I would fly 6,600 miles

United

Brothers United

Happy New Year readers! I hope 2017 is off to a good start and my best wishes to you and yours (your football team that is) for the year ahead.

The traditional festive fixture whirlwind has just blown by and left a few disgruntled managers in its wake. The managerial whine has become as much a tradition as mulled wine at this time of year. The usual suspects have had their say:

Wenger: “In 20 years it is the most uneven Christmas period I have seen on the fixture front, the difference of rest periods is absolutely unbelievable.” A surprising outburst from Arsene, a man not usually inclined to complain.

Mourinho: “The busy period is for some clubs not for everyone because you analyse there is no congestion for them. The fixtures are chosen to give some rest for some and create problems for others but we are used to it because we are in the Europa League, which creates more difficulties.” Mourinho is the great conspiracy theorist of the modern game; he sees a dark plot against him in every shadow. I rather doubt that Rupert Murdoch is out to “create problems” for you Jose but you never know.

Some are newer to the English game but have adapted quickly with their complaints:

Pochettino: “The physical demand is massive but mental too. You can see plenty of pictures from different leagues in Europe — [players] in swimming pools, at the beach, players with families, relaxing. Our players were at training, playing and going to bed early. That is tough because they are young and they need to enjoy life.” Yep, those young multimillionaire footballers hanging out with models in clubs, if only a way could be found for them to enjoy life.

Klopp: “I am a football fan, I would like to watch football everyday but if you do it, after four weeks, you cannot do it anymore. The only thing is you have to accept the problems you cause with things like this.” Is he saying that after four weeks it’s impossible to play any more football or watch it? I’m pretty sure I could keep it up for four weeks (watching that is). Indeed, it’s a challenge we all rise to every four years with the World Cup.

The unspoken complaint of course is that Chelsea have had it (relatively) easy this festive season. Conte however has a hypothesis as to what is really troubling his rivals: “I think they are angry for our position, not for the fixtures.” I think he’s right.

In his recently published Saturday, 3pm: 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football (buy it), Daniel Gray gets to the heart of why those of us in the stands love Christmas football:

‘Down in the concourses at half-time, football and Christmas collide to make excitable children of us all. There is probably a bigger crowd than usual. It is swelled by home-comers from London, Aberdeen and abroad, bumping into old pals and old flames, sipping with seldom-seen kid brothers. It becomes a grotto, hubbubbing with more noise than any class on a school visit could make, the air mobbed by breathless chatter about life and the transfer window.’

As an expat now, I’m one of those who’ve swollen crowds on Boxing Days as I make my annual pilgrimage. My dictionary defines a pilgrimage as ‘a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.’ That sounds a lot like my recent journeys to Tannadice from Kuala Lumpur.

We fans will get up early, arrive home late, and travel for miles to see our teams. It’s often expensive and exhausting. But you won’t hear me complaining (much), unless United lose; because 6,600 miles is a long way to travel to see your team get beat.

Advertisements

Sam Jose

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho, photo by Aleksandr Osipov, http://www.flickr.com

It’s the year of the manager. Jose, Pep, Antonio, Jurgen and Claudio – reads rather like a Euro boy band – are set to be the real superstars of the Premier League season. Meanwhile, Big Sam has taken on the big job of attempting to restore England’s credibility at the international level.

The TV cameras will be trained on the dugouts more than ever as the aforementioned, plus Arsene, Slaven et al plot, scheme and tinker. The vast sums being paid by the broadcasters for their seat at the table means that the most important decisions the managers make will occur during the transfer windows. Take note Arsene.

Wenger must be getting a better interest rate than most in the UK who leave their money in the bank at the moment as he persists with his almost comical reluctance to invest. The joke is wearing thin for Arsenal fans though as they can see that in standing still, their side is sliding slowly but surely backwards.

If Wenger is waiting on the market cooling off he may have a long wait ahead and he’s likely to feel some considerable heat from his supporters before that happens. The start of the season should be a time of hope and expectation for fans but Arsenal fans know what to expect: top four (maybe, just), last 16 or quarter finals in the Champions League, and at least one decent domestic cup run.

One man who hasn’t hesitated to throw open the owner’s wallet is Mourinho. He’s spent extravagantly but wisely. Of course Pogba is not really worth all that in absolute terms but if Man U win the title, it will prove to be money well spent.

An even smarter decision that Jose’s made is snapping up Ibrahimovic. He’s a Cantona-esque signing: top-quality, a proven winner, and brings with him an unmistakable aura. I make United slight title favourites ahead of their Manchester neighbours based mostly on the Zlatan signing.

I foolishly left him out of my initial fantasy league selection; a mistake that I have now rectified.

City fans meanwhile are enjoying the long-held fantasy of having Pep in charge. As expected, he’s wasting little time in putting his stamp on the side and appears to have little love for Joe Hart. The squad still needs more of an overhaul and I’d be surprised if his summer spending has reached its conclusion.

Guardiola will probably want to avoid getting caught up in a sideshow with Mourinho but the Portuguese will relish it, stoke it, and embrace it. The first Manchester derby of the season should be worth a watch.  I’d be quite happy to watch a camera that only showed the two managers throughout – like that strange film they made a few years ago that focused solely on Zidane (‘A 21st Century Portrait’) for 90 minutes.

Conte must seek to make something of an omelette from the broken eggs that Jose left behind at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea fans will have been encouraged by what he was able to eke out of a modest Italian squad at Euro 2016.

It might not be pretty but it’s sure to be intense under the Italian. Chelsea will be very hard to beat, their work rate will be off the charts, and they will be tactically flexible. I don’t think they’ll be champions but I expect them to be the highest placed London club this season.

Two games in and I have almost no idea what to expect from my club, Liverpool. Triumph at Arsenal followed by disaster at Burnley suggests that one of those performances was an imposter but it’s hard to tell yet which one.

Klopp has declared the squad at Anfield his own and he knows that vast improvements on last season are required. In any of the last few seasons, Liverpool’s current squad under Klopp would be near-certainties for the top four but this is likely to be the most competitive season in a long time.

Klopp is as competitive as they come and he doesn’t lack ambition. His squad still lacks something though and a further addition or two could make a big difference for Liverpool.

Ranieri must be hugely relieved that his squad doesn’t now lack most of its best players. It’s a tremendous tribute to what Leicester achieved last season, and the way in which they did it, that almost everyone has opted to show loyalty and stay.

They surely cannot repeat the heroics of that fairy tale run but they will enjoy the experience of being champions and are unlikely to relinquish the crown meekly. Ranieri, once seen as something of a jester, has been enthroned as the Premier League’s managerial king. The loyal subjects at the King Power Stadium may never witness anything so remarkable again.

It is to be hoped that none of us ever have to witness Gary Lineker presenting in his pants again although whoever sold the garment in question may warrant investigation under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Whatever embarrassment Lineker may have felt was probably not as great as that of the England players who contrived to lose to Iceland in the Euros. That defeat – possibly the worst in the country’s history – brought to a close the rather farcical reign of Roy Hodgson.

Big Sam thus has small boots to fill.

England’s young and energetic side actually travelled to France having displayed some promise in the build-up to the tournament. Not unusually of late, it was a promise they failed to keep. Is Big Sam the man for the rebuilding job?

Why not? He has lots of experience, he excels at man management, and he’s more tactically astute than he’s often given credit for.

There are no quick fixes for England in terms of the fundamentals: players who are not as talented as they think they are, a squad that is tactically naïve, and a lack of opportunities for young players at many top clubs.

That said, he will select players who are in form (I don’t envisage many Allardyce ‘favourites’), instil a simple but consistent style of play that his squad is comfortable with, and attempt to create more of a club atmosphere for the national team.

None of these changes will turn England into Spain or France overnight (or even Portugal or Croatia) but they should suffice to avoid banana skins such as the Iceland debacle. For England then, as well as in the English Premier League, it’s the manager who looks set to take centre stage.

So put your clothes back on Gary, be careful of the bets that you make, and let’s see who turns out to be this season’s special one.