It’s the match of the season! Sort of

Tonight, Manchester City take on Tottenham Hotspur in what’s been dubbed (by TV marketing men) The Battle For Fourth Place.

There’s a lot at stake. A lot. I know this, because the Daily Mirror and Sky and The Times tell me so. In fact there’s so much to play for that it threatens to engulf us all in a tsunami of football importance.

Except that there isn’t. Is there?

In the end, this is a match between two teams who weren’t good enough to maintain any sort of Premier League challenge. What exactly is there to celebrate? Entry to the qualification rounds of the Champions League? Big deal, City have more cash than any other club in the world, and with Harry and Daniel Levy in charge of the current account at White Hart Lane, Spurs are looking very healthy too. In fairness, Redknapp was gutted about missing out on the FA Cup – perhaps more than the bosses at the Premier League were altogether comfortable with.

What the hype surrounding this match demonstrates is that football celebrates failure. Or, more truthfully, it celebrates its continuing existence. The rewarding of baubles for “deferred success” keeps the fans of those clubs not good enough to do something as old fashioned as actually winning the league interested to the end.

It’s this thinking that has seen teams who’ll never claim the title resting players in competitions like the FA and UEFA Cups, because there’s a danger that actually winning something may spell the end of their precious tenure in Premier League. Bolton had a real chance to progress in the 2008 UEFA Cup, but were knocked out in the last 16 by Sporting Lisbon, because inspirational manager Gary Megson decided that Premier League survival was more important than capturing one of the world’s most prestigious trophies, and fielded a weakened side. They had to be ready for the next match, against Wigan, you see – a game they, er, lost 1-0.

It’s this lack of ambition that makes soccer so uninspiring. Football clubs are there to win things, not just to exist, hanging about, hoping they don’t get relegated. Do Bolton fans really care that they stayed up in 2008? It’s not as if getting promoted is a difficult task, as West Brom remind us every couple of years. But imagine if they’d won the UEFA Cup? Hell, The Reebok might have had an atmosphere for once.

So, tonight, when City kick-off against Spurs, excuse me if I’m not slavering with excitement. This is a match for the nearly-men of English football.

And remember this, if the Premier League programme is getting a bit hectic next season, whoever does qualify will only moan about playing too many games. They’ll no doubt field a weakened side – after all, it worked for Megson, didn’t it, Gary? Oh… hang on.


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