ENGLAND stand at fourth, unsteadily I must add, among the favourites for the World Cup in Qatar.
They have a chance of recording their second Hallelujah in 72 years but for all Gareth Southgateâs soft-spoken commitment, I wonât bet more than a few of the Kingâs newly-minted bob on it.
It appears the team is on a gentle downward curve, perhaps because too many of the squad that did so well in the European Championship last year have slipped into exhausted form or spent too many hours in the treatment room.
Or maybe because there is so little break between the Prem ending mid-season and the tournament starting that players who are carrying injuries cannot travel.
Why, oh why did Fifa give Qatar the World Cup? Well… we know why, donât we?
But despite all the issues, it seems the team doesnât sing any more.
Southgate is a cautious manager and he has more reasons to be so than at any time in his six-year tenure.
Things donât knit so tidily these days. For one reason or another, Harry Maguire, Kalvin Phillips, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford are below their best, not surprising in the case of Phillips because injury has limited him since he joined Manchester City.
His knotty aggression would be badly missed.
Some little miracle will have to work for England even to reach the semi-finals, which the bookies suggest they should. Football coming home? More like partying in Rio or Paris, Iâd guess.
So our fans will have to be satisfied with the Premier League, the lucky dogs. I say that because their likely disappointments of Doha will soon be no more than regrets at what (just) might have been, once the Prem returns.
Yes, itâs true that I love the competition. Not all of it, what with VAR, with players littering the pitch because something hurts a little and with handball rules no one can quite understand.
Even with those reasons â and fill in the space for half-dozen others â English football is unbeatable entertainment. Itâs simply the best league in the world.
Rich men and Hollywood stars have discovered this, so have oil sheikhs and Americans.
Oil-financed football is not completely my favourite for the future of the top-level game because vast money is beginning to warp it.
Buy a club, grab the best manager going and suddenly your team â lucky old you â are among the leaders.
It happened to Manchester City, who appointed the best boss on earth, Pep Guardiola, and garlanded him with almost anything he wanted.
This is not jealousy in Claret and Blue writing, instead of grumbling, the tut-titters, I feel we ought to be cheering all of the Premier League teams along. The Government could learn from the way the Prem is conducted. It proves that a trickle-down policy can work.
Whether the EFL like it or not, a heap of money is already being passed through English football and, guess what, it works.
The Championship is a first-class competition with the seventh-highest attendance figure in the game.
But while the EFL are fixated about the cliff edge from the 20th professional club in the country and the rest, there is already a bigger drop forming in the Prem, between sixth and the rest.
The Uefa Champions League money, which pays out an average of Â£60million, looks set to grow by 50 per cent.
This doesnât even take into account the additional revenue these clubs earn from sponsorship, retail and so on. The sponsorship revenue of Liverpool is greater than the entire turnover of Aston Villa.
The result is that itâs getting harder and harder to compete with the spending power of the top six and the gap is growing.
It should come as no surprise that half of the top ten highest-paid players in the Premier League play for Man City.
And the best-paid player in the Prem – Cristiano Ronaldo (Â£27m a year) – earned Â£9m more than the ENTIRE TURNOVER of Nottingham Forest last year (Â£18m).
Itâs bonkers when you look at it like that.
Our game thrives on competition, so maybe there should be some calls for addressing this problem â improved control of the amount Premier clubs spend on transfers, either levelling up or down.
Otherwise the top six will never be challenged in the league, something I guess they wanted to achieve with their disastrous closed shop European Super League farce.
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