It may seem a lifetime ago since you last read my nonsensical ramblings on our most monstrous football clubs. However, let me assure all two of you that nothing could be further from the truth. Since the World Cup, your most diligent of football correspondents has ripped up at least 18 drafts of waffle. Stephen J. Cannell would be proud.
Since the resumption of post-Qatar festivities, the Premier League’s Northern Powerhouses have been leaving fans dizzy with their flip-flopping. One minute Liverpool are pulling United’s pants down in the middle of the playground, the next they’re on the end of a nasty wedgy from the school dweeb. Everton yo-yos from 19th to 15th in the time it takes Sean Dyche to order another 25 laps of the playing field. And City veer between school bully and has-been, with Haaland lauded as the Viking God of Goalscoring one minute, and the next compared to the unfit lad who used to spend all match leaning against the goalpost.
We’ve also born witness to the greatest show on earth – Transfer Deadline Day. What greater joy in life than Jim White and his spittle-flecked screeching, now the preserve of talkSPORT, while the Sky Sports ticker rabidly pumps out the latest sickening amount of cash to be burned at the altar of football. Having a bad tooth tied to a doorknob and wrenched out perhaps? Being forced to sit through the entirety of The English Patient? The increasing irrelevance of this most manufactured milestone conversely makes the whole shebang more of a spectacle. We’re all guilty of a morbid fascination when live TV comes served with a side order of desperation, although the whole circus peaked when an Evertonian stuck that blue dildo down an unfortunate presenter’s ear.
Speaking of getting shafted, we’ve also endured Linekergate during which our new national treasure was censored by the BBC for criticising the Government. Silly Gary, everybody from Alan Sugar to Fiona Bruce could have told him, it’s the left wing you should be criticising in order to remain impartial. He was obviously too busy worrying about Leicester City’s plight to read the mandate laid out by Boris Johnson’s chum and BBC Chair, Richard Sharp. Lineker’s mates in the broadcasting industry (which turned out to be everybody) refused to appear on Match of the Day in solidarity, leaving the BBC to serve up a half-baked highlights show devoid of searing insight from the likes of bald scarecrow, Alan Shearer. The show began with a silent title card proclaiming ‘Premier League Highlights’, ironically much like the intro to propaganda from some far-flung state-owned channel.
So, here we are, up to date on the soap opera, and twiddling our bum fluff as an international break sits astride the weekend like a flatulent gargoyle. Finally a few days without the constant churn of club football. What better way to reflect on each club’s season and prospects down the home straight than via Northern Soul’s patented Despondency Index. Who, you may ask, has planted their colours atop this steaming dung pile? Let us strike out for the fair city of Liverpool and find out.
Despondency Rating: 9.1/10
Expected league finish – 6th
Have we reached a low point in Klopp’s reign, where the club’s season DVD revolves around one match? The 7-0 thrashing of United was hilarity personified, as was Gary Neville’s post-match meltdown which provided a new low for sports broadcasting. Yet this will prove scant consolation for an increasingly miffed fanbase who feel the owners have whipped the rug from under their revered manager, preferring to spend their time on YouTube watching PowerPoint tutorials for a whizz-bang sales presentation. A few kicked tyres later, FSG have decided they never wanted to sell in the first place and are now casting a worried eye at what’s under the bonnet.
Liverpool may have spent the last few years living the dream, a dream that means more. However, the club now faces something of an existential crisis. As Man United host the Great British Buy Off, LFC blow out their cheeks and talk about sustainability. Is this a good thing? In principle, yes. In practice, the jury’s out. The club’s current iteration could well have run its course and to keep sticking around in title races without considerable investment may be biting off more than even Klopp’s mighty teeth can chew.
Despondency Rating: 9/10
Expected league finish – 17th
Speaking of which, Everton are as toothless as an episode of Midsomer Murders. Given the last three games however, there is a sneaking suspicion that Dycheball may just keep Everton up. The pressure on their remaining games will be immense though. A relegation battle is not for the faint-hearted, and neither is the Sean Dyche brand of football. Of course, we can all see the Sisyphean cycle here. Manager keeps club up with rancid football, investment promised, investment denied, Everton plunge into another relegation battle, manager sacked, repeat ad infinitum.
Disturbingly, all this is now playing out to the backdrop of a Premier League investigation into the club’s finances amid allegations of breaking domestic FFP rules. At times the club appears to be run so badly you can almost see Moshiri in the boardroom, like the last days of Hitler, screaming at his advisors asking why nobody told him about this thing called FFP. With storm clouds gathering, and if Everton finally succumbs to relegation’s icy grasp, not even John Nettles will be able to solve the riddle of the club’s finances.
Despondency Rating: 8.2/10
Expected league finish – 16th
Onto one of the clubs which made an official complaint about the irregularities in Everton’s finances following that tight relegation scrap last season.
Leeds’ 4-2 win at Molyneux before the international break was something to behold. Chaotic, uncontrolled and quite frankly batshit mental, it encapsulated Leeds perfectly. New manager, Javi Gracia, may well want his team to display a pragmatic streak, but the players didn’t get the memo. Their last two results read six goals for and four against. This isn’t planned chaos, simply an inability to control the game at any given moment. But in the shadowy realms of relegation, all that matters is points. I’m sure Gracia would prefer a couple of Dyche specials, but needs must when the devil vomits in your kettle. Take the points and get the hell out of there.
With almost half the league frantically swimming breaststroke against the undercurrent, one win can make all the difference. Leeds now sit in 14th place and their new manager bounce seems to have worked in the short term, with seven points from four games a healthy return for Gracia. There are certainly parallels with last season when a managerial sacking ultimately saw Leeds give Burnley the finger as they lay panting on the golden shores of Premier League cash. But ultimately the rinse repeat model so favoured by struggling clubs is unsustainable and the club’s new manager should be given a proper timeframe to build the club with requisite quality, regardless of this season’s final standings.
Despondency Rating: 5/10
Expected league finish – 2nd
More financial ugliness here I’m afraid, although the story already feels stale. Since we last japed about the inevitability of City’s success, the club has been slapped with a Premier League charge sheet which would make Lehman Brothers wince. Of course, the Premier League accusing City of breaking FFP rules 100 times over nine years is not so much closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, as locking themselves in and setting the barn on fire. For City fans it’s just another establishment to rile against, with chants of “We’re Man City, we’ll cheat when we want” ringing out at the game after news broke. Lovely stuff, only trumped by a banner proudly displaying their legal council’s names like a new signing. And while there’s no time-barred loophole for City’s crack team to exploit this time round, don’t expect to see any movement this side of the apocalypse.
On the football front, City looked to have pulled the upstart Gunners back by the lapels, only to fall flat on their face like the ‘final girl’ in a sub-standard horror movie. Incredibly un-City-like. Never fear though, Pep will have furiously spent the international break devising a way to trip himself up with a bizarre 3-1-6 formation involving Laporte as the false nine, when they play Bayern in their blockbuster Champions League tie. Normal service resumed.
Despondency Rating: 2/10
Expected league finish – 3rd
Despite the aforementioned shellacking at Anfield, United look set to win the rival ownership race with the Qataris odds-on favourites to take over the club. Whether this is a pyrrhic victory depends on your viewpoint. Regardless, as UEFA suits tie themselves in regulatory knots so PSG can play a Qatar-owned United, jazz fusion outfit, The Ten Hag Experiment is getting some pretty groovy tunes out of its main players.
A quadruple was always media nonsense, but trophies often breed success when you’re a big club, and United gave Newcastle a right thumping in the Milk Cup. So an easy qualification for the Champions League, one pot in the bank and a genuine chance of another in the Europa Conference Knockout Spectacular Super Cup. The Stretford End must be chuffed to mint balls after the last few years of barren bilge. The big question comes with how the club take that next step and with who in the owner’s box.
Despondency Rating: 1.5
Expected league finish – 4th
Howe and his team have picked themselves up off the mat and appear to have fourth place in their grasp, despite currently sitting fifth. An impressive feat indeed. Andreas Isak is a powerful presence up front who has started to look every ounce the exciting £65 million striker Newcastle signed, and there’s a fortitude to this side as we enter the home straight which both Spurs and Liverpool don’t currently possess.
The victory against Forest heading into the international break showed a win-at-all-costs attitude which had been lacking for large periods following the World Cup, with results elsewhere leaving Newcastle in prime position to take advantage of the big six disintegration. Ahead of schedule and beating all comers in terms of funds, Geordies are currently a jolly bunch with even more topless moobs on display than usual. Nevertheless, the owners will be watching Man City’s fight against Premier League sanctions with interest, especially given the recent admission in the US LIV and PGA Golf case that PIF is indeed an instrument of government, in complete violation of legally binding assurances given to the Premier League when taking over the club.
Which sums things up nicely really. They say football reflects a societal moment in time, and, let’s face it, things are a little rancid right now. Events are fairly ugly across the Premier League as well with chickens coming home to roost all over the bloody shop. But ever the optimist, your glass-half-full football correspondent will leave you with a comforting conclusion. Oh. I’ve run out of word cou-