Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Alan Green: A strange season so far, but I do expect a familiar outcome

Gareth Bale

I’m having great difficulty deciding whether we’re in the middle of a potentially great season or if it’s merely one of mediocre ability.

For example, it feels wonderful that there are genuinely as many as five teams capable of winning the Premier League title.

However, is that because Manchester City and Spurs are so much better OR that three of the Big Four — let’s not mention Liverpool for the moment — are in evident decline?

No matter, it’s time for a collection of my ‘mid-season awards’.

Manager of the season: This is a difficult choice between Harry Redknapp and Owen Coyle.

Unless you support Arsenal, there must be few football fans around the country unwilling to stand to applaud Tottenham at the moment and Redknapp deserves huge credit for the expansive, attacking style of his team.

He’d be the first to say that’s partly because Spurs so badly NEED to score goals since they’re likely to concede a few — but who’s complaining.

And who would you rather see succeed Capello; Harry or Sam Allardyce?

But Coyle still gets my vote as the best manager at half term.

It’s not just that Bolton are punching way above their weight in the upper reaches of the division, it’s the football that they play.

Not so long ago I viewed going to the Reebok Stadium as akin to a visit to the dentist — that man Allardyce again.

These days, it’s a pleasure and it’s down to Coyle. Bolton’s only problem is that other bigger clubs won’t hesitate to try to steal their boss.

Match of the season: That’s another difficult choice because while my particular season began very slowly with a succession of dull games to commentate on, October started a rush of excellent fixtures.

Spurs against Inter Milan at White Hart Lane was outstanding with Gareth Bale even better that night than he’d been in the meeting at the San Siro.

However, Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge just about eclipsed the Champions League fixture, not least because everything about it was so unexpected.

There was the result of course, 3-0 to Steve Bruce’s side. Yet it was the way Bruce set up his team that really took my breath away.

Playing two genuine strikers at the home of the Champions? Simply wonderful and duly rewarded.

Most disappointing team and, by the same token, least ‘successful’ manager: Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool: I ‘got’ Hodgson wrong; he wasn’t a safe pair of hands for Anfield; he was a bad choice.

The players that Benitez left weren’t bad players. They’d simply had a poor campaign under the Spaniard.

Hodgson added unquestionably bad players — Konchesky, Poulsen — and is yet to draw the best out of a good one, Cole.

Indeed, he’s drawn little ‘good’ out of Liverpool, full stop.

My information is that the manager is safe for the rest of the season, unless the team suffers a succession of catastrophic results.

But don’t expect the new owners to stick with him beyond May.

If Liverpool are to revive, they’ll need better a far better manager than Hodgson.

Best player: Again, this is a narrow choice between Gareth Bale and Samir Nasri. Both have, at times, been absolutely brilliant.

It’s hard to think that, not so long ago, Tottenham were ready to farm the Welshman out on loan.

The club wasn’t at all certain he’d cut it at the highest level. But Bale’s proved them wrong, particularly in those matches against the European champions.

He isn’t ‘world class’, not yet, and he’s becoming a ‘diver’ but I wish he was English — or Northern Irish — rather than Welsh.

Nasri? I think his impact is such that Arsenal can suddenly bear the thought of life without Fabregas.

I put his quiet display at Old Trafford to one side. It’s the exception that proves the rule. No player, not even Bale, has given me more watching pleasure this season than the Frenchman.

Most annoying episode: Carlos Tevez may yet take this ‘honour’but nothing sickened me more than the Wayne Rooney saga.

There was a time when I was delighted to be on more than just speaking terms with a number of high profile footballers. Some became really good friends but, no, I’m not going to ‘name-drop’. Today? I wouldn’t waste my breath on most of them.

Rooney’s antics, essentially the stance of someone seeking a substantial pay rise, plumbed the depths, insulting to his manager, colleagues and, worst of all, the countless fans who adored him.

Correction: make that ‘STILL adore him’. It’s hard to believe how many have been so quick to forgive and forget.

Organisation most likely to damage the sport: There could only be one winner, FIFA, led by a man who’d be a figure of fun if he didn’t hold such an important position, Sepp Blatter.

I used to view FIFA and it’s President with suspicion: now, I hold it and him in contempt.

And that’s not because England didn’t win the right to stage the World Cup because, as you know, I never thought that bid would succeed.

I was as upset with the naivety as I was with the backstabbing that was all so predictable.

But it’s Qatar and 2022 that really gets me going. Hands up anybody that thinks FIFA made the right choice?

No, it’s Australia that has a right to feel mortally offended: shame on FIFA.

Halfway through, who I think will be Champions: I think it would be marvellous to have ‘new’ champions in Spurs or Manchester City.

That’s in order of preference since I still have a problem with the distortions created by the wealth of City owner Sheikh Mansour.

And it would be good to see Arsene Wenger rewarded with another league title, given his adherence to a certain style of playing the game — not quite ‘Barcelona’ but as close as any English side is likely to get.

But I can’t honestly predict outside of Chelsea or Manchester United, AGAIN.

Early in the campaign, Chelsea looked ‘champions elect’ until they faltered.

United, without actually playing that well, still refuse to lose league games.

It’s between those two.

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