2019 in football

Poor English managers, Turkish transplants and watching rude words on catch-up.

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I am in Grenada, staying at the Calabash hotel, looking back at the season so far, but still watching all the games. I never go on hols without my football viewing lined up.

Leo, whose family owns and runs the Calabash, is a mad keen Liverpool fan. He watches Prem games live, as they are all shown on TV in Grenada.

In fact, I will go and see him now, ask how he is feeling about Liverpool.

“Last season was amazing, so I thought it could not get better, but it has,” he says. “Our best players have been Firmino, Mané, Virgil, so solid and reliable – also Robertson and Trent AA. I love it when we score in ‘Kloppage’ time, turning one point into three, especially against Villa. My only worry has been too many draws.

“I don’t worry about any one player getting injured – because we have a strong squad, unlike earlier seasons. We have such talented players in waiting, if one of our regulars is injured.

“The belief that Klopp inspires is remarkable, and he always has such a great grin. I liked his self put-down before we won the European Cup. He said he could write a book about getting to the final – but not winning it.”

Thanks Leo. Yes, I will have a rum punch.

Meanwhile, back in London, I have left Paul the painter redecorating my kitchen. He is a Gooner so before we left we had a long intellectual discussion about their manager. Paul wanted Emery out, which he now is, and replaced by Pochettino. I could not believe it. How could you have an ex-Spurs manager in charge of the Arsenal?

“Wouldn’t bother me, that he’d managed Spurs. I think he is a class act, better than the one we have. We took Sol Campbell from Spurs, and Pat Jennings, and Arsenal fans loved both of them”.

Managers moving between clubs don’t have it as easy. George Graham went to Spurs, having done wonders at Arsenal, but was never really accepted. I always thought he looked uncomfortable, as if embarrassed to have taken the job. He only lasted two years.

Terry Neill, an Arsenal star and captain, managed Spurs before he got the Arsenal job. He found it hard as well. He was always looked upon as an ex-Arsenal player. He, too, only lasted two seasons.

If Liverpool don’t win the Prem, who would you like to win? Not Man City – they and their manager have won enough, and are so wealthy. Wouldn’t it be good to see a modest club like Leicester, Sheffield United, Wolves or Burnley have a storming finish? Leicester have done it once, so why not again. No English manager has won the Prem. Ever. Howard Wilkinson has been the nearest, winning the First Division with Leeds in 1992, the season before the Prem began. But the Prem has been won by a Brit, Alex Ferguson – the last time in 2013. If Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers wins, he’d be another Brit, having been born in Northern Ireland.

Burnley and Sheffield United each have Ingerlanders in charge – Sean Dyche and Chris Wilder. Could they ever do it? Or Eddie Howe at Bournemouth? Somehow English managers are not reckoned among the elite, which is soooooo unfair as it is our league, and who began football anyway?

José at Spurs. Of course it will end in tears, everyone knows that; he will be lucky to see the season out. He is a bully, in love with himself. He was really horrible to that nice Chelsea doctor, Eva Carneiro, who got dismissed. But he is clever, always interesting, always amusing. The media love him. The same way as they love Boris. Boris and José get attention out of all proportion to their worth because the media see them as copy. They will always provide a good quote, a good story, a good picture. For football hacks and lobby correspondents, José and Boris are their pensions.

Most managers who can read and write jot down their thoughts on odd scraps of paper. José has a proper little hardback leather notebook in which he record his pensees. So classy.

I was half expecting the Spurs job myself, and had my signings ready. Jamie Vardy, we should have bought him ages ago, and James Maddison. I would also buy Jack Grealish. Eric Dier would go.

There have been a lot of naughty words picked up this season, even from the fragrant members of the England women’s team. Sky and BT now always apologise afterwards, in case our delicate ears have heard “any inapproriate language”. Mostly I have missed it, as I am getting deaf. But I get alerted by their apologies and check out the swear words later on catch-up. Thanks, guys.

Have you noticed that Everton now boast,“Everton FC – Protecting our Planet”. How do they do that? Recycling all their players?

“Bia Saigon: Pride of Vietnam.” So it announces on a billboard at Leicester City. Is he a new player? A fashionable tourist resort? I must look it up. Oh no, I might have guessed, another fizzy lager…

Southampton are showing adverts in their ground for  “Hair transplants in Turkey”. What? Ah well, beats yet another betting company.

“Eriksen, he will have to make sure his head is in the right place.” That would help. And it could explain why there are so many bodies in the box.

We have also learned this season that the two Prem players who drive the most expensive motor cars are Son of Spurs and Aubameyang of Arsenal – a £1.2m Ferrari La Ferrari. No, not between them, silly. One each.

“The next goal is vitally important.” Now, which fan would ever have thought of that? Brilliant, these TV commentators. Where would we be without them?

Right, the next rum punch is vitally important. Must rush. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 20 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Days of reckoning

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