Once more. I’m going to try this once more and it’s going to work. It’s going to work, because who’s the boss? I’m the boss. Franjo’s the boss. My eyes narrow with concentration as I raise a balled fist, slowly extending a finger to point at my target.
“Meatloaf”, I growl, “Sit”. Meatloaf does not sit. The thought doesn’t even cross his mind. He just looks up at me with those big green eyes, portraying only complete ignorant innocence. I’ve had these cats for 2 years now. Sheltered them, sustained them, loved them. They’re still complete arse holes though. And they still won’t sit, stay, lie down, roll over, play dead, high 5 or leap through the hoop of fire on command. That last one was perhaps overly ambitious, I’ll grant you. I watch as Meatloaf flops down from the bed onto the floor and pads away towards his food as Burnie watches on from my side. That’s a point, actually…
“Burnie, sit!” Burnie doesn’t even seem to hear me. He too flops down and pads away to the food bowl. Fucking cats. I reach for my old laptop. It’s really looking its age nowadays, covered in scratches and scuffs from general wear and tear. It really shouldn’t be that battered as I only use it once a year, but I suppose I have to take into account the feline factor. I boot the laptop and start having a look around the world of football.
So as usual, Arsenal won the… Oh, hang on… They didn’t?! Manager of the Year José Mourinho’s Manchester United won the Premier League?! Oh right, sorry! The King is dead, long live the King, apparently. José Mourinho has not only stopped Arsene’s run of 3 straight league titles, but he’s done it in ridiculous fashion. Manchester United have been virtually unstoppable this year, dropping points in only 6 matches and accruing 99 points, breaking the records for number of wins in a season and number of points in a season in the EPL. Lead by Captain Ander Herrera and fired to victory by the goalscoring of their jaw dropping attacking line up, featuring Paulo Dybala, Robert Lewandowski, Paul Pogba, Gonzalo Higuain and Juan Mata, United really have had a remarkable season and finished 19 points clear of Klopp’s 2nd placed Liverpool. Wenger’s Arsenal and Pochettino’s Spurs filled out the top 4, while Manchester City finished 5th, prompting the sacking of Pep Guardiola at the end of the season. He’s been replaced by the legendary Zinedine Zidane. Chris Hughton’s overachieving Stoke City were the last team to sneak into the European places at the expense of 7th placed Chelsea, who also sacked their Manager Antonio Conte and replaced him with PSG’s Unai Emery.
At the other end of the table there was a frantic finish. I mean, not for Newcastle, they finished dead last and had sacked Mark Warburton by the end of 2019. They brought in former Scunthorpe and Norwich manager Darren Way to replace him but he couldn’t prevent them from ending the campaign at the foot of the table. But the other relegation spots were up for grabs: Going into the final match, Hull City, who have since replaced long serving manager Marco Silva with Michael Laudrup, were on 35 points and Swansea, who sacked manager Ryan Giggs after Christmas and replaced him with Carlo Cudicini, Steve Clarke’s Burnley and Everton, who kindly freed up Laudrup for Hull in March and replaced him with Serie A stalwart Stefano Pioli, were all on 38, all 4 clubs having very similar goal differences. Swansea got thrashed by 2nd placed Liverpool, Hull overcame the odds to beat Southampton and Everton and Burnley played out a brilliant 3-3 draw to make sure they both ended up safe on 39 points, flooding 606 phone lines with accusations of match fixing from people exclusively using very angry East Yorkshire accents.
Paulo Dybala was the Champions’ top goalscorer but in the league he was eclipsed by Chelsea’s Mauro Icardi. Özil had another spectacular season, playing consistantly brilliantly for the Gunners and laying on the most goals for his team mates once again, while Paul Pogba and Juan Mata both had brilliant seasons too. Pogba in particular had such a brilliant season in fact that he was named both Players’ Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year. Spurs’ Dele Alli, still only 24 years old, won the Players’ Young Player of the Year award once again, making it 4 times in 5 years for him, and United’s David De Gea won his 3rd Golden Glove in 4 years.
The Players’ Team of the Season is pretty much as you’d expect, with David De Gea in net, Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld, Chelsea’s Aymeric Laporte, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and surprise inclusion Aaron Creswell of West Ham in defence. United duo Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba are joined by the Gunners’ Mesut Özil and City’s Kevin De Bruyne in midfield, with top scoring duo Mauro Icardi of Chelsea and Paulo Dybala of Manchester United up front.
Only 1 of last year’s relegated Premier League teams is heading back up to the top tier: Sunderland, managed by former Port Vale manager Rob Page, of whom I was extremely sceptical after he was appointed last year. He’s proved me wrong though, taking the Black Cats up as Champions at the first time of asking. They’ll be joined by Roberto Di Matteo’s Norwich City and Steve McClaren’s Ipswich Town, who had to navigate tricky play-off ties against Robbie Nielson’s Fulham and Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley.
This season’s La Liga table has a suspiciously similar look to it as last year’s. For the second year in a row, Manager of the Year Luis Enrique’s Barcelona won the league, falling only 1 point short of Manchester United’s tally in the Premier League with 98. It was close between Barca and Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid though, who finished on 97 points, 8 clear of Marcelino’s 3rd placed Real Madrid. Damir Canadi’s Bilbao had a great season too, scraping past Javi Garcia’s Villareal into 4th place and nicking a Champions League spot.
Madrid based duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Sandro Ramirez were the league’s top scorers with 23 and 20 respectively, while Leo Messi set up by far the most goals and had an incredible season, as did his team mate Neymar. Messi also won the Player of the Year award, just pipping Neymar and Real’s Gareth Bale to that particular accolade, while Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Bafflingly in a league where Barcelona and Atleti accrued 195 points between them, the Team of the Year is made up mainly of Real Madrid players. Barca stopped ter Stegen is in net, with Atleti’s Alessandro Florenzi and Barca’s Samuel Umtiti joined in defence by Real’s Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos. The midfield is comprised almost exclusively with Real players, namely Gareth Bale, Eden hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Sevilla’s Franco Vázquez thrown in for good measure. Messi and Sandro lead the line.
As I google “Bundesliga table”, my heart skips a beat. What if this is the year? What if this is the year that somebody apart from Bayern have won? What if this is the year that we get a bit of variety in the Bundesliga? And then I slap myself across the face for being so fucking silly, because of course Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga. They won it comfortably ahead of Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund, as per usual. I’ve nothing against Manager of the Year Carlo Ancelotti or his Bayern side, but I’m just a little bored of looking at the Bundesliga. Well done to them all the same, though. And well done to Slaven Bilic’s Schalke for breezing into the 3rd Champions League spot and to Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen and André Breitenreiter’s Borussia Mönchengladbach for making the Europa League.
As usual, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels had terrific seasons at the heart of the Champions’ defence, while Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the league’s top scorer by some distance. The player that came closest to matching the Gabonese’s 25 goals was Mainz’s Greek striker Dimitris Diamantakos with 16. You might think the fact that no Bayern player got close is a little odd, but to be fair they rotated their strikers quite a lot, with Thomas Müller bagging 8, £35million Summer 2019 signing Romelu Lukaku getting 7 and £47million Summer 2019 signing Kelechi Iheanacho getting 5. No doubt they’ll be splashing out a bit of cash this Summer to rectify the situation. Red Bull Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg and Dortmund’s Mario Götze set up the most goals in the league.
I’m stopped in my tracks when I see that the awards for Footballer of the Year, Players’ Newcomer of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year were all won by the same young Bayer Leverkusen midfielder who’s name I’ve not heard before: Kai Havertz. He certainly looks like a future World-beater. I think. My scouts don’t know too much about him to be honest.
And finally the Team of the Year doesn’t contain many shocks at all. Bayern 6some Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba and Arturo Vidal are all in there, along with Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, RBL’s Emil Forsberg and Dortmund trio Serge Gnabry, Mario Götze and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Serie A used to be a lot like the Bundesliga in terms of one club ruling the roost, but since Juventus lost the 2017/18 title to Roma the other teams have started to smell blood. This year, for the first time in 9 years, AC Milan have won Serie A, and quite comfortably too, with Manager of the Year Ramón Díaz’s men finishing 4 points above Juventus, who sacked Leonardo Jardim in March and brought in who else but Antonio Conte, and Luciano Spalletti’s Roma. I’m annoyed in a way because if there’s anyone who knows how to make Serie A a boring non-contest with Juventus winning the league every single year again, it’s Conte. Napoli were the team to slip back into the Champions League in 4th, and Palermo and Udinese both bagged Europa League spots again.
Napoli’s Gerard Moreno and AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca each scored 21 goals this season, making them joint top goalscorers, with Moreno’s 5 additional assists in 3 fewer matches granting him the top spot. He was one of the league’s top performers in general, winning the Fans’ Player of the Year award, while Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci won the Player of the Year award. Palermo’s Federico Mancuello set up the most goals with 16, followed from a distance by Sampdoria’s Dennis Praet with 11. Juventus’ Gerónimo Rulli won the Best Goalkeeper award for the 2nd year running.
A glance further down the Serie A table makes me widen my eyes with excitement though, because who’s that that’s slipped into the relegation zone with Verona and Spal? S.S. Lazio. How have Lazio been relegated?! They’ve gone from 3rd place in the league to a first relegation since the mid 80’s in 5 years! And they’re a huge club too; One of the most decorated clubs in the country. Do they need a Manager? Could I have a chance? Oddly, after sacking Cesare Prandelli in December, they poached Sampdoria boss Giuseppe Iachini, who promptly sold their best player in Stefan de Vrij and lost 12 out of 15 matches, ensuring their relegation, and they want him to stay on! I honestly don’t get it, but good luck to him. I’ll be keeping my eye on the sleeping giants from afar. Watching. Waiting. Casually emailing over my CV after every loss.
Despite not winning the league, Juventus still dominate the Serie A Team of the Year, with Gerónimo Rulli in net, and Mario, Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro joined by Inter Milan’s Stefan Savic in defence, who I’ll be getting very familiar with when my Liechtenstein side play Montenegro in both the EIL and World Cup Qualifiers. Juve’s William Carvalho and Sami Khedira are selected in midfield along with Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic, while Napoli’s Gerard Moreno is joined by team mate José Callejón and Roma’s Mohamed Salah up front.
If a couple of the other leagues looked similar to last year, then Ligue 1 is practically identical. The only real difference being that Christophe Galtier’s 6th placed AS Saint-Etienne didn’t get a Europa League place this time. Once again, Manager of the Year Unai Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain won the league before the manager resigned to join struggling Chelsea, but it was a close run thing this year. José Barros’ Monaco went level on points with PSG with 3 games remaining and were trailing purely on goal difference, but both teams took 9 points from their last possible 9 and finished on 102 points, with the Parisians still on top. Jocelyn Gourvennec’s Olympique Lyonnais finished a distant, distant, distant 3rd on 74 points and took the last Champions League place, while Dieter Hecking’s Olympique de Marseille and Sébastien Bannier’s Girondins de Bourdeaux took the Europa League places. Incidentally, PSG are still looking for a new Manager, but they must have already gone on holiday as they aren’t returning any of my calls.
PSG’s Edinson Cavani’s showing no signs of slowing down at 33 years old and was the league’s top goalscorer with 22, slightly eclipsing Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette with 20. Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé was the top performing player in the league, followed closely by team mate Daniele Rugani, and Marseille’s attacking midfielder Óliver assisted the most goals with 16, just 1 ahead of PSG’s Mateo Kovacic, who was also voted Best Player. The Champions’ Gianluigi Donnarumma won his second Goalkeeper of the Season award in as many years.
The Ligue 1 XI of the Season is made up entirely of players from the top 2 teams, which ordinarily I’d scoff at but when both teams have racked up 102 points it’s probably fair enough. PSG’s Gianluigi Donnarumma is in goal, with team mates Raphaël Guerreiro and Marquinhos joined in defence by Monaco’s Daniele Rugani and Fabinho. The Champions’ Marco Verratti and Mateo Kovacic are in midfield with Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Kylin Mbappé, with PSG’s Edinson Cavani up front.
The Europa League was won by Premier League runners up Liverpool, who’ve had an excellent season under Jürgen Klopp. They started the knockout stages as they meant to go on with an entertaining 4-4 away goal win over Leverkusen in the first round, before pummelling Valencia 7-1 in the Quarter Finals. They scraped past Leicester City in the Semis, who had themselves breezed past Schalke and Palermo in the knockout stages, and the final was set up against Roma at Porto’s Estádio do Dragão. Roma had had a good run of results themselves, embarrassing Manchester City 5-2 in the first round, before seeing off Vitesse on penalties and AC Milan in the Semi-Final. The red side of Merseyside enjoyed complete domination in the final over their Italian opponents, who lost Samu Castillejo and captain Kevin Strootman to injury, the latter of which took them down to 10 men in extra time as they’d used up their substitutions, and within 6 minutes Liverpool broke the deadlock through substitute Adam Lallana. Kostas Manolas was then sent off reducing Roma to 9 men, and there was no way back.
The Champions League was won surprisingly by Real Madrid, who beat their fierce rivals and La Liga Champions Barcelona 2-0 in a final held at Ajax’s Amsterdam ArenA. Both teams had to knock out European giants on the way, with Madrid knocking out Tottenham, Bayern Munich and AS Monaco while Barcelona beat Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and Arsenal. The final was rather different to the Europa League final in that it was the losing side that dominated and the winning side that were down to 10 men when Eden Hazard earned a 2nd yellow card after 69 minutes. Ronaldo had already put Madrid in front though and with 8 minutes to go, Toni Kroos doubled their advantage to secure their first Champions League win in 4 years.
I know realistically that I’ve got no chance in hell of landing the PSG job at the minute. And I’ve probably got no chance of getting the Lazio job either, if they ever decide to actually sack the manager that’s taken them down. I can feel these jobs getting closer though. Maybe not by much, but they are getting closer.
Full of self-confidence, I cast the laptop aside and leap to my feet, staring straight at my 2 cats, who both look up at me curiously. “MEATLOAF, BURNIE… SIT!” I cry. They don’t. Meatloaf goes back to eating and Burnie walks away towards the litter trays to take a shit. Fucking cats.