Robbo 10: W**kin Frankel - Click On My Face To Listen!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Robbo's Crystal Ball

For the first time ever I was unable to catch even a bit of Linekerian smirking on the first day of the Premier League season. I was camping - the tented kind - with the little 'uns and out of reach of all but the merest signal.

Nevertheless the car radio was somehow able to relay the delightful news that as far as Old Trafford is concerned it's Moyesery unconfined. Van Gaal's a great coach but you'd need Jesus Christ himself to turn the Man U piss-water into a decent claret during one pre-season. 

Happily, I've been able to digest this season's opening chapter at the Theatre of Dreams (and that is pretty all they can do right now - dream) and there are holes in that squad that makes a tramp's underpants look well put together.

Van Gaal's face is a landscape all of its own and I have a feeling we're going to get used to his strange Kenneth Clarke in the Hall of Mirrors countenance as he glowers through listless and scruffy performances for much of the next season. The man's not stupid - he's already told his employers that, in so many words, the squad's a bit shit. 

But this no time to gloat... it's time to put my Teesside tonsure on the line with me predictions for this season's Premier League. The first weekend has seen no one embarrassed, especially. The time will is fast approaching when an away point at Old Trafford will feel a little paltry. Indeed both Arsenal and Liverpool were a tad fortunate to scrape wins against plucky sides. But how will it pan out?

Here goes:

1. MANCHESTER CITY.

Too much of everything. It will depend a little on the fitness of Toure and Kompany, but even without Aguero there's plenty upfront to keep them nudging ahead. Even Dzeko's back-heeling into the path of sprightly midfield tinkers these days. First with more to spare than you'd think.

2. CHELSEA

Mourinho's expected to make the magic work this season but I'm not so sure. Like an average high street, the team's frontage has been ripped out and replaced by a Costa. Fabregas, one-time Gooner wunderkid turned bit-part Barca boy, holds the key to the midfield, but even Jose can't cobble together the champions that quickly.

3. ARSENAL

Look they've won something. On the tube in that London, they're advertising Arsenal stadium tours where you can 'see the FA Cup'! No underplaying the value of that goblet at the Emirates eh, Arsene? Sanchez will help, they're awash with terrific attacking midfielders, natch, but one clobberer wouldn't harm em. Tiote has been mentioned. That's clobbering with knobs on.

4. LIVERPOOL

No Suarez. Then again, he wasn't always around when he was a Liverpool player. I've heard it suggested that they'll cope. Erm, they won't. Any more than a yacht copes on a motorway. But they'll get 4th.  And when Luis eats an entire arm of Sergio Ramos they'll realise it could have been worse.

5. MANCHESTER UNITED

Van Gaal's too cute a dictator to allow United to potter blindly into more oblivion, but it's going to be a slow start and they'll pay for that. Van Persie, Mata and Rooney are sure to click at some point but at the other end there's barely anyone you could properly call a defender.

6. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

You can't help feeling that an either/or of Soldado (great nose, but not for goals, sadly) and Adebayor (as stroppy a madam as there is in the competition) might just trip 'em up but Pocchetino knows how to coach and that means they'll improve on the erratic, partially successful and patently undermined Tim Sherwood. Not that they'll get higher than 6th. Plus they have Europa League nonsense to thrash around in.

7. EVERTON

Martinez has done his best to reel in some decent signings but pre-season wasn't all that clever. Be interesting to see which Lukaku shows up - the lumbering clodhopper that Belgium discovered or the bulldozing hitman that he became when on loan. Then there's the Europa League. It's a punishment for finishing 5th I tells ya.

From here on in it's a blinking lottery. You can make a case for all of them going down. Still someone's going to punch above their weight so it may as well be...

8. STOKE CITY

Yes, I know they lost at home to Villa but Sparky had em working okay and I'd like to see the ball on the grass attitude rewarded. Look I know it doesn't make sense but neither did Sunderland getting safe last year. It's a funny game is foot..blah blah blah.

9. SOUTHAMPTON

Koeman knows what he's doing. Always liked the bloke. We had so much in common. Apart from ability. Southampton looked good at Anfield and if he can keep what remains of the decimated squad he'll get 'em playing well.

10. NEWCASTLE UNITED

If Pardew can keep his head - out of people's faces - then you can see the Geordies getting a bit of stability too. I like the look of the Pepe la Peu looky-likey Riviere and they should have enough up front to just about make the top half.

11. LEICESTER CITY

The crisp-eaters were seriously good last year and I think they'll be bleeding hard to beat this year. There's nowt much to worry about if you're the opposition but then you'd have said the same about Palace last year.

12. HULL CITY

If you are asked to write out a list of Premier League teams form memory, Hull would be the last one you'd think of. And that probably goes for people who live in Hull. They've looked pretty stable under Brucie, mind. The scruffy win at QPR is the type of thing they're getting good at.

13. SUNDERLAND

Miraculous escape last season, surpassed by that rarest of things, a Lee Cattermole piledriver. Poyet should have a bit of continuity now, and if Rodwell doesn't get a nosebleed playing first team football they'll cope okay.

14. SWANSEA CITY

Encouraging start for the Swans. I'm very surprised no one's popped up for Bony, and how misnamed is that fella? Bony, Bonny, whatever, he's a top striker. I'm somewhat gobsmacked that Spurs let Sigurdsson go and kept Paulinho. Like keeping an ass and selling a stallion. Monk seems a good lad so I hope Swansea will be fine.

15. WEST HAM UNITED

I kind of hope I'm wrong here. Big Sam has been urged to play a more diverting brand of football by his paymasters, but it's like encouraging sloths to go jogging. Allardyce has his way. And it works, sort of. So dull as it is, they'll still be around this time next year. Just don't wake me up if he's still there too.

16. WEST BROM

Look, Baggies fans, the idea that midtable obscurity awaits you is preposterous. You're West Brom. Up and down like an adolescent todger. Alan Irvine is an unknown quantity, but not as mysterious as the stripeless kit. What the hell was that? It looks like a shirt that's pretending to be a club shirt, summat you'd buy for your local kiddies team. 16th, but on goal difference. Naturally.

17. ASTON VILLA

Lambert deserves relegation. He's bought Phillipe Senderos. That's trying to mend a hole in your roof by putting another hole next to it. They sort of somehow stay above the water but I'm mystified by how, If Benteke returns at his unplayable best, well they'll survive comfortably. But I think they'll struggle, especially while behind-the-scenes no one's giving Randy the eye. 

18. QPR

Of course this shouldn't happen, The R's still boast a pretty good squad on paper. But I'm getting the feeling Arry'll tire of 'em being so crap on the pitch. Rio looks a good buy in theory but the lad's getting comfy on the couch these days, and that back could do without comfy sofas. Somehow they'll blunder into the drop zone and stay there. 

19. BURNLEY

If fight and attitude and getting in their faces could win you footy matches, Burnley would already be safe, Dyche is a great motivator but pound for pound they've got the weakest squad and it'd be a triumph for them to get 40 points. I hope they do. But they wont. 

20. CRYSTAL PALACE

No Pulis, nil points. He was the manager of the year last year, and there is no better organiser of football teams in the country. The performance at the Emirates was hugely encouraging but as Palace have studiously avoided buying anyone of note, you can't see progress being made. A disastrous start to a quietly disappointing season. 

And that my friends is the future. Now if I've predicted good things for you boys get down to the boozer and knock back some serious downbeat single malts. If I've only foreseen trauma, crack open the champagne.

As for the Boro, I haven't got a bloody clue. At times we look fine then we lose at Leeds. Who the hell knows?

Best of luck to the lot of you. Except you and you. You know who you are. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Gunner Be Good?

The Community Shield. It sounds like something the Americans might sell to Israel, or hand out to a veteran law-enforcer in some dodgy bit of downtown Detroit. It is in fact a meaningless piece of football entertainment which was fine when it was called the 'Charity Shield'. After all, every sort of nonsense can be passed off as entertainment if it's done for charity. Which of course this still is. So the name-change has always been a tad baffling.

Although now it's supported by McDonald's, the world's most famous purveyors of a Healthy Lifestyle.

But I'm being too grouchy about all this aren't I? It's a lovely old traditional curtain-raiser to the season. Or the last game of pre-season if you're Manuel Pellegrini. Nothing to do with the real business of winning trophies but a cheery enough afternoon in the sunshine and a chance for fans of title-winning clubs to come down to London to collectively gloat in public once more.

This Community Shield felt different though, somehow. Maybe it was the aching feeling I had for the resumption of football hostilities following that cracking World Cup. (Although that was more than somewhat sated by Boro's consummate despatch of last season's gallows-dodgers Birmingham City.)

But perhaps it was more that on this occasion one team seemed ever so desperate to win it. Wenger's men played like men whose ship has finally come in; men who have returned to the pawnshop to reclaim the trinkets they left there nine years ago. They were determined, focused and, but for Sanogo, neat and tidy.

Sanogo still looks constantly surprised to find the ball at his feet. And when he does find it, he looks like a man shaking a snarling Jack Russell off the flares of his trousers. He's very un-Arsene.

Still even his clumsy contributions worked out and the Gunners looked good from front to back... Sanchez is a good fit, Cazorla looked relieved to not be playing with that atrocious Spanish team (I mean if they were my national team I'd... I'd be bloody delighted, frankly) and Aaron Ramsey is now a fully-fledged box-to-box, heart-and-soul, midfield maestro of the type these isles very rarely have the pleasure of producing. Indeed you can pretty much chart the best bits of Arsenal's last season according to young Aaron's availability.

Citeh, meanwhile, played like a bunch of holidaymakers assembled for a beachfront kickabout. Pellegrini betrayed almost no interest in the fixture. Hardly any of the first-teamers played. (Well apart from Yaya of course, whose off-season negotiations regarding his next birthday party are in an advanced stage as I understand it.)

Lampard watched from the terraces, in order to get used to his role in domestic fixtures. Fernando looked like another of them half-bit Brazilian holding midfielders that have polluted world football recently - in fact I forgot he wasn't Fernandinho most of the time. Silva, like Santi unburdened by tacky tika-taka, prompted a bit of a revival in the second half but by then the damage was done.

As for Willy Caballero, well far from being the Mexican porn star I had assumed he was, he turned out to be a decent enough keeper who couldn't have down owt to have prevented the goals.

Citeh's central defence looked rather flaky without the comforting presence of Kompany but it was ever thus and maybe this lad Mangala will be an answer given that Demichelis can be a tad creaky and Nastasic still looks raw. Boyata's presence in the squad at all is as deep a mystery as the continuing employment of Phillipe Senderos as a professional footballer.

It was good to see Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards get a run-out but I think that might be it for the season, boys. Quite why your agents aren't hawking you from Torquay to Tallahassee is beyond me. I'm mighty pleased that Jack Rodwell has hauled his sorry ass off the Etihad seating. These two should take his advice and do the same.

But it was hard, even in what is always a redundant fixture, not to be impressed with the Gooners. Wilshere was bright and breezy but please God will the lad stop falling over? Half the time he looks less like a footballer and more like some urchin who can't quite get off a bouncy castle.

Wenger's squad looks deeper, with the Germans still to return. That might make them less prone to getting utterly tonked in the first 45 minutes of games. They might well be eyeing what Liverpool did last season and thinking: 'We too might be able to get ourselves into a winning position and utterly fuck it up at Crystal Palace'.

But can they win the title this year? Really? Well it puts them in the mix, and with Liverpool's pre-season going brilliantly, Chelsea armed with new signings, including a proper centre-forward this year, and United under the stewardship of a dastardly Dutch dictator, it might even be closer than last year.

But remember, it's very silly to draw any conclusions from a Community Shield match. Why this time last year, David Moyes was smiling contentedly at the capture of his first bit of silverware as a manager. Ha! Yes, in a way he did win something. Bless.

I'll save the full list of predictions for next week but suffice to say that regardless of what happens on an August day in the sunshine, the Premier League title will be Man City's to lose for a few years to come.


Monday, 14 July 2014

What a Bloody Brilliant World Cup, Eh?

Well done the Fatherland!! Congratulations on winning the World Cup and being the best team int the whole competition. That was a handsome game to finish proceedings too: pass and move v hold and break, with the right team nicking it.

A German victory is always the cue to reviving some well-worn cliches. Efficient, organised, ruthless... there's an insinuation behind those words that we all understand - in other words, a footballing version of what Adolf Hitler wanted to do.

All right it doesn't help when Joachim Low says his team will rule football for years to come but... Enough already! This a team that despite its talent fell short in every tournament since 2002 (when they overachieved). Far from vorksprung durch technik - although a damn sight better than our lot. It's been a while a-coming but they have fostered and trusted their youthful talents, brought through intelligent players capable of interchanging and thriving in the process: look at Lahm, Muller, Schurrle, Gotze... thrilling, inventive, and - even in the midst of totally humiliating Brazil - respectful and humble.

They've been a great team in the making and we'll have to put up with them being this entertaining for a quite a while to come.

So, before a defeatist melancholia kicks in and we're left to pick over the debris of British sport for signs of life, let us dwell a little longer on an utterly brilliant tournament. I have enjoyed every minute of it, save for Iran v Nigeria and that bloody awful tentative semi-final between Argentina and Holland.

So here are the genuine winners of the awards that count:

Player of the Tournament: James Rodriguez. Obviously. Six goals, one a minor masterpiece, the other utterly sumptuous. Relentlessly positive, even during the Brazilian bundle he withstood in the quarter-finals. Not Lionel Messi. We know what Messi can do and it's a lot more than what he did. It's like rewarding Sir Christopher Wren for designing a garden shed. There was so much more he could've come up with!

Goal of The Tournament: I dunno James's goal was magnificent but for sheer pictorial wonder I still love Robin Van Persie leaping up like a Great White Shark pouching a seal to drop that header over the hapless Casillas. Staggering.

Golden Gloves: And here I have to agree with Mark Lawrenson - this is the worst trophy I have ever seen. It looks like it's been snapped off the arm of C3PO. Neuer the rightful winner although again I will remember more the saves of one Guillermo Ochoa, who I swear saved at least two point blank efforts with his bollocks.

Team of the Tournament: Neuer; Lahm, Thiago Silva, Hummels, Blind: Mascherano, Kroos, Rodriguez, Messi; Robben, Muller.

Runner-Up Team of the Tournament: Ochoa; Zuniga, Gonzales, Vlaar, Vertonghen; Schweinsteiger, Schurrle, Neymar, Rooney (heh-heh-heh... sorry, I've just made myself laugh too much... gimme a moment....) Not Rooney... ermm, Cuadrado, Sanchez, and oooh, I dunno, Muller again given the bloke can play wherever and it's like having two men on the pitch any road.

[NB Okay it might be tricky to have Zuniga and Neymar in the same side, plus there are better times to consider making Neymar part of the spine of your team but hey this is my B team.]

Dumbkopfs XI
A side chockful of hopeless nanas who really could have done with some aversion therapy pre-tournament to avoid some of their dopier moments.

Iker Casillas - a career full of glitter slides down the shitter. Del Bosque was horribly guilty of the crime of blind faith. Or loyalty if you want to be kind. As Iker made howler after howler Del Bosque failed to turn his old basset-hound jowls in the direction of his substitutes, in particular David De Gea, who David Moyes had ensured had had a busy and effective season. Madness.

Glen Johnson - probably a tad unfair but he's not up to it is he?

David Luiz - all the positional sense of a kitten in a dog pound, the appearance of a startled sheep, and the calm composed rationale of Justin Bieber. Luiz is an accident waiting to happen. Indeed the reason Thiago Silva makes my team of the tournament is cos of the way Brazil played without him. Luiz was the skipper who kept on sailing that boat into the rocks. PSG (Perhaps Sanity's Gone) are paying £40 mil for him.

Pepe - which is Portuguese for 'short fuse'; no one much like Muller's play-acting but when you could wind a bloke up this easily why not try? I use to have a p[air of Pepe jeans a while back and if I remeber rightly I used to get irrationally angry every time I put 'em on. Twerp.

Marcelo - Another muppet from Madrid. Yes, he gets up that flank and causes a 'real threat' but it's almost always to the people cover his over-adventurous arse. A terrible tumbler and play-actor too. Cack.

Steven Gerrard - look I like the bloke too, and I'm sure the younger lads in the squad can learn a lot from him but he was pretty bloody awful in is pitifully brief stay and he needs to stand aside. I mean, thanks and all that, but enough already.

Alex Song - Wasn't there a time when this bloke was half-decent? He spent the tournament trotting about like a demented cyborg, screws coming out of his ears. Maybe watching all that tika-taka has driven him hat-stand n all.

Xabi Alonso - perhaps responsible for one of the worst central midfield displays of the competition against Chile. When a skilled craftsman like this loses his bearings you can see just how desperate Spain were.

Gonzalo Higuain - another of these blokes who seem somehow to have been bracketed amongst the best without really ever having been any good. His glaring miss in the final was entirely predictable. He runs around like someone has chained him to a post.

Fred - fuck me where do you begin? They could've put a cardboard box upfront and you wouldn't have noticed the difference.

Luis Suarez - ah what does he care? He could eat his way through the Spanish Royal Family and he'd still get a gig at a huge club on a massive wage. I  think - and I'm absolutely serious despite the mocked-up humorous pics that did the rounds - that Barca should make the bloke wear a mouth guard or a scold's bridle or some such to stop him from harming others.

Honourable mentions go to Hulk (footballing wardrobe, minus the subtlety) Paulinho, Palacios, Djourou and the blokes running Ghana's shambolic campaign.

But these freaky sideshows can't detract from the best World Cup ever. The hosts have somehow mustered a triumph from the powder-keg formed by mixing social unrest with abject footballers. And for that they deserve great credit. What's more it was a torunament where fans of opposite persuasions nestled side by side in hassle-free enjoyment. It was, like Gotze's immaculate Bergkampesque winner, almost unreal in its glory.