Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Happy New Year

At last, after a seemingly years-long summer of tedious not-quite-sports cluttering up the airwaves and the playing fields, the glittering, reassuringly expensive and expertly brand-managed spectacle of the Premier League has returned to make weekends worthwhile again.

OK, so the wait hasn’t been that bad – it’s not like we haven’t been entertained simply by the sheer hope and expectation of the forthcoming season since the last pieces of red and white confetti hit the pitch at Old Trafford back in May. This is, to espouse and pay homage to thousands of years of punditry clich├ęs, the moment when literally any team can technically win it – and every team believes that they’ll get something from the season.

Predictions are rife – it’s either this team’s year for the title, that team’s year for a nice little cup run or, for the other team, a chance to announce themselves on the European stage. Plus, it’s a World Cup season – so every player will have one eye on South Africa (and, presumably, one ear out for the dreaded horns – trust me, next summer people will understand why I’m so obsessed with this potentially tournament-ruining nuisance) and therefore playing their hearts out to be noticed by their national coaches.

As a matter of fact, as evidenced by at least one article I’ve read this week, the loyalty issue over club versus country for players seems to be a greater issue than ever. The argument seems to be that as the common fan loses touch with their club and the millionaires who play for them, and as the bigger clubs hold the monopoly on the great players, the international stage seems to be the more exciting prospect – the teams and the winners of the big prizes more of an unknown quantity. And, for players, while money is surely a huge driving factor at club level, only real passion and pride can drive you when wearing the colours of your nation.

While interesting, I’m not entirely convinced by the argument. It’s no coincidence that the nations with the strongest leagues (Spain, England, Italy, Germany) have consistently strong national teams, while those strong international sides outside of Europe, or even within it, (Argentina, Brazil) are overwhelmingly made up of players who play in the “big four” European leagues. The real excitement and unpredictability may be away from the theatre of Big Soccer, but at the expense of quality and, sadly, meaningful competition.

Sure, the silly scores and ridiculous stats are fun at laughably low-level international football: every season there’s a story about the American Virgin Islands getting hammered 37-0 by Australia or teams made up of postmen from nations whose entire populations would make Fratton Park look empty. One of my favourite stories from this week, sent to me by a friend, was that of the two Londoners who have taken over coaching the Pacific island nation of Pohnpei – the world’s worst international football team. Brilliantly, the only detail one needs to know about this footballing powerhouse is that they recently lost 16-1 to Guam.

But anyway, wasn’t I talking about the Premiership? It’s easy to get sidetracked: once football is in the air again it seems to be everywhere – every click on every web page throws up new intrigue and, often, new hilarity.

I need to focus – and here’s where my greatest acquisition of the week comes in: the Sky Sports Football Sports Centre app on the iPhone. It’s, quite simply, brilliant. It loads up with a great big photograph of the mighty Jeff Stelling (who then retreats to the top of the page throughout the app experience, watching paternally over football like the minor deity he is) and displays the top four games going on with either their live scores or their kick off times.

Opening up a live game you can see rolling text commentary, team line ups, stats (and a rather fetching photograph) for each individual player and then pick out your team’s week’s fixtures so you don’t miss a thing. There’s even the rolling Sky Sports News ticker along the bottom with the latest headlines. The next time a League Two manager gets sacked, you can bet I’ll be among the first to know about it.

So now that I can focus, I can get on with the season. It’s already been entertaining and intriguing in equal measure: United and Chelsea got off to winning starts, albeit far from comfortably, while Arsenal have surprised the literally billions of people who’d already written off their season (me included, if pushed) by getting a massive away win at Everton – and Liverpool have surprised literally no one by clearly missing the talent and influence of Xabi Alonso.

And is that Mick McCarthy back in the Premiership and moaning about how no one loves him? Surely not...

No comments:

Post a Comment