Maybe there should be a mid-season World Cup in an inconvenient, hot, dry land with a dodgy human rights record every year.
Only joking, but the 2022-23 EPL campaign was a cracker. And far from upsetting domestic football, the Qatar shindig may even have enhanced it.
Just as players were match fit and battle-ready for the tournament, many seemed to benefit from the experience when they went home.
Most players did have a break, of course, but overall, the predicted dislocation didn’t happen.
There was a title race, a battle for top four and an almighty scrap to avoid relegation.
Here’s a tongue-in-cheek look back at the winners and losers.
Abu Dhabi (Manchester City) and now Saudi Arabia (Newcastle) show what oil money can do; PSG (Qatar) show what it can’t.
Football is still an old man’s game – for some. Roy Hodgson (75) turned shot-shy Crystal Palace into high-scoring winners. Neil Warnock (74) pulled off yet another rescue at Huddersfield in the Championship; Sam Allardyce (68) couldn’t save Leeds but showed he still has it. And Louis van Gaal (71) took Netherlands to the last eight in the World Cup.
As good as they are, the asterisk will stay until the rule-breaking issue is resolved. Apart from that, they are one of the most brilliant teams ever assembled and timed their title run to perfection.
‘Can’t do it without Messi?’; ‘can’t do it without money?’ But he does it brilliantly with either. He doesn’t just improve players, he improves top players – most of the City squad, including Erling Haaland, are better for having had a few lessons.
36 goals in his debut season ain’t bad for someone who can’t head a ball, has no right foot and a poor touch. But no one has ever been as strong with so much pace and such a knack for goals. The final piece in City’s jigsaw.
Erik ten Hag
Two games in, hammerings by Brighton and Brentford and CR7’s toys flying from the pram, it didn’t look good. But the Dutchman did not flinch, got rid of the poison, brought in Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez, and steadied the ship. A top 4 place, one cup already, could be two.
European football for a club that didn’t have a home two decades ago. The Seagulls’ success shows that smaller clubs can succeed with a clued-up chairman and a database that can find diamonds in the rough.
His accent might be a bit posh for the Geordies, but they love him after taking them from the drop zone to the promised land. And he did it as much by improving existing players – Joelinton being a prime example – as by signing new ones with the oil money
Forest had one point from seven games and one foot in League One when he took over: he got them promoted. Five players were loanees and all left plus the keeper. 29 players were brought in and with 45 injuries, they were needed. But Cooper saw the wood from the trees and ensured all three promoted sides survived, Forest with a game to spare.
They’ve been through five divisions in nine years with a ground that sounds – and looks – like a dog kennel, and isn’t much bigger. And Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu will become the first player to have played in all five if he stays in the team.
Not everyone would call a fella on US$400 a minute a loser. But if there were Oscars for prima donnas, CR7 would clean up Hollywood. When he went back to Man U, he broke the internet; when he left, he wrecked his reputation.
After spending £600m, the American is on his fourth manager, having steered Chelsea to their lowest finish since 1996. Cancelling the awards dinner was the only decision he got right.
Laughing at Chelsea was as good as it got. They couldn’t laugh at Arsenal any more and spent the second half of the season crying in self-pity. No European football and maybe no more Harry Kane who could well take his 30 goals a season to a club that wins things.
Frank Lampard & Steven Gerrard
Couldn’t play together (for England) and can’t manage in the EPL. Frank’s love of Chelsea saw him accept a poisoned chalice while Stevie G blew his chances of succeeding Jurgen Klopp with a dismal failure at Villa.
Spent more than Liverpool but can’t even win the Everton Cup. From a regular seventh to annual relegation battles, the Toffees’ board dare not even attend matches now – such is the fury of their fans. Although desperate for goals, they didn’t buy anyone in January and are lucky to survive.
The Leeds owner sacked a legend in Marcelo Bielsa and replaced him with duds before leaving it too late for Big Sam. And when defenders were needed, he splashed all his cash (£35m) on an unknown striker, Georginio Rutter, who was so bad that he was only put on when all hope was lost. Another owner too scared to attend the final game and who, wanting to sell, will lose millions with relegation.
No matter how Liverpool dress this up, they wouldn’t be in this midfield pickle now if the £55m Guinean had lived up to expectations. Never fit, never fitted in, barely learned English, he was one the ace recruitment team got badly wrong.
‘Beware a Greek bearing gifts’, they say. Forest’s owner Evangelos Marinakis wanted Jesse Lingard to be the club’s statement signing: to show he meant business. On £100k a week, the ex-Devil drew a blank in goals and assists and lost his place. A waste of money and a career in limbo, he almost cost Forest dear.
Another ‘remember him’. Another who played for England in the 2018 World Cup and whose downward slide could be terminal. From Spurs to Everton to Besiktas and back via injuries and going AWOL. After the last chance saloon, next up could be oblivion if he’s not careful.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.