x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mourinho had panache, Gerrard talked the talk as coaches trod on thin ice

Paul Radley looks at the memorable moments on and off the pitch during the 2013/14 season.

Steven Gerrard made one of the most regrettable slips of his career. Clive Rose / Getty Images
Steven Gerrard made one of the most regrettable slips of his career. Clive Rose / Getty Images

Best failure specialist – Mourinho

So the club who have spent the most money during the past decade have finished third.

The little horse with lots of money, to borrow a phrase from Manuel Pellegrini, were also-rans in the FA and League Cups, too.

And when push came to shove in the Uefa Champions League, they were found wanting on their own patch.

A season of failure, then? Because it was overseen by Jose Mourinho, it does not feel anything like it.

Chelsea were the moral victors as they did the double in the Premier League over both the sides who finished above them, Manchester City and Liverpool. That is, according to his theory. In the win away at Anfield, he pulled his favourite big-match party piece by parking two buses, instructing his team to waste time, and escaping with the spoils.

Some would call it 19th-century football. Because it was Mourinho, it was tactical genius. He even does (rare) failure with panache.

Worst failure specialist – Wenger

He might have got away with it if it was not for that pesky Mourinho.

As the wheels are coming off your trophy challenge, after the customary early season promise, for the ninth season in a row, just what you do not need is your most visible rival jumping in and pointing out your failings.

To be fair, Arsene Wenger did start it, by commenting that Mourinho’s method of dampening expectations on his side was born from a fear of failure.

The Chelsea manager pointed out he does not fail often, and that Wenger should look closer to home if he wants to see a definition of it.

Mourinho suggested he would not survive that long if the same happened to him at Chelsea (he has made a start on testing that theory now).

At the top of the table, Chelsea were a point ahead of Wenger’s Arsenal at the time of their tete-a-tete, with City three points behind and Liverpool four. It did not really end well for either of them.

Best self-regard – Sherwood

Whichever manager goes in to replace Tim Sherwood, the dead man walking at Tottenham Hotspur, this summer “has got a hard act to follow”.

So says Sherwood himself, anyway.

If you are going to come out with proud statements like that, you have to hope your team of battlers and better players are not then summarily outplayed by West Ham United. For that particular fixture, the Tottenham Tinkerman said he had picked a team of “fighters”.

By the look of the way Paulinho and Emmanuel Adebayor shied away from Stewart Downing’s powder-puff free kick, though, they would struggle to fight their way out of a wet paper-bag.

Spurs started the season with great expectations. They were said to have sold Elvis and bought The Beatles following the business they did after the £100 million (Dh616m) summer sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.

It turned out they had got Atomic Kitten instead and brought in the lighting gaffer to manage them.

Worst incentive – Europa Thursdays

The allure of the Europa League was already flagging way before this season started. Then Liverpool happened. It might well have been the death knell for the continental consolation competition. When the reds of Merseyside missed out on qualification for any sort of European football last season, it was supposed to have signalled the ultimate decline of a once great football club.

Turns out it was all part of a master plan. Why bother with Thursday nights in Moldova or Belarus or Dagestan when you can stay at home and plot an unheralded assault on the Premier League title instead?

Once upon a time, the Uefa Cup – the most gorgeously crafted of all pieces of silverware – was genuinely sought after. If teams start to opt out entirely from now on, blame Liverpool.

Best contract – Moyes

Six years? In the Premier League? For a man who did not win a trophy in 11 years in his previous posting?

Brave move.

With recruitment managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, it is no wonder the Glazers are saddled with so much debt. They are probably still paying off half their former workforce.

Is it really wise to let a manager – even if he has enjoyed untold success in his career – pick his own successor? Maybe Ferguson saw a lot of himself in his fellow Scotsman. But the Manchester United that David Moyes inherited was far different to that at which Ferguson himself started out.

Ferguson came armed with a hairdryer and not much else. Moyes needed a team of spin doctors. And a training regime tailored to suit the whims of a bunch of multi-millionaire celebrities would have been handy, too.

Worst Bond villain – Tan

No matter how precarious his situation appears, James Bond always manages to escape with dignity and dinner jacket in tact after his brush with the weirdly attired villain of the piece. Malky Mackay never managed it, though.

The Cardiff City manager met his grisly demise shortly after leading the side from the Welsh capital to the Premier League for the first time.

The hatchet man, the club’s owner Vincent Tan, then claimed Mackay’s success in leading the team to promotion had been down to luck. Presumably, Tan himself invoked said good luck by changing the side’s colours from the blue that they had worn forever to red the previous season.

Hard taskmaster, that Mr Tan. But with his leather gloves, tall trousers and shades – even in the deep mid-winter – he looks too much like a parody villain to be believable.

Best manager – Pulis

Ian Holloway was entirely good-natured and magnanimous when Crystal Palace got shot of him shortly after the start of their return to the Premier League.

He could have aired a grievance, given that he had just got them there in the first place. “At least they can afford to go and get somebody better than me now,” he said.

They hardly opted for a sexy choice. No Argentine whizzkid with a potted CV in Spain and an absence of experience in the English game.

No Spaniard with a mysterious lack of the requisite language skills. No German drill-sergeant with a natty array of hipster spectacles.

No. Instead, they plumped for a Welshman with a tracksuit and a work ethic. And away from danger they steadily rose.

Sorry, Brendan Rodgers, even your Liverpool revolution did not quite match Tony Pulis’s feats with Palace. Crystal Pulis FC, indeed.

Worst prophesy – Gerrard

Steven Gerrard’s tearful battle cry to his Liverpool teammates, in front of the Kop after an epic tussle with Manchester City, was arguably the salient image of this season.

“This does not slip,” is an edited version of what he said, after his side had positioned themselves is pole position in the race for the Premier League title.

His choice of vocabulary proved gut-wrenchingly prophetic next time out at Anfield, when Mr Liverpool himself took a tumble. It was probably on about the same patch of turf as he had given his great oration. He slipped, presented the ball to Demba Ba and Liverpool’s title challenge was more or less sunk.

When Liverpool then went and drew at Palace, Gerrard’s tears of joy, as well as those, more prodigiously, of the Player of the Year, Luis Suarez, turned to tears of anguish.

Rodgers might claim his title challengers played the most attractive football out of anyone this season. The pity is, they do not paint pictures on the scoreboard.

Best goal – Barkley

Terry Venables, the then-Tottenham manager, tells a story about the memorable 1991 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, and specifically Paul Gascoigne’s 35-yard free-kick goal.

In the bedlam that followed the strike flying past David Seaman into the top corner, the finest English midfielder of his generation emerged from the melee to talk to his coach.

“The England goalkeeper,” Gascoigne said to Venables. “He only tried to save it.”

Ross Barkley, the Everton midfielder who looks in all the best ways to be a modern incarnation of Gascoigne, might have been minded to say similar against Manchester City last week.

After exquisite build-up work between Leighton Baines and Steven Naismith, the youngster curled a perfect, first-time shot from distance past the vain dive of Joe Hart.

The England goalkeeper, Barkley might have observed. Why did he even bother trying?

Patjim Kasami might wonder how he has not won this award for his unbelievable volley for Fulham against Crystal Palace. If he could find a Gascoigne anecdote to go with it, he might have stood a chance.

pradley@thenational.ae