Tag Archives: Manchester United

Predicting Premier League finishing positions (10-1)

In my previous post I made my predictions on who would finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table (20-11). In this post I will predict who I think will finish in the top half of the Premier League table, who will qualify for the Champions League and most importantly who I think will win the Premier League title. So let’s start at 10th place and work our way upwards…

10. Southampton – It shows the progress that Southampton have made that another top ten finish plus a League Cup Final appearance which they were desperately unlucky to lose was not enough to save manager Claude Puel’s job. The main problem for Southampton was scoring goals especially at home where only rock bottom Sunderland scored fewer. But Manolo Gabbiadini started well and he and Charlie Austin – if he is fit – will solve that problem. They are probably fighting a losing battle to keep Virgil van Dijk but even without him new manager Mauricio Pellegrino should have enough to keep the Saints in the top ten. 

9. West Ham – West Ham had an unhappy season last time. The move to the Olympic Stadium had teething problems with crowd trouble and fans and players struggled to adapt. For a lot of the season it looked like they were going to be in a relegation struggle. This season should be better. The new signings – Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez – look sensible and they will be more used to their new home. I expect West Ham to get their League position back down to single figures.

8. Leicester City – After four seasons where they won promotion, staged the great escape, won the Premier League title against all odds, then botched their title defence but reached the Champions League Quarter Finals Leicester fans might want a quiet life. I think they will get it. It helps that they will not be the target for scalp hunters that they were last season. They might lose Riyad Mahrez but he was not the force he was the season before last and it is significant that no one has bid for Jamie Vardy this summer. In 2015-16 Leicester over achieved in winning the title and last season they under achieved in finishing 12th. This season they will find their true level as a solid lower top ten team. 

7. Everton – Everton were in a League of their own last season eight points behind sixth but fifteen points ahead of eighth. While I think they will keep seventh place I suspect they will be further away from the top six and nearer the rest of the pack than they were last season. Losing Romelu Lukaku is a huge blow and I don’t think Wayne Rooney who is past his best is an ideal replacement. Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane are interesting signings and they might sell Ross Barkley and sign Gylfi Sigurdsson before the transfer window closes. Participation in the Europa League won’t help and seventh is probably the best they can do.

6. Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp managed to guide Liverpool back to the Champions League (well the qualifying round anyway) last season but the task will be harder this season. Liverpool had the advantage of not being in Europe last season and the squad does not appear to have the strength in depth to challenge on two fronts this season. Personally if Barcelona are offering £90 million for Philippe Coutinho I would take the money and sign four £20 million players to give the squad the depth it badly needs. They did not lose a League game to a fellow top six team last season but that is surely unsustainable and I suspect that Liverpool will finish in the Europa League zone this season.

5. Tottenham – Tottenham have been the best team in the Premier League over the last two seasons (though they did not win the title) but they might have to go backwards before they go forwards. The move to Wembley this season will seriously hinder them – their European form there last season was terrible – while as of this writing they have made zero signings in the close season and lost Kyle Walker. In football if you stand still you go backwards and that is what will happen with Tottenham. They still have Delie Alli and Harry Kane and will be in the race for a Champions League spot but I think they will just miss out. 

4. Arsenal – For the first time in 20 years Arsenal are not in the Champions League. That season (1997-98) they won the League and Cup double but I doubt that happens again. Alexander Lacazette is the star signing but free transfer Sead Kolasinsc is the more interesting signing judging by his substitute appearance in Sunday’s Community Shield. Two problems – the contract situation of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and if they get off to a bad start the whole Arsene Wenger debate will resurface. Suspect they will regain their Champions League spot but still look a bit below the top three. 

3. Chelsea – All does not appear well at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard will miss the start of the season, Diego Costa looks like he is on his way out and manager Antonio Conte is grumbling about the depth (or lack of) in the squad and is talking about avoiding a “Mourinho season” – referring to Chelsea’s inept title defence of two seasons ago. I doubt Chelsea will sink as low this time but they don’t look like a title retaining team. They will have to cope with the rigours of a European campaign – unlike last season. It will be interesting to see how Alvaro Morata adapts to the Premier League but they look unlikely to defend the title.

2. Manchester City – Judging by the hype on his arrival Pep Guadiola was going to lead City to a Premier League/Champions League double without breaking a sweat. Of course nothing of the sort happened and they were no nearer the Champions last season than the season before – in both seasons they trailed the title winners by fifteen points and sometimes the defence was a source of comic entertainment. Guadiola has taken action by signing a new goalkeeper (Ederson) and three new defenders (Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy). Are these the right players? Some grumbling City fans on Twitter were saying they would rather have England women’s right back Lucy Bronze than Walker. Suspect that they are joking but it does not show confidence in Walker. They need the new defence to bed in quickly, Vincent Kompany to stay fit and John Stones to cut out the errors. For them to win the title that might be too many needs. Watch out for Gabriel Jesus though. This player is a future star. 

1. Manchester United – Ironically last season United had the opposite problem to their neighbours. The defence was solid but the attack apart from Zlatan Ibrahimovic was toothless. They scored fewer League goals last season than Bournemouth – and fewer at home than relegated Hull. Enter £75 million striker Romelu Lukaku. Some people say that Lukaku is just a rabbit killer. I don’t agree but even if he is that is just what United need as they did not do much rabbit killing last season – especially at home. Bournemouth, Burnley, Hull. Stoke, Swansea, West Brom and West Ham all gained draws at Old Trafford last season mainly because United did not take their chances in games they dominated. With all due respect those are the bread and butter games that title challengers MUST win. If Lukaku can turn those draws into victories he repays his fee. Add to that the signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea – which Chelsea could live to regret – that Paul Pogba might have adapted to the Premier League, Marcus Rashford will keep improving and José Mourinho’s tradition of having a better second season in charge and you have my tips for the title – just. 

I suspect that the key to the season is will Lukaku improve United’s striking weakness or will City’s new defence solve their weakness in that department? My prediction is for Lukaku to have the impact on United that Robin van Pierse did in their last title winning season (2012-13) and bring the title back to Old Trafford.

Why recent history is a good omen for Christmas number one Chelsea

To quote John Lennon “So this is Christmas”. And as Christmas Day approaches Antonio Conte’s Chelsea sit proudly on top of the Premier League tree. But the question is will they still be there when it matters next May? In theory the omens are mixed but in practice they are very favourable for Chelsea.

This is the 25th season of Premier League football since the breakaway League was founded back in 1992. Of the previous 24 seasons twelve of the leaders at Christmas went on to win the title the next May. So on that basis there is only a 50 per cent chance that this season’s title is heading for Stamford Bridge. 

But it’s not as unfavorable for Chelsea as those statistics suggest. Firstly in recent seasons the pendulum has swung in favour of the Christmas League leaders. In the first twelve Premier League seasons (1992-2003) only three Christmas Day leaders – Manchester United (twice) and Blackburn Rovers went on to win the title. But in the next twelve Premier League seasons (2004-15)  nine of the twelve Christmas Day leaders went on to win the title – Manchester United (three times), Manchester City, last season’s shock troops Leicester City and significantly Chelsea themselves (four times). In fact every time Chelsea have topped the table at Christmas they have gone on to win the title. 

The other thing in Chelsea’s favour – apart from their current eleven game winning streak in the Premier League – is the size of their lead at the top – six points over Liverpool. In the previous twenty four seasons of Premier League football only four teams have had a bigger lead on Christmas Day than Chelsea have now – Manchester United (twelve points in 1993 and eight points in 2000) Chelsea themselves (nine points in 2005) and Newcastle (ten points in 1995). Of those four only Newcastle – in one of the most infamous bottle jobs in football history – failed to win the title. And that was a club that had (and still have) failed to win the title since 1927. The Newcastle players and especially manager Kevin Keegan could not cope with the pressure. But the core of this Chelsea team won the title as recently as 2015 and it is highly unlikely that this team will bottle the title. Nor will manager Conte who has title winning experience in Serie A with Juventus. 

One oddity will have Arsenal fans clutching at straws. The Gunners are the only club to have won the Premier League title, led the table at Christmas but not done both in the same season. They led the League at Christmas in 2002 and 2007 but did not win the title. When they did win the title (1998, 2002 and 2004) they did not top the table at Christmas (not even the 2003-4 “Invincibles” achieved the feat of topping the table at Christmas). Unfortunately for Arsenal they trail Chelsea by nine points and have still to go to Stamford Bridge so their chances are slim to say the least. 

Whether or not Chelsea win the title they have almost certainly achieved one of owner Roman Abramovich’s pre season targets. Last season Chelsea finished a dismal tenth and out of the Champions League for the first time since season 2002-3 – the last season before the Abramovich takeover. But of the previous twenty four Christmas League leaders only one – Aston Villa in 1998 who collapsed to sixth twenty two points behind Champions Manchester United – did not finish in one of the top four spots that give a club Champions League qualification. And the chances of Chelsea finishing outside of the top four are practically nil. 

It is not often both current form and recent historical precedent point to the same event happening. But both suggest it will take either a spectacular Chelsea collapse or at least a ten game winning streak by one of their rivals to deny Chelsea the title. It could happen – Newcastle collapsed spectacularly in 1996 and Arsenal went on winning streaks in 1998 and 2002. But it is much more likely that the title is heading to Stamford Bridge again. 

Finally I would like to say Merry Christmas to everyone who reads me. Have a wonderful day! 

Manchester United’s “huge contribution” to women’s football

Every Team Needs A Ron

“The decision was taken some years ago to concentrate on girls’ football as a community activity.  We have since developed that to include elite girls’ development through our Centre of Excellence.  The Club has made a huge contribution to the game through its top level coaching of girls.  At the moment, the Club has no plans to extend that activity to a senior women’s team but the situation is under review.”

– Response at recent Manchester United Fan Forum

“At Manchester United we provide opportunities for girls to play football at the highest level, with the aim of developing international players.”

– Club website, Manchester United Foundation

Manchester United generally respond to questions about why they don’t have a team for women with the line that they have a girl’s centre of excellence. They, I quote, have made a “huge contribution to the game” and aim “of developing international players”.

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Key games in the Leicester miracle (part 1)

The unthinkable has happened. Leicester City who started the season at 5000-1 to win the Premier League title, were favourites for relegation pre season and whose manager Claudio Ranieri was rated favourite to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked have won the Premier League. In my opinion the biggest shock in sport since Nottingham Forest won the title in 1978 (see previous post “Leicester’s success recalls another East Midlands Miracle”). I know you get shocks in sport. But they are usually in one off Cup ties or fights (ie Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson or Holly Holm beating Ronda Rousey). But Leicester’s success is in a gruelling 38 game August to May marathon. There are no shortcuts to winning the title. Whoever wins it thoroughly deserves to. And Leicester do.

But how have they done it? I decided to pick out in my opinion what the key games were in the season (not all Leicester games).  This is quite a long list so I have split it in two. In this part : The key Premier League games in the first 19 rounds of matches (August 8- December 29).

1. Leicester 4 Sunderland 2. Must start with Leicester’s first game. Expected to achieve nothing but try and avoid relegation Leicester roared into a 3-0 lead in the first 25 minutes (two from Riyad Mahrez and one from Jamie Vardy a sign of things to come). The game finished 4-2 and can be called a declaration of intent. No one was paying attention for on the same day this happened…

2. Chelsea 2 Swansea 2. Enough has been written about this  game already but Chelsea’s failure to win and the Mourinho/Carneiro shambles was the first sign of a key early season event.  The implosion of the reigning champions. Arsenal fans enjoyed it. Until the next day…

3. Arsenal 0 West Ham 2. In a season of shocks the first one. Arsenal were convinced the signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea was the key to winning the title but his debut was poor and a West Ham team including 16 year old Reece Oxford produced a famous away win. Not their last either.

4. Manchester City 3 Chelsea 0.The first heavyweight clash of the season turned into a catch-weight contest. City were awesome Chelsea were awful. City looked like they would take advantage of Chelsea’s implosion and romp away with the title…

5. Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2. It’s one thing losing away to Manchester City but to Crystal Palace? At home? A sign that things were going seriously wrong for Chelsea.

6. Leicester 3 Aston Villa 2.This game defined two seasons. Since their first day win Leicester had won one and drew two without people noticing. When Villa were 2-0 up with 18 minutes to go it looked like Leicester’s unbeaten run was over. Instead goals by Ritchie de Laet, Vardy and Nathan Dyer propelled Leicester to a sensational victory. Leicester gained confidence, Villa lost it. In my opinion the key game of the season for both Leicester and Villa who went down without a whimper.

7. Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0. A sign of Arsenal’s mental fragility. The Gunners allowed themselves to be provoked by Diego Costa losing both the game and two men throwing doubts yet again on their ability to cope with the pressure of a title race.

8. Stoke 2 Leicester 2. Leicester up to their old tricks again. 2-0 down at half time but yet another fightback brought goals by Mahrez and Vardy and showed Leicester’s “never say die” spirit.

9. Manchester City 1 West Ham 2. City had won five out of five scoring eleven and conceding none. They looked unstoppable… until West Ham who had already won at Arsenal and Liverpool caused more mayhem going 2-0 up. City pulled one back before half time but their aura of invincibility had gone and did not return.

10. Southampton 2 Leicester 2. And again. By now Leicester had lost a game (2-5 to Arsenal) and people thought the bubble had burst. At St Mary’s they went 2-0 down (again) and fought back to claim a point (again) with Vardy scoring two (again). Leicester sending a message that they never give up!

11. Leicester 1 Crystal Palace 0. Vardy scored again (for the seventh game running) but this is more significant for it being  Leicester’s first clean sheet in their tenth game. Ranieri rewarded his players with pizzas!

12. Manchester United 0 Manchester City 0. A terrible game but I’ve mentioned it as it showed that the Manchester clubs – who had won four of the last five titles – were not the force they were and the title race was wide open…

13.  Chelsea 1 Liverpool 3. …Especially as Chelsea were not recovering. Jurgen Klopp’s first great result as Liverpool manager kept Chelsea marooned in the bottom half and piled the pressure on Mourinho.

14. Newcastle 0 Leicester 3. An easy win over a pathetic Newcastle with Vardy scoring for the tenth successive match equaling the Premier League record. I’ve mentioned this game as it was the day Leicester went top for the first time (November 21). Still they wouldn’t last long surely…

15. Stoke 2 Manchester City 0. And they didn’t. Held by Manchester United despite Vardy setting a Premier League record by scoring for the eleventh game in a row they lost top spot to the other half of Manchester. But the next week a terrible performance by City gave Stoke an easy win and if Leicester won that afternoon they would return to the top..

16. Swansea 0 Leicester 3. Which they did. Despite Vardy failing to score a hat trick by the brilliant Mahrez sent Leicester back to the top and cost Swansea manager Garry Monk his job. Still they had not beaten a big team said their critics…

17. Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 1. Although United were near the top of the table their performances had been poor and they had just been knocked out of the Champions League. An embarrassing defeat to Premier League new boys Bournemouth piled on the pressure on Louis van Gaal and United’s title ambitions faded away.

18. Leicester 2 Chelsea 1. A significant game as Leicester gained their first win of the season against one of the “big five”. Vardy and Mahrez scored in a game which is also significant for the fact Chelsea finally sacked Mourinho after this defeat. They only lost two more League games after this but it was far too late for them.

19. Everton 2 Leicester 3. Notable for the fact that this clinched Leicester top spot in the table on Christmas Day. But everyone thought they would come down with the decorations….

20. Southampton 4 Arsenal 0…Especially when Leicester lost at Liverpool on Boxing Day. If Arsenal won at Southampton they would go top. But they crumpled to a humiliating defeat that caused more questions about their ability to sustain a title bid. They would end 2015 top when Leicester and Manchester City drew 0-0 but still with lots of questions to answer.

21. Manchester United 0 Chelsea 0. The Premier League’s fallen giants showing how far they had fallen. It was clear after this game that the duo who had won all but two of the titles since 2005 were not going to win it this season and that the door was wide open. Even for little old Leicester…

Part two coming up….

Recalling another silly season

To say the 2015-16 Premier League season has been weird is an understatement. Leicester City are top, defending champions Chelsea – who today sacked Jose Mouriniho – are 16th out of 20. It is as if the table has been turned upside down. Manchester United are only consistent in playing out 0-0 draws, Liverpool are thoroughly unpredictable, Tottenham are hard to beat but draw too many games and even Arsenal and Manchester City – the best of the big teams – have had their bad results. While as well as Leicester the likes of Watford, West Ham, Stoke, Crystal Palace and even Premier League first timers Bournemouth have been wrecking havoc. It is all exciting and totally unpredictable and no one knows how it will end. Critics have complained about the lack of quality – using the Premier League’s poor European performances as an argument – but no one can deny the excitement. You could call 2015-16 the “silly season”.

The English football season that most resembles 2015-16 is 1974-75 – another silly season which was totally unpredictable. I just thought I would compare that season with this to see both the similarities and explain how despite the silliness 1974-75 ended predictably – as this season could well do.

One statistic will show how crazy the 1974-75 season was. By the second Saturday of December 1974 six different teams had topped the Division One* table – Carlisle**, Ipswich, Liverpool, Manchester City, Stoke and Everton. Quite remarkably none of those six teams would go on and win the title. Big clubs were struggling. On the 10th of October 1974 – the day of the October 1974 UK General Election – Arsenal were bottom of Division One, Tottenham were second bottom and Chelsea were third bottom*** (Manchester United were not even in Division One having been relegated to Division Two**** the previous April). Small teams were doing well – not just Stoke but Burnley and promoted Middlesbrough challenged for the title for a large part of the season. At the end of 1974 only five points separated the top thirteen teams. Another similarly was that English clubs did badly in Europe (only one – Leeds United – got to the last eight in Europe).

And yet another similarly between 1974-75 and the current season was the implosion of the defending champions. In 1973-74 Leeds United had easily won the League title but in the summer of 1974 manager Don Revie had left to become the England manager. Inexplicably Leeds replaced him with Brian Clough. Inexplicably because in the summer of 1973 Clough had criticised Leeds poor disciplinary record saying that the club should have been relegated as a punishment. So no wonder he was not exactly welcomed with open arms by the Leeds players. The only difference between Clough in 1974 and Mouriniho today was the implosion came quicker. A lot quicker. After 44 days in charge with one League win and the reigning champions 19th out of 22 Clough was sacked. The affair caused a sensation then and still does. A book was written about Clough’s 44 day reign – called the “Dammed United” – which was turned into a film with the same title. It might interest Chelsea fans that Leeds stabilised under new manager Jimmy Armfield but could only finish ninth. They did get to the Final of the European Cup (now the Champions League) but lost it 2-0 to Bayern Munich. An omen for today’s Chelsea?

So how did the 1974-75 season end? Predictably. After all the mayhem the title was won by Derby County one of the best sides of the time (they were third the previous season and had won the title in 1972). Runners up were Liverpool – as they had been in 1974 – who had won the League in 1973.  Two of the three previous title winners in the top two. Hardly a surprise. Everton should have won the title – by March 22 1975 they were three points clear with seven games left. But they won only two of them to blow it. Stoke, Burnley and Middlesbrough – the three small clubs involved in the race – finished fifth, tenth and seventh respectively – a warning for the likes of Leicester, Palace and West Ham today.

So does what happened in 1974-75 give us a clue about the rest of this season? I’d say yes. Based on that season I’d say Chelsea’s new manager will stabilise them but they will rise only to mid table (though they might do well in the Champions League). Leicester won’t win the League but should be top six while Palace Watford and West Ham could be top ten.

And remember I said that the top two of 1974-75 were the two teams that finished immediately below the Champions the previous season. Applied to this season and that means the top two will be Arsenal and Manchester City. Would that really surprise anyone? I suspect after all the mayhem the season will end with either City’s third title in five years or Arsene Wenger’s first title in 12 years. And let’s face it apart from Chelsea those two were the pre season favourites.

I suspect after all the hype, the twists and turns and the shock results the silly season of 2015-16 will come up with a sensible ending. Just like its counterpart in 1974-75 in fact…

*Division One was what the top tier of English football was called before the formation of the Premier League in 1992.

**I mentioned Carlisle’s 1974-75 team – and cricket playing Chris Balderstone – in previous post “A feat you will never see again”.

***Only Chelsea were relegated at the end of the season. Arsenal and especially Tottenham struggled throughout finishing 16th and 19th respectively. In fact if Tottenham had lost their last game of the season they would have been relegated.

****Division Two is the pre 1992 name for what is now the Championship. For the record United easily won Division Two in 1974-75 returning to the top division remaining there ever since.

A feat you will never see again

Forty years ago today – September 15 1975 – a sporting feat occurred that hadn’t been done before – and won’t be done again. On that day Chris Balderstone played cricket for Leicestershire against Derbyshire in the County Championship at Chesterfield and ended the day on 51 not out.

So far so normal. It is what happened next that makes Balderstone’s day unique. At the close of play he was met by the manager of Doncaster Rovers Football Club Stan Anderson who drove him up the M1 to play in a Fourth Division (now League Two) football match against Brentford – and he played the full 90 minutes. The next day he went back to Chesterfield to continue his innings – and complete a century (116). He became the first – and only – man to play professional cricket and football on the same day. And because the seasons overlap so much his achievement will never be repeated.

But Balderstone’s story is even more remarkable than that day. To appreciate Balderstone’s career you first have to go back a year – to August 24th 1974. Now 1974 – the year of two General Elections – was also a silly year in football too. Not only were Scotland the only unbeaten team in the 1974 World Cup – but Manchester United were relegated to the Second Division (now the Championship) and replaced by Carlisle United who were promoted to the First Division (now the Premier League). Like Bournemouth today they were given no chance of staying up. But they won their first three games – including victories over Chelsea and Tottenham – to go top of the table. And the goal that took them there was a penalty by midfielder Chris Balderstone. The same guy who played cricket and football 40 years ago today. (By the way reality returned in April 1975. Carlisle finished bottom and were relegated while Manchester United won the Second Division and where promoted – never to be relegated again).

Now we go forward a year to July 22nd 1976. The England cricket team for the fourth Test against West Indies included two new caps. One of them was Chris Balderstone – the same man who was playing for Carlisle in the top division of English football less than two years earlier. He was a not a success – his Test scores were 35, 4, 0 and 0 as he was overwhelmed by the rampant West Indian fast bowlers – but it was an amazing achievement to play top division football and Test cricket within two years. Because of the increased professionalism and overlap of the seasons the idea of someone playing Premier League football and Test cricket in less than two years would be seen as absurd today.

And yet at the time while Balderstone’s feat of playing professional football and cricket on the same day was unique men having parallel careers in cricket and football was not. Twelve men have played cricket and football for England – the last one being Arthur Milton who played one football match (1951) and six cricket Tests (1958-59) for England. And plenty of English cricketers played professional football – including Brian Close who died yesterday – but the last Test cricketer who played professional football was Arnie Sidebottom (1985).

But now increased professionalism and the overlap between seasons makes it impossible. Jeff Wilson of New Zealand played one day cricket and rugby union for New Zealand in 1993 but had to choose between the two sports and as most people in New Zealand would he chose to play for the rugby team the All Blacks.

This of course also applies to US sport. Bo Jackson for four years (1987-90) played in the National Football League (NFL) for the Los Angeles (now Oakland Raiders) and in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Kansas City Royals. Like Balderstone’s feats the idea of someone having parallel careers in baseball and grid iron football is absurd.

Women’s sport – as it has until recently been amateur – still allows people to have parallel careers in two sports. The first England team to play in a Women’s Football World Cup – in 1995 – included Claire Taylor who was also part of the England women’s cricket team who won the 1993 World Cup. And Australian Ellyse Perry an all rounder (in both senses of the word) played in the 2011 Women’s Football World Cup and also in the Australian team that won the 2013 Women’s cricket World Cup.

But Perry’s career shows the problems of parallel sports careers. The football World Cup and the cricket Ashes for women were both held this year (the football in June/July the cricket in July/August). There was no way Perry could play in both and – unfortunately for England – she chose to play in the Ashes and was a key contributor to Australia regaining the Ashes. This just proves that as women’s elite sport becomes professionalised the chances of women having parallel careers in different sport will go the same way as men’s sport has and Perry will be the last of a dying breed.

That doesn’t mean people can’t play two sports professionally. But the only way it will be done in future is for people to start in one sport reach elite level and then switch sports. For example Rebecca Romero of Britain won a silver medal in rowing at the 2004 Athens Olympics switched sports to cycling in 2006 and at the Beijing Olympics won a gold medal at her new sport – thus becoming the first British woman to compete in two different sports at the Olympics. Her fellow cyclist Victoria Pendleton retied from that sport after the 2012 Olympics and is now starting a second career as a jockey in horse racing. While across the Atlantic Lolo Jones competed in both the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In London she competed in the 100m hurdles and in Sochi she competed in the bobsleigh as a break woman.

Michael Jordan’s brief (1994) career in Minor League baseball – he played for the Birmingham Barons the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox  – was only possible because he (temporarily as it turned out) quit the National Basketball Association (NBA). He could not have had parallel careers in the NBA and Minor League (never mind Major League) baseball because the seasons overlap too much.

So any child who is talented at say football and cricket – or in the US – baseball and grid iron football – now has to make a choice which sport to pursue as a career. He/she has no chance of emulating Balderstone, Jackson or Perry and have parallel careers in two sports. That is a result of sport for men (and more recently women) becoming professionalised thus making parallel sporting careers impossible. No one said progress is fair..

Scrap the window – and transfer fees

So today is the bi annual farce that is Transfer Deadline Day – the last day this side of 2016 that clubs in the UK can buy or sell players (the deadline was yesterday in Europe but is today in the UK  – presumably because yesterday was a bank holiday in England). Personally I hate this day – and not only because you have to suffer the annoying Jim White on the useless Sky Sports News (as I wrote in an earlier post the name of that channel is an oxymoron) but because the day shouldn’t exist at all.

In fact in the UK we didn’t have one for years. It wasn’t brought in until 2002 when FIFA insisted on it. Until then clubs in the UK could buy/sell players right up until March. FIFA probably insisted on it because European countries had a window for years but so what? Shouldn’t each country be allowed to run its own affairs the way they want to. FIFA should only control transfers between countries not within them. Transfers between UK clubs should not be affected unless we in the UK decide it for ourselves.

I’m amazed the system has survived for thirteen years but I suspect it won’t survive for ever. The system goes against the principles of free trade that most countries believe in. Football of course thinks it is above the law but as Grahame Wright wrote in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1988 (page 50) “it is common practice for an employee to move on to a new employer once he has gained training and experience”. In any other industry there would be no restrictions on free movement so why should football get away with it?

Of course arrogant football wants freedom reduced not increased. Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants the window shut when the season starts because he fears losing star player John Stones (and yet he said on TV he wanted to sign more players. Hypocrite, You can’t complain about someone trying to sign one of your players while you want to sign players yourself. Practice what you preach. You don’t have to sign players once the season starts) . Not only is Martinez’s idea even more restricting on free trade its impossible to do with one transfer window for everybody because seasons start at different times (and in the US, Sweden and Norway to name but three examples the season is going on right through the window).Just proves how stupid a universial rule is. To enforce Martinez’s plan you’d either have to have all the seasons of every league in the world played at the same time –  a practical and climatic impossibility – or have separate transfer systems for different countries – which is where we were back in 2002!

The case that has really annoyed me in football this year is David de Gea. Manchester United’s goalkeeper wanted to join Real Madrid because his girlfriend Edurne Garcia wants him in Madrid and he wants to keep her happy. Now I suspect in every other industry he would have been sent on his way with his employer’s best wishes – surely employee happiness is the most important thing – but this is arrogant football. United played hardball first wanting Madrid player Sergio Ramos and then when that fell through insisted on a big transfer fee and then froze the poor guy out of the first team. Finally they saw sense and agreed a deal yesterday – only for the Spanish FA to receive the papers a minute late thus scuppering the deal. I also suspect their might be an undercurrent of sexism here (with football that would not surprise me) in that United probably think that Garcia should just be a nice little girl and go where her man goes. An attitude that is woefully out of date and is stuck in the 1970s.

If I were de Gea I’d take FIFA to court. Why should his girlfriend suffer because two big clubs mucked up trying to beat an artificial deadline? It is true the clubs are partly to blame for leaving it so late but it is human nature to leave things to the last minute as anyone who has ever gone to the shops on Christmas Eve will testify. The transfer window is a restraint of trade and I suspect if someone challenged it in court FIFA would get a sharp lesson that football is not (and should not) be above the law. Just like UEFA learned in the Bosman case (1995) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) learned in 1977 when it tried to ban players for the hideous crime of signing for another employer and the High Court in London told them it was a restraint of trade and they couldn’t ban the players football might have to learn the same lesson again.

One reason I suspect United played hardball over de Gea was the fact they could get a transfer fee.To my mind transfer fees are an abuse of human rights and must go. Football is the only industry where human beings can be bought and sold in a market like animals. Even other sports like cricket and baseball don’t have transfer fees for heaven’s sake. Needless to say the world outside sport doesn’t have them. There is no reason for football to have them. Football moans that clubs would go out of business but cricket and baseball clubs seem to survive perfectly well without them. in fact if you had no transfer fees it is at least possible players might move less. Some agents I suspect encourage players to move because they get a cut of the transfer fee. If their cut was 5 % of nothing there would be less reason for them to encourage their players to move. Also I think clubs might sign more UK players than they do now. A lot of clubs buy foreign players because they are cheaper (£49 MILLION for Raheem Sterling. I rest my case). I suspect if the players were equally priced at zero most clubs would go for the UK player. Not for racist nationalist reasons but because someone who speaks the language and knows the league is less of a risk than those who don’t and since they are the same price the cheapness argument in favour of gambling on a foreigner would go.

There is no reason – except for football’s arrogance – that these ideas of free trade and no transfer fees can’t be implemented. Football’s argument that it would be ruined is nonsense. How on earth then does every other industry survive without transfer windows and transfer fees then? It is time – as with so many other issues  – to tell football that to be a part of society you have to play by the rules of society. Every rule. And that includes free trade and no transfer fees.