By Tony Attwood
When Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-0 this season I didn’t see a quite how Chelsea were going to turn matters around.
But as Mr Wenger said this past weekend, “in the last two seasons the team that won the league hasn’t played in Europe,” and I started to wonder if that could possibly happen next season as well to make it three times in a row.
We know for sure that the top six in the PL will be in Europe, but beyond that it is a little less clear. The top four of course go to the Champs League, and the next two into the Europa. But…
But if Man U win the Europa they go there too. And there is a place given for the winners of the FA Cup. Since Chelsea have qualified for the Champs League and Arsenal will almost certainly qualify for the Europa, whichever of the teams wins the FA Cup final, that position in the Europa won’t be taken up.
So that seems to me to leave two Europa places likely to be available for clubs outside the top six. One of those will go to Everton, and the other (if I am right and there is one) will be either West Brom, Southampton, Bournemouth or Leicester.
Now the chances of Leicester actually making it are fairly remote, because for them to get into the Europa, they have to win their last couple of games, while all the others falter. And Man U have to win the Europa this season.
But I mention all this because if the run that Mr Wenger mentioned continues and the next champions of the Premier League is once again a team from outside of the European competitions that would mean there is a chance for whichever of West Brom, Southampton, Bournemouth or Leicester (again) doesn’t make it into Europe. Or indeed any team finishing below them. Or maybe Newcastle or Brighton. A curious thought.
Pondering such vagaries of the league table, history and the organisation of European competitions, I then started to wonder what I would do if I were the owner of a team in the Premier League that was not doing as well as I wanted. For this flight of fancy I assumed also that I had multiple ambitions and a lot of money and no morality. I also assumed I was used to getting my own way (because of my wealth) and was rather fed up because the team I had invested in, had slipped down the league. Maybe so far that the team was not in Europe.
In the end I concluded I would do two things. First I would explore how I might in turn influence the referees, and establish who was open to match fixing. Then with that sorted I would order the manager to change the playing system, so that if results suddenly did pick up, the journalists could be persuaded into thinking that it was the change of system which explained the rebirth. It would give them something to chatter about.
In this of course I would be helped enormously by four rather curious factors.
First, the total secrecy of the PGMO which means no one gets a chance to see what is really going on with referees, why there are so few of them and why certain refs keep being given certain teams.
Second, the refusal of the mass media even to contemplate that any match might in any way ever be fixed in England because, well, this is England. As one journalist said to me last year, “if there was something fishy going on don’t you think we’d know about it?”
Third, the fact that the media tends to work as a unity, following roughly the same agenda as we have seen this season. Arsenal were praised for their early results, then criticised and of late (grudgingly) praised again. When Xhaka was being criticised no one wrote about other players who have taken a season to adjust. When Xhaka and Ramsey were not clicking together no one contemplated how long it took other pairings to work. When Ozil was misfiring in the team no one was writing about what a brilliant player he obviously was, and how brilliant players tend to come back to form.
The media in short is hypnotised by the cult of today, and the desire to be part of the general commentary, rather than standing outside it with new ideas. As a result even if anyone in the media was looking out for match fixing they would probably never see it because of their enthusiasm for the cult of now and the desire to let slip misleading thoughts of the “Arsenal have only two…” variety, oft mentioned here in the past.
Finally if I could do it, so could others, and therefore my crimes would be hidden among the crimes of others.
But would it work?
There are two issues. One is that if you have four corrupt teams in the league, three of them will have a problem, since obviously only one of them can be champions.
Second, there is that most annoying issue of luck and fortune. A ball that could go in, touches the woodwork and spins away. A player has family problems that affects his form. Injuries come along, not necessarily to key players but disproportionately to players in certain key positions.
But that is only part of the matter – if a club has six players injured it will probably be mid-table in the injury chart. But if those six include the entire back four and the two backup centre backs, then the impact will be considerable.
Thinking of this I read a bloggetta piece recently (it was also mentioned in Sir Hardly’s transfer column) which proclaimed that Arsenal not having a backup for Santi Cazorla was typical of the lack of forethought and preparation that goes on at Arsenal. But in reality how could one have a person even only 75% as good as Santi, and expect him to sit around waiting for league cup games and Santi to be injured? No player that good would do it. We have that replacement now in the Ramsey-Xhaka axis, but it has taken most of the season to get it right.
Of course being a multi-billionaire I could demand new players in the team by paying anything needed to get the top men. And yes they would have an impact, but normally not until their second year – which means that we should be looking at this season’s transfers to make a significant impact next season. This of course is the exact opposite of what the mass media and their bloggetta chums say. Bring in the big names NOW and if it fails, the manager is a dope for bringing in the wrong person.
And that final point struck me. As a match fixing billionaire I would be aided 100% by the bloggettas and the mass media. Their unified insistence that the failure of any club is down to the stupidity of the manager and the policies of the owner, and that they can see reality far more clearly than managers can, effectively helps deflect any debate on other factors.
Thus I would not have to contemplate bribing journalists and broadcasters – their mindset is so strongly of the view that match fixing cannot possibly be happening in English football, and that they can see reality perfectly, that I would be able to sail through.
In short, a match could have so many duff significant referee decisions that a computer operating at random would get more right, and they would not mention it.
And curiously enough, that is exactly what is happening.