By Dermot Clarke
OK, so I’m a week late, but I do have an excuse. I had it all worked out, until, early last week, when Arsenal threw a spanner in the works. The Gunners’ signings of Davor Suker and Thierry Henry were major, and have to be considered. So I had to revise my forecasts for the Premiership coming term. My predictions — and they were made before the season started — as to how the clubs in the top flight will perform this season are as follows:
Boss: Arsene Wenger
Last year: 2
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This year: 3
Good buys: Stefan Malz, Munich 1860; Oleg Luzhny, Dynamo Kiev; Silvinho, Corinthians; Moritz Voltz, Schalke 04.
Goodbyes: Fabian Caballero to Atletico Tembetary; Kaba Diawara to Marseille; Remi Garde (retired); Steve Bould to Sunderland; Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid.
And now, of course, add Suker and Henry to the "ins" and you have a really strong contender in Arsenal once again. I remember reading the storyline of "Awakenings." It was about to be made into a movie and I was surprised when I read that that most animated of actors, Robin Williams, was to be cast. When I read that Arsenal had signed a Brazilian, that same old feeling came back. Maybe Arsene Wenger is attempting to liven things up at Highbury. Voltz and Henry are sure to add electricity, but the aging backline is a worry, and I see them scrape into a Champions League place at best.
Ground: Villa Park
Boss: John Gregory
Last year: 6
This year: 10
Good buys: George Boateng, Coventry.
Goodbyes: Mark Bosnich to Manchester United; Ricardo Scimeca to Forest.
Adieu for now: Stan Collymore to Fulham on loan.
John Gregory may have gotten rid of Collymore, but he has acquired the Collywobbles in David James. I think Villa will struggle this term. After a great start, they seemed to fall apart late on last year. If the Gotham Cup is anything to go by, the struggle will begin a lot earlier this campaign.
Ground: Valley Parade
Boss: Paul Jewell
Last year: promoted
This year: 19
Good buys: David Wetherall, Leeds; Andy Myers, Chelsea.
Goodbyes: Paul Bolland to Notts County.
Manager Paul Jewell began his football career at Liverpool, so he’s probably a happy-go-lucky type of guy. He’ll need to be, because it’s going to be tough for Bradford. They were the first winners of the present F.A. Cup in 1911 and they still hold the record of 12 consecutive cup games without conceding a goal. I can’t think of anything else to say about them. Only a miracle will keep the Bantams out of the basement.
Ground: Highfield Road
Boss: Gordon Strachan
Last year: 15
This year: 9
Good buys: Mustapha Hadji, Deportivo la Coruna; Youseff Chippo, Porto.
Goodbyes: Philippe Clement to Bruges.
The wily Gordon Strachan and his clan could raise a few eyebrows this term. I can see the wee Scot conjuring a good cup run out of his charges. They could also travel to places like Old Trafford, Anfield and Highbury, and return with all the points in the bag. Watch out for this guy Hadji, I still think he was a snip at £4 million. John Aloisi was another astute purchase during last season. The sky blues will have a decent season.
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Boss: Gianluca Vialli
Last year: 3
This year: 1
Good buys: Chris Sutton, Blackburn; Didier Deschamps, Juventus.
Goodbyes: Michael Duberry to Leeds; Andy Myers to Bradford; Brian Laudrup to Ajax.
The addition of Chris Sutton means that Vialli can hang up the boots and concentrate on the coaching job. It also means that Dennis Wise will have somebody to talk to in the dressing room. Deschamps will bolster the middle no end and I really think the wait is over for the Blues. Chelsea could be in for its first top title since the great Ted Drake led the club to the then Div. I crown in 1954-55.
Ground: Pride Park
Boss: Jim Smith
Last year: 8
This year: 14
Good buys: Seth Johnson, Crewe.
Goodbyes: Paulo Wanchope to West Ham.
The loss of Wanchope will hurt Jim Smith’s charges. Having had two top 10 seasons, Derby will be looking at gaining a place in Europe this year. However, I think they will slip below expectations and may even become embroiled in the staying up battle at some stage.
Ground: Goodison Park
Boss: Walter Smith
Last year: 14
This year: 8
Good buys: Kevin Campbell.
Goodbyes: Olivier Dacourt to Lens; Ibrahima Bakayoko to Marseille; Marco Materazzi to Perugia.
The irony attached to last season’s latest great escape by The Toffees is that the sale of Duncan Ferguson — a sale that was greeted by much wailing and gnashing of teeth on that side of Stanley Park — actually saved the club’s bacon. The need for a replacement brought Kevin Campbell on loan. Duncan spent almost all of the remainder of the season injured, while Campbell’s goals helped Everton out of the drop zone. Don Hutchison seems to have grown up. Michael Ball and Francis Jeffers look like real stars of the future. These three could soften the blow of the enforced sales, and if Walter Smith’s side can get off to a good start ,it could be quite a nice year for the Goodison boys.
Ground: Elland Road
Boss: David O’Leary
Last year: 4
This year: 7
Good buys: Danny Mills, Charlton; Michael Duberry, Chelsea; Michael Bridges, Sunderland.
Goodbyes: David Wetherall, Bradford; Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Athletico Madrid.
David O’Leary worked minor miracles when he took over the reins from George Graham last term. He has spent astutely in the off-season, but he has lost the services of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, through no fault of his own. Leeds’ rise up the table went unnoticed in the main last year. The eye, I feel, will be on them this time and it will be difficult to keep up the progress.
Ground: Filbert Street
Boss: Martin O’Neill
Last year: 10
This year: 15
Good buys: None.
Goodbyes: Pontus Kaamark, AIK Stockholm.
O’Neill has done a good job here, all things considered. The need for players is there, but the money doesn’t appear to be. The much-touted Emile Heskey is overrated. Perhaps off-loading him at his present rating might be a good idea. Tough times ahead for Martin’s men.
Boss: Gerard Houllier
Last year: 7
This year: 4
Good buys: Sander Westerveld, Vitesse Arnhem; Sami Hyypia, Willem II; Stephane Henchoz, Blackburn; Titi Camara, Marseille; Erik Meijer, Bayer Leverkusen; Vladimir Smicer, Lens; Dietmar Hamann, Newcastle.
Goodbyes: David James to Aston Villa. Steve McManaman to Real Madrid.
If Liverpool can get over the terrible losses of McManaman and David James and the new signings fit in quickly, 20-to-1 could begin to look real good odds come April next. I think it may be a little soon though, maybe next year. Robbie Fowler might be a good "top scorer" bet and we look forward to a speedy return for Michael Owen. The media focus has been on the many new signings, but what I’d like to ask Mr. Houllier is "How did you manage to persuade Villa to spend almost two million on David James?"
Home: Old Trafford
Boss: Alex Ferguson
Last year: 1
This year: 2
Good buys: Mark Bosnich, Aston Villa.
Goodbyes: Peter Schmeichel to Sporting Lisbon.
The Roy Keane issue needs to be settled, and fast. Mark Bosnich is one of the better goalkeepers around, but he’s no Schmeichel, so you have deterioration already, lose Keane and it may become a sinking ship — I don’t care, as long as he keeps turning it on for the Republic. As the Neville brothers might say, "I don’t know much, but . . . "
Ground: Riverside Stadium
Boss: Brian Robson
Last year: 9
This year: 16
Good buys: Paul Ince, Liverpool.
Goodbyes: Clayton Blackmore (released).
Once upon a time, a chairman that could name Brian Robson, Andy Townsend, Paul Ince and Paul Gascoigne among his staff would be a contented one. But that was once upon a time. Robson, the man in charge now, seems content to buy well after the "sell by" date. Add John Barnes and Gary Pallister to the aforementioned list and you’ll probably agree that Robson favors maturity somewhat. In the engine room this year he has Gascoigne, a man with a body that has outgrown his years and a mind with a bit of catching up to do. Townsend is well past his best and Ince a former hard man whose bark is far more frightening than his bite these days. In fairness, though, he seems to be concentrating a lot more on the barking end of things nowadays. A difficult season ahead for ‘Boro.
Ground: St. James Park
Boss: Ruud Gullit
Last year: 13
This year: 11
Good buys: Alain Goma, Paris St. Germain. Kieron Dyer, Ipswich. Marcelino Elena, Real Mallorca.
Goodbyes: Georgi Georgiadis to Salonika. Dietmar Hamann to Liverpool.
Ruud Gullit, out as a coach, is a hard man to figure out. I do know that the Geordies are becoming impatient. To gain any success this year, he will require a full season from both Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson, little chance of that happening. Kieron Dyer looks like a good purchase, but then there’s the loss of Hamann to Liverpool. Something similar this year.
Boss: Danny Wilson
Last year: 12
This year: 12
Good buys: Gilles De Bilde, PSV Eindhoven; Gerald Sibon, Ajax; Phil O’Donnell and Simon Donnelly, Celtic.
Goodbyes: Dejan Stefanovic.
Nothing in the off-season to suggest that Wednesday won’t be loitering in mid-table again. They could drop a few places should Benito Carboni go, as has been rumored. Sibon and de Bilde look like interesting acquisitions. The change of scenery might help the Celtic lads too, but for me it’s the same old Sheffield Midweek, Mid-table next year.
Ground: The Dell
Boss: Dave Jones
Last year: 17
This year: 17
Good buys: None
Goodbyes: Michael Stensgaard, F.C. Copenhagen; Ken Monkau (out of contract).
"I’ll never leave Southampton, look what happened to the Titanic!" has got to be Matthew Le Tissier’s motto. Matt’s loyalty toward the club is quite incredible in these days of backpack ballplayers. Southampton, indeed, have time and time again plugged the bulkhead and stayed afloat when all seemed lost. Perhaps it’s the living on the edge aspect that attracts Le Tissier. That being the case, he should be a happy man again come the season’s end.
Ground: Stadium of Light
Boss: Peter Reid
Last year: Div. I champs
This year: 13
Good buys: Carsten Fredgaard, Lyngby; Steve Bould, Arsenal.
Goodbyes: Lee Clark to Fulham; Michael Bridges to Leeds.
In my opinion, Chelsea are the only new kids on the block, that will remain in the top flight next season. Better equipped than when they last found themselves among the elite, I think that the Geordies could find a mid-table perch for themselves under the tutelage of wily Scouser Peter Reid, and the dice should favor Niall Quinn’s snakes-n’-ladders career for a spell. Michael Bridges and Lee Clark are big losses, but there could still be a decent year or so left in the consistent Steve Bould. I don’t know a lot about Fredgaard, but he must be decent enough to catch Reid’s astute eye. For their great following, stadium, Quinn and Reid I hope the survive with ease.
Ground: White Hart Lane
Boss: George Graham
Last year: 11
This year: 6
Good buys: Chris Perry, Wimbledon; Willem Korsten, Vitesse Arnhem.
Goodbyes: Rory Allen to Portsmouth; Andy Sinton to Wolves.
George Graham worked wonders with the downtrodden Londoners after his arrival at the club, taking them from the drop zone to a respectable league position and winning a UEFA Cup spot through the Worthington Cup triumph. David Ginola picked up the big two Player of the Year awards and there’s no reason why the progress shouldn’t continue this term.
Ground: Vicarage Road
Boss: Graham Taylor
Last year: promoted
This year: 18
Good buys: None
Goodbyes: Elton John and the Yellow Brick Road.
Even the strapped-for-cash chairman, Elton John, won’t be having a flutter on his beloved Watford. The spell as manager of the England squad may have put paid to Graham Taylor’s oracle working days I feel, though he did a good job last year. Straight back down, I’m afraid.
Ground: Upton Park
Boss: Harry Redknapp
Last year: 5
This year: 5
Good buys: Paulo Wanchope, Derby.
Goodbyes: Eyal Berkovic to Celtic.
Could be a real surprise package this year. The always attractive Hammers, under Redknapp, have already served notice through the exploits in the Inter-toto Cup. Wanchope could prove to be the missing piece in an almost complete puzzle. Not ready to take the title, but United could win the Cup, after all.
Ground: Selhurst Park
Boss: Egil Olsen
Last year: 16
This year: 20
Good buys: Chris Wilmott, Luton; Kelvin Davis, Luton.
Goodbyes: Chris Perry to Spurs; Mark Kennedy to Manchester City.
If Sammy the chairman wasn’t already aware of Joe Kinnear’s value to the club, he is, I fear, about to become aware. No disrespect to new boss Egil Olsen, but when Kinnear was hospitalized late last season, his playing staff hit their sickbeds. I’m afraid it’s the drop for the Wombles this year and it may not stop at Div. I.