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?


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 FA Attempt To Script ‘Such Drama’

After the excitement of the 2011-12 Premiership season, it has been said by the commentators of our age that you couldn’t script such drama. Fearing as much, FA chairman David Bernstein has taken drastic action to ensure that next season isn’t imbued with a feeling of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s wank’, and invited a selection of Hollywood luminaries to devise a season of football even more unpredictable than the last. Having gone through the appropriate bins to discover the treatments pitched, Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed can exclusively reveal what could be in store for fans next season.
Charlie Kaufman: The entire season unspools from the sole perspective of Swansea’s journeyman midfielder Leon Britton, who battles an existential crisis while trying to maintain his excellent pass completion ratio. Existential crises will be experienced by 98% of all Premiership players (everyone except the squad of Aston Villa), until the FA steps in to declare them illegal. At this point, all Premiership players (except Villa’s) will endure existential ‘uncrises’, which aren’t actually a thing but merely the figment of Paul Lambert’s imagination, who turns out to be Leon Britton’s estranged father. Crackpot screenwriter Kaufman will, as usual, explore trademark themes such as fear, self-doubt, alienation, Meaning and the futility of life, all through the motif of Liverpool’s new third kit. A comedy.
M Night Shyamalan: The season will be blighted by the non-interest of all, as people await only the last ten minutes of the season to see what the inevitable zany twist will be. Eventually, it will transpire that Shyamalan was actually dead all along, and so we can proceed to forget his career ever existed. Wayne Rooney finishes as top goalscorer.
Michael Bay : In lieu of a pitch, Bay simply provided this curious picture of Everton’s Leon Osman:

Who wouldn’t pay to see this?

Quentin Tarantino: The season starts with a scene from the end, because why not? We see very little in the way of football, with Hollywood’s enfant terrible preferring to dwell on rat-a-tat conversations between managers and their kitmen on such mundane topics as ointment and bread. I expect the proposed scene wherein Everton FC are shot to ribbons by a smart-talkin’ wise-ass nigga (played by Samuel L. Jackson, obviously) will draw heavy criticism, but could well fuel excited speculation come the Oscars.
Nick Love: To quote verbatim: “WALLOP! Banging in goals like lines of Charlie up my fuckin’ ‘ooter, that’s what I’m pitching, YOU TURLET!” Attached is a variety of headshots of Danny Dyer, wearing in turn a West Ham kit (lookin’ ‘ard), a West Ham away kit (lookin’ bovvered), a West Ham goalkeeper’s top (lookin’ for a ruck, you fuckin’ melt) and a referee’s shirt (grinning inscrutably – what’s he up to?).
Woody Allen: Sir Alex Ferguson troubles his therapist with his twin concerns – his attraction to his youthful new secretary, and his reluctance to sign an adequate holding midfielder. His therapist gives Ferguson the bizarre advice that he should pursue a romantic dalliance with the secretary, in the hope that he will be spurned, whilst simultaneously liberating the grizzled Scot sexually, for the therapist is actually in love with Ferguson herself. She is also young enough to be much, much younger than him. Eventually, Ferguson decides simply to buy a midfielder after all, and struggles as he falls in love with him instead. He reveals his struggle to come to terms with this newly discovered platonic love to his jealous therapist, who realises she loves her red-faced patient, despite the fact that it could never work between them. Nobody loves Woody Allen anymore.
Wes Anderson: Arsenal suffer an injury crisis at the same time that a prodigiously talented child prodigy begins to be all prodigious for the youth team, in a surprisingly prodigious way. Nine year old Kurt Schellinger deals with the pressures of elite youth football with a maturity far beyond his years, not least due to his passions for the oboe, Byzantine erotica, Kenyan literature, HAM radio, billiards, real ale, and other such implausible pursuits. Wenger, taken with this bizarrely confident and outgoing child-git, bonds with him over a shared love of 17th century agriculture and Belarussian performance art. Wenger decides to promote Schellinger to the first team, where he strikes up an unlikely kinship with Arsenal’s new centre-forward, Bill Murray. This unusual combination of youthful promise and subtly-expressed-yet-painful-yearning-drawn-on-a-ball bag lights up the season, although Arsenal still end up trophyless, as the squad fail to arrive for the FA Cup final as they all have parts in Kurt’s play, scheduled for the same day.  Bill Murray joins a bigger club at the end of the season.