A Liverpool capitulation. Jose Mourinho becoming an Amazon courier. Sam Allardyce achieving his ultimate form. We could – and will – go on.
10) VAR would have been abandoned
The Premier League was never designed to accommodate VAR. A competition that prides itself on pace, power and skill viewed such technology with a constant scepticism: as a harsh handbrake to its full-throttle energy. So while the top leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Holland and even further afield adopted the system and were eventually far wiser after inevitable teething problems, England were left as confused as John Travolta looking for the intercom in Pulp Fiction.
Our little island has thankfully never since been marooned as the solitary exception to global change.
But had the Premier League season continued unabated, the camel would have eventually collapsed under the strain of straws and straw men being constructed on its back. One weekend would have seen a Liverpool player ruled offside by their penis, a referee blindfold himself instead of checking the pitch-side monitor for a Newcastle penalty, someone booked after a VAR review found them to have drawn a tiny television screen on the pitch in protest, and a manager finally be sent off for leaving a game early and making the minimum 13-mile trip to Stockley Park to enter the Video Operation Room to #remonstrate with the remote officials.
A grovelling apology from Mike Riley would then have been issued, in which he would admit defeat and declare the Premier League VAR-free. The Sun would dedicate a front page to ‘victory in World War III’ with Nigel Pearson mocked up as Winston Churchill, websites would start publishing features explaining ‘how the table would look WITH VAR’, BT Sport would completely forget to release Peter Walton from his darkly-lit, windowless confines and no-one would ever have anything to talk about ever again.
9) Arsenal would have remained unbeaten in 2020 with no credit
For so long, providing insight masquerading as expert or authoritative on Arsenal was one of the easiest tasks in football. Offer glib thoughts on an aimless style, banal clichés about a poorly defined structure behind the scenes and vague platitudes with regards to haphazard recruitment, throw in some buzz phrases like ‘lack of leadership’, ‘never replaced Vieira’, ‘these players are weak’ and ‘Shkodran Mustafi should be discontinued’, privately reconsider your stance when Martin Keown’s head falls off through vigorous nodding on the adjacent chair, watch the retweets from @MagicMesut and @BukXhakAndLac roll in and pick up your pay cheque.
And the thing is, it was once so prevalent because it was once so true. Arsenal were without direction both on the pitch and in the boardroom, did struggle in the transfer market, were missing guidance. They became the caricature they inhabited so often in Arsene Wenger’s final years.
But while times have changed, the analysis has failed to adapt with it. Arsenal would have drawn each of their final ten games to shatter the record for most stalemates in a Premier League and Danny Murphy would still be ranting about a “typical” fragile Gunners spine and shaky defence.
8) Jordan Ayew would have fired Crystal Palace into Europe
When Roy Hodgson took Fulham to their highest top-flight finish and thus Europa League qualification in 2009, he did so with the fourth-best defensive record in the division, a glorious haul of 1.026 goals per game, and a Premier League cult hero as a top scorer with the most modest of returns. Jordan Ayew has already scored eight times to Andrew Johnson’s seven, such is his inherent prolificness.
The suspension has not only hurt Liverpool. Palace stand to lose all the momentum built through three successive 1-0 wins, two of which were secured by the inexplicable feet of Ayew. Only five sides have conceded fewer in the league than Palace, who are scoring marginally less than a goal a game. A team that looked doomed on and off the pitch so recently was headed for a Europa League qualifying round exit to Malta’s finest, with an accidentally lethal weapon leading the charge.
7) Jose Mourinho would have left Tottenham to become an Amazon courier
Few felt the effects of Tottenham’s 3-3 draw with Manchester United quite as drastically as Jose Mourinho. His attempts to kidnap Scott McTominay were misguided at worst but the pressure of his every move being filmed and enshrined in documentary format was clearly starting to tell.
In a press conference two weeks later, Mourinho was expected to announce his resignation as Tottenham manager. He would stroll into the room, ignore everyone present, place a card stating ‘Sorry we missed you’ on the desk with unhelpful instructions on how to pick the quotes up the next working day from the post office, and promptly leave without shutting the door. He was not seen or heard from again in the public eye until the release of All or Nothing, in which Tottenham chose the latter.
6) Newcastle would have won the FA Cup and got relegated
As former audience members to Dave Whelan explaining how he broke his leg in the 1960 FA Cup final, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez have long been kindred coaching spirits. One is respected across the entire continent, has been courted by Barcelona and famously favours a more attractive, expansive style. The other currently manages Belgium.
Bruce was on track to emulate the greatest achievement of his direct DW Stadium successor. Martinez secured a personal promotion upon relegation in 2013, leveraging the FA Cup to jump ship from sinking Wigan to rising Everton. Bruce had planned to do much the same, navigating unfathomable routes past Manchester City and Manchester United without taking a single shot in either. The champions would have abandoned the quarter-final after having too many players sent off for telling Miguel Almiron that Mean Machine was a better football film than Goal, while United would obviously have contrived to concede directly from a speculative Matty Longstaff pass.
Awaiting in the final at Wembley would have been Arsenal, against whom Newcastle were to score the winner from a throw-in they should have returned, thus bringing Bruce’s managerial career full circle. He would have entirely forgotten that Premier League games were still happening in the process, with Newcastle slipping back into the Championship. But the suitably impressed new Manchester United director of football Paul Ince would spare him a season in the second tier by appointing him as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s replacement.
5) Bruno Fernandes would have been named POTY
Solskjaer walked of his own accord, mind. The Norwegian would have guided United to Champions League qualification and the FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals, but his one real objective was complete: righting a historical wrong done to the gaffer.
“Did you know that in 1999 they picked David Ginola for the football writers’ award?” was Sir Alex Ferguson’s questionable rhetoric when a Portuguese journalist innocently asked about Cristiano Ronaldo’s impending personal honour in 2007. “Ginola! We won the Treble that year. In fact, the only thing we didn’t win was the Boat Race – and they still gave it to Ginola! Can you believe that?” he continued.
It was a bone of contention that Ferguson cracked often and hilariously, his perplexed rage mixing with disbelief and incredulity any time it was mentioned. And Solskjaer had only ever entered coaching to exact retrospective justice, dedicating his entire managerial career to putting his master’s mind at rest.
By virtue of playing really well across January and February, thus taking advantage of the annual recency bias that grips any footballer given a pen, a voting form and the pretence of an independent opinion, Bruno Fernandes would have split the Liverpool-dominated vote for the PFA Player of the Year award, while winning the more sentimental FWA Footballer of the Year crown after giving fawning weekly interviews to the press.
Having restored balance to the only world that matters to him, Solskjaer would have completed a rehabilitation process more than two decades in the waiting by finally parking in Ferguson’s space before revealing a tattoo on his neck that read: ‘There’s too many bloody Custises!’
4) Allardyce would have taken over the entire bottom six and rescued them all
In a season where Southampton have gone from relegation certainties to European hopefuls before seamlessly sinking into the mid-table menagerie, Watford were doomed, safe and now troubled again and Burnley are never more than a streak away from reassessing their objectives, there had been two irrefutable truths: Liverpool are quite good; and the bottom six would provide the relegated three.
The gap from 15th to 14th stands at five points in this cryogenically frozen campaign; it is the widest chasm outside the top four between two adjacent positions, with that lowly sextet thrashing away to keep their heads above the parapet. And each were facing a prospect so daunting that they would have agreed to enter a pact to guarantee safety.
On March 16, Sam Allardyce was to be named manager of Brighton. And West Ham. And Watford. And Bournemouth. And Aston Villa. And Norwich. And he would still simultaneously moonlight as a guest on talkSPORT, beIN SPORTS and any other shoutlet willing to give him a platform to complain about a lack of opportunities afforded to British coaches.
Pure Sam was to be achieved on the final day. With Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich clear, Newcastle condemned to relegation and Southampton joining them, Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham still had to settle the last place. Allardyce travelled to Goodison Park to oversee a 1-0 Bournemouth win with Kevin Nolan, signed through special dispensation, scoring. And in London, West Ham and Villa played out the goalless draw that both needed to survive, with a pint of wine and a bucket of gravy replacing Allardyce in the respective dug-outs. There was consternation when both teams recorded possession of just 40%, with the other 30% symbolically attributed to Karren Brady and Davids Gold and Sullivan for their services to football. But you couldn’t argue with the results.
3) Manchester City would have won Champions League, overturned ban and dropped out
City’s chances of progression in Europe would have been jeopardised by Pep Guardiola’s questionable starting line-up for the second leg against Real Madrid, naming Fernandinho in goal and the abstract concept of overthinking as his entire outfield. But Zinedine Zidane was hoist by the petard of having done five minutes of preparation, and Los Blancos were beaten.
It was to be the first step towards Guardiola’s ultimate European catharsis. Juventus awaited in the quarter-finals, after which he would collar Cristiano Ronaldo and slap him in the face, later explaining that he was simply telling him how good a player he is, and that he should be more selfish and less humble.
A Nicolas Otamendi goal put paid to Bayern Munich in the semis, before a meeting with Barcelona in the final. A tense 0-0 draw would be followed by a penalty shoot-out which City were to win 1-0 after 26 efforts, with Guardiola taking one himself, then choosing a random fan in the stands to have a go. The only successful kick would have been the last, from Ederson.
City’s success would have forced UEFA into an embarrassing mea culpa. Desperate to avoid the quandary of the European champions being prevented from defending their crown due to being suspended from the competition, the two-year ban was overturned. City, like the defiant children they are, would have responded by pulling out of a tournament they have never really liked, while invoking a previously unheard of ruling that allows them to have ‘THE CHAMPIOOOOOOONS’ blared out before every domestic game.
2) Liverpool would have capitulated
Beating Bournemouth was only ever sticking a plaster over a gun-shot wound. Things had started to unravel for Liverpool around February and defeat to Atletico Madrid was about to send them into football’s most remarkable downward spiral since Michu’s Fantasy Football stock in the 2013/14 season.
They would not win again. In fact, Liverpool would lose their remaining nine games, each followed by Jurgen Klopp complaining about the opponent not playing “proper football”. Guardiola offered him outside after City’s 3-1 win in April, while the claim was made to look faintly ludicrous when Burnley had 23 unopposed shots – and 3% possession – at Anfield in a 5-0 victory.
Liverpool, who had already changed the ’18’ to a ’19’ on Melwood’s Champions Wall, officially changed their club motto to Haec Modo Magis and enlisted the expertise of Pitbull to modernise the Anfield Rap, had imploded. Not even Jordan Henderson and James Milner changing their names by deed poll to Wego Again and Thisdoes Notslip could stem the tide.
1) Leicester would have won the league
And it would have been Leicester, not Manchester City, taking advantage. The Foxes were to end the season with a ten-game win streak, leaving them two points behind an unaffected Liverpool total of 82. Brendan Rodgers would then have successfully lobbied for his former side to have a deduction backdated on the grounds that he was forced to play Brad Jones for a bit a few years ago.
Rodgers, a Premier League champion before Liverpool, would have declared May 17 as Outstanding Day, during which the entire population of Leicester would open their windows, cook mince and paint portraits of County Antrim’s favourite son.