Old eras close, new chapters open

It’s with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to the Premier League on FOX Soccer, for now. We’ve loved bringing you all the action these many years and wish all our colleagues at NBC Sports the very best of luck next year. Though I will not miss waking up early on Saturday or Sunday, I will very miss being part of your weekend mornings.

This season does feel like the end of an era in so many ways. Sir Alex Ferguson has led a season of retirements, with some great, great players saying goodbye; with Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and David Beckham retiring from the beautiful game. I must tip my hat and say thank you. I’ve played with all of these men – and of course, against Sir Alex many times – and I can tell you that they were some of England’s best. The game will miss them, no doubt. But a torch is being passed and I hope that next season some of the young, exciting English talent – men like Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Daniel Sturridge – will rise to the challenge.

I’ve been asked about my players and manager of the season, and I don’t think my selections will shock anyone. Robin van Persie, for me, won the title for Manchester United with his magnificent performances early in the season. In my view, Sir Alex has to be the manager of the year. The most valuable player is rightly Gareth Bale, because we witnessed how much Tottenham depended on him game in and game out. With that, we should take time to applaud Santi Cazorla’s year at Arsenal. The Gunners would not be where they are without his performances, either.

Arsenal got the job done on Sunday against a gritty Newcastle side at St. James Park. Arsene Wenger got the back line sorted out with the Emirates side. Over the final two months, the Gunners  finally showed the desire and consistency to win. The table does not lie: they are in fourth place and will play in the Champions League next season.

It’s been hard on Newcastle, and Alan Pardew was correct when he said the club needs strengthening. The Magpies have to sort out just how to do that. There are holes in their defense, and the team needs bulk up as there’s not enough depth on their bench. But I was proud of how they paid tribute to one of their own, goalkeeper Steve Harper, and I think that in a small way, shows you the Newcastle spirit.

I’d also like to single out Rafa Benitez, as he’s taken a lot of stick from the fans. Chelsea never embraced him, yet he’s won a Europa League trophy and got them into the Champions League next season. That’s not bad, and I think he behaved with dignity and kept his head down. I do hope the Stamford Bridge faithful remember that in the future. After all, it wasn’t his decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo.

Now of course, we have a lot of things to keep an eye on in the off-season. Who’s coming in at Manchester City and Chelsea? Is Bale staying at Spurs, or will he go to Real Madrid? Can Arsenal attract the talent to make them a Premier League title contender again? This is all fascinating stuff, and we’ll be paying close, close attention to it.

We have one more big weekend coming up, and that of course is the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. All of us are thrilled to be able to present Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to you (live, FOX, Sunday, 2 p.m. ET) and I hope you join us for what I think will be a thriller. All season long, we’ve seen Bayern’s dominance in Europe, and I think they are the favorites. Nonetheless, Dortmund play thrilling soccer and are going to go all-out in attack against their archrivals. This is going to be an epic battle and we could see an all-time classic in our hands.

As always, I hope you will follow me on Twitter @WarrenBarton2 – I love the banter with you guys. You can also ask a question any time by using the #heywarren hashtag on @FOXSoccer. And last but not least, I want to thank you. All of you readers and viewers have helped the beautiful game here in the USA, and it’s meant a great deal to me and to all my colleagues here at FOX Soccer. I look forward to seeing you next Saturday.