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The Long and Winding Road

By | 25th May 2009

newcastle-relegatedWith the Premier League over for another season. Here are some of the things I noticed from the 08/09 campaign:

Like a bat out of Hull

Hull City were everyone’s favorite to go straight back down this season. They seemed like a sweet little feel good story, content to have their moment in the big leagues before quickly sinking back to lower level obscurity where they could be patronized by football and non-football people alike for sounding like a thoroughly dull and uninspiring place to live.

But the ungrateful bastards weren’t content with this and instead launched a surprise attack on the Premiership summit right from the off. They held the mighty Liverpool at Anfield after racing into a two goal lead, scored 3 at Old Trafford when most teams of their ilk would have concentrated on damage limitation, and stunned the home crowd at The Emirates by having the gaul (good word that to use in relation to Arsenal!) to snatch all 3 points courtesy of a Geovanni screamer.

Sadly it was never going to last. After a poor first half against Manchester City, Phil Brown proved that Hull hath no fury like a man in fake tan scorned and forced his players to endure their half time bollocking on the pitch, in front of the traveling fans. Bizarre to say the least but had it worked we’d be saying it was genius. It wasn’t, though, because it didn’t, and Hull sank like a stone, confidence shattered, and were lucky to stay up. That said, they deserved it from the way they went at the top teams. Fortune favors the brave.

Fog on the Tyne

They’ve wheeled out more Messiahs at St. James’ Park than a travelling Monty Python tribute ensemble. Unfortunately for them, they’ve all turned out to, in fact, be very naughty boys. After the sacking/quiting/bottling/generally not handling things going against him very well-ness of dear little Kevin, we got the bizarre managerial stylings of Joe ‘Fu’ Kinnear, a man who’s previous managerial job was four years ago, a level below, and resulted in relegation. His resume also came with a history of heart trouble. For some unfathomable reason, Kinnear failed to propel Newcastle into the top four (where they belong, of course) and instead sadly left the club in dire straights and in need of emergency surgery (both club & manager).

As Newcastle fans awaited the new appointment, the small sub-species of fan whose sole purpose in life is to hang around outside St James Park on weekday mornings, in full kit, ready and willing to spout emotional drivel to passing Sky cameramen went into overdrive. Finally, after a whole season and and a half of speculation, Big Al rode to rescue on his shiny white steed. Still clinging to the idea that the small patchy tuft in the middle of his forehead creates the impression he has a fairly full head of hair, he set about looking suave, motivating the players with his presence and giving the impression that it all means so damn much to him.

The problem was, he didn’t actually have any managerial experience, and despite the help of the ugliest man in football, Ian Dowie, actually helped to make things slightly worse. Back down to the second tier then for the first time since ’92. Only the ghost of Jackie Milburn can save them now. On the plus side for Newcastle, Joey Barton finally showed why he still gets employed as a footballer by turning in some great performances and repaying his club’s faith with honesty, integrity and courage throughout the… oh, hold on… I’m thinking of someone completely different aren’t I? Silly me.

Roy of the Rovers

For those who only followed the top and bottom ends of the league table, Fulham’s incredible season may have passed you by. Scraping into the last UEFA Cup spot (now the UEFA Eurovision Super Dooper Disco Fairly Lights League TM) is the least glamorous of the achievements available to Premier League clubs. The Champions League places get the glory, the relegation scrapers the drama. Everyone likes extremes. No one likes mediocrity.

But Hodgson’s stewardship of Fulham has been anything but mediocre. He took charge at the end of last season when they looked a certainty to go down and not only engineered a great escape but propelled them into seventh a year later with limited funds and a limited sqaud with limited ability. All this and they lost their best player, Jimmy Bullard, to Hull in the transfer window. Brede Hangeland should take some credit for a great season but, proportionally speaking, Hodgson has to be Manager of the Year.

Mile high City

Speaking of mediocrity, Manchester City’s first season as the richest club in the universe was, unfortunately, far less exciting on the pitch than it was off it. After successfully luring one global franchise entity to the Eastlands they then embroiled themselves in the most ludicrous transfer saga of the decade, all while Mark Hughes played golf. On the pitch their early promise quickly fizzled out. Robinho was worth the money and showed he wasn’t too lightweight for the Premier League, but if they want him to stay, City are going to need to spend sensibly. They need to look at Villa and Everton for an idea of how to build a base. Once they’ve got this, then they can go for the dream players, but not before. The Galactico’s didn’t work for Real Madrid, so it’s not going to work for City, is it?

Villans of the piece

It’s easy to forget about the impact Villa had this season. I had. Before they melted like a box of Cadbury’s milk tray carelessly left anonymously on a balcony in some exotic country in the middle of the night and only discovered late the following evening, they were in with a realistic shot at the title. At the very least it seemed likely they would push Arsenal all the way for fourth spot and, probably, get it. But alas the big four powered on and despite a poor effort from Arsenal, Villa disintegrated and handed them fourth on a silver platter with little ribbons on, and an after eight mint placed delicately on top of a pile of forrero roches. In fact, in the end, the biggest impact they had on the league was allowing an unknown teenager to Cruyff turn and score against them. Hopefully, with a bigger squad and the experience of running with the big boys under their belts, they can sustain more of a challenge next season.

Les enfant terrible

It’s been a woeful season for Arsenal by recent standards. Crippled by the lack of available strikers, one of whom was actually crippled for most of it and one of whom might as well have been, they failed to find their feet until well into mid season. Even then, it didn’t last long and they ended the season being thrashed, at home, by two of their biggest rivals. The fans turned on Eboue, Wenger had to sit through a telling off from the prawn sandwich brigade, and their ‘star’ striker took more interest in goal celebration routines than in the scoring of the goals themselves. The one ray of light for L’Arse was the arrival of Andre Arshavin who, despite whining about England and being technically a midget, settled into the Premier League like an old man in his favorite chair.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Roman Abramovich has gotten used to sacking his managers. The swarthy one, the big angry frog, Gene Hackman. He finally found his Messiah this season but unfortunately he’d borrowed him from his national team and he had to give him back after break time. In the end it boiled down to the ultimate club versus country conundrum and Goose was sent back to the mother country. Which is a shame for Chelsea fans because he got them winning and playing attractively, the holy grail they’d been searching for. Lampard had his best season, Anelka stopped sulking long enough to win the Golden Boot, and even doorman lookalike Alex looked Premiership class. The only problem was that it came a little too late. Had Drogba been bothered this season they may well have run United closer.

Always the bridesmaid

A season that promised so much for Liverpool ended with disappointment again. After looking comfortable and in control at the half way stage, the prize was yanked from their grasp at the last by their deadliest foes. I think you all know what I’m talking about here. The Golden Glove will go to Edwin van der Sar and not, as expected, Pepe Reina – thanks to, off all people, Robbie Keane’s goal on Sunday. Such a shame for Liverpool in a season that promised so much. So close, and yet, so far.

As far as the league title, Liverpool ran it closer than they have since the Premier League inception, and while their failure was their own doing, the same could be said about United’s challenge in 91/92. As the legend goes, you have to be in a title race before you can win a title.

Ya don’t see the signs because you’re blind

Both the PFA and FWA were wrong this year. Much more than usual, as it happens. The lack of outstanding candidates by March was a factor, as was the usual mid season voting time. Sentimentality played its part in both awards as well. I was chuffed to see Giggs win what amounted to a lifetime achievement award, and no one can begrudge Gerrard his award. But, for me, the winner of both should have come from one of these four: Lampard, Rooney, Vidic, and Alonso. These were the real outstanding performers of the season and, shamefully, only one of them (Vidic) was even on the shortlist for both awards.

Never gonna give you up

Another season, another Manchester United victory, and, crucially for them, they have now joined Liverpool at the top of the podium on 18 league titles. Ferguson has pointed out that he hasn’t yet ‘knocked them off their effin perch’ but merely joined them on it. Next season he’s after no 19, and who would bet against him?

United weren’t at their elegant best for the most part. In fact, the season as a whole was sailing dangerously close to being a boring one for entertainment, even if the tussles at top and bottom were closer than they’d ever been. But as Manchester United found their form, so did the Premier League. As the end drew nearer we were treated to some engrossing matches between the top English teams in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

The crucial game for United was the 3-2 win against Aston Villa when an unknown 17 year Italian, built like a brick house with a haircut made of stone and gloss paint tricked his way into space in the Villa box in the 94th minute and sent the first chisel mark onto the Premiership trophy. It also instilled belief back into a team that had hit a tricky patch of form, and from then on, United looked imperious, even allowing Tottenham the teasing luxury of a two goal lead before demolishing them in front of a gleeful Ceasar. Thumbs up for the champions. And with an English team in the European Cup final for the 5th year running, thumbs up for the Premier League.

Ah yes, another Premier League season…

Was this season all that you hoped it would be? Have your say in the comments section below!



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