No more gambling ads, reform in Spain and Italy, and England playing in the Football League – WSC contributors’ wishes for the year ahead
After 50 years of following football I finally accept that when the team I am supporting gets a corner kick there is absolutely no chance of it resulting in a goal.
That the England squad enjoy the 2018 World Cup. That they’re not cooped up in their hotel and are allowed the freedom to explore; hell, even have a beer or two – although given the reports this might be the World Cup you’re actually better off being cooped up in the hotel. On the field I hope they break free from the mental shackles of the past and remember that losing isn’t the real issue, not having the courage to try and win is.
The usual: the Allams sell up at Hull City and someone comes in who sees a football club as a community enterprise, not as a hard business that treats its consumers contemptibly, reinstates concessions, reopens the West Upper, brands the club properly in literature, on social media and the crest, and gives new manager Nigel Adkins the tools required to do his job properly. And Ryan Mason plays again.
That Italian football will emerge cleaner and stronger from the ashes of the World Cup failure. With the dreadful Carlo Tavecchio gone, I would like to see him replaced as federation president by players’ union boss Damiano Tommasi. He is a man of proven integrity, in his early 40s and with a distinguished record as a player. And the national team, who have become unwatchably boring, must be entrusted to someone who can make the fans warm to them again. Someone who can get the best out of the young talent that is emerging.
I won’t be sorry if I never again see a betting company’s logo on a Premier League shirt, or Ray Winstone urging me to fritter away money I don’t have on how many goals Brighton will score in the second half against Stoke, or some online gambling set-up being racist or sexist in an attempt to be “edgy”. Even Jeff bloody Stelling does betting ads now. The fun stopped long ago. Stop.
Specifically: a watchable World Cup in Russia, with no deaths off the field, and Celtic owner Dermot Desmond giving Brendan Rodgers a few quid to buy a couple of centre-backs. Generally: that world football somehow manages to change course from its present destination of nine-figure transfer fees becoming the norm, bad players taking home £100,000 a week, international tournaments sending everyone to sleep long before they’re finished, and a doping problem at the highest level becoming increasingly obvious to the naked eye.
That the SFA land Michael O’Neill as national team manager or chief executive Stewart Regan resigns when they don’t. Having made reformed racist Malky Mackay the performance director he promoted him to caretaker manager for Scotland’s last game of 2017. This after our best qualifying finish in 14 years saw Gordon Strachan sacked. An hour before the Pittodrie friendly against Holland – during which the match ball had to be replaced twice – Regan told the media Mackay wouldn’t get the job permanently. He hadn’t told Mackay. We pay £55 up front to guarantee tickets for Scotland games.
It would be very nice indeed if Portugal could win The Big One; it’s a long shot, of course, but then so was 2016. And that something will be done to stop the tedious verbal warfare between the main clubs in Portugal – meaningful penalties, for example, or sponsors threatening to withdraw?
That James Coppinger commits to one more year. Fourteen seasons and over 550 appearances into his Doncaster Rovers career there are suggestions the man with the best first touch outside the top flight may call it a day come May. But, Coppinger remains our brightest creative spark – one of those players who has you leaning forward in your seat each time he gets the ball desperate to see what he’ll do next – and the biggest reason I keep handing over my money at the turnstile.
A clear-out at the Spanish federation in the new year. Long-serving chief Ángel María Villar continues to cling on despite his arrest last summer on multiple charges of multi-million euro frauds going back years. In mid-December Villar was still fighting his corner, bringing in his old colleagues at FIFA to add pressure on Spain’s government via a laughable threat to ban La Roja from the World Cup. A new broom which brought in ex-players unassociated with the old regime would be a much needed boost for all levels of the game in Spain.
I hope this generation of tournament-winning English talent isn’t wasted. The obvious way to achieve this is to let an England side play in the Premier League. This would necessitate relegating four clubs in 2018-19 but given what’s at stake I can’t see that being a problem. The team could be picked from all England-qualified players not required by their clubs each weekend. And Charlie Adam. The Football League Trophy would simultaneously be restored to its previous format with the addition of a Champions League place for the winner.
That Russia are eliminated as quickly as possible from the World Cup next summer, not for any inherently anti-Russian feeling but rather because you strongly suspect that this will not be the case – for a variety of reasons that I would prefer not to list here for fear that it might compromise my personal safety.