I was fortunate enough to play amateur football in Ireland at a pretty decent standard. I got to represent my country at amateur level and played in a team that was regularly involved in the latter stages of the national cup. We won it twice, and just missed out on a third triumph in a final against formidable opposition. Even though we were an amateur organisation, when we played in big games we would be treated like pros. We stayed over night if we had to travel, and had breakfast, dinner, Lucozade Sport, and Jaffa Cakes provided. Why? So there would be no doubt that we didn’t do enough — no doubt that we didn’t prepare properly, no matter what the circumstances. Our manager would come to these matches with two words printed on A4 paper that he would tape to the walls of the dressing room.
We are now watching football so regularly on TV that you can become a little bogged down with it. It’s when the latter stages of the Champions League start up that I start to get the love back for the game. The quality on display this week in the two semi-finals of Europe’s top club competition made it evidently clear how far the Premier League has fallen over the last couple of seasons. With the exception of Chelsea and Tottenham, the Premier League has been an incredibly frustrating league to watch at the best of times. The culture of excuses has been at an all time high. All the big names have had a moan about some mundane rubbish, like having to play two games in the one week, or getting players back from international duty a day before a game. Christ, some have thrown their toys out of the pram for having to play a cup replay after drawing at home to a League One team. It’s made me want to fire projectiles at my TV on regular occasions — but it’s what I use to watch football, and I like that, for the most part. You see the predicament I’m in?
The biggest culprits are Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. My love affair with Arsenal and the great football they play played ended unceremoniously a few months ago, largely because of Wenger’s inability to change his ways. They say insanity is trying the same thing twice and expecting a different outcome, then what about the 120th time? Wenger famously had a go at a referee this season for not awarding a penalty, which on reflection may have been one, but they lost the game 5-1. They lost 10-2 over 2 legs to Bayern Munich, and Wenger had the balls to blame the referee. Absolute rubbish. This nullifies the efforts, or lack thereof, of the players. They can put the blame on the pitch, the floodlights, the fans being too quiet, the shirts being too grey, the boots being too tight or whatever they fancy.
While Jose Mourinho has had a great run of games unbeaten this season, it has been a largely frustrating few months for everyone at Old Trafford, because of too many home draws against weaker teams. Mourinho has been constantly moaning about the fixture pile up; having stayed in the Europa League to the latter stages, United have had to largely play on Thursday nights followed by Sunday. He has had a hard time getting his head around the fact that there are only seven days in a week, and Premier League games generally take place at the weekend. He described his Manchester United team as the unluckiest in the league earlier this season. This is the same team that boasts world class players like Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan, Rooney, Mata, De Gea, the list goes on. He complains about player fatigue, but regularly starts his big players in meaningless games instead of playing the younger lads or squad players. After beating St Ettienne 3-0 at home, he played Pogba and Ibrahimovic in France in the return leg, 3 days before the League Cup final.
Chelsea on the other hand have stayed classy with Antonio Conte in charge. He’s never shirked away from blame, even in the earlier weeks of the season when things weren’t going brilliantly. In comparison to Antonio Conte, Mourinho is quite simply a whinger. After Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, Conte knew exactly who to blame — himself. That’s right, he took full responsibility. That’s what winners do. No matter what the circumstances.