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Tottenham are the benchmark for next season
There is a ‘conversation’ between Conte and Pochettino about their relative success this season. Conte thinks Spurs are ahead in their development because Pochettino has been there longer; and Pochettino highlights the vast disparity in relative resources that Chelsea have. Both have valid points, and it appears that it is the conflation between Chelsea and Conte – if you could separate them – that this discussion pivots. Chuck in participation in European competition along with this ‘having a new manager or not’, and we have the major cleavages between the top six going into this season that, critically, will not be there next. So, how do we assess this year’s top six’s achievements and success?
The thrust of Conte’s argument is, the more time you have to work with your team and develop it the better, so, with Manchester United, City, and Chelsea having new managers, it’s advantage Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham: despite being in his first season at Chelsea, Conte’s achievement is greatest. However, Chelsea *and Conte* did not have European football to contend with.
The last two winners of the Premier League have not had to frequently play twice a week, in Europe. The benefits of this are well versed: ability to play a more settled team of the first choice players, less fatigue, wear and tear, *and more time to prepare for matches*. The other example since the end of the big four era where all ‘usual’ title contenders were not all competing both in Europe and in the same competition, is of course that of Brendan Rogers’ Liverpool. The way Rogers was able to advantageously prepare his team for their next game in the absence of mid-week fixtures is well documented.
Chelsea and Liverpool did not have European football this season. For Liverpool, without the ‘new-manager disadvantage’, this does not reflect well. Nonetheless, the challenges of playing extra games can also be seen, where Liverpool’s season appeared to falter, was the following of the busy festive period with their participation in the League Cup. However, if we’re assessing Conte’s achievement, Chelsea’s lack of participation in Europe gave him the advantage over fellow new mangers Mourinho and Guardiola. He had greater opportunity to work with his players and shape his new team.
However, in the vein of ‘you can only beat what’s in front of you’, or ‘do what you can with the hand you’ve been dealt’, it would be churlish to detract from Conte’s achievements. Like Leicester last year, Conte succeeded in the context he was in. A further possible question might be how many points is non-participation in Europe worth; 7 points? On the metrics of ‘new manager’ and ‘European participation’, the big underperformers are Arsenal, and in particular, Liverpool. On Pochettino’s point of resources – Tottenham on multiple financial metrics are vastly closer to the rest of the league than the other ‘big5’ – they have over-performed, and shouldn’t really even be competing with Chelsea.
Next season, with all these teams all competing in Europe and all likely to have the same manager they had last season, assessment will be much simpler. The benchmark will be Tottenham. Finish below Tottenham, with their inferior resources, and these teams and managers have underperformed.
Is this Tottenham team really better than Redknapp’s?
For all the talk of this possibly being the best Spurs team ever to play at White Hart Line I’d like to offer an opinion that I think is quite obvious and yet I haven’t seen or heard anywhere. I don’t think the current Spurs team are even as good as ‘Arry’s team from a few years back.
I think people are getting carried away due to Spurs’ recent league positions but I think alongside recency bias they are being massively overrated due to the current dire state of the league. Just look at how they’ve got on in Europe against any half decent competition.
Fair enough ‘Arry’s team never made it to second in the league but I think the league was of a lot higher standard circa 2011 and they did pretty well in Europe. I’m not a Spurs fan but I remember them battering a strong Milan side and off the top of my head his team included the likes of Cudicini, Gallas, King, Van der Vaart, Modric and a flying Bale. I’m far from being a Redknapp fan (so much so I’m not even sure if his name is spelt with one or two p’s!) but I would bet any money that his team would beat the current one.
Does money ever become irrelevant to footballers?
I’m not sure whether this mail will be considered for selection as it’s not really about football, per se, but I couldn’t help responding to Johnny Nic’s latest article. I found it fascinating.
The part I find hard to comprehend – and actually staggering – is when a player is earning 200 grand a week, but will kick up a stink for that extra 50 grand a week. That extra 200 grand a month. That extra 2 and a half million a year. At what point does cash actually become worthless? Could any footballer really spend millions upon millions of pounds a year and, if so, what on? A super yacht? Private plane? Super-duper injunction?
Personally, I can’t imagine myself really being bothered if I was on 100 or 150 grand a week. After all, you’re still outrageously rich. But sometimes I wonder whether the *ordinary* folk like us (well, me, I can only really speak for myself) who have never and probably will never be in a position of radical wealth, are unable to understand the mindset described above because we haven’t been corroded by the money-pit. But if we had been, we’d become just like them. Wanting more, getting more. Accustomed to the cash. Blowing wads of money on shit we don’t need.
But then, fortunately, I haven’t experienced poverty either. I haven’t grown up praying that I’ll be lucky enough to eat a dinner in the evening, or witnessing family members so blighted by malnutrition that they couldn’t even sit up in bed, let alone kick a football. Would those horrific memories change your mindset if you were offered millions to play football in China?
I guess it’s naive to think that money wouldn’t change you. It probably would without you even realising it. But it’s equally naive to assume that all footballers are greedy, amoral reprobates without a moral compass. Football is awash with greed and vulturous corporate bloodsuckers, but it’s also been a fast-ticket out of pauperism for generations of men and women globally. For some, football is a savior rather than a pampered behemoth with a one-track mind to make money. I where you’re coming from really does impact where you want to end up.
Jack, 22, London
France’s Ligue 2: The place to be on the final day
Regarding football in Europe, and last day incentives, we should talk about France’s 2nd division, Ligue 2. Only the top 2 are promoted automatically, with 3rd place playing 18th from Ligue 1 in a playoff game. As it stand before the last game on Friday, 6 (!) teams are separated by 3 points and could be promoted. Strasbourg is 1st with 64 points, and Nimes is 6th with 61 points. Troyes and Amiens are on 63 points and Brest and Lens have 62 points.
To make matters even better, Amiens, Lens and Nimes have a goal differential of +17, while Strasbourg and Troyes are at +15. Brest stand alone at +10. This could not be closer. Any of these teams could be promoted, and the score will matter as much as the result. So none of the teams will shut up shop if they take the lead.
None of these teams play each other unfortunately. Lens is the only team playing at home, yet no one is actually playing a team who has anything to win or lose. For all those of wish to watch what surely promises to be an exciting 90 minutes of football, it’s on Friday night at 8pm GMT.
Have some cult 90s international teams
I’ve been waiting for you to do a proper top 10 ten cult national teams of the 90s since you did one for clubs. But if you’re not going to can I give it a go in no particular order:
The Yugoslav team – Euro 92
Why: Because technically they didn’t exist and are the great what ifs of that generation. They qualified but had to sit out the tournament. I mean picture it: Savicevic, Boban Prosinecki, Jarni, Stankovic, Suker, Mijatovic, Stojkovic, Boksic, Stimac and Mihajlovic all in the same team that would have been something.
Sweden team – USA 94
Why – Because they had a crazy larger than life keeper (Ravelli) , Because of Henrik Larsson’s ridiculous hair style, because of Kenneth Andersson weird homage to rugby referees in his celebrations, because of Brolin’s baby face and Dahlin being just clinical. They came third in this tournament and petered out afterwards but gave everyone great memories.
Jamaica – World Cup ’98
Why – Short-distance running, reggae music, beef patties, cool beaches, a certain sort of smokable vegetable. Those are the things I associate with Jamaica so it was interesting when they took advantage of the increase in teams who could qualify from Concacaf and made a mad scramble to find players so the world ended up witnessing players from the Jamaican league teamed up with moderately good players like Robbie Earle. They were quickly eliminated. won their dead rubber and haven’t been seen since.
Cameroon – World Cup ‘90
Why: Because they put the rest of the world on the map. Before them Europe and S America had justifiably dominated this tournament, but then Cameroon showed up and beat Argentina, got to the second round, took advantage of some madcap keeping from Rene Higuita and gave the Three Lions a run for their money. I could have forgotten to put all that in and they would still make it for old man Roger Milla and his divine dance steps at the corner flag.
Nigeria – World Cup 94 and 98
Why: Because in 94 they gave us some of the most memorable World Cup moments, like the late Rashidi Yekini shaking the net after scoring their first ever goal, Finidi’s dog and coming to within two minutes of eliminating Italy. They then shocked everyone two years later when a new crop their U23s won the Olympics by beating Brazilian and Argentina squads that included Ronaldo, Bebeto, Ayala and Simeone to name a few. They had the eccentric talents of Okocha and Kanu and wrapped the decade up with that thunderb*stard from Oliseh against Spain.
Romania – USA 94
Why: USA 94 had a lot of teams that quietly stuck around and got to the quarter-finals, but this team should be on anyone’s list purely for the antics of Gheorghe Hagi. They got through a relatively easy Group A put a troubled Argentina side out of their misery. This was the height of their contribution during their golden age, although they are remembered for eliminating Kevin Keeegan’s England.
Czech Republic – Euro 96
Why: Let’s be honest: They weren’t fancied beforehand but managed to stick around past the first round in a group that included Italy and Germany because of the newly introduced head-to-head rule and then lobbed Portugal out in the quarters and edged out a talented French side in the semis before valiantly losing the final due to another new rule. A wonderful blend of the experienced grit and young flair (Nedved,Poborsky and Berger).
Colombia – World Cup 90 and 94
Why: Because if I don’t mention two of the most crazy haired individuals in world football (Valderrama and Higuita), the latter of whom who couldn’t go to a World Cup because he had acted as a go between for Pablo Escobar, then I might as well stop now.
Bulgaria – World Cup 94
Why: They came in with high hopes based on the prickly Hristo Stoichkov, got their butts handed to them in their first game against Nigeria and then for some weird reason got better with each game that passed. Beat both Argentina and Germany, all the while smoking, drinking and in the company of their wives and girlfriends…
Croatia – World Cup 98
Why: Because of those iconic shirts. Because they gave us the closest thing we ever got to the aforementioned mentioned Yugoslavia ‘92 team. Because of the brilliance of the likes of Prosinecki and Boban. This was a team of mavericks that came and lived up to the meaning of the dark horse tag.
Saudi Arabia – World Cup 94
Why: That goal against Belgium. Asian football had never really had a good record at the World Cup, besides that surprising North Korean team from 66. Then S. Arabia happened. They qualified early for the next round and, although Sweden proved too much, they took the first step in changing people’s mindsets on the strength of Asian football.
Good to see John Terry, when there’s a sniff of a trophy, is still able to put his shinpads on and attract derision. It’s this level consistency throughout his career that’s made him one of the Premier League’s greatest defenders.