Friday, 11 September 2020

Premier Predictions

The Premier League is back. It's like it hardly went away.

It's time to revisit those great echoing stadia and listen to the vain and desperate hollering of touchline coaches as football revisits the Lost Years. I look forward to a tumbling Aubameyang saluting plastic seating after another cool finish; to the resonant yelp of pain every time someone gets within two metres of Jack Grealish; and to the plaintive cries of Mike Ashley as he sits outside St. James's Park doing his weekly oligarch ring-round on the off-chance that someone might sponsor the Gallowgate for a couple of months. 

But there's the actual football, too. It'll be good to see England's players back in club colours after the unnervingly bland efforts in Iceland and Denmark. Watching football that turgid is like an act of self-harm. Or a Lawrence Fox tweet, if you like. Clearly, Foden and Greenwood is the main story from those trips. What on earth were these 18 and 20 year-old young men doing hanging out with attractive young women? I mean it beggars belief. 

And what were these attractive women doing sharing it on social media and having copious interviews in the British press? I mean have these youths lost their minds? Rest assured, you shameless brats, there's not a single person reading this blog - wait, smart-arses, this sentence hasn't finished yet! - there's not a single person reading this blog who would have been so selfish and naive at that age. 

I hope they go home, have a word with themselves - and in Foden's case, several words with the mother of his child - and then they go back to work.Seriously there are men in their forties and fifties bringing serial shame to this country every time they open their mouths right now and we're going to give these lads a shellacking? Priorities, my fellow Brits. 

In passing, a quick nod to Novak Djokovic, who is like a walking billboard entitled The Dangers of Chutzpah. First, his tournament gets riddled with the virus, then he takes out a line judge's Adam's Apple. The overblown hammery of that woman's spluttering near-death experience will live long in the memory. I know the theatres are closed but she's a shoo-in for a Lady Macbeth when they open again. Djokovic is a curious cove. He's so not likeable and I'm not sure it's his fault. His humility has always so practised, and it's something that, like the line-judge I find difficult to swallow. 

But enough of that. Real sport... Footy. And I should tell you who exactly is going to win the Premier League and who s going down quicker than a 2.00 am kebab. So here goes:

ARSENAL

Arteta seems to have got the message through that the players need to work hard when they don't have the ball. Not everyone can be Mesut Ozil. Improvement to continue. 5th.

ASTON VILLA

A lot depends on Watkins being as good as they hope. But they stayed up by the skin of the skin of the teeth, and it'll be the same this season. 19th.

BRIGHTON

I think they'll d okay. I like Lallana, even if his name sounds like some fruit the Telly-Tubbies eat. Potter is clearly a smart gaffer so... 13th

BURNLEY

How much longer can Sean stay? Is this season the last roll of the Dyche? There's not a club in the PL more defined by the manager. Effective, honest, not pretty. Every year and somehow he gets them into comfy mid-table. 11th

CHELSEA

Could Frank's massive cash-spaff could pay dividends? Or is it a moonshot? Yeah we're looking at furloughs and four million unemployed and somehow CFC have £250 million to spend. There's no doubt that Ziyech,Werner and Havertz are top drawer. Thiago's a useful stopgap for a defence with more leaks than an Eistedfodd. So, I'm saying 2nd. 

CRYSTAL PALACE

Like the polar opposite of Chelsea. Hodgson's ambition continues to shrink. Palace are like the rest of us. Just get to the end of the week and see where we are shall we? And then have a 'kin drink. Not this season, Roy. 18th.

EVERTON

Well, a midfield that moved with all the rapidity and vigour of an oxbow lake has been ripped out by Ancelotti. Clearly he's a boss who knows how to put a team together, it's just a question of how soon that happens. In Carlo I trust. 6th.

FULHAM

Well, I know, they can't believe it either. They have bought Anthony Knockaert, so apart from those two worldies the season looks bleak. 20th. 

LEEDS

Well Bielsa's hanging around so you can't seem them surviving. Weird that they've been out of the the top league for so long, like when you bump into an old mate on the street and you suddenly realise it's been 16 years. Not that a Boro fan is particularly pally with Leeds, like. They'll do enough. 15th.

LEICESTER

Rodgers bucked the trend with fifth last season. Trouble is Leicester are always having to offload their top players. Like Southampton a while back, it's a case of the better you do, the weaker the squad next season. Like Donald Trump's defence of anything he's ever said, it's unsustainable. 9th.

LIVERPOOL

For much of last season, they were like an episode of 24. Okayish, good production values, a tad boring at times, and then the last five minutes always left you wanting to watch the next episode. I can't see Klopp's Season 6 being so good. And I like Lovely Jurgen to do well. I think 3rd. 

MANCHESTER CITY

It's down to Pep. If he does a Champs league and skilfully outthinks himself then this could be another weird season. Ake and Laporte should give more security at the back, though. When they're anyhting like you can't see anyone beating them. 1st.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Reasons to be cheerful here. Fernandes is superb. Pogba's upped his game since someone better than him arrived. Van de Beek (de Bork? de Buck? de Bleedin' 'Eck Dutch names are so tricky) is a vital improvement. If Maguire can avoid getting arrested, and the front three keep firing, well... 4th. (But not far behind 1st.)

NEWCASTLE UNITED.

Not unlike the Toon Army I've had my doubts about Bruce. But he's been great. Wilson, Fraser and Lewis are top signings. Trouble is, it's all the other shit isn't it? People know when they're working for a dysfunctional organisation. Just ask senior civil servants. Should be doing better but all that crap will trickle down onto the pitch eventually... 15th. 

SHEFFIELD UNITED

I dunno. Miraculous effort last season. I think cos Wilder's so old school about it, it's easy to ignore how skilled and savvy United were, too. The end of the season indicated tougher times ahead but a team to admire. 12th.

SOUTHAMPTON

Still hard to believe that 9-0 drubbing last season. How that hurt the heart of Hassenhuttl. Hassenhuttl's higher hurdle has to be harder however. Hassenhuttl's hopes hang on Danny Hings. 10th...

TOTTENHAM

Mourinho is a busted flush. I mean it. It's a good squad but unless he's banking up lines of four and five and grinding out draws against the big boys he's got nowt to offer. The team looks so utterly cheerless. Not Spursy. Except some bottling will occur. 8th.

WEST BROM

It all looks very boing boing. Still, out of conviction that Palace must drop, I'm giving the Baggies an arbitrary benefit of the doubt. Bilic is always good value too. 17th.

WEST HAM

Moyes remains. Even the venal pornographers in charge couldn't cast him to one side like a rain-soaked jazz-mag in a lay-by. Quite how this season is anything other than another long slog with the squad he has is beyond me. (Honorable exception - Antonio). Think they'll get away with it again. And Moyes will be gone this time next year. 16th.

WOLVES

I know why Klopp got all the gongs for last season but Nuno (or Wilder) deserved them just as much. Such a civilised soul, too. Every time I watched Adama Traore last season I was reminded of a bloke with a similar name who once ran about like a man on an uncontrolled motorised scooter at the Riverside. Different bloke though the one at Wolves. 7th. 

That's that then. You can ignore the entire season now you know how it will end. Hope that's distracted you from the cavalcade of lying law-breaking self-interested, untrustworthy fucktards that are dragging this country's name through the mud at every turn. 



Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Messi-Brough Here We Come

 Okay, it's been a while. But at least I've been more in the public eye than the Prime Minister. I've been on a holiday in North Wales. The tent was real and actually used. The weather was less wet than the green grass would suggest. The waterfalls were many and bleeding beautiful and the wifi was as reliable as a policy statement on schools by the Education Secretary. 

I return to find that Twitter seems more obsessed with whether wobbling-jowled Tories can sing Rule Britannia at that toe-curling tradition that is Last Night At The Proms, rather than the fact that the Government seems to have a never-ending spaff of funds to splurge out on their nearest pals in the glorified Etonian wank-circle they call public policy these days.

But this is a sports blog, and sport has ducked in and out of the showers to bring us some interesting cricket and some fascinating footie. I copped on to some wifi for long enough to watch the Champs League final which, hyped up as some carnival of carefree kickaboutery, turned out to be predictably dull. 

Of all the glorified superstars of world football I find Neymar to be my least favourite. He spends a Grealishly long time falling on the floor during matches. Yes, he's got all the tricks and flicks but I want to slap the lad and just tell him to get the f**k on with it. Indeed, shorn of all the intensity of a full stadium, the pratfalls and rolling around look even more desperate and, well, cheaty. 

More to the point, is anyone else utterly fed up with the replaying of penalty shouts where some pundit uses the well-worn phrase there was contact - as if the defender in question is less a footballer and more a 1970's predatory politician in a typing pool. Since when was touching a striker a criminal offence? Truly the modern game has entirely embraced the dishonour of going down like a sack of spuds. He's entitled to go down. You hear that a lot. It's like me getting a bloke arrest for theft cos he was standing next to my car. FFS. 

Far more entertaining was Bayern's annihilation of Barcelona. Mas que un club? The whole thing's imploding and Lionel Messi is off. If they let him. Which they must. Unless 17 years of faithful service count for nowt. 

Any road, we've had a whip-round in the Blue Bell, £62.13 so far, and we reckon Lionel'd do okay at the Riverside. Warnock and Messi? It's a perfect combination - like ice-cream and gravel - or Trump and Truth. 

Seriously though - actually I'm quite serious so maybe I mean... Realistically though, it would be bloody wonderful if he had a couple of seasons in the Premier League. I know Lineker and Piers Morgan have a tedious fake-Twitter spat over whether Messi or Ronaldo is the best ever - it's like disagreeing about what you favourite colour is and I wish they'd just shut the fuck up about it - but Messi is the one I like watching most. 

And I really wouldn't care which monstrous moneybags of a team grabbed him. Except that I'd love him to pop up somewhere that's just struggling a bit: Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Newcastle even. The sort of place that would quite simply form itself into a giant hand and spend the next nine months pinching itself with glee. It'd be like Juninho popping up at Boro but times about seventy thousand. 

I'm sure the lad has bills to pay and places to be, and maybe Saturday night down the Bigg Market isn't exactly what he had in mind, but dreams, my friends, dreams are all we have right now. 

Meantime, I've enjoyed the cricket, despite the fact there's been days when it felt like the bubble they've been played in was nothing less than a sophisticated carwash. Of most interest, beyond Zac Crawley's ludicrous 267 and Jos Buttler's return to batting form being coupled with the occasional indication he couldn't catch a hazelnut in a laundry basket, has been the never-diminishing greatness of James Anderson. 

Sometimes you have to get a cricket ball in your hand to understand how what he does is so utterly remarkable. It's like watching Ronnie O'Sullivan knock in a 147 and then missing the reds off your break-off shot when you get down the snooker club. Anderson's control, the way he sets up batsmen with forensic cunning, the fact that his averages go up and up even as he approaches 40, suggests that there's no reason why he can't carry on snarling and grumping his way to 700 victims in a couple of years. 

In a year where sport has felt remote, detached, (and, when Neymar rolls around and Liverpool players jump up and down on a podium in celebration in front of no one, it has felt downright absurd) just watching a master of his craft in action makes life a little - no, a lot - more bearable. 

I might add that it's good to see a highly competent Englishman at a time when those leading us are entirely inept too. 


Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Good Citizen Kane

If there's one thing I haven't missed about the football, apart from standing inside the Riverside Stadium and weeping tears of quiet frustration, it's the meticulous pulling apart of people's psyches by both national and social media alike. However I'm nowt if not a hypocrite so here's the pennyworth I'd be delivering in the Blue Bell if I could find a mask through which a craft brew lager could pass.

Exhibit 1. David De Gea.

De Gea has been for most of his seven years at United the only truly reliable performer in a sea of banality. Just think what he's seen come and go since Fergie's departure. (I say 'departure' but when you see him up in the stand they named after him, it looks more like he's floated up to some heavenly plinth, from where he, Godlike, glares down on the wrecked landscape of a beautiful world he once created. It's kind of how Tony Blair regards the Labour Party.)

De Gea's brilliance kept United competing in - and even swinning - the odd trophy here and there. He saw off the grisly horse manure that Moyes put in front of him after Fergie's Lord Mayor's show. He was a cornerstone of excellence amongst the monotony assembled by Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal - yes his name is almost as ponderous as the football his United played. And when Mourinho arrived with a footballing philosophy that had all the inspiration of Matt Hancock's Parkour video, still the Spaniard's keeping stayed as firm as the lacquer that still sweeps back his hair. 

But in the last two years, and lockdown's no excuse, this exemplar of goalying has gone from Master Craftsman to Mr Bean. Every arching tip round the post seems to be the precursor to an inept flop to the floor. He has the air of a man who catches a falling vase, calmly replaces it on the shelf only for the whole cabinet to collapse in front of him. 

Cliche dictates that a manager who shows faith in such a crumbling reputation is to be admired in this day and age. I disagree. Solskjaer needs to get shot of him. I'm reminded of the rapid decline of Joe Hart, and Roy Hodgson's bewildering faith in him despite the fact that he had a lot of trouble stopping hard shots to his left. Hart had been well nigh brilliant for five seasons but Guardiola didn't hesitate to sideline him. He wasn't good enough anymore. Same goes for De Gea. Romero's been good when he's stood in. Henderson has been magnificent at Sheffield United. 

Whether De Gea will recover his form is debatable, but the oft-mooted stories about Real Madrid gagging for him must be long-forgotten now. It's tough at the top, but it's even harder at the back, especially when you've been surviving the hapless contributions of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Marcus Rojo et al. When you think about it, there's maybe a delayed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at play here. Rest and recuperation is a must for the poor lad. 

Exhibit 2 - Harry Kane

Social media in particular is full of snide remarks about aspects of his play and personality which I don't get. Kane is:

(a) Overrated
Kane isn't overrated. Is he world-class? Well he's not Government Track and Trace app world-class, no. The problem is you'd be comparing him with Messi and Ronaldo when you say that, which is like saying Andy Murray's shit cos he's nowhere near as good as Roger Federer;

(b) Greedy
Well strikers are supposed to be greedy, aren't they? It's like criticising a walrus for being too fat. England: 26 goals in 35 appearances. Spurs 142 goals in 207 appearances. Yes I know there was the Stoke goal he claimed when it brushed past a nasal hair. So what? Long Live Greedy;

(c) Too many of his goals are penalties.
Man City have flailed around with some inept spot-kicks this season. They're miles behind Liverpool too. A reliable penalty-taker is a must-have.

(d) Hasn't got nearly enough pace in the modern era
Well, he's not slow and Southgate plays him a little deeper as a creative front man particularly wen the likes of Rashford, Sterling or Sancho are haring down the flanks. Pace isn't everything.

(e) Speaks funny
Yes he does. He'd prefer to let his feet do the talking I'm sure.

(f) Hasn't got the balls to go to a massive club
Well I guess these homegrown players tend to be too loyal. Spurs seemed to be in that bracket when they opened their great new stadium and got to the Champs League final. I'm sure a move wouldn't harm his career, mind.

(g) Has won nothing
See (f)

(h) Is injury-prone
He's not Darren bleeding Anderton.

What troubles me is that even when we have a national team that's really enjoyable to watch, in which Kane is captain and a central figure, there still seems to be a campaign to undermine him. There's an idea that, as was the case with Sterling, these lads need taking down a peg or two. I don't know what more Kane is supposed to do. He works hard, gets his rewards. seems ambitious without being a prick about it. And still the snipers snipe.

It makes you fear a little for the future of wonderkids like Mason Greenwood or England's best midfielder Phil Foden. I hope when these lads get in the England team that a bit of leeway is given them.

What's more it seems that successful footballers are held to more exacting standards of morality and behaviour than the people who run the country right now. Given a choice between to an entitled vacillating racist inconstant babyfathering sickbag of half-truths and evasions and a decent footballer, I know who I'd choose.