Should’ve seen it comingIt may have been a fairly unpredictable season to date, certainly in the top flight at least, but there are some things in football that just have that ‘told you so’ quality about them. Gareth Bracken has picked out six selections that seemed inevitable before they even happened – we could and should have profited…
They say that nothing is ever certain in football and, while there probably is some truth is this rather tired cliché, there are still some outcomes that just seem so obvious, not only with hindsight but also at the time itself. Why half of us don’t bother backing them is probably due to a combination of laziness, forgetfulness or an altogether more frustrating lack of conviction. Things often seem almost too good to be true, and while this can sometimes be the case, it wouldn’t have taken the punting equivalent of a rocket scientist to pick out some of these bankers.
Shrewd punters backing this first bet (available from early pre-season) would have been quids in by mid-August, which certainly represents a better summer performance than that of England. The Three Lions may have had a terrible World Cup but the smart money was always on manager Fabio Capello remaining in his position after the tournament. The removal of a break clause in his £5m-a-year contract just prior to the South Africa competition pretty much eradicated any chance of him being dismissed in the aftermath of it, the FA having already had its financial fingers burned by the £6 million it was forced to cough up to get rid of Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren. Capello is also too proud/stubborn/prudent – call it what you will – to resign. That could of course change if rumours (at time of writing) of Inter Milan interest persist, but that doesn’t affect those who backed the 63-year-old to still be in his job come England’s friendly with Hungary earlier this year.
The bet: Fabio Capello to still be England manager for the 11 August 2010 game versus Hungary at 8/13.
Return from a tenner: £16.20.
When Chris Hughton was installed as favourite in the Premier League sack race market, it was in the expectation that his Newcastle side would struggle in their first season back in the Premier League. As it was, Hughton did rather well, leading the club to 11th place after 16 games. That’s when owner Mike Ashley seemingly decided that things were far too dignified and stable for his liking, and moved to dismiss Hughton from his position after a five-game winless run. It was all too predictable really. A poor start to the campaign would have led to Hughton’s sacking anyway, but the failure of the club to extend his contract beyond the end of the season back in the summer showed just how little backing the boss had, a situation that became even more marked after their good start. He always seemed doomed, with the man himself even apparently admitting behind closed doors in pre-season that it would \"probably all end in tears\".
The bet: Chris Hughton to be first Premier League boss to be sacked: 4/1.
Return from a tenner: £50.
As one of the top seeds in the Champions League group stage there shouldn’t have been too much for Manchester United to fear from the first round draw, but nevertheless they could still have been handed tough ties against the likes of Real Madrid, Roma or Marseille. As it was, the three-time winners were placed in a group with penniless Valencia (a side who could have been a bigger threat had they not been forced to shed their star names), limited Scottish champions Rangers and Turkish minnows Bursaspor. Despite United not being the force they once were, it was still pretty obvious that these opponents wouldn’t be causing them too many problems, and this proved to be the case as the Red Devils cruised through the group stage. Much bigger tests lie in wait for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in the knockout rounds, but the smart summer money was always on them breezing through this first phase.
The bet: Man Utd to win Champions League Group C at 1/3.
Return from a tenner: £13.30.
They may have enjoyed the odd spell of European success in recent times, but Celtic’s continental career over the last few years has generally been something of a mixed bag, punctuated by a number of qualifying stage exits. That’s why it’s always worth considering the potential for them to make an early departure from European competition. This year’s squad is hardly a vintage crop either, meaning that it was always going to be tough for them to get past a decent Braga side in the Champions League third qualifying round. There was talk before the tie that Celtic should have been pleased to have avoided Ajax, with people seeming to forget that Braga were a side who finished second in the Portuguese league last season, ahead of both Porto and Sporting Lisbon. Add to this Celtic’s questionable away form in Europe (Artmedia Bratislava anyone?) and a Braga victory was always on the cards.
The bet: Braga to progress from the Champions League third qualifying round vs Celtic at 10/11 (Boylesports).
Return from a tenner: £19.10
Even in the unpredictable world of non-league football, Crawley Town managed to raise a few eyebrows when the financially-troubled club began spending five- and six-figure sums on new players in July of this year. All of their previous close-season dealings had been free transfers, so clearly something had changed. It was soon revealed that local businessman Bruce Winfield had taken control of the club, clearing £1m worth of debt and putting (some slightly mysterious) cash in the coffers. The West Sussex side’s promotion odds soon nosedived, and while few punters would have selected the Red Devils for success pre-investment, they were well worth backing once their intentions became clear. The captures of proven striker Matt Tubbs and League One midfielder Sergio Torres were part of a spending spree estimated at around £200,000, signalling that Steve Evans’ men were going all-out for promotion from the Blue Square Bet Premier. A few months later, Crawley are looking well-placed to achieve that goal.
The bet: Crawley Town to win promotion from the Blue Square Premier at 11/4 (Boylesports).
Return from a tenner: £37.50
Queens Park Rangers have been the epitome of instability in recent times, with current boss Neil Warnock their sixth permanent manager in just over three years. However, it was the appointment of the former Sheffield United gaffer, combined with the West London side’s substantial financial backing, which made them such a good shout for promotion this season. Ever since their high-profile takeover in 2007, the Loftus Road club’s sights have been set firmly on the Premier League. A combination of Warnock – a man who knows how to get a team out of the Championship – and some impressive signings, including the skilful Adel Taarabt and the underrated Paddy Kenny, signalled that Rangers were finally ready to make a serious run at a return to the top flight. Their pre-season promotion odds were well worth getting involved with, as has since been evidenced by their impressive unbeaten start to the league campaign.
The bet: QPR to win promotion from the Championship at 7/2.
Return from a tenner: £45.