“Stop the world, I’m getting off” sang the Stone Roses, back in the days of bell-bottomed trousers and compulsory Mancunian vowels. 25 years on I can see that they were feeling old beyond their years. It’s caught up with me. I love a bit of Twitter but do I really need Instagram? I don’t think so. And why are there three remote controls for the television? What is a Now box, how is it different from the Now app and where do the pictures come from anyway?
When I was younger, established things seemed old-fashioned and anything new was exciting. Now, I just can’t be bothered keeping up with endless change and innovation. At this rate I’ll be reading the Telegraph and pretending I’m a retired Colonel by the end of the year.
I was struck by this line of thought when I read a recent interview with Jason Denayer, one of the many hapless loan flops SAFC have inflicted on us in recent years.
(At this point, can I just say a heartfelt thanks to Ellis Short for a business model based on loan signings which has proved so demonstrably successful. How come when we get a million/billionaire owner, he turns out to be the one – perhaps the only one, anywhere – who can’t actually run a business?)
Now, I’m not hopelessly nostalgic for the football of my youth. In many respects the 1980s was a grim time to be introduced to football – falling attendances, hooliganism, crumbling stadia and Lawrie Mac do not constitute a menu for us to drool over.
But there was an honesty to football which linked the era’s superstars to the fans and to football in decades past. Players were well paid compared to the fans who watched them but lived ordinary lives - I used to walk past Nick Pickering’s house on the way to school and my dad would complain when he’d seen him at the Nook buying cakes. Teams traveled to away games by bus. Training facilities were basic: Sunderland often trained on the beach. If it snowed, players had to help clear the pitch.
Looking back, the creation of the Premier League destroyed football in the form in which it had existed for a century. There have been some benefits and not just in terms of new stadia. There is a Twitter account dedicated to “crap football of the 1990s” and it recently showed a clip of a game between Sunderland and Sheffield United in 1990. Leaden-paced players all fail to control the ball as it pings around a scruffy penalty area until someone falls over and accidentally knocks it past an overweight keeper – the Roker End cheers, half-heartedly. It’s not a great advert. Players are undeniably fitter and faster than before and the average standard of football has improved as a result. But Jason Denayer shows us how football has, in fact, got so much worse.
Denayer showed occasional flashes of talent in his short spell on Wearside but generally looked uninterested in what was going on around him. Now he has confirmed that he was fed up to be sent to Sunderland and unhappy to be put in a relegation-threatened team, although presumably not unwilling to collect a lavish monthly pay cheque. It would be easy to focus our anger on Denayer, but he is also a victim of football’s crazy financial structure, albeit one paid beyond our wildest dreams. When he signed for Manchester City he must have assumed that he’d made it – ready for a life with football’s big boys, playing in the Champion’s League and winning trophies. In reality, he was never going to be more than City’s fifth choice centre half, perhaps allowed a couple of games in the League Cup and a place on the bench at home to Hull. In the past, a player of his calibre would never have got near a top four team and nor would top teams have felt the need to create a squad of forty players, most of whom would rarely get a game.
Players like Denayer get farmed out to any club desperate enough to take an untested Belgian with a yearning for the cultural life of Istanbul. They should knuckle down, behave professionally and seek to excel. Occasionally, a loan spell is the making of a player – think Danny Rose, for example. However, all too often a massive, moaning sense of entitlement takes over and we get players in a huff, complaining that their new team are not very good and oblivious to the fact that their lack of effort will be contributing to this situation.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sense of relief that this season we will be spared from watching the likes of Denayer and might instead see players who are more committed to the cause. They may be technically less gifted than Europe’s elite and more suited to that Sheffield United game in 1990 than to the modern day Premier League, but I’ve seen enough of the Premier League to welcome a break. It won’t last. I’ll be fed up with Championship dross soon enough, but for now I’m looking forward to the start of the season as a welcome return to the past.