So Dad, you're never going to guess what happened last night. The Eagles did it! They finally won a Super Bowl. The years of watching together and agonizing over this team, the years we had no chance, the years that we were OHSOCLOSE, and everything in-between was finally paid off with as amazing a story as you could imagine and I wish you'd been there to see it with me.
You fought long enough to see the false dawn of the Chip Kelly era and fortunately didn't have to suffer through the ugly end of that particular episode in Eagles history. You are familiar with the large majority of the cast of characters that were so important to this team though. Remember Howie Roseman, yeah, the one Chip marginalized as "not a football guy" as he exiled him to the Sales and Marketing side of the team offices? Turns out he used his year in the wilderness to learn from some of his previous mistakes and identify some co-conspirators to offset some of his weaknesses. Every move he made over the past 9 months worked out even better than he likely imagined.
Remember Doug Pederson? Yeah, the guy who was thrown to the wolves in Andy Reid's first season in charge while Donovan McNabb was being groomed to break our hearts for a decade? Yeah, that guy went from coaching a high school team to being roundly maligned as the choice to replace Chip Kelly to genius playcaller over the span of less than a decade. He called the plays that we all dream we'd have the guts to call on a big stage in our "I could do this" moments and, you know what? They worked. It was really an amazing story. All the while, he managed to integrate a modern approach to understanding the math behind situations while never losing sight of the fact that his primary job is to lead human beings and create a team atmosphere that makes everyone from the last guy on the practice squad to the biggest of stars want to sacrifice for each other. Oh, did I mention that he won the big game without his star quarterback, Hall of Fame left tackle, and a few other standout contributors who were all lost for the season while taking every punch that the dynastic New England Patriots could dish out?
Remember Nick Foles? Yup, the same guy that had an amazing but brief run under Chip Kelly before being shipped off to the quarterback purgatory of Jeff Fisher's Rams? Just about everyone, including Foles himself, seemed convinced by last summer that maybe it was time for him to hang up his cleats and get on to whatever other interests he might have beyond being a professional football player. He certainly took us on a ride after Carson Wentz got hurt. He closed out the Rams game. He looked good against a terrible Giants team that we've owned for years even when we weren't playing particularly well. He stunk against a bad Raiders team with the number one overall seed in the NFC on the line but did just enough to simultaneously kill our hopes of a Super Bowl while clinching home field throughout the playoffs. He stunk again in a meaningless cameo against the Cowboys in the finale and was only OK as we squeaked by the Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. Then, suddenly, after professing confidence and having the coaching staff do the same in him, he exploded for as amazing a two game run as Philadelphia, and maybe the NFL, has ever seen from a back-up quarterback. All the while, and even after victory was achieved, he seemed to remain a down-to-earth guy who was just happy to be there getting a chance to show his stuff in an environment that believed in him and gave him the tools to succeed.
I could go on for long enough to make even my most loyal readers, who were probably hoping for some Premier League-related content, start to look for something else to read. I could tell you about Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long (yeah, Howie's kid) who stood out not only as strong veterans on the field and in the locker room but stood up for important issues facing our country and put the full measure of their resources and effort into making a difference. I could tell you about Corey Clement, a local kid from South Jersey who grew up an Eagles fan and came to the team as an undrafted free agent, he worked and worked to make the team and earn a role. He ended up the game with 100 yards in receiving and a touchdown.
Dad, I tell you all of this because not only did the team we spent so much time on while we shared this planet finally come through and deliver what you'd been waiting since 1960 for and I had yet to experience in my 48 years on the planet but they did it with a group that I think you would have enjoyed watching from top to bottom and they did it in a way, beating a great dynasty that played well and relentlessly, that made it that much more meaningful. I wasn't able to share this with you while you were alive and I desperately wish I could have but know that I was thinking of you and all of the years that we spent together fruitlessly watching this team while I was still at home and then talking about them after I'd moved away. I know somewhere out there, you were smiling down the jubilation in the wake of the final play and cross-referencing Philadelphia sports saying "Hard to believe, Harry".
I know I was.
Love - Neal
Oh, and some FPL too
Arsenal Explosion - It was a pretty good weekend all the way around for me. The Eagles won the Super Bowl and Arsenal looked like a weight had been lifted off of them with Alexis gone and their new acquisitions in place. Yes, I understand that Everton were the ideal opponent to make Gooners everywhere feel better about themselves, but the idea of Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Iwobi, and Aubameyang meshing even half that well looks pretty exciting. I also had a chance to look at the numbers from the transfer window and was astonished to see that Arsenal spent a net of around 15m in transfer fees after selling Theo, Giroud, and Coquelin while buying PEA. Throw in the swap of Mkhitaryan and Sanchez and Arsenal got out of what was looking to be a massive hole for a little money and some spare parts.
As Everton were adding talent to their attacking group, Big Sam was, theoretically, adding to his back line with high priced, if not-yet-successful Eliquim Mangala. The theory went that Mangala would be asked to do a lot less in Allardyce's blood and guts approach to defending as opposed to Pep's more cultured view of the task. I know the sample size is small and Mangala had lots of help looking bad but that was just a terrible debut. The Toffees aren't anywhere near the relegation zone but how, exactly, do they move on from here. Do they regroup with Marco Silva over the summer? Do they stick with Sam and go back to espousing the "punching above their weight" ethos of the David Moyes era? Maybe Seamus Coleman can provide a lift when he returns to regular duty. Ditto Leighton Baines. So much of what Everton have done well over the years has come from having better outside backs that just about everyone outside of the big two/four/six. Maybe that's the real path to success.
I can't help but draw a comparison between the Eagles/Patriots Super Bowl and the weekend's marquee match-up at Anfield as both combined high drama between two excellent teams with what appeared to be a living referendum on terrible rule-making in their respective leagues. In the Super Bowl the Eagles had two controversial "was it/wasn't it?" plays where the central question being answered by the officials, despite no sensical direction from the NFL, was "was that a catch?". At Anfield, the two Spurs penalties were equally controversial. The first was clearly offside on Kane and either the linesman was criminally negligent in missing it (it wasn't close) or he judged that Dejan Lovern played Kane on by touching it thereby bringing into question of the definiton of an offside player being "active" or not. If Kane weren't active then how could Lovern have played him on with such a minimal touch? The rule just needs to be better.
Speaking of terrible rules and decisions, I'm going to go back to the Oumar Naisse retrospective ban for "conning the official". As far as I can tell, Naisse wasn't suspended because he successfully conned the official, that happens all the time with greater or lesser degrees of impact in nearly every match. What he was suspended for was conning the official in sufficiently embarrassing a way that it changed the outcome of the match in question. Now, I'm not going to say that there was no contact between Virgil Van Dijk and Erik Lamela during the stoppage time scramble but the way Lamela went down like Willem Defoe getting shot repeatedly in the back in Platoon was certainly not an honest reaction. Given that the result was a penalty that took the match from a 2-1 Liverpool win to a 2-2 draw on the last kick of the match I'm not sure how that doesn't meet the Naisse standard of conning the official with match-changing implications. [Don't get me wrong, i'm thrilled for Arsenal at the draw between two rivals but it felt like the wrong outcome on the merits]. I wouldn't be shocked to see a better replay of the Kane penalty shows that he dove rather than was dragged down by Karius but the replay available to me wasn't sufficiently close up to incite a rant on my part. That it didn't even merit a close-up replay makes me worry that the powers-that-be are protecting England's Golden Child while casting foreigners to the social media masses]
Chelsea has turned into a profoundly odd place. They have had excellent highs with Mourinho's return title and then last season's Conte turnaround job. When Mourinho had trouble with the infrastructure that Roman Abramovic has put in place to run his London Footballing Empire it was easy to put that down to Mourinho because, well, he's Mourinho and falling out after a couple of seasons is what he does. Now, in the wake of Antonio Conte seemingly on the verge of following a similar trajectory, it seems that maybe we should be pointing the blame cannon elsewhere. Chelsea seems to have gotten comfortable with the notion of treating managers as disposable items, almost the way they treat high end youth players. Hard to argue with the results if you get titles every other season as it appears will be the case over four seasons assuming they don't mount a miracle comeback and make it 3 out of four at the end of this season.
The problem with this is that it seems likely that it will start causing knock-on effects. I'll refer you to the opening which, while about NFL Football rather than the Premier League, had a significant theme around creating an environment where players feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging and that the team supports them. There was a time when Chelsea were just outspending all but the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of the world. They were also coming up and offering players a chance to be building blocks of a new dynasty. Now, in this new, employees as disposable commodities mode that they seem to have entered that coincides with there being more clubs willing to spend similar amounts of money in fees and salary, you have to wonder how interested big players are going to be to come to the club. At the same time Spurs are creating a new home and new revenue streams and Arsenal are bringing in the sort of front office staff able to attract big names will Chelsea actually remain a destination if players aren't sure who is going to be managing them over the course of a four or five year contract?
Maybe Conte was always going to want to return to Italy. It is, after all, what most Italians do, especially those who have the credentials that Conte does. Still, I can't help but wonder if Chelsea have reached a critical point in their evolution as a "super club" where the business-first mentality that seems to be emerging will hold them back from competing with the Manchester clubs and maybe even their London rivals and Liverpool.
I'll be back with a more conventional column next week after the North London Derby.