Testing time

June 24 - 30 , 2020

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly Testing time

If ever there was an acid test to determine the ability of players to raise their game without a crowd it came on Sunday.

The Merseyside derby was one of the most fiercely contested in world football. It wasn’t a classic although there were still full-blooded challenges flying in and a draw meant that both sides had the opportunity to secure bragging rights.

Everton come closest to breaking their 10-year sequence of failing to win, only to be thwarted by a post.

But it was one point closer for Liverpool to seal the holy grail of Premiership glory and their first league title since 1990.

One of the Premier League’s most ridiculous decisions is to limit clubs to the number of live fan video feeds being piped into the stadium. 

I’m not a fan of the artificial crowd noise as it frequently feels false and out of synch with the flow of the game. However this is a time when clubs should be allowed to innovate and find new ways to engage with supporters who, ultimately, are the lifeblood of the sport.

The “celebration camera” is another unnecessary artificial aid while some players, as the ball approached, looked like they were already looking for its’ location rather than that of the goal.

Of course, there were also familiar components, particularly relating to criticism of VAR. Goal-line technology went on furlough in the opening game of the season re-start leading to some humorous comments from the Sheffield United manager, Wilder, whose mood matched his name.

Ahead of their opening match against Arsenal, Pep Guardiola complained that his players were not ready for action as they had spent too much time “on the sofa”.  Manchester, at least in the other half of the city, is famous for mind games and it appeared to have worked as the Gunners chose to keep their powder dry.

Manchester City benefited from defender David Luiz’s dismal display and sending off; ironic given that the player blamed his bosses for the errors for not resolving his contract situation!

Leaving aside the Covid 19 complexities, it is the transfer market that has the potential to compromise the integrity of any remaining competition.

At the moment many of the transfers being conducted are international. The highest profile of these has been that of Timo Werner who agreed to leave RB Leipzig for Chelsea to become a part of the Frank Lampard revolution.

Roman Abramovich has clearly seen enough management potential in his former captain to open the purse strings. Werner’s move has been balanced in the long-term by the outgoing Pedro who will grow new roots in the Italian capital. However, in the short-term, Chelsea could find themselves without both Pedro and Willian whose contracts expire at the end of June.

Some players have already started refusing to play for their existing club for fear of picking up an injury before a likely move. I shall place the caveat that we will only know for sure of the decision of each individual as and when they lace up their boots or not Should Werner refuse to continue to play for Leipzig in European competition, he would be relinquishing a quarter-final Champions League tie, as may Pedro and, potentially, Willian.

One transfer being touted in sporting gossip columns is that of Leicester City fullback, Ben Chilwell, to fellow Champions League qualifier contenders, Chelsea. 

I cannot for one minute see the East Midlands club agreeing to this before the end of the season – yet, under the current regulations, transfers could happen.

Behind the scenes, agents are regularly encouraging the movement of players with many transfers secured before being officially announced. 

This is an area that has been overlooked by the authorities.

The phenomenal revenues generated by the sport are due to the passion of the fans and they - and clubs - deserve to see the leagues and cup competitions completed with a full complement of players.

By Abu George .

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