Monday, 31 October 2011

The Case For The Defence

Ooh the crotch seams of football statisticians are splitting under the strain. The Premier League has thus far mustered an average of 2.97 goals per game. (The 0.97 of a goal is presumably the one Messrs Bent and Adebayor keep just missing – and there’s nowt more satisfying that your mercenary goalscorer failing to do the one bit of his job he’s really paid for.)

More like Smack 'im Like a Mackem

This surprising stat is supposed to indicate a sad decline in the art of defending. But are defenders really getting worse? Well yes. They’re fucking shite.

I’d like to start by blaming it on Rio. Not Ferdinand, who more and more he resembles an old dodderer from an Ibuleve advert, but Rio the city – in fact Brazil as a whole. Full-backs these days are duty bound to be auxiliary wingers. They get forward so frequently that they even have their own verb ‘bombing on’ to describe the phenomenon.

Not only does every full-back think he’s Cafu, he defends like them n all. A full-back gets notice d these days for pace and crossing ability and pace. Who gives a toss if he’s got the positional sense of a bat in ear-muffs (that’s you that is, Glen Johnson).

Jose Bosingwa, Chelsea’s mono-browed raider, needs a guide-dog to get him back into the right-hand side of defence. Kyle Walker is a tip-top lad going forward but I’m not convinced that he doesn’t need his hand-holding when he’s fending off an attacking left-winger. Leighton Baines is Everton’s biggest goal threat but he’s so impressed with Chicharito’s finishing he pulls up a deckchair and tokes on a ciggie from his front-row seat.

Of course Brazil’s compensation to this policy of outflanking the opponents was the two holding midfielders - two cloggers to shield your centre backs and guard your penalty box with your life. In a perfect world these players would be Claude Makelele and Claude Makalele. (Incidentally, the translation of ‘Makalele’ is ‘Scouse banjo’)

Now, apart from Fulham, and Man City, whose squad is the football equivalent of my wife’s frigging wardrobe (there’s something for every occasion with Adam Johnson being Mancini’s emergency all-purpose accessory and Carlos Tevez the big ugly back-of-the-drawer knickers) most teams seem to eschew this safety mechanism in favour of a headlong rush toward the opposition.

Chelsea v Arsenal featured those sturdy central operators Alex Song and John Obi Mikel. I still can’t quite believe Mikel inspired such a tug-of-war between Man U and Chelsea a while back. At the time I believe he was an attacking midfielder – he certainly defends like one. Song makes more sense in the role but even he was powerless to prevent wave after wave of Blue Meanies stomping through the Thin Red Line. I say thin – when a roof leaks at Arsenal’s training ground they send Sczesny up a ladder with a box of one-ply fragranced tissues.

While you’re never surprised to see Koscielny and Djourou behaving like men who’ve woking up with their heads down the wrong end of their sleeping-bags, it was weird to see the likes of Cashley and Terry looking similarly deranged.

‘Course the seeing John Terry fall over is a joy forever. Moscow memories came flooding back as the grim-faced plodder’s mug smacked into the Stamford Bridge turf and Robin Van Persie galloped off to confirm his status as a member of Wenger’s Irreplaceables. (Team-mates include Fabregas, Nasri, Henry, Vieira – Arsene makes ‘em skipper, they can’t wait to go).

Villas-Boas claimed the League Cup win at Goodison in midweek was for the skipper as he seeks to fight off accusations of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. If it’s true it would show just how dense Terry is – all them weaknesses in Anton Ferdinand’s game and he chooses to pick up on an irrelevance of the colour of his skin? Better surely just to point how what a crap footballer he is.

Terry doing his best Yosemite Sam impression: "Oh, You Robin!!"

As for Ashley Cole, well he got a good roasting by Theo Walcott (unfortunate turn of phrase but you know what I mean) and spent much of the time playing three or four yards behind the rest of the defence. It’s the first time someone has played the sweeper role at left back.

The thing is these blokes aren’t bad players – or at least they haven’t been. Terry lacks pace, but he’s managed to get around that until recently. It doesn’t help when David Luiz – the result of a hideous cloning experiment between Brian May and a headless chicken – is his partner in crime .

There’s some merit in saying that footballers don’t defend well these days cos the rules don’t really permit it. Good tackles get punished way too often. One of the greatest arts of the modern forward is the well-timed tumble. I’ve seen newborn foals make a better effort to stay on their feet. I honestly don’t think a lot of players know how to tackle these days, so they (a) don’t bother – (the Taarabt Option) or (b) tackle anyway and get sent off (the Cattermolean School).

There are exceptions: Scott Parker and errr... well that’s it really.

The upshot of all this suicidal defending is loads of goals and top players strutting their stuff. As well as RVP, there’s RVdV, Silva to Aguero’s Lone Ranger, and Grant Holt. The Premier League should always have space for an English centre-forward who looks like he spent the morning with one hand on the slot machine and the other on a pint of Badger’s Best.

Who Ate All The [Delia's] Pies?

Nevertheless I sometimes wonder whether the Flash Harrys might not be doing their bit at the toher end. Watch Barca. Never mind all the Billy Smart’s Circus stuff around the opposition’s box, the way they chase the ball when they lose it like a pack of Duracell-packed Jack Russells is an object lesson to all footballers.

PS I see El Hadj Diouf has signed for Doncaster for three months. Apparently it’ll get cut to 6 weeks for good behaviour.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Theatre of Dirhams

In ten years time, in the North Didsbury Sunshine Home for the Bewildered, a tottering Arsene Wenger will nudge his zimmer frame over to the grumpy bastard in the armchair.

“You’re Alex Ferguson”, he will say.

“Yes. And you’re Arsene Wenger!”

“Mais oui!”

“Aye” says the purple Scot, “I remember names – I just cannae remember how tae defend!”

After Arsenal’s 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that the Premier League’s arse-spanking event of the year had been seen and done. There was something about City’s demolition derby victory that may even have left United botties rawer still.

First of all, Fergie managed to suggest his team had met all the big sides in the League last weekend. City were absent from the list. He’s the master of the tactical omission. Secondly, there’s that ‘noisy neighbours’ tag – which is Fergie’s bit of football snobbery, as if Citeh are some chav family with nothing more than a Euromillions win to go with their string of ASBOs. Well they’re not so much noisy now as so downright ear-splitting it makes your hairdryer sound like little more than a housefly’s fart.

From Cornwall to Kuala Lumpur, there’ll be wanting answers from Fergie. Citeh, five points clear and with a squad with more depth than the Marianas Trench, look pretty unbeatable. There is still one ugly blot on the Eastlands landscape but the greedy little Argie will be whisked off to a new address in January – I hear it’s called Joorabchian’s Cut – and Mancini’s grip will have tightened considerably.

And it’s Roberto who’s looking like the bee’s knees at the mo. I thought Citeh would lose patience with the bloke, assuming as I did that billionaires have attention span of a three-year-old toddler. But then not all billionaires are Russian oligarchs. Mancini’s had 100 games in charge now and finally the stroppy buggers are being weeded out and a team is emerging.

Of course Balotelli, possibly forced into service by the couch potato-faced Carlos, has been a revelation. He’s managed to combine exquisite finishing with tremendous eccentricity. Ken Loach is currently making a film called Looking for Mario, in which a United fan gets kept awake day and night by a bloke playing Italian hiphop and setting off fireworks in his bathroom.

Who said Balotelli was a bit of a cock?

That T-shirt with the slogan ‘Why Always Me?’ showed a fine line in self-awareness. I know the lad’s got a couple of rashers short of the full English but I’m starting to like the lad.

Whether this is a changing of guard in Manchester remains to be seen, say all but the most reckless of pundits. Me, I know it is. Sure, Ferguson has this magic touch, can turn average Englishness into a force to be reckoned with, but frankly he doesn’t have anything like the same weapons at his disposal. Citeh’s tanks rolled into the Theatre of Dreams and United had nowt but cotton-buds with which to protect themselves.

At times Ferdinand appeared to wave them through with grim-faced resignation like a bystander at Royal Wootton Basset.

Fergie can compete against naked wealth when it’s a band of self-interested mercenaries – not that I’m suggesting that United are poor; compared to Shane McGowan, Shaun Ryder is coherent. But if that wealth is organised into a team culture by a suave greying Mediterranean smoothie with a potty streak then Fergie has to stand aside and let that money talk, be it in roubles or dirhams.

Chelsea have yet to recover the pomp of the Mourinho years. I think the phrase is ‘in transition’. Which is football-speak for ‘some good young-uns, some good old-uns who are getting past it and some rich middle-uns who don’t quite know what they’re supposed to be doing yet.’

The defeat at QPR led to Villas-Boas’s first resort to ref-bashing. Unfairly, I reckon. The red cards were right. The penalty was right. Drogba looked like he was jumping into a puddle rather than Adel Taarabt. (Even so, I can imagine a bit of Neil Warnock wishing that he could attack Adel in the same way. Tarrabt makes Mario Balotelli look like he’s walked out of an ashram.

Rangers spent the second half doing their best All Black impression and choking like a thirteen-year-old after his first toke but in the end Anelka and co couldn’t get back into it. And Chelsea sit six points behind this season’s Premier League Champions. Or do I mean leaders? No I mean Champions.

Citeh’ll still struggle in Europe but that’ll only strengthen their hold in England.

Meanwhile the rest of the North-West are looking a bit grim. Well Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn always look a bit grim but so do their football clubs now. (Yep, I know, this coming from a citizen of Middlesbrough – but I think that qualifies me to pass judgement).

Blackburn fans seem to be the readiest to roast their manager. Not quite sure why the chicken-vendors are hesitating. Kean looks oven-ready. Not that his team have played that bad, they just haven’t had the luck. Not that Blackburn fans will forgive the manager or owners.

Steve Kean prowls the touchline.

It’s a footballing paradox that you could almost hear rolling out of the slightly slurred lips of Alan Hansen: ‘In football, luck doesn’t change by accident’.

And whichever way you look at it, you’ve got to sell a lot of flaming chickens before you can start competing against the oil and gas magnates of this world.

A final word on the Rugby World Cup. Thank God that’s over. Were it not for the romance of a nation plagued by adversity claiming the trophy it would go down as one of the grimmest tournaments in living memory.

The final was one for the connoisseurs I’m told. Which basically means it was like a food flight in an abattoir. There are better ways to spend a Sunday and Man City and QPR proved that later in the day. Football is quite simply a much much better game.

Monday, 10 October 2011

England Expects... Nowt!

A tale of two Englands with a lot in common this weekend.

Friday night saw the footballers coast into the finals following a comfortable 2-2 draw with Montenegro. Except that the match was foreshadowed by the arrest of Wayne Rooney Senior, a man who looks like a rough-shaven bollock placed on top of a badly-dressed jelly. Or, if you like, Phil Mitchell off EastEnders.

(Wayne Jr can have all the hair-dos he wants, the future’s not looking bright, Colleen.)

Still the younger Wayne was over all that sort of shady shenanigans and besides, once he crosses that white line he’s a still point of control and finesse. Til he kicks someone.

Maybe that hair transplant has confirmed he’s just one more nut-job in an England shirt. Rooney will miss England’s opening two fixtures at Euro 2012 and so all the creativity will be coming from Gareth Barry and Scott Parker. Not so much your Van Gogh and Picasso, more your two coats of honest gloss on your skirting-boards.

Or, God forbid, Lamps and Gerrard will be clumsily fitted together again and England’s Warsaw adventure will begin with two identical poles in the middle of the park.

Whatever happens this is Capello’s last hurrah and no one’s banking on us doing owt. I’ve lost count of the number of folk who say they’re not bothered about England right now. At a time when they are at least getting a job done, that’s pretty sad news. It’s probably because only the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has seen more lame ducks over the past couple of years.

We presume Fabio’s still there cos the FA can’t afford to sack him. You might think that’d make him a bit more cavalier about team selections but when push comes to shove he goes for a lot tried – or should be tired – and tested. I mean why’s the Charm Vacuum JT still skipper?

Rooney’s absence will only fan the flames of pessimism, but frankly the majority of English club football fans live in a world where hope is as fleeting as a tear in the eye of Simon Cowell, so we’ll all feel well at home with an expectation of nowt.

Of course all the rugby union boys are on their way back home as I write – that’s if Manu Tuilagi hasn’t decided to try his hand at wing-walking. (Personally I don’t think Manu was pissed – I think he was stone cold sober and jumped off the ferry in order to swim back to Samoa as fast as he could.)

I’m not that bothered, me. I know the press go sniffing for the scent of any old shit during a big sports tournament but Martin Johnson’s men seemed to have delighted in serving big dollops of scandalous turd on a silver salver to anyone who cares to inhale.

You wouldn’t mind if, like Gazza’s dentist’s chair celebration in ’96, the players were able to stuff it back down your throats. But the concrete-filled pillow-cases that took to the field for England were steroid-enhanced Nice-But-Dims.

Johnson hasn’t done his reputation any good by sticking with Wilkinson when he was clearly out of form. Moody didn’t seem a great choice for skipper given he was coming back from injury. I know he’s fearless but having a face tattooed with stitches doesn’t make you a leader any more than getting shot nine times makes 50 Cent a great musician.

Johnson also brought on some weird old substitutions when England needed what the pundits call ‘some go-forward’ – which is another of them obvious turns of phrase that means eff-all. I mean, what else could they need? Some go-backward?

The main reason for my indifference, apart from the fact that England’s squad seems to have a disproportionate number of knobheads in it, is that I’ve tried to give rugby union a fair crack of the whip this year. I’ve tried to put aside me tribal prejudices and see the game in the round. And I’m still left with the same conclusion: it’s dull.

A lot of rugby union seems to involve huge men running into huge men and falling over. Some more huge men then join the other huge men and a lot of them fall on top of each other. Then the referee blows a whistle and tells someone they fell over in the wrong place or didn’t let go of something when they fell over.

There’s also the poorly-organised shoving contest, or scrum, during which time itself stands still. There’s about three hours of my life I’ll never get back, watching props pitch face down in the stuff that Anchor cows love so much. I don’t give a toss if it’s supposed to be an integral part of the game – it’s a frigging mess and the penalties that are conceded bewilder the pug-faced bruisers that give ‘em just as much as they do me.

The only delight in rugby union is when, all too occasionally, the ball goes through the hands. Contempomi’s little pat-ball pass during the Argies’ try against NZ is a prime example. And here’s the thing rugger-lovers – that happens ALL THE TIME in rugby league! That’s right! League is like Union minus all the shit bits.

Maybe we Northerners are too dense to understand the intricacies of the public school game of choice. And maybe we just like to play a game where men don’t feel the need to climb all over each other in a way that invites the sort of ‘insinuations’ that surround a cabinet minister when he goes abroad with a ‘close personal friend’.

Ah, the beautiful game!

Of course, Johnson has to go. But then so does Capello. It’s just nobody at either Twickers or the FA has a bastard clue who is supposed to make such a decision. How we got the Olympics is beyond me.

Any road, I’ll be doing the patronising English thing of cheering on little old Wales. At least they chuck the ball around nicely. And if NZ choke, you never know my Cymru friends.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Taxi for Tevez

Carlos Tevez was meeting Man City officials yesterday – that’s assuming he turned up of course. Now I’ve not had my official take on this yet, so here goes:

You workshy, shiftless, arrogant, money-grabbing, mercenary cock!

That’s about that. Except to say that at a time when nurses are balloting members for strike action (they’d quite like to still have a 7 grand a year pension to fall back on when they retire, selfish little tenders of the sick and old that they are) it might be nice to see someone like Tevez lift his head out of his arse and have a little look around. Not that he doesn’t look better with his head there.

I can’t say I’m one Frank Lumplard’s biggest fans, but he’s not been throwing his rusks out of his state-of-the-art baby buggy, has he? Nah, he just goes on the pitch and scores a few goals and says ‘write me off if you dare’.

There’s a bit of me – and almost everyone else I know – that feels like Citeh brought this upon themselves. The gaucho’s arrival in England didn’t exactly smack of an earnest and loyal representative keen to do his duty by the players and fans around him. Neil Warnock’s dismissive ‘the sooner he goes home the better’ comments may have been partly influenced by the fact that Tevez’s appearances for West Ham were (a) suspect and (b) saw Warnock’s Sheffield United get relegated.

Of course, much of the trouble with Tevez appears to revolve around the fact that he is the property of a top-of-the-range 4x4, the Kia Joorabchian. Joorabhcian appears happy to hawk his client about the place as if Tevez is less a footballer and more a bit of lucky heather. Why Tevez is happy to be treated like a bit of fluff on Kia’s arm is beyond me. Except for the money, of course.

But not even a salary that would make a pinstriped City swanker blush can make up for the slight of being replaced in the Citeh starting XI by Aguero (8 goals) and Dzeko (6 goals). Any right-thinking individual might think them blokes had made a good start to the season. Not Carlos.

It’s that poster that your mind drifts back to now. I’ve no problem with thumbing your nose at United, God knows. But to hang your new beginnings on the back of such an opportunistic little scrote seemed a tad odd.

Tevez may have felt slighted by his treatment at United, but clearly Ferguson had decided the lad was either not that good, or not worth the bother and in both cases, he’s probably right.

Now of course Tevez can point to his large contribution to Man City’s success last season as proof positive of his dedication to the club. His work-rate is undeniably good. But he’s not put anything like that amount of legwork into a few other basics – in particular learning the language. Four years he’s been here, working with British managers at English clubs and still not even a ‘Good morning’ from the pillock.

All right, maybe he’s thick. Maybe his Spanish isn’t much better. But this lack of effort means he’s either (a) supremely conceited or (b) thick as pig-shit or (c) both. (Ian Rush’s inability to settle at Juve was put down to being linguistically-challenged – in his case I’d go for (b))

So what do Man City do with the reprobate? Were it left to the simple common sense of the average English football fan, it’d be simply a case of giant jiffy bag, air-mail sticker and an eight-hour flight back to Argentina. I’d be tempted to throw in the Falklands too just so long as they just keep him.

Other options include: hire him out as an extra for spaghetti Westerns;

'Are you sure you won't go on for the last 20 minutes, apache?'

chuck him on a celebrity show shouty chefs so he can cook for himself instead of complaining about the restaurants; send him on a rugby tour with England to see how crap the team environment can really be.

It’s amazingly that our footballers can still be dismissed as a bunch of ignorant numpties when they do summat a bit laddish but for our rugger buggers it’s a bit of team-bonding high-jinks, don’t you know...

In the meantime, Arsenal continue to court a lot of press attention, mainly cos they’re a bit shit at the mo. The team is so fresh-faced at present I keep picturing Wenger sat next to Gary Barlow as he says to a weeping young Carl Jenkinson ‘I’m sorry you didn’t make the final 11.’

Of course, Spurs have bitten back following Citeh’s early season demolition and ‘Arry’s got that perky look back – you know the one where he looks like a sunburnt cock bantam.

Spurs look a good bet for the top four if Redknapp can rid himself of the Europa League commitment (and given he’s sending out sides that Fagin would look upon as a little bit naive, there’s every chance).

It was still a lively Norf London derby, but the game was overshadowed by some terrace chanting that really beggars belief. Adebayor is unlikely to be flavour of the month at any of his former clubs, but hilarious quips about the lad hiding under bus seats while he and his team-mates get showered with bullets is so low I’d be tempted to find the perpetrators and put ‘em through a similar experience.

The Merseyside derby saw Jack Rodwell get sent off for the heinous crime of winning the ball fairly. Suarez’s writhing didn’t help. Neither does Dalglish’s insistence is not acknowledging that the red card was undeserved, particularly when (as far as I can understand him) he’s got a moan about the refs every bloody week.

Terrible challenge! It's an early bath for someone!

Hopefully those Man City players giving evidence this week won’t be similarly tight-lipped on their former club captain’s ridiculous strop in the Allianz arena.
Twat! I just wish me mam could get hold of Tevez. He’d be training 24 hours a day just so he didn’t have to go back home.