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All Set For The Big Finale

There's still lots to play for in the Premiership. But for some managers, it may just be the end of the line...

Tony Cascarino, 29 Apr 2008

The Premiership title race took yet another twist at the weekend, with Man U being held at Blackburn, which sets it all up nicely for the Chelsea-United showdown at the Bridge. I must say, even if Chelsea win, I can’t see United slipping up in their last two games. If I’m right, that Tevez goal at Blackburn will go down as the moment that won the title. To be honest, they could have won 4-1 or 5-1. Brad Friedel played out of his skin, and United got the very least they deserved.

The other way of looking at it is that Chelsea lost the title when they let Wigan equalise in stoppage-time. They never looked completely in control, and Avram Grant was asking for trouble by leaving out Joe Cole and Carvalho. He needed his best eleven, and didn’t pick it. Wigan always had a chance of getting back into the game, and that’s exactly what they did.

Grant just doesn’t convince me as a manager. In pure statistical terms, his record’s OK, but he doesn’t seem to have the natural authority needed for a job of that size and importance. He’s no track record of top-level management. It’s do or die time for him now, especially where the Champions League is concerned.

The squad’s far too good to finish the season without any silverware – but he’s made some very bad decisions. It’s probably the highest-paid squad in the history of world football; the club have paid a king’s ransom in wages and transfer fees, and Abramovich will expect a return on that. If Chelsea win the Premiership or the Champions League, Grant will probably keep his job. Otherwise, it’s curtains.

For all his talent, Didier Drogba has really disappointed me this year. When he bothers, he’s as good as anybody, but he reminds me of Thierry Henry in his last year at Arsenal; his heart doesn’t seem to be in it, and he hasn’t reached the heights he’s capable of.

Another boss under pressure is Rafa Benitez. His League record isn’t what the fans have been looking for, but it needs to be remembered that he’s still Liverpool’s most successful manager since Kenny Dalglish. The fans are on his side, and I think he’ll be OK. The power-struggle at boardroom level won’t affect the players: that sort of thing just doesn’t bother footballers, as long as they’re getting paid. I know Stevie Gerrard said something about not being impressed by all the politics and in-fighting, but if he leaves Anfield, it’ll be because he wants to better himself in terms of trophies, no other reason. More likely, however, he’ll stay there for his whole career. They’ve still got every chance of winning the Champions League, and the signing of Torres should convince him that they’re on the way up. Torres has been fantastic, he’s up there with any striker in the world.

Up at Sunderland, Roy Keane seems to be piling pressure on Niall Quinn to get the cheque-book out. He says he needs £60 or £70 million this summer, and it has to be said, he’s right. That’s the ballpark figure you need now, and it’ll keep getting more expensive. It’s the way football has gone. The top clubs will be forking out £100 million; the clubs striving to survive will spend £40 or £50 mil. A few years ago, £50 mil was almost a guarantee of success; nowadays, it’s just about enough to keep you in the Premiership.

Finally, Kevin Keegan has really turned it around at Newcastle, and I’m absolutely delighted. I’m a massive Keegan fan. Before Wenger came along, he was the pioneer of attractive football in England, and it was always a massive pleasure to go and see them.

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