Friday, December 1, 2023

Decision time for clubs in the English Premier League, but will it change anything?

Graham Fisher in Editorial, English Premier League 14 May 2008


It is the time of the season when most clubs are analysing what went well and what when wrong over the past few months and making crucial decisions about the future. Some clubs are still fighting it out in the play-offs and, of course, Manchester United, Chelsea, Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg still have their biggest game to come.

In the English Premier League, clubs will have some massive decisions to make. Stick with the manager or bring in someone new? Spend millions to try to achieve success but risk financial difficulty, or spend less and pray for Premier League survival? Sell your best player, or bring in more? For the also-rans in the league, make a determined effort to end the monopoly of the ‘big four’ or settle for second best?

There is no doubt that Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool will spend big in order to try to maintain and improve their positions. There are no real issues to be addressed at Old Trafford but the other two clubs need to get things sorted out in the summer. Chelsea need to decide whether to stick with Avram Grant and Liverpool need to sort out the ridiculous childish squabbling going on between their owners.

Arsenal are a slightly different proposition. They will be determined to maintain their position or improve, but they do not have a history of ‘spending big’. Indeed, they are in danger of losing some of their better players. They will need to decide whether to trust in their youngsters or change their outlook and bring in some big established stars. Although Arsene Wenger has retained the backing of a majority of Gunners, another trophy less season may stretch that support to the limit.

The clubs that have gone down are in turmoil. It is difficult to see how any of the three of them can make a quick recovery and get back in the Premier League where they need to be. Derby County have had such a disastrous season the effects could easily be long term. Reading have slipped out of the league after two good seasons and the noises coming from inside the Madjeski Stadium are of dressing room unrest. Birmingham have owners threatening to leave, criticising players and sitting on Police bail in relation to corruption allegations.

The decisions made by these three clubs over the next few weeks may well decide whether they bounce back quickly or deteriorate as we have seen with the like of Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham Forest, Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday and many, many others. The chairmen at Derby and Reading have got to decide whether to stick with their managers and the Birmingham hierarchy need to decide whether they are going to stay or go.

The promoted clubs, West Brom, Stoke and Bristol City, Watford or Hull City, will need to make decisions that could see them survive and prosper in the Premier League or ‘do a Derby’ and face humiliation and possible financial difficulties for years to come.

The other teams at the lower end of the Premier League, Fulham, Wigan, Sunderland, Bolton and Middlesbrough, will be realistic in their aims. They know that a mid-table finish next year is the best they can hope for and that a relegation battle is a possibility. They will make small decisions here and there to change backroom staff and players to try to tweak things to guarantee safety without bankrupting the club.

So what of the teams in the middle. What do Everton, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Tottenham, West Ham and Newcastle do? They have to decide whether they are going to make a concerted effort for European football, or even a Champions League place. They have to decide whether their best chances are in the Cup competitions or whether to concentrate entirely on the league. They have to decide whether a mid-table finish is a success or a failure.

Although the next few weeks will have little football being played, the decisions being made in boardrooms and clandestine meetings in motorway cafes and posh hotels, will begin to make clear what the likely outcome is for most of the clubs in the top league. What we will all have to wait to find out is whether we are in for a season of ‘same again’, big four to finish in the top four, promoted clubs to fight against relegation, etc, etc, or whether one or more clubs will come out of their comfort zones and turn things on their head.

I had a dream that my beloved Watford overturned their 2-0 deficit to Hull City after the play-off first leg by winning 3-0 at Hull tonight. We then beat Bristol City 4-0 in the final at Wembley to take our rightful place in the big league. Over the summer, we spent sixty million pounds bringing in some great talent. Who would have thought that Ronaldinho could be persuaded to come to Vicarage Road? We battled well in the Premier League and with two games to go we were level on points at the top with Manchester United and Chelsea. Then I woke up.

Just for a few seconds I thought it had all been real. Don’t worry, I’ve made a Doctor’s appointment!

We all know that whatever decisions are made in the summer, the Premier League table won’t look too much different this time next year to how it does now.


Graham Fisher



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