We’ll Do Well To Finish Above Stoke This Year…

“We’ll do well to finish in the top six this season.”

Has a season gone by in living memory when this hoary old chestnut hasn’t been tripped out at some stage before a ball is kicked in anger? Yet time and time again we confound those prophesies of doom. This year will be no different.

“But everybody else has strengthened.”

Have they? Have Man Utd? In Carrick they’ve lost one of their most influential players of the last decade and it remains to be seen if Fred has what it takes to replace him. Their manager (and also their highest-paid player) has been openly critical of this window and it must be only a matter of time now before they part company. I’d certainly much rather be in our shoes than theirs right now.

Arsenal have lost Cazorla, Wilshere and Mertesacker and replaced them with … what, exactly? They’ve also lost one of the finest managers this country has ever seen. Okay, so he may have been in the twilight of his career but it remains to be seen how well his successor fares in his wake. Like Ferguson, he might just prove to be a very hard act to follow.

Chelsea have recruited Jorginho and Kovacic, but possibly sidelined the likes of Barklay, Drinkwater and Loftus-Cheek in the process. Whether that’s a good thing or not, time will tell. They’ve lost Courtois and now have an anxious three-week wait to see if any of their other stars will jump ship. It’ll be interesting (to say the least) to see what happens if they get off to a slow start to the season.

City? Well, they’re clearly the best in the land, have added Mahrez to their ranks (to say nothing of the emerging talent that is Phil Foden) and I suspect no amount of business would have been sufficient to catch them this year.

On the face of it Liverpool appear to have done good business but they paid well over the odds to get their business done early. The pressure is now on them to win something. And with City being as powerful as they are that won’t be easy.

As for the others? Well a few years ago it was Stoke who had bought well and were primed to mount a challenge. Where are they now? Then it was West Ham. Ditto. Last year it was Everton who were going to gatecrash the party. That went well, didn’t it?

Bottom line: we still have the same squad that performed so well last season. We’ve not lost anyone and there’s a few really exciting prospects coming through the system now. With another year of collective experience under our belts I feel we’re in a much stronger position that many are giving us credit for.

We’ll finish top four this season.

At least.

But then, I’ve been saying that every year for the past three years now…

Son Heung-min Bloeug That I Can’t Think Of A Witty Title For

As I’m sure we’re all aware, Son Heung-min currently has the spectre of national service hanging over him. As instructed by law, all South Korean men must enlist for 21 months in the armed forces before they turn 28. Son turns 28 in July 2020 which means that a military call-up would rule him out of the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons. His current contract with the club expires in June 2020. Make of that what you will.

However, as I’m sure we’re all also aware, exemptions can be granted by the South Korean government to sportspeople who excel at certain tournaments. The 2002 South Korean World Cup team, for example, were all excused their national service obligations when they reached the semi-final that year.

South Korea will obviously not be reaching the semi-final of this year’s World Cup so Son has two further ‘escape routes’ if he wishes to avoid national service.

The first of these is the 2018 Asian Games, due to take place in Indonesia in August and September later this year. Technically these games are restricted to players under the age of 23, but three over-age players are permitted and Son, as the current poster boy of South Korea, would be expected to fill one of these slots. The unfortunate thing here is that Son should already be exempt from national service as South Korea won the gold medal in the 2014 competition but, frustratingly, he did not take part in those games so exemption was not granted to him. Why did he not take part I hear you ask? Because his club at the time, Bayer Leverkusen, refused to allow him to participate. Furthermore, as FIFA do not acknowledge the Asian Games, Leverkusen escaped reprimand for their actions.

The second ‘escape route’ is the 2019 Asian Cup, due to take place in the United Arab Emirates in January and February next year. Unlike the 2014 Asian Games, Son did participate in the 2015 competition where South Korea made it to the final only to suffer the heartbreak of defeat to Australia. Son scored a 90th minute equaliser to send the tie into extra time, but Australia went on to win 2-1 and be crowned champions. So near and yet so far.

It is rumoured that there are legal loopholes that Son could exploit, due to the length of time he has spent living in Europe, but when Park Chu-young pulled such a trick in 2012 it did not go down well with the South Korean public and his popularity suffered heavily as a result. Sonny does not strike me as the sort of person who’d go down this route anyway, so if he wants to see his contract with the club extended it looks like he’s going to have to win gold at one of the two forthcoming tournaments. As it is clearly in Tottenham’s best interests not to see him called up for national service I’d be very surprised indeed if the club did a Leverkusen and refused to allow him to participate.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing Son the very best in both competitions as, not only is he a great character to have around the place, he’s also pretty useful when it comes to playing soccerball.

We’re Live!

The inaugural (and quite probably only) Flat Oeuf World Cup sweepstake draw will take place in approximately 30 minutes time and you can follow all the action, as it happens, right here.

Of the 32 teams that are taking part in the competition, 24 will be randomly allocated — two each — to the following 12 people who have entered the sweepstake: Caspurs, DAVID, Flat Oeuf, Freund or Foe, McG, Ronwol, SpurAndy, SpursNut, Spurstacus/Jonspur/Fat Bertha/Jonjo Spurvy/Whateverthehellelsehedecidestocallhimself, StillNilNil*, Superspoz and Unkle Taff.

The eight teams not initially allocated will be held back and distributed at the conclusion of the group stages so that those unfortunate enough to have drawn a pair of duds during the group stage will (barring a freakish set of results) still have an interest in the knockout stages. Obviously, if any of those eight teams doesn’t make it through the group stage then they will not be allocated for the knockout stage. Priority for this secondary draw will be given to those participants who have seen both their teams knocked out during the group stage.

No participant can have more than two teams at any one time and the trading of teams is strictly prohibited.

So, talk amongst yourselves for a bit whilst the final preparations are taking place. Kick-off is at 11am (GMT).

* Whilst StillNilNil didn’t actually enter the competition, I needed to make the numbers up to 12 and, knowing how much he loves international football (and the World Cup in particular), it would have been plain wrong to have left him out of the fun.

World Cup sweepstake

Okay. Who’s up for this? Just post a comment (any comment) in this bloeug and I’ll take that as a sign you’re in. A completely impartial and random draw (I promise) will take place early next week and participants will be informed of their allocated teams in good time.

I have to say I’m looking forward to this forthcoming World Cup more than I have done for a long time. Maybe it’s to do with so many of the loathsome players that routinely made up the competition squads no longer being present, or maybe it has something to do with the thought that we might actually achieve something of note this time round.

The two recent friendlies were full of promise and so long as Southgate can see what (pretty much) the rest of the county can see (i.e. pairing Rashford with Kane up front) and a Quarter Finals place (at the very least) could be on the cards. Germany aside I really don’t think there is an outstanding team at this year’s tournament and it looks like it could be one of the most open competitions for a long time.

The Taff shekels will be going on Germany and if that doesn’t put the mockers on their chances nothing will.