SUMMER OF PROMISE AND LIES
So here we are. We start another campaign hoping to forget our propensity to allow our perennial enemy to sneak what we so desire and they take for granted – Champions League football. Although successful in terms of points tally and last minute moments of drama, we cannot escape last term’s ultimately disappointing conclusion. Approaching the 2013/14 season’s dawn, a much vaunted piece of the jigsaw in the form of a world class striker has been found, but much rests on the presence of a man who’s name has put the club into global focus, long before Marca started ‘operation unsettle’.
Whether saga or circus, the Bale transfer speculation must have been truly laughable for anyone not wishing him to stay. Thankfully the continued objectionable antics of Messrs Rooney and Suarez (yet somehow still shoe-horned as a possible Bale replacement) have kept our Welshman off the news radar for a few hours of the day this summer but there will surely be no respite until 2 September. If a Madrid player past or present hasn’t been extolling the virtues of Gareth then they have been mooted as part of the possible exchange deals that never happen. Figures of anything upwards of £60 million have been regularly flaunted by the likes of TalkSport and parent SkySportsNews yet also more apparently respectable outlets. It seems that a player turning up for training at their club now passes for the ‘more on this developing story’ treatment. There is no doubt that Sky drumming up interest in transfer rumours then lapping up bundles of takings on likely transfers at Skybet needs looking into. At least there’s a World Cup to fill the back pages next year.
AVB’s statement that Bale was not for sale was met with hyperbolic declarations of love for the man on Twitter but a strange ambivalence in the press. Perez’s subsequent proclamation that Levy was asking for too much then confused those who reported a concrete bid had been put on the table. There is no accountability where journalists fabricate transfer news stories, whilst a player staying is just not juicy enough. A new precedent seems to have also been set whereby a player is expected to sign an annual contract extension if only to quell paper talk for a fortnight. Bale’s silence – despite contributing to the speculation – has been honourable; it must be a dizzying time for the young man. We all know what happened when a player said he was fully committed to the club during contract speculation (Judas), and also how it is possible that a player who’s head has been turned can produce another year’s worth of sterling performances. Let’s hope the Bale billboards (both on the tube and in Times Square) and FIFA fronting indicates a future at the Lane. The man is irreplaceable – there are few names on the team sheet in the build up to a game that can inspire so much confidence of winning on any occasion.
As for those that have been brought in, Joe Lewis splashing of the proverbial cash before the Palace game has been refreshing. Baldini’s influence seemingly has made a difference. It also clear that AVB favours players who can adapt to different positions. The fear that the squad may once again be left too thin to fight on all fronts lingers as inevitable late August bids come in but as we stand, the squad looks healthy and balanced, and particularly meaty in midfield. The acquisitions of Paulinho, Soldado, Chadli and shortly Capoue certainly indicate ambition, not least in comparison with the sparse activity in N7. It would be foolhardy however to expect us at this stage to have the last laugh.
No-one will lose sleep over the departures of ex-Gooners Gallas and Bentley. The same applies to Adebayor should a taker be found. Without Dempsey, it would not be the end of the world were we to keep Ade. ‘Deuce’ was a good if short-term purchase, his tendency for useful yet straightforward strikes and convenient tumbles on the edge of the box will hopefully not be noticed. The sale of homegrown talent Steven Caulker raised eyebrows and angry responses in some quarters but the reality is that to ‘make it’ as a regular from our academy requires potential of the ilk that Steven truthfully does not possess. There are few players in recent years that we have lived to regret once they’ve parted ways with the club, and Caulker had a very disappointing season when Kaboul’s injury presented him with a chance to secure a regular starting berth at centre back. Possessing all the physical attributes of a commanding centre back and probably good enough as a squad player, Steven’s lack of pace and positional sense ultimately meant his hopes for a place on England’s plane to Brazil were better served elsewhere.
The Nitty Gritty
Little can be read into the form of the side in pre-season outings. Fitness is the only aim and while friendlies abroad are exciting for local fans, results before a competitive ball is kicked are of no importance. The sight of Sandro and Kaboul returning brings much promise for the coming season. It also feels like a big year for Sigurdsson and Holtby, both of whom provided makeshift roles last campaign with glimpses that they could grow into indispensable members of the squad.
The prospect of Palace first up is an intriguing one. They will of course relish a London derby on their return to the top flight and perhaps it would be better to be playing them later down the line. Nevertheless, they’re a team we should be expecting to beat, Selhurst Park is hardly intimidating and hitting the ground running is imperative to a successful campaign and arguably where we have gone wrong year-on-year in recent times. The deflation of the conclusion to last season and all the others has lifted and given way to the perhaps misplaced optimism of pastures new. Despite the troubling uncertainty surrounding Bale, we at least have a settled manager whose ambitions have been matched by financial injection. Maybe this will be our year … hang on what’s that? A letter through the door saying that the view of one or both goals from my season ticket seat will be restricted for the whole season. Hmmm, shafted by the powers that be. Why do I do this again?