WINNING the Premier League is currently not the best of career moves, for the last few have barely seen out the following season and the halfway mark has been about it for three of them.
The trend began four years ago with Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement after delivering his 13th Premier title at Manchester United.
Just down the road at Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini was then given little time to celebrate his 2014 success, while Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea seven months after taking them to the title in 2015 and Claudio Ranieri was soon out the door after his 5,000-1 success with Leicester City.
Now the clever money is suggesting the current holder, Antonio Conte, may not see Christmas at Chelsea. Tension is twanging at Stamford Bridge after he said publicly he didn’t agree with selling Nemanja Matic to Manchester United for £40-million.
There lies the battle with the suits – the desk bound executives – for control of the dressing room. His decision to sack top scorer Diego Costa by e-mail had already caused a row but Conte was ready for another. The choice of battlefield, however, bemused the back office for he had shown the Serbian midfielder was not central to his squad by leaving him behind when Chelsea went to the Far East.
To claim the sale of the 29-year-old as a great loss was at odds with the situation. He had already agreed Matic could be sold, but to Juventus, not to one of his Premier rivals. What was actually going on recalled shades of Mourinho’s final month at the Bridge, a fall-out over transfers.
Both, as they saw it, were not being given the players they needed to retain the title. The start of the Premier League’s 25th season this weekend has brought a brittle truth, but will it last? Results and transfer action in the final fortnight of the window will be the decider.
Running football is not a tea party, it thrives off friction and the volatile Conte may easily decide to up and leave as he did at Juventus and then as Italy’s manager. Chelsea, though, is not the only hot-bed. Rafael Benitez has a seemingly fraught relationship with owner Mike Ashley at Newcastle United. He thought the money would be there to bring in players for the return to the top table, but has been told to raise the money himself by selling players who won the Championship for him.
He has still not forgotten that Ashley, the sports shirt tycoon, took a long time to ’phone his congratulations for lifting the title. Benitez says he is staying, others are not so sure. But the cauldron is really bubbling at Tottenham Hotspur where lack of transfer activity is frustrating for manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The club’s main focus is on building a 65,000-seater stadium and finding the money for it. Their astute chairman Daniel Levy is following the pattern Arsenal set when they made their expensive move from Highbury to the Emirates, selling rather than buying players and keeping wages low, that is if you call £75,000 to £100,000 a week low.
Spurs have a young squad under long contracts and the side arguably played the best football in the Premier last season as they finished runners-up to Chelsea. This summer they have simply sold full-back Kyle Walker to Manchester City for a princely £45-million with more to come, but then spent nothing on the run-up to today’s opening match at Newcastle United. Spurs, full of pace and zeal around striker Harry Kane, will be pitched against Benitez in a match brimming with significance for the season ahead.
Watching from the wings will be a Chinese group who are claiming to have a £1-billion to invest in the Magpies. Ever the sharp business man, Ashley has told them to double that which rather overturns the ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ philosophy which made him a millionaire.