We select a few contenders for the Premier League’s flop of the season – and invite you to have your say.
Boehly’s Chelsea circus
Let’s face it, this entire page could have been filled with Chelsea flops. There was a point in late April when, with Chelsea on a losing run under the dumbfounded Frank Lampard, saviour without a clue, it became almost possible that the club would pay the ultimate price for eight months of farce and get relegated. As it is, the (dis)organisation that walloped out close to £600m on transfers finished in mid-table, but with no heroics in staying up. From Thomas Tuchel’s still-mysterious defenestration, to Graham Potter being handed a squad so bloated they had to use two different dressing rooms, to spending all that loot and still not signing a striker beyond Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – signed for Tuchel only for the coach to be sacked within days – Chelsea’s decision-making made little sense.
In an era when many football fans yearn for some kind of economic equality, Chelsea instead proved the adage that fools and money are easily parted, that money does not guarantee success, serving to validate rival, more professional – and controversial – regimes at Manchester City and Newcastle. Todd Boehly himself, the ownership consortium frontman who began the season espousing all-star games as an answer to English football’s financial shortfalls, later revealed his talents as a tipster. “Chelsea’s going to win 3-0,” he blared in March before the Blues, of course, were gubbed by that same scoreline at Real Madrid.
Conte and Tottenham
Remember last August, when the title race was between Manchester City and Liverpool? There was also a third way, the Tottenham way, the club who at last had a winner as manager and looked capable of challenging. The famously picky Antonio Conte also seemed to be happy with the summer’s transfer business, a legacy sticking point between Daniel Levy, the club chairman, and his managers. That uneasy alliance did not sustain for long, and despite some decent early results, tension between Conte and just about everyone at the club became obvious. Tragedy played its part when Conte lost his fitness coach, Gian Piero Ventrone, and then Sinisa Mihajlovic and Gianluca Vialli, friends from his playing days, in short, grim order. So did illness when Conte required a gallbladder operation and needed to take a further leave of absence.
It was soon clear a new contract offer would not be signed but the ending was spectacular. After the 3-3 draw with Southampton on 18 March, a snarling Conte apologised to a room of journalists for being late and then, over 14 minutes, screamed down the edifice of Tottenham and Levy. “Tottenham’s story is this, 20 years there is the owner and they never won something … They can change the manager, a lot of managers, but the situation cannot change.” Soon enough, the manager changed, with barely a backwards glance between Conte and Spurs, despite the team still being fourth when he left.
Saints’ analytics experiment
The south coast club were once a paragon, famed for expertise in youth development and scouting, both of which would be picked off by bigger clubs. A decline has been obvious for a couple of years as the well began to run dry, but the new broom of Sports Republic, the consortium that became the club’s majority owner in January 2022, helped flush the club down the Premier League drain.
Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft were the co-owners who favoured analytics, and eventually their readouts suggested that Ralph Hasenhüttl’s removal was the next step in their revolution. The next man? The disastrous appointment of Nathan Jones may one day be regarded as historic: not because of seven losses from eight Premier League matches or a war of words with the manager of Havant & Waterlooville, but because Saints beating Manchester City in the Carabao Cup prevented a potential Pep Guardiola quadruple. In came the rookie Rubén Sellés, already on the staff, while £60m of January transfer business brought in four attacking players who scored six goals between them as relegation became inevitable; Kamaldeen Sulemana’s contribution to that total, for a cost of £22m, was two against Liverpool on final day, Saints’ fate long sealed.
Leicester, the fallen champions
Rather like Southampton’s, Leicester’s demise has not been surprising to anyone paying close enough attention but the fall of 2016’s champions and 2021’s FA Cup winners is a parable of trying to stand still in the Premier League having previously tried to breach the top four. The slide, once it started – and Leicester’s season began with one point from seven matches – was steep. With Harvey Barnes and James Maddison in the squad, there was no lack of talent but the case of Wout Faes was instructive. Initially inspirational, later a liability, the Belgian defender’s lack of confidence spoke to Brendan Rodgers losing his touch. Rodgers has demonstrated he has a shelf life at a club, and in choosing to keep him when relations were strained, Leicester paid a heavy price. The late-season alliance of Dean Smith, John Terry and Craig Shakespeare could not stop the rot as the Foxes were relegated on the final day, despite beating West Ham. This was no case of being too good to go down; bad decisions had long dictated that.
Klopp’s moods at Liverpool
He has always had an edge but Liverpool’s amiable wild-and-crazy-guy manager has been replaced with a grey-faced grump who has spent the season taking on all-comers. A couple of members of Merseyside’s usually loyal press pack have been on the end of some Jürgen Klopp invective. Such jousting with hacks is all in the game when it remains respectful – olive branches were later offered – but his behaviour towards John Brooks when he was fourth official for the game with Tottenham at Anfield on 30 April was reprehensible. The manager’s reaction to Liverpool’s late winner was of a piece with much of his touchline behaviour this season.
That Liverpool have had a disappointing year must be a sincere frustration, as previous peers Manchester City disappear over the horizon, but Klopp’s mood speaks to a darkness enveloping him and, beyond that, perhaps the club’s setup. With back-office staff such as the sporting director, Julian Ward, and the director of research, Ian Graham, departing Anfield this summer, questions will be raised over how easy it might be to work with someone who so clearly likes things his own way.