Premier League (and Arsenal) fans are in for a shock this season.
I honestly believe that 2017/18 is going to upset a lot of people. Any sense of entitlement will be severely challenged. “We’re a big club so we deserve to win the league” is a thing of the past.
The EPL is traditionally dominated by two or three of the ‘big’ clubs. Liverpool lost their 80s mojo, and have failed (2014/15 aside) to challenge for the EPL title. Manchester United and Arsenal were top dogs until Chelsea started buying titles with their Russian loot. Man City followed suit, using their oily windfall to secure the trophy.
The steadily increasing influx of silly TV money has attracted top players and managers from around the world. Mourinho, Klopp, Gaurdiola, Conte… a few years ago they were considered Football’s top managers, scattered around Europe. They have now settled into the EPL and have had a chance to reshape the teams they inherited.
On top of that, managers such as Pochettino and Koemann have been steadily honing their craft, and now find themselves at clubs that are prepared to back them, financially. Everton in particular have had an injection of ambition under their new owner. Last night, they looked every bit as capable as Manchester City, and nearly pulled off a shocking result.
To go with equally startling results from the past few seasons, Burnley’s shock victory over Chelsea in their season opener reminds us of the old adage: there are no easy games in the Premier League… Arsenal’s loss to Stoke on Saturday – while extremely disappointing for us Gunners – wouldn’t have come across as entirely undeserved to the neutral viewer.
Stoke are no longer the rugby orcs of the past – scything down the opposition with their cloven-hooves. They have some genuinely talented footballers on their payroll. Even Tony Pulis *shudder* has eked some decent footballing performances out of his teams in the past couple of seasons.
Pretty much every team (except Spurs) has improved this season. I think Spurs are in for a difficult few years as they build their new toilet bowl, I mean stadium. And their Wembley curse seems to still be going strong – long may it last.
Every team is raising its game. On a good day, minnows can topple giants. Expect the unexpected.
Last year Arsenal came 5th with the highest points tally not to qualify for a Champions League spot. The point gaps separating the top teams are getting smaller and smaller; last year there were 5 teams genuinely competing for the top 4 spots. This season I think it will be 7 teams (City, United, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal), possibly more… We will see as the season unfolds.
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Player power, ridiculous wages, and a Transfer Market that is basically out of control is also going to change the way contracts are handled. I think more and more that you are going to see players allowed to leave on a Bosman. The old days of selling or renewing before the final year of a player’s contract are over.
It is now more profitable for a club to keep a player in his final year at the ‘acceptable’ 3- 4- or 5-year-old existing salary level than to renegotiate, sell at a disadvantage (buying clubs know that the selling clubs are essentially bent over a barrel) and then replace at a premium (selling clubs know that buying club is desperate).
It’s not playing hardball – it’s just pure business savvy. As long as players are professional enough to give their best during their last season before leaving on a Bosman, I think this is going to be the way of the future. Players like Coutinho (Sterling, van Persie, Nasri, Costa) will always exist. Clubs should just call their bluffs and bench them, send the message that they will not be bullied (any more than they already are).
Release clauses will become normal, in an attempt to shore against predatory buying, and the parabolic rise in transfer fees. Contracts will probably become shorter, as agents try and maximise their players’ earning potential, and stay current with ever-inflating wage structures.
Money changes everything. Football is not immune.
I suggest we buckle up and prepare for a few major upsets on the 2017/18 Premier League rollercoaster.