English heavyweights KO’d
It’s been another interesting week at the top and the bottom of the Premier League. I would like to start, though, on the topic of English clubs in Europe. Over the last five or six years, there has been a certain dominance that English clubs have enjoyed, to a certain extent, in Europe.
For example, since 2007 there has been four English clubs in the final, with even one year being an all-English final. Now fast forward it to this season and the only English club left in the Champions League is Chelsea, with Manchester United and Manchester City losing out in the group stages and Arsenal falling out more recently.
After the first leg of their Europa League ties, both Manchester clubs have a deficit to overcome, with United looking like they have a very difficult task. So why is this happening? My theory is that, with the amount of pressure of having to build year by year in the Premier League, players who are brought in are having to hit the ground running, whether they be British or foreign – instead of, in years gone by, usually being given a year to settle in.
Take Thierry Henry, for example. I remember when he first joined Arsenal, everybody was waiting for him to take off – and it took a while – but he was given time by the club and he was then able to go on and become one of the all-time greats. Also, these days, it is difficult to pick up a Peter Schmeichel or a Patrick Vieira for little money because the scouting network around Europe now is far better than in England.
Maybe it’s because a lot of top foreigners have come over and it’s not worked out for them, with the prime example being Andrei Shevchenko. Others look at that and choose to look the other way. Who knows what exactly it is? One thing is for sure, though, is that English clubs are not the heavyweights they used to be in Europe and it’s a cause for concern.
Now, on to this weekend’s games. There really is no other place to start than the Reebok Stadium. QPR, who are right in the danger zone, had an outrageous decision go against them that, in the long run, could see them drop out of the Premier League.
Everybody debates about the use of goalline technology. I am all for it. But that would be as far as I would take the technology. I have many friends who, after a game, go down the pub and dissect decisions that have been made in the games that weekend. So to completely let technology take over would leave nothing to debate and that is one of the great things about football.
I know that, when I retire, I will be in the pub with friends arguing over why a penalty has or has not been given or whether a goal should have been disallowed for offside or not and that is something that should not be taken away at any cost.
But Saturday’s decision to disallow a goal – from Clint Hill – that was clearly at least a yard over the line should be the final straw that makes the powers that be bring in the goalline camera. The game could be stopped for a matter of seconds while the fourth official looked at the screen replay. He then makes the decision and communicates with the referee and then the decision is made. It’s a small break in play but one that is now becoming a necessity.
It’s certainly hotting up at the top now with the title well and truly a two-horse race after Everton’s great result against Spurs. Now is the time of the year where, at the top and bottom of the league, experience more than anything will be the biggest strength that crowns clubs champions and also relegates teams.
I once played for a club that had some great players and, while we were mid-table, things were great. Then we hit a rocky patch and we just didn’t know how to cope and we plummeted and ended up in a dog-fight that we didn’t know how to deal with.
It was a long, hard season, with all the players looking around for someone to guide them through, but because there were not many players who had experienced this situation, it became increasingly difficult to deal with. Then, on another occasion, I was at a club that was full of players who had had to battle in previous seasons with different clubs to stave off relegation. They were not a scratch on my previous club but, because we had the experience and the know-how of dog-fights, we came through with flying colours.
I look at Man United and that’s why I think they will win the league. It’s the time of year where only results matter and not performances. They should never of beaten Spurs last week but they ground out a result somehow whereas Man City are finding it hard to do the same.
City either win at a canter or they get beat, like at Swansea on Sunday, which is a game that everybody would have predicted them to have won. As a neutral, it would be great to see City win the league, but I think United will have just a bit more mental strength to see them through.
One last thing before I finish. I must give a special mention to Steve Kean at Blackburn and the job he is doing there. In an earlier column, I said that it was going to be a tough battle for them with the players they have lost recently, and it still will be, but they are making a real go of it.
When Kean first became manager, and he was stating that he was going to turn Blackburn into a top seven or eight team in no time, it made me raise an eyebrow because it was just impossible to see that happening. The thing is, it hasn’t happened and he has had so much abuse from the fans that you just thought he would walk away, which many a man would have done.
Instead, he got his head down, rolled with the punches and seems to be coming out of the other end fighting. He has never once looked for any excuses and, more importantly, when things were going wrong, he never hung his players out to dry in public and that speaks volumes about the man. He took all the blame and criticism and protected his players to the hilt and, for that, he deserves a lot of credit. He has certainly gone up in many people’s estimation, myself included.