joeldurston

Posts Tagged ‘Premiership’

Why should footballers have to be role models?

In Sport on January 15, 2015 at 12:17 PM

“They’re all just so boring nowadays” – a common refrain about footballers today. But is the problem with them… or us? I think it’s largely with us. For many, the phrase harks back to a time before pasta, prohibited pints, Prozone, Sky football, all-seater stadia and foreigners; an era where players would have a drink with the fans in the pub after game. The golden era of football – supposedly (ignoring all the racism and hooliganism). But there are good reasons for the change in football – and footballer – culture, and a lot of them come down to us, the fans.

We’re so demanding about what players do these days, as if we want not only hope they are good role models but positively expect it. Admittedly, this is largely the media amplifying otherwise small concerns to sell papers. But this is part of the issue – players and clubs are so worried about the bad PR, they media-train players to within an inch of their life, squeezing out any character. Where’s the scandal, the rivalry, at the moment? The Keegan-Ferguson war of words? Cantona? (Ok, Balotelli is kind of equivalent to that.) Arsenal v Man United and Pizza-gate? Roy Keane v….well, the world? Much scandal today is comprised solely of Steve Bruce moaning about an offside decision. It’s very rare to see a player slag off the opposition these days, even if that’s QPR or Hull.

And you do not see many footballers expressing political views other than platitudinous – if thoroughly decent – stuff like ‘every kid deserves to grow up in peace’. It’s very rare for players to declare a party political affiliation, especially during their playing careers. Even for the Labour, which is arguably more likely to attract celebrities because left-wing politics is generally perceived as ‘nicer’ and less of a publicity risk. Regardless, footballers were notable by their absence from celebs professing party support at the last election (Frank Lampard quietly claiming to be a Tory and Sol Campbell, in retirement, criticising the mansion tax are two examples, but they are exceptions which prove the rule).

Not that I blame them. Recently, just look at the reaction to Myleene Klass criticising the mansion tax – fury and a petition for her to be sacked as the face of Littlewoods (yes, that well known charity which grew from being a betting company), as if views on taxation were as controversial as views on race or sexuality. Elsewhere, Gerard Piquet has been been criticised for comments merely supporting Catalans’ right to vote for their independence and Andy Murray got so much stick for his backing of independence he regretted sending his single, supportive tweet.

If you want evidence that the idea of footballers as ‘role models’ forces them to be act on some higher moral plane over and above the law, just look at the case of Ched Evans. Of course, the actions he was convicted for are abhorrent and I’ve got mixed thoughts on whether he should be allowed to play again for Sheffield United. But it’s unarguable that in most professions there would be no question that, having served his time, he could return to work and normal society. And, unlike a (more important) profession such as teaching or nursing, there are no direct reasons why his criminal conviction means someone who kicks a bit of leather around for a living is a threat to others in his job. Also, many fans feel betrayed when players ‘leave them’, as if footballers should be morally above the laws of free movement which everyone else lives by.

Other recent examples of mountains made out of molehills are Jack Wilshere getting a mauling in the press for – shock horror – having a cigar in a hot tub in Vegas in the summer break and outrage over Wayne Rooney swearing. This is all somewhat understandable – these guys are kids’ heroes (although I’d like to think parents and teachers influence kids more than footballers unknown on any personal level). My main point is that we cannot have our cake and eat it – demanding ‘characters’ in football yet jumping wholeheartedly on even minor transgressions.

Another apparent contradiction is the fans shout the most obscene things at footballers and expect them to be universally happy to interact with us. The Secret Footballer certainly has some strong things to say about fans – essentially, they’re all idiots, and many obnoxious so – suggesting many other players feel the same privately.

So, it would seem we can have footballers as ‘characters’ or role models – but not both.

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2011/12 Premiership Season Review

In Sport on May 20, 2012 at 3:34 AM

O……M…….F……..G. Here at TAY we’re not usually prone to such teenage internet-speak, but the most  apocalyptic end to the most apocalyptic season (in living memory at least) had the marvellous ability to bring out the gawping, incredulous child in all of us. Alright there were some killjoys, but more fool them if they are either too serious (or joyless) to spurn the emotional thrill of football for the FT,  or hypocritical enough to enough to decry football while engrossed in the Saturday night fortunes of others who have the temerity to passionately pursue their dream.

But for the most of us – engorged in fat, fatuous cake of football, however self-consciously – here’s TAY’s attempt to make a method of this season’s undoubted, exhilarating madness…

Best match

How to choose. United v Everton? Chelsea v Arsenal? United v Arsenal? City v QPR? All great games in their own right. The obvious answer is of course the latter; City’s breathtaking 3-2 win this weekend against QPR, but, being a pretentious pedant, this was only so exciting when viewed in the context of the other games that day and the narrative of the season as a whole. In isolation it was just a perfectly normal, albeit exciting, win against a much lesser team. My pick is City’s landmark 6-1 win against United earlier this season because of its significance; confirmation, if it hadn’t already arrived, that City were no longer just the ‘noisy neighbours’ playing their dubstep at a slightly inconvenient yet ignorable level, but neighbours persistently urging to come over and join the dinner party. They wrangled the invite. The results were thrillingly messy.

Best team

At the start of the season, many if not most were consigning Swansea to relegation – myself included, despite having a soft spot for them due it being my mum’s hometown. It seemed likely they would become this season’s Blackpool; likable, attractive to watch, but ultimately too brittle and under-resourced for the Darwinnian, Hunger Games-esque world of the Premiership. That they definitively proved the naysayers wrong, whilst still retaining their integrity and playing style, is a tremendous credit to Brendan Rodgers and his players.

Best goal

Another very tough choice. Cisse (that one) and Suarez (the chip against Norwich) both scored amazing goals, but these were spontaneous moments of brilliance. Hatem Ben Arfa’s, my choice, showed several moments of genius, which all combined to make one spectacular whole – the quick-thinking backheel and then blistering pace to beat the two Bolton central midfielders, the thread-through-a-needle incision of the centre-halves, and the composed finished past Bogdan. Sublime.

Best player

Could be any one of a dozen or so – (in rough ascending order) Walker for tireless running; Ba/Cisse (pre- and post-Christmas, respectively); Bale if he – and spurs – didn’t go off the boil slightly; Rooney for consistent strike rate (and unusual temperament); Aguero for impish energy and finishing; Silva for effortless, elegant excellence; Hart for presence and world-class shot-stopping; Parker, Kompany and Toure for towering performances and leadership. But, admittedly with possible bias, I’m plumping for Van Persie, for the way he almost single-handedly brought Arsenal (hell, cover’s blown – ‘us’) Champions League football with 30 league goals – an eclectic mix of wonder-goals and tap-ins. There were times this joke seemed very apt: “The Robin Van Persie Tea Tray….carries 10 mugs”. Considering, a third-placed finish is a great achievement, and largely his.

Best character

A two-horse race, surely, between messrs Balotelli and Barton. The former an exuberant, enigmatic court jester, a man with the talent of the 21-year-old he is but the attitude of a 7-year-old. The latter a strange tri-chotomy, if you will, of a man – part sensitive, art-loving Smiths fan; part people’s philosopher (or fool); and part Scouse thug. Public perception has lurched staunchly to the latter view after Sunday’s moment of madness (or, perhaps, normality for him). So for this reason, Balotelli gets my vote. Super Mario was similarly a class-A prat against Arsenal, where he got sent off for a reckless challenge after he should have been sent off for an even more reckless challenge – actions that arguably nearly cost City the title, and may yet lead to his exit from the club. But, although this was one piece of crazy too much for many, Balotelli can largely pull off japes like playing Angry Birds on the bench for his national team (i.e. funny but disrespectful) due to his youthful joie de vivre – personally what football is all about. Barton would be pilloried, and rightly so.

Best howler

The cliché my nan could have scored that! is oft-used in football, but probably actually true in this case. Torres had actually had a good game this match at Old Trafford – not always with end product, but lively, and he produced one sumptuous chip to beat De Gea. The miss, however, typified his form. He took a through ball and rounded De Gea well, but missed an open goal from 6 yards under absolutely no pressure. People pored over the replays to look for an incriminating bobble, but there was none; just absolutely shocking tekkers, hilarious to the majority of football fans who love a bit of schadenfreude.

Best Manager

Could have equally gone to Brendan Rodgers (as best team could have Newcastle), but I’ve elected to give this to Alan Pardew for the way he has turned a very average team into serious Champions League hopefuls. And he did it the right way too. Contemporaries Liverpool splashed the clash yet floundered (in the league at least), but Pardew brought in relative unknowns for bargain-bucket prices and moulded them into a unit at once solid and exhibitive of fantastic, flowing football. Demba Ba on a free has to be signing of the season. Remember we were all outraged at nice guy Hughton being given his marching orders?! That this seems a distant memory is testament to Pardew’s transformation.

Dark horse

Would be Newcastle or Ba specifically, but since I’ve covered both already, I’ll go for Papiss Cisse, with a notable mention to reborn Hatem Ben Arfa. Pretty much unknown by everyone before he was bought in January (for £10m from Freiburg) – I’ll hold my hands up, I didn’t know who he was – Cisse has gone on to become a fans’ favourite. And unsurprisingly, given his 13 goals in 14 appearances, including some absolutely redonkulous ones such as the looped chip against Swansea and outside-of-the-foot, 35-yard banana shot against Chelsea, which probably would have returned back to him were it not for the net. Nice guy, too, as shown by his surprise visit to the home of the (overjoyed) primary school kid who drew a picture of him at school when he was meant to make a present for his folks. Who needs Carroll, eh?!

Best Funny moment

There’s been a few – there always will be with Super Mario around – but it’s got to go the Anfield cat. The stray, known to wander around the premises, livened up an otherwise drab encounter between Liverpool and Spurs, insouciantly trotting around Brad Friedel’s goalmouth and sitting down – much to the amusement of the players and fans – before being escorted off by a steward, earning 25,000 Twitter fans in the process. And in doing so, ‘Kenny’, as he’s been dubbed, made more of an impact at Anfield than Stewart Downing did all season. Miaow.

Best punditry

OK, so they’re both technically in the Champions League (the Chelsea/Barca semi), but it’s got to be a joint win between Gary Neville’s much-parodied orgasmic exhortations at Torres’ last minute goal and Geoff Shreeves’ brutally frank questioning of Branislav Ivanovic. Without so much as a personal congratulation for a typically resolute performance, Shreeves saw fit to demand of Ivanovic whether he was booked and, upon the bewildered Ivanovic answering in the affirmative, tell him in no uncertain terms he would miss the final. Talk about party-pooper. Made for great TV, though, in a similarly bonkers, brilliant season. Please no one burst the bubble.

Joel Durston

Spare a Thought For the Pundits This Christmas

In Satire on December 24, 2011 at 4:02 PM

BBC executives are fearing for the health of their football pundits over this festive period, in which there are approximately 7,989 games of top-flight British football.

After reading reports from the Institute for Mental-ness Studies,  they believe Hansen, Motty, Lineker and co.’s mental states could seriously deteriorate with the constant football scrutiny (though they claim the effect to Shearer will be negligible because there isn’t that much going on upstairs with him at the best of times).

Things are already quite drastic. After interviewing Hansen’s family, we found that last year he only sat down at the table for Christmas Dinner for 20 minutes, before walking away in disgust at the shocking defensive line of the pigs in blankets.

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said: “The lads have already worked very hard all season, but the Christmas period is particularly intense.”

“We fear that one analysis of one more positional error from Armand Traore could cause Hansen’s head to explode from what we have been reliably told is ‘over-football-itis’.”

“And even if we do weather the storm this Christmas, there is the prospect of considerable long-term damage. We have already heard a few reports about Mark Lawrenson imploring ducks in his local park to put a name on the bread crumbs he throws to them. What next?! Will Motty end up holed up in a mental asylum, detailing to anyone within earshot West Brom’s impressive record from set pieces in the late 00s?”.

Mr. Thompson added that even when they brought in psychologists to spell out the dangers to the pundits, and the consequent need for rest this festive period, the punditry team would hear not a word of it, remaining resolutely glued to their sofas, monitors and stats machines.

“So we ask you, dear viewers, to spare a thought for our pundits this Christmas. Maybe even give the footy a break, even if it means putting up with your nan’s hilariously inaccurate Charade dramatics, so our lads don’t feel such a compulsion to sate the nation’s insatiable football appetite,” he added.

“The least we ask is that football fans up and down the country cut our lads some slack by avoiding criticising analysis, insinuations on Shearer’s simpleness and comparisons between the shape of Lineker’s head and the FA Cup. For, in sacrificing their mental health for our viewing pleasure, they are brave, selfless men.”

Joel Durston

Philoso-ball

In Satire, Sport on August 12, 2011 at 8:16 PM

This Saturday, something  more incredible happened than a standard day in the life of Mario Balotelli or all the £50 million transfers and Rooney bicycle kicks put together; notorious dickhead (and sometime professional footballer) Joey Barton retweeted a Nietzsche quote.  I shit you not. The quote in question was:  ‘whoever feels predestined to see and not to believe will find all believers too noisy and pushy: he guards against them’. Indeed, the quote, which warns against dogmatic belief, is actually rather sophisticated; not one of the many philosophy ‘rent-a-quote’ that abound. This is especially so for it being so axiomatic to those (like myself) who see that Joey Barton has Tweeted a Nietzsche quote, but don’t quite believe it. Maybe Barton is aware of this and using the logic of the quote itself to prove itself. Yes, retweeting is simple, but it suggests he must have had at least a vague knowledge and/or interest of Nietzsche to follow the page in the first place. Further research into his Twitter activity reveals that he allows follows and re-tweets ‘Philosophy quotes’. Maybe the philosophy graduate side of me is reading too much into it, but why can’t one be fanciful.

An usually thoughtful Joey BartonAn unusually thoughtful Joey Barton

 

Maybe this not only marks a positive turning point in Barton’s life (at last!), but heralds a new zeitgeist in football culture;  a vision infamously satirised by Monty Python, where the self-examination reaches greater philosophical depths than clichéd at-the-end-of-the-days. TAY envisions  this by taking a prophetic look back at the philosophical musings on the season that will be (don’t worry, all will make sense)….

The epistemology of officials’ decisions

In January’s top-of-the-table clash between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium, Alex Ferguson was unusually sanguine about the decision to play over the already excessive five minutes of stoppage time – time that ultimately proved United’s undoing as Arsenal scored a last-minute winner from a dubious penalty. He claimed: “though, as I experienced it, sufficient time had expired to warrant the blowing of the final whistle, I would venture that we cannot be objectively certain of this. O.K. in the past, I have been known to get rather impertinent about stoppage time, but I have done some research on the philosophy of time and perception and come to think time is not necessarily as concrete as I hitherto perceived it to be. For I am just one entity receiving particular, potentially fallible, sense experience datum. It is the classic problem in the epistemology of perception isn’t it? How do I know that what I see as the red of our great club’s shirt, you do not see as blue which you have merely been socially conditioned to acknowledge as ‘red’.  I can’t know this for sure. Indeed, greats such as Ayer and Russell have, with the argument from illusion amongst others, exposed the flaws of this view appositely deemed naive realism.”

Despite the TAY interviewer’s gestures hinting that he needed to wrap things up, Fergie was well and truly off on one: “furthermore, what is time? Because we have always lived with it and have no reference points, so to speak, we accept the absolute, inevitable uniformity of time as a certainty. But this is not necessarily accurate. In his discourse with Newton (who expounded the accepted view), great German thinker Gottfried Leibniz postulated some very interesting points in opposition to this view. He espoused a ‘relational’ view of time, which I am very taken by, whereby time is merely a contingent, human ordering upon actual objects. So, in answer to your question, yes, I thought there was a lot of time, but I am liable to error.”

A pensive Alex FergusonA pensive Alex Ferguson

Elsewhere, forthright Neil Warnock and Ferguson’s one-time player Steve Bruce have also been far more considered in their critique of officials’ performances this season. In one interview following a match in which Malbranque was harshly sent for an early bath, Bruce even sympathetically (if a little patronisingly) accounted for the referee’s supposed poor judgement by comparing him to one of the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave; consigned to believe mere shadows of real life are real life.

A discourse of justice in football

Wolves’ midfield enforcer Karl Henry, infamous for making Joey Barton look rather cuddly, was also oddly philosophical about his seventh red card of the season against Villa in late January. “Yes, regretfully, it was a poor, reckless challenge for what was, with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, a 20/80 ball in a not particularly dangerous area of the pitch. I should have heeded the great Ray Wilkins’ advice to ‘stay on my feet’, but this is easier said than done. For, in the words of the great Hume I believe, ‘reason is the slave of the passions’. I’d venture that nowhere is this more true than when you’re out there, fans singing their hearts out, blood curdling in your veins, heart beating at 100mph, literally and figuratively behind the beloved club badge. I saw a flash of the ball and passion overcame me. Should this one transgression with no malice merit such a draconian sentence in our supposedly compassionate, forgiving, big, if you will, society? I don’t think it should. Arguably, it even reduces the punishers to the level of the punished and thus perpetuates the cycle of transgression. For one, it hasn’t work on me this season. I am a strong advocate of rehabilitative, not punitive, measures for those who have transgressed, such as education, community service, apology and general reintegration into society. I believe this should and could be effectively translated into football, with sin-bins, enforced apologies and equivalents to community service in having to help the opposition. For example, helping with the water-bottles and half-time oranges or even playing for the other team. Football should be about sportsmanship, redemption and general human virtue, no?”. To which the perplexed TAY reporter said “errr…yeh. Thanks, Karl”.

Self and society

After a typically perfunctory performance, right-back Luke Young gave a brilliantly abstract – and scathingly honest – appraisal of his role in the Aston Villa win against Sunderland (and indeed, in the grander scheme of things). “Yeh I thought I put in a decent shift today, but the right’s back role is not one of the most prestigious in the game. Us full-back’s are, along with the other defenders and the keeper, somewhat analogous to the ‘productive’ or workers caste Plato outlined in his masterpiece, The Republic. We are just the allegorical abdomen. Yes, we have moderation inherent to the whole system and the ‘appetite’ to win the ball, but it is the ‘spirit’ of midfielders who, like the ‘protective’ caste, are strong, brave and adventurous to do the more creative work. And it is the strikers who represent the head of the system; they have the wisdom and decisiveness to make the important decisions which translate into collective virtue. So, yeah, at the end of the day, I thought I had a pretty good game, but it was a team performance.”

Discourse of Aristotelian purpose in football

What came as most surprising though was how deeply pensive Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand (two hitherto not particularly known for their intellect) were in their April defeat to Chelsea which ultimately lost them the title:

Rooney: “Yes, of course, I’m disappointed, especially because I skied the penalty. But when the chips are down, football is, on the surface at least, just a bunch of athletic people with extremely co-ordinated feet attempting to shepherd a bit of leather into an outdoor cupboard. It doesn’t come close to matching in import some of the huge issues that are unfortunately plaguing the world we inhabit today. To name but a few; global warming, institutional corruption, political injustice, the reality of the Pareto principle, lack of clean water, infant mortality, insufficient education and, perhaps most importantly, widespread ignorance of and indifference to these problems. I love football, but its purpose is not easily explicable, not least by Aristotle’s notorious four causes; in my humble opinion, a cornerstone of classical philosophy. Thus, I am left to conceive of football as ‘just a game’, as the age-old cliché goes.”

Ferdinand: “Interesting thoughts, Wayne. The problems in the world that you note are indeed very real and worrying, but I think football can be in harmony with, not in opposition to, these issues as it has a huge effect on millions of lives, tangible and abstract. Tangibly, it brings people together, helps a healthy lifestyle and promotes fair play, co-operation and team-work. And, as testified by the foundations and trusts we are part of, football can also be a great vehicle for positive societal and cultural change. See, for one, the hugely positive role the ‘Let’s Kick it Out’ campaign had on race relations in Britain. I for one can now, thankfully, play football free from the malicious chanting and banana-throwing which so blighted the careers of some of my heroes’ such as John Barnes.”

Rooney: “Yes all valid points, Rio, but I find this vision rather idealistic and utopian. Just as there are many who are inspired by us to take up football, many are sadly content to merely gaze for hours at screens, watching live games or playing the litany of football-based videogames – ironically causing obesity somewhat. And, yes, football can be a force for change, but with all due respect I think you overstate how much it is. In addition to commendably promoting many a human virtue, football also brings out much of the worse in humanity; prospering only through cheating or deceit in the frequent diving and histrionics evident in top-level football, lack of respect in the demonisation of officials and undue aggression in foul-tempered outbursts. I must concede culpability for the latter two, for which I again apologise profusely.

Ferdinand: “*patting Rooney on the back* It’s o.k., Wayne, and it is very admirable of you to admit to your shortcomings, in addition to the other ills that unfortunately blight the beautiful game. I think that football does, though, offer a very important sense of cultural and regional identity, even ‘hope’, which Obama showed to be such a powerful motivator.

Rooney: “Yes, but footballers are so divorced from those they represent. It’s bizarre; very few players actually grow up supporting the team they now play for, even kiss the badge of, yet the fans imbue such a sense of community purpose in to them. Furthermore, up until around 20 years ago, players would have a real connection with the fans; having a pint with them in the pub after the game. But now players and clubs are so rootless; divorced from those who idolise them in geography, lifestyle, even language and, perhaps most importantly, finance. I, and I daresay you too my dear friend, must admit we are prime examples of this; growing up Everton and West Ham fans and living in our mock-tudor  mansions in gated communities….

Ferdinand: Hmmm…Lady Gaga is absolutely nutty I should say, but she is one of the most popular figures on the planet at the moment. Undoubtedly, the culture surrounding football has transformed from a gritty, ‘sporting’ affair to one that is a heady maelstrom of commerce, business, entertainment… and sport. I don’t know that this is such a bad thing, though. Much of the rest of popular culture offers utopian escapism, so why shouldn’t football? The fact remains that we are worshipped by millions worldwide, particularly in this country.

Rooney: Granted, Rio; we are, but I’m still postulating as to quite why we are…

Ferdinand: …well, Wayne, the great Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, both whom I know you are familiar with *Rooney nods in agreement*, successfully illustrated how powerful and socially cohesive the forces of religion and industry can be, regardless, or even in spite of, their opinions of these forces. In the post-structuralist, post-industrialised, heterogenous, secular society (and to an extent, world) that we undoubtedly live in today, football has for me somewhat assumed the role that religion and vocation used to largely fulfil. People literally live for the game. Arguably, it has even become a new Marxian ‘opiate of the masses’….”

And with that, Rooney and Ferdinand ambled back to the changing room, index finger and thumb on chin, continuing their deep discussion on the ultimate purpose of football (if any), leaving the TAY interviewer, quite frankly, completely befuddled.

A philosophical Wayne RooneyA philosophical Wayne Rooney

Joel Durston

http://thisaffectedyouth.com/2011/08/03/philoso-ball/

Premiership 2010/11 End of Season Review.

In Sport on June 21, 2011 at 6:33 PM

With Manchester United tying up the title and one of the tightest, most dramatic, relegation battles in premiership history, so comes to pass another season of the premiership. And what a season it was! It included ridiculously over-priced transfers (Torres, Carroll), bizarre sackings (Hughton), contract face-offs (Rooney vs Fergie), super-injunctions (inherently anonymous), multi-million pound takeovers (Kroenke of Arsenal) and the introduction of the inimitable Mario Balotelli, who at times kept the daily soap opera of football running single-handedly!

Oh, and there was also some rather fine football on show too. Though not consistently, the top 4/5 played some wonderful football; a relatively low title-winning margin personally showing the competitiveness of the league rather than the ‘mediocrity’. As demonstrated by the wildly erratic, plum-mid-table, Sunderland, those in the mid-table were far from boring plodders. And the teams at the bottom also provided the league with much colour too, especially Blackpool, whose spirited shoe-string squad cemented their place as ‘second team’ in hearts of seemingly everyone with their admirably gung-ho brand of ‘you score 4…we’ll score 5’ football. Personally, the league will be a lot less colourful without them, literally and figuratively. In this article, I give end-of-term reports on the top 6:

Ian Holloway unveils the new signature of himself.

Ian Holloway unveils the new signature of himself.

Manchester United

United were far from the seemingly invincible team that they have been in past title races, but continually managed to pull results out of the bag due to some abstract brand of ‘Champions spirit’, if you will. As Alan Hansen always (and rightly) lauds, Sir Alex specialises in this. This was a title won as much through infamous ‘hairdryer’ treatment, opportunism and ‘never say die spirit’ (see for one their Giggs-inspired comeback from two-down on a grim night at Bloomfield road), as it was through quality (not to mention a fair bit of luck too). They have, however, played consistently good football elsewhere, in getting to the F.A cup semi-final (only to lose to rivals City) and in reaching the Champions League final at their home-from-home (old joke, I know, but as a jealous Gooner, I couldn’t resist). Yes, Barcelona’s mesmerising passing made it a ‘men vs boys’ contest, but very few teams recently have come off as anything better than adolescents against this Barca team which, for my money, rank as the second greatest ever, eclipsed only by the great World Cup-winning Brazil ’70 team.

Stars: Van der Sar and Giggs continue to defy their age by putting in consistently great performances, the latter from his newly-realised position in the middle of the park. In front of the ever-reliable Van Der Sar, Vidic was, as usual, a rock, even if he occasionally displayed the movement of one too. Nani has continued to fill the significant void left on the wing by one Mr. Ronaldo by adding end product to his undoubted skill. And up front, United have been spoilt for choice. Berbatov has seemingly strolled, literally at times, to being the Premiership’s joint top scorer thanks in no small part to a staggering 5 against Blackpool. Javier Hernandez has been signing of the season; his estimated £7m transfer fee a mere snip for the frequent ‘poacher’ goals and permanent ‘last man’ threat. The ‘Little Pea’ is such a perfect foil to Berbatov and Rooney, the latter having improved greatly in the second half of the season after the settling of the contract debacle.

Flops: On his few appearances, new signing Porteguese winger Bebe has seemed entirely unworthy of the ‘new Nani/Ronaldo’ tags bandied around him. Evans often seems out of his depth and Gibson also does not quite look like a United player, as demonstrated by the harsh fan abuse which caused him to shut down his newly-opened Twitter account.

A-

Manchester United FC lift the 2010/11 Premiership trophy

Manchester United FC lift the 2010/11 Premiership trophy

Chelsea

After a solid start playing attractive football, slightly atypical of Chelsea in recent years, they collapsed like Dominoes over the winter, plummeting out of the European spots. With little help from their megabucks flop Torres, they mounted a quietly impressive late run from February which, as rivals slipped-up, earned them second place finish, having lost the late top-of-the clash at Old Trafford. Alas, a decent 2nd  place in the league and Quarter-Final exit in the Champions’ league was evidently not enough for the ultra-demanding powers that be. Thus, Ancelotti was given his marching orders.

Stars: The backline has been typically solid, conceding the league’s joint lowest goal tally (with City). In the absence of a ‘20-goal’ forward this season, midfielders have been left to pick up the slacks. Malouda has impressed, bagging a very healthy 13, as has Lampard with 10, though he has not up to his usual stratospheric standards. Kalou has also popped up, often as a sub, to score 10.

Flops: Torres is the obvious, much-ridiculed flop with only 1 goal in his 14 starts, but the whole frontline has struggled to gel, perhaps as a result of too many big egos clashing. Anelka has bagged just 6 from his 32 appearances and Drogba 12; a little disappointing by his own standards. Indeed, arguably, they have all been upstaged by the on-loan Sturridge.

B

£50 million 'flop', Torres.

£50 million 'flop', Torres.

Manchester City

In contrast to the massive egos and transfer fees off the pitch, Manchester City have been steady, solid, yet rarely spectacular on it. At a relatively low 60, their league goals tally lies a good 18 below United’s total, but their parsimony defending goal (joint lowest conceded goals and most clean sheets at 18) has ensured many one and two-nil victories which has brought them the F.A. Cup and Champions league football with their 3rd place finish.

Stars: Of particular mention in their oft-changing rearguard is the ever-present, safe hands of Joe Hart, who has cemented his place as a world-class keeper. Going forward, Yaya Toure has to a large extent justified his astronomical wages with his surging presence and David Silva has often been a creative force. Tevez has had a very good season, being at times scrapping and at times spectactular and ending up as joint top scorer with 21.

Flops: Hard to mention flops with city because, with the size of their squad, they can afford to keep mediocrity (even better) hiding behind the proverbial curtains on the bench (see for one, Shay Given). That said Dzeko hasn’t justified his hefty January price tag, scoring just 2 in his 15 appearances. Undoubtedly entertaining, Balotelli could fit in either category, going as he does from brilliant and talismanic one week, to blundering and uninterested the next.

B

Mercurial Mario Balotelli - 'Super Mario'

Mercurial Mario Balotelli - 'Super Mario'

Arsenal

Arsenal were doing well up until about late February when they were still in serious contention for all four trophies. Then they had the seemingly customary ‘bottle job’ as the wheels fell off and they lost the League Cup final (courtesy of a horrendous, last-minute defensive cock-up), crashed out of the F.A cup and Champions League to the respective superiority of Manchester United and Barcelona and threw away the league too. The latter was largely down to throwing away points at home in goalless draws with Sunderland and Blackburn and the unbelievable draw with Liverpool. In this game, Arsenal scored a 95th minute penalty… only to concede a very clumsy one in the NINETY-NINTH minute which Kuyt converted.

Stars: Nasri had a stellar start to the season, though failed to quite match these astronomical standards upon returning from injury. In his first real season in the first team, Wilshere was very promising, even if his inexperience occasionally showed, especially in his sometimes rash tackling. Van Persie hit the ground running upon his return from injury managing to bag a very impressive 18, considering. Arshavin was intermittently impressive, as was Fabregas when fit.

Flops:  In the long absence of Vermaelen, none of the backline covered themselves in glory, particularly Koscielny and Eboue. Goalkeeper was a particularly problematic position, with newcomer Wojciech Szczesny the best of a bad bunch. Especially in big games, Denilson just isn’t up to the task of ‘enforcer’, which Arsenal so sorely lack a world-class example of. After a good start, Chamakh faded and Bendtner was his usually faltering self.

C-

Arsenal crash out of the Carling Cup in the stoppage time

Arsenal crash out of the Carling Cup in stoppage time

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs gamely fought for their second Champions League spot in two years, which indeed they occupied at various points of the season. But, perhaps due in part to the mental and physical toll of their European adventures, they were edged out by the literal and financial strength of City.

Stars: Dawson was a consistent presence at the back. Van Der Vaart proved a mere snip at £8m, claiming 9 assists and 13 goals in his 28 starts. Alongside Lennon (who’s recently acquired the ability to cross), skilful Modric and speed-merchant Bale, so electrifying in Europe, Van Der Vaart marshalled a very creative Spurs midfield.

Flops: Gomes, though often brilliant, is still prone to horrific errors, such as the ones he made against Real Madrid and Chelsea. Crouch and Defoe’s respective totals of 4 goals are quite paltry, though the former did link well with the midfield, especially Van Der Vaart, and the latter was injured for much of the season.

B –

Gareth Bale dazzles on the wing against Inter Milan

Gareth Bale dazzles on the wing against Inter Milan

Liverpool

Under Roy Hodgson, Liverpool started the season disastrously, lacking both the creativity and drive necessary for a Champion’s League finish which the club so desperately craves (even feels it has some sort of God-given right to). Indeed, by January, they were languishing not far above the relegation zone. But then, on the 8th of January, Hodgson left and ‘King Kenny’ returned to his beloved Kop! He evidently put some fire back in to the hearts of the players (and fans) as, with the help of the incoming Carroll and Suarez, they subsequently rose up the table to finish in sixth.

Stars: Since his £23m arrival in January, Suarez has proved he is worth every penny, putting in far superior performances to the ones Torres was (and indeed continued to do at Chelsea). His movement is so brilliant that he could probably find space in a telephone box and his touch ain’t bad either (see his trickery to set up Kuyt against United). Kuyt scored 13 and, as ever, was a tireless workhorse all season, whether deployed wide on the right or as an out-and-out striker as he often was before the arrival of Messers Suarez and Carroll. Mereiles and Maxi Rodriquez were two particularly rejuvenated by Dalglish’s return to the Kop. After fairly non-descript starts to the season, their performances improved drastically, going on to score some crucial goals to end with 5 and 10 respectively.

Flops:  It’s hard to really pinpoint where the blame lies for the early-season slump because it seemed like a largely collective malaise. That being said, Joe Cole, admittedly plagued with injuries, seems a shadow of his former self and N’gog has yet to mature into anything resembling a world-class striker.

D+ (E in 2010, A in 2011)

3 of Liverpool's mid-season saviours: 'King' Kenny, Carroll and Suarez

3 of Liverpool's mid-season saviours: 'King' Kenny, Carroll and Suarez

Joel Durston