I was recently asked by the Observer, in my capacity as a Norwich supporter, to pen – in 250 words or less – my thoughts on the new season.
It was the usual stuff: key player, weak links, likely headline creator, prediction for season and also ‘if you could sign one player from your club’s history, who would it be?’
The last one was easy – for me anyway – with the thought of Darren Huckerby again whizzing down that left wing, leaving hapless right-backs in his wake, mouth-watering in the extreme. Obviously the whole thing is completely subjective – everyone will have their own City hero who they consider would fit seamlessly into Hughton’s latest crop – but for me Hucks provided something that no-one, before or since, has come even close to replicating.
The term ‘legend’ is not one of my favourites – it’s bandied around far too freely for my middle-aged liking – but there’s no better way to describe said gent.
So while that particular question was a no-brainer for me, the question of where I expect City to finish the season was rather more challenging – especially given my natural penchant to dither and waver. For those who are aficionados of The Fast Show`, remember a character called Indecisive Dave? Meet Indecisive Gary.
So, armed with the logic of a former accountant, I started with a process of elimination.
Who will finish above City?
With the best will in the world – and despite a summer that has seen City spend sums previously unheard of in these parts – we’re unlikely to gate-crash the big five, so – in no particular order – we’re not going to topple either Manchester club, Chelsea, Tottenham or Arsenal. While we’re a club with forward momentum, it takes an optimist of outlandish proportions to visualise us usurping said Champions League hopefuls; besides, Jamie Redknapp thinks we’re getting relegated, so we can forget the top five.
For what it’s worth, if Gareth Bale manages to manoeuvre his way from North London to Madrid I suspect Tottenham may well be looking to battle others for sixth, but for now – on the assumption he stays – a top five place looks likely.
Despite the best efforts – and belief – of Brendan Rogers, Liverpool are currently little more than contenders for ‘best of the rest’. Take Luis Suarez out of the equation and perhaps even sixth place is a step too far but, together with their Indian sign over City, to finish above the Reds will for now remain the stuff of dreams.
Joining their fellow Merseysiders in this particular battle will most likely be Everton who, under the new stewardship of Roberto Martinez, will be looking to emulate last season’s sixth place. Whether they achieve this or not will be largely down to how quickly Martinez is able to embed his ‘tiki-taka’ playing style but, either way, I would expect them have sufficient quality to see off most contenders for ‘best of the rest’ over 38 games.
Now it starts to get tricky.
As much as I’d like to throw City’s hat into the ring as potential leaders of the ‘peloton’, there are a few who currently have a stronger case. Swansea for example, while contending with the nuisance that is the Europa League, have been as busy as City over the summer months with a steady stream of technically adept Spaniards pitching up at the Liberty Stadium along with the free-scoring Ivorian Wilfred Bony.
For now I’m assuming said European dally will not detract too much from their Premier League campaign and the Swans will consolidate their top half finish of last season.
While I’m unable to put my finger exactly on who will rival the Welshmen for eighth/ninth, I have a horrible, gnawing feeling that Aston Villa to be there or thereabouts. While the bookies appear convinced that Newcastle – Joe Kinnear et all – will likely be the ones to emerge from the pack (the same bookies who have City as a shoe-in for the third relegation spot) it’s nigh on impossible to predict the mid-table minus a crystal ball.
But that’s as far as I’m prepared to go in predicting who will finish above City. The top five, the Merseysiders, the Swans and AN Other.
Then – in my simple mind – who better equipped to grab tenth place than City.
Lots of ifs of course. If the new players can hit the ground; if Chris Hughton can add a creative edge that was missing last season; if Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper can fill the goalscoring void left by Grant Holt; if City’s defence can build on last season’s solidity and avoid the heavy defeats, and if Hughton can bolt a couple more quality items on to his existing squad.
If four of those five ‘ifs’ can be ticked, I can see – admittedly thanks to the old yellow and green tinted specs – nothing to stop City finishing in the top half, and a place higher than in 2012/13.
A victory of heart over head? Maybe, but with most agreeing now to be the best time to be a City supporter, why shouldn’t City’s progression take us to the top ten.
So there… it’s official; Mr Indecisive says tenth.
Or could we make ninth?
But what if Bassong gets injured?
I’ll get my coat…