And we’re off, well and truly into the new season, and for the first MOTD we were promised a complete refurb. For this season all BBC footie programmes would be broadcast “from a new fully 360-degree virtual studio using the latest in real-time computer game rendering technology. All programmes will be based within a ‘BBC Sport football stadium’’.
That’s not what it looked like to me. It looked like they’d taken the Top Gear aircraft hanger, given it a coat of paint and stuck a table and chairs in the middle. At least they’d got rid of those weird moving / sliding frames in the background from last season – what were they?
There you were, trying to absorb the innate wisdom of Alan Shearer’s take on the Huddersfield-Bournemouth classic, and the framed scenery behind him was slowly sliding up and down with lava-lamp-like cohesion as if it was a scene from a sci-fi movie. You half expected the camera to pan away to reveal the harvesting of humans in the corner of the studio to breed the next generation of the Alien.
And Gary Lineker was back for his 20th series – and, starting to look his age perhaps? Still bubbly and enthusiastic the time has come to ask the big question - at what point does Lineker become an official ‘National Treasure’?
He has all the attributes - mams like him, he smiles a lot, is well-behaved, and although he’s never going to replace David Attenborough (shame because someone will have to soon) - as he needed to have been buried in elephant pooh at least twice and lost a body part to an obscure but virulent Indonesian stick insect, he’s definitely ‘Treasure’ material.
I think he needs to diversify a bit, present some big charity do’s - preferably involving the younger royalty - and he’ll have nailed it in a couple of years.
But the great thing about this part of the season is that it’s a start of many journeys that you can follow and watch develop over the winter and into next Spring. The competition between Liverpool and City for instance – imagine playing under the pressure of knowing that if you lose one game, you could’ve lost the title there and then? That must be immense – and in itself would cause to happen the very thing you’re trying to avoid at all costs.
And it’s fascinating to see the new managers and how they do. Frank Lampard had a tough start - a transfer ban on new players, then a first week of away at Old Trafford then Liverpool in the ‘Super Cup’. Graham Potter at Brighton took a team that struggled last season away to Watford and showed what a Masters in Leadership and Emotional Intelligence can do. Definitely one to watch this year.
As are the ‘old school’ type managers, Dean Smith and Chris Wilder, both more than deserve their time in the spotlight and a crack at the ‘big boys’. Better things were expected from the man with the best name in management - Ralph Hasenhüttl - and Southampton, but they were trounced by a resurgent Burnley who seemed to have benefited from not playing pre-season Europa League football this year.
Unlike Wolves, who had a 6000 mile round trip to Armenia mid-week who struggled to fire on all cylinders in their opening fixture against Leicester. And I think it’s time that this situation was seriously looked at. For any team to travel that distance to play a football match is insane – on a number of levels.
At the footballing level, what are they achieving by playing with jet lag to a half full stadium containing none of their own fans and to the detriment of their home league form? Burnley suffered from it last season, and it probably held back Spurs’ development for as long as they were in the Thursday / Sunday cycle of matches.
Also on an environmental level it’s proven that air travel is one of the biggest contributors to global warming and climate change – it just cannot be justified to structure international competitions around this model any more. The Europa League Final last season between Chelsea and Arsenal in Azerbaijan was an insult to common sense. The ‘Super Cup’ this week between Liverpool and Chelsea was held in Istanbul – again, it’s absurd in this day and age.
Surely it’s time for FIFA to restructure its tournaments to take these matters into account?
How difficult would it be to have regional rounds in the early days of a tournament, and instead of putting the location of the final out to tender before any games have taken place, have a number of locations on standby until the finalists are known?
Of course FIFA would point out that they’re following this model to encourage the growth of the game in less accessible or developed parts of the world, in which case let them invest some of the billions they make from these tournaments into the grass roots growth of football in these countries and put their money where their mouth is for once.
And for those that consider preventing thirty thousand or so fans the opportunity of flying to Istanbul for a jolly in the sun is a complete kill-joy attitude, remember that the people who have the ability to change the rules and do something to help the planet (ie FIFA) are those that are the least likely on the planet to do so. But that still doesn’t make it right.
So the transfer window thing still confuses me. Last year we (the Brits) did a good thing and curtailed our window so that it ended with the start of the season. But, now we’re left with a situation where European clubs can still buy ‘our’ players because their window doesn’t close till Sept 2nd, leaving us unable to replace them.
Isn’t this a dumb situation from our perspective – why did we let this happen? Why don’t we have the same transfer window as the European Leagues? Apparently because they start their season later than we do, which they’re able to do because they have less teams and therefore less fixtures and this also enables them to have a mid-season break (the winters in Spain and Italy being particularly punishing).
In that case why don’t we reduce the numbers of teams in our leagues to come into sync with the rest of Europe so that we can benefit from the same transfer window and a winter break? But, then I realised – we’re trying to get away from all that European unity stuff just at the moment aren’t we? Duh!
So, Pogba could still go to Real, Christian Eriksen could still be plucked from his shiny new home on the Seven Sisters Road, and Neymar could still go to one of either Real or Barcelona.
At a pre-season friendly against Nimes this week, PSG supporters jeered Neymar’s name leaving him in no doubt once and for all that they don’t want him at their club anymore.
To which his sister Rafaella tweeted:
You’ll win nothing without him, fuckers.
Always good to have the family on board...