A season through the looking glass
Every year, usually about this time, football goes barking mad.
This summer it has gone so berserk that Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, would feel deeply proud. So proud I felt inspired Ã¢ÂÂ hopefully thatÃ¢ÂÂs the word Ã¢ÂÂ to review the season through his characters.
Off to the Mad Hatters
Among the hordes behaving like people seeking a season ticket to the maverick hat makerÃ¢ÂÂs endless round of tea and riddles are Carlos Queiroz - memorably comparing RealÃ¢ÂÂs pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo to SpainÃ¢ÂÂs adoption of Christopher Columbus - the chairman of PSV, Ajax and NAC who, despite finishing first, second and third in the Eredivisie have sacked their managers (a paradox amusingly explored here by Leander Schaerlackens) and, of course, that nice Roman Abramovich.
An article in the Sun sheds some intriguing light on the American Idol style panel the next Chelsea manager will have to impress. The eight men include:
Two billionaires called Eugene (Tenenbaum and Shvidler), associates of AbramovichÃ¢ÂÂs from his Russian oil days.
Bobby Campbell, Chelsea stalwart who took agin JosÃÂ© and briefly managed the Blues when they lost to Scarborough in the League Cup.
Danish midfielder and agent SÃÂ¸ren Lerby whose CV includes a spell at PSV and whose managerial career ended at Bayern in 1992 after they lost 6-3 to his old club B 1903 in the UEFA Cup.
Bruce Buck, Chelsea chairman, an American lawyer who specialises in acquisitions and admitted in the Independent that his three sons are Liverpool fans and he might have been a Red but he couldnÃ¢ÂÂt face Ã¢ÂÂtraipsing upÃ¢ÂÂ to Anfield.
Peter Kenyon, the clubÃ¢ÂÂs chief executive who made his name at Umbro. His arrival from Manchester United is the clearest sign of AbramovichÃ¢ÂÂs desire to emulate the Red Devils. At Stamford Bridge, Kenyon has the stature, sartorial nous and mysterious urgency of CarrollÃ¢ÂÂs white rabbit.
Something else he has in common with the white rabbit: itÃ¢ÂÂs hard for outsiders to tell exactly what he does.
Circling around is Piet de Visser, a mysterious character (as you can tell from his wikipedia page) who is less than six degrees of separation away from the likes of Frank Arnesen, ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs sporting director, and Guus Hiddink and acts as a kind of roving scout.
Even the Mad Hatter might find this assortment of courtiers odd. The circle is longer on finance than it is on knowledge of football. And, the crucial question: if this is an American Idol style panel, which one is Paula Abdul?
Now, their most urgent task Ã¢ÂÂ apart from choosing a manager Ã¢ÂÂ is to avoid a Neverkusen-style meltdown. The last few teams to reach the UEFA Champions League final for the first time and lose have all imploded Ã¢ÂÂ think Monaco in 2003, Valencia after 2000 and 2001 and most spectacularly Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, whose treble whammy of missed trophies traumatised the club, coach and players.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Massimo Moratti and Abramovich may seem very different to Mourinho as he returns to the limelight but they are both oil men who do not believe the dressing room is the coachÃ¢ÂÂs domain and like to back their own judgement in the transfer market.
Ã¢ÂÂThe question is, which is to be master thatÃ¢ÂÂs all,Ã¢ÂÂ says the fragile eggy bloke with a knack for sitting on Ã¢ÂÂ and falling off Ã¢ÂÂ walls and arguing about semantics. His bulky, nitpicking self-confidence recalls Louis Van Gaal, a coach who - despite guiding AZ Alkmaar to the giddy depths of 11th in the Eredivisie - felt obliged to sound off about RangersÃ¢ÂÂ style of football being bad for the game.
Ally McCoistÃ¢ÂÂs rejoinder was that he and Walter Smith were making the best of what they had. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs fine as far as it goes but if they donÃ¢ÂÂt dip into the transfer market to inject some flair into the midfield we might conclude they want to play that way.
Rangers were brave in the UEFA Cup final Ã¢ÂÂ and inspirational at times on their way to Eastlands Ã¢ÂÂ but they were battered by Zenit St Petersburg. The Gers midfield might as well have been kidnapped by aliens before kick off having their oral cavities probed by little green men for two hours for all the impact they had on the game. Walter Smith will want to fix that.
One of CarrollÃ¢ÂÂs most melancholy characters, saddened by the fact that he used to be a real turtle and the prospect that he is destined to become soup.
His contemporary football equivalent has to be professionally unimpressed Mark Lawrenson, a pundit whose voice is laden with ennui, approaching some semblance of enthusiasm only when a Liverpool player (usually Steven Gerrard) does something of note.
The Red Queen
Should Fergie quit while heÃ¢ÂÂs ahead? The Times wants to know. The United manager has shown the cold, calm fury of the Red Queen in the Looking Glass (not to be confused with the capricious off-with-their-heads Queen of Hearts in Wonderland).
He will have shrewdly appraised the competitive state of European football and deduced that with Chelsea and Liverpool suffering from self-inflicted wounds, Real Madrid and Barcelona rebuilding and AC Milan not even in the competition, 2008/09 is a golden opportunity for Man United to win back to back Champions Leagues.
For Ferguson to retire now would be like Napoleon retreating to St Helena after he had crushed the Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz.