This afternoon, we forge ahead with the Irons, the Hammers, the West Ham United Football Club.
The Bubbles: Let’s be honest here, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” is one of the coolest song/gesture combinations in world football. The bubbles floating across the field as the Irons seek three points is *chef’s kiss.*
The Academy of Football: Current captain Mark Noble is the latest in a long line of celebrated footballers to come out of West Ham’s Academy. And there are some giants in there, including the subject of our next topic Sir Bobby Moore. West Ham has produced Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Paul Ince, Trevor Brooking, and Frank Lampard Senior and Junior.
Sir Bobby Moore: Can you believe we’ve got a member of the Carolina Lightnin’ on this list? Obscure American soccer jokes aside, Mr. West Ham didn’t just captain the club but also the national team that won England’s only World Cup (West Ham legends Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were also on the team). Moore is one of the greatest defenders of all-time, having played more than 500 times for West Ham in addition to his status as a centurion for the Three Lions. A Ballon d’Or runner-up in 1970, “Sir Bobby” was an absolute monster of the game. Plus, he was in “Escape to Victory.”
Mark Noble: There’s something remarkable about everyman Mark Noble, and not because the 32-year-old finishes penalties like a surgeon and looks like the definitive everyman. Doesn’t he give hope to every average-built person on earth? Poor Mark is five appearances from 500 for his career, and will likely meet that milestone by the end of this season, presuming it comes! His 60 goals are seven shy of Carlton Cole’s modern West Ham standard of 67, while his 59 assists lap the field.
We love a lot about actual wolves, but let’s take a look at the capital-W variety of Premier League title hunters.
Wolves no stranger to glory: Wolves have history. The club staged a memorable run to the inaugural UEFA Cup final in 1972 (now the Europa League). After beating Juventus in the semis, Wolves fell in a thrilling two-legged final with Spurs. Wolves returned to the tournament thrice more but only advance past the first round once. The club hunted well in the 1950s, claiming the only three top-flight crowns of its 143-year existence. The three runners-up? Maybe none will surprise given the 60-year gap, but joining Manchester United were West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End.
Wolves fell as far as the fourth-tier in the 1980s before rising back to the Premier League for its launch in the 90s, then dipping into League One for a season in 2013/14. Now Nuno Espirito Santo has the club contending in the modern equivalent of two competitions it once won: the Premier League and Europa League.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s Portuguese powers: Wolves nearly breached 100 points in their Championship-winning season and Espirito Santo’s side almost immediately adapted to the top flight with stylish football and a seventh-place finish. The side has navigated their first super congested fixture list by staying alive deep into an active Europa League run; Espirito Santo has coaxed next level performances out of club without as much depth as expected out of a European contender, and it’s reasonable to speculate they’d be in the top four with one more year’s investment (and it’s not impossible they rebound after a few months off to recharge the batteries). There are no new contract talks yet, but there’s little reason to believe he’d leave for a substandard job. Wolves have invested in becoming the next big PL club, and Espirito Santo carries plenty of love from the supporters and hierarchy.
The best player in CONCACAF: There is no North or Central American player anywhere near the form of Raul Jimenez right now. Christian Pulisic will want to make a claim to this soon, but El Tri’s Wolves striker is on another level. He’s already the club’s all-time leading scorer in PL matches. Not only has the 28-year-old Jimenez carved up Premier League and Europa League back lines, he’s doing it while chewing up minutes at a rate which would have many star strikers raising a white flag. Only Conor Coady, Joao Moutinho, and Rui Patricio have played more minutes for Wolves than Jimenez’s 3,564 in all competitions. All he’s done is score 22 goals with 10 assists. He’s roasting CONCACAF, too. Jimenez has 10 goals and six assists since the start of 2018, including five and four in Mexico’s six-match run to the Gold Cup crown. There is zero debate of his class amongst Mexican players.
Harry Kane: Since emerging in the first-team scene under Mauricio Pochettino during the 2014-15 campaign, Harry Kane has skyrocketed in Tottenham’s list of greats. The Spurs youth product hit the ground running under the Argentine, finishing as the club’s leading goalscorer of the aforementioned season, and becoming an instant fan favorite.
Jose Mourinho: Wherever Jose Mourinho goes, the lights and cameras follow. That reality is no different at Tottenham, as the storied Portuguese manager has brought all of his pros and cons with him to Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium.
After runs with Chelsea and Manchester United, one might have thought that his and Spurs’ paths would never cross, but in November 2019, after Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking, Mourinho became the boss at Tottenham. Life thus far at the helm of the north London side hasn’t been ideal for him, crashing out of Champions League play and sitting eighth on the table. But a manager of Mourinho’s stature is definitely not worth crossing off – whether he’d be at Chelsea, Manchester United ⬇️or Spurs.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: In addition to having a proven goalscorer and manager in their ranks, Tottenham have the privilege of playing home games in England’s newest and most technologically advanced football stadium: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The 62,000-capacity state-of-the-art stadium features a retractable field, a microbrewery, an in-house bakery, heated seats with USB ports, the longest bar in the UK among others unimaginable extras for a sports venue. The stadium opened in April 2019, and replaced the legendary White Hart Lane.
Troy Deeney: Troy Deeney is – and has been – the face of Watford since his move from Walsall in 2010. A move that came about after Deeney, a Birmingham native and Birmingham City supporter growing up, submitted a written transfer request to exit a then-League One side to make his way to the Championship. His first year at Vicarage, however, was rough. The striker managed to score only two goals in 36 league appearances, raising questions about whether or not Deeney was built survive outside England’s third division.
Historical, last-gasp win against Leicester City: May 2013, Vicarage Road. Leicester City’s Anthony Knockaert goes down in the box after minimal contact with a Watford defender. A penalty is called in the visitor’s favor. The aggregate stands at 2-2 as the clocks ticks the final seconds of a two-legged Championship play-off semifinal between the Hornets and the Foxes. Knockaert’s shot from the spot – directed right down the middle, with pace – is blocked. His second chance as well. Watford recover and immediately go back the other way.
Only seconds remain before the head official sends the match to penalty kicks, but Watford is looking for the final blow. Fernando Forestieri desperately sends a textbook cross inside the box. Jonathan Hogg meets the ball midair and heads it into an incoming Deeney, who seals a goal – and celebration – for the ages.
The Watford-Elton John connection: While Manchester City may have Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher rooting them on, Watford count on the support of multi-generational musician Elton John. A lifelong Hornet supporter, the English rock legend has done more than just “support” the club from the stands, though.
In 1976, Elton John became Watford’s chairman and director. He eventually sold the club in 1987 before re-purchasing it a decade later from Jack Petchey. John no longer owns his childhood team, but he remains a part of the club as the honorary life-president.
An amazing academy: From Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Luke Shaw in recent years to Alan Shearer and Matt Le Tissier in the past, Southampton have always had a reputation of being eager to play youngsters and that helps massively with recruiting the best young players from around the UK and Europe. Their training facility in the New Forest national park is geared around developing young talent and if you are a fan of Southampton you’ve seen some of the best young talents in recent history pass through the club. The odd player like Le Tissier or James Ward-Prowse will stick around for their entire careers but one of the things we love most about Southampton is how often new players come through their academy. This season their most recent win against Aston Villa saw five academy products involved for Saints and one for Aston Villa, as they continue to develop top young talent which provides the club with players they don’t have to pay for, plus they can sell them on for huge profits. Will Smallbone, Michael Obafemi and Jake Vokins are the latest youngsters who will break through in the coming months. And so the conveyor belt continues.
Becoming the best feeder club in the Premier League: A feeder club, selling club, call it what you want, but there’s no doubt Southampton have become the top team to develop promising talent and then sell players on for huge profits. Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk and Morgan Schneiderlin were bought by Saints, improved at St Mary’s and then sold on for huge profits to the Premier League’s big boys. Southampton’s fans obviously do not enjoy seeing their best players sold each season but it provides them with valuable income to compete with the top 10 teams. Due to their huge overhaul in 2014 when Mauricio Pochettino left for Tottenham and Shaw, Calum Chambers, Lallana and Dejan Lovren followed him, new manager Ronald Koeman was able to lead Saints to seventh and sixth place finishes in back-to-back seasons. With four-straight top eight finishes from 2014 to 2017 with Europa League appearances and cup runrs, Southampton became the model of consistency despite losing their best players and managers. We have to give a special mention Pochettino and Koeman who both moved on to bigger jobs but owe Saints a lot for allowing them to thrive in the Premier League since their return to the big time in 2012. Moussa Djenepo, Jan Bednarek and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are the latest examples of players bought for relatively small sums from Europe and developed into Premier League regulars at Saints. Southampton are a family club and their is a close connection between the fans and players, which allows them to develop away from the spotlight of some of England’s bigger cities.
Danny Ings: The local lad played for Bournemouth, Burnley and Liverpool before returning home to play for his hometown team and boy has he made up for lost time. Ings, 27, didn’t get into Saints’ famed academy as a youngster and took a long, tough, winding round to get back to St Mary’s. After several injury-plagued seasons at Liverpool he is now fully fit and this season he’s been a revelation with 18 goals in all competitions for Saints. He is the reason they are clear of relegation trouble up until this point in the season. Everybody loves Ings. Jurgen Klopp and every single Liverpool fan adores him and there’s not a neutral out there who isn’t happy to see him scoring goals and playing with a smile on his face. Ings is on the verge of the England squad and he leaves everything out on the pitch each time he plays. He is wearing the number nine shirt and scoring goals for his hometown team and he grew up in a house just three miles from St Mary’s stadium. Ings is home and Southampton are so glad their $22.5 million signing from Liverpool is feeling comfortable and, most importantly, scoring goals.
‘Klopp of the Alps’ has a clear plan: It is safe to say Ralph Hasenhuttl has a clear playing philosophy and plan for Southampton and now he has been in charge for 18 months you can see things starting to come together. Southampton have one of the youngest teams in the Premier League so there’s still a lot of mistakes in their play, especially defensively, and Hasenhuttl has been hamstring by his predecessors making several mistakes in the transfer market with pretty much all of the $100 million they received from Liverpool for Virgil van Dijk in January 2018 now spent on players who are out on loan. The so-called ‘Klopp of the Alps’ is expected to sign a new long-term contract at Saints in the coming months and he loves giving young players a chance to shine, just like he did at RB Leipzig before he arrived in the Premier League. Hasenhuttl loves young, hungry players who are brave, press high and excite the fans. After Leicester smacked Southampton 9-0 earlier this season, Hasenhuttl went back to basics and Saints have been superb in recent months with wins against Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham some of the highlights. Hasenhuttl completed his coaching badges in Germany at the same time as Klopp and their playing philosophy is eerily similar. The Klopp of the Alps looks set to stabilize Saints after recent relegation scraps and if he is ever handed money to spend, he could certainly push them back into the top 10.