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26 May 2021

A strange season ends: Foden, Mount and public-school floppy hair starred. Tuchel blew bubbles

There are plenty of dramas to remember, such as the potty plan to have a European Super League and the sudden sacking of José Mourinho. 

By Hunter Davies

Well what a strange season. Not just the empty stadiums, and having those awful eerie recorded crowd noises, but the unexpected dramas and surprises, such as the potty plan to have a European Super League and the sudden but very welcome sacking of José Mourinho. In the Prem, it’s hard to believe that pre-Xmas loads of teams got to lead the league – if just for ten seconds, as with Spurs, yes they did, or have I imagined it? – and in the end Man City won with three games to go. The excitement then was about who would finish in the top four.

And didn’t our Prem super-celeb teams do well, supplying three out of the four teams in the Champions League and Uefa Cup finals, including an all-English Champions League final on 29 May. Hurrah for Ingerland, we are the greatest. As long as you ignore that Man City and Chelsea are both foreign-owned, foreign-managed and jam-packed with foreign players.

I’m now half looking forward to the summer break: to calm down, hoover the sofa, pick up all the crisp packets and have some football-free months. I never thought I would come to the end of a football season and think phew, I’m so knackered, just with watching. We have been spoiled, too many games – ten on the last day – too little time. Imagine how the poor sodding players feel.

A breakthrough season for Phil Foden. We knew he was one to watch, but this season he nailed it, emerging fully formed as a Prem and England superstar. Mason Mount of Chelsea also moved up into the Prem galaxy. Getting near is Ollie Watkins of Villa.

[See also: Why is Harry Kane still at Spurs? I can think of 20 reasons]

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Breakthrough for Managers. We are all still longing for some young Englisher to finally grab one of those top Prem jobs. The nearest has been Brendan Rodgers of Leicester, who, of course, is an Ulsterman. He done good, once again. It looked as if Scott Parker was the young English manager most likely to manage a top side, but alas his Fulham dropped back into Championship. All the smart money is now on Graham Potter of Brighton. They did not make the top half, but were solid and safe. Potter seems sensible, intelligent, calm, grown-up even. Will Spurs grab him? Couldn’t be more different than José.

Careers Revived. Jesse Lingard has been willing and positive for West Ham, after being ignored at Man Utd.

Careers stalling. Dele Alli and Gareth Bale eventually got on the park, but they must be praying for a new manager who believes in them. Raheem Sterling – hmm, a bit worrying, when he was stuck on the bench. Has he faded, has Pep gone off him, or has Pep just got too many riches?

Hair. Lots to admire, and discover what the hell they have been doing during all those long hours when morning training is over. Dele Alli’s dreadlocks: where did they come from? His childhood dressing-up box? Jordan Pickford has been more subtle. All he did was sweep his hair back. I didn’t recognise him at first. It is a brave attempt to make us see him as an adult who has given up making childish mistakes.

Hairstyles. Meaning fashions rather than individual mop-tops. We know that to make it in pop music and the theatre a public school background is jolly useful these days, but young footballers, whether or not mummy and daddy paid for their schooling, are striving to look as if they did. Private school floppy hair is becoming more popular, as sported by Patrick Bamford, who had a great season for Leeds, and did go to public school. Young Daniel James of Man Utd has the sort of floppy hair all middle-class mums love. And so does Ben Chilwell of Chelsea. However, it is probably not going to help Ryan Mason, the stand-in Spurs manager. I bet he will have it all shaved off the next time we see him on a touchline.

[See also: A long retirement is the price footballers pay. Is 15 years of glory worth 50 years of emptiness?]

Shirty. It’s very fashionable for individuals to sponsor shirts; makes a change from betting firms. Harry Kane, wherever he ends up, is sponsoring Leyton Orient shirts this season and next, to help charities. Ed Sheeran is sponsoring Ipswich Town. I once sponsored a Carlisle United shirt. I paid money for a certain player to carry the name of my Lake District publishing firm on his shirt – but he never got a game, then left. What a waste of money. I just had to look upon it as a charitable contribution.

What’s in a Name. So which country does Alexis Mac Allister of Brighton play for? Answer: Argentina. And Alphonso Boyle Davies – which club and which country does he play for? Bayern Munich and Canada. Martin Braithwaite – surely he comes from Cumbria and plays for Workington? Nope, he’s Danish and plays for Barcelona.

Victoria Concordia Crescit. All season I have noticed these imposing words emblazoned around the Arsenal stadium and wondered if she is the new star of Arsenal Women. Silly me. It’s the club’s Latin motto: “Victory grows out of harmony.”

Thomas Tuchel had a good season with Chelsea, but dear God, the way he chews his gum with his mouth open and blows bubbles. Ugh. My dears, so common.

Gaits. I think I would spot Paul Pogba walking anywhere – in the supermarket, in the street. He has such a lolloping gait, like a farmworker. Patrick Bamford is also easy to spot. He leans forward when he walks, stork-like.

Commentators on Form. “He was obviously thinking as there was no one in the penalty area, I’ll shoot myself.” Alan Smith.

“To be very very honest , I think, to be honest, it was a throw-in… course it was, course it was, to be very honest.” Steve McManaman.

“I’ve got to say, that really was, that young man, oh my word.” Glenn Hoddle.

Right, more gibberish next season.

[See also: Mourinho was always a bad choice for Spurs, but I know better than to despair]

This article appears in the 26 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The new Toryism