Thursday, July 19, 2007
Can anyone break into the big 4?
Argentina hosted the World Cup that year and in a stadium drenched in ticker tape Daniel Passarella lifted the Cup for the hosts and the English speaking world first got to hear of Ossie Ardiles.
On the world stage Vietnam invaded Cambodia, deposing despot Pol Pot and Pope John Paul II became the first ever Pope from Eastern Europe. Israel invaded Lebanon, Ethiopia and neighbours Eritrea weren’t the best of buddies. Ricardo Carvalho, Chelsea’s Portuguese born defender who recently visited Jakarta was born as was Taiwanese singer Vanessa Wu, NBA star Kobe Bryant, Aussie striker Harry Kewell, Singaporean singer Vanessa Mae, Iranian striker Ali Karimi and of course a Puerto Rican porno actress called Shy Love.
Who cares you might ask. Well, 1978 was also the last year not one of the Big 4 won a trophy domestically. Nottingham Forest won the Championship and the League Cup while Ipswich Town beat Arsenal in the FA Cup Final 1-0 with a goal scored by never seen again carrot cruncher Roger Osborne. The way things are going it may be another 29 years before it happens again!
Many eyes will be on Tottenham this season after consecutive 5th place finishes and high profile signings Darren Bent and Gareth Bale (or Garage Sale as he is known in some quarters). However while they do have impressive quality in the likes of Berbatov, King and Lennon I for one am not convinced by their defence or midfield. This could be an import season for the likes of Zakora and Huddlestone to prove that they are not just Premiership quality but that they have that bit extra that wins trophies.
Everton are another team that get mentioned. More as a cup team where there dogged determination allows them to battle for 95 minutes but I feel they too lack that certain quality. Tim Cahill is an iconic figure for them while Mikel Arteta adds some guile. Up front Andy Johnson and James Beattie form an unusually all English strike force but it is striking (doh!) the lack of people pushing them for national duty. The signing of Phil Jagielka seems a typical Everton one. Competent but not eye catching.
Aston Villa have been looking to spend big with Martin O’Neill taking charge and having a few bob in the bank. Gareth Barry is one of the most under rated players in the country, probably because he is at one of the lower profile clubs. But if I were a Villa fan I would be concerned. Do Ashley Young, Marlon Harewood and Nigel Reo-Coker have the desire to fight and win? Can they bring the consistency that is needed to mount a challenge for the European places?
What about Blackburn Rovers? They have at least won a couple of trophies in the last 12 years. The words dogged, determined were devised to describe Mark Hughes’ side, adjectives which could of course have described him as a player. It’s time for ex Arsenal player David Bentley to show his quality but I’m not convinced he should be out wide. I always fancied him as a Bergkamp playing just behind the forward where he can be a lot more involved and use his intelligence to release wide players. Like Everton though there are just too many average players in the squad. While the likes of Nelson provide grit and McCarthy some real quality there isn’t enough of it throughout the pitch.
I don’t see anyone else getting up there. Newcastle may have the best chance but it will be interesting to see who Sam Allardyce selects out of Owen, Martins and Viduka. Duff will be looking forward to a full season while Joey Barton will be keen to impress but I wonder how he will get on with Dyer?. David Rozehnal will have the Toon Army feeling more confident about their defence while Steven Taylor is continuing to impress with mature performances. If they can gel and gel quickly then the rabid support in the North East can look forward to an exciting season.
West Ham are spending money like never before. Teaming Bellamy and Bowyer together could see fireworks at Upton Park on a regular basis and shows what masochists football managers are. Green, Upson, Parker and Ashton provide a decent enough looking spine on paper but not many games are played on paper these days and the tackles will be flying thick and fast as the last three players have recently returned from long term injury. There is also of course the Tevez factor!
For the rest it will be a race for mid table oblivion. It would be great to see a club break into the Big 4 but it just ain't about spending money. It's about developing a team spirit and making full use of that desire that is already part of the winner's make up.