Simon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do? rounds up the season
West Bromwich Albion (49 pts, GD -4) 8th
OK, to be third at the end of October was the sort of start Baggies fans could have only dreamed of. And we have been there before with unfancied sides enjoying the nosebleed reaches of the table within the season’s first three months. To end eigth may be disappointing, but put into context, not to be sniffed at either. Steve Clarke is still learning the art of management, and learning how to deal with player fallouts like Peter Odemwingie’s ridiculous show-up at QPR (which he must be relieved about now…), which suggested an unhappy dressing room.
Swansea City (46 pts, GD -4) 9th
Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rogers and, this season, Michael Laudrup have made Swansea a team to keep a close eye on. Though never realistically likely to bother the upper echelon – for now – this term Laudrup (and a ball boy) helped them to the League Cup (their first trophy in 101 years) and produced a Top 10 finish. The signing of Michu was a big statement of a club with a very healthy attitude to development and, although the final third of the season didn’t bring quite the same momentum of results as the first two-thirds, Laudrup has established himself as yet another Swansea manager with a future, and the club, an even better attacking package than ever before.
West Ham United (46 pts, GD -8) 10th
For a side connected, it would seem, by bungee rope to the Championship, Big Sam has instilled some stability – not to mention restored ‘Ammers’ customary robustness on their latest return to the Premier League. Tenth place may appear like the mid-table mediocrity Coventry went season-after-season pursuing and securing, but it reflects their solid home form (which took points off the two Manchesters and Chelsea) as well as their somewhat weaker performance on the road. The departure of Carlton Cole might indicate a bigger clearout by Allardyce, but the first priority must be pinning down Andy Carroll.
Norwich City (44 pts, GD -17) 11th
Chris Hughton’s dismissal from Newcastle in December 2010 still sticks in the craw of many, so it appeared that his appointment to Norwich, succeeding Paul Lambert, promised to be the sort of “good guy lands good club” story. And so it has proven, sort of, with Norwich pulling off creditable home wins over Manchester United and Arsenal, and, despite some relegation wobbles, coming to a halt in 11th. Norwich fans will want more, of course, or at least less hovering around the Championship trap door that has detracted from their game, but the potential for Norwich to be a top half player is there for their taking.
Fulham (43pts, GD -10) 12th
We all love Martin Jol. Big old Anglophile bear of a manager. We all find his “…and ah think…” interviews endearingly frank, which is no great surprise from a Dutchman. The trouble is, Fulham have hardly progressed under him. His squad has aged and even with Dimitar Berbatov/Andy Garcia in the ranks, Fulham have failed to look anything more than mid-table pedestrians. Jol may pay the price for this, with an unsettled Gus Poyet at Brighton possibly considering the ‘other’ west Londoners his next career development platform.
Stoke City (42 points, GD -11) 13th
No vintage season for Stoke. Not so long ago they were the Premier League’s Awkward Squad, possessing the disruptive ability to bruise the egos of clubs with bigger purses and bigger reputations. This time around they’ve looked less than average at times, prompting questions about whether Tony Pulis had taken them as far as he could. Developments, yesterday, at the Britannia Stadium said that they had. Sir Alex Ferguson lasted 26 years at Manchester United, the result of a perfect storm of club, finances, players bought and players brought through. Tony Pulis lasted just seven years by comparison, but even that is a lengthy stay in this day and age, when simply establishing your side as a Premier League fixture isn’t enough. Directors want more, and the supporters want even more in the way of team development..
Southampton (41 pts, GD -11) 14th
Much like the Little Britain sketch in which serial ASBO collector Vicky Pollard complained that she didn’t have a “brahn baby” like every other girl on her estate, Premier League clubs could be forgiven for missing out on the phenomenon of being taken over by a mad but wealthy foreign owner who promptly goes about creating dysfunctionality like an unwanted outbreak of acne in adulthood. Thus, Southampton acquired their very own sugar daddy, Markus Liebherr, who subsequently established Italian banker Nicola Cortese as club chairman, and then they set about securing Saints’ long-term future. Keeping Nigel Adkins in place as manager maintained at least two seasons of stability at the club with renewed ambition, but his generally-deemed unfair sacking in January, suggested another foreign owner gone nuts. But unlike, say, the Di Matteo/Benitez transition, the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino has at least endeared the fans, especially with the team’s adoption of attacking football. What won’t go down well, inevitably, is a precarious bottom half finish, with that term “safety” being a more acceptable term than “almost”.
Aston Villa (41 pts, GD -22) 15th
Villa have had a truly baffling season. From Premier League staples, they started taking on water quite ominously. The 8-0 Christmas defeat to Chelsea – a fixture that normally gives Villa rich pickings and damns the incumbent Chelsea coach to an Abramovich payoff – was a low point from which they only just managed to recover in the nick of time in the final two weeks of the season. That said, Paul Lambert is in the luxurious position of having a club owner who recognises that his manager is trying to build a young new team. It will take time, as the disjointed performances this season have exposed, but in Christian Benteke they have a precocious talent to build around or behind. For now, 2012-13 may simply be a season for Villa to draw a line under and build on.
Up and down the land, the final day of the 2012-13 season was notable for its so-what results, the odd last-minute escape and a handful of retirements. Of them all, none were more poignant than that of Stiliyan ‘Stan’ Petrov, the Villa captain diagnosed with acute leukaemia – “this crazy thing” as he calls it. Football wishes him every success in continuing to fight it and fight for those who also have it.
Newcastle United (41 pts, GD -23) 16th
How Newcastle ended up 16th (and that could have been a lot worse) from their fifth-place finish last season is an abject lesson in how easily – and quickly – it can all go wrong in the Premier League. No sooner had the club tied itself to Alan Pardew for a six-year contract, than the points started dropping like Christmas tree pine needles on Boxing Day. Another club which hasn’t been without its own form of owner meddling-induced madness, Newcastle’s bright start almost ended in relegation, the football equivalent of the office lift’s cable snapping. The New Year influx of young French talent may have been good news at the time, but their apparent failure to gel appeared to be major factors in the telephone number-score defeats inflicted in the second two-thirds of the season.
Sunderland (39 pts, GD -13) 17th
If this season’s verdicts seem to draw mainly on the instability of so many clubs, then it’s no accident. Managerial firings well into the season have now become so commonplace that we’re pretty blasé about them. The sight of Martin O’Neill – arguably one of the most respected gaffers in the game – struggling to arrest Sunderland’s slide with a squad seemingly lacking any of the passion and nuclear reactor-like drive of the Northern Irishman was a pity. So what do they do next? Bring in a manager with no Premier League experience and a historic sympathy towards fascism. Not since the FA bungled their attempted appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari as England coach has a managerial arrival been such a PR disaster. To his credit, Paolo di Canio kept Sunderland out of relegation – just – but only by coming second in the ‘mini league’ fighting for Premier League survival in the lower reaches. In the process, it would appear, di Canio has applied his own version of tough love. Time, and next season, will see whether his approach has been the right one. For now, this season has to be marked down as a very poor one for Sunderland.
Wigan Athletic (36 points, GD -26) 18th Relegated
Yes, yes, yes. It was all very Hollywood to see Wigan beat Manchester City in the dying seconds of the FA Cup Final. Yes, yes, yes, we Brits love an underdog. Roberto Martinez is one of football’s most likeable and erudite managers, and Dave Whelan, apparently, one of those old school, local-boy-made-good chairman (unlike that porky upstart across the country at Newcastle…). But, romance aside, Wigan left it too little too late to fight themselves out of the drop. Always a good side to watch, always – by reputation – a good side to play for under Martinez, it just didn’t go right this term. When they had to dig themselves out of trouble, the response was brilliant. Just too late. If Whelan can keep Martinez, and the core of the squad, they’ll be back.
Reading (28pts, GD -30) 19th Relegated
Have I mentioned dysfunctional clubs already? Oh well, have another one. Same story, promoted, start to flag, didn’t invest, replaced the manager with almost a clone of his predecessor, and still found themselves going straight back down to the Championship. Sadly, Reading’s Premier League season was simply one of underachievement, and they paid the price.
20th Queens Park Rangers (25 pts, GD -30) 20th Relegated
Manchester City and Chelsea could easily look down the cliff face that is the Premier League and see QPR losing their grip and plummeting back to the Championship. While QPR’s equally minted rivals have an infinitely stronger tenure on their elite league status, QPR’s season has served as a stark reminder that, no matter how much money you throw at the problem, and even bringing in Harry Redknapp to work his Houdini magic, if you don’t have your playing assets kicking the damn ball in the right manner, you will get sucked out of the top flight as fast as you were blown into it on a gilded magic carpet.
Things were a mess when Redknapp walked into Loftus Road, as Mark Hughes’ heals were seen skidding off into the distance. Hughes, yet to truly demonstrate the same managerial form he had running Wales in his first coaching job, left his successor in November with a team who appeared happy to slide inexorably towards the Premier League exit, while continuing to cash Tony Fernandes generous cheques. Jose Boswinga – a flash-in-the-pan right-back at Chelsea – took on the mantle of representing best QPR’s mercenary player profile, with his ridiculous refusenik stance showing that Redknapp had, like Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen (and forgive another war movie reference), been handed the worst of the worst.
While it may seem generous not to blame Redknapp, blame for result after lurid result must be placed squarely on the players’ shoulders. For once, the accusation that a team gets a club relegated, not the manager, has been proven correct. If Fernandes has the ability to do so, he will let Redknapp rebuild in the Championship, while ruthlessly discarding those who patently don’t want to be at QPR, haven’t wanted to be there, and shouldn’t be there any longer.
Article originally published here.