So... what will 2017 be remembered for in footballing terms? Ask anyone right now and the chances are that they’ll come right back at you with tales of Manchester City being the best in Premier League history. But their story is unfinished, there’s the second half of the season to conquer yet and Pep knows better than most that it can all still come to nothing.
Back in January City, having started last season by winning their first ten games, and being eight points ahead of Chelsea, were now ten points behind them and Guardiola admitted that the title race was over. They crashed out of the Champions League at the knock-out stages in March, the FA Cup in April and ended the season with nothing.
His press conferences were the bizarre ramblings of a man low on confidence, not knowing how to cope with what was going on around him. There was talk of retirement, of dismissal:
In my situation at a big club: I’m sacked. I’m out. Sure. Definitely.
But as they say time (and hundreds of millions of pounds) is a great healer - just look where he is now! I put the change down to one thing: not the influx of new players - including a goalkeeper that can actually stop the ball - not the final understanding of his methods by said players, but by dropping the touchline suit.
The new season Pep is ‘sexy Pep’.
Hoodies, T’s, wraparound funky scarves. It’s a confident, casual look and it’s really paid off. Compared to the Mark Hughes overcoat types or the Eddy Jones matching tracksuit brigade, Pep has the image for managers in 2017 – and it’s the full package – for now, anyway.
Meanwhile, everyone seems to have forgotten how good Chelsea were in winning the title last season. But, they seem to have crashed and burned over the summer when Conte was allegedly denied his transfer targets - and he’s been miserable ever since.
He tried to do a Pep by dropping the suit and turning up for games in a tracksuit but he couldn’t pull it off. He looked like a middle aged Dad embarrassing his kid at a school match. He’s better now that’s he’s back in the suit but he’s doing the beard thing just to make sure we all still know that he’s pissed off.
By his standards Jose had a quiet 2017. He won the Europa League so that he could qualify for the Champions League, subsequently giving himself another thing to moan about, and spent £300 million just to complain that it wasn’t enough to compete with Pep.
Where he went wrong, however, was that he didn’t smell the changes coming from the other side of town and he didn’t change his image.
Jose could be sexy – he could be the one on the touchline looking younger, cooler and excitable, but no, he’s stuck to the Dark Side and gone down the middle aged miserable route; big coats, big frowns, frumpily stuck to his seat for the duration of the match, complaining about anyone and everything. But the season isn’t over yet, the sharp end is coming and he could yet still surprise us all.
As could Arsene Wenger - but that’s not going to happen. The first half of 2017 was dominated by questions over Wenger’s big coat and whether it would be still around for the new season. Not only is the big coat still around, but we’re seeing cardigans now as well. It’s like having your granddad on the touchline.
We also found out this year that Alexi Sanchez has the names of his dogs embroidered onto his boots, and Ozil sucks his thumb like a baby. They’re the Sylvanian Family Premier League side and they’ll end the year where they ended last season, in a Europa League spot.
Now, Klopp at Liverpool has an image of his own - and that’s a good thing. He’s had a consistent 2017, got Liverpool back into the Champions League and is ending on a high with a £75 million world record bid for Dick Van Dyke of Southampton.
Lets hope he plays better for Klopp than he did for Pellegrino, although whether he’s going to single-handedly solve their defensive frailties remains to be seen, and come the end of February he could still be looking as morose and petulant as he does now, just in a different coloured shirt.
Over the summer we had the Confederation Cup in Russia, significant for the trialling of VAR’s – Video-Assisted Refereeing, that is. Now this could and should have been the one big change to the game in 2017, but FIFA - typically - ballsed the whole thing up. It’s a system that we all recognize from rugby, it works well and is accepted as fundamentally part of the game.
Why, then, not copy the rugby model and apply it to football? Oh no. Instead, FIFA introduced some cock-eyed scheme where the video referee(s) had no authority, but could draw the on-pitch referee’s attention to an incident, who then had to stop the game to go over to the touchline to watch a replay on a monitor for himself. Total insanity. How these people get away with what they do incomprehensible.
Except it isn’t, because at their May conference in Bahrain, Gianni Infantino fired their own investigators on the ethics committee who were looking into instances of possible corruption since he took over. It’s estimated that it’ll take at least two years for their replacements to reach the point at which they were dismissed.
Later in the year we had the World Cup Draw for Russia, and England came out of it relatively unscathed with matches against Belgium, Tunisia and Panorama apparently, which could encourage a little more direct investigation into the workings of the FIFA body if nothing else.
And then there were ‘Expected Goals’. What the hell?
"Expected goals" is a metric which assesses every chance, essentially answering the question of whether a player should have scored from a certain opportunity.
You see the figures flash up briefly on MOTD – Man City beat Southampton 2-1 but their ‘Expected Goals (xG)’ was 1.46 compared to Southampton’s 1.55.
And that tells me what I don’t already know from watching the game?
What a waste of time. You know when you watch the passage of play if a player should’ve scored - you don’t need a ‘metric’ to confirm it. If you want confirmation that your opinion is sound you can bring it up with a friend or colleague who will be happy to discuss the matter with you, probably in some depth.
In the launch blurb it asks the question:
So a striker might be top of the scoring charts, but does that necessarily mean he is the best finisher in the league?
Yes – because that’s how we measure it. No amount of data analysis will convince me that a striker who’s scored less goals is a better finisher than one who’s scored more. His goals may have been more difficult, but they’re still ‘less goals’.
So, we had lots of changes in 2017.
City went from the pits to the pinnacle and now need to just stay there. Chelsea pretty much went the other way. We embraced Prexit, but with a little bit too much enthusiasm for my liking. About half the clubs in the Premier League swapped managers, and then some swapped again. Huge amounts of money continued to flood into the game from around the world to inflate already obscene fees and salaries, but in reality, the game in December 2017 is the same as it was in January 2017.
It’s exciting, entertaining, absurd, ridiculous, over-priced, over-hyped, taken far too seriously by just about everyone, and I can’t wait for another year of it.
Happy New Year.