The next 48 hours are massive.
In the English Premier League, Manchester Utd need only a point at woeful Blackburn to claim a record 19th top division title. Manchester City and Stoke are both daring to dream of an F.A. Cup final victory, something neither side has managed in a combined 190 years. Promotion playoffs in League 1 and 2 continue. Ajax and Twente meet in a remarkable one game shoot out to decide the Dutch Eredivisie. The Premier league in Scotland will again go down to the final day of the season with the blue half a point ahead of the green half.
Hope and expectation abound.
But for others, the relegation sweats have already begun. For a lot of teams, their return to the division from which they came will be a glorious one, not unlike that of a proud captain saluting on the stern as his ship makes its way down. They came up, ‘gave it a good go’ and now they return to a place where their football isn’t so refreshing and their colorful fans are just like everyone else’s.
There are also what we like to call ‘yo-yo’ teams. These nomadic organisations who perennially wander around in the vacuum created by the growing gulf in class between the top division and the rest. They move up and down from league to league, much like a yo-yo does when handled by a competent operator.
Finally there are those teams who are just too good to go down, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Often, this elite status is irrationally attached to a club purely on account of the fact that in the 80s they were half decent. Sometimes being a ‘founding member of the football league’ also seems enough to grant exemption from the drop.
This weekend, four teams may find that recent history will not be enough..
Don’t believe the hype, West Ham are indeed good enough to go down, and barring something sensational, they will. The transfer rumours on various news agency websites are a lot of fun but have traditionally proved to be somewhat misleading. However, in 2006, like a copy of Reader’s Digest being analysed by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, one rumor appeared to be so bizarre, it could only be true. West Ham pulled off the greatest transfer coup of all time, by bringing the highly coveted pair of Argentinean internationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascharano to Upton Park. The world sat up a little. However, far from propelling West Ham to nauseating new heights, the pair simply arrested the clubs decline and they avoided relegation that year on the last day of the season, illegally. Just a year before, West Ham had made it to the FA cup final, narrowly losing to Liverpool. It is interesting to think that in the last 10 years, West Ham have sold 257 England caps worth of talent in just 5 players. The Championship will be their reward.
With just one game remaining, VFL Wolfsburg are just a solitary point off the automatic relegation places and are safe from the play offs on goal difference. With their final game away from home, there is at least modest cause for alarm. Only one team in the Bundesliga has won fewer points on the on the road this season. Famous for their car manufacturing owners and for their one time manager, the stunningly named Wolfgang Wolf, they won their first ever Bundesliga just three years ago. By the time they lifted the trophy that year, Edin Dzeko, Grafite and Zvjezdan Misimovic had smashed an astonishing 60 goals and 41assists between them in league football alone. However you do not need to be an average football blogger to see that league finishes of 1st,8th and 15th represents what I like to call ‘decline’. Anything less than a win on Saturday and they are relying on others.
Like so many others of my generation, growing up with James Richardson and just four channels meant one thing; a disproportional knowledge of mid-late 90’s Italian football. In attempting some sort of half assed research for this piece, I sought out a list of Sampdoria players from around that golden era of pun infused soccer highlights. Here are some of the names that literally sent goose bumps down my spine; Enrico Chiesa, Attilio Lombardo, Roberto Mancini, Vicenzo Montella, Gianluca Pagliuca, Giuseppe Signori, Pietro Vierchowod, Ortega, Veron, Des Walker, Alan Boghossian, Klinsmann, Seedorf, Gullit, and Sinisa Mihajlovic to name all of them. Looking back at that time of my life, it is hard to distinguish which of those goose bumps can be attributed to masterful displays on television or Championship Manager, but either way, I for one do not want to see la samp in Serie B. Sampdoria will need to beat a Palermo side with nothing left in the league to play for, and hope Lecce don’t beat an already relegated Bari. This scenario will not happen. I’m going to miss that indistinguishable figure smoking a pipe.
Finally, and a late addition to the list; Depor. Realistically, Depor will be ok. They are three points from safety with two games to play, but survival will not mask their remarkable decline over the last few years. I am not a huge follower of La Liga and therefore cannot offer you the reasons or even suggestions for this decline. What I can tell you though is what you probably already know. Looking at the state of Spanish football right now, and in particular the dominance of the big two, its hard to imagine that anyone else EVER won La Liga, but in the 1999-2000 season Deportivo did, for their first and only time. It’s worth remembering some names from that team too. Djalminha, Roy Makaay and Mauro Silva. The Outstanding Juan Carlos Valeron wasn’t far behind. In the summer of 2006, I got Sky Sports so as far as I am concerned, Spanish league football didn’t really exist before that. What I did see though, was Depotivo in the Champions League, a lot. They narrowly lost to Leeds Uitded in the quarters in 2000-2001, played out a thriller at Old Trafford to repeat the same feat a year later, and two years after lost by a single goal in the semis to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. It was also in the 2003-2004 season that they completed the most remarkable come back over two legs the Champions League has ever seen. 4-1 down after the first leg in the San Siro, they blitzed Milan 4-0 in the return leg to pull off a remarkable turnaround. Tomorrow they will play for their La Liga survival.
Football, bloody hell.