Gaffers' Cafe

As the ‘musketeers’ set sail…



The English Premier League is back! Yea, the most prestigious, glamorous and exhilarating football show on the planet is right in our faces again — and will, most certainly, be our companion, willy-nilly, for the next ten months or thereabout. Sorry ladies, time to pass on the TV RCs to the guys. What a wait!

As always, the principal actors — coaches, players and officials — are already on the tracks, lacing their boots. Like every other season before this 2017/2018 campaign, and at this time of the football calendar (the pre-season), the managers are usually the main dramatis personae. What has been their level of activity in the transfer market? Which players have they been trailing? Their relationships with their club owners vis-a-vis plans, programs and aspirations for the in-coming season are some of the major issues that tend to rock the boat, even before they set sail.

A peep at some of the major clubs in the EPL for the 2017/18 campaign with particular emphasis on their pre-season shenanigans, antics, theatrics and hullabaloo may provide some intuition to their performance in the next ten months.

Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, took over the blue side of Manchester last season from Manuel Pellegrini. The Spaniard came to the EPL with a resplendent CV — having conquered Spanish and German football. But his first showing in the world’s most unforgiven league was abysmal — by his own benchmark. His egoistic propensities did not make matters any easier. Key players were either shipped out outright or frozen out from the first team squad — Joe Hart and Yaya Toure should be inviting me over for a free lunch at the Gaucho Grill for this.

In spite of his quickie changes to the team, the Spanish football coaching juggernaut failed to impress; only managing to qualify for the European Champions League tournament — far from the quintessential Pep. And with no trophy of any colouration after spending a whooping £160m, Guardiola realized that in the EPL, it’s never easy peasy!

Albeit, the ex-Barcelona linchpin has asked for time to revamp the Etihad giants, after lavishing an additional £198m on defense alone this time (enough to equip the armoury of some country’s army), anything subordinate to the EPL title, methinks he should be in the bus conveying the second category of coaches — those already sacked!

Records have it that Pep has spent nearly £1billion in transfer fees during management spells at Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. If he ‘fails again’ this season, he may just have confirmed himself an Average Joe coach who buys his way to trophies. Hey, wouldn’t he really be seen that way, even if the Cityzens emerge victorious next May? With over £350million cheque signed out from the Etihad to other clubs across Europe in the last couple of years, a scenery of “cash ’n’ carry” is playing out here if you ask me.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte may just be the main act on a long circus night. The Italian conquistador took the EPL by storm last time out. After his team suffered some pummelling early on in the season, Conte changed his style, tactics and formation, and boom, the highly animated manager began to mesmerize the EPL with sagacious assiduity. Chelsea won the title by a long chalk; and few would argue the Blues were the best team in the land.

However, things appear to have come to a pretty pass at the Bridge. The relationship between Conte and star striker Diego Costa is hugely antithetical to what Romeo and Juliet enacted in folklore. The Spanish striker is practically a persona non grata at the Bridge. With only a few days to kick-off, Nemanja Matic has just been gifted to rivals Manchester United. And with no proven EPL striker in the fold of Conte’s troops, Chelsea may have just pressed the self-destruct button. A situation that chaps the a*s of any sane mind. And like we ‘ve seen overtime, once crises begin to brew at clubs, it is the manager who gets mud water poured at him. If things are not sorted out fast, Elvis may just have left the building at the Bridge — at least for this current campaign.

For Arsene Wenger, the tight-fisted veteran Arsenal manager, the 2016/17 campaign was quite eventful — for both the right and wrong reasons. For the first time in a month of Sundays, the Frenchman failed to guide his troops to the Zenith of European football. On countless times, fans and even neutrals demanded his ‘head’ on the chopping board for perceived non-performance.

But for the FA Cup victory, the ‘football economist’ would have been updating his CV for, peradventure, the classrooms.

However, the Frenchman this time, appear to have jumped on the bandwagon of the “cash ’n’ carry” coaches. After splashing well over £52million on Alexandre Lacazette, Wenger may have finally jettisoned his deep-pockets-but-short-arms philosophy. Welcome to the club Arsene! Better late than never!

The likes of Tottenham Hotspurs’ Mauricio Pochettino and Liverpool’s Jurgen Kloop should also be in the mix. For Pochettino, Spurs are probably on a wing and a prayer. Their home matches will be prosecuted, not at the White Hart Lane, but at Wembley Stadium — a ground that hasn’t really given them any joy in recent times. With the Lane under reconstruction, no major signing thus far, Kyle Walker sold off to Manchester City, it remains to be seen how the Argentine would make the best out of these situations!

That said, good luck to the contenders and pretenders alike! May the best team brace the tape!

By Uche Atuma

About Uche

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