–A New European Football Season Begins This Weekend!
Let me put my foot right into it – I think the 2014/2015 English Premier League, EPL season will be won by…wait for it….Arsenal!
Before I am eaten raw by the army of fans of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, I urge them to hear me out first.
I mean no disrespect to the other teams in the Premiership outside the four I have so far mentioned. The facts are very clear. These are the teams that have, between them, monopolized the top spot of the premiership in the past 20 years! Blackburn Rovers provided the only brief punctuation mark in 1995.
That situation is unlikely to change. Somehow, only a few teams have learnt or mastered how to win or get close to winning the EPL. Winning it, or even vying for one of the top four places, is not a tea party. Teams that do not have the financial muscle to compete in the market of some of the best players in the world stand little or no chance of even smelling the aroma of the championship. The records since 1994 speak volumes!
Only Arsenal have treaded a different route in their attitude during the annual pre-season ‘fishing and vending’ for players. Through Arsene Wenger’s years as Manager in charge of one of the Premiership’s most loved teams in Africa, because of their very attractive, passing and attacking style of football, the Gunners cultivated an academy-philosophy, investing prudently, recruiting young, raw but gifted talents and grooming them into giants to be poached at their prime by other clubs, even contenders for the EPL trophy. Robin van Persie’s case is classic.
He left Arsenal, joined Manchester United and almost singlehandedly won the Premiership for his new club that same season.This, to the chagrin of angry and frustrated Arsenal fans, baying for Wenger’s blood but for their understanding of the philosophy in place at the time that placed higher premium on the club’s balance sheets at the expense of silverware on the field!
Those years and their inhibitive prescriptions are now over. For the second time in two seasons, Arsene Wenger has gone out spending big and competing for key players within the market place of the best in the world!
In the past few years, particularly, it has been clear to observers that despite the limiting strategy of the Gunners they have remained consistent within the top bracket of the league, and have indeed been close contenders every season. Even their worst critics acknowledged through out this barren period that with a little additional serious investment in the acquisition of mature players, Arsenal would have won the Premiership again during any of the few past seasons. The last time they won it was 10 years ago in 2004. That’s how close they have consistently been, within touching distance of winning the race for the EPL championship.
This season they have done exactly what is needed by providing the essential missing ingredient – money to spend!
That’s a major reason why attention and expectations will heighten this season. Pundits have been watching closely and carefully. That’s why I am tilting a little towards Arsenal. I have watched them play in the past few months, at the close of the last season and again last week.
I was at the Wembley Stadium in London in the months of May and June to watch the semi-final and final matches of the 2014 FA Cup involving Arsenal! That was my first English FA Cup final experience. To this day, I have been unable to adequately capture in words my experiences on the hallowed ground of Wembley. That’s why I did not report them here.
The FA final was one of the best experiences of my life, comparable only to watching Motown the musical on Broadway in New York, and, to a lesser extent, the stage setting in the dense vegetation of Kemta in Abeokuta, of the drama presentation of Dance of the Forest, Professor Wole Soyinka’s work during his 80th birthday celebrations.
Those are terrific experiences that will remain etched on my mind for a long time to come, like an artistic embossment on canvas.
But take my word for it, Arsenal in the finals of the 2014 English FA Cup were simply magnificent!
Last Sunday, they did it again. The match was not quite as dramatic but had a similar impact.
They took on 2014 EPL champions, Manchester City, in the Charity Shield, and tore them to pieces in 90 minutes of a match that left every Gunner supporter salivating for good times again and dreaming already of the possibility of winning the 2014/2015 Premiership! Defeating Manchester City by 3-0 is neither a fluke nor child’s play. It gives an indication of what is likely to happen when the league proper starts.
Those are the things that Arsenal bring to the table this season. So, do not blame me if I feel already, like many of their supporters, that the long wait for the priciest prize of all in England may be over!
So, whilst wishing all a great new EPL season, I am inviting brave hearts of the game of football to join me as I place my bet this first day of the season, that Arsenal FC will be champions this season!
THE NFA ELECTIONS AND I
I will be doing a great dis-service to readers of this column if I do not mention anything about the crisis in Nigerian football that I wrote about in the past two weeks. I gave no indication whatsoever that I was going to be involved in the process of the elections into the Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Association.
A day is a very long time in politics, so I have learnt from my friends in the political business.
They tell me that very many things can happen in a day that could change the course of history!
Without going into the details here (I’ll save that for another day), let me admit that, indeed, I went into the contest. And the struggle is not over yet.
I have learnt in truth that ‘if you do not buy a ticket you can never win the lottery. The first step is to buy the ticket and be in the race. It is then that the elements can start their divine ‘conspiracy’ to humble the arrogant and to exalt the humble!
Dear readers, go back and read everything I wrote in the past two weeks and compare with how things have turned out now!