The Premier League’s opening weekend fixtures are always met with added exuberance following a dearth of summer football, and the 2011-2012 campaign will undoubtedly deliver on its customary promises of high-energy and endless excitement.
This season will of course be enjoyed with an extra anticipation for next summer’s Euro 2012 tournament, but England’s presence in Poland and Ukraine remains to be confirmed, a reflection of their chances in general to finally achieve success for the first time in 46 years.
Speaking at an event hosted by The Sun Football to celebrate the inauguration of the Premier League’s 20th season, former England and Barcelona manager, Terry Venables, sat down with me to discuss his predictions for the coming year and his thoughts on England’s chances of success over the next 12 months.
Considering his credentials and record as a manager at a host of esteemed clubs, is the public perception of Fabio Capello somewhat detached form his true abilities as a coach and has his handling of the media perhaps been his biggest battle as England manager?
He’s got a chance now to really get it right, whereas most people wouldn’t have had that chance. But I mean he’s a nice guy, a good guy, and as you say he’s got a great record and maybe he can pull the stops out.
To be fair to England you can only go on what you see. What he’s done before, somebody else is congratulating him on, and at the moment, he is not to be congratulated. But, he has the chance to do something about it.
What are England’s chances heading in to the next 12 months, European qualification and potentially the tournament itself next summer?
I can see them improving, and that is all you can ask of somebody. You can’t say ‘I’m going to be a loser and then I’m a winner,’ but if I can improve, then that’s all you can expect. For me, if I was going to move on to something and improve, I would be content with that.
Although England’s recent friendly with the Netherlands was cancelled, Capello seemed willing to embrace a number of young and untried English talent in to his squad. What is your view of the emerging generation of England players and their capacity at international level?
Based on my instincts and what I have seen of their attitudes and mentality, and of course skill is a factor, and people wouldn’t be in that group of England players if they didn’t have the skill. It’s whether they have got the fight for the battle to do it.
What are your thoughts on Tottenham this season? They haven’t been particularly active in the transfer market, so what is the best Spurs fans can hope for this year?
The best they can hope for is getting in the top 4 and it is achievable. Arsenal still have to prove whether they can come on and do it [win the title], and so do Manchester City. It’s only Manchester United who you can say is an absolute certainty to get in to the top. I think Man City should get in there, I’ve gone for Arsenal and I’ve gone for Spurs.
So Liverpool ruled out?
Yes, but they’ll be up there, of course.
What are the three promoted sides’ chances of staying up this season?
I think Norwich, I like the look of them. QPR might do it [avoid relegation] by the skin of their teeth, and I like Swansea as well. I would like to see Swansea stay up because I like the way they play football and I like how they are doing it, but I think they’ll find it hard.
And who is your tip for the title?
Manchester United. They’re always going to be the team to beat.
With that in mind, and considering their relatively excessive recruitment drive this summer, how have their chances of matching Barcelona improved?
Well now, this is what really irks them [Manchester United]. They lost when they thought they would win before [in the 2009 Champions League Final], and then this time [last May] they were brushed aside really. But he [Sir Alex Ferguson] knows that and he now knows that is the gauge, ‘am I going to be able to compete with them?’ Barca have only signed one player this summer [Alexis Sanchez] so it will be really interesting to see and will be the biggest game again if they meet.