All the talk of transfer rumours, ridiculous statements by players and senior officials, arguments between managers and players and the never ending saga of the soap opera that is Cristiano RonaldoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on-off move from Manchester United to Real Madrid have done the necessary job of helping to fill the interminable time between the end of the Euros and the start of the new season.
There are only five weeks to go until the English season starts again and yesterday saw the welcome return of many sides in the annual ritual of meaningless but necessary pre-season friendlies. The relief of knowing that the footy is almost back is tangible.
The fact that the players are all now back in serious training has made me turn my thoughts towards the coming season and look at whether one of the biggest problems in the English game can be rectified over the coming months.
One of the biggest issues in English football at the moment is the perceived and actual distance between the top four clubs, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool and the rest of the Premier League teams in terms of playing ability and money.
There is no doubt that the gap in money terms is huge and shows no sign of getting any smaller. If you look at the past few seasons it would be easy to say that the gap in ability is equally huge. One of the most debated subjects in homes and work places around the country is whether there are any clubs that can make a serious and genuine challenge to break into that top four gentlemanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s club which for many years has maintained a pretty exclusive membership.
The clubs that get mentioned mostly are Everton, who are the only gate-crashers in recent years, Tottenham, who have flattered to deceive on a few occasions, Aston Villa, who have a very promising team and the likes of Blackburn, Manchester City and Newcastle who have the potential and history, in different ways, to go higher than they currently find themselves.
The one club that I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mentioned who might actually just be the most likely club to mount a credible challenge, are Harry RedknappÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Portsmouth. The exciting signing of giant England striker Peter Crouch is being followed by the serious rumours of the intended capture of Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea.
Whether or not Wright-Phillips arrives on the South coast, Fabio Capello will have to visit the intimidating and less than impressive surroundings of Fratton Park on a regular basis in the coming season. He will want to keep an eye on the man who was arguably the best keeper in the Premier League last season, David James. He will also want to monitor the progress of the young man who was arguably the best right back in the Premier League last season, Glen Johnson.
Now that Crouchie has gone to the club he has the chance to form a partnership with his England team-mate Jermaine Defoe that will force Capello to consider keeping them together at International level.
Add to these four England players the defensive qualities of the evergreen Sol Campbell and underrated Sylvan Distin, the midfield prowess of the likes of Diarra, Muntari and Diop and the unpredictable brilliance of Kranjcar, Kanu and Utaka and you have a pretty formidable and potentially successful team.
An eighth placed finish in the Premier League together with the FA Cup triumph saw Harry RedknappÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s men have what was probably the most successful season in the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s history. It has led to the unthinkable situation of European football at Fratton Park. Premier League sides do not like travelling to the archaic ground with its tight stands and passionate and noisy supporters so quite what the likes of the European elite would make of it is hard to guess.
If you are a fan of a European side in this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Uefa Cup, trust me, Fratton Park on a wet Thursday night in January is not a terribly hospitable place to be!
There is no doubt that Harry Redknapp has worked wonders at Portsmouth and that they are probably far further ahead in their league status than even he would have dreamt of when he first took over the then struggling Championship club back in 2002.
Now, however, after the successes of last season, Redknapp may be allowing himself to look even higher and wonder if they can challenge the big boys and take their place at the top table. They are a formidable proposition at home and their away record last season was impressive.
I am not a betting man and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think that any team will break into the top four this season. However, if I was going to be forced to have an outside bet I would be putting my limited funds on Portsmouth being the team most likely.
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