What Are Today’s Football Standards?

Manchester United's Rafael da Silva celebrates against Queens Park Rangers in the Premier LeagueAre United really this good, or is the standard of the Premier League dropping? Everyone bangs on about the Premier League being the best in the world, but for me it’s a case of the latter rather than the former. 

It was very evident on Saturday in a battle against two of my former clubs as United comfortably went past QPR. That wasn’t where my ties ended, by the way – as I said on Twitter (yes, I’ve recently joined, and I love the interaction!) I almost joined Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth in the mid Eighties. It’s not over until the fat lady sings – we know that from last season. City didn’t win it last season, United gave it to them, and you can see it from the team this season that they are determined to not make the same mistakes.

And what a goal from Rafael! That was one I’d have been pleased with! He couldn’t have asked for a better connection – it didn’t move, you could read the label on the ball he’d stunned it so well. My god, what a beautifully timed volley. The result meant that Sir Alex can now afford to rest players like he probably would anyway, but now the pressure is off – Norwich and Reading at home are games we would expect us to get six points from. City might well drop points at Everton though you would expect them to win at Aston Villa – that could leave us with nine games left and hopefully at least a four win cushion. Sir Alex will just be ticking the games off and hoping Fellaini can do us a favour. Since United showed how to mark him out of the game, he’s been off the boil, and let’s just hope that City don’t copy us!

It was a nice weekend for Swansea to get their first major trophy – there are a lot of people who feel sorry for Bradford City but it is the professional game and that shows the gap in quality. Bradford deserve huge praise for playing on a level that got them to Wembley in the first place but let’s not patronise them for losing in the final. That was their level and they shouldn’t be too disappointed by the result – that leads to chairmen with unrealistic expectations and that’s why there’s such a high turnaround of managers and players.

My first professional club, Millwall, have enjoyed a fantastic Cup run of their own and are now in the FA Cup Quarter Final! It’s that rub of the green, you only need a run of a few games to get to the final – boys, go for it, you’ve had a great run so far! The Bradford and Swansea final reminded me a little of the Millwall and United Cup Final in 2004 – I was there, sat right between both sets of fans. My heart was with both teams and I just wanted to see a great game. Everyone expected United to have won, but for Millwall, getting to the final was just as big an achievement so I was just so happy for both clubs on that day. I’m not sure I’d like for Millwall to get United again though!

I still check for Millwall’s results; right in the middle of the Championship, the second tier of the English league, is arguably their historical mean position. They’re doing okay to survive – if they went up, they’d have to spend the money they’d get in the windfall to try to stay up, and the problem there is that if you don’t, you’re stuck with a lot of players on big money and that often leads to big trouble. Just look at Bradford’s last decade.

West Brom have done really well; they have a history of floating around the bottom of the Premier League or top of the Championship but with some stability and consistency they are now reaping the benefits. I’d like to see more British coaches be given a chance, Steve Clarke’s work at West Brom proves what can be achieved with a little faith. Steve’s an unsung hero – he’s done a great job following on from what he did at Chelsea under Mourinho. On his former club – I thought that after Chelsea sacked Roberto Di Matteo, David Moyes might have been their choice – and they might have missed a trick not getting in the Everton manager. Instead they got Rafael Benitez, who is now a run of the mill Spanish manager who did a bad job at Inter Milan and didn’t really deserve the opportunity at Chelsea. He’s proved that, too. The last two Chelsea managers have lost their job after games against West Brom. It’s a coincidence that the two clubs play each other next weekend!

On a related point, I was one of a number of English coaches who was contacted to attend an event designed to help English coaches understand and teach the “Spanish” style of playing. Football is cyclical – Spain may be the top dogs now but for a long time they were just the thorns in the side when it came to competitions, occasionally getting a good result but more often than not underachieving. It’s the same for many countries, and the nature of evolution means that Spain’s style won’t be successful forever. The bubble will burst for Barcelona. So why are we trying to copy it? It’s that kind of mentality that holds us back.

Best wishes for the week – look forward to talking to you next week! Gordon.

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