Tuesday, June 03, 2008

50 MOMENTS OF THE SEASON

The 50 defining moments of 2007-08

How was it for you? The usual mix of theatre, tedium, joy and despair? From Keegan's comeback to Terry's tears, however you found 2007-08, it was eventful. Here are 50 talking points, matches and dramas that shaped the football season


50. Roy Keane rant, August 15
Who is this softly spoken Irishman, and what has he done with Roy Keane? That was what we wondered last season, as Sunderland were promoted and the red mist stubbornly refused to descend on football’s Mr Angry. Happily, the season was just one game young when the Keane of old returned with an entertaining rant about WAG culture causing him to miss out on transfer targets: “These so-called big stars are people we are supposed to be looking up to. Well, they are weak and soft. If they don’t want to come because their wife wants to go shopping in London, it’s a sad state of affairs”. He ended the season with a nicely volcanic tirade, as well, threatening to sack half his squad for not trying at Bolton Wanderers because they’d secured survival the week before.

49. Spurs chat with Juande Ramos, August 17
What are the chances? Spurs representatives visit Seville, probably for a meeting regarding a new variety for the team’s half-time oranges, and who should be at their hotel but Ramos, the Seville manager and one of the most sought-after coaches in Europe. Thus did speculation about the future of Martin Jol, the most successful Spurs boss in recent times, begin – and it was only mid-August. That’s what losing to Sunderland will do for you.

48. Antonio Puerta dies, August 28
We look to sport as an escape from reality and a celebration of youth and energy - so, the death in August of Antonio Puerta, the 22-year-old Seville defender, was especially shocking. Puerta, whose partner was heavily pregnant, died several days after suffering a heart attack during a match. This tragedy instigated a debate in British football as to whether the fast pace of the modern game was dangerous. More players died during the season, including Motherwell’s Phil O’Donnell. Clive Clarke, of Leicester City, suffered heart failure during a Carling Cup tie just a couple of days after Puerta’s collapse but survived.

47. England beat Russia, September 12
Future turnip Steve McClaren delayed being planted in the vegetable patch with a hat-trick of home 3-0 wins in September and October. Israel and Estonia were sub-pub opposition, Russia rather unlucky, though their mediocrity made it all the more irritating when they beat England the following month.

46. Jose Mourinho goes, September 19
Our fun with the Special One was done as the Chelsea manager got his coat and headed for the exit. Like James Dean, like the Romantic poets, like Mozart, the Portuguese’s period of creative genius was brief and turbulent but his impact will be everlasting. Though that home draw with Rosenborg was pretty disappointing, obviously. Mourinho returned to Portugal to await his next calling, surfacing occasionally to offer vague pronouncements about his future and bitchy remarks about inferior managers, ie, everyone.

45. Avram Grant appointed, September 20
The shock of Mourinho’s departure was quickly followed by another: the arrival of Grant, a man of beige where his predecessor was scarlet. Concern at the appointment of the owner’s under-qualified mate was felt most keenly among the members of the Fourth Estate. Despite the promisingly dramatic news that his wife once drank her own urine on Israeli television, Grant lived up to his self-billing as “the quiet one” and marked his contrast with his predecessor by staging press conferences of stunning tedium. Bit like Chelsea games, then.

44. Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-0, September 23

At the time, with Chelsea in turmoil, no one realised how important this defeat would be come May. In his first game, Grant quickly adapted to the Chelsea tradition of blaming officials for everything and his own players for nothing, as John Obi Mikel was sent off and Chelsea’s players gave the merest hint to the referee, Mike Dean, that they found his decision a little disappointing. Not least John Terry, who appeared to try to grab Dean’s red card: “I’m England captain so put it away, little man.”

43. Sammy Lee leaves, October 17
Inarticulate, inexperienced and ineffective, Lee had Sam Allardyce’s cool microphone headset but not his ability and lasted 14 games at the Reebok Stadium. After only three wins, he was replaced by arch-pragmatist and 4-5-1-lover Gary Megson. So obsessed was Megson by top-flight status that he started picking reserve teams in the Uefa Cup when Bolton Wanderers were in danger of winning it. “Ginger Mourinho” early on, fans called Megson some less complimentary names when the team’s form faltered, but a late surge kept Bolton up. Job done, and who knows, maybe they’ll be back in Europe in a couple of decades.

42. England lose to Russia, October 17
A point in Moscow was all England needed to qualify for Euro 2008. They were winning at half-time thanks to Wayne Rooney’s 29th-minute goal and Steven Gerrard wasted a great chance to make it 2-0. It all changed in four lunatic second-half minutes. It should not be forgotten that Rooney’s foul on Konstantin Zurianov was outside the box but the referee gave a penalty. It should also be remembered that England were lukewarm, timid and disorganised, and Joleon Lescott had the positional sense of a blind man spun around a dozen times. Artificial pitch, fake manager.

41. Jol sacked, October 26
We stopped calling Jol a “dead man walking” and start describing him as the former Tottenham Hotspur manager, as the brave Spurs board finally decided results were iffy enough to give the Dutchman the boot – their dalliance with Ramos having undermined Jol and worsened results, making his departure inevitable and justifying their decision. Cunning. Jol’s fate was sealed just before a home defeat by Getafe – a Spanish side, aptly – something everyone at White Hart Lane knew except him. Fated, doomed, undone by vaulting ambition – it all went a bit Shakespearean tragedy in N17.

40. Israel beat Russia, November 17
All Russia had to do was defeat Israel in Tel Aviv, and the golf courses of the Algarve and six-star resorts of Dubai would be extra busy this June. It seemed inevitable, given that we knew Israel were useless – after all, even England had beaten them. Yet, in a tense and dramatic game, our new best friends won 2-1. So all England needed was a draw against Croatia. Watching on TV, McClaren hid in his toilet in the final minutes. Tells you plenty about the man. I bet that as a child he ran behind the sofa for the scary bits of Dr Who.

39. England lose to Croatia, November 21
I don’t think anyone needs reminding about this.

38. McClaren sacked, November 22
Even the FA realised that McClaren had to go for England’s failures of nerve, technique and talent. The wally with the brolly will be the muppet with the mic, if you like, this summer – he’s commentating for the BBC at Euro 2008. Have a look at what you could have won, as Jim Bowen would have said on Bullseye. Or, in England’s case, have a look at the small country that would have knocked you out on penalties in the quarter-finals.

37. Steve Bruce joins Wigan Athletic, November 26
Boardroom-to-gaffer tensions apparently stemming from the will-he, won’t-he, who-is-he? non-takeover by Carson Yeung ended in Steve Bruce swapping Birmingham City for Wigan Athletic, something that would have seemed a rather dubious career move until very recently. The switch proved critical for Wigan’s survival and Birmingham’s fall.

36. Bye bye, Billy Davies, November 26
Adam Pearson, the Derby County chairman, October 30: “Is Billy Davies safe? Absolutely.” November 26: Pearson sacks Davies. As it turned out, the Scot was lucky to get out while he was, er, behind. Poor Paul Jewell, his hapless replacement. There he was, enjoying a break from the game, and suddenly he was sucked into Pride Park, the seventh circle of football hell.

35. Harry Redknapp arrested, November 28
The Portsmouth manager was one of five people arrested in November as part of the City of London police’s investigation into football corruption. The five were held in pre-dawn raids. Redknapp’s arrest, as captured on camera by newspaper photographers who happened to be up very early that day, was declared unlawful in May. Redknapp was not charged by police, who later raided Birmingham City.

34. Fabio Capello appointed, December 14
After an unexpectedly swift search – only a couple of weeks – in which the FA this time managed to avoid seeing their top choice run a mile the other way, they came up with Capello - more or less opposite to McClaren, just as Sven-Goran Eriksson was a total contrast to Kevin Keegan. He couldn’t speak English, but then Alf Ramsey was a bit paranoid about elocution, and he did OK.

33. Peter Crouch goes in hard but unfair, December 19
Probably the nadir of the epidemic of two-footed tackles that brought a little violence into all our homes during the Christmas period. The robot dancer’s programming malfunctioned badly and he went all Bruce Lee on John Obi Mikel when Liverpool met Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Carling Cup.

32. Lawrie Sanchez sacked, December 21
Bought all your Christmas presents, Lawrie? Here’s one from the Fulham board: a nice compensation payment, because you’re fired! Sanchez was sacked with the club 18th in the table, having won only twice in the league all season. Sanchez had signed loads of Brits from the Coca-Cola League, a competition to which they were flying back to like homing pigeons.

31. Chelsea sign Nicolas Anelka, January 11
Considering his unremarkable form in blue and the giant Gallic shrug that was his penalty in Moscow, this £15 million deal worked out pretty badly for both Chelsea and Bolton, who replaced him with ? Grzegorz Rasiak. You couldn’t make it up! Not that strikers were really needed under Megson, as Bolton tried to 0-0 their way to safety.

30. Kevin Keegan appointed, January 16
Sam Allardyce was sacked as Newcastle United manager, a sensible man playing a sensible style of football and achieving sensible mid-table results being totally unacceptable at a club that craves drama at regular intervals, like in soap-operas where every episode ends on a cliffhanger. And who’s replacing him? Well, if it isn’t the Geordie Messiah! Nice football, emotional rollercoaster, wins nothing – welcome home, Kevin.

29. Spurs stuff Arsenal 5-1, January 22
Tottenham Hotspur’s first win over their rivals-turned-masters since 1999 was the stuff commemorative T-shirts are made of, an utter destruction of an understrength Arsenal. A game to make a miserable season seem fantastic for White Hart Lane loyalists. Arsenal won their next four matches, but this outcome hinted at a brittleness behind the bravura football. So did the second-half ruckus between team-mates, Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner.

28. England beat Switzerland, February 6
You could see what the England players were trying to do – adapt to Capello’s new, technique and pragmatism-based tactics. And you could see they weren’t very comfortable with it. Still, this was only Capello’s first game, and it was a win, albeit an uneasy 2-1 victory against a Swiss side with all the menace of Heidi asking if you’d like a glass of goat’s milk.

27. Game 39, February 7
Hello, Bangkok! We are Wigan, and we are here! Are you READY? Um, no. What’s the Thai for “get lost"? Almost the only person who was in the mood for Premier League games abroad was Richard Scudamore, the league’s chief executive, who proposed this cash-obsessed bit of globalisation inspired by American sports, where life is very different, with teams being franchises as if they were a McDonald’s, a KFC or the MK Dons.

26. Barnsley beat Liverpool, February 16
It was pedigree year for the underdogs in the FA Cup and Barnsley were barking loudest. Liverpool, who had amusingly twice gone behind at Anfield to Havant and Waterlooville in the fourth round, were embarrassed on their own patch by the Championship side, who came from behind and won it with a stunning goal from Brian Howard in stoppage time. For a man who's never seemed too bothered by any competition not called the Champions League, Rafael Benitez looked pretty angry afterwards. With protests against the owners ongoing, and Everton doing well, it was a miserable time to be a Red.

25. Eduardo Da Silva’s leg is broken, February 23
A player’s leg horribly, gruesomely snapped by a reckless tackle. Who’d have thought it, in a culture where fans still chant “Get into them and f*** them up"? In this mass media age, images were soon everywhere, helping breed a very modern response to a tackle former players would dub “old-fashioned”: hysteria, with fans on phone-ins and messageboards replicating Arsene Wenger’s outrage. Cue hand-wringing on the issue of whether the English game is nasty and brutal and should be bowdlerised, for while the results of Martin Taylor’s tackle were extraordinarily sad, the nature of the challenge itself was all too ordinary.

24. William Gallas goes nuts, February 23
Alas poor Gallas. He went on a bizarre rant when Arsenal gave away a late penalty to draw 2-2 with Birmingham in the same game in which Eduardo’s leg was broken. Shouting to himself, he brutalised gave an advertising hoarding then watched the spot-kick from the other half on his own. After the final whistle he sat on the pitch and cried. Captain’s example? If Captain Pugwash is your template, perhaps. All right, it was a traumatic day, but some leadership from the man with the armband might have been nice.

23. Spurs win the Carling Cup, February 24
“It is 2008, right?” “Yeah.” “But Spurs have won something.” “So?” “But the year doesn’t end in a one.” No, just a Juande, as Jol's replacement turned his Uefa Cup expertise to the Carling Cup, Jonathan Woodgate’s winner coming in extra time against Chelsea, whose superior ability was negated by Grant’s strange tactics. And so a club that doesn’t usually win anything when the year ends in eight had a trophy to compensate for a dismal performance in the league. For a while, the season when Spurs were supposed to break into the top four looked like the year when they would find the bottom three instead. But Ramos’ methods – healthier eating and a defence that concedes fewer than three goals per game – gradually worked.

22. Arsenal win in the San Siro, March 4
After the goalless draw at the Emirates, the kids knocked out AC Milan’s Geriatricos in the last sixteen, second leg with two late goals – a triumph of youth over experience and a show of mental resilience after the trauma of Eduardo’s injury. Wenger’s side were top of the Premier League. They should have gone from strength to strength?

21. Portsmouth beat Manchester United, March 8
A win at Old Trafford that had the distinct odour of huge fortune about it. Redknapp’s side pinched victory with a rare creature: a penalty awarded AGAINST the home side. With two lower-league clubs left to play, Portsmouth duly one-nilled their way to the FA Cup. In fact, let’s take a look at how they did it. Third Round: Ipswich (a) 1-0. Fourth round: Plymouth Argyle (h) 2-1. Fifth Round: Preston North End (a) 1-0. Sixth round: Manchester United (a) 1-0. Semi-final: West Bromwich Albion (n) 1-0. Final: Cardiff (n) 1-0. You can only beat what’s in front of you, though, and it helps if that is a bundle of Championship teams.

20. Barnsley shock Chelsea, March 8
Avram Grant was living up more and more to the nickname “Avram Can’t” as Barnsley astonishingly did it again, Kayode Odejayi scoring for the first time since September to bundle the Blues out of the Cup in a quarter-final, with the help of more heroics from the on-loan Luke Steele in goal.

19. Ashley Cole’s disrespect, March 19
What referees don’t understand is that Chelsea players are rich and talented and famous and therefore should be allowed to do what they like. Indeed, referees are lucky to be on the same pitch as such superstars and should show more respect. When booked by Mike Riley for a late tackle on Tottenham’s Alan Hutton, Cole turned his back on the official. Many interpreted this as the kind of rudeness towards authority figures that gets football a bad (well, even worse) name. Cole later apologised for momentarily swerving his metaphorical car off the A406 North Circular Road of righteousness.

18. Chelsea come back to defeat Arsenal, March 23
Lame Arsenal draws with Wigan and Middlesbrough presaged the huge clash on March 23: Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. How different the table would have looked if Arsenal had held on to the lead gained from Bakary Sagna’s 59th-minute goal. OK, not that different. But it would have been Arsenal in second on the heels of Manchester United instead of Chelsea, who preserved their record-breaking home unbeaten run and kept their title hopes alive when two goals from Didier “Only wake me up for the big games” Drogba turned the match around.

17. David Beckham is 100, March 26
After leaving him out of the Switzerland game because he wasn’t fit (not a situation that ever troubled Sven-Goran Eriksson), the suspicion was that Capello had decided to let Beckham concentrate on his Californian Little League career. No: Becks was back, the brand-enhancing 100th cap duly won in Paris. Sadly, the match was unworthy of such a notable occasion. England’s players were more interested in trying to impress Capello by proving they could keep the ball for more than ten seconds than in actually winning the game. But the only way they could manage such an unnatural amount of possession was by passing the ball short distances to each other in harmless areas in which the French had no interest. France’s winner came when David James, re-enacting a moment from England v France in Euro 2004 – a bit like they used to on the Fantasy Football show, only for real – dashed off his line and gave away a penalty. Frank Ribery scored. Perhaps Anelka didn’t fancy it.

16. Referee Peter Frojdfeldt gives a penalty, April 8
For Kolo Toure’s challenge on Ryan Babel, which Steven Gerrard scores, only five minutes after Emmanuel Adebayor’s equaliser had made it 3-3 on aggregate, enough for Arsenal to go through in the Champions League. Wenger and his men railed against the injustice of it all, a refereeing decision deciding the outcome of a sensational match. The football world sombrely adjusted to the news that Chelsea would play Liverpool yet again, yawn, in the semi-finals. Five days later, when Arsenal lost to Manchester United, their season was over. They had showed us beauty, but had no trophies to show.

15. Wigan’s last-gasp equaliser costs Chelsea, April 14
So here’s the man who effectively decided the title: Emile Heskey. Chelsea’s habit of doing just enough had worked nicely in recent months but it bit them on the bottom here as they lost a 1-0 lead in the final seconds against a Wigan Athletic team that spent the match so far from Petr Cech’s goal that they needed binoculars to see it. After Heskey stretched to bundle the ball past Cech, playing with a chinguard after a training-ground injury, the title was United’s to lose.

14. Aldershot back in the League, April 15
The Shots ended their 16-year exile in the non-League wilderness, it says here, though not many wildernesses have a TV deal that means you’re as likely to watch a live Burton Albion game on the box as a Bolton one. With 101 points from 46 games, finishing 15 clear of Cambridge United in second, it was not a close race, but a great story for a club that folded (see, it really can happen) because of a relatively paltry debt. Indiana Jones himself would not have fought his way up the pyramid any better. The Recreation Ground lived up to its name, witnessing a true re-creation.

13. Wrexham relegated, April 22
Cardiff City in the FA Cup Final, Swansea City winning League One – and then there was Wales’s other club, forlornly surrendering League status after 87 years. Mansfield Town joined them in facing trips to Histon, Forest Green, Grays Athletic – and indeed Cambridge, Oxford United, Torquay United and York City, so it’s not all bad. Good away trips and if you squint a bit and ignore all the Blue Square hoardings you can almost pretend you’re still in the League.

12. Cristiano Ronaldo reveals his fallibility, April 23
Ronaldo’s two big penalty failures were not ultimately definitive – United beat Barcelona and still won the penalty shoot-out against Chelsea. But his tentative kick in the Nou Camp and misplaced arrogant stop-start shot in Moscow showed vulnerability at big moments – something we had not seen from the forward this season. We thought it no longer existed in his game, but it’s still there, quietly tucked away beneath the showy brilliance.

11. Teddy Sheringham plays his last game, April 26
It hardly seems right that one of English football’s best forwards for generations should bow out being relegated from the Championship with Colchester United, his last game a home defeat by Stoke City in front of 6,300, but this was how it ended for Sheringham. His body finally called time at the age of 42 after an injury-hit and out-of-form season. Sheringham is so old he was born before England won the World Cup. Dion Dublin also retired, aged 39, though since he was at Norwich City, this seemed to go unnoticed by most of the nation.

10. Fulham back from the brink, April 26
There is only one F in Fulham, as the fanzine has it. There are four Cs in Coca-Cola Championship, which is where Roy Hodgson’s team were heading when 2-0 down to Manchester City at Eastlands with only two games to follow. Incredibly (or credibly, considering how awful City were in the second half of the season), Fulham recovered to win 3-2, with Danny Murphy the filling in a Diomansy Kamara goal sandwich, and then beat Birmingham and Portsmouth to achieve survival.

9. Ronaldo player of the year again, April 27
The winger is the best-loved player in English football. OK, we’re talking about the deep-as-oceans desire that Ronaldo has for himself. But he’s got good reason, because he was again named player of the year by the PFA and football writers. Forty-two goals? There’s an end product to the trickery, all right.

8. Sven to be sacked, April 29
A couple of injuries, Elano’s form taking a winter break from about November till March and Manchester City sank from a position that was loftier than anyone could have expected (anyone except the owner, that is). As usual, an Eriksson side faltered at the business end of a competition. City only won five times in the league from January, and one of those was against Newcastle so hardly counts. Of course, one was at Old Trafford, which counts double. So it emerged shortly before the end of the season that Thaksin Shinawatra planned to fire Eriksson for spending £40 million and finishing ninth, apparently unaware that any top-half finish in any division above the third tier is considered pretty good at City. Still, gotta love those ruthless foreign billionaires, eh? The League Managers’ Association joined Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in condemning Shinawatra, though for varying reasons. Eriksson’s squad were outraged at the idea that a new man would come in who might employ new coaching methods such as not calling them by their first names, occasionally raising his voice and even getting a little cross with them if they played badly. But losing 8-1 to Middlesbrough on the final day of the season was a funny way of trying to persuade Shinawatra to keep Eriksson.

7. Leicester City go down as Stoke City go up, May 4
Ian Holloway quit Plymouth Argyle in mid-season to join Leicester because he thought they had a better chance of promotion. Instead, Holloway spent his time at the Walkers Stadium in a relegation battle while his former club made a sustained (but ultimately unsuccessful) tilt for the play-offs. Whoops. Understandably too upset to conjure up a classic quote after the game, Holloway was sacked last week. Leicester became the most recent former top-flight team to drop into the third tier because they could only draw 0-0 with Stoke on the last day, when a win would have sent Coventry City down. Stoke, meanwhile, went up, albeit you suspect that they are only joining the Premier League on a twelve-month contract. Fresh blood or fresh meat?

6. Derby are worst top-flight team ever, May 11
“Derby County, Derby County FC – by far the worst team, the top-flight has ever seen” – as statisticians sang in May, waving their anoraks above their heads. Biggest points gap between top and bottom in the table, greatest between the bottom two, largest gulf in goal difference between two teams. Ever. One win and eight draws meant that Jewell’s team finished with eleven points, four below Sunderland’s record Premier League low of two years previously. Still, apart from that it was a great season.

5. Cardiff City in the FA Cup Final, May 17
Barely suppressed nationalistic instincts, prejudices and debates came to the fore when Dave Jones’ battlers ousted Barnsley to reach Wembley for the first time since ? the semi-final against Barnsley. Should a Welsh club represent England in the Uefa Cup? Should Land of My Fathers be played as well as God Save The Queen? Should Ryan Giggs have played for England? All right, maybe not that old chestnut.

4. John Terry on the spot, May 21
Big girls don’t cry – but big men do. If only they’d kept that nice artificial pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium, perhaps Terry wouldn’t have slipped and missed a penalty that became decisive when Nicolas Anelka ambled up late on – the striker who thinks that being asked to have a shot from 12 yards isn’t in his job description.

3. Grant out, May 24
“He should not have been appointed and he should not have been sacked. Discuss.” Grant’s win percentage was about as good as Mourinho’s, though he won nothing and those close shaves meant he was giving off the pongy stench of the nearly man. And the style of play was no more attractive than under the Portuguese. The failure to win in Moscow denied us a potentially even more intriguing situation: would Roman Abramovich have sacked Grant even if Chelsea had won? Foreign billionaires: they’re ruthless all right.

2. Hull City in the Premier League, May 24
Named in a book as Britain’s “crappest town” only five years ago, Hull fans and tourist board can rejoice since the city will host top-flight football for the first time courtesy of the play-off final win over Bristol City. Fittingly, club stalwart Dean Windass, a youthful 39, scored the only goal at Wembley - the highest-profile strike from a denizen of Hull since John Prescott chinned that protestor.

1. Doncaster Rovers add to Leeds United’s suffering, May 25
After recovering from a 15-point deficit to reach the League One play-off final, Leeds are obviously good at turning negatives into positives, so perhaps they’ll be the stronger for this. Though it’s hard to see how this outcome could encourage them in any way: a club that was in the Premier League five years ago deservedly beaten by a nearby little club that was in the Conference while Leeds were in Europe. That’s football – cruel and wonderful at the same time, alive with a thousand possibilities of success or failure. And you just know it’ll be exactly the same, yet so different, next season.


thanks to http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/article4027620.ece

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