The RGSOAS Review of 2013

2013 will forever be remembered as the year that immediately preceded 2014. Memories of this year will be taken to the graves of those who died during it. But what about the rest of us? As we discard the inconsequential riff-raff, allow Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed to select the most enduring moments of the year, to be forever sealed within the amber of our collective consciousness, one day to be used to make some sort of crazy dinosaur theme park.

* Luis Suarez finally realised he’s a terrible man after a perspective-altering cancer scare, when mistaking a drumstick lolly he had left in his trouser pocket for a tumour. He sought to make amends for past sins by constantly eating at Nando’s and offering his ready-stamped loyalty cards to strangers. He owes his successes on the field this season to the surfeit of energy gained by eating peri-peri coleslaw each day.

Totally benign

Totally benign

* Bank manager face template and passing fetishist Xavi pursued a bizarre sideline as a noir detective in Xavi: Possession Cop. With Barcelona finally ceding their prestigious spot as everyone’s favourite football team, their midfield metronome changed careers in stylish fashion, devoting himself to romancing broads, lamenting his past mistakes and inscrutably fiddling with blinds in darkened rooms while sippin’ whiskey.

All possession. All cop.

All possession. All cop.

* A ball boy ended up in the news for failing to do his job. Eden Hazard’s poor attempt at Eric Cantona-style notoriety saw the Chelsea Belgian tamely toe-poke Swansea’s top Ball Circulation Operative, Charlie Morgan. The football world reacted with approximately 70% outrage and 30% amusement, otherwise known as ‘The Michael McIntrye Ratio’. The incident saw the dreadfully inept teen thrust ungainly into the world of minor celebrity, as lucrative offers of television work came his way. He was last seen being ejected from a branch of TK Maxx, for failing to return a Christmas gift properly.

Silly sausage

Silly sausage

* West Ham manager Sam Allardyce attempted to gloss over his club’s lack of strikers by singing the songs of A-Ha in a surprise concert. The rotund beast caused controversy during his Upton Park gig by not playing Take On Me. The shock omission served as adequate distraction, but ultimately caused unrest among supporters who love 80s nostalgia just as much as they love their dear ol’ mums.

Stupid man

Stupid man

* RGSOAS caused a stir by rooting through the bins of cuboid-headed spokesbloke Adrian Chiles, and discovered a notebook containing a collection of his horrible punchlines.

Unwarranted thumbs-up

Unwarranted thumbs-up

* Documentary film The Class of 92 offered some startling insights into the legendary batch of child prodigies that effectively kept Alex Ferguson and his wife in horse racing and dildos. Manchester United’s celebrated youth team told their stories armed with a montage of the 1990’s, which inevitably featured the two clips that every such 90’s montage always features – Noel Gallagher schmoozing at Downing Street and Tony Blair playing head tennis with Kevin Keegan. The film received glowing reviews, with the revelation that forgotten man Terry Cooke was actually one child sitting on the shoulders of another child all along stunning critics. However, most of the attention was attracted by the twist ending, which saw Nicky Butt ruthlessly massacre Eric Harrison’s extended family before turning the gun on himself, prompting Pele to demote him to his second favourite player of all time.

Senseless massacre

Senseless massacre

* Barry Plapp finally broke his silence on the role he plays in maintaining the posthumous legend of Brian Clough. In a revealing interview, he told Fisted Away how Clough’s widow Barbara pays him to devise fresh anecdotes about the formerly-witty, now-dead football management personality.

Nobody ever says fuck you.

Nobody ever says fuck you.

* The twin worlds of football and Guy Ritchie films were saddened to hear of the news that Vinnie Jones had developed cancer. However, in another shocking career reinvention, Jones was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for finding a cure for the notorious illness and reason for 60% of charity fun runs. In his disturbingly graphic acceptance speech, he revealed that he “simply squeezed the very bollocks” of the dastardly Nan-thief. It is not yet known whether his discovery will earn him a place in the celebrity section of WWE’s next Hall of Fame.

Jones gets sent off at WWF Capital Carnage. Not even a joke.

Jones gets sent off at WWF Capital Carnage. Not even a joke.

The Year of the Goodbye

Footballing hegemony has been disrupted, and the future is here at last. How will the Premier League reinvent itself as the landscape changes?

Goodbye

Has any season of football ever been so dominated by the word farewell? Ferguson. Moyes. Scholes. Mancini. Neville. Carragher. Owen. Petrov. Ferdinand. Terry. All have said goodbye to something, whether it was a career, a club or a country. For most fans, the bracing nature of this collection of high-profile departures will have only been rivalled by the existential terminus of a game of Football Manager, when you realise that Cherno Samba, aged 62, has stepped down as England manager, and you have wasted your life. You are also wearing only pants. Where did the time go?

As the last Premier League season wheezed to a close, Sky Sports aired an advert wielding the most futuristic sentence ever known to mankind: ‘Sir Alex Ferguson’s final match – available in 3D!’. Just imagine being 12 years old and hearing that collection of words without wondering when one might also hear of commercially affordable moon-rockets, teleportation devices and fat-free everything. Yes, now we can finally breathe that crisp space-age air, look in the opposite direction to Tony Pulis, and cry that the future is here! Whatever next?

We have already witnessed glimpses of the future’s fibre optic nodes taking insidious hold of the game in the form of featherlight boots, moving advertising hoardings and Ray Winstone’s looming, monolithic head. Bald men cover their scalps with hair – actual, growing hair! – while others talk furtively of ‘superinjunctions’, whatever they are. People in the game talk to each other via the internet in full public view. Tottenham have a defender who doesn’t like football – is that even allowed? They all wear those tiny bibs under their shirts that monitor their heart rates. The rubicon has been crossed, and the present has become the past, while the future becomes the nearly-present, soon to become the past again, freeing up vital futurespace. The Premier League somehow seems shiny and new again, as long as nobody ruins it.

These sweeping changes have given the top flight a timely blood transfusion, which will provide impetus to a competition that has become jaded and tired. English football’s ruling elite must address the issue of its own stasis, having become bloated by its own sense of self-worth. Sky’s perpetual bombast can no longer mask the paucity of truly world-class players, nor the surfeit of mediocre teams clogging up the fixtures like so much arterial sludge. Meanwhile, our friends from the Bundesliga are busy downing protein shakes before hitting the gym once more in flattering muscle vests. The virility of our new German overlords means there has never been such pressure on the Premier League to evolve since its conception in 1992. The imperative to move on has never been greater.

And yet moving on will be the challenge for the vast majority of the league’s participants next season. An unusually large number of clubs were touched by drama, mutiny or downright crisis at the close of the campaign, and the summer continues to prompt much navel-gazing, chin-stroking and soul-searching. In facing the prospect of no longer being The Best League In The World, there can be no room for more of the predictability that stymied 2012/2013. The biggest shocks of last season did as much to promote failure rather than success. Manchester United’s easy canter to the title went virtually uncontested. Swansea’s Capital One Cup final win came against League Two’s Bradford City. Newcastle’s dismal collapse was surprising, but they were saved by being just one of ten teams still fighting relegation in the closing weeks.

The raft of abdications that coloured the final months of the Year of the Goodbye have already thrown up a set of pre-ordained plots for teams to adhere to. Manchester United have a legend to replace. Manchester City and Chelsea will be tooling up big in the transfer market. Arsenal will continue to grind out the points through the self-flagellation. Tottenham will attempt to bring in the world-class striker that might prevent them from banging their head against the glass ceiling. Liverpool’s upward momentum will only be boosted should they retain a Luis Suarez fuelled by a misplaced sense of injustice. Everton and Stoke have to face change after years of enviable stability. Sunderland will have a full season to see what their manager is made of. Southampton will have a manager less dependent on an interpreter.  Aston Villa will see a youthful club invigorated by a dramatic late dash away from the trapdoor.  Newcastle, still flushed with a late-season influx of talent yet to gel, will give their manager at least the first few months to prove exactly what great season plus awful season equals. The three promoted Championship clubs will seek to prove that they’re not too excited to be there to prove that they’re not too excited to be there.

This leaves a handful of clubs for whom the summer so far has been no more than a frustrating procession through Thorpe Park on a staff training day: West Brom, Swansea, West Ham, Norwich, Fulham. The same teams that took up places 8-12 slap-bang in the middle of the hierarchy have all been curiously absent from the close-season clear-out hullabaloo. West Brom, Swansea and West Ham rest their hopes on the retentions of Romelu Lukaku (doubtful), Michael Laudrup (possible) and Andy Carroll (success!) respectively, if they are to follow respectable seasons. Fulham were disappointing but they can at least continue to look to Dimitar Berbatov for some inspiration.

We are left with Norwich, a yellow and green symbol standing in dull monument to the Premier League’s median. Poor, average Norwich. They have a smashing new kit. They’ve signed Rocky Van Wolfswinkel, the footballer with the most exciting name since Orgasm Dynamite-WrestleMania hung up his boots. But that really is about it. They are the opposite of what next season should mean, and unless that changes they will be left behind. Right now it would seem perfectly plausible that they might be the unwilling recipients of slow-motion, melancholy hand-waves of their own come next May’s video montages. That will only happen if they fail to grasp the chance to fill the emergent gaps with something new. There is no script for them to follow and no expectations to burden them. Fly or die. Seize the day. Something in latin.

Of course, this sentiment doesn’t apply solely to Norwich, as so much is yet to happen. We are yet to witness the closure of the annual tabloid carnival that is the summer transfer window, rife with its frenzied machinations and arcane puppetry. For once, this may prove to be not just a tedious distraction, more a tantalising prologue for the coming season. Which teams will be paralysed by their own motion sickness as they fail to adjust to the changing environment?

In 2013/2014, England’s twenty best teams have the opportunity to restyle themselves from a more aspirational template. Now is the time for teams to evolve, to reinvent. Next season, more than any other, the corridors of power will have that newly-buffed back-to-school gleam, and for the first time in a long time there is some extra room for manoeuvre. The hegemony has been disrupted. Next season can change it all. Just please, for the love of Cherno Samba, put some trousers on.

The Ferguson Shadow

Ferguson

For all of the florid tributes that have been paid to Sir Alex Ferguson since his abrupt retirement, there is one poetic symbol that has stood above all others, dominating the reams of column inches and internet discussion since the subsequent appointment of David Moyes. The looming inevitability of Ferguson’s Shadow is expected to stalk the corridors of power at Old Trafford long after the man himself has cleared his desk, and is expected to smother the new man in charge. Moyes will have much to adjust to in his new role, but common opinion has it that the most daunting task for him will be trying to find fresh life within the dark confines of that shadow. The true test for Moyes will be in seeing whether he can make the shadow work for him, and use it to his advantage.

It seems that Moyes has been given the job as much for his character as for his professional credentials, as being “cut from the same cloth” as his predecessors is not something you can necessarily quantify on a CV. He will be expected to ‘get’ Manchester United, and use that understanding accordingly, as Ferguson has done so frequently throughout the years. Summoning the almighty power of the Manchester United name would be difficult for anyone replacing a man of 26 years’ stewardship at the club, let alone Moyes, a man unfamiliar with being a heavyweight.

The malingering presence of Ferguson will sustain that mythic quality, the irresistible accumulation of forged history. How better for Moyes to immerse himself in the legacy of the club than by engaging with a man who has built as much of it as anyone? In one of many eulogies given by those that knew him best, David Beckham was asked by Sky Sports News for his thoughts on Ferguson, only to tell a story instead of walking through the Old Trafford corridors for the first time and smelling the distinct odour of Sir Matt Busby’s pipe. If anybody knows how to thrive in another man’s shadow, it’s Alex Ferguson, and, well, it didn’t do him all that badly did it?

Ferguson has spoken in the past of his morning routine: the 6am start, the slice of toast and the mountain of paperwork to see to before he can get to work with his players. Perhaps this routine, the perfunctory admin and necessary mundanities will be as hard for Ferguson to extricate himself from as it will be for Moyes to adopt as his own. If one of the key reservations about Moyes – the relative lack of big player experience – holds any weight, then he will need to fix it and quickly. He will need to spend time with his players, maybe more even than Ferguson himself may have been used to on a daily basis, if his new charges are to readjust to a different regime.

Moyes

While it is one problem entirely to replace the monolithic presence of Ferguson, there are two other issues that will trouble Moyes. Manchester City’s disastrous attempts at retaining the Premier League title all but guarantee some major tooling up in the transfer market this summer. Elsewhere, Chelsea look certain to re-hire Jose Mourinho, a man for whom the phrase ‘guaranteed trophies’ may as well be printed on his business cards. We can be sure that the title race will be fought much more closely next season (that is to say, it will be fought over at all), which will only increase the pressure on United’s new manager. This is where the dubious distinction of living in the Ferguson Shadow can be deployed to good effect; if United fail to retain the trophy, there’s a ready-made excuse to hand, and one which you imagine Ferguson himself would have no problem invoking in order to buy the new man more time.

There will be some United fans who will be too used to success, and too aware of the capriciousness of the modern chairman’s wrath, to grant Moyes much time to adjust. Much has been made of the infamous banner calling for Ferguson’s head in 1989, deploring “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap”. The most startling thing about that banner isn’t the retrospective irony, but that it took three years for such a banner to be displayed at all. That’s a startling amount of time for a new manager to be given that simply doesn’t happen at big clubs these days. Ferguson has seen for himself the virtues of patience, and the six-year contract that Moyes has signed suggests that the previous incumbent will do what he can to make sure that the new guy will be afforded a similar privilege.

Some United fans may even be relishing the prospect of a younger manager coming in, having acknowledged Ferguson’s flaws in recent years. His recent reluctance to sign a central midfielder has added fresh momentum to rumours of Marouane Fellaini joining his former manager at Old Trafford. His recent track record in the transfer market has prompted further updates (Bebe, Gabriel Obertan) to the semi-legendary list of failed buys (Massimo Taibi, Kleberson, you know the rest). Some have also identified a worrying trend for alienating promising youngsters that have gone on to thrive elsewhere in Europe, such as Gerard Pique, Guiseppe Rossi and Paul Pogba. These flaws certainly won’t form his legacy – the 49 trophies will probably just about see to that – but they will, at the very least, afford Moyes some room for manoeuvre. If he were to bring Fellaini with him, for example, or give more playing time to someone such as Nick Powell, then he might go some way to impressing some of the more sceptical supporters early in his tenure.

After Ferguson’s final home game, we heard him rally the troops one final time, exhorting the club’s fans to show the new manager the same support they showed him at the start of his reign. He was met with a rapturous response, as they chanted just one word: not Ferguson, not Moyes, but United. With that one simple command to the supporters to ease the transition from old to new, he summoned a little brightness on his own shadow to alleviate the gathering gloom. And with that, the weight of expectation may prove to be less of a shadow, and more of a light to illuminate the way.