It may be a cliché but it’s also true: the league table doesn’t lie.
I’ve been fortunate to see some great Manchester United teams and, whatever happens at Wembley on Saturday, I don’t believe that the current side is one of them. When pressed, even Ryan Giggs admitted that this year’s outfit at times lacked flamboyance.
And, actually, that matters at Old Trafford. They’ve a tradition of producing exciting, swashbuckling teams — a history Sir Alex Ferguson has fully bought into during his magnificent 25 years in charge — and I defy you to list the occasions the current champions have made you stand to applaud.
No, as title-winners go, this United is a pretty ordinary bunch and their acquisition of the trophy is as much a comment about their rivals as it is about them. Still, there’s another cliché that’s true: you can only win the league you’re in.
Manager least deserving of the sack
Sam Allardyce would be a leading contender if I didn’t dislike him so much and Roy Hodgson’s revival at West Brom doesn’t dissuade me from believing that Liverpool should have delivered his P45 far earlier than they did.
No, Carlo Ancelotti wins this accolade easily. With Roman Abramovich at the helm, those outside Chelsea find it very easy to poke fun at the club. What is it about the majority of super-rich owners that make them believe they know what they’re doing in matters they know nothing about i.e. football?
The Venkys at Blackburn are clearly cuckoo but they have some catching up to do on the Russian who’s gone through six managers in eight seasons and STILL believes in Avram Grant. Ancelotti is a terrific coach and a very dignified human being. He’ll be well out of Stamford Bridge.
Player of the Season
I couldn’t get my head around the awards to Scott Parker and Gareth Bale because, good though they are, one played in a team that got relegated and the other was recognized, basically, for two outstanding displays against Inter Milan: not ‘enough’ in my mind.
For me, Nemanja Vidic was the outstanding performer over the season. His errors at the heart of the United defence were memorable only because of their rarity and I now believe he’s a better player than the man usually alongside him, Rio Ferdinand.
Another factor in my choice is that the Serbian also contributes important goals to the cause. He’s actually scored as many this season as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes put together.
It just goes to show how badly I can get things wrong. Thinking back, only three months ago, I actually seriously considered the possibility of Arsenal winning four trophies. Then they just imploded, winning only three of their last 15 games, a run that started with their surprise Carling Cup Final defeat.
It’s difficult to explain. Ask Arsene Wenger if he knows the reason(s) why but, clearly, something has to change at the Emirates. It’s not good enough to say that rivals have greater resources. That doesn’t equate with the money raked in by Arsenal for every home game. Ask rather why the manager doesn’t spend what is available and how it’s acceptable to finish fourth in a three-horse race.
Hopefully, that’s still to come . . . on Saturday.
There’ve been a few obvious contenders: Everton 3 Manchester United 3; Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4; and just the other Sunday, Blackpool 4 Bolton 3 and Wigan 3 West Ham 2.
The problem is that so much of the drama and excitement in those matches was created by defensive errors.
No, I anticipate a veritable feast at Wembley. As usual, United have hit form when they needed to and are spurred to avenge the defeat they suffered in Rome two years ago. Darren Fletcher may be fit and that’s great news.
However, the problem remains: how can United stop Lionel Messi? How can ANY team stop the Argentine? Sorry, Mancester United fans, but I think Barcelona will win on Saturday night.
Current biggest worry in the sport
The Football Association had a good shout for this: I struggle to remember the last time they got anything right; try to work out the logic behind ‘warning’ Sir Alex Ferguson because he praised a referee.
But Fifa wins hands down. Their mismanagement of the world’s most popular sport is all too obvious and the corruption that lies at the body’s heart is indisputable.
And it’s summed up neatly by the fact that next week’s Presidential election features two candidates that you can’t make an argument to vote for: Blatter or Bin Hammam? Who’s worse?
I only wish Michel Platini didn’t so obviously fancy the job himself four years down the line and lacks the moral strength to lead a UEFA-inspired breakaway. Fifa thinks the world of football needs it. Europe could easily show that it doesn’t.