George Dearnaley

League table doesn't lie

2008-09-05 04:21

George Dearnaley

I've heard every single possible scenario of what could have happened in the English Premiership this season from supporters of almost every team (except from Derby fans).

"If we had used this player and not that one"... "if so-and-so had not been injured, suspended, transferred"... "if we had focused on the league and not the FA Cup!"... Multiple situations, multiple different results. But the one true fact is that the league table does not lie.

A football season in every professional league comes down to who has the biggest squad of the best players, who consistently performs well and makes the most of their luck during the season. That's why rich teams will do better than poorer teams over the distance, simply because they can afford to have better reserves to come in and play when there are injuries and suspensions to the top players. Almost every single reserve player for the top four teams would start in any of the bottom half of the league's teams.

So when your reserves are better than the starting players of half your opposition, you have a much better chance of success. And so the title challenge in England is always going to come from a small group of elite teams. Whether you hate them or not, the simple truth is Manchester United scored more goals, conceded fewer and won more games than any of the other teams in the league. They may have lost more games than the three teams below them, but they only drew six matches.

Chelsea did well to make it a tense finish. Arsenal probably suffered from having top players away at the Africa Cup of Nations for a month, and went through a bad run of drawn matches, but they played excellent, entertaining football without reward and will take something with them into the new season - if they can hang on to their young stars.

Liverpool are probably a player or two short of the other three top teams, but had another great European campaign. Success in the league is now imperative.

Money means European success

The frightening thing is that the amount of money available to the top four teams in England means that they can compete for the biggest and best players around the world. There are really only two teams in Spain, possibly three in Italy and one in Germany that can compete financially with these four teams. There are no teams in France, Portugal, Belgium or Holland that can compete in the transfer market with these 10 'behemoths'.

And so the Champions League, although massively exciting, and arguably responsible for some of the best football you will ever watch, has become slightly predictable. Thank goodness for the likes of Monaco and Porto every now and then.

Soweto derby losing its sparkle

I watched most of the recent Soweto derby. It's still a massive match on the local calendar even if both teams are struggling in the league. The attendance was a 'small' 44 000 or so - small because this match has regularly attracted over 80 000 fans in recent years.

Now without ruining my relationship with officials and players (and fans) with both teams, my opinion is that both sides are going through a period of uncertainty. Players and managers are coming and going which breeds disruption and chaos. Team line-ups are chopped and changed week in and week out which creates a lack of consistency, a lack of understanding among teammates and ultimately the poor results reflect this.

Both teams need to go away somewhere quiet (NOT together!) and analyse the key areas of their business and confirm the next steps to solve their woes.

Firstly, on-field success makes everything else much easier (sponsors, supporters, trophies etc). So the priority of the Soweto giants has to be in getting their teams sorted out. This means having an experienced coach who knows what he wants, knows what players he will use and what new players he needs and is given the mandate to go out and get results. He must be given a transfer budget and if he needs more money, he must sell some of his existing players to cover these additional costs. Both squads are heavy with hangers-on and these players don't seem hungry enough for action. Get rid of them.

Secondly, do everything in your power to give your team a fair chance of success. Give them a home ground for the season. Play your home matches at one stadium. Consistency in a home venue will bring the results.

African champs

Lastly, aim higher! I'm sure some teams mention success in Africa in their pre-season objectives but honestly our top teams should be aiming to be African champions every season! Make this your priority and then plan accordingly. Buy the best Egyptian, Cameroonian, Ghanaian and Nigerian players that are still on the continent if you have to. Send a scout to watch the opposition prior to playing them. Use the latest technology to empower your team and provide every advantage you can. Fly the SA flag!

Chiefs and Pirates will be the two best supported teams in SA for a long time to come, but even the mighty Roman Empire collapsed after a while. Success should never be taken for granted. And the old adage "if you fail to plan, then you must plan to fail" comes to mind. I'm sure this season has woken up both camps and we can expect fireworks next season.

  • George represented South Africa during the 1994 Soccer World Cup qualifiers.

  • Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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