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Claudio Ranieri is right... Leicester have the arrogant Big Five running scared

March 6, 2016 10:31 PM
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Claudio Ranieri’s team only won by a single goal on Saturday — but victory over his arrogantly entitled rivals was more comprehensive.

It was not to be found in the five points that separate Leicester City from the rest at the top of the table, although that is very significant. It was what Ranieri said that had greatest resonance.

In one soundbite, he skewered English football’s big five, perfectly. In a couple of sentences, he tore to shreds the false presumption at the heart of the new elite.

And it is a new elite, because Chelsea and Manchester City are present. Before the money arrived, Leicester had won two trophies more recently than Manchester City — the League Cup in 1997 and 2000.

Manchester City’s last big win was the 1976 League Cup, while Chelsea’s last trophy prior to Roman Abramovich’s ownership was the FA Cup in 2000, the same year Leicester won at Wembley.

So this is a new elite because it contains clubs that were once no different, and certainly no better, than those they now bitterly resent.

Here is what Ranieri had to say about English football’s self-proclaimed big five: currently third, fourth, sixth, seventh and 10th in the Premier League, by the way.

Yet that is the question they will never ask, because it shines a light on their own stewardship.

The five men who sat down with Charlie Stillitano, an American businessman with designs on setting up an elite-only Champions League, do not own their clubs.

They are employees, who must perform. Yet their clubs are not performing. They are not doing anywhere near as well as they should be, for the money spent.

And the five are frightened. Afraid that the real boss is going to walk in one day, point a finger and say: ‘This is down to you, this is your mess.’ So let’s ask Ranieri’s question, the one about Leicester — and a few more.

Ed Woodward, Manchester United have the biggest turnover in club football, as you never tire of reminding us. So how did you finish behind Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven in your Champions League group? Why are you finding it so hard to get into the top four since Sir Alex Ferguson retired? And why are you 13 points behind Leicester?

Ian Ayre, if Liverpool are so deserving of a Champions League closed shop, why have they made one Champions League appearance since 2009-10? Why have they lost to West Ham three times this season? And why are you 16 points behind Leicester?

Bruce Buck, how did Chelsea go from champions to relegation form in a summer? Why is the answer always to sack the manager? And why are the reigning champions now 20 points behind Leicester?

Ivan Gazidis, with the money Arsenal charge for admission, and the enormous financial reserves in the bank, how come the time elapsed from your last title is now entering its second decade? Why have you been knocked out at the last-16 stage of the Champions League for five straight years? And why are you eight points behind Leicester?

Ferran Soriano, Manchester City have a single win all season against any team currently in the top nine. And that was at home to Southampton. How many hundreds of millions have been spent on your watch to achieve this? And why are you 10 points behind Leicester?

Actually, for Soriano there should be follow-up questions, considering he now sits around the table with four of the clubs that repeatedly tried to shaft Manchester City over financial fair play.

Ferran, do you really think they are your friends now? Do you think there are no hard feelings, and that they don’t begrudge your club its fortune and the recruitment of Pep Guardiola? Ferran, do you really think they won’t cut you loose, given half a chance?

The five stooges didn’t even meet with the main man, Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and the driving force behind a pre-season tournament called the International Champions Cup.

Instead, the organ grinder sent Stillitano who, apparently, regularly meets with England’s floundering elite, presumably because he flatteringly tells them they invented football.

Let loose to overplay his hand on an American radio station, Stillitano displayed a flawed knowledge of football’s history.

So he’s not talking sport, he’s talking cash. Yet he’s not even quite right about the cash. Manchester United didn’t create the Premier League; the Premier League created the modern Manchester United.

Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano (left) and Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis (right)

Before it came along, before football became unhealthily skewed to serve the richest, Manchester United hadn’t won the League since 1967. Here was a simple triumph of timing: just as Manchester United were most successful, English football went global. That’s why Stillitano thinks they created it. That’s why he thinks they would be missed if, suddenly, they couldn’t compete. He’s wrong.

Yes, because PSV were better than Manchester United, and Ghent were better than Valencia and Lyon. And so they are in the last 16 of the Champions League by right.

And, of course, it’s not just them. It’s Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid and all the good teams as well. And the reason we know they are good is, well — they don’t get knocked out by PSV Eindhoven, or beaten to the top four by Leicester.

But that doesn’t matter in the International Champions Cup, where being useless is no disqualification. Manchester United won it in 2014, having finished seventh in the Premier League. Milan, who were runners-up in last year’s International Champions Cup held in China, were fresh from a stunning Serie A season in which they came 10th.

So how to put our view of the International Champions Cup in language Charlie Stillitano would understand. We don’t give a rat’s ass. Frankly, I didn’t even know there was an International Champions Cup until news of this meeting blew up.

I’ve never heard it mentioned by a single fan, or player. The winners do not list it among their honours, their supporters do not celebrate it as a real trophy.

People in England just think of these games as friendlies. We think United play Barcelona to sell merchandise and global brand awareness, not for a real prize.

And do you know why? Because you don’t have to qualify. The qualification process is what gives the Champions League — the real one, with Ghent and Wolfsburg and Leicester, too, next season — its authenticity. Take that away and it’s an invitational. And who cares about an invitational?

It would be like saying England’s match with Germany in Berlin is more important than the meeting with Slovakia at the European Championship. Bigger opposition, sure, but a small, small situation.

Anyway, the problem with the Champions League is not Ghent versus Wolfsburg. It’s Arsenal versus Barcelona. Again.

That’s the second leg tie that nobody will care about: Arsenal’s doomed quest to win 3-0 at the Nou Camp. We’ve seen it before. We know how it ends.

Now let’s take that magic a stage further. Imagine that match, every year, except Arsenal are now the sixth best team in England.

Imagine the AC Milan side that are currently sixth in the league, or the one that signed Adel Taarabt, being given a permanent Champions League place because of some good stuff that happened several generations back.

We saw Tottenham eliminate AC Milan from the competition in 2011, when they were still strong enough to win Serie A. They’ve got steadily worse since, finishing eighth, then 10th last season.

Why the hell should they be anywhere near the tournament? We have stretched credibility enough including teams in fourth place. To go to the realms of the truly inadequate makes it a joke.

The chief executives would favour a closed shop, or guaranteed positions for some, because then they would never have to explain to the owner why they haven’t qualified — but it would be death for the fans. The same old faces, year after year, good, bad or indifferent. No variety, no new challenge, no fresh item on the menu.

It would become a shrug of a tournament. The wonderful climax of this Premier League season, with its potential for twists and turns, would be similarly depowered.

Can Manchester United beat West Brom? Who cares, they’ve got what they wanted anyway. They could put out the reserves for all that it mattered. And the same with the Europa League and the FA Cup.

That is why this is a fight that football must win. Automatic qualification is the end of competition — all competition.

Ranieri is right. These are scared little men, running scared little clubs, and their worry is that they are not good enough.

This is not about excellence, or financial fairness, or any of the other myths the rich clubs throw at us to cloak their naked greed.

This is about what it truly means to be in the elite: being better every season, striving to win in a meritocracy and never needing the hand-out or the leg-up.

Most of all, it means you fancy yourselves against Leicester. For some reason, these guys don’t. Maybe they know something.

The page one story in the Sunderland Echo at the weekend was a letter written by a supporter, Ross Robson, to Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne.

Mr Robson has an eight-year-old son who, after the match against West Ham in October, waited behind to get a photograph with one of his heroes.

Mr Robson asked Byrne to put herself in the shoes of a father who now has to explain to his son why his prized image with Adam Johnson must be taken down from his wall.

On the final point, it is worth pointing out that age is not greatly relevant because Johnson is not a paedophile. He is a sex offender.

A paedophile is sexually attracted to prepubescent children. Johnson’s victim was not prepubescent. She was, however, a fan. And that is where the club failed her — indeed where it failed all Sunderland fans.

At the moment Byrne knew of Johnson’s behaviour, she had a duty of care. Not to him, as an employee, but to the victim, as a supporter of the club. She had asked for a signed shirt and Johnson had abused the hold he had over her, horribly.

Once this was known, all of Sunderland’s efforts should have gone into putting the needs of the victim first. If that meant removing Johnson from the team, pending trial, so be it.

Byrne has a legal background. An explanation could have been plainly and easily drafted without prejudicing the case.

Clubs have a responsibility towards fans. That is why football grounds have safety certificates and we do not condone the sort of indiscriminate police baton charges we see at matches in Europe.

Byrne needs to explain what her priorities were during this time. It could even become a resignation matter, if allowed to drift.

Sunderland haven’t played a home game since the verdict, don’t forget.

This time he doesn’t think Kevin Mirallas should have been sent off for two bookable offences on Saturday.

For the first yellow card, he exaggerated a fall with, at best, minimal contact. For the second he went through a player, with an obviously nasty foul.

Martinez’s moans are becoming tiresome. Nor will he be getting much sympathy from West Ham.

On November 7 a bad tackle from James McCarthy of Everton took Dimitri Payet out of the game for nearly two months.

West Ham average 1.84 points per match with Payet in the side — without him that dropped to 1.14.

Had Payet not missed two months, and his club maintained that 1.86 rate, West Ham would now be placed third.


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