Aidan Smith: Taxi for London’s teams - this is a two-horse race
EARLIER this year, en route from interviewing Jim Jefferies, my taxi driver was keen to know my business. “Is he something to do with... Scottish football?” the cabbie asked.
I presumed he didn’t like the game. Oh no, he loved English football, loved the Premier League, didn’t follow one English club but loved them all, spent all his spare cash visiting as many as possible during a season – it was Scottish football he couldn’t stand. If he inadvertently caught the last few minutes of Sportscene before Match of the Day 2 on Sunday night he wanted to kill himself. That’s a bit dramatic, I said. “Well,” he replied, as I paid him off early to walk the rest of the way home, “I can afford leather shoes. I don’t see why I should have to wear plastic ones.”
I thought of my ranting cabbie friend, groupie of “the Prem”, when Robin van Persie signed for Manchester United. In future he won’t have to go all the way to London to see last season’s double Player of the Year, he can just stop off in Manchester.
Meanwhile across town there are City, who’re always plundering from the top flight’s big four. The “best league in the world”, a phrase beloved of Clive Tyldesley et al, is now officially a two-horse race.
Tell me who else have a chance in 2012-13. Not Chelsea, who must surely know that their Champions League anti-football won’t work domestically, and who will try again to teach their old, domineering dogs new tricks and play expansively and with vim, and surely fail. Not Spurs, with a young manager who was actually displaying mad eyes before he was battered by the Chelsea experience, and who are now without their best player. Not Liverpool, whose young manager seems more calm, but who must confront, among other things, the £82 million question (the amount spent on four massive under-performers by the previous boss). And certainly not Arsenal, the former three-times-in-seven-seasons title-holders, now reduced to the role of feeder club, the function which Hibs and Hearts perform for the Old Firm.
Will Sir Alex Ferguson be bothered by this? By the fact the Premier League’s USP – that it is a proper league of 20, properly competitive – is a bit of a fib because a lot of the grounds for the teams who’ll never win it are half-empty and everyone switches off the highlights when it’s the turn of Stoke? By the fact that, really, the Prem’s cheerleaders should stop crowing about La Liga being two-horse because weren’t the Europa League’s finalists last season two Spanish also-rans? Will he heck.
He’s seen off the threats of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, and Spurs’ never materialised. If it’s just United and City, fine. If his last great challenge is to stop City retaining the title – although I’d be surprised if, with Pep Guardiola gone from Barcelona, he isn’t dreaming about another Champions League as well – then great. So, has he bought well?
Buying Van Persie when you already have lots of firepower is certainly a very Man U thing to do. When they weren’t denting heads with 20-eyelet Dr Marten bovver-boots in the 1970s, the Stretford Enders’ favourite chant was “Attack, attack, attack!” If Fergie is going down – that is, if he’s quitting at the end of this season – then maybe he’s going down tied to the mast of the Reds’ buccaneering tradition. It’s a crazy image – manager and credo stuck fast like a piece of Fergie’s Bazooka Joe bubblegum on a dugout wall. And I’m sure there’s method in the apparent madness of not spending the £24 million on the more pressing need of a central midfielder. Maybe Rooney will move back there? We’ll find out more at Goodison tomorrow.
Will Van Persie be a Cantona, or another Berbatov? If Man U get the Van Persie of the Euros, they might well not win a bean for the second season running. If they get the goal-machine of his final Arsenal campaign, Sir Alex will narrow his gaze across Manchester and produce some gnarly Govan wisdom about how it’s much more difficult to stay at the summit than ever reach it.
Deluded English friends – just accept it’s going to be another Manchester carve-up and let the games, and the mind games, begin. My plastic shoes are squeaking with anticipation.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
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