Well, that Friday feeling is back as we all nestle in the pre-match glow of expectation and foolhardy over-optimism with our special transfer picks that no one else has made…this is our week! Cup weekend last time out with just the Fulham v Chelsea game last night to add to the Fantasy League points. A heavy scoring week last time out saw Michael garner an impressive 86 points, with Cornel (74) and Aleksa (68) making the top three for the week and sight of the summit, and lead the dash for Manager of the month for January.
Elsewhere, a few weeks of consistent scoring has seen Scott (1155) and Chris (1137) putting pressure on Michael’s (1166) at the top of the table whilst Katie seem to have a dose of winter flu, and Conor a dose of pneumonia that has impacted their team selections. Conor has bagged some sort of unwanted record this week – three red triangles and four blanks from his bench in his squad. Some shuffling (if not the wildcard) needed here!
This week’s photo is of William Baker and grandson Dylan who didn’t abandon their place on the terraces when a downpour began last Saturday. The diehard fans were watching their team Workington AFC, a 3-3 draw versus Prescot Cables.
As we reach the halfway mark in the season, double-barrelled names, and the number of coaching staff on the bench – including how many arm-crossing coaches there are now – are the highlight from the season to date for me. John Cooper-Clarke has always been a favourite of mine, and back in my youth Ian St John and Ian Storey-Moore were the only footballers with double names. Now every club has a double-barrelled named player which must make it hard work for those printing the player names on the back of shirts in the club shop: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Kyle Walker-Peters; Trent Alexander-Arnold; Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Don’t they all sound awfully upper class. Must have gone to good schools. I’m just glad Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn’t play football.
The clubs are so rich these days, they have loads of background staff who sit in rows two and three on the bench behind the manager. When Burnley played at the Etihad last season, I counted 27 support staff on the City bench. It was cosy. There must be five video analysts, four goalkeeper coaches, two throw-in coaches. Maybe Jack Grealish has a hairband assistant. At Arsenal, the manager has a hand-over-his-mouth coach to check his hand is over his mouth when talking rubbish in Spanish to his staff, so the cameras can’t pick it up. At Chelsea, Graham Potter must have his own arm-crossing coach. He has to make his arms are folded while standing on the touchline, making him look serious and executive.
This week I reached back into the archive on Netflix as after three hours searching, I couldn’t find anything new to watch. So, I settled for Sunderland ‘till I Die, a ten-part documentary on their free-fall season in the Championship a few seasons ago, a grittier and more heart-warming fly-on-the-wall insight than the City and Arsenal dramas. It’s hard not to get drawn into the emotion of it all, and see others love of their clubs mirrored like that of our own. Whilst we can all go through periods of frustration with our teams sometimes, what is captured perfectly here is that no matter what, the love of your club and the individual and collective relationships that we all have with it in different ways, runs way deeper than results or league status. I felt myself getting emotional when the fans were singing ‘Can’t help falling in love’ by Elvis in the pub after relegation.
But back to this weekend, and transfers. They used to be mocked and shunned – but now goalies are going for serious cash. Of course, all transfer fees in football are mad. What is surprising is that a hitherto modestly rewarded species of the football form has been changing hands for enormous sums. Traditionally, keeper was a rubbish job, the worst position on the pitch. In the playground you got put in goal if you were a lump, couldn’t pass or dribble. If no one would go in, you all had to take it in turns, which was horrible, ugh.
It is partly thanks to Pep that the fashion now is for ball-playing goalies, who don’t just thump it as far as possible. For at least 100 years, that’s what goalies did. Now modern managers want their goalies to pass it out from the back, not belt it up, to start a move by carefully throwing or gently passing the ball to one of their defenders. They have to have ball skills, to be able to pass intelligently and accurately, and the ones that can do so are at a premium – Chelsea paying £71m for Kepa and Liverpool £65m for Alisson. Goodness knows what David de Gea would go for after his performance in last week’s game letting a goal in through his legs.
Last night Joao Felix became the first player to get sent off on his Premier League debut, earning himself an automatic three match ban with an ill-judged tackle. Chelsea are paying Atletico Madrid £500k a game for the on-loan striker, so when you factor in his salary, the tackle cost £2.4m. Ouch! Félix’s time at Atlético Madrid has been considered something of a disappointment, in the context of the £113m they paid Benfica for the then-teenager in 2019. But then he was part of the team that won La Liga in 2021. He also did a goal against Ghana for Portugal at the Human Rights World Cup. It had been enough to get United interested, but Félix had his heart set on Stamford Bridge, so here we are.
United, on the rebound, will bolster their attack with the loan capture of Wout Weghorst instead. Now there’s a signing that could go either way. Wout scored possibly the most courageously inventive free-kick in World Cup history, which he both devised and finished for Holland v Argentina. For various reasons, United are shopping in the reduced aisle, and at £2.7m – the compensation fee paid to Besiktas – Weghorst is better value than anything else with a yellow sticker on it.
He had an unhappy time at Burnley last season, scoring two in 20 games and taking the huff when he was subbed, but his goalscoring record everywhere else is excellent. In three and a half years at Wolfsburg, Weghorst scored 59 Bundesliga goals. That’s more than anyone except Robert Lewandowski, and I’m not going to let the fact Erling Haaland arrived a year later and was injured half the time get in the way of a good narrative.
Weghorst’s YouTube package suggests an accomplished finisher, though Burnley fans might tell you otherwise. What is clear is that he is not just an old-fashioned lump. Weghorst’s link play is sufficiently good that I’ve taken the old Good Touch For A Big Man cliche out of storage. With United the only English team still in four competitions, Anthony Martial again looking like the poster boy for apathy and the club not having a metallic tub in which to pass water, he could be a shrewd signing. And if he tanks, we’ll just pretend this never happened.
Enjoy the weekend.