Flip-side of Henry, Scholes' return
We’ve had another busy week in the Premier League with a managerial change and the return of two true heroes to the game.
Thierry Henry and Paul Scholes have made an electrifying return, and it’s always great for clubs to get players with the kind of professionalism and experience these men have back in their lineup. Both men deserve the fairytale goals they’ve scored already, and I don’t think there’s any manager in England who wouldn’t love to be able to add either of these legends.
But, and there is a “but” here, these returns do make you wonder about where the young players at these clubs are. Scholes had been retired for six months – he hadn’t been playing in another league, or playing in the reserves – and so for me, it raises some questions about the talent coming up behind them. Scholes is one of the best midfielders of his era and Henry was one of the great strikers, but where’s the next group. Why haven’t other players been able to step up? I think that’s something both clubs are going to have to ask themselves.
Big change at Loftus Road
Over at Queen’s Park Rangers, a team I played a bit for, Mark Hughes has come in as manager. Neil Warnock had done a good job, and he is rightfully proud of what he accomplished. I do think Neil took them as far as he could, but he should hold his head up high. QPR is a good club – it’s got a lot of history and expectations, and I think Mark will do a good job. His backroom staff is excellent, and he’s going to have the resources he’ll need. I also think Mark has a point to prove. There were a lot of questions when he left Fulham, and I think he’s going to look to answer all that talk.
Mark’s going to have to make some moves in the market. QPR need a striker, and they’ve been linked with one of his former players at Fulham, Bobby Zamora, but they also need quality throughout. They need a `keeper, they could use a midfielder, and if the transfer of Alex from Chelsea goes through, they will be better in the back. But with the situation they are in, they really cannot add too much.
Speaking of transfers, it does seem a bit quiet, but I think that is because everyone is holding their cards tight. Remember last year at this time we saw Fernando Torres, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez all move very late; then we saw the moves Arsenal made with Arteta at the death this past fall. I’m sure it will be busy soon enough. The stakes are so high that it cannot be any other way. Everyone is just waiting for the first domino to fall.
Talking title race
Let’s talk quickly about the top three teams: City were riding high before the holidays. But now — they have a game in hand as this story is posted — they are level on points with United, have been knocked out of both the Champions League and FA Cup and are a goal down in the Carling Cup.
This time upcoming is going to really test City’s character. Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany are huge losses, and the roster that took the field against United in the Cup wasn’t as strong as we might have been led to believe. Adam Johnson hasn’t really made an impact up top; Samir Nasri hasn’t stepped up and Gael Clichy hasn’t cemented his place. They are going to need to find some answers to be able ride out this rough patch.
United, on the other hand, still haven’t hit their full stride, and yet, look where they are? They had back-to-back defeats against Newcastle and Blackburn but have come right back and closed the goal difference gap down on City as well. Anyone else you’d have written off in November. Not them. They’ve got too much determination and toughness, and you don’t win 19 league titles without that.
Spurs were the surprise last year in the Champions League and this year, they’re the surprise in the league. We knew they were good — they had quality in Luka Modric and Gareth Bale and have added more in Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker — but I’m not convinced that they are contenders yet. They have a big six game league stretch coming up, with matches against United, Liverpool, Newcastle, Arsenal and City. That could and should define their season.
PFA needs to do more for retired players
Finally, I want to mention Dean Windass. As you may know, Dean spoke openly this week about his struggles with depression and his attempted suicide. Dean is a great character, and my thoughts go out to him.
It is very difficult retiring from being a professional athlete. When you’re a footballer, you’re at the job when you’re told to, you train when you’re told to, you eat when you’re told to, you sleep when you’re told to. When you’re career is over, and you’re out in the real world — and none of that is there, and you’re alone — it’s difficult.
The PFA should be helping men like Dean out, and moreover should be offering guys advice and guidance after their careers are over. We hear so many stories about athletes losing their money, having personal problems and divorce, and I think this is where the PFA could put some programs in place to help stop that. I know it’s hard for athletes to ask for help because it’s taken as a sign of weakness, but it’s not weak — all of us need support and help at times in our life. I hope the PFA does the right thing by him and all the other footballers who need help.
Remember, you can always follow me on Twitter at @Warrenbarton2 and I’ll see you from the Fox Soccer set next weekend for all the Premiership action.