Gentle sparring provides the perfect ice breaker

How many of you recently heard of the plight of Kenny Sansom? The former Arsenal and England player has fallen on incredibly hard times since his playing days ended. So much so that details of same are not about to be repeated here. Now, Arsenal are obviously to be commended for their pledge of support to their former employee. But, that a professional footballer could end up in such circumstances is surely the most glaring point.

Jose Mourinho
The defender plied his trade in a different football world to that of today. Think of the days when Kevin Moran was allowed home by Manchester United to play for Dublin in the championship. Nowadays, genuine skilful play – unless perpetrated by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – often ends up overshadowed by the financial side of the game which is rapidly becoming ever more unrealistic and difficult to fathom.
Cue Gareth Bale. Undoubtedly, the Welshman is one of the best players in the world, let alone the Premiership. But, is he worth around 90m? Not in any currency. No footballer is. No job is. Indeed, the loose connection between the financial side of football and reality is only heightened when you consider the economic circumstances which prevail throughout much of the world.
Yet, every year, come mid August, interest flickers. The transfer rumours, sagas and deals – even long winded, bordering on boring ones like Bale’s. The preview shows and, after what often feels like an eternity, the games themselves. In ways, mind you, the return of soccer to the agenda is something of a double edged sword.
You see, the sight of Messrs Lineker, Hansen and Shearer on the television is a clear indication that winter is afoot. Still, said depressing time of the year would be even more unpalatable if they didn’t show up every Saturday night. And, while last season was the first during which the Football League Show was encountered by yours truly, it helps soften the blow just a little bit more as well.
Not so long ago, the point was made that maybe, just maybe, sports commentary had become too analytical. Stretching often beyond sport in fact. Football punditry – whether it be GAA or soccer or rugby – escaped such misgivings though. Sure how would we survive without Colm, Pat and Joe during the summer or Tom, Popey and the Hookie Monster when the rugby returns?
With the exception of Alan Shearer, the soccer pundits make for good viewing too. Indeed, the last couple of seasons have thrown up a few pleasant surprises. Both Gary Neville and, this season, Jamie Carragher have been unexpectedly good in their roles on Sky’s Monday Night Football.
Both gave the impression that, as well as being teak tough, they were rather grumpy individuals during their playing days. They have been anything but in their new roles, it has to be said. Rivalry and competitiveness doesn’t die overnight however. Thus, the gentle sparring between the two has been the perfect ice breaker for the new Premiership season. It’s quite obvious that they come from very different standpoints and that there will be times when they’ll vehemently disagree on matters. Indeed, there have been already. That’s half the battle in terms of good punditry though and the two former adversaries make a refreshing change from what can often meander into the mundane.
So, what are the early impressions of the new season? Well, as was said earlier, the Bale episode is another reminder of the farcical side of the game. Aside from that, Old Trafford minus Sir Alex will take an awful lot of getting used to. David Moyes has always been rated fairly highly as a coach but, without mentioning the pressure he’ll already be under merely from being in the job, you’d wonder has he the material – or the financial backing – to improve on the deficiencies Manchester Untied won the title in spite of last season.
Namely, that Rio Ferdinand and Nemenja Vidic must be coming near the end of the road. Not to mention a serious dearth of genuine talent in the central midfield area. Paul Scholes being coaxed out of retirement was surely evidence enough of that. More worrying, perhaps, has been the failure in their attempts to recruit both Thiago and Cesc Fabregas. United just don’t seem to carry the clout they once did in the transfer market.
Of the rest, both Arsenal and Man City may find themselves at a crossroads. Minus Bale, Tottenham would return to being ordinary at best. All of which points towards Chelsea for the title. Yes, one man on the sideline can make that much difference. Look at how Sean Boylan transformed the fortunes of players who’d soldiered for years with scant reward!
For the first time in a long time, gut feeling is that Liverpool could be their greatest challengers. When I was growing up, the Anfield club were something of a superpower. In the intervening years, despite having vast arrays of talented individual players, they’ve never been able to knit properly as a team and capture the Premiership title.
Signs are this year could be different. At the other end of the table, unfortunately I fear that Ian Holloway’s stay in the top flight will again be a brief one. He is one of the great characters in the game, but you sense he has more chance of being frozen in hell than keeping Crystal Palace up.
Newcastle could be the biggest name in the unwanted race to join them going down. Only time will tell, but, whatever happens, it’s unlikely to be boring with Mr Mourinho about!

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