Something unusual is happening in English sport. Our team is number one in the world. Eight of the top 15 players in the world are English. The game is riding a wave of positive support and there’s the unusual feeling that affairs are in order from the national governing body down to grass roots level. But that’s enough about cricket. Another fractious and unedifying football season awaits…
Look – I love our national sport but to be honest I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for it with the Premier League kick-off just two days away. I’m sure that’s going to change at 3pm on Saturday, though with England heading for a third straight test victory against mighty India maybe I’ll be tuned into that instead. Hang on, this was meant to be a blog about football, full of enthusiasm and expectation … let’s try again…
The modern game is as much a soap opera as Coronation Street if that’s your thing. There are, despite the lobotomisation of modern professionals, still characters in the game willing to speak their minds or just be plain entertaining. Meanwhile on the pitch, amidst the oft dull and the desperate fare are moments of magic if you are brave enough to hang around until the final whistle. Then there’s the rich football fan subculture with it’s own community and humour. There’s a chance that 22 men kicking a ball around may yet cleanse our souls of the latest toxic FIFA corruption shenanigans. We need some positive news stories on the pitch – football owes us.
Every year I make a few predictions on the season ahead. Last years predictions – well, the less said the better. I might as well have pulled names out of a hat for all of the hopelessly inaccurate predictions I made. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen and take a punt on the season ahead…
There has been a lot of money flying around this year with three weeks of the transfer window to go. Money alone can’t buy success and that’s why I expect Alex Ferguson to steer Manchester United to yet another title. City and Chelsea have to somehow keep their overpaid and overpopulated squads happy now that they are limited to 25 players under FA rules. Liverpool, revitalised under King Kenny, will be an interesting proposition following a huge spending binge and eyes will also be on Arsene Wenger as the perennial also-rans of Arsenal face life without Fabregas. Once again there may be more drama at the other end of the table with the likes of newly promoted Norwich and Swansea setting out to finish 4th from bottom.
- Manchester United – Some senior pro’s have retired but assuming they land Wesley Sneijder I think the mix will be right for them to finish top again.
- Norwich – I know it’s an easy call but so far they haven’t recruited nearly enough quality players to compete at this level over a season
- Swansea – same as Norwich, simply not good strong enough as things stand
- Wigan – only just survived last season since which their squad has weakened. Pretty football alone does not translate to points
- Stoke – Like Skoda they initially became efficient and have since had the nerve to add some quality. Top eight?
The days when you assumed clubs relegated from the Premiership would bounce straight back have gone. Relegated clubs tend to bring financial woes with them or underestimate how hard it is to escape from this division. The finances have started to bite many clubs and some that gambled on a failed promotion bid last season will struggle this time around as the purse strings are tightened. Leicester are bucking the trend as manager Sven throws millions at players in a bid to secure a top 2 finish.
As a Derby fan I have to believe we will finish a lot higher than last seasons dismal showing. The squad looks stronger this season and there are certainly more leaders on the pitch but at the time of writing we need a midfield general, tall old-school striker and a left back not called Kilbane if we are to challenge for the play-offs. I’m hoping for top half.
- West Ham – Premiership quality
- Leicester – Money doesn’t buy you promotion. OK, maybe it does then.
- Cardiff – Not that far off last season and they have improved the squad since then
- Coventry – Struggling on and off the pitch.
- Peterborough – They punched above their weight last season. They will need to do it again.
- Barnsley – A lack of quality may tell.
- Brighton – on a roll with their new stadium, last seasons promotion and some quality signings.
This division is a melting pot and a lot of teams will fancy their chances this season. The two Sheffields find themselves in the same division and some attendance records will likely be set when those two meet. Did you know that Nolberto Solano is plying his trade at Hartlepool? There’s a lot to capture the imagination in this division…
- Charlton – Unlucky not to make it last season they should have a little more know-how this season
- Preston – A strong squad with a spine of experience, they have a fighting chance
- Huddersfield – Nearly did it last year and still a good bet this year
- Rochdale – Only a hunch but their second season back at this level could be tougher than the first
- Stevenage – Where are the goals coming from?
- Tranmere – The startling move of striker Dale Jennings to Bayern Munich may prove to be a body blow
- Yeovil – They begin with a “Y” so in the event that every game this season is a draw they are doomed
- Notts County – Last season was about survival but manager “Mad Dog” Martin Allen has brought a new way of thinking to the club that may take them on a run.
It would be nice if all the talk this season was of football and not finances. One thing’s for sure there will be plenty of neutrals looking out for AFC Wimbledon – a club reborn by purist fans after the MK Dons debacle. Also under the spotlight will be Crawley who spent astronomical money by non-league standards to leap into the football league.
- Bristol Rovers – A big club with a plethora of new signings often fails to produce results but I’m backing them anyway
- Crewe – You can’t keep Dario Gradi down
- Oxford – They have a strong defence for this division and I’m backing them to be there or thereabouts
- Shrewsbury – They play a lot of good football. If they can show some steel they will be well placed for promotion.
- Hereford – I saw them last season and was amazed they survived
- Barnet – struggled last season and have lost players since. It doesn’t look good for them.
- AFC Wimbledon – they really aren’t ready for league 1. Not a chance. But wouldn’t it be fun! Football remains the preserve of dreamers…