Real life is often anticlimactic but this domestic season ended with a greater than usual amount of drama and excitement.
There’s probably some clever theory about how the original reason for dramatic stories was for ancient tribes to bond over the campfire, share tales of triumph, to embiggen those who weren’t there to act with greater bravado next time, and become more cromulent hunters.
Well, the same could be true for England’s top teams.
Man City Broke Their Hoodoo
For a long time Manchester City have been considered a joke club, who drastically underachieve against their raw potential, finding new and inventive ways to shoot themselves in the foot, more use as comedy than clinical victory machines. Sound familiar, England fans? Even with all their millions, in recent years they’ve came no nearer the title than Carlos Tevez has to winning a beauty contest.
For a while on the last day it looked like they’d manage to blow things again, but they came through, at the last minute getting the goals they needed and breaking their mental block. Remember that Man City once played for a draw on the last day of the season, not realising they needed to win to stay up. If a club that ludicrous can end up reaching glory, why not England?
Man Utd Lost
Manchester United win – it’s what they do. Under Ferguson, they’ve played in a range of different styles, but they’ve always been gritty, always been hard-working, and always saw the place at the top of the table as their’s to take. What’s more, on the occasions Manchester United fail, they come back stronger. Since winning the first Premier League title, 8 out of 20 seasons someone other than them has won the title and only in 03-04, 04-05 and 05-06 have they lost then failed to win the next year. It’s as if not winning the title makes them more determined to win it the next.
Manchester United is the club of winners. They aren’t the nice club, or the club that look after the working class fan, and not always even the most entertaining. But they are a team of mentally strong players who perform when the going gets tough, when the odds are stacked against them, who don’t let a winning situation slip away.
This season they were eight points clear, but Manchester City came back. I think that’s the biggest lead that’s been clawed back since Keegan’s notorious bottlers in 1996.
Think how angry that will make them.
Rooney Kept his Cool
Wayne Rooney, the notorious hot-head who was sent off against Montenegro, only picked up two bookings for Manchester United this season, just one in the league.
It might be a small achievement that he maintained his cool through to the end of the season and he avoided assaulting corner flags or stepping on anyone’s testicles, but given his history – and the reason he’s missing for the first two games – it’s something to be pleased about.
Let’s hope his family can stay out of the papers during the tournament.
As much as we’d like to compare ourselves to a team with the flair of Silva, Aguero and Toure, that’s probably not going to be England’s role in the tournament. Instead we should be inspired by Chelsea’s fantastically tight defensive display against Barcelona, with the inspirational John Terry brilliantly realising that giving the Catalans an extra man would put them right where they wanted them.
On the night they displayed some really organised positioning, the discipline to clear the danger, and rather than congratulating themselves, each time immediately prepared for the next Barca attack. And that was despite several players being in unfamiliar positions.
They then followed this up with an unorthodox but, it turns out, brilliantly innovative idea of sitting deep and giving the ball to Mario Gomez repeatedly, and trusting him to blaze easy shots over the bar. It’s not something I would have thought of, but if it ain’t broke…
This should be proof, in case it’s needed against Spain, Holland or Germany, that the technically inferior, lesser team, can triumph.
Wigan’s Late Run
When commentators lazily say that ‘you couldn’t make up’ a dramatic moment, they normally mean the opposite. Man City’s two late goals are exactly what a writer would come up with. But occasionally something happens that’s so ludicrous a writer would have to throw it out.
How about this – a screenwriter pitches a sports drama. The team, after 29 games are bottom of the league, with 22 points. Then their handsome and innovative young manager changes their system to an unorthodox 3-3-3-1, picking up 21 points from the last nine games including wins against Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle. The producers, if they know their stuff, will ask if the story can be made just a little more subtle, just to make sure *some* people will believe it.
Before we go into Euro 2012 with the problems of insufficient practice time, injuries decimating the squad, and Stewart Downing, it’s worth remembering that as in Euro 2004, when a team works hard to a manager’s clever idea, unpredictable things can happen.
Given that Hodgson’s made some unconventional choices – Martin Kelly being chosen over Rio Ferdinand, two goalkeepers from the Football League, and Liverpool having the most players in the squad, there’s been relatively little outrage from people who don’t represent Rio Ferdinand.
Maybe this is because of the initial press reaction to Hodgson, and the public blowback. The press have seemingly been shocked that their faith in the Gospel of St. Arry wasn’t universal, recent decisions seem to have been more or less given the benefit of the doubt.
England are now in the rare position where there isn’t pressure on the manager to win or else, where he’s being given the benefit of the doubt in debatable decisions. The media is a monster that has eaten away at the national team over the years, but they’ve overplayed their hand, and people have seen them for what they are in advance.
Errm… Anyone want to try putting a positive spin on this?