Sidenote (12/8): Alright listen, it’s going to be another week. I really thought I’d be ready to start the season tomorrow but even after writing literally all day Sunday I’m nowhere near where I’d need to be. The good news is that I should have more time this week to get everything sorted out so the new season WILL kick off on the 20th and may Hicham Aidir break every bone in his body if I’m wrong. Cheers for staying with me!
I’ve got just about enough energy left to end this year with a walk around the corner to my favourite little café: Perk de l’abre sec. After all what is a yearly review of the world’s football without a cup of coffee in one hand and a mangled croissant in the other? You’d think after 2 years in France I’d know how to cut the fucking things without making the floor surrounding my table look like I’ve stepped on a land mine in a pâtisserie, but the crumbly bastards just won’t play ball. The familiar “ding-a-ling” from the old shopkeeper’s bell welcomes me in, as does the owner Louis, who shows me to my regular table. “Will anyone be joining you today, Monsieur Franjo?” He asks excitedly when I arrive.
“No, just me this time mate”, I smile back. He’s visibly disappointed. I’m a bit annoyed at this to be honest. No, Arsene Wenger’s not with me this time, but I’m the pissing France manager now, aren’t I Louis. Aren’t I enough?!
Never mind. With a pained creak, I pry open my dusty old laptop and boot it out of it’s 12 month hibernation. It’s time to look around and see what happened in the rest of the world over the 2022/23 season.
Aha! Change is in the air, people! Let’s focus on the most important thing to happen in the 2022/23 Premier League: Since the day I was born, manufactured or a combination of both 32 seasons ago, the number of times I’ve seen Everton finish above Liverpool could be counted on one hand and until now you’d still have enough fingers free to make a peace sign. But not anymore, baby! Merseyside is fucking blue! I know, I know, Stefano Pioli’s Blues finishing 7th is nothing exactly out of the ordinary and their achievement is mainly down to Ernesto Valverde’s disappointing half-season at the helm of their rivals across the park before he was replaced by Antonio Conte, but just… Let me have this, OK? Besides the Carabao Cup win in 2020, the last time the Toffees actually won a trophy I was almost certainly still pissing the bed.
But let’s begrudgingly move onto the subplot of the Premier League: The fact that José Mourinho’s Manchester United, winners of the division 3 times on the spin, have been dethroned thanks to a 3-2 final day defeat to José’s former club Chelsea, now managed by Unai Emery, which lifted the Londoners a single point clear of the Red Devils and won them the league.
But I know what you’re thinking. Big deal. I know. Hmm? What’s that? Oh yes, now that you mention it actually, Everton did do the double over Liverpool this season, beating the reds 3-2 away at 2-0 at The Old Lady. Crazy.
Alright fine, I’ll drop it. Jesus Chelsea, leave some narrative for the rest of the World, would you? I’d go as far as to say that in terms of context and drama this was the best Premier League win ever, possibly even trumping Man City’s famous “AGUEROOOO!” win in 2012. Luckily for United and by an extraordinary coincidence, they had the opportunity to redeem themselves shortly afterwards in the Champions League Final… But Chelsea won that too.
Despite his heroics, Emery found himself losing out on the Manager of the Year award to Leonardo Jardim, the former Olympiakos, Sporting, Monaco and Juventus boss who’s obviously taken over Stoke City, because football’s fucking mental. To be fair Stoke are a far cry from the side that’s plummeted towards the bottom 3 over the last 2 seasons after losing Jack Butland to Arsenal. They’re rebuilt and rejuvenated and their 1-1 draw at Palace on the final day secured a Europa League spot for the Potters ahead of Mr Wenger’s City.
To add to the extraordinary final day spectacle, only Jaap Stam’s Norwich were mathematically condemned to relegation going into the last round of results. Walter Mazzarri’s reign at Watford was ended after a disappointing start to the season and promising young manager Shane Long was the man tasked with keeping the Hornets afloat. On 32 points and a lesser goal difference than relegation rivals West Ham, he had to take his team to a win over Liverpool on the final day and hope that another result went his way.
The other result, because of course it was, was Razvan Lucescu’s West Ham v Michael Laudrup’s Middlesbrough, both of whom were also on 32 points. Only 1 of the 3 would secure survival. What ensued was… Actually pretty anti-climactic, as Watford were swiftly buried by 10 man Liverpool while the Hammers and the Boro played out a pretty awful 0-0. To be fair though West Ham absolutely dominated the match and if any of the 3 teams deserved to stay up on the day it was them. Still, what an end to a Premier League season. There was even a final day North London derby, but sadly the outcome wouldn’t have had any impact on the final standings.
The Premier League Team of the Season offers up some surprises this year, along with some players that have become so synonymous with the Team of the Year that they may as well just sign a contract with it. “Toby Alderweireld and Dele Alli? Yeah they play for Team of the Year. Oh and Spurs.”
David de Gea of the League Runners up Manchester United retains his place in net having won his 5th Golden Glove in 7 years and is protected by a back 4 including Nathaniel Clyne, who plays for Merseyside’s 2nd best club, that man Alderweireld, still dominating in Tottenham’s lily-white shirt at the tender age of 34 and 2 TOTY newbies in Chelsea’s Argentine defender/holding man Tomás Maffoni, who finally manages to oust team mate Aymeric Laporte, and United’s Luke Shaw. TOTY stalwarts Dele Alli, Isco of Manchester City and Footballer of the Year/Players’ Player of the Year Paul Pogba of United partner each other in central midfield for the third successive season and are joined this year by Chelsea’s Italian winger Federico Bernadeschi. The Red Devils’ Paulo Dybala is another familiar face, having now made the squad in 4 successive seasons since moving to Blighty, but this time he’s partnered up front by Chelsea prodigy Oliver Webb, who was the Prem’s top scorer with 22 goals in 34 and won the Young Player of the Year award to boot.
And so to the Championship. After proving beyond doubt in the FA Cup that they can still mix with the elite on their day, Alex Neil’s Brighton and António Carvalho’s Leicester are welcomed back to the top flight. The Foxes beat tough competition in the playoffs in Gary Bowyer’s Wolves and Stevie Crawford’s Derby County and will also be joined in the Premier League by everybody’s favourite yo-yo club Burnley, managed by Paul Heckingbottom. Spare a thought for Brian McDermott though, who last year abandoned relegated Portsmouth for QPR and this year got sacked for getting QPR relegated, proving beyond a doubt that Championship clubs should probably stop hiring him.
Well I feel like a right twat. Oh, I can’t pick Moussa Dembélé for France until he moves to a bigger club, he said, without so much as glancing at the bloody La Liga table. The big stories in Spain this season have been the excellent showings of Real Sociedad and Betis, who finished 4th and 5th, with Sociedad’s Dembélé and Betis’ Pedro Javier particularly impressing as the top scorers in the division. Betis boss Sergio González landed the Manager of the Year award for his quite absurd overachievement, but Javi Gracia is unlucky to miss out.
Jürgen Klopp has finally repaid the Barca board’s faith in him by lifting the league title at the 3rd attempt. I’ve got to say I like the way this league’s heading in terms of competitiveness. It’s actually truly unpredictable again nowadays, with the big 3 teams having all won the league in the last 3 years. Having said that, this season’s title race wasn’t exactly close. Didier Deschamps’ Atletico Madrid came in 2nd, 5 points behind the winners, with Rodolfo Borrell’s Real trailing by a distance.
The La Liga Team of the Year doesn’t contain quite as many surprises as in the Premier League, with a lot of the usual suspects making the cut. The Champions’ oh so dependable goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen makes his 3rd appearance in 4 years behind a veteran defence of Atleti’s Alessandro Florenzi, Real Madrid pair Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos, the latter of which has finally decided to hang up his boots at 37, and Sevilla’s Presnel Kimpembe. In midfield, Real’s Eden Hazard is joined by young José Luis Hernandéz of Atleti, Sevilla’s Sergi Samper and Barca’s La Liga Player of the Year award winner Neymar Jr. Up front, Moussa Dembélé is callously cast aside as Pedro Javier is partnered by Lionel Messi, who at 35 has also decided to call time on his career this summer. As probably the only ever-present in my yearly roundup of the top European leagues’ “Team of the Year”s, we salute you, Leo. As shit as Argentina have been over the last couple of decades, football has enjoyed you.
Hey, do you know what we never talk about? The domestic Cups in England. I don’t know why, but I just think that this would be a terrific time to start doing so, so here’s what I’ve neglected to mention over the last 7 years:
The Carabao Cup, which is a silly name and definitely shouldn’t have stuck indefinitely like it has, has been won by Arsenal, United, City, Everton, United again and Watford over the last 6 seasons, with some nice novel clubs getting to the final like West Ham, West Brom, Swansea… Everton I suppose.
But 2022/23 has been Bournemouth’s year. Even though I hope to one day stomp them into mush, I think Hull City deserve an honourable mention for getting past Stoke and Manchester United before losing their semi-final to Chelsea 4-5, while the Cherries eased past Arsenal, edged past Boro and tore through Wednesday to meet the eventual double winners in the Final.
But the Londoners had the bare faced cheek to field a second string team and paid the price, with Bournemouth deservedly coming away from a packed Wembley Stadium with their first ever major trophy thanks to a 3-1 win.
The FA Cup has not been won by a team out of “The Big 6” in quite a while now. Spurs have won it twice in the last 6 seasons and been runners up twice more to United and Chelsea, which has thankfully made people finally shut the fuck up about whether Mauricio Pochettino can really be considered a top manager. It turns out that yes, he can. Fucking clearly. Liverpool and City have also picked up recent FA Cups while Hull deserve another honourable mention for getting to the 2019/20 Final.
Oh now I remember why this is the season that I want to talk about these competitions. It actually almost slipped my mind but Everton have won their first FA Cup in 28 years! I know, pretty biased aren’t I. Please refer to my previous bed-wetting statement. It was a weird year in the FA Cup and especially for the aforementioned “Big 6”, with Manchester United falling to Championship side Leicester City and Liverpool losing to Hull in the 3rd round, Tottenham and Arsenal shocked by another Championship outfit Brighton and Hove Albion in the 3rd and 6th rounds and Chelsea and City both knocked out by the Toffees in the 4th and 6th rounds respectively. That left a mouth watering couple of semi-finals between the giant killers of Brighton and Everton against the dark horses Watford and potential double winners Bournemouth. Both were hard fought matches but it was relegated Watford and eventual winners Everton who scraped through.
My eyes widen as I see who ran the show at Wembley: Everton’s right winger Yann Karamoh chalked out Ben Osborn’s early opener and didn’t stop chalking until there was chalk fucking everywhere, making the markings on the Wembley pitch quite difficult to make out. By the end of the 90 minutes he had a hat trick in the bag and an FA Cup on the CV. Yann didn’t particularly impress me in the lone start he’s made for my France side against Albania, but now I have to give him another look.
Lo, is that change I see riding over the horizon on a shining white horse, ready to inject interest into this, the most frustrating of divisions? Of course not. Looking more closely, what I thought was change is actually just miserable predictability and what I thought was a white horse turns out to be nothing but a sickly anaemic dog, who staggers forwards a few feet, falls arse-first into a puddle and coughs up the same old shit I’ve been describing for the last 7 years.
I’m not even going to mention who’s won the Bundesliga. Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund came comfortably 2nd though if you need a hint. Let’s gloss over all that and give a mention to Dieter Hecking and his remarkable showing with Hertha Berlin this year, who have gone from relegation strugglers to finishing in the Europa League spots. Dieter rightfully won the Manager of the Year and Players’ Manager of the Year awards.
The team that won the Bundesliga had 7 players in the Team of the Year, so let’s gloss over each and every one of them because of course they were all good. In defence Dortmund’s Niklas Süle makes an appearance, as does his team mate Mario Götze who takes the number 10 spot. Kai Havertz of Leverkusen is nailed on to be one of the league’s top performers at this point and takes one of the midfield spots, while the Bundesliga top scorer Divock Origi is selected as the lone striker.
You know what, I’d quite like Luis Enrique to take over one of the Bundesliga clubs. Not the one that keeps boring me to death by winning the league obviously but one of the others, because he’s certainly done a number on Serie A. His AC Milan side have become the first non-Juventus team to retain the Serie A since their local rivals Inter in 2010 and they did it at a canter, so much so that I’m actually worried that they’ll become the next team to bore me to death in years to come. Inter did put up a decent fight under the steady hand of Oleg Luzhnyi but were 7 points behind in the end. Luciano Spalletti’s Roma and Matteo Brighi’s Juve were close behind and filled out the top 4. Special shout outs to Andrea Stramaccioni’s Genoa, who retained a Europa League place and Manager of the Year Massimo Carrera’s Chievo, who unbelievably finished 5th. Neither of those sides should be anywhere near Europe on paper and that is what I love to see. Lazio are also well and truly back in the Serie A following their relegation 3 years ago. They’ve finished 8th, although it did take them 3 managers to get them there. Not that I’m bitter.
The Serie A Team of the Year features a nice mix of the top 4 teams’ players. Juventus’ Gerónimo Rulli, Goalkeeper of the Year 4 times in 5 years, is in there once again and is joined by his team’s central defensive duo Leonardo Bonucci and Nacho. Bonucci by the way secured the Serie A Player of the Year award for the 8th season in a row, as well as Defender of the Year and Italian Player of the Year awards. Also in defence were league winners Milan’s Martín Montoya and Inter’s Luca Pellegrini. Roma’s Uruguayan holding man Lucas Torreira makes the cut in a midfield triangle with Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic and Milan’s Brazilian midfielder Lincoln, who it’s fair to say has impressed this season, winning the Midfielder of the Year, Foreign Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year awards. The one “outsider” in the team is Fiorentina’s Slovenian striker Jan Mlakar, who actually finished as the league’s top scorer even ahead of Juve’s Striker of the Year Florian Andone and Roma… Striker… Davy Klassen.
I flick over to the Ligue 1 table reflexively, before realising that I know exactly how everything went down in France this season. I know one of the Continent’s top leagues intimately at this point and that’s a strange feeling. Gone are the days of thinking “Some day I’ll be there”, “Some day that’ll be me” or I think at one point I said “One amazing season or massive fluke and we’ll be up there”. We’re past that. We’re in it. We’ve survived in it.
I close my laptop, throw my trusty grey coat over my shoulders and give a wave of thanks to Louis as I head for the door of the café. “Ding-a-ling” goes the old shop keepers bell as I step into the cool Auxerrois air.
Let’s go do it again.