As we reflect upon the Premier League’s twentieth season, FootballFanCast caught up with Yorkshire’s perennial nomad of the Football Leagues, and everyone’s favourite TV pundit, Chris Kamara, to hear his views on a extraordinary season and the challenges that face England over the next month and a half.
The last twelve months of Premier League football have been widely touted as the ‘best’ ever. Defining a season as the ‘best’ raises various problems, whose subjective view of ‘best’ are we talking about? What constitutes a brilliant season? “Entertainment and controversy” says Kamara animatedly. And, for the record, Chris is of the opinion that we have witnessed the most entertaining and controversial season for the last twenty years.
“Personally I don’t think there has been a better one. For a start I’ve never seen three teams come up and play as well as Queens Park Rangers, Norwich and Swansea have, not in a million years.”
“Promoted teams are normally frightened of the Premier League and even when they have managed to play reasonably well they’ve usually struggled in the second half of the season and end up either going straight back down or down the year after. You can’t tell me that it’s a given the QPR, Norwich and Swansea were gonna go back down given the manner that they play, so that was fantastic.”
“Then you’ve had the battle between Manchester City and Manchester United, which towards the end was just so intense. It was Hollywood, you couldn’t write the end. If someone was to write a decent movie about football it would end like that – with United thinking they’d won the title but City winning it in injury time. You think: ‘that’ll never happen in real life’ and it did! It was just amazing to watch; you’ll never see the likes of that again.”
As well justifying its tag as the most dramatic league in world football, this season’s events have, Kamara says, also provided lessons for next year.
“I think there’ve been more refereeing mistakes than ever before, more controversial goals and more confusion, which has certainly enhanced the debate for goal line technology.” Something that Premier League chief Richard Scudamore has also been keen to highlight in recent weeks.
In many ways, the managers and players who have drawn the highest acclaim this season have been those who were written off in August (Norwich, Swansea, Newcastle) and Kamara says that he can’t speak highly enough of the Barclays manager of the season Alan Pardew.
“Alan Pardew has been the really impressive. When he walked in to Newcastle he wasn’t taken on board by the fans because of the fact that Chris Hughton had done such a good job and wasn’t treated very fairly but you know in football you’ll always have managers looking at other managers’ jobs regardless of whether the fans do or don’t want you.”
“If you just look at the way that Alan’s transformed that football club, the players that he’s brought in. Demba Ba, who had injury problems, went up there and proved himself to be a fantastic centre forward, even better than he was at West Ham.”
“Then after the African Cup of Nations he [Pardew] went and bought his strike partner [Papiss Demba] Cisse who has got the best portfolio of goals I think I’ve ever seen from a striker in their first season. He’s looked at what people thought were average players and seen really great players so I think he deserves real credit.”
However, not every team will be quite so enthused about their manager’s performances and Chris was quick to highlight there are tough times ahead for the relegated clubs.
“It’s looking bleak for one or two of them. At this moment in time, you’d have to say that Blackburn, as a football club, is going downhill a little bit. To arrest that slide they’ll need to have a complete makeover, will they get it? It’s hard to tell.”
“Wolves have taken a complete gamble with somebody who is a relative unknown [new manager Stale Solbakken] and it’s always going to be difficult for a manager coming to a new country, especially to a club that’s in Wolves’ situation. Then again, obviously everybody deserves an opportunity and I hope he can prove me wrong.”
Two years ago we saw Newcastle win promotion at their first attempt, this year either Blackpool or West Ham are guaranteed to match that feat and Kammy thinks the Owen Coyle’s Lancashire club have a reasonable chance of doing the same.
“Owen Coyle’s had success winning promotion with Burnley. It happens though [relegation]. We’ve all got black marks on our CV but thankfully Owen’s being given the chance to put things right at Bolton and I think they could be alright next year.”
Kamara’s time working on television has endeared him to fans in a way not often seen. His work mate, Gary Neville, might not have the same common touch but his approach to football has earned him a place in Roy Hodgson’s England set-up. So, what does Chris think the former England international will bring to the table?
“He brings a bit of everything. I think the first reason Roy Hodgson has brought him in is that the players can identify with him as he’s only just finished playing. He retired himself because he was no longer able to play at the level he was used to; a lot of players would have gone down a division. Gary could have played in the Championship or even in the Premier League and he’ll be able to use his experience.”
“The second thing that he brings is that he won’t be afraid to tell the players when they’re not performing well enough and I think that’s something that Roy Hodgson needed.”
“Gary can close the gap between Roy and the players. Gary can tell the players if they’re not performing to an international level and I think the players will respond to that.”
“He’s also got an incredible knowledge of the game. Obviously he was quite shy when he started with Sky, as everyone is when they’re put in front of the cameras, but I think he’s come through that and proved to everyone that he knows exactly what he’s talking about. I think he brings a hell of a lot.”
In many ways it is a similar appointment to Bryan Robson’s for Euro ’96. Terry Venables brought Robson in to act as a link between himself and the players and he proved to be invaluable. For many, when England were knocked out at the semi finals in 1996 it was an unmitigated disaster, fans considered that tournament to be ours for the taking. How times have changed. What, I wonder, would fans consider a successful tournament in light of the unusual build up to this year’s tournament?
“We have to at least get through the group stages,” says Kamara. “I think if we don’t make through the group stages, whether the FA have given him [Roy Hodgson] a four year contract or not, he will be under a lot of pressure almost immediately.”
“Having said that I think we will, and I believe we have an excellent chance of winning it. We haven’t done that well in recent times and as a result there’s less pressure on the team coming in to the tournament.”
“A lot of people have lost a bit of belief in us and I’ll admit that I was behind Redknapp before the end of the season but the decision has been made and it’s important we all get behind Roy.”
“One thing we know that Roy Hodgson will do is organise the players, he’ll make England very difficult to beat and if he does do that then we have the players capable to win us big matches.”
Kamara’s optimism is refreshing, yet whether you regard us underdogs or potential champions the fact England will be without Rooney against both France and Sweden is something we must all take into consideration. So, who exactly are England’s goal scoring hopes going to fall upon for the group stages?
“That’s a difficult one really, we started off with Sturridge playing really well for Chelsea, Welbeck too started really well for United but as the season went on they both lost a little bit of form.”
“Towards the end of the season you’re looking at Andy Carroll. I know he only played well over the last few games but if he were able to produce that during the tournament it would be fantastic.”
“In terms of a natural goal scorer obviously Darren Bent springs to mind but Fabio Capello was never really that big a fan of him. We are waiting for someone to emerge and prove that they’re good enough. Personally I think Steven Gerrard playing in behind Andy Carroll could be a good move for us.”
Kamara was also keen to talk about the FA’s official song for the European Championships. ‘Sing for England’, in which Kamara stars, is hoping to surpass the, somewhat mixed, success of previous football songs and, Kamara says, hopefully make it to number one in time for the Euros. Chris’ share of the money will all go to the Marie Curie Foundation.
“Since [The Lightning Seeds’] Three Lions I’ve seen people try [to make a good England song] and you need a song that people are going to sing on the terraces and from the first minute I listened to it I thought it had a catchy tune and thought straight away it would be popular with the fans.”
“From then on The FA have taken it on as the official song for the Euros. Hopefully people will buy it too because some of the proceeds from the song go to.”
Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay
Chris Kamara was promoting Sportsdirect.com’s Euro 2012 clothing range. Buy your England gear at any Sportsdirect.com store or visit www.Sportsdirect.com.