The debate over the importance of pre-season continues, including a league table from last season for stats fans. Plus travelling to watch your team and Blackpool...
As you may have noticed it's the summer, which means that Johnny and Al are interested to see how different football and cricket punditry differ. Football has a lot to learn...
The money available to Premier League clubs is often talked about as though it's a great thing; the sheer enormity of the resources from ever-improving TV deals gets a lot of people very excited. This season it has been bigger than ever before but an odd thing has happened. Rather than the huge resources improving the quality of clubs throughout the league, it seems to have made at least half of them awful. Rather than the huge money attracting a better quality of player the standard has actually dropped.
Consequently, the bottom ten in the league from Villa downwards are possibly the worst shower of sh*te we've seen in many a year. The fact that a side as poor as Villa are tenth is indicative of where we're at. Eleven clubs are fighting relegation and they are mostly awful most of the time.
All that money invested, all the desperation to stay in the top flight in order to keep the money flowing, all the player and managerial changes and what is it all for really? To try and win about eight or nine games and draw a handful more to stay up with 35 points just so they can do it all over again next season? I find myself wondering quite what the point of it all is.
It's great to come up and for a season or two, finish anywhere from 17th to 9th but when that's all you do, season after season and everything is sacrificed to this endless repetition, what does it really achieve? These clubs simply can't make the top four and don't want to make a Europa League place because they fear it'll distract them from the business of being 17th to 9th. Similarly the cup competitions are a bit of a nuisance and can stretch resources a bit thin. They don't want to lose an important player and be thrown off their campaign to hang on in the Premier League.
The irony of this obsession with top flight status is that all the money you got from being in the top flight has been blown on a massive fee and wages for the likes of Ricky Van Bear-Penis, so you're no better off. All you've done is wasted money on players who would have cost a lot less if everyone hadn't known you were so rich. Thus your income, though increased, buys less.
Secondly, what are you worrying about anyway? If you get relegated, the parachute payments are so good for four years that there's no reason to drop off a financial cliff unless you're an idiot and haven't put relegation clauses into players' contracts.
As a fan, losing is a tedious business. I would far rather win 50% of the games in a season in a lower division than 25% in a higher one. It's just more fun. I'd far rather be in a league which at least had something you could aim to achieve such as a play-off place, or even promotion. This bottom ten we're watching now have little to zero chance of ever being anywhere other than in the bottom ten. They have nowhere to go and nothing much to achieve other than holding onto the Premier League status so they can buy more Ricky Van Fox-Schlongs next year.
Getting promoted is great for a couple of seasons. It's all new and it feels like a real achievement but soon it becomes a pointless existence because there is nothing more to achieve - you can tangibly feel this at clubs like Fulham and Stoke. It doesn't even matter if you're not very good because there are ten other not very good clubs as well and that means the standards required are not that high to keep in the league. Which is perhaps why the bottom ten this season are usually so poor to watch.
Decades ago there was the chance of rising up the league and challenging for honours, but now the top seven are so financially superior that can't happen. No other club has the resources to ever get higher than seventh. All the extra TV money is effectively redundant because they still can't compete.
Don't fans of these clubs get bored? Bored of losing a lot more than winning, bored of there being no light at the end of the tunnel. Bored of pretending finishing 11th is better than 13th. Bored of not being able to compete and bored of being expected to pay handsomely for the privilege of merely existing in the Premier League. No highs, no lows; just existing, nothing but existing.
If this bottom ten harden into a permanent rump plus newly promoted teams - and this seems pretty likely give or take one or two sides having an exceptional season now and again - it's like having a league within a league, and though it's always great to see a big side like Manchester United getting beaten by Stoke City, it won't make the prospect of seeing the Potters playing Fulham or Norwich any more attractive to the neutral, quite the reverse if anything. This season it already feels like that bottom ten are a uniquely hollow void, a seedless world of impotence where mere existence has been redefined as achievement.
Because anyone in the bottom 10 could feasibly get relegated this year, it should make it all the more exciting and I suppose it would if watching any of them play football wasn't a 75% chance of being bored to the point when your eyes start to want to crawl out of your head. The occasional good game isn't impossible but typically, it doesn't happen.
Wouldn't it be a fantastic twist of fate and illustrative of the sickness of modern corporate finance if the quality of the league turned out to be in inverse proportion to the amount of money invested in it and the more that was poured into it simply made it worse and worse and worse.
Go here to buy Johnny's uniquely lovely novels about UEFA cup football and depression.