“If they don’t let us play in Europe, it would be an injustice.”
Athletic Bilbao at home in Vallekas; the last game for this Rayo Vallecano team this season, officially the best in the club’s history with at least 8th place and 52 points guaranteed. One more game to defy the odds. One more game to entertain the fans. One more game to party, like the fans have done their whole lives whether battling in Spain’s third tier or challenging for European spots on minuscule budgets.
Back it up – European spot? How? How have this lowly team from the Independent Republic of Vallekas, while as vibrant and as colourful as they come, reached the end of this season still fighting for a European spot? I ask this question considering the many obstacles that the club have faced in reaching this point, both on and off the field. The complications as to who can and who can’t get Europe, and why, are quite head-scratching, but I’ll do my best to explain the situation here.
First off, there’s the Málaga situation. Their, err interesting, owners have put them in a bad position by which the club have been banned from European competition for next season. This would obviously bode well for teams below them fighting for European berths, as the next best placed side would take the Andalucíans’ vacancy.
José Mourinho is deep into the winter of his stay at Real Madrid and is putting some concentration into working on his legacy for after he leaves. Back in February he announced that he’ll be going to the Premier League, but “will not be taking over from Alex Ferguson.” He’s also told the world that he wants “to go somewhere [he's] loved.” Chelsea? Probably. Either way, as Mourinho is and the trophyless-for-2013 Real Madrid part ways, has his tenure at the Bernabéu been a successful one or a failure?
To answer this question, one must consider the context of it. Has he been a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in comparison/with regards to what? His own personal managerial career? Real Madrid’s glorious history? Finances? The task of bringing down the one-thought invincible Barcelona? All of this combined?
In a press conference earlier this month, Mourinho lashed out at reporters who suggested he maybe should have done better considering the amount of money he’s spent. The Portugese had anticipated this sort of question with some clear research of his own done, and he informed the journalists present at the Real Madrid training facility that the club had only reached five Champions League semi finals in the previous 21 years prior to him becoming Real manager, but he reached this stage of the competition three times consecutively.
“I will be leaving Manchester United at the end of the season and that is it.”
It has only taken 11 years for Alex Ferguson to live up to that statement, but now, after the announcement that David Moyes will replace him during the Summer, we are finally at the end of Fergie’s dominance of English football as he draws the curtains on a managerial career that has spanned almost four decades.
Opinions about the man himself will differ depending on who you ask but it is impossible to dismiss the fact that he is one of the top managers the world of football has ever seen.
Before trying his hand at management, he played as a striker for a number of Scottish clubs including Queen’s Park, Dunfermline, Falkirk and Rangers, and although he never stayed at one club for very long, he can still boast a decent goalscoring record, scoring 171 goals in 317 league games.
“Ferguson was a frightening bastard from the start”
The words of ex player, Bobby McCullen, as Ferguson started his managerial career at East Sterlingshire in 1974. The team didn’t have a single goalkeeper at the club at the time but that didn’t stop him making a name for himself, attracting St. Mirren.
There are three things I love in life more than any other: Music, Football and Gaming. These three completely unrelated past-times have kept Kevin entertained since that momentous day almost twenty years ago when I popped into the world. The first time these three things mixed was when I found my brothers’ hidden Playstation (that’s right, the original one!) and assorted games. As a football crazy four year old whose first introduction to the ‘beautiful game’ was refusing to go to bed one night and being sat in front of Barnsley v Stockport County (My father knew exactly how to get me off to sleep, you can tell!), I held the timeless classics in front of me like Command and Conquer: Red Alert, and Metal Gear Solid with little regard as I pawed my way through the collection of 8×8 plastic boxes with the ‘PS’ graphic on the side.
These days, there is the ageing debate that La Liga or the Premier League is Europe’s best league. However, Serie A displays the most competitive division in Europe. Only 41 points separate league leaders Juventus from bottom placed Palermo and Pescara, who are equal on points. Compared to the rest of Europe’s elite, where the gap from top to bottom in La Liga is 54 points and also in the Premier League where 48 points separates top from bottom, this shows Italy’s competitive nature when it comes to football.
Spain do boast the giants of Barcelona and Real Madrid, however I’m not saying that the best team in Europe is an Italian team. Based on the unpredictability of an Italian fixture, Serie A, for me, is the most watchable league in Europe. The most goals scored by a team is held by Roma who have netted 58 goals this season, but remain in 7th place. First placed Juventus are the second best goal-scorers in Serie A with 55. The Old Lady have combined their good finishing with an airtight defence, conceding just 18, which has placed them top of Serie A with a healthy nine-point lead over Napoli.
Our League of Ireland season previews continue and end here, with Shelbourne, Pat’s, Sligo Rovers, and UCD all looked at. You can read part one here (Bohs, Bray, Cork, Derry) and part two here (Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick, Shamrock Rovers).
Despite the majority of Shelbourne fans not being overly enamoured by manager Alan Mathews, he remains in his position for the coming season despite a disappointing end to 2012. Like many teams who finished in midtable last season, the aim will be to try and emulate what Drogheda did last year and breach the top four and earn a European spot.
As of Tuesday only 13 players had signed but in the last couple of days a squad of 23 was announced with the notable absence of Dean Delany who moved across North Dublin to sign for Bohemians. New signings include Sean Brennan, one of the Brennan brothers who has signed from last years runners up Drogheda United and Pat Flynn has joined from Dublin rivals St Patricks Athletic. Graham Gartland and Robert Bayly have also decided to join.
Phily Hughes, who was linked with a move away from Tolka Park has decided to stay on for at least another season, music to the ears of Shels fans. Hughes’ goals have been crucial to the cause over the past few seasons and once again success this season will hinge on whether the 31-year-old can find the net regularly again.
With only days remaining to the League of Ireland 2013 season, Alan Finn, Kevin Galvin, and Robert O’Reardon, continue their three-part preview. In this piece, they look at Drogheda United, who finished last season in an incredibly-impressive second place, Dundalk, who almost went bust in the middle of last season but are now back with a good squad and new manager Stephen Kenny, Limerick FC, who boast by far the most impressive stadium in the league and will provide many talking points, and Shamrock Rovers, who’ve again made their off-season marquee signings and will be hoping for a much improved season after last season’s awful display.
Last season was a fairy tale for Drogheda United. At the start of the year, they were tipped as relegation candidates, by the end of October they were runners up in the League, EA Sports Cup title holders and secured a place in next season’s Europa League. Mick Cooke goes into the season having retained the bulk of his squad and has made a few additions to his squad, most notably the highly rated Paul O’Conor from UCD. Should he click with influential captain Eric Foley, the Drogs midfield will be a joy to watch next year. I think Drogheda will enjoy another impressive League campaign and I can see them winning one Cup competition again.
Alan Finn Read the rest of this entry »