The 2017/18 football season is well and truly in full swing, and has already managed to tick off a fair few of the usual bingo moments, as well as provide some shocks, even in its infancy.
The transfer world record has been broken again, as Neyman Jr. departed Barcelona by effectively buying out his own contract with a loan from Qatar to the tune of £198 million. This was so that Paris Saint Germain could dodge that pesky thing known as Financial Fair Play. Sarcastic emphasis on the word fair should be a given, as not only has FFP done nothing to help level the playing field since its inception, it’s actually inhibited smaller sides who don’t boast the commercial clout of the ‘big clubs’.
The Sky endorsed, hyperbole fuelled Deadline Day has come and gone with little to no event as usual. There were some deals we already knew about completed, some last minute loans and panic buys (£40 million for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain anyone?), as well as Jim White saying ‘Sky Sources’ so often you’d think he was launching a line to rival Lloyd Grossman.
England delivered two underwhelming and laboured performances to scrape past those titans of Europe that are Slovakia and Malta. Pundits afterwards continued to mention the need to lower expectations to avoid overly pressurising our players. All the while, they elevated the status of the still teenage Marcus Rashford to vital to any chances the team has of success. It’s still do as we say, not as we do then.
The first round of Champions League group stage games provided the odd intriguing encounter (Tottenham’s thrilling defeat of Borussia Dortmund for their first Wembley win this season for one). For the most part though, the results list was filled with the usual battering of the have nots by Europe’s financial elite.
Enough of the pessimism now, though, as there have also been some causes for optimism. One of those is Huddersfield Town. A model club in terms of financial pragmatism and a team united behind their manager’s tactical approach have proven many a football dinosaur wrong so far. There have been gutsy and energetic performances from a selection of players who on the opening weekend would have had Paul Merson saying ‘never heard of him Jeff’. Add to this that in David Wagner they have a young manager with a clear plan and a great deal of guile, and they might just be able to stay up against the odds. Tougher opposition and defeats will come of course, but for now they’re riding the wave of optimism and good will.
In terms of the league’s other managers, Jose Mourinho has shown Arsene Wenger that sometimes, buying a player for a position which needs strengthening will pay dividends. Nemanja Matic has given Paul Pogba license to play in his preferred role further forward and deliver on the now dwarfed world record fee Manchester United paid for him twelve months or so ago.
Rafa Benitez has somehow brought credibility to a club which often seems hellbent on self sabotage year in year out. Despite not being given any of the signings he wanted, he has still put what is generally considered a strong Championship level Newcastle squad into the upper echelons of the Premier League as it stands.
One man has already faced the axe in one of the most outrageous displays of short term-ist panic ever by a top flight club’s hierarchy. Frank De Boer would be forgiven for scratching his head, as Crystal Palace installed him with the long term goal of providing more entertaining football, but sacked him seventy seven days later. Shockingly, it’s quite tricky to deliver a complete shift from a pragmatic, direct style in four league games after landing none of your manager’s first choice targets. Steve Parish has turned, in his hour of need, to Roy Hodgson. Entertaining football’s slipped down the priority list a bit then.
Another man who has lost his job is someone who should have no excuse, but will still find one; Harry Redknapp. Despite signing over a dozen ‘triffic’ players to the tune of just under £30 million, not including loan fees, Birmingham have one win in eight league games and are mired in the relegation zone. Gary Rowett’s not looking too low profile now, I’ll bet.
Some other highlights included the newly sponsored Carabao Cup’s eventful first couple of rounds; if only for the inability of its staff to properly co-ordinate a live draw. There was also the hilarious assertion by Jurgen Klopp that it was Liverpool’s historic success that was weighing upon his players. All the expectations of yesteryear have apparently made them unable to defend corners or break down Burnley’s stubborn back line. You keep telling yourself that Jurgs, maybe that’ll help you one day overtake Brendan’s win percentage.
And finally, a word should be said regarding the truly tragic news of the loss of young Bradley Lowery. The touching tributes a reminder that although football is just a game, people within it can unite behind a cause when called upon. One can only hope that the fact Bradley touched so many hearts, and was able to enjoy some wonderful moments in his painfully short life, will be some solace for his parents in a time of such grief.