Monday, 22 February 2016

Premier League: Age of Entitlement

 The Premier League has seen a teutonic shift in its landscape due to the achievements of both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in rocking the apple cart. Some are flummoxed and perplexed that two teams; one a perennial under achiever and the other a team that flirted with relegation to the Championship last season, are now challenging for the title.

Those who are most perplexed are the typical top four contenders - Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United - at one time or another this season, each side has flattered to deceive their credentials to be in the top four.

Chelsea, the title holders, were in trouble by the end of September and ultimately sacked Jose Mourinho in December. Since inserting Guus Hiddink they have not lost a game, yet they will not be playing European football next season unless they win either the FA Cup or the Champions League - a task made more difficult by the unfavourable draw versus a rampant Paris St. Germain this week.  Yet Chelsea fluffed their lines by not strengthening their squad in the close season and reinforcing a squad that may have won at a canter but did so because nobody challenged them.  Nowadays, football is about squad rotation keeping players fresh and motivated but healthy and vital at the same time.  Chelsea did not add a striker to help Diego Costa, did not sign another central defender to fill the obvious problem of an ageing John Terry nor get quality cover in midfield yet allow Mohammed Salah and Cuadrado go to Italy; whilst their former player Kevin De Bruyne signed for Manchester City.

Whilst Chelsea and here Mourinho is at fault, did not bolster a squad that was thin on paper, they were seemingly surprised that Manchester City and Manchester United did strengthen their squads albeit by splashing the cash in their reserves and mocking the financial fair play system.

Manchester City were the second best team in the country, yet they also did not fix a problem of defence and a prestigious central defender to sit next to and replace the injury prone Vincent Kompany. Instead, the attractive signings of flair players Raheem Sterling and De Bruyne indicated a direction to succeed in European competition at the expense of domestic success.

Manchester United however, are suffering for not doing the correct managerial appointment following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and not giving David Moyes the necessary time or funds to succeed.  When Sir Alex retired they should have thrown the money pot at Jose Mourinho to maintain the culture of success and victory at Old Trafford or promote Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt to do a partnership whilst they waited for a more illustrious manager as Pep Guardiola became available.  By inserting a manager who has never won a trophy into the most trophy laden club of the last twenty years was both naive and incorrect, Moyes is not a winner for a reason and it showed although he will one day win a trophy with someone.

Arsenal did not strengthen their squad either besides the signing of Petr Cech as goalkeeper, therefore not putting the blame on the outfield players but on Wojech Sczeceny at fault a number of times but the problem was a defence that was slow and an overwhelmed midfield and a less than potent strike force over-reliant on too many passes before taking a shot at goal.  By not injecting a squad with competition for places and saying to the same players, what you did last season was okay by me and not making them angry it invites the continual notion that Arsenal are not going to win the league based on 38 games, but you won the FA Cup so that is okay.

All four clubs were guilty of gross arrogance by thinking that we as the four biggest clubs in the country are good enough year-in and year-out, so we can play anybody and we will be good enough to beat the also rans of Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton.

And then Leicester City showed up.  Claudio Ranieri, the tinkerman, became the manager who entrusted in his small and inexperienced squad a notion of responsibility and system.  If you have decent players and give them a role to fit into a system of invention and robustness, you will get results.  Players do only what they are good at, the defenders defend; the midfielders win the turnover ball and distribute efficiently and the forwards shoot at goal and score.

Leicester show you can be inventive and have flair whilst being difficult to break down and physical in the midfield without being aggressive.  Leicester show what you can do on a budget and when you entrust a young squad with a mandate.

Tottenham have a younger squad and follow much the same blueprint; defending from the front, winning turnover ball in the midfield, a reliable defence with a world-class goalkeeper to beat.  Much is made of a spine in the old top four sides, yet Tottenham have two good central defenders, two good midfielders and a prolific striker. As do Leicester. Gone is the spine and now you need the magnificent seven.

The arrogance of the top four is due to the wealth of riches and income they have not just from television deals but worldwide global sponsorship. This age of entitlement has been ripped up by Leicester and Tottenham and fittingly, both sides have a wealth of English and British talent in their best starting XIs; do you see that in the top four.  A mixture of European flair and British grit can get you places.

This age of entitlement might well be coming to an end, yet the new television deal might bring it back in years to come until another team - do not ignore what Ronald Koeman is doing at Southampton; undervalued keeper, young academy outdoing itself and potent strikers - comes along and rips up the rule book. That is the continual fascination with football in England, there is no recipe for success, you have to adapt or watch the world fly by you as you stand still in corporate boxes.

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