So many players through the years have told me the same thing about life in soccer abroad:
There is pressure attached to playing for trophies and spots near the top of the table, of course. But make no mistake, they say, there is no pressure like the incomparable, desperate weight that comes with a fight to avoid relegation.
Nothing cuts so deeply in the game abroad, where the systems of promotion and relegation are omnipresent (and sometimes shadowy) features of the landscape. The scourge and the stains of relegation aren’t just psychological, either. Club solvency could be at stake. Individual reputations certainly are. Not to mention this: any top flight club that falls through the relegation trap door will almost certainly see a big roster breakup.
Think of your office or place of business. Think about working alongside a good group of people, about forming alliances and sharing good times, all in the name of working toward bigger, shared goals. And then think about the weight of knowing that it’s all coming in for a hard landing – one that may well see the entire group broken up mercilessly.
Well, here you go: Wigan meets Blackburn today in a match laden with relegation implications.
Blackburn is holding on by the thinnest of threads, one that could easily snap today, when anything but a win would officially cast Rovers down with Wolverhampton as two of the three sides already relegated for 2011-12. (Wolverhampton has been circling the relegation drain for weeks now.)
A Wigan win would seal the “staying up” deal for Roberto Martinez’s club, which has performed so admirably down the stretch. A draw would probably suffice for Wigan, too. (See the full EPL table here.)
That’s because Queens Park Rangers (still ahead of Bolton) looks like the sacrificial lamb, about to go into Manchester City with all the glory of the EPL title about to fall spectacularly around the Etihad Stadium, so long as City takes care of business.
Bolton goes to Stoke City this weekend; anything but a win means curtains for the Wanderers, which would fall into England’s second tier.