Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Alan Green: Rooney and Harry should be proud but Rafa needs to go

Rafael Benitez

Call me cynical, negative, whatever you want, but I don’t think this has been a vintage Premier League season.

I struggle to remember other than a handful of games that had me on the edge of my seat. I really feel there’s been a levelling down in standards and that’s why many of the ‘issues’ went down to the final week of the season.

Why were Portsmouth, Burnley and Hull relegated? Because they were even worse than the ordinary sides above them that managed to escape.

It used to be thought that you needed 40 points to be safe: no longer.

But, I hear you say, wasn’t the race for ‘fourth’ exciting? Well, that was only due to the perverse riches of Manchester City — hardly a cause for celebration outside of Eastlands — and the appalling decline of Liverpool.

No, roll on the World Cup and what remains of the summer after that.

I’m anxious to push memories of the past 10 months out of my mind and get fresh for August.

GOOD SEASON

Honourable mentions can be made for Birmingham and Fulham but Tottenham ‘win’ hands down.

It seems a very long time ago. When Harry Redknapp took charge, barely 18 months ago, Spurs were bottom of the table. It was a massive achievement to keep them in the division.

But this is greater still. Nearly 50 years since Tottenham made their sole appearance in the old European Cup (1961-62, Blanchflower et al) they have qualified for the Champions League.

No wonder Redknapp says it’s better for him than winning the FA Cup with Portsmouth.

They’re a really good side, Tottenham, brilliantly coached, beautifully balanced and with a ‘bench’ line up that’s the envy of most (only Chelsea come close). Yes, Spurs do spend ‘big’ — they will again in the summer — but English football need have no fear of this particular club gate-crashing the top four.

BAD SEASON

You can’t look beyond Liverpool. In the 20 years since they last won the league title, I doubt they’ve had a worse campaign, particularly given the optimism that preceded it.

The trouble at Anfield is that, outside of the incredible loyalty of the supporters, there’s hardly an area that doesn’t need urgent attention.

There are current owners who should never to darken the doorstep of Merseyside again. And reduce the ridiculous price they’re asking to sell the club.

There’s a manager whose time, arguably, is up though there was a huge ‘email campaign’ to media outlets on Friday by Liverpool fans swearing support for him.

However, for me, Benitez’ tactics are too negative: there are exceptions, Reina, Mascherano and Torres, but he signs stinkers; and he’s been living off the back of Istanbul for too long — I still remain unconvinced of what influence ‘he’ had in that extraordinary triumph.

And there are the players that need clearing out. Where do you start?

BEST PLAYER

Even though Chelsea were crowned champions, Wayne Rooney beats Didier Drogba for me and, anyway, I’m not sure I could ever cast aside my dislike of the Ivory Coast striker.

You really have to be a Chelsea fanatic to excuse his antics.

But Rooney’s been brilliant and it’s not just his goals.

He’s shouldered much of the responsibility required, outside of Fergie of course, for the ‘post Ronaldo’ era.

I actually think the challenge helped him produce his best.

I still think he has the occasional ‘moment’, a bad tackle or a rant at the referee (both of which he could do without), but his importance for club AND country is undeniable. And he’s still only 24!

MAGIC MOMENT

There weren’t many, were there? However, the ‘magic’ of Danny Rose’s magnificent strike for Spurs against Arsenal at White Hart Lane was all the greater because it was so unexpected. I'd seen Tottenham at Wembley three days before offer the most abject display against Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final.

The Lane, as a consequence, was distinctly jittery. Wouldn’t it be just like Spurs to implode, lose to their bitter rivals and admit defeat in their remaining target, a Champions League place?

The 19-year-old was making his Tottenham league debut and he wasn’t told much before kick-off. No time then for him to be overwhelmed by nerves.

And, within 10 minutes, the ball was cleared out of the Arsenal box only to be brilliantly volleyed into the net by the youngster: one of the best goals I saw all season. Different league: Man United’s Wayne Rooney (left) was superb this season while Harry Redknapp (below) has led his Spurs side to the promised land and Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez (bottom) has had a season to forget

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