Football: Chelsea threaten the red throne

After the year of the Treble, the Knighthood and the Wedding, it could be time for some blue blood

A SUMMER dominated by sour grapes from the natives; whine from France. The advent of a new League season can't come soon enough, if only to divert us from another week of a soap opera entitled The Anelkas - An Everyday Story Of Avarice. Without the on-field heroics, dramas, and rumpuses that distract us during autumn, winter and spring, this football business appears even more tawdry, viewed in the desert of a close season.

Highbury, through no real fault of its own, has become a microcosm of much that has become undesirable about the game, with young Nicolas vowing never to play for the club again and his English team-mate Stephen Hughes having escaped to revive his career at Craven Cottage. For some, the Marble Halls have all the allure of the walls of Alcatraz.

A constant source of wonder is that those financing Circus Premiership, whether through the turnstiles, BSkyB subscriptions or sponsorship, don't become disillusioned by the spectacle of a sport laundering its dirty replica kits in public.

Most followers will indulge their clubs' spending and their players' wages. Boasting about your new multi-million player is akin to gloating over a new car. "That's right, mate. Just got a second-hand Chris Sutton, got automatic gears, powerful engine and a couple of hundred goals left on the clock." But what they won't excuse is poor value for that outlay, an absence of commitment, spurious sick-notes, time off in rehab, bad- mouthing team-mates, and worst of all demeaning the name of the club. There is no reason why footballers should demonstrate more loyalty than the rest of us who invariably tend to look after number one. It's just that Arsenal's number nine is taking the concept of liberte to extremes. No wonder Wenger concedes disconsolately: "Football does not control the game any more."

The elusive Frenchman has not been the Arsenal manager's only source of disharmony. While Anelka is refusing to strike another ball for Arsenal, there are British players like Hughes who would relish the opportunity to but who struggle to get a kick. In desperation, he has accepted a loan offer from Fulham, once Kevin Keegan assured him that dropping a division would not impede his England chances. Jody Morris is similarly said to be dissatisfied by the regime at Chelsea. Both clubs have been accused of filling their youth academies with foreign youngsters.

Keegan's sympathy is qualified. "You have to believe that if there were good enough English kids around there, Chelsea would not be doing that," he maintains. "I say, there's the challenge for you. You are going to have to be tough and a bit better than maybe you would have four or five years ago, but what's wrong with that? What's wrong with quality? If a lad doesn't get to Chelsea because there are a lot of foreigners, he will get to Fulham, or Wimbledon or QPR, and if he is good enough he will come through. I don't accept it when people say to me `I could have been a footballer, but...' The only thing that's not going to get you there is bad luck with injuries, or because you ain't good enough. The cream will still come through."

Nevertheless, the clear inference is discrimination by foreign managers against British players, with the result that down the line, the quality of the home nation teams will be impaired. The problem is that the evidence, certainly in Hughes' case, does not necessarily support his claim. When Wenger offered him his chances against Dynamo Kiev and Lens in the Champions' League, he failed to advertise his prowess.

Ultimately, a manager's primary instinct, which is first to ensure survival before building success, can be the only real arbiter of talent. The former Highbury defender Jason Crowe, who moved to Portsmouth on a free transfer, may well be correct when he says that "if there was an English manager at Arsenal a lot more of the [British] players who have come through the ranks would have played". Whether Arsenal would have secured a Double followed by a runners-up place last season is another matter.

Somehow, despite the more unsavoury aspects of football's summer bring- and-buy sale, the affinity between club and supporter remains like an umbilical cord, possibly because what occurs both on and off the field between August and June becomes all-consuming. A year ago today, as we surveyed the season ahead, if anybody had prophesied what dramas were to unfold, they would have had more ridicule heaped on them than Nostradamus.

Back in July 1998, plain Mr Alex Ferguson harboured ambitions of securing that elusive Champions' League, even if many of us suspected it could be a challenge too far. Glenn Hoddle, his international coaching stock still high, was about to embark on the surely straightforward task of qualifying for Euro 2000. Roy Hodgson and Blackburn were looking ahead confidently to their sortie into Europe, which was also a target for George Graham's Leeds, where a gifted teenager named Jonathon Woodgate was wondering whether he'd get his first-team opportunity under the then manager. At the FA, chief executive and chairman, Graham Kelly and Keith Wiseman, were scheming to advance England's cause in world football, while in west London a fellow named Kevin Keegan was intent on leading Fulham out of the Nationwide Second Division.

The reality of what happened next explains precisely why, as aficionados look towards the big kick-off, their homes having to be equipped with enough TV reception equipment to launch another moon mission, soothsaying on the national sport is rapidly becoming a futile occupation. It does not stop us. Even the Queen doubts if there can possibly be a season to emulate the last in this year of The Wedding (we speak, of course, of David and Victoria, not her Edward and Sophie), The Knighthood and The Treble.

Boasting the late Sir Matt, Sir Bobby and now Sir Alex, Old Trafford has become the Tintagel of Salford and the tales which have emanated from it rather more fantastic than the Arthurian legend. David Beckham and his lady Victoria have presumably entered into the spirit of it by deciding on thrones for their marriage feast.

The only force you imagine can conspire against Sir Alex and his elite knights of the Premier League table repeating their championship triumph is a huge sense of anti-climax. Certainly, the sense of camaraderie will remain strong. The players are each other's best man. Yet, inherent in the psyche of every other chairman, every manager, every player, is the belief that every dog has his day - United have had so many it's more like Groundhog Day - and one of the pack circling Old Trafford so voraciously may just possess the savage intent to overcome them.

There must be doubts about Arsenal. Their revered rearguard is in a transitional phase and their forward line will lack potency until Anelka is sold and Wenger consoles himself with the two strikers he craves. In the North-east and on Merseyside many will suggest it could be hoorah for Gullit and Houllier. But both require time to assimilate their newcomers. A European place may be the best they can hope for, along with David O'Leary's lively Leeds.

Chelsea, who at times last season appeared the most technically endowed team of the three principal contenders, look the likeliest threat. Gianluca Vialli has been a quick learner in the philosophy of management and, with Chris Sutton and Didier Deschamps installed, the jigsaw might just be complete. But that would be altogether too predictable, wouldn't it?

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering