Football can be a very fickle game at the best of times, and most football fans accept this, however, it can also be a very ironic game. How many times do we watch the cup draw and see a manager drawn against a former club? Or a player against the team he has recently left?
Take Theo Walcott for example. Back in 2006 Walcott had signed for Arsenal for an initial fee of £5m rising to £12m depending on appearances for club and country. He was such a prized asset, that Arsene Wenger gave the 17 year old a break from the game to allow him to settle in to his new role at the London club. The fact that Arsenal had paid so much for him and then allowed him a leave of absence tells you how highly rated he was. But at this time he was just that, ‘rated’ – he had not proved at the top level that he was a player of quality who could sustain top level performance for any period of time.
Come the summer of 2006 and the World Cup in Germany and Walcott found himself selected in Sven Goran Eriksson’s final World Cup squad. Despite having only played 13 times for the Gunners, and with Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen both recovering from injury, he was selected ahead of players who had had successful seasons. Eriksson saw something in him enough to select him, whether it be for the unknown quality he may have been to oppositions, or for his raw pace, he saw something. However, at the World Cup he didn’t feature – not even for a minute, despite another lacklustre England performance, and despite selection problems.
This is irony raises its head. Over the past 12 months Walcott has delivered goals and consistent performances which would have him on the plane to Rio – but in a cruel twist of fate, his place has been snatched away by injury. At a time when the temperature will be high and increased athleticism required, Walcott is a player who could have shone for England, providing an outlet and threat to teams who do not see England as a pacey and classy team. I bet if Theo could turn the clock back he would sacrifice his time in 2006 for a seat on the plane this year.
Irony case number two: Roy Keane. Back in 2005 Keane had a spectacular fall out with Sir Alex Ferguson and subsequently left the club by mutual consent. In the years to fall it was rumoured to be that he had become outspoken, with Ferguson himself believing Keane had taken on too much of a managers role and criticised the players far too much – Keane denies this, claiming he purely told some home truths that needed to be said.
Following the turn of the year Manchester United, under the steering of David Moyes have lost three games in a row and look a team devoid of ideas, inspiration and belief. At the game this week were Sunderland were the most recent victors, the best player on the pitch was the inexperienced Januzaj – whilst he was pushing forward looking to create, the rest of the team seemed disinterested. How Manchester United could do with Keane now to voice some home truths, to remind them what it is to play for Manchester United, and to push them back on to success. I’m not saying he should replace Moyes as manager (management does not seem his forte) but Moyes could do a lot worse than have him in the dressing giving his opinion. In a time when footballers can no longer accept criticism, and when criticisms and manager actions are openly revealed to the press, players find themselves in a bubble where they believe they are untouchable, regardless of the success they have on the pitch, they are just happy to pick up a pay check – not all players but it is obvious some players have no loyalties or ambition, other than to their bank manager and their ambition to accumulate. For a club like Manchester United they cannot simply turn up, play, get a wage, go home and be happy with mediocrity.
For Moyes this is a new experience; what Everton would have construed as success (top 6) Manchester United see as a failure. This is something he will have to rise to – a season without any trophy is not good enough, yet, aside from the Community Shield, it looks a distinct possibility.
True Fergie may have known the squad was not good enough, but he has rebuilt a Champions League winning squad before, and he did after all leave Moyes with a Championship winning team and the money and players to develop.
What should have been potentially career defining seasons appear to be fizzling out – Walcott may very well have ample opportunity to realise this potential; Moyes on the other hand may already be on borrowed time.