by : Henry Knight
Sam Allardyce threatened, albeit briefly, to take Bolton into the Champions League however he eventually settled for the clubs first ever qualification into Europe via the UEFA cup. This season the club could go stale with Allardyce being frustrated in the transfer market and the squad looking thin. Jared Borgetti will improve the team’s goals coring potential, but the side lacks genuine width and the back line is very thin on the ground. Perhaps, with the added distraction of Europe, Bolton will not live up to the expectation created from last season.
Aston Villa and Bolton have made regular top 10 finishes in recent years, but Blackburn Rovers are perhaps superb candidates for displacing one of them; the spine of Friedel, Nelsen, Savage and Bellamy looks aggressive and potentially very successful. Last season Mark Hughes’s side was earmarked as brutally aggressive and lacking in quality; this was unfair, although there were times when the team went over the top. Morten Gamst Pederson and Brett Emerton give excellent width, work rate and flair and with Craig Bellamy there is plenty of pace to add to the fire and solidity of the rest of the side.
Portsmouth, Charlton, Birmingham, Manchester City and Fulham are at risk of filling the ‘pointless season’ role. All of these sides have the talent to do something much better, but also have the frustrating look of teams that could just as easily get sucked into a relegation battle.
New manager of Portsmouth, Alain Perrin, has added and lost talent, however Laurent Robert, Andy Obrien, John Viafara and Collins Mbesuma should provide enough quality to ensure Premiership status aswell as a good opportunity to push the club on from the days of Harry Redknapp. Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, has taken a gamble on Darren Bent in the hope that he will rise to the challenge of the Premiership and become a regular goal scorer but it’s the season long loan of the classy Alexei Smertin from Chelsea that could prove very important.
Chris Coleman’s first season in charge was very successful yet his second turned into a close encounter with relegation. Despite some unorthodox
methods and a set of tactics disliked by the fans, Coleman has the ability to become a very good manager. The loss of Andy Cole was a blow; however it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise as it leaves a space for the impressive youngster Collins John to step up aswell as a chance for Thomas Radzinsky to prove himself. Wingers Steed Malbranque and Luis Boa Morte could provide the talent to take Fulham well out of trouble and into glory, but only if they stay at the club.
Whilst Birmingham gained a Chelsea player in Mikael Forssell, Manchester City lost talismanic winger Shaun Wright Phillips to the London club. Both sides have holes in the team; Birmingham don’t possess a midfield enforcer and City are now missing a right winger, but both sides have added well, especially up front where Darius Vassell, Andy Cole (City), Mikael Forssell and the permanent signing of Walter Pandiani (Birmingham) mean there fire power in abundance at these ambitious clubs. Manchester City’s advantage over all the other mid-table clubs is the emergence of Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin at the back, whereas Birmingham have not strengthened what was an uncharacteristically (for ex central defender and manager Steve Bruce) disorganised defence last season.
For Steve Bruce it might be a make or break season, if he does not push the club into a top 10 finish or have a good cup run, Chairman David Gould, a man in a hurry, could consider bringing a new face in. Stuart Pearce does not quite have the same problem, his is more to do with the fact that it will be his first full season in charge and despite encouraging signs at the end of last season his ability is still an unknown quantity.
Although any of the mid-table clubs could be involved in a relegation battle there are some obvious candidates as to who will be. West Bromwich Albion and the newly promoted trio of Wigan, West Ham and Sunderland will probably all feel the gap in quality between top of the premiership and bottom. West Bromwich Albion’s major boon is experience; from last year and from its older pro’s and manager Bryan Robson. Wigan manager Paul Jewell knows what it takes to avoid relegation from his time at Bradford and coupled with major financial backing from Wigan owner Dave Whelan (a.k.a. the British Abramovich) they have the most realistic chance of survival out of the promoted sides.
Sunderland look to have a well balanced side with the hardworking and pacey Liam Lawrence and Julio Arca on the flanks and the talented but inconsistent duo of Anthony Le Tallec and John Stead up front; however the defence and central midfield does not look particularly strong. Mick McCarthy is a superb manager and after performing a virtual miracle to get Sunderland up in the first place it would perhaps not be too surprising to see them stay up. West Ham’s much berated manager Alan Pardew is not quite a miracle worker, however he seems tactically astute and positive with his signings; the signing of Yossi Benayoun not only adds flair but shows how big West Ham the club is as Bolton Wanderers (a team that qualified for Europe) failed in a bid to sign him. There is lots of young talent in the West Ham side but a lack of experience that is unlikely to be made up for by Christian Dailly and Teddy Sheringham.
The Premiership is, on paper, stronger once again; more internationals, more talent and better tactical knowledge amongst its ever younger managers. Nevertheless it remains largely predictable and it does still have a huge chasm of quality; though this should not detract from the fact that it is a wonderful league. It is certainly the best supported league in the world with arguably the best supporters. No matter what any writer or journalist says at the beginning of the season, the fans of each team will go out and buy their tickets and cheer their side on through thick and sometimes thin. Fans should always remember that it is their support that keeps football important enough for opinion and that they matter more than what any one person thinks.
Final League Table 2005/06
4. Manchester Utd.
11. Aston Villa
14. Man City
19. West Bromwich Albion
20. West Ham
“Mr. Poll, old bean, that wasn’t a very good decision”
A phrase that is unlikely to be formed by the loose tongues of the general uneducated, ignorant young footballer, however, its sentiment is correct in that the recent decision by the Football Association (and others) to give the referee ‘power to send off any player caught swearing’ is a poor, media pressurised decision.
No, a player swearing on television will not scar a child for life, nor will it form a code of ethics by which a child will live its life and how egocentric of the sport and the media to suggest that it will. Perhaps any parent that worries about the potential for a child to read the lips and be influenced by a ‘foul mouthed footballer’ is not confident in their own abilities to behave as a far more potent role model than any distant football celebrity could. If that is the case then, not only is it tragic, they should perhaps never go to a football ground, where the majority of the crowd use foul language at any given opportunity and should write and complain to the broadcasters who deliberately zoom in on players and referees to see their reaction.
Indeed the decision to send players/managers off for swearing is largely a cosmetic process, not a practical one. Does football really need to have any more of its passion dampened? After all lifting one’s shirt in celebration is now absurdly forbidden and “incitement” of the crowd (perhaps a fist shake at a bunch of goading yobs) is a cardinal sin. If the Authorities were truly on a moral crusade they would be looking at the crowd next, after all the crowd are surely the worst for swearing, exuberant celebrations and incitement.
It is strange how football is expected to be on a higher moral plane to society in general, but lets pretend for one crazy moment that it is and swearing in football must be dealt with swiftly and sensibly;
Sending a player off for swearing is far too strong an action, it degrades the seriousness of deliberately trying to injure a player or deliberately trying to stop a legitimate chance of a goal through foul play; plus, it is surely not worth ruining the spectacle because of a few words.
A yellow card for such an offense is perhaps not going to work in the long term, although many players will tone their language down because it only takes one hard tackle and a spluttered f word to get sent off.
Perhaps if the referee was to get a player substituted instantly (no matter whether a manager has used all his allotted 3 or not) it would keep a game alive and the swearing to a minimum. It could also smooth the introduction, finally, of 7 substitutes into the English game.
Perhaps the weakest, but most intelligent form of punishment would be to report every single incidence of swearing and abusive language to the club where the offending player plays. By bringing the offence to the people that matter most, the employers and bosses, the authorities would ensure there is no sense of unfair play and that the player is not put on an absurd public show. It would also save the time and money of the main footballing authorities, who should surely be busying themselves with sorting out European qualification and ways of improving competitiveness in their top league.
8 August 2005