As the country dangles on the brink of European Championship fever we ride that wave of euphoria in bringing you some updates on football pieces we featured a few months ago. Our first priority here must be to praise the winner of this season's Londonist Fantasy Football League title, so let's hear it for the redoubtable Diaby Does Gallas FK who, having snatched top spot from Hopeless XI as we reported in January, held their ground during the second half of the season to finish at the top of the pile. The result was in doubt right up until the final game as the two teams were separated at kick off by a mere 12 points in totals of around 2200, but two goals and an assist for Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing in their 8-1 dismantling of a rudderless Manchester City saw our leader home handsomely. Indeed, the top three finished as-you-were from the New Year with Reido de Janeiro securing the second runners-up place. After winning last year, Londonist hauled itself from mid-table to a healthy sixth in the second half of the season and is already contemplating life without the automatic pick that was Cristiano Ronaldo as he edges towards a Spanish future.
Meanwhile, Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, a favourite of Londonist ever since he first brandished his tousled locks in our Premier League, has discreetly joined the Emirates exodus by agreeing to join 2007 Bundesliga champions VfB Stuttgart once his stint at Euro 2008 is over. Back in January Jens insisted that, despite losing his place in Arsene Wenger's first choice XI, he wasn't going anywhere because it would mean leaving his family to the mercy of London's mean streets and dragging his children from schools they liked. Obviously, he's had time now to properly formulate his escape plan and presumably disguised his kin as ball persons and sports psychology coaches before smuggling them aboard the German team bus until it reached the traditional safety of Switzerland. Now, while daddy distracts onlookers with some trademark irascibly acrobatic displays across the border in Austria, mum and the kids can perfect their travelling musicians cover story before making the final dash to the Shangri-La that is the capital of Baden-Württemberg, a city twinned, incidentally, with Lancashire rugby league stronghold St. Helens.
Maybe the thought of jetting halfway around the world just to gain a working knowledge of dugouts in far-flung continents was the clincher for Lehmann as the spectre of the Premier League's overseas Game 39, which we told you just before Easter had not been vanquished but had merely nipped out for a quick fag break, ambles back into the limelight. We're pleased to say we were also eerily prescient a mere six weeks back about where all this was heading. As part of our imagined near future where 32 English clubs breakaway to form a hermetically sealed new league tournament we envisaged that:
All clubs could still play in the FA Cup...but another intriguing possibility would open up. A whole new knockout competition could be played abroad, though involving all the teams straight away would probably be too problematic logistically. Instead, the top four teams from last season in each conference [16 teams in total] could contest a knockout round of games in various locations around the world about a week to ten days before the start of the regular season... The eight victorious teams could then play the remaining seven ties (quarters, semis and final) around the world at convenient points during the season. The matches would be lucrative, competitive and without implications for European qualification, which would help their acceptance by FIFA and its members who already accept friendly Premiership tournaments abroad.
Picture via graham's Flickr stream.
Lo, and indeed, behold, in yesterday's Guardian we read:
A proposal for a Premier League-branded pre-season tournament that would be played by member clubs overseas will be presented to chairmen at their summer meeting in Leicester tomorrow and Friday... Unlike 'game 39' the alternative games would not be viewed as competitive fixtures... The tournament would likely be of a similar standing as the Barclays Asia Trophy, where a crowd of 40,000 in Hong Kong last July watched Portsmouth beat Liverpool on penalties. It is believed the latest proposal would be to extend these branded friendly competitions to other hotspots of Premier League interest, such as the Middle East, South Africa and the US. The alternative format would provoke less opposition from the member clubs who were against the 39th step - not to mention the country's football supporters, Fifa, Uefa and the FA.
As we said at the time, 10% of the proceeds to us, lads, when it all comes to pass, eh?