Wednesday, June 02, 2010

"Thanks very much and let's have coffee,"

There isn’t much room in football for fairytales anymore. Inter park the bus in front of the Nou Camp goal in the semis and then out-defend Bayern to win the Champions League. Europe apathetically half-watches while secretly wishing that Messi was banging in a hat-trick at Real’s home ground, or that Arsenal had somehow chanced their way to glory. Fulham march to within a whisker of Europa League silverware but come a cropper to a side that got to the final by drawing the vast majority of their games in the tournament. Real and Barca play in a league so two-sided it makes the SPL look competitive. Meanwhile, The Premier League is supposed to be the most exciting competition in the world, but I can’t think of a time when it has been more staid. People got worked up about Tottenham knocking Liverpool out of fourth place. Why? It’s not like they didn’t spend decent sums of money to do so. Is it really such an achievement to finish higher than a club descending down a slippery slope and a Manchester City team who, if you gave them Mourinho’s bus, would probably end up accidentally parking it behind the goal instead of in front of it?

Tottenham’s sense of triumph at reaching the Champions League qualifiers is indicative what is wrong with the Premier League. How long have we had the notion of The Big Four? Why do we have it? Why should ‘breaking the top four’ be lauded in such a way? The Premier League has now reached such a level of predictability that teams like Spurs and Everton set their sights on fourth place as the very best they can achieve. Tottenham’s top four finish was in no way, as some are suggesting, a fairytale. This will inevitably be proved when they are bundled out of the Champions League at the first hurdle before next season has even got going.

Not much has been said about it, but I think Wolves deserve a lot of credit for staying up. However, even they, by driving the streets of Wolverhampton and rounding up a bunch of strangers to make up their eleven at Old Trafford, highlighted just how the Premier League playing field is less level than Wembley’s.

Wolves' starting line-up at Old Trafford.

Thank God then, in a season when teams field the reserves against a side from the same division, because they know their best eleven has no chance either, for Ian Holloway’s Blackpool. The only footballing fairytale of the 2009/2010 season (so close, Ross County, so close). Playing in a three-sided ground in front of League One sized crowds, they were tipped by many for relegation at the start of the campaign. Marvellous then, that a late burst took them into the play offs. Even more marvellous that they went and got promoted. And the best thing about it? That they did so playing really exciting, attacking football. Their devil-may-care approach was best summed up by the final against Cardiff. You scored two? Okay, we’ll have to score three. Blackpool’s attacking style is a breath of fresh air and, as full backs rampage forward, leaving open spaces behind them with gay abandon, one can’t help get the feeling that this is the way football should be played. If Mourinho gave them his bus, chances are they’d all pile in it and drive it straight at the opposition goal.

So, well done Blackpool for giving football romantics a little slither of joy at the end of a dull season. And, when the critics are handing out plaudits, they should look no further than the man with more classic quotes than Karl Pilkington (see clip below) - manager Ian Holloway. By achieving the unthinkable with mere pennies at his disposal, he is surely the manager of the year. Mourinho might be the name on everyone’s lips as he takes over the hot-seat in Madrid, but I’d like to see him come to Blackpool and do what Holloway’s done on the same budget.

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