The main arguments usually include one or more of the following:
- English football is more entertaining to watch;
- There are only two strong teams in Spain;
- Every game in England is competitive, regardless of the gulf in class between the two competing sides;
- There is a better atmosphere in the stadiums;
- Most of the world’s best players play in England
Some of the above statements are often used with such conviction that they cannot possibly be false, but there is plenty that can be said in support of Spain’s case for having the strongest football league in Europe.
In Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga contains arguably the two best club sides in the world. Neither are invincible, but there wouldn’t generally be too many people who would strongly disagree with that assessment.
The strength of those two teams in itself doesn’t reflect the general health of the league, but a look at the performances of Spain’s teams in Europe over the last decade certainly points to a depth in the quality of teams further down the league.
Results in European competition are one of the few ways in which the strength of a given league can be truly measured and compared. Doing so would only lead to a conclusion pointing very much towards Spain rather than the Premier League.
Since 2000, six Champions League finals have included a Spanish club, five of them won by the team from La Liga. The other was Valencia’s 2001 penalty shoot-out defeat to Bayern Munich. The most recent three occasions have seen Barcelona triumph over English opposition.
In the UEFA Cup/Europa league over that time, nine different Spanish teams have reached at least the semi final, and there have been two all-Spanish finals. Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have each won the competition twice since 2005, and Valencia lifted the trophy in 2004.
In contrast, only six different English representatives have made it to the last four, and not since Liverpool defeated Alaves in 2001 has the Premier League delivered a winner.
For a league considering itself so strong, the performance of English teams in the Europa League has been quite dreadful. Every club in the top nine places of La Liga in 2010/11 had experience of competing in a recent a European semi final, though it’d be almost unimaginable for the same to be true of the Premier League.
Based on present league placings, such a scenario would have to have seen the likes of Swansea, West Brom and Everton mixing it with the continent’s best, while even Man City have so far failed to make any kind of impression on European competition despite resources that perhaps only one or two clubs in the world can match.
Middlesbrough and Fulham did managed to achieve some continental success by reaching finals in 2005 and 2010 respectively, though neither had to face Spanish opposition until the final. Both were beaten – emphatically in Middlesbrough’s case.
The only other argument from those above that I will address is that of how competitive the matches within each league are deemed to be. Is it really true that Real Madrid and Barcelona have games where they only have to turn up to win, whereas Manchester United and Man City have to fight much harder for any points earned?
It may appear that English games are more competitive, but is that based more on the style of football? Does the fact that English teams adopt a more physical approach give an impression that smaller teams compete better against the top teams in England than in Spain?
If results were compared, it would be difficult to see any noticeable difference.
How often do any of the teams near the bottom of the table cause any problem to one of the title contenders, in either country?
Wigan’s win against Man United last spring comes immediately to mind, but there are few other examples to offer from recent seasons. Barcelona were near unbeatable in the 2010/11 season but still lost 2-0 at home to Hercules, who were relegated and won only one other away game during the remainder of the season. Evidence that hugely surprising results do occur in Spain, too.
It was said of QPR’s win over Chelsea earlier this month that the result was further proof of something which simply wouldn’t happen in Spain. But Chelsea haven’t been consistent this season to keep up with the top two and are a long way off the league leaders.
Even in the two weeks since then, Real Madrid have been held to a goalless draw by bottom of the table Osasuna. Meanwhile, amongst the points dropped by Madrid last season on their way to the title were draws against Villarreal and Racing Santander – both of whom went on to be relegated.
In Barcelona, the likes of Messi, Iniesta et al. have helped the club to a record-breaking first half of the season. A first league defeat did finally occur yesterday, and it was to 12th placed Real Sociedad – a team who made Real Madrid work extremely hard to hold on for a 4-3 win during the previous round of fixtures.
There’s a lot for football fans to admire about the Premier League, but to boast that it is the best in Europe, or to dismiss so much that the Spanish league has to offer only goes to highlight an English bias that, beyond one’s personal preference, appears to be very hard to justify.
Regardless of the comments or excuses offered by Roberto Mancini, Manchester City’s performance in the Champions League has been dreadful.
As is widely reported, City have recorded the lowest points total of any English club in the history of the competition.
They were the first English club who have failed to win any of their six group games.
And, before any excuses are heard about the difficulty of the group that Man City were in, it should be noted that only once in 18 campaigns have a team from Scotland performed worse in a Champions League group.
When the Champions League draw was made in August, Borussia Dortmund were always going to be a side who would through any group wide open. They were, due to a weak European record in recent seasons, amongst the fourth seeds of clubs.
For Man City to be in a group with not only the highly regarded German champions, but also Real Madrid was certainly unfortunate. But for all of Mancini’s complaints of the task facing his own players, shouldn’t the same have been said about their rivals, too?
Neither Real Madrid nor Borussia Dortmund would have welcomed having to play against the winners of the Premier League – the most costly team of superstars ever put together by an English club.
Ajax wouldn’t have relished any of their fixtures, and before a ball was kicked would probably have settled for third place as a reasonable achievement. That Frank de Boer’s team also gave Man City a European footballing lesson only adds to the sense that Mancini and his players have greatly disappointed.
There are frequent references to the seeding system, but Man City, amongst the third seeds last year, were among the eight clubs in the second pot of seeds.
If anyone at the club wants to be higher, they need to earn it by winning games in Europe. A top seeding is one thing that money cannot buy, as Real Madrid themselves found out after slipping out of the top seeds in 2010 following years of under achievement. Juventus, too, are in the process of fighting their way back to the top from a lowly position in the rankings, and have faced a tough group of their own with Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Man City will get another chance next year, no doubt. But surely there will be questions asked of whether Mancini is the man to lead them through another campaign, because little seems to have been learned from last season’s European collapse.
And whatever he might say to the contrary, this season’s showing has been an embarrassment.
Another season of top flight football begins tomorrow, and it’s the time when everyone is out to prove their knowledge of the game by making bold predictions for the next 9 months.
However, there is frequently a touch of the unexpected in all sports and football is no different. How many people would have confidently placed Newcastle in contention for a Champions League spot last season? At the other end of the table, correctly guessing the teams who will be relegated is perhaps the most difficult of all Premier League predictions.
So, following some mixed fortunes last year, here are my 2012/13 Premier League predictions.
Champions: Manchester City
My hope for this season is that the title is a bit more closely contested throughout the whole season. There can’t possibly be a final day to match the drama of last season, but before each of the Manchester clubs had taken turns in throwing away big leads at the Premier League summit, it had looked as though Man City would be wrapping up the league championship with half-a-dozen games to spare.
Most of the pressure coming City’s way is likely to be applied by local rivals Man United, as well as from big-spending Chelsea. Each of those two sides will be boosted by star signings such as Eden Hazard and Oscar at Chelsea, and Robin Van Persie at Man United, but the overall squad strength of Man City is the reason that I consider them still to be the favourites.
As I mentioned at the same stage last year, it’s likely to be City themselves who are the biggest threat to them winning the title, and there’s sure to be something – or someone – to cause unrest within the squad. But they still had just enough to be able to overcome their off-pitch difficulties last season, and I expect that to be the case again.
Top Four: Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool
The top four used to consist regularly of what became known as the big four – Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Everton managed to break-up the establishged quartet in the 2004/5 season, and Tottenham threatened to push Arsenal into fifth place on a couple of occasions. But it wasn’t until Man City really began to demonstrate their power in the transfer market that the “big four” was truly dismantled. City’s surge up the table coincided with Tottenham finally living up to the potential that they’d shown for a number of years, and in successive seasons, both clubs qualified for a first taster of Champions League football.
Liverpool have been the biggest losers of that so far, but Arsenal have also looked to be at risk of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Arsene Wenger, and it seems only a matter of time before they do miss out on the top four.
Liverpool finished the season poorly in the league, but regular bad finishing in front of goal was the primary reason that so many good performances during much of the first two-thirds of the season failed to earn the deserved number of points. For that reason, I don’t consider Liverpool to be too far away from genuinely being able to break back into the top four, although I can’t see them finished higher than fourth.
Tottenham were another club who had a period where results were poor even though the performances themselves were good. Fortunately for Spurs, they were in a strong position to begin with and also finished the season well.
With Arsenal weakened significantly by the loss of Van Persie, I think the race for fourth will be between Spurs and Liverpool. Both have managers who I rate highly, though if Brendan Rodgers can make the slight adjustments needed to help Liverpool turn many of their draws into victories, I predict Liverpool will edge it.
Relegation: Wigan, Southampton, Norwich
Predicting the three teams to go down is almost like picking three random names out of a hat consisting of 10 or 12 clubs. It’s often the case that one or two sides struggle to the point of being written off by Christmas, but it’s not always the most obvious club. Managerial changes can make big differences too, either for the better, such as Fulham appointing Roy Hodgson, or for the worse, such as Wolves’ sacking of Mick McCarthy last season.
It’s rare for all three promoted sides to survive, and of the three clubs to come up last season, only QPR ever looked in danger of the drop. I expect there to be much more discomfort for Norwich and Swansea this year, with both clubs having lost the managers who masterminded such respectable league finishes last term. Of the two, I think Norwich are most at risk, and they looked particularly vulnerable in a few of their matches at the end of the season.
Of the promoted sides, West Ham have enough experience to remain in the top flight. Southampton and Reading only have to look at last season to realise what is possible, but I don’t expect either team to match the mid-table finishes of Norwich or Swansea. Both have prior experience in the Premier League, but having been in League One only 15 months ago, I can see Southampton struggling the most to avoid the drop.
Wigan complete my trio of teams and having enjoyed some of the drama produced by their previous relegation escapes, I’m actually hoping that I’m proved wrong. If Roberto Martinez can see his team getting the kind of results that Wigan were achieving at the end of last season, then perhaps this will be a year without quite as much stress for the Wigan fans.
It’s fair to acknowledge that even when results were bad, Martinez stuck to his style of playing football and it was that which proved the catalyst for wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as at home to Man United. Can Wigan perform like that from the start of the season? Will they cope without the likes of Hugo Rodallega and Mohammed Diame? If so, they have every chance of staying up. But it’s unlikely that even Wigan have any more rabbits to pull out of the hat should they find themselves in such a precarious position again.
The 20th Premier League campaign saw its final round of games yesterday and a chance to reflect on a mixed bag of pre-season predictions.
Back in August, I picked Man United as title winners – purely based on Man City’s unique ability to shoot themselves in the foot whenever they seem to be making progress.
Ironically, after Man City had done exactly that – losing a comfortable lead in the title race and falling eight points behind Man United in April – it was their Manchester rivals who self-destructed, and in doing so left themselves needing a highly improbable combination of results on the final day in order to take the title.
Yet it was a combination of results which looked set to occur at the moment when the final whistle was blown at the Stadium of Light, where Man United had beaten Sunderland.
Man United were technically the league leaders at that stage, with Man City’s home match against QPR still to finish, and with QPR holding a 2-1 advantage as the game entered a second minute of added on time, there was every likelihood that Man United would stay on top.
Even an equalising goal by Edin Dzeko wasn’t enough to swing the title race back in favour of Man City, but an almost immediate winner in the 94th minute by Sergio Aguero sealed one of the most remarkable title wins, and City’s first since the 1960′s.
Chelsea and Liverpool – my picks for 3rd and 4th place – both had disappointing league campaigns, though each club did at least collect some silverware to show for a more impressive showing in knockout competitions.
Arsenal did qualify for the Champions League after a roller-coaster season of their own. Recovering from a poor start, a surge in form put them in pole position for 3rd place before a late wobble almost led to Arsene Wenger’s side throwing it away.
Tottenham’s form was quite the opposite. After a slipping out of contention for the title shortly after the turn of the year, they went on to drop out of the top four altogether before recovering in recent weeks to finish ahead of Newcastle, who lost three of their final four games.
Spurs still have a week to wait in order to discover whether or not their efforts will be enough to see them qualify for the Champions League. A Chelsea win against Bayern Munich would see them, rather than Spurs, claim one of the four slots allocated for English clubs.
Away from the teams battling for the title or for a top four position, I predicted that Everton would be 7th, which they did. Unfortunately for David Moyes’ team, the Carling Cup was won by a side finishing lower in the table, which prevented a Europa League place from being available to the 7th placed team in the league.
Offering predictions as to who will go down is always a risky exercise before the season has kicked off, but only a late Stoke goal denied me a two-out-of-three success rate! Swansea never looked in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, and deserve credit for following the likes of Wigan, Stoke and Reading in surviving a first year in the top flight when so many people expect them to go straight back down.
Bolton’s inability to hold on for a win at Stoke yesterday meant that it was they, rather than QPR, who would go down. They joined Blackburn and Wolves in dropping into the Championship next season.
Blackburn’s miserable 18 month spell in the hands of new owners had already seen them end a 12-year run in the top flight, and after Wolves sacked the man who had kept them in the Premier League during the previous two seasons, they went on a 13 game run without a win to ultimately finish 12 points from safety and end the season rooted to the foot of the table.
For the neutral, it’s been a great end to a season which at one point looked on course to have every major position decided long before the campaign ended.
As a Liverpool fan, it’s just been great to end the season!
Man City claimed the win required to see them move three points clear, but manager Roberto Mancini continues to give the impression of a manager feeling some considerable pressure in the hunt for silverware.
Mancini’s demeanor during pre-match interviews of late has been downbeat, and he persists in bemoaning the lack of points collected in games against West Brom and Sunderland as if some sort of grave injustice had taken place.
Instead, both opponents had simply defended extremely well and, in Sunderland’s case, successfully gambled on sneaking a win at a stage in the game when City would have no time at all to bounce back.
“That’s football”, as Mancini himself conceded in reference to those games, albeit in the tone of a manager who still hasn’t quite recovered from the sheer cheek of West Brom and Sunderland in not allowing City the three points that they were entitled to.
The Italian would do well to remember Man City’s games against Villarreal, who were the better footballing side for much of the sides’ first Champions League meeting but lost to a Sergio Aguero winner with three seconds of injury time remaining, and Liverpool, who dominated during most of the league encounter at Anfield and would have won the game in injury time through Andy Carroll had it not been for a wonder save by Joe Hart.
That Villarreal left Manchester empty-handed, and Liverpool took a point instead of the three they deserved is also “just football”.
Mancini is also allowing refereeing decisions to cause more frustration than they should, and in the space of only two weeks has been at the centre of four separate moments of controversy following decisions by officials.
Against Liverpool two weeks ago, Martin Skrtel conceded a penalty within a minute of Gareth Barry being dismissed for City after two cynical fouls within minutes of each other.
Despite the award of a penalty – highly debatable and which itself could have been turned into a controversial moment, should Liverpool have made much more of it post-match – Skrtel remained on the pitch.
No doubt frustrated by having witnessed the dismissal of one of his own, a decision which he later voiced his disagreement with, Mancini’s response was to wave an imaginary card, urging the officials to issue a red card to the Liverpool defender.
He later apologised for making the much-criticised gesture, promising he wouldn’t do it again.
Such a promise, like many people’s resolutions, lasted a mere seven January days, and the imaginary card surfaced once again in a clash with Liverpool, this time in the Carling Cup.
Having seen his captain sent off for a two footed tackle only days earlier during their FA Cup defeat to Man United, Mancini was incensed that Glenn Johnson escaped sanction for exactly the same thing.
It obviously didn’t cross Mancini’s mind that he had argued strongly against Vincent Kompany’s sending off, claiming it shouldn’t have been a red card. Presumably referees had taken note and therefore didn’t believe that Glenn Johnson’s challenge warranted a red card, either.
Another factor in that incident was in Mancini’s gesture, only days after he’d accused Wayne Rooney of the same thing. The hypocrisy was not lost on Steve Gerrard, who made his feelings towards Mancini known after the game.
Unfortunately, even after the negative press in which Mancini has received, the card-waving gesture resurfaced yet again last night during the latter stages of their narrow victory at Wigan.
Manchester City are in pole position in the league and are still competing in two cup competitions.
For it to remain that way, with four months of the season still to go, Roberto Mancini needs to calm himself down and not take so much to heart because there’ll be more refereeing inconsistencies, and more decisions which seem to go against his team along the way.
But then, that’s just football.
It may be advantage Liverpool after their first leg win last night, but the tie is far from over.
Liverpool though, showed yet again that they can compete with the best and, without making the same kind of mistakes that were evident when the sides met in the league a week ago, were rewarded for their performance.
Roberto Mancini bemoaned the lack of 3 or 4 players, but for Man City to refer to their absentees as any kind of reason for defeat simply highlights that Mancini perhaps isn’t as special a manager as some of his players would try to have us believe.
He has a tremendously talented squad at his disposal, and coping with the absence of key players is part of the game and the job of the manager is to find a solution with the players he has available in reserve.
There’s no doubt that missing Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva is going to weaken any team, but Liverpool were without key players of their own with Suarez suspended and Lucas, Liverpool’s player of the season last year, having been ruled out for the season since November.
In addition, Jay Spearing had to be withdrawn and Steve Gerrard is only recently back from long term injury.
Liverpool haven’t got the same strength in-depth as Man City, but have done what they have to do and simply got on with it.
Man City need to do the same if they’re have any desires of turning the tie around because no-one will have sympathy for a manager whose club have invested over half a billion pounds on players during the last few years.
Why so quiet?
Whilst on the topic of last night’s match, why were there so many empty seats and such a subdued atmosphere in the ground for much of the game, particularly the first half?
The riches invested in achieving Champions League football and competing for the title may have raised expectations, but surely not to the point which has led the fans to appear so disinterested in a semi final match in their own stadium against local rivals?
It may be true that some of the bigger clubs haven’t always prioritized the League Cup, but both Man United and Chelsea have treated it seriously enough to win the competition multiple times in the last few years, despite having bigger trophies still to fight for.
It’s simply the mark of a big club to go for whatever silverware is on offer, particularly in the latter stages of a competition.
With their FA Cup semi final of last season having taken place on a neutral venue, this was amongst the biggest games Man City have played at home for some time but their was a lack of the atmosphere that the club has once famous for.
Anfield itself is no longer what it once was, but there is always a full house for a big match and a fantastic atmosphere can be expected in two weeks’ time – even if it is ‘only’ the Carling Cup.
So, with a third of the season played, what better time to look at how the Premier League has unfolded so far – and to check out how those predictions are looking!
In terms of the title, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Man City look almost unstoppable at the moment. Man United and Spurs are reasonably close behind but both have had to scrap for points in certain games and look likely to drop more points than City, who have brushed aside virtually everyone they have faced. Including both Man City and Spurs.
No silverware is handed out in November, however, and although most of the off-pitch distractions have had no bearing on Man City’s league form, there remains a potential for self destruction with so many volatile characters amongst the squad. They face a tough set of fixtures during December and January, and their credentials will be thoroughly tested over the next few weeks, or even earlier than that should they be eliminated after this week’s final round of Champions League games, a situation which may affect the mood within the club.
With Spurs enjoying a strong start to the campaign, Chelsea have found themselves coming under increasing pressure and not only look like they’re out of the title race, but they’ve been less convincing than usual in cup competitions, and suffered an uncharacteristic slump in their home form.
Liverpool remain a work in progress and will have mixed feelings over the first 14 games. Denied injury time victories thanks to world-class goalkeeping in games against Norwich and Man City, and highly contentious decisions to disallow goals against Sunderland and Fulham may have cost further points. But it hasn’t all been down to bad luck, and the reason why Liverpool are in 7th place is also because they simply haven’t helped themselves often enough with their finishing. Amongst the obvious progress remains plenty of potential for more.
The surprise package of the season has without doubt been Newcastle. I am doubtful whether they can pose a serious threat to the top five or six come May, but at the start of the season, a top seven position might have sounded a little optimistic to the St James’ Park faithful, though it is certainly within their capabilities after the start they have enjoyed.
At the bottom, Wigan really look like a team in trouble. I’m a great admirer of what they’ve achieved since gaining promotion to the Premier League, but each season appears to present a tougher challenge to their top flight status. Roberto Martinez worked wonders towards the end of last season in keeping Wigan in the top flight, but few teams manage that twice in a row and they’ll quickly need to start picking up points to avoid being in a similar boat this season.
The one positive is that a handful of teams are within reach. Lancashire rivals Blackburn and Bolton look just as likely as Wigan to be in a relegation scrap, having shown nothing to suggest that they are currently in a false position. Sunderland, too, could be a surprise candidate for the drop, although a managerial change in bringing Martin O’Neill to the club should improve the mood amongst fans.
Two of my other tips for the drop – QPR and Swansea – have begun life at the top level in impressive fashion, and neither look out of place.
It goes without saying that there will be plenty of twists and turns as the season goes on, and if Man City can be prevented from running away at the top of the league, it promises to be a fascinating year from top to bottom.
This week has seen the credibility of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play again called into question, this time by Arsene Wenger.
When the regulations were originally announced, the intention of UEFA was that clubs would no longer be able to spend recklessly in pursuit of success, and that clubs’ maximum allowed expenditure would be based on the amount of football related revenue generated.
An instant flaw in the system was in its delayed introduction. Clubs were given two years before the rules were due to come into play, allowing astronomical spending sprees from the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City in order to build squads of world-class players before any repercussions could be felt by the ruling.
Another challenge, one which is ongoing, has been to ensure that sponsorship deals are market value, and are not artificially inflated. Man City’s £400m stadium sponsorship deal raised that very issue, given the record-breaking nature of the deal coupled with the fact that the sponsors – Etihad – are a company owned by a relative of the club’s owner.
The deal, for a club yet to compete for a Premiership title or establish itself amongst Europe’s elite, was more than double the value of the existing world record for stadium sponsorship and has therefore attracted questions over whether the inflated cost is an attempt to help Man City balance its books following a colossal investment in players and wages.
Man City’s announcement of almost £200million in losses over the last year has again led to the current Premiership leaders being put in the spotlight, as new concerns are raised over the authority of UEFA to impose sanctions where clubs fail to meet the Financial Fair Play criteria.
Arsene Wenger has suggested that it would be difficult for UEFA to ban clubs from entering the Champions League or Europa League competitions even if they had not managed to meet the financial regulations specified. The Arsenal manager suggested that attempting to enforce such punishments could lead to legal challenges either from clubs or from individual players.
Should his concerns prove to have any foundation, then the reputation of UEFA will surely suffer another blow.
Only by strongly enforcing the guidelines they published when announcing the FFP in 2009 can UEFA hope to retain any credibility in their attempts to create a fairer playing field for clubs competing in European competition.
And there can be no exceptions made.
It’s difficult to know what Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest achievement is, such are the options.
Ending Manchester United’s 26 year title drought? Introducing many youngsters to a team which would go on to dominate for years? Becoming the first British manager to lift the Champions League? Ripping up successful, championship winning sides in order to rebuild for continued future success? Overcoming the ever increasing tests presented by rivals desperate to topple his team?
The list could go on.
Or is it simply that he has remained manager of Manchester United for a quarter of a century, spanning four decades and two very different eras of football? For me, that is what stands out most of all.
As Sir Alex reaches a landmark moment in his time at United, there is bound to be a plethora of columns and features discussing and debating the issue of who is Britain’s greatest ever football manager, a topic which is always going to be impossible to answer due to the varied nature of each candidate’s achievements.
Would Ferguson have been as successful as Busby if he had spent his managerial career in the 1950s and 1960s? If in charge of Liverpool during the same era, could he have completely transformed not only the team but the entire club, from one which sat half way down the second tier of English football to one on the brink of a decade of European domination, as Bill Shankly achieved?
Could he have fared any better with Nottingham Forest than Bryan Clough, or Don Revie at Leeds? Or matched Herbert Chapman’s achievements of leading both Huddersfield and Arsenal to multiple titles within the space of a decade?
Even if the answer is no to all of the above it’s just as likely that none of those named above, all of them managerial greats, could have matched Ferguson’s success at Man United over the last two decades.
There have been favourable factors involved in the success of United. The club’s commercial exploits have always seen them financially better placed than most of their rivals since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, and the club’s off-the-pitch fortunes have mirrored its success on it. The funds which have been available to Ferguson are a consequence of that, and rarely has there been any reluctance to spend it, with the United having smashed the British transfer record no less than six times with Ferguson at the helm.
But the last of those records was more than nine years ago, less than 12 months prior to the arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, an arrival which marked a new type of challenge to Ferguson. Chelsea’s seemingly limitless supply of resources allowed for spending on a scale never before seen, and was repeated for three consecutive summers. As a result of a squad brimming with quality, success came quickly and raised the bar for the rest of the league.
Despite being written off, Ferguson and United rose to the challenge, and were back on top by 2007 after three years without a league title win. The team bore little resemblance to that which had lifted titles earlier in the decade and was perhaps Ferguson’s finest.
Overcoming the threat of Chelsea was only the latest in a series of victories over rivals looking to end Man United’s dominance.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal earned plaudits for the manner of their title wins in 1998, 2002 and 2004, though the Gunners never quite managed to secure back-to-back Premier League titles or truly replace United at the top of the English game.
United’s dismissal of the challenges posed by fast improving Leeds United and Liverpool teams at the turn of the century was even more swift. Much was expected from both sides but little materialised.
The hundreds of millions invested by Chelsea earned only a brief stay at the top, and it remains to be seen what Man City are capable of achieving after an unprecedented spending spree. Condemning United to a 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford marks a serious statement of intent and also confirms the size of challenge ahead for Ferguson if he is to see his side remain the best in the land.
Staying one step ahead of the neighbours may well be his biggest challenge to date, though if there’s anyone up to the task, it’s Sir Alex Ferguson.
A born winner, whatever the era, and whatever the opposition. That’s what makes him so special.