Whisper it not but the Greed Is Good League this season have verged on mediocrity. Both Manchester City and Manchester United, who went head to head until the very last day, for all their relative wealth, were badly shown up in both European competitions. Arsenal, though they were much weakened by the loss all season of Jack Wilshere – as indeed were England – shipped an embarrassing amount of water both in the early and the latter stages of the Premier League. If Manchester City were to take the title, it must surely be said that they bought it, in the process utterly distorting the balance of the competition; still more than Chelsea with Roman Abramovich’s money, had done before them and to a substantial attempt continued to do.
When you have enough money to pay Yaya Toure, the two-goal hero of the triumph at Newcastle, £200,000 a week. When you can enlist the dazzling likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, when he deigns to play, Silva, Barry, Dzeko and even the incorrigible Mario Balotelli, what should you do but win? And City very nearly didn’t do it. Dropping points galore to immensely less wealthy opposition. It has surprised me to see how some correspondents have actually lauded the way City have been able to spend such colossal amounts of Middle Eastern money. One was surprised too by the encomia for Roberto Mancini. What manager with so much money to spend could have failed to build a powerful team?
Embarrassing though it may be, one remembers how Mancini’s strange team selection in Munich, in the European so called Champions Cup, when he dropped an effective centre back to substitute him with one so far from match fitness condemned City to defeat in Munich. As for United, that 6-1 defeat at home by Manchester City was a shocking stain on their season. The fact that Ferguson felt obliged to exhume the 37-year-old Paul Scholes to reinforce his midfield said all too much about his team building programme. And then to throw poor Scholes on to the pitch as a far from match fit substitute, against all expectation, promptly seeing him give away the ball and a goal, was an embarrassment. Even if Scholes, so splendidly resilient, did quickly settle down to play influentially.
True, United did give Arsenal that 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford, but in mitigation, one should remember that this was an Arsenal team packed with reserves! As for Tottenham and Harry Redknapp, an earlier splendid spell ground almost to a halt in the closing weeks of the season and the 5-1 FA Cup semi final defeat at Wembley by Chelsea was a dreadful humiliation, even if that scandalous Chelsea goal should never have been given by the inept referee, Martin Atkinson.
Yes, Harry was the People’s Choice for manager of England but I think he may have had a lucky escape. Even in retrospect, it is hard to understand how he condemned a plainly struggling centre back in William Gallas to persevere for the whole Wembley match, having been almost contemptuously brushed aside by Didier Drogba, who scored that first Chelsea goal.
Roy Hodgson, meanwhile, is still the object of what the scientist Pavlov might have called alternating stimuli. Varying from contemptible criticisms of his accent, to a despicable attempt by reporters who should have known better to cull negative responses at Bayern Munich from manager Jupp Heynckes and such players as Lahm and Schweinsteiger . The irony being, as it quickly emerged, that Roy could probably have managed the German international team had he not kept his bargain with Blackburn Rovers; destined to sack him anyway. So much for loyalty.
No, I cannot believe that England under Roy, or anybody else for that matter, will do anything of note in the coming Euros. Already team and manager have a ball and chain around the leg with the absence of Wayne Rooney, the sole English striker of real quality, from the first two games. If England get through their qualifying group with the resources they have it would surely be a substantial achievement.
Meanwhile, England fans will doubtless be reassured by an official warning that Ukrainian police could both beat and rob them. Happy days to come.