All predictions have now been thrown out of the window in the Premier League, but a chance meeting with a hero of Leeds' title winning team of 1991-92 raises questions about the January transfer window.
Good week for my mate Matt/ Bad week for fans of the crystal ball
On Saturday, I went to a stag do in London. The mate who is getting married is one of the biggest Leeds fans you will ever meet. Seriously, he wants to call his first boy Luke, short for Leeds United Kings of Europe. But it’s more likely that his missus will acquiesce to Lucas, after Lucas Radebe. Anyway, as a surprise, we managed to persuade Chris Whyte from the 1991-92 title winning team to come and present him with a Leeds suit we had tailored for him. So we blindfolded Matt and bought in Chris for a drunken game of ‘guess the sportsman.’ Chris was nervous because he thought Matt wouldn’t guess. He guessed within two minutes and the joy on both of their faces made it the highlight of the day.
Chris Whyte is a lovely chap. Big and friendly with a 1000-megawatt grin, he seemed genuinely pleased to be there. At a time when access to players is at an all-time low it was a pleasure to speak to an ex-player who was part of a team that won the last First Division championship. There was nothing monosyllabic about Chris as Matt and I hammered him with questions. Some of the answers were for our ears only, and shall stay that way, but he did give us some insight into the buzz at the club at the time. We also talked about players; Strachan’s superhuman levels of fitness and Gary McAllister’s surgical passing and tremendous spatial awareness. Then the conversation turned to Eric Cantona.
Cantona made 15 appearances and scored three goals in that season. But he also created many more for Lee Chapman and is credited with giving Leeds the something extra that saw them pip Manchester United. ‘Mustard’ was the phrase most bandied about, but Chris also talked about the surprise element of signing a player of that quality who, in the days when the only thing viral at football clubs was a shared case of Delhi belly, was relatively unknown. Lest we forget that both Graeme Souness and Trevor Francis turned down the chance to sign the Frenchman. Since its inception, the January transfer window has come in for a lot of criticism, but the one coming could be the most important in Premier League history.
Chelsea have hit the skids, Arsenal and Spurs are all over the gaff, United are winning ugly and Man City are, well, Man City. Following the coruscating comeback by his team to win the North London derby, ‘Arry Redknapp issued a clarion call to the owners to ‘spend big in January’. If the league is still this tight and unpredictable after the hectic festive period, you can guarantee that some serious money will leave England to secure a player who can change the face of a season. All of the teams contending for a top-four finish could do with a minimum of one payer. ‘Arry wants a striker, Arsenal need a keeper and centre-half, United need a spark, Chelsea need a young, fit centre-back and a number 10, and City could probably do with someone to take the pressure off Tevez.
The names being bandied around are far from unknown quantities. Karim Benzema, electric against England last Wednesday, is unhappy in Madrid and is a proven goal-scorer. Antonio Cassano, though apparently possessing all the brains and class of horse shit, has blown it at Sampdoria and is a number 10 in the purest sense of the word. Edin Dzeko could be the £50 million big man to end Emmanuel Adebayor’s time at Man City. All of these players fall into the brackets below Messi and Ronaldo but, such are the various deficiencies of our title contenders, could become heroes over the second half of the season. That and earn a ridiculous amount of money.
Antonio Cassano, though apparently possessing all the brains and class of horse shit, has blown it at Sampdoria and is a number 10 in the purest sense of the word.
So what of the football? There is simply no point making predictions this season. Far better football writers than I have made asses of themselves already and I stand guilty as charged. I don’t think anyone would argue that Chelsea looked the most consistent of the bunch and likely winners three weeks ago, but since then things have changed dramatically. They’re short in midfield and are having to fend off rumours that Ancelotti is sick of Abramovich and will be on his vespa in no time. I’ve also had a couple of pops at Mancini regarding his use of three holding players, and am happy to say that, based on yesterday’s evidence, I could well be wrong. Although Hughes dropped a huge bollock by not matching City in midfield, Ya Ya Toure played well between the lines and, even if I still don’t think he has the quality of pass required to open up the better defences, he did look comfortable in a ball-carrying role and took his goal expertly. But who knows what will happen next week? City have to go to the Britannia to face a resurgent Stoke. All I can truly say is that 22 players will take to the field.
The two big stories of the weekend were, of course, the North London Derby and the return of the (slightly smaller) Big Man of Old Trafford. There have been plenty of calls for ‘Arry Redknapp to take over from Fabio Capello as England manager. Of course he would take the job if offered, but he’d probably need his head examined. Maybe they should just employ a coach and bring ‘Arry into deliver paint-stripping bollockings at half time. He clearly went garraty during the break on Saturday. Rio Ferdinand tweeted that he wondered if he had ‘called players out like he used to at West Ham.’ From where I was watching, he questioned their parentage and called their Mothers layabouts such was the turnaround in the second half. ‘Arsene knows’ is a dictum for Arsenal fans. And maybe he does, but he clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he states that this is his best ever squad. It’s total bullshit. Seaman, Adams, Keown, Petit, Viera, Henry and Bergkamp would walk into this team, and he is doing them a disservice when he claims otherwise.
Wayne Rooney must be the only person in history who has gone to the land of the meat sweats to lose weight. Nobody knows what has really gone on between him and Ferguson. Will he stay? Will he go? I haven’t got a clue, but he is playing for the only unbeaten team in the league and should probably concentrate on remembering how to play football before he opens his trap again. United probably can’t afford to buy now they have increased his wages, so will he rediscover his form and become the talismanic player he was for seven eighths of last season? I reckon his return to form will probably coincide with his departure from the spare bedroom (wing) of Rooney Towers.
Elsewhere, Owen Coyle is slowly but surely crafting Bolton into a team who play very effective passing football. They took Newcastle to pieces with players happy to interchange without losing sight of their job for the team. Robbie Blake and Kevin Davies appeared on Goals on Sunday with Kammy and Ben Shephard (why Sky, why?) and couldn’t stop bloody smiling. Blake hardly plays but you wouldn’t know it. Life at the Reebok seems a good place to be with Coyle in charge and, should he take the Trotters into Europe, will join Sam in the pantheon.
Back in 1992 when Leeds won the title, West Ham were relegated as the bottom club, and, if there is one prediction you can make, it is that West Ham are screwed. Although circumstances at Portsmouth were pretty bad, Grant seems to have found his natural home at the bottom of the table. He has been stuck in it for a year and West Ham were woeful against Liverpool, who looked, whisper it quietly, more balanced without Gerrard in the side. The absence of the skipper allowed Meireles to play in his natural position and forced players to step up. Again though, much like Man City, it is hard to know if Liverpool were made to look good and it is impossible to predict where they will go from here.
So this is my prediction for the rest of the season. A club will maybe buy a player in January and possibly win the title. Probably.
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