Manchester City with their infinite millions march on – though the ultimate, so often failed test of the European Cup awaits them.
By dramatic and fascinating contrast, those other lavish spenders, Chelsea and Manchester United, are toiling in the doldrums. In the case of United and an increasingly embattled Louis Van Gaal, it is not really surprising. For all his multiple past triumphs at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, his team never really took wing last season, and it’s hard won fourth place in the Premier League last season, found them struggle far in the wake of Chelsea and Manchester City.
Chelsea by contrast romped away with the league, but this season they are slipping further and further behind. The shattering home defeat by Crystal Palace pushing them well down the table, with the ever-grandiloquent Jose Mourinho reduced to criticising his own recently refulgent stars.
I was at Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea lose to a Crystal Palace team which cost the merest fraction of what Chelsea splashed out for their stars. Though he did not mention them or any other of the four players he would ideally have liked to substitute rather than three, Eden Hazard was clearly a target. Lauded to the skies by Mourinho in the very recent past, winner last season of a plenitude of awards, one scarcely noticed him as one watched Palace deservedly prevail.
By the same token, Wayne Rooney, though in the midweek he had previously fired a trio of goals for Manchester United in Belgium – while one waits for him laboriously to overtake Bobby Charlton as England’s leading goalscorer – was dismally firing blanks again as United went down at Swansea.
Van Gaal has spent £230 million on new players – admittedly United got a large chunk back, though by no means all the original fee by selling the disappointing Angel Di Maria. But at Swansea, not for the first time, they looked a pedestrian uninspired team.
Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, for all his honours, prestige and World Cup prowess, has so far looked very much his age. The Flying Dutchman Memphis Depay has shown speed of foot and flair – though not at Swansea. But overall, Gary Neville’s ferocious criticism of the team he once adorned, seems all too well founded.
As for Chelsea, one did at Stamford Bridge see hopeful signs – and it is hard and harsh to blame Mourinho for Branislav Ivanovic’s and Hazard’s steep loss of form. I thought the 19-year-old Brazilian Kenedy who had only just arrived from Fluminense, showed remarkable drive, confidence and initiative, when pitch forked into the action in the second half.
And I was pleasantly surprised by the form of Falcao, when in what seemed like some desperation, Mourinho sent him on in the second half. A failure when on loan at Old Trafford last season, a somewhat surprising choice when Mourinho took him on loan again, I’d begin to feel that the appalling injury he suffered at Monaco has blunted his edge forever. Instead he looked bright and sharp in his truncated appearance and he took his goal impressively with that diving header.
Mourinho has already bought a promising new full back in Augsburg’s Abdul Baba Rahman, who could presumably replace the struggling Ivanovic. Diego Garcia, who looked lively in the first half, should again get goals.
But the glorious reflection that, Manchester City apart, money after all may not by everything, consoles one as one surveys the Greed is Good League. Where it is encouraging to see two English managers in the experienced Alan Pardew at Palace and the relatively inexperienced Garry Monk at Swansea – a future England manager? – achieving so much with, by comparison with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, so relatively little. A double breath of fresh air, you might say.
Palace’s attack at Chelsea was an exuberant delight, and they didn’t even bring on the dynamic Yannick Bolasie until after half-time, when he ran rings round poor Ivanovic. And Bakary Sako is a formidable acquisition.
Full marks to the enterprise of Swansea, when, while their hugely richer adversaries squandering millions on indifferent purchases, picked up the formidable Andre Ayew from Marseille for nothing. Executioner of Manchester United he is, of course, the son of the former star of Ghanaian football, Abedi Pele. United? Now the gamble of Anthony Martial.
Lord Harris, apparently a carpet multimillionaire and a director of Arsenal, recently broke cover to proclaim that the idea of Tottenham Hotspur sharing Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium when they eventually rebuild is preposterous.
Does he know that from 1939-46, when Highbury was taken over in the war by the Civil Defence, the Gunners played all their home games at White Hart Lane? And that was at a period much closer to Arsenal’s move from Plumstead to Highbury to the outrage of Spurs.
Outrage increased when Arsenal, led by owner Sir Henry Norris, deviously wangled their way up to the 1st Division in 1919, having come only fifth in the 2nd Division pre-war.