With the traditional full slate of Sunday afternoon fixtures upon us to close out the Barclays Premier League season, below are some of the subplots, the starring characters who shaped and formed BPL season 2012-13. All this for a league regarded to be the global reference point when it comes to domestic league play.
Au Revoir Bobby & Ballo - Just after Balotelli announced at last summer's EURO 2012 his true talent, especially so as he set about tearing to shreds a highly regarded German defence, his inability early in the season to reign in his misbehaving ways finally caught up with him. Mancini who stands accused of disloyalty as he entertained Monaco last spring remained staunchly loyal to his protégé throughout. Now back in a more natural environment, Balotelli has excelled in the jersey of the Associazione Calcio Milan and played a prominent role to diffuse the angry racial hatred that led to a halt in play at last weekend's game against Roma. Mancini will be missed. Especially so from the media corps who he always entertained as he willingly provided them with sound bites and headlines one normally associates with a chap who goes by the name of José Mário dos Santos Mourinho.
Bounce-back ability - Not easy losing one of world football's elite in the pre-season, especially so when that player ends up wearing the jersey of your biggest rivals for the title after contributing 30 goals to the Arsenal cause in his final season. Wenger has been used to shedding high grade talent and replacing it with the young and raw who go on and make a good account of themselves in terms of Champions League qualification. This time though it seemed different. As last August the Emirates door slapped RVP on the backside on his way out the egg timer on Wenger's Arsenal career would follow at seasons end. The clubs early season form hardly set the Arsenal faithful alight. Instead in a very hostile way they very publically questioned if Wenger knew what he was doing - the low point came during the fifth round FA Cup defeat to Blackburn at the Emirates in late February. Since then though a full on renaissance has swept through the fabled Arsenal corridors as they now sit on the verge of claiming Champions League football once more. How Wenger must be relishing a Ferguson free season.
Brendan Rodgers v Michael Laudrup - For every Brendan Rodgers sound bite where for most part of this season be obsessively requested more time for him and his football philosophy to bed in at Anfield I present to you as a counter argument Michael Laudrup. Many players followed Rodgers out of the Liberty Stadium gates for pastures new last summer. Including Welsh player of the year Joe Allen who joined Rodgers at Anfield and yet we didn't once hear Laudrup utter excuses his new look team needed time to gel when his players failed to deliver the goods. Yet with a playing squad of three times the value it was Rodgers who obsessively pressed the 'need more time' panic chord. Back on the opening day of the season as Swansea set about QPR in west London scoring five Liverpool toiled in the Hawthorns heat as West Brom ran up the score. Some of the first words out of Rodgers mouth post match regarded his irritation with some of the referee's decisions. As BPL games came and went the 'why always us' mantra became a Rogers theme for the entire season. As Laudrup takes responsibility Rodgers style demands he apportions all blame with others. Not quite sure they'd be the ingredients to even win a lowly League Cup.
Keystone Cops Chelsea Rafalution - The BPL does not ever fail to provide unscripted plot lines which on the surface seem more in keeping with the performance of headliners at a Just For Laughs comedy festival than what we would normally associate with the upper echelons of world football. Taking the starring role this season were Chelsea where seemingly a pre-requisite for silverware isn't determined by a winning mentality but firing the manager before Christmas and installing a caretaker manager to close out the season. The appointment of Benitez was mocked and ridiculed from its inception especially so from the club's supporters who refused to acknowledge the Spaniard let alone accept him. Fortunately their disappointment was the exclusive domain of non-aggressive banter in the verbal forms. The moralists were outraged. As outsiders who likely have not once stepped foot in London let alone Stamford Bridge SW6 it wasn't any of their business. However, even with ample chin 'A Fat Spanish Waiter' Benitez is not. A football pragmatist - who apart from 1 post match outburst where he blamed the Chelsea hierarchy and the official CFC kitchen sink for the ill filling towards him he took all the abuse in his considerable stride. With Champions League football secured last Saturday, Benitez quickly followed that up in midweek with yet another UEFA title. Let's just hope Benitez is afforded a rightful ovation when the curtain falls on his Chelsea reign tomorrow afternoon. Not many other managers can claim to have won European silverware with both Liverpool and Chelsea. The sniggers now silenced - he who laughs last laughs loudest applies in SW6 tomorrow afternoon.
Greatness - Having been announced on Friday as the recipient of the 2012/13 BPL player of the year award that follows up his very recent PFA and Football Writers awards Gareth Bale is the unanimous candidate to break the current La Liga monopoly of FIFA's current All Star XI. Bale announced his worldly intentions at the San Siro one fall evening back in 2010. With Redknapp's man management charm replaced by the tactical acumen of AVB Bale's performances this season have risen to red hot plutonium grade. No other player has scored more match winners this BPL term. Bale has done so on eight occasions. Not bad for a player who spent most of his professional career in the left back position. With the best still to come, the BPL will be much poorer if Gareth bails in the summer
Harry's Cameo - Unceremoniously turfed from White Hart Lane after coming over early last summer all stroppy and mega enriched contract demanding with Spurs supremo Daniel Levy - Harry Redknapp found his bum sat on his sofa at home as opposed to on the Spurs bench when the season kicked off. We knew 'Arry would top the list of any club who found themselves starring down at the relegation abyss. QPR's Tony Fernandes willingly obliged a waiting world when Mark Hughes was sacked after starting the season with a 12 game winless streak. Having previously come good at the relegation avoidance stakes when he took over a bottom placed Spurs Redknapp seemed the perfect choice. His wheeling dealing days behind him - significant investment in the January transfer market which also included a sizeable gas bill for a driving away from the Hawthornes Peter Odemwingie - Redknapp wasn't able to even come close to a repeat performance at Loftus Road. All be it at lower price points agents of the world can be comforted by the recent news 'Arry is tasked with bringing the West Londoners back to the BPL promised land next season.
Loathsome Suarez - If respect and common decency for your opponents and officialdom was strongly correlated with your undeniable football skill levels - the very crafty and cunning Luis Suarez would not only be ranked 1 of world football's true greats there likely would be a UN Ambassadorship waiting in New York for the Uruguayan. Following his latest Hannibal Lecter impression on Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic Suarez has undeniably proved his career will be defined by a ferociously irrational temper. Behaviour of which in public would have led to a sizeable prison term by now. The worst thing Mutu did was set about destroying himself when Chelsea terminated the Rumanian's contract a few seasons back for substance abuse. Suarez crimes are abusive to the entire beautiful game. As the club have meekly stood by Liverpool is an accomplice in all this and in doing so stand accused of enabling Suarez. Liverpool Football Club do the rightful and decent thing - show some teeth and rip up his contract.
Michu Matas - Hands up all those who remember where they were last July 20th when they heard the news Rayo Vallecano's Michu had signed for Swansea? Didn't think so and before you ask the £2million fee bandied about wasn't the amount trousered by the Spaniard's agent but the actual transfer fee Swansea paid Vallecano. Whatever metric you use to determine Value For Money, there likely has not been a more compelling case in the entire history of the BPL of an overseas player in his debut season having such a deep rooted influence on not just his club's season but felt across the entire league. Especially so as the much vaunted UEFA Financial Fair Play model comes into full effect next season. Michu's constant goal scoring threat and significant overall contribution were evident from the get go and continued all season long. How refreshing it is that for two straight seasons it has been diminutive Spaniards who whilst they struggle to get any type of national recognition have completely lit up the BPL in such honest and innocent ways. Mata has been so unaffected by the phenomenal rise in his profile and star power he still takes the London tube to work.
1,500 And Out - There will not ever be another quite like Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson who announced his retirement completely on his terms and as a champion. Ferguson's Achilles heel was most certainly an inability to consistently conquer Europe. But we know full well the Scots are not exactly the greatest of soccer travellers. When the champions close out their campaign away to West Brom it will ring up match number 1,500 for the most successful manger in the 150 year history of English football. Ferguson is not replaceable. A huge void is about to descend on Old Trafford and across the league. How Manchester United Football Club and David Moyes deal with it will be one of the more fascinating aspects of a season that leads us all into Brazil2014. We are about to discover if Fergie's higher calling upstairs to the directors box and his ominous presence looking out and over the lush Old Trafford pitch will help or hinder the cause for the most winningest team in English football history.
Zen - There's more than a remote possibility Arsenal and Chelsea will finish the season tied for third place. In which case a playoff match will determine who trousers the considerable additional prize money for making it onto the BPL's podium of guaranteed Champions League spots. Yesterday the league announced any such match would take place on May 26th at Villa Park. Only problem for Chelsea is that on May 25th they are scheduled to be playing a rather significant exhibition match at Yankee Stadium against Manchester City. If indeed the playoff match comes to be and after Tottenham were denied a rightful position in this season's Champions League as Chelsea took their spot following victory in Munich last May wonder how many Spurs fans will travel up to Villa Park on behalf of the Arsenal cause.
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