Greed Still Seems Good

Chelsea players with during an open-top bus ride in London.-AP

The ultimate criterion, success in the European Champions League, was pitifully remote to England’s top clubs. And the English club performed poorly in the continental stage. By Brian Glanville.

The English Premiership, which I nicknamed on its inception, The Greed Is Good League, has concluded with Chelsea winning by a massive margin. Their first league title for five years. Obviously they thoroughly deserve their success. Manchester City and Arsenal were utterly eclipsed by them. Yet to what extent does their triumph represent the poor quality of their potential challengers, rather than the quality of Chelsea themselves?

As I’m afraid, we know, the ultimate criterion, success in the European Champions League, was pitifully remote to England’s top clubs. Liverpool ended the Premiership season with a cataclysmic 6-1 defeat by a Stoke City team hardly known for such massive victories. While in the Champions League itself, far from the pre-quarterfinals, which was the ultimate achievement for the other three teams, they were comfortably beaten at home by Real Madrid and when it came to the return, betrayed a great tradition in a tournament they had won so often in the past by not even trying to win at the Bernabeu, limiting themselves to a craven defensive policy which kept the score down to a mere 1-0 defeat, but with a display which surely betrayed the reputation of a great club with a once great team. You wonder what the legendary Bill Shankly, who inspired the club’s rise to success years ago, would have said about such invertebracy.

Manchester City, predictable enough, were comfortably defeated at home and away by Barcelona, unable like so many other European and Spanish teams to do much with Lionel Messi. No special shame in that, as we know, in fact, City have done substantially worse in the European Cup in the past.

Chelsea, though runaway champions, disgraced themselves, bowing out at Stamford Bridge against Paris Saint-Germain in a return quarterfinal when Ibrahimovic, PSG’s star turn, was controversially sent off early in the game. This after a foul, which found him and the referee loudly surrounded by Chelsea players demanding that the striker be sent off; which he duly was. Gary Lineker, no mean striker himself in his day, was among those who declared that the expulsion was wrong. From that point as the game wore on with the scores still level it seemed more and more inevitable that PSG’s ten men would tire and that Chelsea would score the goals to take them into the semifinals.

But it simply didn’t happen. Inspired by a majestic display at either end of the field by their Brazilian international skipper Thiago Silva, PSG gave as good as they got, resolutely refused to tire even in the half hour of extra-time, managed to score themselves and thus obtain a draw which qualified them for the semi-finals. Nor was this the greatest humiliation at Stamford Bridge for a Chelsea team overflowing with famous stars — Eden Hazard, Ivanovic, Oscar, John Terry — worse still surely was their elimination from another Cup, the FA Cup. And not by a powerful, richly funded opponent.

No, their embarrassing conquerors were humble Bradford City of the virtual third division of the League. The game began with Chelsea majestically calling the tune. In no time at all Chelsea had gone 2-0 up and seemed likely to add further goals at will. But it just didn’t happen. Suddenly Bradford City came to dynamic life, wiping out the two-goal deficit, then adding a couple more for an astonishing 4-2 victory.

Arsenal? And Arsene Wenger? They improved substantially in the second half of the season after a very uneasy beginning during which their centre back and skipper, the big World Cup-winning German Per Mertesacker, did public penance for the team’s faults and his own. The manager and the team’s unproductive intricate tactics came under scathing criticism from a large proportion of the fans who wanted him to leave. Convinced as in fact I myself had been in the previous season; no question about his having worked wonders at the club since he took them over, galvanised them, revolutionised the training and their diet, built a fine new training ground near the previous one (which they didn’t own) in Hertfordshire, went through a complete season unbeaten on an amazing run of 49 matches.

Though, I must point out that they survived scandalously at Highbury in a League game against Portsmouth, which I reported. They were a goal down and showing scant signs of retrieving it when their French international Robert Pires blatantly threw himself to the ground, deceiving the referee, who quite wrongly awarded a penalty kick; from which the Gunners duly equalised. That was however a formidable Arsenal team which won a plenitude of English honours, won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, which mattered then and reached a Champions League final in which they were somewhat unluckily beaten.

Wenger arrived at Highbury in 1996, recruited by his friend and Arsenal vice chairman David Dein, a maverick figure who had forced his way into the club by buying shares which their then chairman Dennis Hillwood thought valueless, but enlisted Wenger when for all his previous success at Monaco, was pretty well unknown in England. If only Dein were still there now, for Wenger has established himself as monarch of all he surveys. The chairman of the board Sir Keswick has virtually admitted as much, enthusiastically. The American owner is an absentee landlord seen very rarely, though he received substantial money out of the club.

Tactics have been controversial. A lack of wingers, with Theo Walcott, dynamic in the final game against West Bromwich Albion out for most of the season, have been conspicuous by their absence, narrowing the focus of attack. Alexis Sanchez has been a revelation but sticking him out on the left is no solution. The embarrassing home European Cup defeat by modest Monaco was calamitous and the displays of Mertesacker and striker Olivier Giroud lamentable.

Meanwhile the Premiership’s new television deal is worth a colossal GBP5.1 billion with problems as much to come with the sale of foreign rights, making millionaires and often so much more of all its players. As one of the first columnists to campaign against the iniquitous maximum wage in 1960 — that then was only 20 pounds a week — I feel the balance has shifted too far.