Today’s world of rolling sports news, hourly club updates and saturated soccer coverage has given birth to a relatively modern but ever-present phenomenon – the club in crisis. Usually rearing its head sometime before Christmas, it’s a brooding cloud of uncertainty ready to strike any club with a lightning bolt of panic at any time, although this year the crisis talk has emerged at record speed.
We are but four games into the Premier League campaign and yet a host of clubs have already been targeted with talk of crisis. Perennial sufferers Arsenal were, unsurprisingly, the first club to kick off the seasons crisis campaign no later than the first day of the season. An opening day home defeat to Aston Villa was all the encouragement commentators needed to write off the club for another season. The fans were angry at the lack of transfer window activity. People were questioning Arsene Wenger’s moralistic approach, and few were able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Alan Hansen had seen enough in that first 90 minutes to predict a potentially frightfully early end to their season, doubting their ability to qualify for the Champions League proper or defeat rivals Tottenham in the upcoming feature. Ten days later, Champions League football secured and victory against Tottenham, Arsenal broke the bank to sign Mesut Ozil and talk of crisis has subsided. Now Hansen and co are wondering if they are, in fact, genuine title contenders.
With this, the shadowy cloud of crisis had to loom elsewhere, this time settling over Manchester and the reigning champions at Old Trafford. The conditions were ideal – an ‘upset and confused’ Wayne Rooney, numerous public failings in the transfer window, and a new manager with extremely large shoes to fill. They all provided the perfect cocktail for crisis talk. Add to this murmurs of discontent within the dressing room – players unconvinced by Moyes, a frustrated and sidelined Kagawa – and a defeat to Liverpool, and there was a certain inevitability about the comments that followed. An incredulous Robbie Savage decided he only needed two games to determine United had already lost the title, conceding it before September by failing to land a superstar in the summer. Fast forward a couple of weeks to a reinvigorated Rooney, mistranslation taking the blame for Kagawa’s quotes, the arrival of Marouane Fellaini and a convincing start to their Champions League campaign, and crisis talk has been silenced.
But what of Rooney’s preferred suitors Chelsea? The west London club often find themselves under the media spotlight due to their scattergun approach to managerial appointments but surely with the return of the prodigal one, Jose Mourinho, back at the helm, they were crisis proof. Or so you would think. Crisis talk is a fickle thing and this week’s Champions League defeat to FC Basel was just the catalyst it needed to rain on their parade. It marked the club’s first home European defeat in a decade, and was the Blues third defeat in a row following losses against Bayern Munich and Everton. It leaves the Stamford Bridge outfit nursing their worst start to a campaign in the Abramovich era. Anyone but Jose holding the fort, and you’d suspect a firing wasn’t far off.
Football phone-ins are no place to gauge true public opinion, but if they were Wednesday night would’ve made for uneasy listening for Mourinho, variously derided as a ‘clown’ and a ‘joke’ by Chelsea fans who insisted they were never the ones to boo Rafa Benitez during the Spaniard’s tenure. Speaking of boos, there were a few ringing out after that Basel defeat – a foreign sound to Mourinho’s ears at Stamford Bridge.
Their transfer policy too is coming in for stick by those insisting Chelsea have no idea what their strongest XI might be. In the Premier League, with regards to transfers, it’s very much damned if you do and damned if you don’t. United and Arsenal chastized for not bringing in enough. Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City now accused of over-buying, ensuring their ever-changing line-ups will never get to settle and familiarize themselves with each other. Pre-window shutting Everton were seemingly doomed to struggle yet a day and a couple of loan signings later are now deemed a true success story of the transfer merry-go-round.
All this of course is written to keep us, the viewer/reader/listener tuned in and up to date with the latest episode of the world’s favorite soap opera – the Premier League. Transfers, much like clubs, can’t be deemed successes or failures until much later in the season when we have a fair idea of what is achievable for each club. In the meantime, though, let’s hope your club has a mighty umbrella as it’s only a matter of time before that ominous looking cloud gathers overhead.