Saturday, May 25, 2013

Season of farewells in English Premiership

Season of farewells in English Premiership.
While previous English Premier League campaigns have signed off on the final day with a bang - most notably last year’s spine-tingling last-gasp title-winning goal from Sergio Aguero - this year somewhat ended with a whimper as a number of drawn out farewells came to a close.

Remarkably, the managers at three of the Premier League's top seven teams walked away from their respective clubs on Sunday, and that's with Roberto Mancini having already departed runners up Manchester City after their FA Cup final loss to relegated Wigan. The contrasts between the departures of Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Rafa Benitez, however, were stark.

Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, was awarded a guard of honour before his side's memorable 5-5 draw at West Brom and acknowledged all four sides of the Hawthorns ground at the final whistle, while Moyes, his successor in the Old Trafford hot seat, was given a similarly respectful send-off by Everton fans. On the other hand, Benitez slunk away following Chelsea's 2-1 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge.

The Spaniard, after seven turbulent months in charge, did not want to risk a final embarrassing backlash from the Chelsea supporters he has found it almost impossible to win over this season as the players paraded the Europa League trophy.

Indeed, Benitez did not even receive a thank you from long-time Chelsea servants John Terry, Frank Lampard or Paulo Ferreira, who is retiring, during on-pitch speeches after the final whistle in contrast, as one English tabloid put it, to the "£200,000 watch Chelsea’s players gave Guus Hiddink at the end of his spell at Stamford Bridge". Had Benitez have ventured further than the safety of his technical area, the former Liverpool manager might have felt a slight thawing of the vociferous abuse he has tended to have been subjected to since replacing Roberto di Matteo.

There were even sightings of banners thanking Benitez and wishing him luck for the future. But Chelsea fans still seemed united that Rafa was not the manager they wished to take the club forward in next season’s title push - most likely under current Real Madrid and former Blues boss Jose Mourinho.

Benitez, who averaged two points per Premier League game since taking charge of the club as well as qualifying for the Uefa Champions League in third place and winning the Europa League, wants to remain coaching in England for family reasons.

However, his Liverpool Football Club connections - rather than his family connections to the city - seem to have ruled him out of replacing Moyes at Everton.

"I don’t think it will be easy for them to approach me and not easy for me to go there," the 53-year-old said. "I think I have to be consistent with my ideas. “I have a lot of respect for Everton but it would be difficult."

On the pitch, the procession of departures has likewise ended, with Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, Paulo Ferreira and, of course, David Beckham, all calling time on careers that added together have accumulated a mind-boggling assortment of silverware. Of those, only 33-year-old Owen's slipping away from football will perhaps be mourned as talent unfulfilled.

For a generation of football fans around the world, Owen will unfairly be labelled as an injury-prone benchwarmer, when during his stint at Liverpool after breaking into the team ahead of the 1998 World Cup, the striker was one of the most natural finishers around.

Scholes' final retirement also offers some pangs of regret in that he decided to stop making himself available for England aged 29, primarily - and astonishingly looking back at England over the past decade - because he was deemed surplus to requirements in a central role.

Carragher, a player never shy to speak his mind during his 737-appearance playing career for Liverpool, will like Owen become a media pundit in the interim; however, the 35-year-old will surely be a manager of wonderful poise when the time is right. "He’s been an absolutely colossal player and at 35 he's still fit and strong," said Reds manager Brendan Rodgers. "It’s with great sadness that he has to move on but we now have to."

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