x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Survival bid is all-consuming

Why clamour to enter the Premier League land of bread and honey, then breathe a sigh of relief when the chef says you can only have dry crackers?

During the match against Tottenham Hotspur that relegated their side last season, Birmingham City fans go through the emotions many supporters of minnows do during the fight for Premier League survival.
During the match against Tottenham Hotspur that relegated their side last season, Birmingham City fans go through the emotions many supporters of minnows do during the fight for Premier League survival.

The people of Wolverhampton have learned to take the words of local hero Mick McCarthy as they take their food: with a large dose of salt.

The Wolverhampton Wanderers manager gave a typically sarcastic response when asked if he was looking forward to facing Liverpool today in the Premier League, given that opposing captain Steven Gerrard was back from injury.

"Delighted," said McCarthy. "Bring [Graeme] Souness back, see if Kenny [Dalglish] and Rushy [Ian Rush] can play.

"I'm delighted they get all their best players back. I don't want to go there and win, I want to let them play and have all their good players in the team. It's great."

His remarks appear to exemplify the old adage: ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

But was it such a silly question?

From McCarthy's perspective, the answer is "yes".

His sole concern is to bag a point at Anfield, in the fight to cling to Premier League status for another season.

That is his job, and I admire him for attempting to say as much with some colour and humour.

But, from the fans' perspective, surely the point of playing in the Premier League is to watch your team face the very best opposition, to witness legendary players such as Gerrard work their magic.

Why clamour to enter the land of bread and honey, then breathe a sigh of relief when the chef says you can only have dry crackers?

And yet fans of Premier League cannon fodder too often fall into the trap of dour managerial thinking.

When my team, Birmingham City, were in the top flight, I would punch the air with delight if one of the star players from next week's opponents picked up a minor injury or suspension.

We became brainwashed into thinking survival, no matter how scrappy or unpleasant to watch, was everything.

Back in the reality of the Championship, which is nowhere near as depressing as you fear (it is not a labour camp, we still get to watch football every week), I have regained some perspective.

Being a Premier League minnow is like hanging from a cliff by clinging to a tuft of grass. You can either spend your time worrying about when the grass will break, or you can look around and enjoy the view while it lasts.

Perhaps it is something about the Midlands that makes its football managers so gloomy.

Roy Hodgson, the manager of West Bromwich Albion, greeted his team's exit from the League Cup this week with barely disguised glee.

"Our goal is not to win the League Cup," he said, "it is to get another season in the Premier League. To be quite frank, [the League Cup] can be quite counter-productive for teams like ourselves."

Note his use of language: he wants to "get" another season in the Premier League.

Not to "enjoy" another season in the top flight, or "experience" or "blaze a trail through" but simply to "get".

Well done, Roy. Make as little movement as possible, stay as quiet as mice, and your tuft of grass might stay intact for another miserable season.

Having watched my team do the opposite - Birmingham won the League Cup this year but snapped their tuft in the process - I would not change a thing.

The experience of victory over Arsenal at Wembley was a price worth paying.

That said, it was a good job Cesc Fabregas was crocked.

 

sports@thenational.ae