Back in August it was so simple – the lines were drawn, lips were licked, the sun shone and we all had it all to look forward to. Jose Mourinho had succeeded in maneuvering himself into position at Manchester United, and brought in Zlatan and Pogba. Jurgen Klopp was into his second season at Liverpool and promising so much, and the icing on the cake – Pep was installed at Manchester City. The legend who was Pep Guardiola, who’d managed the best club side in the world and walked away, who took Bayern to the very top of European football was now in the Premier League.
And that was all they wrote. It was going to be a three way split with the smart money on Pep coming out on top, probably with Jose second come season’s end. Arsenal would claim their usual fourth spot followed by any one of Spurs, Chelsea and Everton.
Promoted from the Championship, Hull City, Middlesbrough and Burnley were pretty much expected to turn around and go back down again, and as for the rest well... no-one really cared.
And that’s how it started – City won their first ten games, played some lovely stuff, and then Chelsea got tonked 3-0 by Arsenal and it all changed. Antonio Conte had pretty much come in under the radar and the general consensus was that it would take him a season to find his feet and resurrect an under-performing Chelsea side. How wrong we were.
Resorting to the now infamous 3-4-3 formation Conte’s men turned in ten consecutive back-to-back wins, were top by Christmas and basically were never threatened thereafter. It was incredibly impressive, hugely entertaining and no surprise that Conte was crowned ‘Manager of the Year’ this week.
The wheels were coming off at City – eight points clear of Chelsea at one point, their problems all stemmed from the back. Following a ludicrous decision to oust Joe Hart, Pep brought in Claudio Bravo, a man who’s ability to strike fear into the heart of his own defence was difficult to overstate.
Pep himself seemed to be just as much part of the problem. Never choosing a settled side, seemingly uncomfortable and at odds in the English League he started to answer journalists questions with Chinese zen-like statements, giving the impression that it was the rest of us that didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve, and in that he was right.
In my situation at a big club: I’m sacked. I’m out. Sure. Definitely.
When you’ve just given your employers a very disappointing season, despite all the money they’ve poured into the club - mainly to pay you - I find it surprising, to demean your club and its supporters by saying such a thing.
Unless he hits the ground running next season, he may well be following his predecessor into the manager’s graveyard that is the Chinese Super League before too long. Fortunately, he has Jason Denayer back to bolster his squad next season – that’ll cheer him up. They can compare hair products.
Jose moaned all season and it’s becoming really tiresome. If you hate your job so much then go and do something else – be a traffic warden, you’d be really good at it, or become a football journalist, a Taoist monk, knit yoghurt – anything, just f****ng lighten up a bit, will you?
United spent 141 days in total in sixth spot. They made it their own, and when they lost sixth place by going up to fifth they fought tooth and nail to get it back again. At the end they even started resting players to guarantee sixth place, and given that Jose seems to under-perform in his second season almost everywhere he goes before throwing his toys and walking, it might not be a great season for United in 2017/18.
Jurgen Klopp kept smiling right up to the point when the European winter break normally kicks in and then looked knackered for the rest of the season. Bad news for him therefore with the proposals for next year’s festive schedule, which if implemented would see six rounds of matches played between 16 December and January 1st – twice as many as this year. The aim is to shorten the season ahead of next summer’s World Cup - expect a big paddy from the north-west if it comes off.
Of equal concern to both Klopp and Conte is how to cope with European fixtures next season. Both managers had a settled first team this year and didn’t deviate unless circumstance dictated. Adding in the Champions League fixtures to an already busy season is, I would imagine, their most pressing problem over the summer, and both are going to have to be busy in the transfer market.
Although having said that, last I heard, Chelsea had twenty-eight players out on loan, and if some of them can come back in and have the impact of Victor Moses, then their problems might not be looking so worrisome.
Which is more than you can say for Arsenal who had a shocker of a season - one which was even more self-inflicted than usual. Missing out on a Champions League place means they face possible problems in hanging onto the likes of Sanchez and Ozil, and you can easily imagine Arsene Wenger voluntarily chucking in the Europa League in round one in order to get his league form right next season. I wonder what Arsenal Fan TV would make of that?
Wenger will be here next season. He should go but he has nowhere to go to, and if he’s going to stay then he may as well ramp up to take the place by storm if he can. The best question of the season by far came at the height of the pressure on him to say if he was going to resign in the wake of the nine-goal drubbing by Bayern, when a journalist asked him if he thought that Mezut Ozil having his drive re-tarmacked meant he would be staying at Arsenal. There’s no hiding from the big questions when you’re a top manager, is there?
Spurs were good, more consistent than last season, had nice funny handshakes and Harry Kane got the ‘Golden Boot’. But they’re moving into Wembley for their home games next season so this is probably as good as it gets for the next couple of years. I'm happy to be proved wrong, but I think the ground move might hold them back next season, and then possibly the season after that as well when they move into the north London Pleasure Dome that will be the new White Hart Lane.
Please spare a thought for Wayne Rooney. Rooney has won five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the FA Cup, three League Cups and the Club World Cup. He is the record goal-scorer for both Manchester United and England, and yet he’s probably played his last game for both club and country. But does anyone care?
John Terry meanwhile also played his last game for Chelsea and the place turned into Disneyland to see him off. Why is that? Why doesn’t Rooney deserve more credit for his achievements? It’s looking likely he’ll go abroad over the summer and that’s it – gone with a whimper. Is it because he’s a bit boring? A bit dull – lacks personality? I don’t know – but when I see the fuss made of someone like John Terry, I can’t help feeling it’s a bit of a shame.