Monday 19 May ~
The traditional curtain closer of the English season has just passed. By next weekend and the play-off finals, all clubs will know what level they will playing at in 2008-09. So player transfer rumours have yet to build up the sort of fervour they will reach later in the summer. It is no longer just players who have their futures discussed, their salaries compared and their "ambition" dissected. Managers too are now a vital part of the gossip business and three bosses are currently in the headlines: one currently in south-east Asia, another who will be shortly leaving for Russia and a third who may well be taking employment in the Netherlands.
On Friday Man City held off Fulham to qualify for the UEFA Cup through the Fair Play League. However, a measure of the current stature of that competition is that City will be required to play their first game at Huddersfield's Galpharm stadium due to a Bon Jovi concert at the City of Manchester stadium on June 22. Thaksin will no doubt delighted about this fortuitous route to European competition but it is still unlikely to keep manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in his job. Eriksson described the UEFA Cup place as “extremely good for the club” but added, ambivalently, that “there is a lot of time until next season”. The pre-season started badly for Eriksson and City as they lost 3-1 to the Thailand Premier All-stars, a team who who had only been training together for a week, in the first match of their promotional tour in Bangkok.
You suspect Thaksin enjoyed his time in his home country a lot more – he was mobbed by his own supporters, opened a Man City shop in the Thai capital and reiterated his desire to turn the club into a global brand. He seemed unconcerned by the result of the of match – “This is not a problem for Manchester City”– but will probably have been more worried at the sparse attendance at the self-styled “super match” at Rajamangala Stadium. He'll be hoping for more interest in City's next game against a South China Invitational XI in Hong Kong on Thursday but at home (and indeed around Europe) the impending “fire sale” at Eastlands is being watched with interest by a number of clubs.
At Chelsea, much of the preparation for the Champions League final has served to remind the media that the club is focused on playing Man Utd and that the future of manager Avram Grant is not a pressing issue. The whole subject is shrouded in mystery but many believe that not even a win in Moscow will be enough to keep Grant in his job or avoid a return to his former position as director of football. Grant is said to be taking the speculation genially but today Roberto Mancini, having just won the league in Italy with Inter, seems to be putting himself forward for the job. However, Chelsea reportedly refuted these claims privately while complaining that they had been “inundated by calls from Mancini's representative”.
Then there is the semi-forgotten man, Steve McClaren. Though many expected him to resurface in the Championship, he has also today been linked with a surprise move to FC Twente. Spotted in the Amsterdam Arena stands as the Enschede team beat Ajax 2-1 on aggregate to win the second Dutch Champions League place McClaren is expected to make a decision in the next few days. The club will probably supply him with their own branded umbrella.