Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Beatification of Barca

There are times in domestic English football matches when a team that is comfortably ahead makes a great play of just keeping the ball - and their astonished fans, unused to such serenity, holler ‘Ole!’ with every pass.

It strikes me that Barcelona start a football match in that mode. If they were an English club, the supporters would have suffered a collective bout of laryngitis after twenty minutes.

What my Mrs will be wearing this year

If a football were a drug, and my lass would contend that it is, the chances of most English clubs being done for possession would be virtually nil. Certainly, there’d be very little chance of proving that the ball was not going to be given away cheaply.

To extend this analogy too far, Barca can rightly claim that despite being found with the ball about their person almost all the time, its possession was only ever for personal use.

Only Arsenal can even suggest that they have got anywhere near the style of the Barca pass master class. Unfortunately, the Gooners seem unable to grasp the concept that doing f-all with three-quarters of possession is worse than having no possession at all. It’s a poor imitation. Arsenal are Leona Lewis to Barca’s Beyonce.

Nevertheless, I’ve grown tired of the Catalan love-in recently. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that Lionel Messi was a dinky little Angel of God and Xavi, Iniesta and Villa his blue and red striped cherubim. In short, here was the divine in football form. Football folk everywhere tottered down the aisles and knelt in their pundit’s pews catatonically muttering the same prayer as every other member of the congregation:

‘Our Barca,
Who Art in Heaven,
Lionel be thy name.
Thy kings shall come,
Thy Wembley won,
On turf by the best eleven.
Give us this day our Abidal,
And forgive us our Messi-passes,
as we forgive those that Iniesta against us,
Lead us not into Tottenham, but deliver us from Arsenal,
For thine is the Pique, the Puyol and the Pedro,
for Alves and Valdes, Amen.’

But there were those of us who, having watched the festival of diva-dives and devilry at the Bernabeu, wondered whether they fully deserved their status as Soccer deities.

Well, after Saturday night, we’ll just have to concur with the best manager the game has seen – this is the best club side we’ve ever seen.

It’d be easy to put that down to the magic of Messi. Much was made of how to stop him but frankly he’s as hard to pin down as a Nick Clegg policy statement. He’s more elusive than Sepp Blatter (and Jeez is that greased pig gonna slip through the hands of justice again? I wouldn’t be surprised.)

"Big bag of cash? No! Where could I be hiding a big bag of cash?"

What I like most about Messi is the fact that most of the time he just shifts the ball on. Until he finds a bit of space for himself he’s just another pint-sized protector of the ball. Not Cristiano Ronaldo, in other words. When he does get space to run with it – well, he twists and turns unstoppably like a fast-flowing stream in evening sunshine.

Clearly he was the headline act, but there’s still something about Caspar the Friendly Ghosting Midfielder Andres Iniesta that makes me go a bit wooey. I’ve never seen weight of pass like it. Xavi too. Yes they’re just tapping it this way and that but there’s barely a moment when a player has to check his stride or work hard to recover.

Contrast it with United, who knocked it about as best they could but always resembled a snooker player gradually getting more and more out of position until eventually all the bloke could do was whack it and hope for the best.

Not since me and a few mates joined in a kickabout on Acklam Park with a bunch of casual keepy-upping 14-year-olds has there been such patent one-sidedness in a match. Like our keeper on that day, you half-expected a very wooden Van de Sar to start trying to edge the goalposts together while the ball was up the other end. Trouble was it wasn’t up there long enough.

And here’s where Barca outdo every other team. It’s not the keeping the ball so much as the getting it back. When not throwing themselves like presidential bodyguards in front of the latest Barca onslaught, Rio and Vidic were hurriedly tapping it sideways to each other or as more tiny Catalans swarmed about their knees. It reminded me of this bit in Barbarella. (Rio Ferdinand is played by Jane Fonda.)

Having said that, I thought that Rooney pecked around tirelessly for opportunity like an anxious free-range chicken and made the most of what came his way and the United goal was a beaut.

Too many players were off the game, not least Park who couldn’t have found a bargain in a pound-shop, and Valencia who couldn’t have found the pound-shop in the first place.

Carrick was part of the bodies-on-the-line brigade. And Giggs was so dizzied by the Barca boys around him that he was ready to call for a stupor-injunction.

Fergie had the good grace to more or less shrug at the defeat. Cos to be honest what can you do? No other team in Europe would’ve fared any better. You almost sympathise with Mourinho’s tactics:

‘You won’t have much of the ball and yet you’ll still have the desire to kick something. In the absence of any alternatives, kick them.’

So yes, there’s no doubt the Pope’ll be beatifying Barca’s behemoths soon. It’s partly club ethos – Abidal lifting the trophy demonstrated that perfectly – and it’s partly happy accident that Xavi, Iniesta, Messi et al have arrived at this same moment in time.

All I know is that to begrudge this team anything is about as mean-spirited a sentiment as you can imagine. I suggest you join me, Barca fans, and millions of Scousers everywhere in hailing a brilliant performance by a wonderful side.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Welcome to the Riverside

So another Premier League season passes by. A good one, I reckon, if not in terms of quality then definitely in terms of thrills n spills.

Yes, Man U ran away with the title in the end with the tiresome inevitability of a British woman’s defeat in the first round of the French Open. (‘French Open’ always seems to me to be a contradiction in terms, by the way... like ‘US Intelligence’ or ‘mature student’)

And Man City managed to somehow fund a FA Cup/Champs League double from the loose change down the back of an Abu Dhabi sofa.

But the real drama came down among the dead men on Sunday. At one point it was like a quartet of lemmings jostling for the best cliff-top position, all of 'em desperate to revisit the Riverside!

And in the end the downward dogs are Blackpool (shame! weren’t they sweet with their nice passing, Pippa Middleton-coloured shirts and their complete lack of wealth?) and Birmingham (hooray, that’ll teach them nasty bully-boys to steal a trophy of the delicate artistes at the Emirates!).

Actually Brum bagging the Carling was the footy equivalent of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ pipping Downton Abbey to the BAFTA.

'In all earnestness I put down the demise of the Blues to the most unpropitious ailments acquired by Messrs Dann and Zigic, vagazzle'

So here’s my summation of the season, club-by-club.

ARSENAL: Fell away like a Viagra-starved knob, didn’t they? Even the Arsene evangelists are losing faith now. Wives are walking Islington streets to pay for their husband’s season tickets and still he won’t spend some fucking money. 6/10.

ASTON VILLA: Houllier’s got a dodgy ticker so let’s not be too hard on the bloke. This team has a lot of English talent in it. Which explains why they’ve struggled so much. 5/10

BIRMINGHAM CITY: Europe here we come! Brum, brum, put-put, splutter, pffff! Not a word of support offered to McLeish in the build up to Sunday’s match. I’m amazed the increasingly pink Scot is staying. Hopefully they’ll return playing some recognisable footy.

BLACKBURN ROVERS: Sacking Allardyce was the second dumbest decision I’ve witnessed. Can’t say I watched a single game they played this season. Someone said Chris Samba was huge this season. And last year he was Luka Modric, I suppose. 4/10

BLACKPOOL: Defended like easily fooled toddlers. You could get round they’re centre-backs by tapping them on one shoulder and running round the other. Great entertainment, mind. I wish they’d remained.

BOLTON WANDERERS: Osteopaths in Bolton are out of pocket since Owen Coyle reintroduced the notion of grass as a surface on which to play footy. Incidents of neck-ache have gone down 90%. Still like my missus, they’re not averse to the odd hump and just cos it fizzled out doesn’t mean it was a bad year.

CHELSEA: Ah now here’s the dumbest, crassest, shoddiest decision of them all. Ancelotti tried his best to get this one-paced, shiftless bunch to get their act together. Then Abramovich yokes him to Fernando Tourist who were it not for a puddle would’ve finished the season goalless. Grrr. Is it any wonder we don’t like the Blue Meanies?

EVERTON: Moyes still butting the glass ceiling of the top four. They are the thin soup of the division – very poor starters. If he can get them to win a game before September they may get somewhere. Like 5th.

FULHAM: Sparky’s worked wonders when he’s not getting all chippy about not having the Citeh job anymore. Think they’ve improved since the Michael Jackson statue. I’ve looked closely at it and it moves like an Arsenal centre-back.

LIVERPOOL: ‘Place your hands upon me and I will HEAL you now!’ Okay King Kenny shrugs his shoulders and does the Glasgae grunt thing, but that’s what he’s really saying. He’s revived damp squibs like Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez (surely that’s a hairdresser, not a footballer) and not a Nando or Stevie G in sight – although I reckon you’d find it tough to keep Andy Carroll out of Nando’s. Next year, who knows? Maybe 5th!

'This is just the beginning - soon ALL mercenaries will wear sky blue!'

MANCHESTER CITY: I know, I know. First trophy since the Late Cretaceous period, hard to begrudge the fans, you’re just jealous, etc. But it’s been bought. And come the transfer window, they’ll be like them seagulls in Finding Nemo. ‘Mine, mine, mine, mine!’ Makes you shudder for the future of English football.

MANCHESTER UTD: Pretty ordinary weren’t they? And lucky too. Tsk. I think 19 is enough. C’mon Glazers it’s time to reveal the masterplan. Then the fans can get the Norwich kits on and start from scratch. Hasn’t done AFC Wimbledon any harm...

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Chris Hughton. Well you could tell he wasn’t right for the job. That promotion raised too many hopes, I reckon. Pardew’s come in and lowered expectations - and I reckon that’s Ashley’s new tack. His head’s not as fat as it looks.

STOKE CITY: Bit narked they were so poor in the Cup final. A lot less 1D than previous seasons. But the Rory throw is still the most potent weapon. Which is fine. We all like keepers to look stupid and the Delapidator does that beautifully.

SUNDERLAND: Okay, does Steve Bruce know what he’s doing? No. I reckon if you could pull off that mask of a much-broken nose there’d be a tiny little Steven behind it squeaking ‘Help me! Help me! All my players are shite!’ 2012 relegation candidates, I tells ya.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR: Larvely European adventure, Arry! They put it right up Johnny Foreigner, bish-bash-wallop! Actually Spurs were the division’s most entertaining team. But there’s a lot of chaff with the wheat still. One top striker and some centre-backs who can walk unaided, v much needed.

'No I don't believe I ever have been to Liverpool. I fear you're confusing me with Boro legend David Hodgson'

WEST BROM: Roy Hodgson. What can you say? Liverpool just seems like a bad dream to him now. (As Middlesbrough does to many a tourist). Old Davwos still knows his onions. They might start to feel at home in the PL by this time next year.

WEST HAM UTD: Another classy dismissal by Sullivan n Gold. Jeez, didn’t they’re used to be a gentlemanly way to sack people. Even that tough old scrote Lord Sugar doesn’t drag his apprentices down a tunnel and tell em they’re fired. West Ham oozed talent and indifference. Even Scotty Praker’s side-parting lost its edge by the end. Dismal.

WIGAN ATHLETIC: No I dunno either. They are the hold-up stockings of British football, no one knows how they stay up. If N’Zogbia goes, things’ll be well tough. But if they keep this up, they’ll get fans coming to the ground and everything.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: Gone for all money at 3-0 down against the strangely lively Blackburn and still they clamber back out of the swamp. It’ll be good to watch Mick’s shock of grey slowly receding further up his pate next season. Happy for him.

On the whole though, there’s nowt for Boro to fear in season 2012-13. We should beat any team that comes down in 2011-12. Sigh.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Taken for Grant-ed

Hello! Or as we Poles say 'Halo'.

Phew! What a week! And that's just this blog. Last Thursday, some bloke called Polish Dad appeared to have hijacked this site - but insisted he'd saved it from a worse fate than that. (Looking at Kusczak’s performance at Blackburn I wouldn’t want a Pole saving anything for me!)

Not realising that I am technologically-challenged he tried to explain himself: 'Blah-bli-blah-DOMAIN, blah-bli-blah OPEN' he wrote - or summat like that. Any road it appears he did save the day, so a big Polish thumbs up to the lad. And even if he didn't, thanks, son, for giving an ageing Teessider heart failure.

Poland is of course famous for many things including this - its reasonably good volleyball team

In this area of high beer and cholesterol consumption, heart failure is nowt new. However in that London, I'm imagining Irons fans are busy blowing themselves into bubbles and fading and dying as we speak.

Those of us with a cruel streak (and here I talk of every football fan I know) will not shed a tear for that weird triumvirate of Sullivan, Gold and Brady.

It strikes me that not one of 'em knows owt about football. It could be that porn magnate Sullivan ordered the back four to stay wide open to allow as much penetration as possible. Sullivan was keen for Avram to play someone in the hole who could push up behind the front two.

The selection of Grant, and his non-sacking in January, have been tell-tale indicators of a club that - ironically in Sullivan's case, doesn't know its arse from its elbow.

At least Hammers fans will be able to watch their team play in the Olympic Stadium soon - the main benefit of that being that they'll be so far away from the pitch that the pain will take longer to reach you.

When push comes to shove at the lower end of the league you need a gaffer who can stir the emotions. While Blackpool have got Tigger, West Ham have had to make do with Eeyore. While Wigan have Mr. Motivator, West Ham have Droopy.

Here's Avram wondering why he bought Robbie Keane

Grant seems a nice enough bloke but Gawd knows why he was hired. This will be the season West Ham fans remember as The Year of Scott Parker. (Or Scotty if you want him to sound like a really annoying pooch). He's been the footballing equivalent of Atlas. No wonder his Achilles twanged after carrying so many passengers.

He'll be off to somewhere wealthy in the summer - cluttering up Man City's midfield mantelpiece no doubt. Can't say I was too chuffed about the Cup Final result although Citeh were hugely superior to Stoke.

(Oh and by the way if the FA ever allow Premier League matches to be played on Cup Final day I will personally go round there and squeeze their gluttonous heads into a miniature replica of the Cup itself. Shocking decision!)

Mancini's side may have been a bit flaky at times this season but one thing you can't do is strongarm them out of it. At one point Tyldesley suggested that Stoke's aerial firepower was to be feared. Except even Huth looked like a border collie amongst the wolfhounds of Toure, Richards, Kompany and co.

They keep telling me the sky blue's the limit now. That the first trophy is the hardest to win. I'd love to disagree. But if Mancini can fork out a flaming fortune just to have a minder for Balotelli (Vieira) then the rest of us are pissing in the wind.

It's Chelsea Mark II. Abramovich never bothered about buying a dud. Kezman, that cokehead Romanian fella, the expensive scatter cushion that was Winston Bogarde. Doesn't matter that they stank. Same with Citeh now. Dzeko turns out to be Bosnian for 'cack'. No bother. We'll lay a trail of cash to the door of Karim Benzema or some such.

It's not a happy prospect unless you've been spitting out the dirt from Man U's wheelspins for three decades.

And them people - the fans - are the ones who have earned the right to crow.

United are of course Premier League Champions. Which really means that City are celebrating sloppy seconds for now.

As I've said before, it really doesn't matter what you think of Ferguson, fact is he's won the League with a great deal of averageness at his disposal. Which makes him, in this day and age, close to a genius. And, by the way, no one likes a genius.

If you look at the celebratory pogo-ers at Ewood Park on Saturday there's only Vidic and van der Saar who you can truly say have been exceptional all season. Rooney's blown hot and cold. (And if there's a football fan in the country who hasn't at least indirectly been told to fuck off by Wazza this season then he wasn't on the pitch when you watched Man U.)

"It's all very well but what am I gonnae dae now ITV are getting rid of Taggart?"

Somehow Old Purple Chops has managed to patch together a winning side out of crocks and journeymen. And there's never been a string of games when they've all been playing shite at the same time - unlike Chelsea and Arsenal.

Rooney and Berbatov have alternated purple patches. Nani's dip in form has been easily covered by Valencia's return and the work-rate of Park. The foetal Brazilain twins have covered manfully for absentees at full-back; similarly, Rio's creaking back hasn't caused too much disruption. Carrick has been very good in the run-in. And Gawd knows what he's on but Giggsy continues his campaign to become the Peter Pan of the PFA. (According to Twitter rumours he's been using a super-injection for years).

I'm hoping that Cardiff can muster a way to the Premier League after a series of rhythm method seasons. (They look like they're in but withdraw at the last second). Be nice if Dave Jones could get that particular monkey off his back - then again Craig Bellamy could make all the difference.

Who they might replaced is well anybody's guess. Me? I hope it's not Blackpool n Wolves to sink, as we'd lose two of the best post-match interviewees in the game.
Bit I reckon the Tangerines will go, joined by the Tired Toilers at Brum. Suffice to say bums will never have been squeakier.

Rest assured Boro fans will empathise with the lot of yer.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Give it back now

Robbo here. But will this go up?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The End of Mourinho?

A Robbo Robson Exclusive

Reports coming in from UEFA are suggesting that special operatives from UEFA have, following extensive and meticulous covert surveillance, found and killed Josama bin Mourinho.

Mourinho, whose whereabouts was not shared with Castillian secret intelligence for fear of a leak, was found cowering behind his pizza margherita with extra jalapenos in a hotel room not far from Las Ramblas in Barcelona’s city centre.

'Don't look at the eyes, boys, don't look at the eyes!'

He was unarmed but officers were obliged to avoid the monster’s glare and wear protective earpieces should his sultry sneers for mercy convert them instantly into Special Ambassadors for his mission.

For a long time now UEFA (Upholders of European Football Artistry) have waged a clandestine war on the one they call The Special One. He has been the Beautiful Game’s Public Enemy Number One, Football’s Most Wanted and Least Loved, a man who is the ultimate in Ends Justifying The Means.

Mourinho’s ability to escape capture has been one of the great mysteries of modern sport. He is rumoured to have traversed great distances in any number of modes, and once passed through several banks of security in a laundry basket. (Admittedly the baskets at Chelsea need to be enormous given the amount of dirty laundry they get through each week). It is said that Mourinho once travelled from London to Milan in a flight powered entirely by his own ego.

While much of the evidence of Mourinho’s misdemeanours is anecdotal at best, there are many who put down their demise to the overweaning influence of the Portuguese-born translator. Referees have felt compelled to retire, and voyeurs have fervently felt the need to defend themselves.

Members of FC Barcelona have also been victimised. Sergio Busquets has been so manipulated by Jose’s Special Forces that he seems to feel every scratch, tug and nudge by an opposition player through his face. It is thought that this condition has led to cerebral damage that may have turned him into a racist shit. (Certainly Emmanuel Adebayor, a Mourinho aide, seemed to think so when he was sent on an assassin’s mission last night. Personally I was on his side although having said that, it’s not as if the Madrilenos aren’t averse to the odd monkey chant when it suits them.)

Then there’s Javier Mascherano, a fearsome man renowned for his power and malice that a Mourinho operative reduced to the role of writhing soap queen yesterday evening. Rumours are that the Masch spent the evening on Monserrat Caballe’s washing line though he rejects the idea that he is that big a girl’s blouse.

Image from a grim pro-Josama website

Mourinho has maintained that the Catalan capacity for fakery is not of his making. Indeed sources at Real Madrid are said to be pushing for an investigation into the whole structure of FC Barcelona. They have recommended that a special commission be headed up by Lord Scarman in the full expectation that he will find the Masters of Magical Footy guilty of ‘institutional simulation’.

While few share Moaninho’s beliefs, he has insisted that his failure to win every European competition he has ever entered is down to a conspiracy. When UEFA has been unable to defeat him, they have invented victories from goals of a paranormal nature, made members of his crack squad ‘disappear’ early in proceedings to face the water torture of the ‘early bath’ or forced him to squeeze into uncomfortable corners from whence he has had to communicate in more inventive ways.

Even then, UEFA have been powerless to prevent him from using such cutting-edge technology as the I-pad, the mobile telephone and even, fiendishly, a notepad and pen.

There are some mainstream sympathisers with the arch criminal’s view that diving divas need to be punished. If UEFA really wanted to deal with this they could view video evidence and start suspending the pimping plungers here and now. To the average man in the street – and I’m nothing if not that – it seems such an obvious and fair policy that even Nick Clegg would have difficulty reneging on it.

Central to the mission to destroy Mourinho has of course been the match they call El Crappico. El Naffico is a long-held tribal dispute somewhere in the fictional confederacy of states known as ‘Spain’. It is Moronho’s belief that the forces of evil are reined to the cause of the Catalans.

In particular he has sought to blame the organisation known as Unicef, which as everyone now knows, stands for the Unfeasibly Naughty Institute for Cheating Embryonic Footballers. There is circumstantial evidence that for years now Barcelona has been flooding its training camps with tiny schoolboys who for the first year are trained in dodgy play-acting and the second year learn how to do a triple twist with pike and tuck. Even the stadium’s name ‘Nou Camp’ translates as the ‘New Theatrical’.

Mourinho attempts to lure a young boy away from the Camp Nou

Of course Maureenio’s contempt for Barca may also derive from the first time he ever translated Bobby Robson at the Nou Camp. (And, bless Sir Bob, but it’d been nice if Jose had worked as a translator for the old fella when he was England gaffer too.)

Whatever the source of his malice and menace there seems to be little international outcry at Jose’s demise. UEFA have however been unforthcoming with photographic evidence of the end of the Special One and counter-conspiracy theorists are even now suggesting that the dark lord will rise again. Indeed to my certain knowledge he’s been seen driving a cab in Stockton-on-Tees.

In the meantime Barcelona officials have distanced themselves from exuberant celebrations on the streets of Barcelona. They have insisted that allegations of improper conduct by their representatives are completely unfounded and - well, it’s thought unlikely that we will witness any more third-rate Hollyoaks style tizzy fits from them in the final. Especially if Scholes plays as the Ginger Ninja always leaves plenty of evidence on the thigh of an opponent to make play-acting unnecessary.

Me? Were it not for Messi and Iniesta (another serial diver, mind) I wouldn’t care too much for Barca at the mo. Still they’ll be up against United. And they’ll beat ‘em. As for the Moochinho? Beware the second coming.