Imagine working on a painting for the best part of a year. You slave away at your easel day and night, hell bent on capturing a perfect day using nothing but coloured oils and raw imagination. Friends and family agree that it’s some of your best work to date. The image you’ve conjured can only be described as a masterpiece as the light dances off the morning dew you’ve carefully crafted onto the reeds that sit next to a lake, unspoiled by even the tiniest mini beast. Now imagine that the day of the big exhibition arrives (Oh yeah, there’s a big exhibition) and a rival artist arrives late with one of those framed holographic pictures of a shark. It is the very definition of tacky but the crowd go wild for it, laughing manically as they make it look like they’re putting their fingers in the shark’s mouth and clawing at the ridged plastic canvas like toddlers, leaving your masterpiece in the shadow of this 3D monstrosity. Do hear me out, but this is an apt metaphor for the end of the current Premier League campaign.
For the best part of the season the plaudits have primarily (and deservedly so) gone the way of both Manchester clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle, Swansea and Norwich. Tonight sees the most the anticipated Manchester derby in years (perhaps with the exception of this season’s McDonald’s plate) and should decide the title, however the very fact that it is so decisive is down to the fact that both clubs have thrown away comfortable leads at different points. With this being the case, there’s probably room for one more twist regardless of the result. Still, it was nice of them to humour the neutrals and we can now watch with baited breath as we make up our mind whether we want the team that usually wins everything to win or the new and exciting team that has been unfairly mashed together as if someone’s used a money cheat on Football Manager.
Tottenham deserve praise despite their recent slump for initially mounting a title challenge (aka being 3rd for a while), Newcastle have had a great season regardless of whether they finish in the top 4 and Swansea and Norwich have adapted to life in the top flight with such apparent ease the dark days of the basement division and Glen Roeder respectively are a distant memory. Throughout the season all of the aforementioned clubs have been the ‘artist’ I spoke of, all striving to better themselves like never before over a strenuous course of 38 games. The hologram baring late comers I refer to are Chelsea and Liverpool, both of whom have performed well below par in the Premier League and although Chelsea still have a realistic chance of a top 4 finish, both sets of fans will look back on this current league campaign as a failure. Still, they both have the chance to finish the season with their names etched on at least one piece of silverware. At the start of the season Liverpool had the potential of winning a maximum of three cups. If they win two then on paper it’ll be a job well done by Kenny Dalglish and his band of outrageously overpriced young Brits. Of course, in the summer the debate will rage about whether it was simply a case of painting over the cracks but in the year 2020, a young football fan taking a glance at this season will see nothing but a terrific achievement on Liverpool’s part, the same goes for Chelsea’s exploits in The Champions League. I very much doubt that young fan will be able to gage the extent to which Swansea and Norwich’s survival in the Premier League was lauded. Andy Carroll will go down as the man who got the reds to the FA Cup final and Fernando Torres’s equaliser against a Barcelona golden generation will be played over and over again. Both will be remembered for those feats, not the months of stick they and their clubs took for their shyness in front of goal. That’s why football is about winning trophies, not stellar effort. A retrospective look back on 2011/12 will show that Liverpool and Chelsea did pretty well, effectively shifting attention from some of the league’s most heroic performers with a nice shiny cup.
Now, it would be ridiculous of me to pass off the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League as nothing more than the equivalent of an aquatically themed 3D picture, but do spare a thought for those who have really outdone themselves in the league but (with exception of either United or City) will be confined to the backend of the history books. Still, an honourable mention to both Liverpool and Chelsea for turning a poor season on its’ head. This week’s Football Coffee Break takes a look at the key moments in the closing stages of the season and Chelsea’s recipe for success at the Nou Camp; 10 men, a caretaker manager and an underperforming striker.