Do you want to know the worst thing about being a journeyman manager?
All the packing. I hate packing. I despise it. I’m the kind of person who’ll pack very begrudgingly the night before going on holiday, and then live out of my suitcase while I’m there so that I don’t have to unpack and then pack again a few days later. I just can’t be arsed.
It’s for this reason that my suitcase currently lies empty on my bed. Well I say empty, but Burnie’s decided that it’s a damn fine place to have a sleep, so he’s curled up in there. Right now though, that’s my excuse for not packing. Let sleeping cats lie, right? Right.
Let’s procrastinate. Let’s have a look at what’s been going on around this big blue football we call Erf, shall we?
It’s become increasingly clear over the last 3 years that Arsene Wenger has been the victim of an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” style abduction. Because there is no way that the Arsene Wenger we all know and love has guided his team to a third successive title! Not only that, but he’s Manager of the Year once again!
Compared to his Arsenal side’s last 2 title wins though, this one was a bit trickier. They came out a solitary point higher than Conte’s Chelsea in 2nd place. Admittedly though, they wrapped up the league with a match to spare and had their flip flops on when Mark Warburton’s Newcastle visited on the final day, allowing Chelsea to close the gap and save face.
The big 6, none of whom have changed their managers in the last 3 years, were all once again in the top 6, this time joined by Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City in the final European spot. Walter Mazzarri’s Watford now seem to be establishing themselves as a top half club, while West Ham plummeted down to 15th after successive top 8 finishes in the last 2 years, despite the £40m signing of Christian Benteke. My old pal Slaven Bilic was sacked in March and replaced by Maurizio Sarri. The mighty Toffees seem to be getting closer to relegation with each year that passes, but they sacked Ronald Koeman at the end of the season, so hopefully new manager Michael Laudrup will bring about a change in fortunes.
In terms of relegation, Mika Lehkosuo couldn’t keep his job after taking Fulham straight back down, despite being the one who got them up there in the first place, and has been replaced by Robbie Neilson. Another of last year’s promoted sides, Derby County, went straight back down too, costing Steve McClaren his job by the end of 2018. Up and coming Scottish Manager Stevie Crawford took over the Rams, but couldn’t charge them out of the drop zone. The last team to be heading for the Championship is Sunderland. They actually let David Moyes off the hook for relegating them in 2017 and he got them back up the next season. Taking them straight back down again though was seen as an excessive amount of failure by the Black Cats’ hierarchy and they’ve curiously appointed former Wales International and lower League One side Wycombe Wanderers’ boss Rob Page as his replacement. I’m interested to see how he does.
Anyway, Chelsea’s Mauro Icardi was the Premier League’s top scorer this season with 22, just ahead of Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson. At 27, Callum’s scored 54 goals in his last 3 seasons and is now worth £32m, which is great to see for an English lad. He’s only made 1 appearance for the national side somehow though, despite the fact that Eddie Howe was appointed England Manager last year.
Mesut Özil and Nathaniel Clyne both had outstanding seasons for their clubs, while City’s Ilkay Gündogan and Sunderland’s Oriol Romeu got the most assists. Alexis Sánchez, still at Arsenal of course because he’s incredibly loyal and content, was voted Players’ Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year, while Dele Alli bagged his 3rd Players’ Young Player of the Year award in 4 years and his Spurs teammate Hugo Lloris picked up the Golden Glove.
The team of the year exclusively features players from the top 6, with Arsenal’s Özil and Sánchez, Chelsea’s Aymeric Laporte and Icardi, Tottenham’s Lloris, Alli and Eriksen, Liverpool’s Clyne, City’s Otamendi and De Bruyne, and United’s Daley Blind.
Coming up to the Premier League are Brian McClair’s Southampton and Burnley, who were brought up but then abandoned by the Goodison-bound Michael Laudrup. Both sides are back up at the second time of asking, and are joined by Crystal Palace, who sacked Laurent Blanc in February and replaced him with Claude Makélélé, who successfully guided them to and through the play offs. If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Patrick Vieira to be Claude’s eventual replacement. I think I see a pattern emerging. Shout out to Brian Deane too, while we’re on the Championship. He saw that his beloved Sheffield United were in trouble and leapt into action, taking over at Aston Villa and sending them down to League One instead of the Blades. Now that’s dedication.
En España, the top 2 have finally been broken up, allowing the perennial underdogs FC Barcelona to get their moment in the sun. I actually feel really sorry for their fans, having not seen their side win the league since 2016, so good on them. And fair play to ‘Manager of the Year’ Luis Enrique’s side, the title race was not close. They finished 16 points ahead of Simeone’s Atleti, and 18 ahead of Zizou’s Real Madrid. Zidane got the sack at the end of the season, which is really disappointing for the footballing world, but the massively experienced Marcelino has left Porto to take over.
Luis Suárez had a great season, scoring by far the most goals, putting on consistently excellent performances, and even pipping Leo Messi to the Player of the Year award; an accomplishment only equalled once in the last 9 years by Cristiano Ronaldo. Simone Zaza of Valencia scored the second most goals, while Celta Vigo’s highly rated young midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur got the most assists, followed by Real Sociedad’s Recio. Real’s Keylor Navas won the Goalkeeper of the Year award for the 3rd straight season.
Surprisingly Cristiano Ronaldo is only named on the bench in La Liga’s Team of the Season, and there’s no place for Simone Zaza at all! Navas is in net, with Athletico Madrid’s £35m 2018 signing Alessandro Florenzi and Real Madrid trio Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, and Nacho across the back. Across midfield, Bentancur, Recio, Messi and Neymar are the picks, with Suárez and Sevilla’s Franco Vázquez up front.
The German Bundesliga has surprisingly dropped below the Premier League and Serie A in the European standings recently. Unsurprisingly though, Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich won the league for the 7th time in a row. I’ve got to tell you though… ‘Bundesliga Manager of the Year’ Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund were so, so close. With 33 out of 34 matches played, they sat in 1st place, with Bayern a point behind them, and then they went and lost to Hertha bloody Berlin. At home. And Bayern won away at Mainz to snatch the title.
Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen couldn’t quite keep up with the top 2, despite having the 2 highest goalscorers in the league: £24m signing Timo Werner and Javier “Chicarito” Hernández. As usual, Bayern put on a defensive masterclass, with Players’ Player of the Year David Alaba and Mats Hummels the standout performers. Leverkusen’s Kevin Kampl and Red Bull Leipzig’s Naby Keïta were the top assisters and Manuel Neuer was unsurprisingly the top keeper.
The Team of the Year was made up mainly of Bayern players, with Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Mats Hummels, David Alaba, Douglas Costa and Renato Sanches all making the cut. Naby Keïta, Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Timo Werner made up the rest of the team.
Serie A went pretty much back to normal this year I’m afraid. Spalletti’s Roma, following their dramatic last gasp title win last year, reverted to type and got in line behind the Champions: Jardim’s Juventus.
Udinese were the surprise package in the league, snatching an unlikely European spot and earning manager Luigi Delneri the Manager of the year award. A big factor in the achievement was their equally unlikely strike partnership of Stipe Perica and Jay Rodriguez, who bagged 30 goals and 12 assists between them.
Perica finished a not-so-close second in the goalscoring charts though, with Paulo Dybala having another scintillating season in front of goal. Dybala won the Serie A Player of the Year award and shone in a Juve side that also benefitted from the stunning defensive form of Leonardo Bonucci and Gigi Buffon’s replacement, Gerónimo Rulli, who won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.
The team of the year’s back 6 consisted of 5 Juventus players; Rulli, Bonucci, Sami Khedira, Alex Sandro and William Carvalho, along with Cristian Ansaldi of Inter. Napoli’s Jorginho and AC Milan’s Giacomo Bonavetura are in midfield, and there’s a front 3 of Roma’s Mo Salah, Juve’s Dybala and Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa.
Paris Saint Germain have taken back their throne in Ligue 1, with manager Unai Emery winning the Manager of the Year award for finally pegging José Barros’ AS Monaco back. Edison Cavani’s 25 goals helped, as did £31.5m signing Gianluigi Donnarumma’s Goalkeeper of the Year winning performances.
Monaco were 10 points behind the Champions in the end, but still had a good season thanks to the goals of Alexandre Lacazette and the incredible performances of Bernardo Silva, while left winger Kylian Mbappé won the Player of the Season award. PSG’s £74m 2017 signings Thiago Alcântara got the most assists in the league, followed by Lyon’s Sergi Darder.
The Team of the Season was made up almost entirely of players from the top 2, with PSG’s Donnarumma, Serge Aurier, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Thiago Alcântara and Edison Cavani joined by Monaco’s Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Mbappé. Marseille’s Ludwig Augustinsson rounds out the numbers.
There were some huge names in the Europa League this season, resulting in some high profile ties, such as Luis Enrique’s title winning Barça being beaten in a Quarter Final tie by Pep’s Man City (3-2). City were knocked out in the semis (4-3) by Luciano Zauri’s Sampdoria. David de Dios’ Celta Vigo beat Hertha Berlin (4-3), Napoli (3-3 on away goals), Braga (4-1) and Sampdoria (5-2 in extra time) with Andreu Fontàs, Rodriguo Bentancur, and Robbie Brady the star players.
In the Champions League, Arsenal and Chelsea knocked out Bayern (3-1) and Real Madrid (3-3 on penalties) in the first knockout round, setting up all English quarter final ties Man Utd v Chelsea (2-1) and a mouth watering North London derby (5-5, Spurs won on penalties). Athletico Madrid had to beat PSG (2-1), Monaco (4-2), Dortmund (5-1) while Man Utd had to beat Olympiakos (4-1), Chelsea (2-1), Tottenham (4-3) to reach the final, where Man Utd won on penalties after drawing 1-1. Miguel Layún, former City man Matija Nastasic and Juan Mata were their star performers.
It’s funny looking at these leagues. They may as well all be taking place on a different Planet they’re so far away. But one day I’ll manage in one of them. Maybe all of them. One day.
My attention is caught by Burnie, standing and stretching, before stepping out of the suitcase and plopping onto the floor. I’d better start packing I suppose. Next stop – South Africa.
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