Monday, 29 November 2010

Brimful of Ashes

Not saying it’s cold or owt but there’s not an unneutered brass monkey on Teesside. As we watched the Boro’s latest blundering attempt to overcome feeble opposition there was a point where I considered pouring me Bovril down the insides of me trousers just to find out if my bollocks were still on the outside.

I mean it was so cold you had to wear a coat. In November. I felt a right jessie.

Some real men

I’m hoping and praying this doesn’t mean that fixtures will be cancelled cos the iddy-biddy football supporter might have an ickle slip on his way to the ground and get a bruise. For Pete’s sake, how long before you have a crack squad of under-employed solicitors hanging on our frozen street corners with an unsigned lawsuit in their hands and the local council in their gun-sights?

It’s weather like this that makes you pine for somewhere like Brisbane. I have been to Brizzie once, and I don’t remember much. Whether it was the dullness that made me drink or the drink that made it dull I can’t say. Actually it might have the dullness of the drink. Well it was Australian. Amber nectar my arse. If nectar really tasted like Foster’s there wouldn’t be a pollinated flower on God’s green earth.

Of course, there’s been some encouraging signs in the build-up to the Ashes. Which basically means that while Englishmen and South Africans were doing ok, the Aussies were batting like drunks with toothpicks.

Inevitably, someone had to spoil the impression and them someones were Peter Siddle –who bears all the hallmarks of a bloke you wouldn’t want to call a tosser under your breath (the tosser) – and Michael Hussey, a man who rejoices in the nickname Mr. Cricket. Mind you, when you’ve been called ‘hussy’ all your life anything’ll do. Ask my first girlfriend Natalie from Thornaby.

200+ behind on first innings, you knew what was coming. The return of the invertebrate England batting line-up. Just so many pale pink Pommie prawns for the summer barbie. And yet, as TMS crackled in and out of my fractured dreams, there seemed to be no signs of the debacle to come.

Not once did I hear the Boycott drone muttering ‘that’s just plain silly is that.’ Not once did I hear the faltering toff that is Martin-Jenkins so much as whisper ‘oh and he’s OUT – no he’s not that’s a fine shot for four!’

The only difference in me aural landscape was the progressively louder strains of ‘God Save The Queen’ from the Barmy Army. Ah the Englishman abroad - pissed, tuneless and heat-stroked - I'd take out the lot of 'em were it not for the fact that they get up the Antipodean nose like a funnel-web spider up a drainpipe.

At the end of the fourth day Shane Watson – one of them old school Aussies (blond hair, blond wife, tiresomely optimistic) – said that Australia had had a pretty good day. England were 309-1. Yep, and that Atom bomb was a great day for Hiroshima. Plank.

And so it was that Cook and Trott batted on into the fifth day like two schoolmasters ambling down a corridor, gently cuffing the backs of well-intentioned but inept schoolboys. Ponting, a man who looks like he’s been built by Nick Park, did his usual captaincy stuff. Not a fuckin’ clue, that man.

Punter has to be the most fortunate captain in cricketing history – and I’m not talking about his batting here which is as good as there is. For most of his career as skipper he’s had two options: give it to Glenn; or give it to Shane. In both cases it worked. Not cos Ponting has the remotest bit of nous or intuition but cos he had two of the greatest bowlers the world has seen on his pudgy little plasticine palms.

I mean for Chrissakes a cocker spaniel could’ve got the hang of that after a couple of days. Now he looks around for a go-to-man and up strides gentle Ben Hilfenhaus. Or fiery Pete Siddle – not a name you want to Spoonerise. Or Xavier Doherty – if that really is his name. Or there’s always Mitchell Johnson as his ‘Go-From Man’.

If Mitch starts marking his run-up you then one, you know Punter’s run out of ideas and two, you can add a quick fifty to the score. Surely Bollinger will replace him for Adelaide. Actually I reckon you could replace him with Asti Bastard Spumante and it would be an improvement.

Whether England can maintain the surreal dominance of the last two days remains to be seen. KP is like a myopic banana-grader for the EU – he’s still capable of missing a straight one. Prior didn’t get going. I don’t think Broad should worry too much about keeping his gob in check. He’s better when he’s cranky.

And Swanny needs to settle down a bit. At the moment he’s been built up as the one wot’ll win it for us and the last bloke that was said about was Wayne Rooney. I’m not saying Graeme’ll turn into a feckless user of whores and slater of fans but he needs to just settle in and keep it simple.

Wazza of course has slipped back into the United team with the minimum of fuss and even let Dimitar Berbatov get the plaudits for the five goals he bagged v Blackburn. I’ve never quite understood why the great alehouse brutes that stroll Terminator-like onto the park in the colours of Blackburn Rovers always play so meekly at Old Trafford.

If Big Sam knows why he’s not telling.

Meanwhile the BBC Sports Personality of the Year line-up has been announced. And – what the hell – no footballers? After all they’ve done for us? Tell you what, it’s Christmas. Panto season. Stick ‘em all in some stocks and we’ll custard pie the lot of them. For a week. Or better yet, just keep striking them in the face with James Corden.

Pick him up by the ankles and use him like a hammer. Joy unconfined.

I'm off down the boozer. Now. Where's that long-sleeved T-shirt?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Gooner Have to Do Better

Regular readers will once again notice that this blog contains very little reference to Middlesbrough Football Club. Well there’s a reason for this. As me gran always said ‘If it’s pissing it down outside, let’s not talk about the rain.’ Or as I’ve always said: ‘Just cos I’ve done a shit doesn’t mean I have to keep going back to sniff it.’

So it is to other matters I turn.

I spent the afternoon with a wine-drinking Arsenal fan. Needless to say he was into the third bottle when I left. And in between quaffs of his Chilean Red (he’s got 32 more bottles in his underground cellar and apparently the longer they stay there the more money they’ll make) he told me what Arsenal needed.

It wasn’t, apparently, the boss to be having an affair with a 39-year-old (that means 40, obviously) woman who has been variously described as a waitress, a singer and a French rapper. (If by ‘French rapper’ it means that she talks quickly and incessantly in a language I don’t understand then it could well be my missus.)

I don’t care what Wenger does off the pitch, mind you. Neither did my mate. He reckons Wenger needs to do three things: defence, defence, defence.

This is the Wenger Giant Knife, apparently - surprisingly it lacks that cutting edge.

It remains the case that Wenger’s best-ever back four was probably the one he inherited when he got to Arsenal. Adams, Keown, Winterburn and Dixon. Attacks foundered on that flinty foursome like balloons in a porcupine farm. If Gooners ever did a Mount Rushmore they could do worse than chisel them faces into the rock face.

Behind them loured the mighty frame of Yorkshire’s moustachioed answer to Steven Seagal, David ‘Don’t Come It with Me’ Seaman. You can imagine Arsene arriving at the club and just forgetting about defensive matters.

Gooners have of course seen a series of centre-backs trot across their green and pleasant playing-fields like a string of second-rate mules on a Blackpool beach. Stepanovs, Luzhny Cygan, Senderos... transparently woeful plodders – like Adams without the nous or the part-time poetry.

Wenger’s keepers, post-Seaman (which sounds like an online fertilisation clinic) have all displayed only a passing acquaintance with the goalie’s arts, or in Jens Lehmann’s case, sanity. The most gaping gaff in Wenger’s latest version of Boyz2Men is not digging round in his office for George Graham’s big Brown envelope collection so’s he could slide a heap of cash under the nose of the horribly under-employed Shay Given.

Even Koscielny and Squillaci (if that is his name and I can’t help feeling he’s just a brand of kid-friendly pasta) would look sounder in front of the Irish No. 1.

Of course, my pal’s lament and alcohol intake was exacerbated by losing a two-goal lead to Spurs in a pretty abject way. Arsenal still look as pleasing on the eye as a Kara Tointon thigh but they’re pretty easy to score against...

... unlike Kara

Spurs’ goals featured some traditional Arsenal defending. A hopeful punt upfield saw Jermaine Defoe win the header that led to Bale’s opener. Fabregas ruined a gorgeous performance with a handball that only a stroppy kid who was trying to get his ball back cos he wanted to go home would have tried. And Kaboul’s flick on was the sort of goal that every team reckons on getting against a Wenger outfit.

Apart from Campbell and the unfortunate Vermaelen I don’t think Arsene’s found a good defender. Gallas was pretty flaky, to say the least, while he was with the Frenchman (witness Nasri’s refusal of a handshake pre-match) and Ashley Cole only really learnt to defend when he naturally left the club cos of that pitiful 55 grand a week offer from David Dein.

It doesn’t matter how long Arsene keeps up his claim that youth will win the day, the feeling remains that the poor little lambs will always be taught a one pass too many attitude. I hat slagging off Arsene by the way – and I’ll always watch his teams play when I can – but frankly he’s got another year of nowt approaching.

He’ll have no regrets though, our Arsene:

Sing, Arsene Sing!

"Non, je ne regrette rien.
Non je ne regretted rien.

Je n’achete pas
un bon centre-back
ou un demi-decent goalie mais
Ou meme un Reynard dans le boite.

Non, je ne gagne rien
Non je ne gagne rien

Depuis la Tasse
De la F.A
Dans 2005
Nos avons gagne fuck-tout!!!!"

And yet this season, with United staggering and Chelsea stuttering, you’d think that someone would be grabbing the League by its throat.

Of course, the average England football fan would love to grab someone by the throat. And that someone is whoever decided that Capello should stick around post South Africa and continue to confuse our boys with his strangled English and feckless selections. Somewhere there’s a plot he’s lost.

He appeared to go for youth v France in an attempt to prove to his doubters that youth wouldn’t work. Ergo it’s better to go back into the annals of history and drag out retired carthorses (Carragher, Davies). I’d long since given up on getting the call but if Jay Bothroyd’s on the radar and going to make sure me mobile’s charged up for the next time Il Cap names a squad.

Ok, he’s not helped by the fact that England squads these days face more late withdrawals than a Roman Catholic orgy, but to be frank no one seems to bother taking him seriously anymore. And to think his was going to be the iron fist that got our feckless party animals biffed into shape.

This is how many decent forwards are available to me!

It is certainly time he went. Given every important phone call he makes is done by Franco Baldini we may as well be shot of him and just go for an interpreter in his place. Barca fans will tell you that that worked for Inter.

On Wednesday the team were visited by stupid-haired X-Factor hopefuls One Direction –and that pretty much describes the trajectory of Capello’s England. Down, down, down.

As for Arsene - there are many days ahead - but I think we can all agree that from now on they are numbered.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Vettel They Do Now?

Well they all told me down the Blue Bell that I had to watch it. It’s the closest race for the Formula 1 World Drivers Championships in years. Four drivers could still lift the trophy. Obviously, I shrugged, I’ll have to watch it.

When the Beeb bought the rights for F1 back a while ago, I wrote a blog saying how tedious the sport was and, not that this is a martial state or owt, I was advised to withdraw it in favour of something milder. Or blander. Or at least nowt to do with F1.

Since then, the Beeb have gone overboard on it. Every time I turn 5live on I’ve heard David Croft’s voice on a trailer purring ‘Let’s Go Racing!’ as if he’s some tiny Clarkson-operated puppet.

Nevertheless I tuned in for the grand finale. In Swansea. Where the Boro had an anonymous defeat to get through. And there it was. Brundle and Jordan pottering up and down the pits like a couple of bewildered reality TV celebs – offering no insights but soaking up the testosterone like two man-sized tissues.

Jake Humphrey was on the cusp of a climax all afternoon n all. Here are a bunch of blokes who only have to whiff a bit of Castrol GTX to come over all hot and sweaty. I mean God help any driver who left his petrol cap off round there... Lord knows what he’d find in his tank.

Hi there, car-lurverzzz. You don't wanna know where my pecker is right now. Hmmmm

These men are the acme of all that is disturbing about petrol heads. I’ve never so much as groaned at the sight of a motor car – let alone these aerodynamic slivers of tin and advertising that these millionaires sweep around the car-parks of the world.

Of course in the world of Top Gear that makes me a frigging eunuch. (If that’s not a contradiction in terms).

I’d have more interest in F1 if the drivers had to incorporate a bit more of what drivers actually do rather than sitting in a me-shaped hole on a wheeled playing card while computers and pit crew told them everything.

I mean that’s not driving. Robbo’s F1’d be miles bloody better:

1. Put your own bloody petrol in the car.
2. Change your own tyres.

3. Try driving with a Ginsters pasty and a grab bag of Quavers between your thighs.
4. Roundabouts. Loads more crashes and lots of bibbing at each other. Cracking.
5. Make the traffic on the grand prix circuit two-way. With an overtaking lane.

In fact, let’s just make sure it’s possible to overtake. Cos that was the worst aspect of the Abu Dhabi Doze and almost every other F1 race I’ve ever seen. Barely one car went past the next. Every overtaking manoeuvre was attempted from the pits.

I mean it’s bloody ridiculous that a race should be decided by how quick some blokes in overalls get your tyres on. Frankly, Vettel and co could’ve been given the day off and we could have just had a petrol pump-off between Red Bull and Ferrari.

Ferrari have been caned for their strategy. Well you know what – if it was a foot-race – a marathon or summat – and your lad lost, there wouldn’t be any inquest into the blokes who didn’t give their runner his water and new trainers at the right time.

And whether you get off on the sound of noisy throttling and the scent of turtle-wax or not, there has to be a better way to decide who is the best driver of these freaks of technology than stuff that happens, effectively, off the track.

Back on track are, of course, Sunderland. Yes. Sunderland. I watched the highlights but you only have to look at the stats to know that the Black Cats toyed with the Blue mice all afternoon. What’s going on?

Well Chelsea were more all over the place than Brucie’s nose. And a midfield of Ramires and Mikel are little better than what Man U have available when Scholes is getting his breath back. Chelsea’s squad suddenly appears puddle-deep.

But it’s too easy to blame Chelsea. Sunderland were, annoyingly, magnificent. Even at 2-up you still thought Ancelotti’s men would mount a comeback every time someone said the name ‘Bramble’.

This is the team that got shellacked at St. James a fortnight ago. But it’s one of them seasons. I’ve heard some bemoan the lack of quality. Maybe, but if that makes things a bit more even, then great.

Man U keep hauling themselves back from the brink – theirs must be the poorest unbeaten run in the history of football. Man City are still up there despite the lavish expenditure leading to pretty nil.I saw this play called Art once, in which this bloke had spent a bleeding fortune on a painting that was nowt more than a white rectangle. Change the colour to sky blue and that’s Man City. Honestly, I’d rather watch Formula 1 right now.

Arsenal continue to graft out the results and Wolves keep not winning and playing well. Which means they’re doomed.

In fact, I’m loving this season so far, not least cos we’ve got some highly quotable managers.

Last week Mick McCarthy managed to get through a little monologue about pink boots without uttering the single word ‘poof’, although you could tell it was right on the tip of his tongue (don’t leave that image in your mind too long, people).

Here's Wolves's latest training session

Olly Holloway’s outrage at questions regarding his wholesale changes of personnel at Villa Park were a delight. Remember not to meet Ian for coffee. Sam Allardyce lamented the indeficiencies of his team at WHL. – me either - and ‘Arry Redknapp is... well ‘e’s ‘Arry, innie? Salt o’the earth, no messin’, don’t buy a car off ‘im, etc.

All of them – plus Brucie and Pulis – are old-fashioned English eccentrics. Not quite top-drawer players who’ve become in their own ways very good managers. Long may the refs and the FA give ‘em summat to get arsey about.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Torres de Force

How was it Abba put it?

"Can you do the sums Fernando?
We were shit and we were tired and we knew not where to go
We were so afraid Fernando
Every time you did a sprint it seemed your hamstring was too tight
And the form that you were in seemed to suggest the future wasn’t bright

"But there was something in the air last night, you weren’t so shite, Fernando
You were playing with such liberty, ‘gainst John Terry, Fernando,
Though we always thought that we could lose, we just hung on.
Do you think you’ll do the same again, or go lame again, Fernando?"

Mind them hamstrings, son!

Ahhh. He’s back. Little Nando. Just when you thought it was safe to write him off. Two elegant goals from the main man finished off a pretty feeble Chelsea and you can feel the quiet ooze of belief on the Anfield terraces.

Mr. Henry’s playing the long game, muttering about big signings and slow rebuilding. Woy’s got three wins on the spin. And they’ve Daniel Comolli to find them top talent all over Europe so that the revolution can be complete by 2012.

My first reaction to that was ‘bye bye, Woy’ but then I thought to myself ‘well, that’s just malicious, what would Woy say? I mean just cos Martin Jol was undermined by Comolli at Spurs and Dennis Wise took the guff out of KK’s sails at Newcastle doesn’t mean it’s going to happen at Anfield. It just looks like it will.

Meanwhile, Liverpool continue to be buoyed by the same old toothsome twosome that they’ve relied on for three years. Torres on Sunday, Gerrard on Thursday. Even Rafa managed to keep a team going on the strength of them two. You still feel the revival is hanging by the tender thread of a Nando ligament or a Stevie tendon.

And such is the Premier League this year that there seems every chance that six sides might yet be involved. Might I direct you to the final sentences of my last blog: ‘Chelsea will win the coveted double this year. Chumps League and Premier League. At a dawdle.’ If anything can guarantee a close race then it’s a statement like that from me.

And while the Blues lose, United snooze and it’s still bad news. Park Ji-Sung, sporting a plum rinse barnet that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the bonce of Joan Collins in Dynasty, snaffled a late winner against Wolves.

Park Ji-Sung's stylist

This led to another of this season’s perennial themes of– Mick McCarthy’s bass bleat. How Yorkshire is Mick? Talk about bluff. He couldn’t be more Yorkshire if he were a flat-capped whippet in Geoff Boycott’s teapot. It’s time we set his perpetual lament – ‘We played well, we got nowt, that’s footy’ - to the Hovis theme.

If there is owt else noteworthy about last weekend – apart from Mogga’s Middlesbrough actually winning a game – it was the never-ending rise of Newcastle. And the fact that Toonites are still not getting ahead of themselves.

There was a time when such a run of results – walloping Sunderland and winning at Arsenal – would have led to the sort of fantasies that even Terry Pratchett might have found a bit far-fetched.

But not with little Chris Hughton in charge. I’m guessing the only reason he hasn’t got a contract to sign is that he’s not fitting the bill at the mo. You, the Newcastle United manager, son? Where’s the farce? Where’s the training-ground bust-ups? What the hell is Joey Barton doing behaving like a reasonable young man?

Of course, Hughton does have Andy Carroll. I like Carroll. He’s the sort of lad you came up against in school matches and thought ‘oh fuck’ before he’d even kicked a ball. He’s been compared to Big Duncan Ferguson, but Andy can run and so far he’s only used his nut on the ball not the opponent.

And I can’t imagine Ferguson going to live with the club captain after a spot of domestic bother. There’s still a bit of me finds a big lunk of a Geordie having a put-me-up at the Nolans intriguing. There’s Bernadette tucking him in. Coleen giving him his cocoa. And Linda asking him if he’s in the mood.... Sigh... There was a time...

Lining up for Andy's bedtime story

Alan Hansen reckons Carroll might be able to take up the Shearer mantle. Well, that’s pretty onerous stuff. Shearer’s the best No.9 this country’s produced in my lifetime and I don’t think Carroll’s all that. But like my preferred choice of lass, he’s more than a handful. He’s also got a good left foot and too much hair. Mark Hateley, in other words. (But with time to be much better).

Capello would like him in the squad, I hear, and hellfire if Kevin Davies is in there then Carroll’s got to be next in very short queue.

This week we have the latest square-off between the Big Mouth and Noisy Neighbour in Manchester on Wednesday, complete with a two-mile alcohol exclusion zone around Eastlands. (Wouldn’t have been possible when Big Ron was manager.)

Of course there’ll be no Rooney but there’ll be plenty of other greedy little gets plying their trade. Although Balotelli won’t. Citeh are appealing but frankly the bloke deserves a red card every now and then just cos he’s so irritating.

I reckon Fergie’ll play it tight, Mancini will do the same (he never does owt else) and a 0-0 won’t bother either of ‘em. Having said that, Citeh will nick it, despite themselves.

And Stoke will win at home to Birmingham too. Well they would do, but a goalbound header by Kenwynne Jones will be cleared off the line by the ref’s toupee. And they will concede a goal in the last minute when a penalty is awarded against Asmir Begovic for handball. Poor old Pulis. His luck’ll change.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Brighter Shade of Bale

Look, you know what, I’d love to write about anything else but frankly the week has been all about one man. So where does Barack Obama go from here? Well, he could do worse than set his Sky Plus for Spurs’ next match so he can watch the Welsh wizard Gareth Bale in action.

'Oh shit, I only went and missed my mouth, look you.'

Oh yes we all love Gareth Bale. Can’t get enough of him. Onan himself couldn’t have covered more inches than the footy press in the last couple of days.

Clearly he’s earned some short-term adulation. And given a bit of credit back to the BT publicists who were luring us into their football coverage pre-season with posters featuring Wes Brown (reserve), Michael Owen (crocked), Shay Given (who’s having a number two of a season) and well the boy wonder himself.

He’s the best thing to come out of Wales since Gareth Thomas erm... came out. Well since Giggs anyway. And it’s a good story cos let’s face it he was a bloody jinx 20 months ago. The Spurs motto was summat like Play Bale Must Fail.

At that time he was an attacking left-back with all the positional sense of paper aeroplane. In other words he was the mirror image of Glen Johnson. He was on the cusp of a loan move to Nottingham Forest – or, as we used to call it before they beat us 1-0 – Obscurity.

Now he’s this big striding, hip-swinging utter roaster of full-backs. It was awesome stuff even though you did have to wonder why Maicon wasn't given more cover by the right side of midfield after Bale's San Siro hat-trick. Why ever that was, you can guarantee it wasn’t Rafa’s fault.

Maicon is of course, the world’s best right-back (although against Gareth Bale, Phil Neville is the world’s best right-back – which Tony Thompson tells us is a paradox, although I know for a fact that that’s another word for aspirin).

Part of Maicon’s awesome reputation was built, I reckon, on his name. He sounds like he’s the sort of prosthetically-enhanced galactic toe-rag that might be about to take the Starship Enterprise apart. And yet Bale treated him like he was a tiny wafty little bug that needed to be dismissed – Micron, possibly.

If I was Alan Hansen, I’d be doing some of his pretend perfect prose now. Bale has got Pace, Power, Penetration, Purpose... ermm... pizzazz, piccalilli, pyjamas, etc, etc.

But pace he does have, by God.

As Tony Cascarino put it in his tremendous* analysis in The Times: ‘He’s quicker over 40 yards than he is over ten.’ Well that blew my fucking mind. Say Gareth can run ten yards in say 1.5 seconds... according to big Tony he can run forty yards in less than that. It’s possible that if Bale runs far enough he could actually get back to where he started before he set off.

But yes, he’s fast. I keep wondering how fast he could be if he really pinned his ears back. Literally pinned them back. Cos them lugs have got to be causing more wind resistance than them parachutes that shot out of the back of the Space Shuttle.

Of course part of the lad’s charm is that he’s no oil painting – well unless it’s an oil painting that might have been done by Dian Fossey. They say humans share 98% of the same DNA as chimpanzees and when I look at young GB I think ‘Really? That little?’ Mind he’s also got six GCSEs, bless him from A to C grade. (Although I reckon one of Ms. Fossey’s gorilla companions could muster an E these days, couldn’t they?)

Best of all we’re told he’s very down-to-earth. And not like Wayne and Coleen are down-to-earth cos they used an NHS hozzy. (In the light of recent events I reckon Wazza might’ve done that just cos he’s tight. Do we really need millionaires blocking beds in our overstretched public health system?)

'And honest to God, Coleen, I'll lift up da Joools Rimmittt Trophy like dis and den dey'll ALL love us again, just like you do.'

But young Gareth was offered a week off by Redknapp and he went home to be with Mam And Dad. Ahhh. And his mates. Yay for Baley. His mam says ‘”When he comes home, he is treated like a normal boy... Whatever we are having for dinner, he has for dinner.”’

Well that’s big of him. To be honest Mrs B I didn’t reckon he’d be spitting out his plonk and raging ‘Call this fuckin’ wine, Ma? Thank Christ I bought me own Chateau Neuf de Pape you fuckin’ philistines.’

But he’s a good lad Gareth and a very talented one n all. Not that Spurs owed everything to him. It was a fantastic night for the WHL faithful. And, given the way Harry has them approach the game, a success I thoroughly approve of. Inter were way off the pace. And there’s not a team who’ll enjoy meeting them in the latter stages if as seems likely, they qualify.

Meanwhile Man City went down to the team from Poland’s fifth largest city. Mancini’s right hacked off with these reports of bust-ups and divisions within the camp. I know, Roberto. That chat between Vincent Kompany and the Madebayor, that was just the sort of playful banter that proves how well-bonded the team is.

You can point at it all you like Adey, son, we still don't believe you

And Yaya Toure (not his real name, he just knows a lot of Sloanes) and James Milner are on great personal terms (over £200m grand a week in Toure’s case).

The thing is you just want it to be true. Cos when there’s so many of ‘em waist-deep in wonga you almost will them to cling on to each other and pull themselves under. At the very least there seems to be a hell of a lot of rutting stags butting antlers at Eastlands at the mo and whether the tough but doe-eyed Mancini can sort them all out is anyone’s guess.

And any road, Chelsea will win the coveted double this year. Chumps League and Premier League. At a dawdle.

*Sarcasm alert

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rafa's Return

Fergie: 'Bad luck, tosser!' Rafa: 'Get fact, senor.'

Long before Liverpool took the plunge and expunged Rafa Benitez from their memories there were rumblings abroad that the Spaniard was pretty much as big a pain in the jacksy as it’s possible to be.

He won 2 finals while he was at Anfield – and both of them were won despite the gaffer not cos of him. Well, actually they were won by Steven Gerrard, the match-winning attacking midfielder that Rafa loved to play wide left or wide right.

Of course the Kop emblazoned Benitez’s face on banners as if he was in some sort of Mount Rushmore of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish. I never quite bought that. Neither did Rafa if you believe that he kicked King Kenny off the training ground.

During, and very much since his departure Benitez has indulged in a custard pie fight of throwing around the blame, and none of it was his.

The soft and wisest target is Hicks n Gillett, the Burke and Hare of football ownership. Apparently, the structure of Liverpool FC was changed and that meant Benitez couldn’t do his job properly. But even they can rightly argue that a transfer kitty was made available to El Sulko and he blew most of it on expensive flops. (Hasn’t Coleen Rooney just paid ten grand for something similar?)

Benitez has never accepted that he paid good money for old rope. But Ryan Babel? Alberto Aquilani, who was bought already crocked as a replacement for Xabi Alonso (which is like replacing a smooth old Bentley with a Fiat Uno with an empty tank).

And of course Robbie Keane. £20 million to keep a bench warm?

Benitez insists that he left the club with a net spend of £10 million and a team full of internationals. Well maybe. But if you furnish your home with the most expensive decor you can find, it can still mean that your house looks shit.

Credit where it’s due. He made two tip-top purchases: Torres and Reina. And Alonso, who couldn’t quite cope with the notion that his manager was hoping to replace him with midfield maestro Gareth Barry and sped off to Madrid. But that’s it, really.

And rather than neurotically bristling at what Roy Hodgson might say – and let’s face Woy is playing the same game as our lovely coalition and reminding everyone that the current travails are the fault of those who went before – Benitez might do well to dig around for a bit of humility and accept a little part in the demise of Liverpool’s season.

That’s not in his nature. He will be remembered for one other thing during his reign at Liverpool. Fact. That word. Fact. The Fergie-slating press conference that marked the end of his team’s title hopes. This was typical Rafa. He got himself so far up on the moral high ground his players lost sight of him and they never recovered.

There’s been echoes of that in the recent Inter press conference, where Rafa has clearly prepared some notes to read from. It’s as if the bloke turns into his own counsel or the defence or the prosecution every time he sits in front of journalists.

His latest blurtings are up there with the best of Cantona and Mourinho:
"We have a saying in Spanish: 'White liquid in a bottle has to be milk.'" Quirky and charming, Rafa, but not exactly true.

It could be a bottle of whitewash which erstwhile managers use to paint over the less successful bits of his reign.

Or the correction fluid you should have used to smear out half the words from that press conference in January 2009.

Or the bottled ejaculation of a humpback whale. (All right that’s less likely).

And if it is milk can we get a saucer of it ready for Senor Benitez for the next time we ask him about Liverpool? It wasn't me-ow!

I could be missing something. After all, some people can’t see a priest on a mountain of sugar. But hey Rafa let’s not confuse the Catholic Church with sugary treats, shall we? Not at the mo. Or I'll start misspelling Benedicked and then where will we be?

Besides which, Rafa, we have a saying in England, too: ‘Aw shut your face, you whinging pillock.’

It’s a phrase I’m tempted to use in the direction of Harry Redknapp after his rant against Mark Clattenburg. Yes, it was a weird goal that Nani scored. Yes, Clattenburg shouldn’t have waved away the Spurs players and let Rio Ferdinand stand there chuntering (although I suspect it’s pretty easy to blank out anything Rio has to say).

But I agree with Fergie. The ref hadn’t blown his whistle. He played an advantage. Gomes just had to keep the ball in his hands. He’s the plank in all of this. Had he not put the ball on the ground and faffed about like a nervy learner driver wondering whether to make a right turn the goal would never have been scored.

Clattenburg can’t really turn round and say ‘Oops I meant to blow my whistle there but forgot. Give the ball back to the keeper.’

Here's young Mark just after a quick chat with Rio Ferdinand.

I mean it’s the first rule of footy. Play to the whistle.

But players think they run the game now, don’t they? So even though he didn’t blow the whistle, he should have, so let’s assume he did.

I agree that it’d be nice to get the ref’s perspective in a press conference. I’m sure that fining Harry is a stupid idea, particularly since he wasn’t damning Clattenberg as a ref, just disagreeing with the decision. And we’d really miss a post-match ‘Arry.

And I’m not so sure that if the goal had gone the other way it would’ve been given. That’s what really rankles, I reckon. Because that Meesta Ferguthon, he get all the deceesions... and we get no help. Not never. FACT. He eez the only one who get ever-ee-theeng.