Hyperthrust

The intercut highlights of the two games that decided the title on Sunday make compelling viewing; almost addictive, they demand repeated watches on some of the many different shows now available, with drama and emotion that only sport can provide. The shots of first the Manchester City crowd when they go 2-1 down and then later Manchester United players and management when the penny drops that City have won the title feel like an intrusion in private grief, yet they are, as with the celebrations either when goals went in or news came from other grounds, a reminder that the supporter is an integral part of the action the Premier League license out in various formats.

As a brand the Premier League still has the hype; the presenter on Sky Sports ‘Football First’ authoritatively said it was the first time the title had been decided in the top flight had been decided by goal difference – only true if anything prior to the last twenty seasons has been wiped from the records, but not letting facts get in the way of a good story. And countless other pundits, caught up in the excitement of Sunday, have been talking about the best season ever, as the Premier League reaches its landmark twentieth birthday, glossing over the fact the quality has at times been inconsistent.

That both the top two sides failed to make it out of their respective Champions League Groups and were then knocked out of Europe a second time over, in the last sixteen of the Europa League, is perhaps a better indicator of the drop in standards. And the fact that an Arsenal side who looked shambolic for large parts of the season finished third, and then embarked on post-match celebrations on Sunday that suggested they might be hiring an open top bus, was further evidence of a falling watermark.

There were also signs lower down the table of varying quality, with Aston Villa breaking all the wrong sorts of club records yet still finishing a couple places clear of relegation, and above QPR who were safe with 37 points. Mid-table Liverpool were also distinctly poor, and their performances as well as their eighth place finish is likely to lead to another Managerial change. And even Chelsea, FA Cup winners and Champions League finalists, could hardly be described as all-conquering.

Bayern Munich’s erratic defending in their 5-2 defeat in the German Cup Final on Saturday to now double winners Borussia Dortmund in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, is an encouraging sign for Chelsea, but even if they were to become European Club Champions this weekend, it would still be delusional to ignore the times they, like City and United, chased shadows at times when playing in the Champions League.

Napoli, Athletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have all sparkled at times in the European cup competitions with a combination of technique, tactical intelligence and passing and moving football. Though English clubs have this season lacked that spark, it may now be the National Side, which has become the FA’s forgotten passenger in the last decade, that could give English Football a boost, as it did in both Euro ’96, and most notably in Italia ’90, when League football was less the flavour of the month it now is. While England’s track record in tournament football is less than inspiring,with a succession of average football at the highest level and failings born out of the Premier League, where the ball is returned more easily than on the International stage, recent moves by the FA in forming a new Managerial set-up suggest things could improve.

Roy Hodgson is a coach that has had success in different Leagues, internationally, and in European Competition, and as demonstrated when Fulham put Juventus to the sword at Craven Cottage in 2010, can produce some good pretty football as well. The appointments of first Ray Lewington, and then yesterday of Gary Neville, are a sign that against form, the FA may actually being making some very good decisions, on the back of their pro-active decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy.

Neville’s passion, intelligence and leadership qualities were always evident as a player, and his weekly insights and tactical analysis in the last year for Sky Sports has raised the bar of football broadcasting. Having taken his UEFA coaching badges he is an inspired selection by Hodgson, and on a four-year contract, give hope that the England Football Team may yet have resurgence. A Managerial team signed up for the next three major tournaments will have both short and long term aims, and it could be that success in one of those competitions will shift some limelight away from the Premier League.

MG

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to download from Amazon and Smashwords, documenting high-level football and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.