Nouveau riche vs old school

29 Aug 2014 / 04:36 H.

    IT’S extremely early doors – just two league games played and still four days of the transfer window left – but one distinct impression can already be formed from the fledgling season: the nouveau riche are leaving ‘old money’ behind. And old money is panicking.
    Manchester City and Chelsea are such firm favourites for the title that the bookies think it’s a two-horse race while Manchester United are paying double for any decent player who is available. For their part, Liverpool were so desperate to replace the irreplaceable they’ve taken a punt on the unmanageable.
    So could this be when the ‘rich man’s toy’ clubs put some distance between themselves and the traditional powerhouses of the English game?
    Fortunately for the old guard, their fan bases and global pulling power will ensure they will always remain contenders even if both are suffering from the effects of cowboy owners. Despite the sums being spent, you still have to ask whether United would be in their present mess had the Glazers had not siphoned £750m (RM3.92b) out of their transfer budget for interest payments, while Liverpool have still to shake off the disastrous interregnum of Hicks and Gillett.
    While United have entrusted an old continental maestro to guide them back to glory, Liverpool are in the hands of a relatively young British tyro, but what the old money duo are also doing is relying on some old-school management virtues.
    Worlds apart in age and achievement, what Luis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers have in common is the courage of their convictions – and the ability to handle players. Van Gaal, 62, could have opted for the quiet life of retirement in Portugal (or even Spurs) – his already-illustrious reputation enhanced by a fine World Cup,
    but instead he couldn’t resist a shot at a final hurrah when United came calling.
    The Dutchman may have landed himself a bigger task than even he imagined and he’s throwing money at it. But he’s also throwing himself right into it. Renowned for the intensity of his coaching, he is astute enough to brush off the rough start as long he signs a centre-back and defensive midfielder before Monday’s deadline.
    Meanwhile Rodgers, faced with replacing Luis Suarez, has taken the ultimate risk in hiring Mario Balotelli (pix). He has admitted that the Italian could be “trouble”, but as well as being a mark of desperation, as with Van Gaal, there is much to admire in his gamble. Above all else, he feels he can get the best out of a hugely talented but unfulfilled enigma.
    Rodgers can point to the fact that he got the best out of Suarez, curing both his swallow-like and cannibalistic tendencies to turn him from a wantaway pariah to Kop legend. In many ways, Balotelli is a choirboy compared to the Uruguayan.
    A trawl through the Italian’s many ‘moments’ and – as daft as they are – you cannot find anything malicious. He is stupid rather than bad – and his talent is not in question. His biggest weaknesses are his tendency to disappear in games and disregard instructions – both of which drove Roberto Mancini to distraction at Manchester City.
    Looking at Liverpool in their first two games, Suarez was the absent spectre at their slim pickings. His are massive shoes to fill and Balotelli does not have his genius for wriggling through the eye of a needle and almost defying the laws of geometry to turn a lost cause into priceless booty. But what he does share with his predecessor is that ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor – unpredictability and sheer, blind menace.
    Once the Loic Remy deal was dead in the water, Rodgers looked around at what was available and did not see anyone that had those qualities. And having had two games to remind him of what was missing – Daniel Sturridge looking a lost and lonely soul in both – he opted to gamble and trust himself to fathom what makes Balotelli tick. For just £16m (RM83.67m) it seemed worth a punt.
    Defences will be wary of him and he himself must know that this is his last chance to make it in the big time or forever be remembered for his shenanigans off the field rather than his infuriatingly occasional skills on it. Sturridge needs a partner and, yes, both are selfish but then Suarez was too and the SAS partnership scored 52 goals between them. However you look at it, much will depend on Rodgers’ ability to get the best out of the new man.
    Van Gaal’s task is much greater as he has a world sporting institution in dire shape and hanging on his every whim. Even he may not be able to make silk purses out of United’s current defenders, but he’ll get it right in the end. At each place, the immediate fate of a great old club rests with one man’s people skills just as much as their tactical know-how. One thing is for sure – neither is in for a dull season.

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