x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A Premier League campaign that left us speechless

Paul Radley looks at the season's high and lows which included Ferguson's failed mind games, Pardew's inspired signings, Tevez's celebration and much more.

Sir Alex Ferguson failed to win the battle of mind games over Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini.
Sir Alex Ferguson failed to win the battle of mind games over Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini.

Worst mind games - Ferguson

He might as well have gone the whole hog and told Roberto Mancini he had gone down in his estimation when he said that … that they were still fighting for this title, and that he would love it - love it! - if they had beaten them.

It did not happen though, did it? Manchester United fought the good fight this season, getting close to their city rivals with a side which, in truth, was a pale shadow of some of Sir Alex Ferguson's former vintages.

There was no shame in finishing runners-up. The late mind games did smack of desperation, though, as on the eve of the final game the United manager said City could still do something stupid, and it would do "untold damage" to their club.

The noisy neighbours laughed last, though, and they are laughing loudest now.

Best manager - Pardew

Remember when Newcastle United was run by a cabal of senior players who the new, unpopular manager had to get on side if he was going to keep his head above water?

"We will not sell Andy Carroll," Alan Pardew said when he arrived at what used to be known as St James' Park, in an attempt to ingratiate himself to his new public.

Yet within no time he had offloaded Carroll for a king's ransom, and also shuffled Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique out the door. Star names, all.

Then out he went and bought a bunch of Joe Nobodies.

You might have heard of them now. Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse rank among the shrewdest signings in recent Premier League history. Carroll, Barton and Enrique do not.

Worst celebration - Tevez

No wonder Premier League footballers are so obscenely well remunerated. It must be such a chore for them having to play football all the time, when all they really want to do is play golf.

Carlos Tevez had the right idea when he downed tools at Manchester City and headed for the course instead.

A few rounds later, he eventually rejoined the title quest at the Etihad Stadium. Somehow he was granted forgiveness by the supporters when he deigned to come back, and then he marked his return to form with a mocking golf swing at the corner flag.

How did Graeme Souness put it? Everything that is wrong with the modern game? Have a day off, Tevez.

Best goal - Crouch

Peter Crouch is one of life's anomalies. There is no way a gawky nerd like that should have skills like he does. Fair enough, he should be able to head the ball, but, by rights, he should be clumsy with it.

It has never been the case. Even when he was a bony youth at Tottenham Hotspur, Crouch would always be among the first picks for five-a-sides in training, even if there was a no passing over head height rule.

Yet after a 14-year professional career, the beanpole still has to explain himself to people. "I practice volleys a lot in training," he said after his extraordinary strike from miles away for Stoke City against Manchester City.

Papiss Cisse, Luiz Suarez and Wayne Rooney never have to persuade people the wonder goal they have just witnessed was not a fluke. Pity poor Crouch.

Worst flirts - The FA

From a professional perspective, Harry Redknapp occasionally conveys the impression that he is, if not a wheeler-dealer, then at least a bit of a player.

The player got played by the English Football Association this season, though, and Tottenham, his club, suffered in the fallout.

Given the way his acquittal from tax charges segued so neatly with Fabio Capello's departure as the England manager, Redknapp could have been forgiven for believing whoever was writing his scripts had him down for the national job, too.

It got to the point where he was even quoting the names of which players he would take with him to the European Championships.

Oh, how the FA must have delighted in the fact that somebody actually really did so clearly covet The Impossible Job.

They let him run with it for a bit. Let his team run off the rails distractedly. Then offered the job to Roy Hodgson anyway.

Best commentary - Parry

Footballers are paid a mint to put the ball in the goal, or to stop the other team from scoring. Sometimes they do not manage it.

Most people would agree commentators have a pretty cushy number, but they do not always do what they are paid for, either - namely putting words to the action.

Alan Parry had the plum job of covering Manchester City on the final day of the season. Given all the drama that unfolded, he could afford to be judiciously sparing with his comments.

"Words fail me," he said, when Joey Barton had a meltdown and tried to maim half the City side on his way off. For that moment in time, it was the perfect use of language.

Worst signing - Johnson

When a struggling club forks out around £7 million (Dh41.3m) for a player and hands him the captain's armband, the least he could do is turn up for training in a fit state.

Roger Johnson exuded everything but leadership qualities this season after joining Wolverhampton Wanderers from relegated Birmingham City.

The central defender led the leakiest back line in the division, was disciplined for arriving at training in a mess, and then had his wife picking fights for him on Twitter.

Right at the last, he had the chance to correct a few wrongs, by welcoming the arrival of Stale Solbakken as the club's new manager, and suggesting it might herald a new dawn if everyone pulls together.

"I don't know who the guy is," he said, with all the apathy he could be bothered to muster.

Best comeuppance - AVB

Talking of the wrong sort of attitude, hubris can be a powerful thing, too.

When Andre Villas-Boas arrived at Chelsea at the start of this season, you got the impression that the managerial whizz-kid was already starting to be consumed by his own hype. With his mid-Atlantic English accent and his bendy knees, he came across like a middle class yuppie who thought he knew all there was to know about the working class game.

Pity his players did not rate him as much as he rated himself. His first mistake was to get offside with the powerful clique of senior professionals at Stamford Bridge.

Then the fatal blow was picking a fight with the media. He never stood a chance.

"I think we have given some people a slap in the face today," he said to his critics after one small victory. But he ended up with egg on his.


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