For those fans whose expectations of this year’s Premier League title race were shaped by the English press orgasming over Chelsea’s prowess, I have to burst your bubble – Chelsea haven’t won the title yet. It’s only November, and you don’t win titles in November. You can lose them (as Liverpool did last year, or City have with their results), but you can’t win them.
And for those fans who have persistently predicted Arsenal’s or Manchester United’s demise, and especially those who thought money = footballing success (Carlos Tevez, I’m looking at you), you’re in for another surprise – it’s not happening, at least not the way you imagined it.
I bring these points up because as football fans we are spectacularly lacking in perspective. We quickly forget the past. Our memories are short, and growing shorter, it seems, all the time. Our collective consciousness seems to reinvent itself daily, cobbled from a media blitz of short-order blurbs and 30-second segments.
Chelsea haven’t lost the title because of one bad result and Arsenal haven’t won the title because of one good result. There’s plenty more matches to go, and as Liverpool’s temporary league status showed, they are not that far away from a Champions League spot, although with their performances…
But still, that’s how the press plays it, and if you can’t really change it, you can at least form your own opinion instead of having it handed to you.
With that in mind, here’s my list of things learned from this weekend – feel free to add your own in the comments:
1. Manchester United can’t win. But they won’t let you win either.
Manchester United spent three years winning league titles after the press wrote them off throughout the season – suffice to say anyone who has been winning league titles over a period of almost 20 years knows a thing or two about evolution and survival. So we know that United aren’t going to be relegated, or anything silly, and barring a catastrophe they’re not dropping out of the Champions League spots either.
But how the hell do they keep on saving themselves at the death? The Guardian thinks the knockout punch will come sooner than later, and that United are destined to lose. Of course they are, you end up losing now or then regardless of how good the team is, but the law of averages does not mean that United aren’t title material. At their worst – and this is surely the worst they’ve been in the last 4-5 years – United will throw away leads, or concede early leads – but even then, they won’t let you win.
2. Jose Mourinho never lost at Stamford Bridge.
You can hate him, burn his effigies or loathe the clubs he manages, but the man has one thing going for him – he delivers results, regardless of whether it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time or just being there. Chelsea’s meek capitulation against Sunderland – a team that lost 5-1 to Newcastle United recently – is reminiscent of their uncertain form of last season, where they lost easy away games. Is it a case of just ‘attacking’ them? They used to say that about United last season, that having a go at them would result in wins, but that’s missing the point, that happens to any team that you end up attacking from the word go.
Chelsea’s age is finally catching up with them, and while they’re still front-runners for this year’s title, they’re not invincible. And given how astutely Mourinho exploited the gap between Cheslea and United / Arsenal in 2004/05 and 2005/06, it’s safe to say that they’ll struggle to have it as good in the league as they did under Jose.
3. Money Brings Manchester City Ungrateful Fans
Mancini, if one remembers their history correctly, was handed a league title through Calciopoli, then won the second one without Juve (and with Milan docked points), and then almost threw away the third title after bottling it in February and announcing that he would quit – just scraping through at the end thanks to his players and Roma’s inability to win. There’s no doubt that he can manage a star-studded team of players – which is what Inter had – but to get them to win in a tough league where other teams have as good, if not better, players – is a whole different level of difficult.
We said about Martin Jol that he could never win the league title for Tottenham – we can say the same about Mancini and City.
And there’s no shame in that, because City shouldn’t be ‘expecting’ to win the title. What they should be expecting is to qualify for Europe, then challenge for the title, and then win it. Chelsea qualified for Europe before Abramovich took over, came second in the next season, and then followed up with 2 back to back league titles in a unbalanced league. Times have changed (although Liverpool’s demise has opened up a slot at the top table), teams are tougher, and City’s success can only be measured over 2-3 seasons, not 1.
If City can qualify for Champions League this season, that’s success in itself and then they can look at next season with more ambition. Yes, the style of play may not suit everyone but at the end of the day, especially for the owners, sustained success should be the goal, and with Mourinho aiming for United and no other top-level coach seemingly available (or willing), if Mancini can take them to the Champions League, so be it. The ungrateful fans will have to suffer a bit longer.