Nick Hornby on the New Football Season
With the new football season just around the corner, Nick Hornby talks to Kindle Post about the beautiful game. His report on last year’s football season, Pray, is available now on Kindle.
There’s no doubt that over the last 20 years, club football has overtaken international football, so the two best competitions for English fans are the Premier League and the Champions’ League. The Champions’ League, however, is usually deathly in its early group stages. Most international teams now have players in the squad who can’t get into their club sides, simply because the big club sides have accumulated twenty or so of the best players in the world; when I started watching football, the idea of internationals was that the national sides created a ‘superteam’ of the best players in the country – but now the superteams are Manchester City and Real Madrid and Barcelona, and they have the best players in the world. England look like they are playing a different game from even an average Premiership team - slower, less technically competent, more cautious.
Is there any reason to think the Manchester clubs won't dominate next season as they did last?
Manchester United, it seems to me, did incredibly well to get as close to City as they did, and some of that was due to the surprising disappearance of Chelsea from the top four. I’m not sure Abramovich will let that happen again, and I’m sure Chelsea will manage to squeeze themselves back in. United’s team is average now, but they still have an extraordinary, driven manager.
Do you ever wish the summer break longer?
Ha! No. I’m always ready for football by mid-August. I do, however, wish there was a rest from it when nobody’s playing. I can remember a time when you’d have to scour the tiny writing at the bottom of the sports pages for friendly results, and there was very rarely a football story in the newspapers during July. Now, there’s no other sport that can compete with football, even when there is no football. (The other night, Sky had a reporter at Borehamwood for a friendly.) And it’s all rubbish, but football fans end up reading it and listening to it anyway. In other words: a little silence on the subject would be welcome.
Are you happy with Arsenal's summer signings?
Arsene Wenger never signs anyone that you can pronounce upon with any confidence. I didn’t know anything about Petit, Vieira, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Pires or Hleb, for example. I did, however, know all about Thierry Henry, through the 1998 World Cup: he was rubbish. I’ll tell you about Giroud next May. With Arsenal, it’s all about quantity rather than quality – they never seem to have a big enough squad. And, of course, they’ve always just lost their best players, so Arsenal fans usually start the season demoralised anyway.
Has the outcome of the Terry case made you think your conclusion to the racism section was too optimistic?
The Terry case was unbelievably complicated, and it still hasn’t played out. But I stand by the point I made in Pray, that one of the heartening things is how seriously we respond to racial abuse, both legally and culturally. I think the southern European countries and Eastern Europe (and UEFA!) are miles behind England when it comes to a determination to do something about it. A friend watched the Euro final at the Bernebeu on the big screens they’d erected outside, and was sickened by the racist abuse that an apparently cosmopolitan Madrid crowd were hurling at the screen whenever a black opposition player was on the ball. It’s very hard to imagine that happening in England.