Football: Team-by-team guide to the Premiership

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THE MOMENTUM Arsenal built up between Christmas and spring was so irresistible, and ultimately so magical, that the only fear lay in how they would recreate it once they stopped. The part Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira played in France's crowning glory suggested it was ongoing, an impression compounded in the Charity Shield. Arsene Wenger will now be stressing there was no miracle; that great players excel only by hard work and good habits. It is certainly going to be tougher this time. Only Liverpool and Manchester United have retained the title in the 40 years since Wolves did it (the Gunners' Double side of '71 came fifth 12 months on). United's experience also shows that the Champions' League can have a draining effect without adequate cover, which Arsenal do not yet possess. Still, Nicolas Anelka looks ominously sharp after being ignored by Aime Jacquet, and if Dennis Bergkamp can avoid injury and suspension they will be close again.


Manager: Arsene Wenger (appointed Sept 1996).

Ground capacity: 38,500.

Last season: Premiership: 1st; FA Cup: winners; Coca-Cola Cup: semi-finalists; Uefa Cup: 1st round.

Major signings: David Grondin (St Etienne) pounds 500,000; Nelson Vivas (Lugano) undisclosed.

Major departures: Ian Wright (West Ham) pounds 750,000; David Platt (retired); Matthew Wicks (Crewe) free initially, rising to pounds 100,000; Scott Marshall (Southampton) free; Chris Kiwomya (released).

Season tickets: pounds 806 (up 15 per cent).


BASED ON their performances in the final third of last season, which catapulted them from the relegation scrap into the Uefa Cup after John Gregory replaced Brian Little as manager, Villa ought to be being rated as championship dark horses. After all, they produced top-five finishes in each of the previous two years. Instead, their build-up has been blighted by the defection of the hugely influential Steve Staunton, the struggle to prevent Dwight Yorke and Mark Bosnich from following him and the David Unsworth fiasco. Yorke will probably join Manchester United eventually but as long as he stays - with Julian Joachim rather than Stan Collymore his preferred partner - Villa have the potential to beat the best. The failed pounds 14m bid for Juninho shows that Gregory is not inhibited by his role and has the clout to improve quality levels whatever the outcome of the Yorke saga. First priority, though, must be stability and avoiding a repetition of Little's four opening defeats.


Manager: John Gregory (appointed February 1998).

Ground capacity: 39,339.

Last season: Premiership: 7th; FA Cup: 5th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round; Uefa Cup: quarter-finalists.

Major signings: Alan Thompson (Bolton) pounds 4.5m; David Unsworth (West Ham) pounds 3m; Fabio Ferraresi (Cesana) free.

Major departures: Steve Staunton (Liverpool) free; Fernando Nelson (Porto) pounds 1.1m.

Season tickets: pounds 374 (up 22 per cent).


JACK WALKER'S policy with regard to bankrolling Blackburn's bid to regain the championship they won three years ago has become clearer. He is willing to pay seven-figure sums only for young prospects with some sell-on value, which means Kevin Davies, at a mind-boggling pounds 7.25m, rather than a Pierluigi Casiraghi for pounds 5.6m. That may have come as a surprise to Roy Hodgson, who surely anticipated dipping into the benefactor's fortune as readily as Kenny Dalglish did. Given Hodgson's knowledge of Europe and skills as a communicator and coach, one suspects they would be better equipped to press home the sort of challenge they failed to sustain last season with the odd seasoned campaigner from the Continent. They have lost their defensive rock, Colin Hendry, though Davies can only enhance the attacking options offered by Chris Sutton and Kevin Gallacher. Thereabouts, if not quite there, in the Premiership, and a fair bet to prosper in the Uefa Cup.


Manager: Roy Hodgson (appointed: June 1997).

Ground capacity: 31,367.

Last season: Premiership: 6th; FA Cup: 5th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round.

Major signings: Kevin Davies (Southampton) pounds 7.25m; Sebastien Perez (Bastia) pounds 3m; James Corbett (Gillingham) pounds 1m; Darren Peacock (Newcastle) free.

Major departures: Stuart Ripley (Southampton) pounds 1.5m; James Beattie (Southampton) pounds 1m; Patrick Valery (Bastia) pounds 80,000. Pederson (Srasbourg) pounds 900,000.

Season tickets: pounds 399 (up 15.6 per cent).


THE INEVITABLE parallels with Barnsley were underlined by the acquisition of the Yorkshire club's outstanding captain, Neil Redfearn. Yet there is evidence, albeit slender, to suggest that Charlton might just avoid the same fate. Resilience runs through the club, the legacy both of the departure from The Valley a decade ago and the stupendous efforts Lennie Lawrence put into maintaining top-flight football on a shoestring during their exile. More pertinently, while they share Barnsley's constructive inclinations, they demonstrate few of their self-destructive traits. Forget the 4-3 defeat of Sunderland in the play-off final (breathtaking though it was): the key to promotion was a staggering late sequence of clean sheets. Organisation and spirit take you only so far without strength in depth and a modicum of class, but Charlton are not alone in that and the resourceful Alan Curbishley will not let them fall without an almighty fight.


Manager: Alan Curbishley (appointed: 1991 as joint manager, June 1995 as sole manager).

Ground capacity: 20,000 (by September).

Last season: First Division: 4th (won play-offs); FA Cup: 4th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 1st round.

Major signings: Neil Redfearn (Barnsley) pounds 1m; Chris Powell (Derby) pounds 825,000; Andy Hunt (West Brom) free; Simon Royce (Southend) free; Emeka Ifejiagwa (released by Nigerian FA) undisclosed.

Major departures: Phil Chapple (Peterborough) free.

Season tickets: pounds 390 (up 15 per cent).


SINCE COLLECTING two cups last season after Ruud Gullit's exit - and finishing fourth in the Premiership to boot - Chelsea have not rested. The advent of four top-class talents should, in theory, take them very close to the title. Gianluca Vialli has invested pounds 12m-plus in ready-made stars rather gambling on potential, reflecting Ken Bates' impatience to land the genuinely major trophy that would justify the money lavished on the squad and the stadium. Marcel Desailly might have been born to play English football and will improve a defence not noted for its tackling. Michael Laudrup, too, is a beautifully fluid performer while Pierluigi Casiraghi looks an effective replacement for Mark Hughes. Reservations centre on Vialli's unproven qualities as manager (by common consent Graham Rix still exerts the greatest influence on strategy) and on how quickly a side of such disparate talents and tongues can gel. Dull it won't be.


Manager: Gianluca Vialli (appointed: February 1998).

Ground capacity: 34,500 (until redevelopment finished).

Last season: Premiership: 4th; FA Cup: 3rd round; Coca-Cola Cup: winners; European Cup-Winners' Cup: winners.

Major signings: Pierluigi Casiraghi (Lazio) pounds 5.4m; Marcel Desailly (Milan) pounds 4.6m; Albert Ferrer (Barcelona) pounds 2.2m; Brian Laudrup (Rangers) free.

Major departures: Danny Granville (Leeds) pounds 1.6m; Mark Hughes (Southampton) pounds 650,000; Mark Stein (Bournemouth) free.

Season tickets: pounds 1,025 (up 15 per cent).


BY THE standards of Coventry's long tenure among the elite (they are now approaching the 32nd season since a bright spark named Jimmy Hill brought them up), last season was a raging success. Not only did they embarrass many of their supposed superiors but they also enjoyed a strong FA Cup run and saw Dion Dublin represent England. Gordon Strachan also proved himself a canny as well as passionate manager, unearthing George Boateng to compensate for what some feared would be the devastating loss through injury of Gary McAllister. At pounds 250,000 the Dutch dynamo is a bargain to compare with the pounds 1m Darren Huckerby, who can be as unplayable as Michael Owen. The move for Robert Jarni, though ultimately unsuccessful, was further proof of Strachan's eye for quality at affordable prices. Provided backing from the board keeps coming, a European place is more likely than a reprise of the usual flirtation with relegation.


Manager: Gordon Strachan (appointed: November 1996).

Ground capacity: 23,662

Last season: Premiership: 11th; FA Cup: quarter-finalists; Coca-Cola Cup: 4th round.

Major signings: Jean-Guy Wallemme (Lens) pounds 700,000; Paul Hall (Porstmouth) (pounds 300,000); Philippe Clement (KRC Genk) undisclosed; Ian Brightwell (Manchester City) free.

Major departures: Viorel Moldovan (Fenerbahce) pounds 4m.

Season tickets: pounds 393 (up 10.75 per cent).


AN ENTERPRISING inaugural campaign at Pride Park was marred by aberrations against Leeds (0-5) and Leicester (0-4) which scuppered Derby's hopes of returning to Europe only two years after breaking into the Premiership. Whether Jim Smith's polyglot band can improve on a still-commendable top- half finish may hinge, therefore, on the calibre of the two defenders the Bald Eagle has brought in (from Germany and Argentina). It is to be hoped they do not suffer the type of start that might put Smith under pressure to go against the attacking instincts that makes his teams so watchable. If the heart of the side lacks craft and poise, the buzz that goes around whenever Francesco Baiano links up and picks out Paulo Wanchope's loping stride is testament to the finesse of an Italian who was more effective than Gianfranco Zola at times last season. The challenge now is to become as mean at the back as they are menacing going forward.


Manager: Jim Smith (appointed: June 1995).

Ground capacity: 30,500 (rising to 33,000 by end of season.

Last season: Premiership: 9th; FA Cup: 4th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 4th round.

Major signings: Horacio Carbonari (Club Atletico Rosario Central) pounds 2.7m; Stefan Schnoor (Hamburg) free.

Major departures: Chris Powell (Charlton) pounds 825,000; Robin van der Laan (Barnsley) undisclosed; Dean Yates (Watford) free.

Season tickets: pounds 450 (same price).


YET ANOTHER last-ditch scramble for safety has been followed by a firm break with the past. Howard Kendall's replacement by Walter Smith appears a positive step after his prize-laden years with Rangers (even if many Evertonians would rather have seen chairman Peter Johnson go). The key question will be how quickly he adapts to the English scene after an entire career north of the border. Scottish sceptics raised eyebrows when his first Goodison buy was Marco Materazzi, Smith's final seasons at Ibrox having been marked by some ill-conceived purchases from Italy. A more positive sign came when he persuaded John Collins to give up Monte Carlo for the Mersey Tunnel, thereby restoring long-overdue creativity. With several more deals in the offing it is clear the new regime will keep few of those they inherited. Duncan Ferguson may find cult status counts for less than a modest scoring record and propensity for trouble. Sure to stay, though, is Michael Ball, a left-back who should play for England by the millennium.


Manager: Walter Smith (appointed: July 1998).

Ground capacity: 40,200.

Last season: Premiership: 17th; FA Cup: 3rd round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round.

Major signings: Olivier Dacourt (Strasbourg) pounds 4m; John Collins (Monaco) pounds 2.5m; Marco Materazzi (Perugia) pounds 2.5m; John Spencer (QPR) pounds 1.5m; Alex Cleland (Rangers) free.

Major departures: None.

Season tickets: pounds 285 (up 3.65 per cent).


THAT PECULIARLY restless crowd at Elland Road, pleasantly surprised by last season's upturn in fortunes, may be wondering what became of the "special players" George Graham said he needed to make the next step up from pretenders to contenders. Danny Granville is a promising recruit and if Clyde Winjhard settles as well as Jimmy Hasselbaink did, Leeds should once more be among the best of the rest. Since succeeding Howard Wilkinson two years ago, Graham has dispensed with the dead wood and nurtured some exceptional youngsters, with Steve McPhail poised to follow Harry Kewell into the front line. He has also bought economically at home and abroad. But expectations are high, perhaps artificially so, and the City- based owners now have to show that the club are more than just another part of their leisure portfolio. Bringing in high earners is a risky business, with David Hopkin and Lee Sharpe only marginally better adverts for buying big than Tomas Brolin, but Graham must venture more to keep the other United in sight.


Manager: George Graham (appointed: September 1996).

Ground capacity: 40,000.

Last season: Premiership: 5th; FA Cup: quarter-finalists; Coca-Cola Cup: 4th round.

Major signings: Danny Granville (Chelsea) pounds 1.6m; Clyde Wijnhard (Willem II) pounds 1.5m.

Major departures: Rod Wallace (Rangers) free.

Season tickets: pounds 420 (up 9 per cent).


MARTIN O'NEILL'S achievement in leading Leicester to successive top 10 placings should not underestimated. As surprising as that success, after all the assurances he demanded and received about the club's commitment to strengthening his squad, is that he has been so inactive in the summer transfer market. The squad is full of good solid pros, with a leavening of quality provided by Matt Elliott, Muzzy Izzet and Steve Guppy, and it was critical that Kasey Keller did not follow up his interest in trying Europe. But without the personnel to vary an increasingly predictable style, it is hard to see them as anything more than nuisance value. O'Neill certainly needs better service to exploit the full potential of Emile Heskey, the awesomely built local boy once talked of almost in the terms now reserved for a certain Liverpool prodigy. The time is fast approaching the point where he must translate potential into performance. Filbert Street's season could turn on the extent to which he flourishes.


Manager: Martin O'Neill (appointed: December 1995).

Ground capacity: 22,517.

Last season: Premiership: 10th; FA Cup: 4th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round: Uefa Cup: 1st round.

Major signings: Gerry Taggart (Bolton) free; Frank Sinclair pounds 2m (Chelsea).

Major departures: None.

Season tickets: pounds 535 (up 11.5 per cent).


THIRD PLACE would have delighted most clubs. At Anfield, where vast amounts have gone on trying to recapture the glory that once came as if by divine right, it was the signal to bring in a new manager. They opted for the kind of fudge - an "equal" partnership betwen Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans - that has a poor track record. One wonders how the Frenchman's new broom will sit with the so-called Spice Boys, or those senior players who appeared to exert undue influence over Evans (Paul Ince derided the idea of a foreign manager last season). Houllier will be keen to improve discipline; if he finds a goalkeeper and a centre-back as well, Liverpool could regain their former pre-eminence sooner rather than later. The possibility that David James and Phil Babb could be part of a "spine" spearheaded by Michael Owen points to another near-miss, though with the 18-year-old flying, anything is possible.


Managers: Roy Evans (appointed: January 1994) and Gerard Houllier (appointed: July 1998).

Ground capacity: 45,362.

Last season: Premiership: 3rd; FA Cup: 3rd round; Coca-Cola Cup: semi- finalists; Uefa Cup: 2nd round.

Major signings: Vegard Heggem (Rosenborg) pounds 3.5m; Sean Dundee (Karlsruhe) pounds 2m; Steve Staunton (Aston Villa) free.

Major departures: Neil Ruddock (West Ham) pounds 100,000 rising to pounds 400,000; Michael Thomas (Benfica) free.

Season tickets: pounds 330 (up 10 per cent).


THE ANGUISH of a trophy-less season spilled over into a summer of frustrations, culminating in another forlorn bid for Dwight Yorke. All reminiscent of the 1995 close season, when United, sans Cantona, lost their opener and Alan Hansen famously decreed: "You win nothing with kids". They went on to the title and despite Alex Ferguson's evident dissatisfaction with his forwards they are capable of doing it again. It is easily forgotten that Andy Cole topped the Premiership scoring chart, and that Roy Keane kicked neither ball nor man for nine months but is now back. Jesper Blomqvist's arrival means United will be able to spread their wings whether or not David Beckham or Ryan Giggs operate centrally. Much will depend on how Beckham handles the abuse and whether Jaap Stam becomes the mainstay his attributes and price say he should be, but superior depth and experience of the dual pressures of Premiership and Europe should see normal service resumed.


Manager: Alex Ferguson (appointed: November 1986).

Ground capacity: 56,024.

Last season: Premiership: 2nd; FA Cup: 5th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round: Champions' League: quarter-finalists.

Major signings: Jaap Stam (PSV Eindhoven) pounds 10.75m; Jesper Blomqvist (Parma) pounds 4.4m.

Major departures: Gary Pallister (Middlesbrough) pounds 2.5m; Ben Thornley (Huddersfield) tribunal; Grant Brebner (Reading) pounds 100,000; Brian McClair (Motherwell) free; Kevin Pilkington (Port Vale) free; Graeme Tomlinson (Macclesfield) free.

Season tickets: pounds 380 (up 5.25 per cent).


WILL THE new Boro, featuring Paul Gascoigne and Gary Pallister, be any more durable than the expensive hotchpotch relegated 18 months ago? Gazza's fitness and form are going to be crucial; unless both show a pronounced improvement on last season's run-in, his team and manager may be pushed to survive. The return of Pallister also has the air of a gamble given his back problems, though his experience could be invaluable in rectifying the back problems which flared spasmodically in the First Division. They should be more unified than last time, when the sideshows of Fabrizio Ravanelli and Emerson overshadowed the main attraction, but even the attacking prowess of Paul Merson and Marco Branca is not going to frighten opponents as Juninho did. Still, the money that could stop their yo-yo existence shows no sign of drying up. What will be intriguing, if the new linchpins succumb to old afflictions, is whether Bryan Robson is allowed to keep spending it.


Manager: Bryan Robson (appointed: May 1994).

Ground capacity: 34,500.

Last season: Division One: runners-up; FA Cup: 4th round: Coca-Cola Cup: finalists.

Major signings: Gary Pallister (Manchester United) pounds 2.5m; Dean Gordon (Crystal Palace) pounds 900,000.

Major departures: Craig Hignett (Aberdeen) free; Craig Liddle (Darlington) pounds 50,000; Nigel Pearson (retired).

Season tickets: pounds 408 (up 13 per cent).


THEIR SELF-IMAGE as major movers in the corporate world and the credibility of Kenny Dalglish are on the line. A run to the FA Cup final, albeit ending in defeat, was a welcome distraction from Premiership failures and boardroom scandal. However, after spending pounds 38m in 18 months, Dalglish is now expected to deliver the major trophy which eluded Kevin Keegan. There can be no excuses that it is not his team, yet ironically the condition and contentedness of Wor Kev's biggest buy, Alan Shearer, seems certain to have a massive bearing on how his successor fares. The suspicion that Stephane Guivarc'h may be as ill-suited a partner as Andreas Andersson needs to be dispelled quickly. A renewed challenge would placate the seething Magpies and wean them off their yearning for utopian football values. But upward mobility may be the best they can hope for.


Manager: Kenny Dalglish (appointed: January 1997).

Ground capacity: 36,610.

Last season: Premiership: 13th; FA Cup: finalists; Coca-Cola Cup: quarter- finalists: Champions' League: group stages.

Major signings: Stephane Guivarc'h (Auxerre) pounds 3.5m; Carl Serrant (Oldham) pounds 500,000; Lionel Perez (Sunderland) free; Yorgos Yoryadis (Panathinaikos) pounds 420,000; Laurent Charvet (Cannes) pounds 520,000; Garry Brady (Tottenham) tribunal; Stephen Glass (Aberdeen) free.

Major departures: Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord) pounds 2.5m; Darren Peacock (Blackburn) free; Shaka Hislop (West Ham) free.

Season tickets: pounds 463 (up 5 per cent).


SELDOM, IF ever, can divisional champions have entered a new season with so many of their own followers so full of foreboding. The reason is that Forest will start out - at Arsenal, as if things were not bad enough - with a team inferior to the one which finished the last campaign. It has all gone Pierre shaped and while Van Hooijdonk may be right when he argues that the squad is not strong enough, quite what it has to do with him, as a handsomely paid, contracted player, is hard to understand. The Dutchman's strike, after amassing 34 goals in the First, would have been a crippling blow on its own. Coming after the departure of 24-goal Kevin Campbell it is potentially fatal. There are pockets of Premiership quality - notably Colin Cooper, Chris Bart-Williams, Steve Stone and the "new Pearce", Alan Rogers - but it is going to take all Dave Bassett's fabled powers of motivation and wheeler-dealing nous to stop Forest falling for the third time in six years.


Manager: Dave Bassett (appointed: May 1997; previously general manager February 1997).

Ground capacity: 30,602.

Last season: First Division: champions; FA Cup: 3rd round; Coca-Cola Cup: 2nd round.

Major signings: Jean Claude Darcheville (Rennes) pounds 700,000; Dougie Freedman (Wolves) pounds 950,000.

Major departures: Kevin Campbell (Trabzonspor) pounds 4m; Ian Moore (Stockport) pounds 800,000.

Season tickets: pounds 399 (up 21 per cent).


THE PERCEPTION that Danny Wilson deserved to stay up, even if Barnsley did not, was clearly shared down the road. But whereas success at Oakwell would have been 17th place, Hillsborough expects Wednesday to be pushing for the top-seven berth they have claimed three times during the Nineties. Wilson's first capture, Wim Jonk, was especially impressive, indicating as it did a desire to persevere with a game based on precision rather than power while demonstrating the ability to attract one of the world's leading practitioners in the passing arts. The renovations are going to have to be more extensive, however, and must not include the gung-ho approach to defensive organisation that characterised Barnsley. The presence of the phlegmatic Peter Shreeves as coach should keep Wilson's more idealistic notions in check, and if they can come up with proven striker to complement Paolo Di Canio's unconventional thrusts, the Owls could take up a loftier perch.


Manager: Danny Wilson (appointed: July 1998).

Ground capacity: 39,859.

Last season: Premiership: 16th; FA Cup: 4th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 2nd round.

Major signings: Wim Jonk (PSV Eindhoven) pounds 2.5m; Emerson (Benfica) free.

Major departure: Mark Pembridge (Benfica) free.

Season tickets: pounds 336 (up 7 per cent).


THE SAINTS' strange, symbiotic relationship with Blackburn again accounts for a substantial part of their transfer activity this summer. Notwithstanding the concern that they are acting as a nursery club, what with Kevin Davies following a trail blazed by Alan Shearer and others, David Jones's stock remains high after Southampton's best season in seven. Apart from improving their financial muscle, he has also landed a 20-year- old striker, James Beattie, of great potential. The arrival of Mark Hughes may be a temporary expedient but is unlikely to diminish Southampton's strike rate. Hughes, not to mention Stuart Ripley and David Howells, should feel at home in a squad bristling with the kind of experience that should preclude any relegation worries. As ever, the mental and physical shape of Matt Le Tissier is likely to be significant; they would be a prosaic bunch without the element of the unexpected he brings. PREDICTION: 15th

Manager: Dave Jones (appointed: June 1997).

Ground capacity: 15,000.

Last season: Premiership: 12th; FA Cup: 3rd round; Coca-Cola Cup: 4th round.

Major signings: Stuart Ripley (Blackburn) pounds 1.5m; Mark Hughes (Chelsea) pounds 650,000; James Beattie (Blackburn) pounds 1m; Mark Paul (King's Lynn) pounds 100,000; David Howells (Tottenham) free; Scott Marshall (Arsenal) free.

Major departures: Kevin Davies (Blackburn) pounds 7.25m; Kevin Richardson (Barnsley) undisclosed; Duncan Spedding (Northampton) pounds 70,000.

Season tickets: pounds 396 (up 10 per cent).


WITH A single trophy to show for the past 14 years, Tottenham's status as members of the "Big Five" who engineered the Premier League must be baffling to the generation poised to pick between the Lane and Highbury. Nor, under first Gerry Francis and then Christian Gross, could the claim that at least Spurs still play less boringly than Arsenal be offered in mitigation of mundane results. True, Gross has been burdened by a severe casualty list and must have been as perplexed as he was pleased to see Darren Anderton being an England ever-present in France. He will also have noted the way Sol Campbell blossomed. The quandary is whether to cash in on Campbell's burgeoning reputation or build around him. A bad start might persuade him to sell to raise revenue; then again, a bad start and Gross is likely to go anyway. No squad containing David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Campbell or Anderton ought to struggle, but upheaval never seems far away in N17.


Manager: Christian Gross (appointed: November 1997).

Ground capacity: 36,214.

Last season: Premiership: 14th; FA Cup: 4th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round.

Major signings: Paolo Tramezzani (Piacenza) pounds 1.3m; Hans Segers (Wolves) free.

Major departures: Jurgen Klinsmann (end of contract); Gary Mabbutt (released); Frode Grodas (Schalke) undisclosed; Dean Austin (Crystal Palace) free; David Howells (Southampton) free; Garry Brady (Newcastle) tribunal; Paul Mahorn (Walsall).

Season tickets: pounds 710 (up 11 per cent).


AFTER BUBBLING up to eighth place there is a feeling in East London that West Ham will push even harder. The optimism is based on Harry Redknapp's various transfer coups, which, a mere 18 months after he seemed to be hooked on mediocre foreign mercenaries, suggests he has undergone a personality transplant. Two exceptional young players in pivotal positions, Rio Ferdinand and John Hartson, now have battle-hardened allies in Neil Ruddock and Ian Wright, and all for about half the cost of an average Portuguese striker. The new attacking partnership is not new at all, Wright and Hartson having plundered 49 goals in as many games together for Arsenal. Midfield, which Redknapp has steadily improved by adding Eyal Berkovitch, Trevor Sinclair and Steve Lomas over the past year or so, looks to have a nice balance, while Shaka Hislop brings his powerful presence between the posts.


Manager: Harry Redknapp (appointed: August 1994).

Ground capacity: 25,985.

Last season: Premiership: 8th; FA Cup: quarter-finalists; Coca-Cola Cup: quarter-finalists.

Major signings: Ian Wright (Arsenal) pounds 750,000; Javier Margas (Universidad Catolica) pounds 2m; Neil Ruddock (Liverpool) pounds 100,000 rising to pounds 400,000; Shaka Hislop (Newcastle) free; Marc Keller (Karlsruhe) free.

Major departures: David Unsworth (Aston Villa) pounds 3million.

Season tickets: pounds 580 (up 20 per cent).


AT THE risk of provoking a mouthful from Joe Kinnear or a fatwa from Sam Hammam, I fear for Wimbledon. Surviving, and often thriving, at the top level for 12 years has been an incredible feat for a club who were still in the Southern League in 1977 and have no home of their own. Alas, the days when Dave Bassett brought them up into the top flight on an annual wage bill of pounds 300,000 are gone; even if they could afford the telephone-number sums quoted for so-so players, the wage demands would rule them out. And taking a chance on a lower-division player like Robbie Earle (a snip at pounds 775,000 seven years ago) costs in excess of pounds 2m nowadays. Earle still provides an important source of the Crazy Gang spirit which Kinnear must tap into. Sadly, the lack of resources, depth, quality and support could drag them under at last, a prospect sure to lend an even fiercer edge to their matches against the promoted trio.


Manager: Joe Kinnear (appointed: January 1992).

Ground capacity: 26,309.

Last season: Premiership: 15th; FA Cup: 5th round; Coca-Cola Cup: 3rd round.

Major signings: None.

Major departure: Alan Reeves (Swindon) free.

Season tickets: pounds 240 (up 20 per cent).