Hull City and Steve Bruce
It may seem harsh to pillory Hull City and their manager for relegation. This is a club with four years of top-flight experience in their history; the second tier is a far more familiar home than amongst the elite of English football.
However, that statement is largely diluted by Hull’s behaviour over the last two years since promotion. Some clubs choose to tread cautiously in the Premier League (with Burnley the obvious example of that), but Hull have taken the opposite path. It’s a figure I’ve often repeated, but the £65m spent by Steve Bruce since the beginning of last season is astonishing for a club of Hull’s size. It’s likely to end in the worst of ways.
The last time Hull were relegated, their three biggest signings were Stephen Hunt, Seyi Olofinyana and Paul McShane, the most expensive of which cost £3.5m. Last summer they chose to spend £10.5m on striker Abel Hernandez. When you Google his name, the second story is about him growing dreadlocks in eight days. That’s a reflection of how successful he has been on the pitch.
Read again through the list of some of the players Bruce has brought to the club this season: Hernandez, Hatem Ben Arfa, Gaston Ramirez, Mohamed Diame, Harry Maguire, Michael Dawson, Tom Ince. There was a line when Fulham were relegated about a club paying the price for making the squad ‘too weird’. The exact same thing has occurred with Hull.
That those players listed above cost close to £30m in transfer fees and goodness knows how much in wages only adds to the misery of probable relegation.
“The owners wanted me to stay, they were convinced we were going to be a Premier League team and I think that’s why they rewarded me with a new contract. I haven’t really thought of myself just yet but I’ve got no thoughts of quitting or walking away, nothing like that. It’s for others to decide” – Steve Bruce.
Actually, perhaps it isn’t a Big Weekend for Bruce after all. Lose and he may well be sacked, receiving a pay-off two months into a three-year deal. He will no doubt walk into another mediocre job on decent money within the next year, as that is the way of these things. Another club like Hull, or like Wigan, or Sheffield United, or Sunderland, or Crystal Palace, or Birmingham, or Huddersfield.
Or he may win, and complete the ‘Great Escape’. He will be lauded for his achievements in triumph through adversity. He will be touted for bigger and better jobs. People will write how they never doubted him. Honestly.
If Hull are relegated, don’t cry for the manager, or the players. Weep for a set of supporters who have had to deal with two years of their owner trying to change the club’s name, telling them he doesn’t care if they die and refusing to spend money given to the club through the Away Supporters Initiative (ASI) on his own fans.
Assem Allam has been backed by Bruce in that regard too. “Away fans has been the next debate and has provided this undercurrent for the protests,” Bruce said on May 3. “But I keep reminding people that without the owner and something like £70million of his own money there wouldn’t be a club. It’s frustrating for him, disappointing.” Oh that’s fine then. If you’re rich you can stamp on tradition – modern football’s motto.
The oxygen of football success may well be money, but the oxygen of a football club is its fans. Just ask supporters of Hereford FC or FC United of Manchester. So they’ll survive alright, Steve. Long after you have left.
Surely his last game as a manager, either at Newcastle or anywhere else besides. I can’t pretend it hasn’t been hugely entertaining, but I don’t mean that as a compliment.
It would be a ballsy move, even by Newcastle’s recent standards, to fall into the relegation zone for the first time in over seven months on the final day. Yet that is the fate that could befall the Mike Ashley runaway train of misery on Sunday. If Hull can beat a Manchester United side playing for nothing, only a win will keep Newcastle up. That’s two more points than they have managed since February.
Whatever the result on Sunday, there will be a sit-in protest from home supporters after the game to once again challenge Mike Ashley’s ownership. Even if they do survive, there is no cause for celebration, merely deep embarrassment at what the club has become.
A dead rubber of course, but Wenger must be keen to avoid going four home league games without a goal for the first time since March 1987.
It might be nice for Arsene to mix things up with the team too, given that every single one of his front four looked dead on their feet against Sunderland and Swansea.
The Battle For Fifth
I bet you thought that the last-day drama was restricted to the relegation battle, didn’t you? Fool!
Not a bit of it. With Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham all separated by two points, there are genuine reasons to fight until the final minute. Whilst all three teams could qualify for the Europa League, only the one that finishes fifth is certain to gain automatic entry to the group stage.
That might not sound like the sexiest of prizes, but it’s a damn sight better than finishing sixth should Aston Villa win the FA Cup, as that club will be forced to enter the tournament in the third qualifying round. The first leg of that qualifying round takes place on July 30. It’s the football season equivalent of having to set your alarm for 5am.
Should Arsenal win the FA Cup, everything simply drops down a place. So fifth and sixth would both qualify for the Europa League group stage, and seventh would face competitive football in July. The prospect of Tottenham supporters having to will Arsenal to an FA Cup final victory is an odd one indeed.
I’m hearing breaking news that Sterling may have sustained a muscle tweak in training on Friday.
In all seriousness, this messy affair demonstrates the shift in power from the clubs to the players to the agents. Liverpool can decide that they want to keep the player whatever, but the negative PR and depreciation of asset that comes from letting a player rot in the reserves is an empty threat. Sterling is too valuable to blackball him.