Monday 18 December 2017

Conte simply a class apart from rest

No blame game from Blues boss - just effective, winning football

To be fair to Mourinho, Roy Keane's damning verdict on United's season is too harsh given the talent he has available
To be fair to Mourinho, Roy Keane's damning verdict on United's season is too harsh given the talent he has available

It was the season billed as the Premier League's battle of the bosses but only one man emerged with a halo. Nobody disputes Antonio Conte's primacy.

But what about the rest of the great and good? After all, clubs spent an awful lot of money to hire the best in the business but did they get value for their petro-dollars?

Conte came cheap by today's standards and Mauricio Pochettino won't be making any Forbes rich lists quite yet.

Roman Abramovich and Daniel Levy can kick back and luxuriate in the knowledge that they chose well. Other big clubs owners cannot be so pleased.

Back in August, the Premier League was glowing with pride, flushed with a huge injection of cash which attracted management heavyweights like moths to a flame.


Jurgen Klopp, less interested in money than a legacy project as the man to return Anfield to the very top of the European tree, has a head start on the rest.

It didn't help Klopp find consistency and when Pep Guardiola tried to reinvent football at the Etihad and fell on his face, it soon became obvious that previous work in Spain and Germany was not a reliable reference point for either man during the hard grind of a Premier League season.

There have been excuses - many, many excuses but the most miserable came from Guardiola when he claimed that finishing fourth in England was like winning a trophy.

"The hardest league to win in the world", was another good one trotted out by several managers, usually after losing a game they should have won against a rogue shark like Tony Pulis.

Leicester won it last year. Pulling up. Alex Ferguson and Manchester United used to win it for fun and Chelsea have won it twice in the last three years

It's no harder to win than any league if you have a very good manager, very good players, a finely tuned balance between defence and attack and the best midfielder in the world at the moment, N'Golo Kante.

Sky and the Premier League hype machine always speak of the biggest, best and most entertaining league in the world but this is rarely borne out by the quality of football played.

The season is sputtering to a halt with Arsene Wenger grimly hanging on to the hope of Champions League football and most neutrals looking ahead to Stockholm and Jose Mourinho's Europa League trial. It has been a poor season and managers played a big part in making it so. Guardiola looked bewildered for most of the nine months and clearly took on the job with very little understanding of what he was walking into.

Klopp gave bad players the freedom to make bad decisions in the cause of his dynamic attacking ethos and showed a worrying lack of adaptability.

Wenger did what Wenger has done for a decade and will continue to do for another decade if Arsenal let him.

Even if he somehow conjures Champions League football and an FA Cup win from the season, there is no sensible argument which allows him to remain on as Arsenal manager.

His eternally mournful face and constant drone of complaint will not be missed if the Gunners' hierarchy finally gather up their courage and do what should have been done a long time ago.

Mourinho added his own ration of bile to the narrative and turned his frustration on his own people. He doesn't seem to be thinking long term at Old Trafford.


Players, fans, officials, the fixture computer and then some more players felt the lash as he scrambled to find a way to win.

To be fair to Mourinho, Roy Keane's damning verdict on United's season is too harsh given the talent he has available.

It is entirely likely that Mourinho would have spent €100m euro on three of four players who would have offered more than Paul Pogba if Ed Woodward didn't need a showstopper signing.

He needed them all. Injuries and poor quality throughout the squad led him to the conclusion that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was his best bet and he set his team up as a long ball operation.

By hook or by crook, Mourinho has criticised and cajoled his players to the League Cup and the Europa League final.

If United win it, Mourinho will be unbearable but for all Keane's scornful mocking of the football United have been playing, he will have earned a boast or two.

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