Being a low-level blogger (self-employed, self-interested and self-motivated) means that I can pretty much operate under the radar and with impunity. Short of making some drunken racist statements or threatening to blow up an airport, I’m probably going to go unnoticed. That means I can make bold statements such as proclaiming Paul Scholes to be a nothing player, David Connolly to be the new Teddy Sheringham (I really did say that) or suggest that Roy Keane could be the second coming of Alex Ferguson.
All opinions are of course valid and, simultaneously, complete and utter bollocks (although Connolly did have a very good game against Liechtenstein in 1997).
But not everyone escapes the acerbic glare of the rabid global football fan base. If you write for a national newspaper then your awkward hyperbole, contradictory statements and inaccurate supposition will get picked apart. As will your person, personality and self-esteem.
So when, every August, national newspapers force their football writers to predict how this season’s EPL will unfold, you know it’s going to mean very little.
Writers will handle the top six to eight teams with aplomb, each using their own brand of colourful prose to basically say the same thing: Balotelli’s unpredictability could swing the title towards or away from Manchester City, Adam Johnson would benefit from first team football, Chelsea look creaky at the back, Tottenham may struggle to adapt to Andre Villas-Boas’ infamous “high line”, Manchester United will be there or thereabouts.
Then they will speak with relative knowledge about the mid-table teams, throwing out the name of a promising Sunderland academy player who they’ve heard is quite good (but never seen play), consult Wikipedia or Soccerbase to see who plays for Southampton now and struggle manfully to talk about Stoke in terms broader than “direct style” and “Rory Delap”.
But there is an even more inaccurate way to preview the season ahead – talk to the fans.
Fans have no choice but to be hopeful going in to the new season. For some, hope is represented by a title challenge, for others it’s challenging for fourth (that famous historical barometer of success). And if you think a top four finish is beyond you then you’ll probably fall back on the hope of “having a cup run” – something that is entirely possible should you get pulled out of the hat against the likes of Mansfield, Telford United and Manchester United (three days before their Champions League quarter-final).
So here – taking in to account what the fans are saying online, and partly based on my own experience, perception and (mostly) imagination – is how the Premier League will unfold this season.
It’s hard to find clubs that are too despondent about the up-coming season but there can’t be much for Wigan fans to get excited about. Last season’s late surge pulled them miraculously away from the drop and saw their young manager Roberto Martinez linked with a “bigger club” (usually by his chairman, Dave Whelan) for the second summer in a row. But Martinez is still there and while they have lost Mohamed Diame and Hugo Rodallega for nothing to West Ham and Fulham, they have brought in Ryo Miyaichi on loan from Arsenal, Ivan Ramis from Mallorca and Fraser Fyvie from Aberdeen. Truthfully, I don’t know anything about the latter two and I’ve barely heard of Miyaichi. But at 19 years of age, and with just a few dozen professional games under his belt, it’s hard to see the Japanese winger being the sort of maverick game changer that Wigan have had in the past (notably Rodagella, Charles N’Zogbia and Antonio Valencia). Wigan will struggle in what looks to be a competitive league this season.
19 West Bromwich Albion
You don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Roy Hodgson came in and did a pretty fine job at the Hawthorns. Say what you will about the well-travelled Kop failure, but he sure knows how to steady the ship. In some sort of pseudo-symmetry, the former Liverpool manager is replaced by his replacement’s assistant at Anfield. You following? It’s Steve Clark, basically, and it’s his first management role. He unloaded Nicky Shorey back to Reading and Keith Andrews to Bolton while Marton Fulop – unmitigated disaster who handed Arsenal three points and Champions League qualification on the final day of last season – has disappeared. Ben Foster makes a big move from Birmingham and Romelu Lukaku has given up on breaking through at Chelsea to see if he can become good at West Brom. And he might as he seems a decent player. But overall this won’t be pretty and West Brom will become the second “W” team to be relegated a few weeks after Wigan’s drop is confirmed.
The honeymoon wore off pretty quick for Martin O’Neill. Sunderland finished the season poorly (one win in the last 10 games) and now he’s bidding 14 million pounds for Wolves’ forward, Steven Fletcher. Fletcher is not bad but O’Neill needs so much more than that. The underwhelming contribution of former Manchester United veterans John O’Shea and Wes Brown was in stark contrast to the constantly-buzzing Stephane Sessegnon and inspiring late-season contributions of James McClean. But based on last season’s form, the sole acquisition of Carlos Cuellar and the desire to splurge a whole lot of money on a striker who was relegated with 12 goals in 34 games, the fans can’t be too excited about the next nine months. I think this could be stickiest situation since Sticky the stick insect … ok, you know the rest. And David Meyler is still under contract. What’s that all about?
Part 2 to be posted tomorrow.