2016-17: The Season in Review
The term ‘Landmark Agreement’ is sorely overused but Tuesday’s High County judgement to promote Tottenham Hotspur into the Champions League qualifying stages at the expense of Everton has resonated throughout the game. Pity the poor Toffees, also at the heart of a legal wrangle back in 2005 that saw their Merseyside neighbours Liverpool favoured ahead of them after winning the previous season’s trophy. At that time, a compromise was reached — similar hopes look forlorn now.
Spurs, you’ll remember, were aggrieved that a tug on Theo Walcott’s shirt had gone unseen in the league game against Dublin City on October 11, resulting in a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to the destined to be relegated club and ultimately leaving the Londoners adrift of fourth spot on goal difference. With the calls to extend video technology beyond simple goal line situations reaching cacophony, Tottenham decided to cross the Rubicon by launching a legal challenge and recently appointed Premier League chief executive Adam Crozier was powerless to influence judge and jury.
The precedent had come from not unexpected quarters — in an uncanny echo of the incident 12 years before that had seen Jose Mourinho react with apoplexy to a Luis Garcia ‘goal’ in the Champions League semi-final, the Portuguese Svengali vowed that enough was enough — resorting to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure Marco Reus’s strike against Anzhi Makhachkala should not stand, the European footballer of the year having been deemed to have fouled Anzhi’s Ganso in the build-up.
On Sky’s Sunday Supplement, up and coming journo John McGee almost came to blows with host Brian Woolnough on the issue, describing the seasoned Fleet Streeter as ‘a tub of lard with hair like Alvin Stardust’ while co-panellists Terry Duffelen and Graham Sibley tried to pacify the Cumbrian.
It was a suitably tawdry end to a season where football increasingly resembles the last days of Rome — infighting and financial despair besetting a legion of the top clubs. In particular, the decision as to which division Chelsea should compete in next season rumbles on. Having quickly and mysteriously pulled the plug on the money supply and called time on his series of extensive loans, Roman Abramovich decamped to his dacha, leaving the west Londoners high and dry.
Despite being allowed to pay their non-footballing creditors (Fortnum & Mason and Fabergà© among them) a penny in the pound , the wages dished out to the likes of perennially injured Mario Gà¶tze, Jake Forster-Caskey and Xherdan Shaqiri were crippling the Blues, all three unhappy at being unable to displace playmaker Neymar in the starting line-up and yet all three happy to ‘do a Winston Bogarde’ and collect a large amount of money for doing diddly squat.
At the time of writing, the Football League has proved less accommodating than the SFL were with Rangers back in 2012 and the reformed Chelsea Villagers FC look set to apply to the Blue Square League in 2017-18 with a likelihood that Maidenhead United and Bath City will be making trips to Stamford Bridge, the ground being leased out to the new entity in a benevolent deal — the ground’s owners remain unknown.
But schadenfreude, while never in short supply, has been restricted by events elsewhere. Certainly Manchester City have had little time to gloat, despite pipping Manchester United to a fourth title in five years. With the long predicted oil crisis now having firmly arrived, the days of big spending at the Ettihad have fully subsided and the arrival of prodigal son Joey Barton on a short term loan deal on transfer deadline day signalled the tightening of belts. Barton, now 34, performed creditably in a bit part role but even the Mansour family are subject to these straitened times.
That the season was delayed following Dublin City’s arrival in the league following publishing tycoon Jeff Livingstone’s co-option of the Fulham brand — repeated attempts to secure planning permission for Craven Cottage leading to that proud London club’s relocation to the Irish capital — was another unsatisfactory episode although the possibility of a grass roots AFC Fulham lining up in a Conference South derby against the new Chelsea in 2017-18 does provide an illustration of fans’ ability to see the bigger picture.
Transfer fees continue to be astronomical — Reus finally leaving Dortmund after a storied half decade, unable to resist the lure of Terek Grozny’s millions, Raheem Sterling joining Santos from Hangzhou Greentown for a cool £117 million and World Club Champions Gamba Osaka disbursing in the region of £300 million to assemble their squad.
Internationally, the shift has certainly been to Asia. France’s buccaneering European Champions coming up short in the Confederations Cup final in Moscow — Japan’s 4-1 win inviting watchers to compare their stars to the Spanish ‘threepeaters’ of the 2008-2012 period. That the J-League’s previous squeaky clean image has been hampered by match fixing scandals and the death of a prominent football agent on a trip to see his charges play in an Asian Champions League fixture in Hangzhou does cast a shadow nonetheless.
However, with Coventry City finishing in the top half of a league table for the first time in half a century — and winning the Football Ramble Championship to boot, there is room for homespun stories to survive and crowds at the Ricoh Arena have now edged above 10,000 for the first time in three years. David Moyes’ excellent first season as Manchester United boss saw them famously come from behind to defeat Anzhi in the Champions League final and The Sound of Football attracted more listeners than Radio Five Live’s Monday Night Club despite the non-presence of Robbie Savage. Hope remains.
This piece was inspired by the most excellent recent edition of The Sound of Football podcast. Go listen.