Against the backdrop of the German and Spanish top divisions of football, the Bundesilga and La Liga respectively, laying out plans to return to play in the not-so-distant future, the Dutch Football Association’s (KNVB) decision to void the season in their top division Eredivisie stands in stark contrast.
The KNVB had initially planned to resume the top two divisions of Dutch soccer on June 19, but a three-month extension of a government ban on events until September 1 put those ideas on hold.
On the latest episode of the 2 Robbies podcast, Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dive into the latest on the developing situation in the Eredivisie and what it might mean for the rest of the top European soccer leagues.
The complications from the decision by the Dutch Football Association are enumerable - from promotion and relegation to the places in European competition - but as the FA said in a statement: “It will be crystal clear to everyone involved, from supporters and players to directors and referees, that public health always comes first.”
The KNVB’s decision to void the season means there is no title for league leaders Ajax, but the Dutch FA did lay out its recommendations for the league’s places in European competitions next season, which are subject to UEFA approval.
Second place AZ Alkmaar, who are level with Ajax on points but sit behind thanks to a lesser goal differential, released a statement noting that they are exploring their options, especially as it relates to their Champions League place, and expressed disappointment with the judgement by the FA to void the season.
Mustoe summed up the whole situation quite well: “Just to nullify the season, and void it, that is the last thing, isn’t it, that anyone wants.”
Apart from the news of the day, Mustoe and Earle continued their breakdown of the Premier League with teams No. 5-7 in the current standings: Manchester United, Wolves and Sheffield United.
The conversation about the Red Devils started with what to do with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A club legend as a player who is now in his first Premier League managerial role, Solskjaer has turned around a slow start for the club to begin the season and orchestrated an 11-game unbeaten run across all competitions that was still intact when the season paused.
The debate centers around whether former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino would be able to do a better job with United than Solskjaer is currently doing.
“In terms of coaching, I would say there is a bit of distance,” Earle noted about the differences between Solskjaer and Pochettino. “Experience, coaching, development, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has slightly changed opinion, he’s earned the right now to be given the chance.
While agreeing with the premise of Earle’s argument, Mustoe points out that a decision might have to come soon – or there won’t be a choice to make at all.
“It’s now or never” for United to bring in Pochettino, who will surely get another job this summer if Solskjaer is still at the helm at Old Trafford.
As for the squad itself, Mustoe and Earle have some ideas to bring the once-dominant United back to the top of the Premier League table. There were some disagreements between the two, especially in the midfield where Mustoe thinks it might be time to move on from Paul Pogba and cash in while you can.
Earle thinks Pogba still has the game-changing ability that will take United back to where they used to live when Sir Alex Ferguson was manning the touchlines. However, when Mustoe floated the potential of bringing someone like Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish aboard, Earle jumped on it.
“Sometimes you’ve got to put people in the environment, Rob, and find out about them,” Earle said. “We don’t really know, but I get the sense that the better the environment, the better Jack Grealish becomes.”
Despite the ideas about changes for the future, both Mustoe and Earle feel United are likely to just miss out on a top-4 finish (and a Champions League place) if the season were to resume. One caveat: Rival Manchester City's appeal of a two-year Champions' League ban remains up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic. If City's punishment is upheld that could change Man U's fortunes dramatically. They'd be next in line for a spot.
As Earle and Mustoe continued down the table to Wolves, they were both very complimentary of manager Nuno Espírito Santo. Earle noted that despite all the games Wolverhampton have played this season across competitions, with a smaller-budget squad than many of his competitors, Espírito Santo has not complained once about the number of games or injuries.
“When you have a manager like that, when you have a mentality like that, it goes through to the players, it goes through to the fans,” Earle said. “And Nuno is the kind of manager, if he continues to do what he does, any top-6 team that comes up, his name is going to be part of the conversation.”
Mustoe seconded the praise of Espírito Santo, but also noted another reason for the club’s success: Recruitment.
“I’ll say it for as long as I’m breathing, recruitment is the number one thing for a football club,” Mustoe mentioned when describing the role that super-agent Jorge Mendes has had in bringing promising, young Portuguese players to Wolves.
To that end, both Mustoe and Earle do not see many changes needed to the club in the transfer window.
“Wolves have got a current squad, at the moment, that are absolutely perfect for what they need and what they would want,” Mustoe said.
Earle started the conversation on the newly-promoted Blades by looking back to what he was thinking at the beginning of the season. He didn’t think much of them at the time. That’s all changed now.
“A journeyman manager [with] journeyman players…when I saw that combination, I’m thinking this could be a tough first year,” Earle said. “Just staying up is brilliant and then start to build, but it’s been more than that.”
Sitting in seventh place on 43 points when the season paused, Sheffield have been a pleasant surprise in the Premier League this season and the Robbies were both quick to point out that this side does not need much over the summer to be able to replicate this success next season.
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