25 August ~ Six goals? Is that all you can manage? A once-shocking scoreline can no more than evoke a shrug among jaded observers of England’s top flight. It’s the inevitable consequence of the avaricious league’s economic disparity, and Blackpool, Wigan and West Brom take their beatings in good heart, because they know their place. They’re just grateful that they had the chance to be there in the first place, like those San Marino players who can brag to their grandchildren that they once played against England at Wembley.
“It's a joy for us to be here,” said Blackpool manager Ian Holloway after his team lost 6-0 to Arsenal at the weekend. “We'll have to take a few humblings, but I'm not that disappointed to be honest.” Well, he didn’t set expectations too high when he forecast before the game that his team might suffer a historic thrashing, so why be disappointed with a mere 6-0 defeat, if you can even call it a defeat? Pretty good result, come to think of it, because as Holloway swooned, pausing only to buy a dozen replica shirts and an Up The Gooners scarf at the Emirates megastore: “Arsenal are a team full of fantastic players. They way they try and play, pass and move is an education. Some of the football Arsenal played was world class and they could have scored more.”
Wigan’s Roberto Martinez was not especially perturbed at losing 6-0 at home to Chelsea, whom he duly congratulated for their win. “I was so pleased and so proud of them [the Wigan players] in the first half. Overall, there were many positives today, and the first half is something that will allow us to build.” Yeah, but you’re bottom after two games, both at home, with a minus-ten goal difference and no goals scored. “It is not a time to look at the table,” Martinez responded breezily. Pah, mere stats! “Our aim at Wigan Athletic is to achieve our aims, and that is something we’re going to work towards.” If you aim to achieve your aims, what can possibly go wrong? Even if that aim is, according to Martinez, nothing more than avoiding relegation.
West Brom’s Roberto di Matteo had been equally sanguine about shipping six to Chelsea the previous week. “Not every team has the quality this one does,” he said of his opponents, deeming the scoreline “a bit harsh”. He noted that “you can see why they are the champions, they are strong across the team, powerful and play well”. They do, don’t they? And “on the upside, we will not be playing Chelsea every week”. There’s always an upside, and Di Matteo must already have known that in another seven days his team would be happily grinding out a 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Not that you expect managers to stand in front of the cameras after a 6-0 defeat and start raging at the Gods, because that would only lead to headlines gleefully declaring that they’d lost the plot. But perhaps they could have the decency to look just a little bit peeved, or upset. Maybe they could refrain from openly lauding the wonderful skills of their opponents, and be a tad more critical about their own team’s performance. I’m not a fan of Blackpool, Wigan or West Brom, but I can easily picture some of them watching these interviews and feeling the rage that was conspicuously absent from managers whose players have just stood by to admire the passing skills of a competitor. A sign of fight, and a little less respect, say.
The Premier League has become a long-haul jumbo jet. A few of the elite are in First Class, then there are a handful of First Class wannabes in Business (also known as Europa Class), while the majority of passengers stoically walk by on their way to Economy, coping with a flush of envy before fighting for a bit of legroom with all the other undesirables who are making up the numbers. They’re all in the same machine, but no one’s pretending they’re equal, because what can you do? Economy Class doesn’t complain, because it can’t afford to. And, sigh, did you see those beautiful reclining seats they have up front? You’ve got to admire it, Guy, absolutely first class. Ian Plenderleith