Tuesday 12 December 2017

Passport stamper Zlatan a victim of fashion

Supporters unimpressed by a Galactico mentality while low-cost Leicester thrive

The Premier League’s biggest clubs will be chasing the signature of PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic Photo: PA
The Premier League’s biggest clubs will be chasing the signature of PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic Photo: PA
In the summer, title contenders Tottenham Hotspur are content to develop young, exciting stars like Dele Alli (centre) Photo: Reuters

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done us all a favour. He wants to get a Premier League stamp on his CV before he heads off to the sunshine and has offered himself to the highest bidder.

By putting himself on the menu for cash-rich Premier League clubs in such a blatant way, he has perfectly illustrated the gap between football reality and the showbiz element he represents.

He will interest men in suits at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge who will do a number in their heads and try to work out how many shirts and other Zlatan merchandise they would need to sell to pay him £1m a month.

But there is another force at work now in football which provides me with grounds for optimism.

It's a never ending boom and bust cycle in football and at the moment, I feel there is a movement back to old habits and a reappraisal of the way things used to be done.

As ever, this is an issue of resources. Starved of the kind of money which the Premier League wallows in, lower league clubs have been forced to live by their wits and one very positive consequence of that is a drive to develop talent in-house.

The cheapest player of all is one who comes through the ranks, understands the club and is grounded in the local community.

I've always believed that football is hugely influenced by fashions and that a story like Leicester's remarkable rise to the top of the Premier League will ripple out across the leagues.


Leicester's success will be an affirmation for many small clubs of the work they have been doing while trying to survive and if my instinct is correct, the spin-off will be a generation of home-grown talent based on hard reality and good coaching.

The last decade has seen a mix of fashions but for me, Lionel Messi and Barcelona set the theme, helped by the fact that many of the same players finally found a way for Spain to break their big tournament jitters and sweep all before them.

On the pitch, the fashion has taken us away from the long ball and into midfield. The problem is, the players we need to make the most of this trend are thin on the ground.

I think we will see that change. I think there are many coaches in the lower leagues who have been influenced by the football played in Spain and they now have flag-bearers in the Premier League like Eddie Howe.

Spurs are at the cutting edge and this wave of new kids I'm talking about is emerging at White Hart Lane.

Dele Alli came through the development system at the MK Dons for seven years before he moved to Spurs where he met another long-termer, Harry Kane.

Both players are products of in-house development and Mauricio Pochettino is clearly in the Guardiola school of coaching.

The two strands, home-grown and global, have come together and Spurs fans sense they are watching something new at their club.

There was a time when Spurs would have been first in line with a wad of cash for Zlatan and that's in the very recent past but I don't think the fans would want him there now. They are more than happy with what they've got.

I don't think Jurgen Klopp wouldn't take him either and if he did, he wouldn't be thanked by the Kop, who fought a great fight to stop ticket price rises and wouldn't want to see any money squandered.

I'm not saying Ibrahimovic can't play. But sometimes he doesn't bother and sometimes he does. Liverpool don't need another Balotelli.

I can see Manchester United in the market. I know this will cause howls of protest from their supporters but they have an international following and most of them would see Zlatan as a great headline signing.

Locals who grew up with the Class of '92 might have a different view. I'm certain they would have liked to see a Class of 93,94,95 right up to 2015. That's what fans want.

The top clubs are now so big that they feel they must chase instant success, a stupid idea in itself when it takes nine months to win a title.

I'm not even sure football fans want or believe in instant success. Fans want to see progress and honesty and if they get that they will support their team.

I'm sure Ed Woodward and all the other Ed Woodards out there are watching Leicester and Spurs with envy. Manchester United's main man has been singularly unsuccessful spending vast sums of money and has achieved less than a club spending nothing at all, relatively speaking.

But I'm sure Woodward and men like him only see Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez when they look at Leicester City's great run.

They will wonder how much they will have to spend to poach the best players the opposition have because, the mantra dictates, they must have instant success.

This attitude is totally disrespectful to football fans, who take a much longer term view, but we saw more evidence of the casual disregard those who run the game have for the ordinary man.

They want to destroy the FA Cup. They want to move it from it's natural weekend home to Tuesday or Wednesday and they want to eliminate replays.

This is not what the fans or the players want. Someone needs to listen to what they are saying.

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