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Football’s Great ‘What If’ Moments
Thanks to new data on the Greatest UK football derbies, the great debate about some of Britain’s fiercest rivalries (comprising Britain’s strongest teams) is fresh again. The data was compiled by HotelClub, who offer accommodation to football fans across the country, from a cheap hotel in London and accommodation in Sheffield for the Steel City Derby to Liverpool hotels.
In honour of the data, we take a look at some of those controversial and contentious moments that could have gone either way – and that, if they had gone deliberately, might have changed the beautiful game forever.
1. What if Michael Owen’s goal was disallowed?
Manchester United 4 – 3 Manchester City: Old Trafford, 20 September 2009
For everybody other than United fans the image of an irate Alex Ferguson pointing at his watch is one of the most iconic and infuriating images in Premier League history. There’s little doubting that since the league’s inception in 1993, Ferguson’s squad have been its best team: but that doesn’t stop fans of other teams feeling like they get a bit more help than they should, and particularly from referees, who seem to have it in for every team in the world but United.
So it was poetic that, months after city had spent over £100m on the likes of Tevez, Adebayor, Barry, Kolo Touré and Joleon Lescott, it was a 95th minute goal from Michael Owen that gave United a 4-3 win, with everybody but United claiming that the match should have ended in the 94th.
Man City challenging at the top of the league now, but this was their first real season as serious contenders. As the league stood at the time, a draw would have seen City keep pace, with one less game played than their rivals.
More importantly though, a draw could have got the ball rolling for a power shift in Manchester. That looks to be happening now, but imagine the cries from the United camp if the league started to slip into the hands of their rivals as much as two years ago.
As it happened, City’s confidence was knocked. But put simply: if Owen’s goal hadn’t counted, City could have gone on to win the League with their confidence still high.
Now, if you want proof that United do get more added time than other teams:
2. What if Celtic and Rangers had joined the English Premier League?
Scotland would have been deprived of its most important fixture, and the perfect representation of the quality of its football.
Considered perhaps the fieriest sporting derby in the world, the Old Firm Derby is highly contested and usually consisting equally strong teams in Celtic and Rangers. In the last 20 matches just four have been draws with 8 wins a-piece going to the respective teams.
The juggernauts of Scottish football, their presence in European competition, not to mention the supposed-monotony of a league with only two truly competitive teams (but nobody’s complaining about Barcelona and Madrid in La Liga, are they?), has led to sporadic attempts to bring the two of them into the English Premier League, the latest attempt being in 2009.
The EPL dismissed the proposal, which advocates said would improve English football by bringing in two strong teams and would benefit Celtic and Rangers because they could gain more revenue and launch more serious European campaigns, was dismissed as “unfeasible” and more scathingly, “undesirable”. Celtic and Rangers, who are so hard on each other that only 51 goals have been scored in matches between them in their last 20 meetings, stayed in the SPL.
But what if they’d left? Well, they may have challenged over time. But why deprive the SPL of their crowning glories when (and don’t let any Englishman forget it) it was Scotland that took the passing game to world in the early days, while England still played with a load of rugby players up front and rushed the goal.
Let the Old Firm stay Scottish and Scottish alone.
3. What if Martin Jol hadn’t been in charge of Spurs?
Tottenham Hotspur 4 – 5 Arsenal: White Hart Lane, 13 November 2004
Jaques Santini, who resigned as France’s coach before Euro 2004 with the highest win ratio of any France manager ever (78.6% — though he only played 28 games), seemed a good candidate for the Spurs job when he took it at the start of the 2004-2005 season. Spurs are seen by many as something of a sleeping giant, and Santini – who had a good reputation without it being too good – seemed the right kind of appointment; good enough to improve the North Londoners but not so good that he wouldn’t leave once he did.
And then he resigned after 13 games. Santini took flight having won just five games and drawn four. It was reported that the club was in disarray.
Martin Jol, Santini’s assistant coach, took temporary charge of the club ahead of a game with Charlton, and just two matches before a crunch meeting with staunch rivals Arsenal. Jol lost the Charlton match in the League but beat Burnley 3-0 in the League Cup.
And then came one of the most memorable games in this most memorable of derbies. Jol was never a defence-minded coach, and – unlike Santini, who was trying to instil an incredible cautious approach – took the game to Arsenal.
The transformation was thrilling and while Spurs lost, Jol gave them a sense of fight that day that saved their season. The results improved, and so did the team. Jol built the foundations that, some torrid results under Ramos aside, Harry Redknapp has built on in making Tottenham one of England biggest forces.
If Jol hadn’t taken over? Well, they would still have lost under Santini. But it would have been 5-0, not 5-4.
4. What if Rafa Benitez hadn’t delivered his ‘Facts’ speech?
Liverpool might have won the league for the first time in 20 years. They’d clawed their way back and were playing beautiful football, but years of media pressure seemed to suddenly send Benitez mad, and Liverpool imploded. Manchester United won the league again, Fergie’s penchant for mind games once again unsticking a manager.
This one speaks for itself…