The feel good factor
There’s a lot to be said for the feel good factor in life. Warm weather, wealth, health, all that good stuff. It all makes for a very happy existence.
It exists in football too and clubs that have it have got a distinct advantage over clubs that don’t.
What’s become clear in the last month or so is that some of the biggest clubs in the Premiership are somewhat struggling to find that feel good factor.
Manchester United seem to have taken on the guise of their unfortunate blue neighbours, lurching from one pseudo-crisis to another. With the Rio Ferdinand contract saga and associated fan-bating, the Keane/Ferguson ‘disagreement’, the lukewarm reaction to their Far East tour, the lukewarm performances of Ruud Van Nistelroll, the bad feeling following the Glazer takeover and the general feeling that their ageing squad just isn’t equipped to challenge Chelsea this year, Sir Alex Ferguson is in charge of a downright miserable club.
Arsenal have lost Patrick Vieira, maybe not the outstanding player of a couple of years ago, but still captain and fulcrum of the team. Thierry Henry will fire the club onwards next season but the club’s fans are rightfully concerned that Arsene Wenger looks set to rely on Henry, the ageing Ljungberg, Bergkamp and Pires, forever-injured Sol Campbell and a rake of youngsters like Cesc Fabregas, Arturo Lupoli, Mathieu Flamini and David Bentley to win the Premiership. The Ashley Cole saga has also left a bitter taste in the mouth, the left-back embarrassingly left with nowhere to go now but sign a short-term contract extension seeing as how Chelsea went out and bought a cheaper full-back.
These two clubs will likely finish second and third in the Premiership (in some order) yet neither have the feel good factor that some of the chasing pack will have going in to the new season.
Look at Liverpool, Champions of Europe (still don’t understand that one). Only the feel good factor can explain how most fans have welcomed the signings of mediocre talent like Bolo Zenden and Peter Crouch. Neither player would have been on the top three’s back up list to their back up list, and yet Benitez pursued them.
Tottenham are riding the crest of a wave at the moment, one signature away from the capture of Dutch legend Edgar Davids, a successful pre-season, tons of fresh talent like Wayne Routledge, Mido, Teemu Tianio, Tom Huddlestone and Paul Stalteri, as well as the (poor man’s) Chelsea-esque English backbone (Robinson-King-Carrick-Defoe). Some Tottenham fans, apparently still under the limit, believe their side can snatch fourth-place from the Crouch-purchasing Liverpudlians!
Not so Goodison
But that feel good factor seems to have disappeared from Goodison Park. Proud as they were to finish fourth last season, it’s been acknowledged that they stumbled over the line as Liverpool faltered behind them, a 7-0 drubbing at Highbury underlining the gap from second-to-fourth. Everton have failed to build on that encouraging fourth place by having a miserable summer in the transfer market. The shoulder-shrugging £5m purchase of central defender Per Koldrup has replaced Alan Stubbs, Simon Davies has come in for the released Steve Watson and last season’s on-loan Mikel Arteta finally sealing a permanent £2m transfer. Their other big signing? The previously released Alessandro Pistone, a defender so mediocre that no other Premiership club was willing to offer him a two-year deal. Last season’s predicted relegation might be closer this season, believe it or not (think of Leeds 1992 First Division-winning team that failed to win an away game and finished 17th in 1993).
There is a somewhat muted feeling at top six clubs like Bolton and Middlesbrough who have also struggled to bring in big-name signings. Their respective gaffers, Allardyce and McClaren, are not the most awe-inspiring, charismatic creatures to grace management and with little change from last years sides you have to wonder if they are going to move anywhere quickly. Behind them Manchester City might be ready to take their place. Despite tearaway Joey Barton’s best efforts to destroy things, the Stuart Pearce era is one of great hope for Man C fans. Losing Sean Wright-Phillips was a necessary evil, and make no bones about it, a big loss. But the fans expected it and with Kiki Musampa signed on loan again, Andy Cole looking good in pre-season, Darius Vassell looking for somewhere to reach his potential and white elephants John Macken and Steve McManaman off the payroll, there’s a more slim line look to this decent side.
Maybe Vassell was just fed up at miserable Villa Park. David O’Leary has signed players of the calibre of Kevin Phillips, Patrik Berger and Aaron Hughes – and the fans seem accepting. If ever there was a sign that the feel good factor doesn’t exist, that’s it. They’ve just given up and are all set for a 10th place finish, if they’re lucky.
While Birmingham are coming to terms with the fact that Steve Bruce might not be the messiah he once seemed to be, Blackburn have some cheer. Mark Hughes has impressed the Ewood Park faithful with the captures of his Welsh compatriots Craig Bellamy and Robbie Savage while the solid squad-player Shefki Kuqi has joined from Ipswich. Blackburn expect to improve on last season’s struggle.
And of course there are the Premiership new boys. Sunderland, West Ham and Wigan are all coming in on a high, eager to get stuck in to the big boys – and hope that they’re not relegated by Easter. Of course the feel good factor will still be there, win or lose – except maybe for the Hammers fans trying to oust Personality Pardew.
Roy Keane threw the toys out of the pram again and for an ABK like myself, it’s manna from heaven. Not being a big fan of Merchandise United, I wallow in any sort of displeasure that this unpleasant bunch find themselves in. The nature of the dispute, if you believe the media, apparently had something to do with the fact that United players were allowed to bring wives and girlfriends on their pre-season tour of Asia. Keane didn’t think it was conducive to preparing for the new season.
And you know what? He might be right. But isn’t it about time Roy Keane thought long and hard about the ramifications of his actions? His outburst at the 2002 World Cup was justified by the fact that his complaints were valid and the embarrassment caused was a mere after-thought.
The parallels are there for all to see. His club’s brand damaged by a public (now that it’s in the papers) argument between captain and manager, one that resulted in the captain being sent home to train with the kids. As if there weren’t enough worries for Ferguson, the last thing he needs is a camp fragmented further by this outburst. Keane needs to learn how to raise his grievances – with great power, comes great responsibility.
You see, I knew comic books would come in useful some day.