The Great Big Drop…

4 05 2009

With the end of the Premier League season approaching, three teams naturally find themselves struggling to stay afloat. West Brom look certainties to go down, and although Mowbray’s attacking instincts are commendable, I’m still not sure whether they are realisitic for a newly promoted side in the division. However, I hold no fear for West  Brom, one of a few yo-yo clubs at the moment, and I think that, providing that they hold onto their better players, they will bounce back again pretty quickly.

Instead it is Newcastle for whom I fear the most. I think now they will go down, as I cannot see them picking up the requisite number of points to keep them up.  If they are relegated, the club will sink in the manner of Leeds, Charlton and Southampton (all recently Premier League clubs who find themselves either in League One, or joining it next season). Newcastle are club prone to turmoil, it seems poorly run from the top down, and there is nothing Alan Shearer could realistically have done to prevent the collapse. It is a longer term problem within the club than simply a season full of bad results indicates. They will continue to struggle I think, over the course of the next two or three seasons, and may very well be rubbing shoulders with the teams in League One sooner than they will be back in the Premier League.

Of course, there are two teams already heading to the Premier League to replace West Brom and probably Newcastle. Birmingham City, who, if I’m honest, have not impressed me much this season in footballing terms, have secured second spot in the Championship and make an immediate return to the Premier League. It is however Wolves who have finally pulled clear of the chasing pack, finishing seven points clear of Birmingham as the top scorers in the league. It has truly been a roller-coaster season for Wolves fans, the thrills of last autumn were followed by the pains of early spring. Even as recently as April 6, when the team lost to Birmingham, the fans were still muttering that automatic promotion would not be achieved. However, for the team which had remained top since October, avoiding defeat in the final five games meant that the other clubs simply could not stand the pace and fell away (Cardiff in spectacular fashion). Wolves deserve to win the Championship, there is little question about that. For the team though, the hard work starts now.

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Window of Opportunity…

23 01 2009

The continual debate over the nature of the transfer window is one which will continue to raise its head throughout January’s in the future. There are many arguments both for and against the window.

From a fan’s point of view, the window provides excitment, discussion and gets people talking. The evidence is there in full for anyone to read on the BBC 606 fans forums. The window is something to look forward to half way through a season when the trials and tribulations of following a football team are becoming apparent.

Yet many players and managers dislike it. The window has the potential to tear apart their season. Wigan, I think, will be this years prime example. With the departure of  Wilson Palacios and (likely departure) Emile Heskey, not even the signing of Stephen Hunt could ensure that Wigan continue to do as well as they have in the first part of the season. Yes, their funds will have been swelled by the departures, but this money isn’t running out onto the pitch every week playing football.

For those clubs in financial difficulty, the window provides an opportunity to sell players to help the club survive.  But there is the painful catch-22 of selling your best players for larger prices and then falling further down the leagues. Luton Town are a good example, as are Leeds United. It is here that the window could be said to be a good thing. It serves to grossly inflate the prices of players, knowing that if the buying club really need a player in this month, they must agree. The market is a sellers one. Craig Bellamy, as good a player as he is, is never really worth the £14million that Manchester City paid for him. Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth-Real Madrid) is not £20million worth of player, and never has been. Roque Santa Cruz is not worth £40million, the fee that Sam Allardyce put on his head. The window makes good players very expensive, and average players just expensive. For those clubs who need the cash, this is a good thing. For everyone else, it isn’t. Somewhere along the line, the money must be generated. It invariably comes from the pockets of the fans. Subtle increases in ticket prices, or official shirt prices help the club chase those players more expensive. Someone has to pay somewhere, and it generally has to be the fans, and whilst we could think about other sources of income (sponsors for example), they are usually not putting as much in as the fans (season ticket, shirts, matchday food, programme- all told could be upwards of £700 a season, per person). It is the fans, undoubtedly, who pay.

Yet what about those clubs who need the players? Arsene Wenger has today said that the inability to sign players in January would be good punishment for those teams who failed to strengthen during the summer months. This view is interesting, but fails to take into account the variables in a football season, especially injuries. If a team had, for example, injuries to a certain number of key players, is it right that they then cannot reinforce their squads as best they can during one month? I think that removing the window would penalise such teams through no fault of their own. Wenger himself has a long list of injuries (Eduardo, Walcott, Rosicky plus others) and naturally, the chase of Andrei Arshavin is a different case to everyone else trying to sign players this month.

Those richer clubs, can, of course, afford to pay the prices, and here is the next counter-argument to the window. The poorer clubs are priced out of the market by the teams around them who can pay just that bit more. The poorer club then has to look at other players, cheaper, worse players if they want to strengthen their team, which is something of a paradox. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good, cheap players to be had, but generally, the poorer clubs are hustled out of the market. Is this just some warped version of the Darwinian survival of the fittest theory? Possibly. Is it fair? Certainly not. Should it change? I hope not.

The window has its faults, of course it does. There are many reasons to not like it, it contributes to the obscene amounts of money in the game, it makes average players seem good, it hinders smaller teams. These are all valid arguments, but I still like it. The drama, the debates and discussions, the potential of a new player to reinvigorate your team, these are reasons to love the window, and, lets face it, it isn’t going to disappear any time soon.