Monday, 28 November 2011

The Need For Speed

I’ve got nowt funny to say today. Not one word humorous comment. Some of you’ll reckon there’s no change there, then.

If you think of Gary Speed you think of a chest-out midfielder with a great left peg; you think of the classic football cliché of a lad who had a great leap for a small man; you think of a Leeds team that somehow won the Premier League; you think of a committed international footballer and a manager who recognised that Wales have a generation of young footballers headed by Bale and Ramsey who are capable of doing special things.

And even the most heterosexual of men can acknowledge that the man was as easy on the eye as sun sparkling off a Spanish sea.

You’d have thought that with all that going for him the man would have every right to be the sort of cocky wanker that sometimes appears to blight the modern game.
I know in such circumstances you’re not going to hear a bad word said about someone, but even then some wiseacre’ll say summat out the corner of his mouth if there was anything that you needed reminding of. To be fair that’d usually be me.

But no, Gary Speed was adored. What makes this tragedy deeper is the fact that he was so deeply loved by all who played with him and watched him.

That’s a pretty hard ask when he played for a fair few clubs. Club loyalty is not what it was and football fans don’t have much time for the modern mercenary who tears around from club to club in his latest playing-card-thin Italian sports car, his agent trailing behind him with an open suitcase to collect the £50 notes that are streaming out of the boot.

Speed played for Leeds, Everton, Newcastle... not clubs where temporary residence is welcomed. And still he commanded respect and adulation.

There’s nothing about this story that leaves you with anything other than a sense of sadness and even despair. Second only to his friends and family will be the players he was managing at international level.

Welsh football has had a fickle old relationship with its gaffers for many years, with John Toshack popping up like an unwelcome uncle at a family wedding. Speed, after a not-too-successful stint at Bramall Lane, took over and the change has been really something.

He leaves a team brimming with belief, immensely capable, and as pleasant to look at as the manager himself. Lord knows who’s going to keep that going, but I hope that that legacy is not lost along with the way.

As a side-issue, one of my least favourite pundits has come out of this with renewed respect. I heard Robbie Savage on the 5Live phone-in and what came across was a genuine friend in a state of utter grief. And given what folks say about Speed it’s unlikely that he’d form such a firm friendship with a pillock. Savage has been honourable, sincere and his bewilderment at this loss just compounds our collective sense of shock.

It’s impossible to even speculate as to what might be the reason for his suicide – and that’s not for the likes of me to consider any road. His death has, however, come at a time when the Leveson enquiry has unveiled case after case of immoral pillaging of people’s private lives in search of a scoop.

And once the shock has faded, the questions will be asked, and let’s just hope and pray that the phones will remain untapped, the bins untroubled, the kids unpestered. Let’s face it there’s been some devastating tragedies in recent years that have had your average reptilian hack salivating like a komodo dragon with a poisoned buffalo in its vicinity.

RIP. Let him rest in peace. Let the family grieve in peace. They will want to know why he took his own life, but the rest of us don’t need to.

Like I say, I’ll remember Speed as a footballer. Those that know him remember him as a great colleague. Football isn’t that important, but it’s good, even in those tragic of circumstances, that it can be populated by some dedicated, gifted and thoroughly decent human beings. Though whether there are any better than Speed is highly unlikely.

Monday, 21 November 2011

AVB - A Vapid Beginning

Andre Villas-Boas. It doesn’t trip off the tongue any more easily than Roman Abramovic. Or Abram-O-vitch, depending on whether the person talking is a pedantic knob-end or not.

"Look! Here comes Guus! I told you he'd return!"

It cost €15 million for the Russian billionaire to buy off Porto for the 33-year-old and as yet there’s nowt to show for his money. Three months is a long time when you’re a clown-faced oligarch who changes managers more often than a teenager’s Mum changes his sheets. Villas-Boas must be ruefully stroking his bum-fluff this morning.

What’s most confusing about the young Portuguese gaffer’s reign thus far is how nowt’s changed. Having promised a new broom, AVB has lumped himself with precisely the same backsliding squad that dogged Ancelotti last season.

As we know, John Terry’s always open to trying out a new partner but maybe not at the centre of defence, particularly if the man in question is the human spaniel David Luiz. Off he bounds up the park chasing some imaginary stick, getting himself into deep water and dragging the whole team down with him.

Not that Terry’s lumbering efforts do much to reassure either. Perhaps the fact that people are beginning to recognise that for all his faults Ashley Cole’s as good a left-back as England has ever produced is leaving the poor lad bewildered, cos stick him in a blue shirt and he defends like Cheryl.

‘Course it doesn’t help Chelsea that they’ve tried very hard in recent months to stop getting beat by Liverpool, namely by nicking their matchwinners Torres and Meireles. Given that pedigree, it seems weird that Villas-Boas brought them both on with six minutes to go so they could get a closer look at what they’ve been missing.

Torres is of course AVB’s biggest liability.

"You remember what a football is, Nando, right?"

£50 million’s worth of talent bought, £49 million of which was lost in transit. Little bits of pace, power, anticipation and precise finishing are sitting in a LOSt Property office somewhere at Euston station. Unless Luis Suarez picked it up on the journey back up to the North-West (and you wouldn’t put it past the talented little sneak).

For 84 minutes Chelsea had the big strapping enforcer that is Didier Drogba, and right now that lad looks like he couldn’t give a fig, a toss or a shit. Anelka drifts from pitch to bench in an aimless approximation of a career. In fact the only poor sod looked miffed to be a sub. He wasn’t exactly smothered in brotherly love after he scored the goal either.

Of course the least able footballer in blue is still John/Mikel/Obi*. His worth is finally being recognised. Zilch. His meek surrendering of the ball after it’d been played to him by Peter Cech (currently doubling as a World War II pilot judging by the facial get-up) was utterly typical. I guess the only reason Chelski haven’t replaced him is that Man City currently have so many holding midfielders the FA should seriously think about contacting the Monopolies Commission.

In short it doesn’t how much Villas-Boas squats on the touchline like a dysentery victim in a Turkish loo, until he gets shot of this job-lot of these old boys who still secretly worship at the altar of the Special One then he’s pretty much done for.

Guus Hiddink, the only other man capable of wrestling these egos into summat resembling a football team, is idle now Turkey have no Euro 2012 to attend and it must be tempting for Abramovich to get straight on the blower this morning and sort it out.

In the meantime AVB resembles a shell-shocked casualty from an ad for Calvin Klein's Obsession. He seems a decent enough bloke, but you wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the Algarve for Christmas – and he can take the Thunderbirds side-parting with him.

The winner came from a Chelsea old boy, of course, and once again Glen Johnson has made himself look good going forward. Defensively he still looks like he’d fit very well into Chelsea’s current back four. Which does beg the question ‘So what did Micah Richards do that means he’ll never get picked to play for England again?’

Certainly, Richards has had a couple of years when he’s ‘lost his way’ (translation: ‘getting shedloads of cash and spending it on booze, birds, brum-brums and bling). But with the generous exception ofKyle Walker, Richards is to every other right-back in the country what Mark Cavendish is to a kid whose just had his stabilisers taken off.

So what did he do to upset Fabio? Wear a tie incorrectly? Use his PS2 during a team talk? Happen to remark that he hadn’t understood a word of that last piece of advice, even though it had come from Stuart Pearce?

I don’t know either. But it has to be something. I mean there’s not been so mysterious an absence since Lord Lucan rode off on Shergar.

Praise however is due to @Rioferdy5. While I can’t say his is not a somewhat chequered past - Christmas parties and missed drugs test through jumper-shopping spring to mind, the way he stepped up as the Twitter-Blatter-Twatter was top-notch.

Of course some of us still remember that it wasn’t more than a few months back that the triumvirate of Wills, Backs and Dave went forelock-tugging to Switzerland and returned with a bad dose of Sepp-ticaemia.

But since they rooked us good and proper and we’re not bidding for the World Cup for the foreseeable, we can slag off the man who put the swizz into Switzerland good n proper. Unlike the strangely quiet Rest Of The Bleeding World!

Blatter won’t go. He’s apologised. He’s hugged black men in his time so that puts an end to any talk of homophobia and racism, doesn't it? So who will start the FIFA spring? Perhaps Rio, now that his England duties are over. Not sure he’s going to want partner JT in defence again anyway. He’s more likely to be working with his brother - for the prosecution.

I'm at the front of the queue, mind. With a scowl on my face and a giant fuck-off Toblerone in my hand.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Great Scott!

England beat Spain and all I can think is that Creaseless Cameron will have been nodding his head gravely and calling it ‘a victory for common sense’. It was a win cast in the Age of Austerity: no risks, bank what you’ve got, sit tight and pray to God that no one breaks your door down and makes off with the flatscreen.

Not that your Spaniards are the most belligerent of bailiffs. Fact is they’re more likely to ease open a tiny gap in the front window frame and slip one of their tiny magicians in while you’re minding the back door.

It was a weird one. Spain seem to be treating the word ‘friendly’ all too literally recently, what with getting thumped by Argentina and Portugal. (Apart from Sergio Ramos of course – a Red Hot Chilli Pepper looky-likey who plays footy with the same clunky swagger. They haven’t forgotten how to be dirty, have they?)

Just in case you don't hate Ramos as much as me, here's a picture of his girlfriend

Even at half-cock they mustered 21 chances versus England’s 3. There was nowt wrong with how Capello set up his team. Despite the fact that our plucky boys couldn’t keep the ball - I’ve not seen so many misplaced passes since our third-year lads tried to chat up some sixth-form lasses – defensively they were rock-solid.

Jagielka underlined the fact that John Terry’s tediously troubled times are coming to a close. Lescott was a bit of a revelation even if every time he cleared the ball it went unerringly to a Spanish foot, as if Joleon was saying ‘Again! Is that all you’ve got, you pussies!? Again!!!’

Of course the star of such a dogged show is always going to be your tireless holding midfielder and I think we can say the Owen Hargreaves Award for Relentless Effort goes to Scott Parker. There’s summat very reassuring about Parker. He’s old-fashioned somehow: the work-rate, the upright gait, the 1950’s Brylcreemed side-parting... it’s like he’s been drafted in from a simpler time when a rattle, a cup of Bovril and a stripy scarf was all a man needed to take to a football ground.

Parker would have been the footballer of choice for every character in an Ealing Comedy. Even the affectionate moniker ‘Scotty’ suggests a big man-sized tissue mopping up the messy dribbles and cruddy scuffs left by his less capable comrades.

Wind him up and watch him go!

It’s impossible to imagine a return to Gareth Two-Paced Barry (slow and stationary). Or Michael Carrick, a man who makes neatness a crime.

Capello was eager to praise the new boys who have stepped up, not least Jack Rodwell. Fabio claimed he ‘never thought a player so young could be so ready on his first exhibition’ thereby making the lad sound less like an attacking midfielder and more like an aspiring water-colourist. Ah, the English language, eh?

Rodwell does look the business, mind. Phil Jones did a decent job, too, though you can already see his playing career being dogged by his versatility. You just wait til the poor sod gets slotted in at left-book for a crocked Cashley and wait for the doom-mongers to rain down on him. The lad’s a centre-back. Let him play there.

As for Welbeck, well he was a direct substitution for Darren Bent, who played as the football equivalent of a look-out. Capello must’ve said ‘Darren, sneak up near the front and tell us if you can see any trouble coming.’ To Bent’s credit it was his header that led to the goal. At the moment the alternatives to Rooney up top are pretty interchangeable. But I’d rather have a lad with a decent touch up there, like Sturridge or Zamora, rather than the earnest galloper that Capello favours.

As for Spain, well they’re kilometres better than us. Or indeed anyone else. Fabregas’s post-match bleat stank of a Wengered past. What team, in their right mind, is going to keep it nice and open against the best passers the game has seen? It’d be like saying to Usain Bolt ‘race you to the next lamp-post’ without having made sure your mates had lined the pavement with boxes of distracting KFC. Madness.

And sometimes Spain have only themselves to blame. Fabregas will know that there’s a new tavern opened up by the Emirates stadium called The Extra Pass (there isn’t really, but there should be), and aside from the lady-pleasered chin of David Villa, the team lack a bit of ruthlessness at times. Even if you have 70% of possession, you’ve still got to do summat with it.

Even so, anyone thinking that this was anything more than a freakish one-off is living in the land where Audley Harrison can dance, there is a point to Michele Bachmann, and Louis Walsh has penetrating insight.

What it proved, new boys or not, is that English footballers can still be worthy and diligent if given a limited gameplan to follow but when it comes to what your Alan Hansens would call ‘touch and technique’ – well they’re the footballing equivalent of the artwork them painting elephants come up with, and they are similarly overpriced.

Of course the strange thing is that an England victory always makes you a tad perkier than you should be, and I find meself looking forward to the next Euros in a spirit of having zero expectation. There’ll be no Rooney to worry about losing in a fit of twatty temper. Chances are the creaking partnership of Terry and Ferdinand (Rio, not Anton) will be unavailable.

As long as we long-sufferers aren’t reintroduced to the Gerpard Conundrum where Fat Frank and Sulkin’ Stevie fight over the same square of turf, there might be a little bit of light, unpressured enjoyment for the even the most steadfast pessimist. Which is, paradoxically, optimistic.

Fear not, fellow miseries, there’s another friendly tomorrow night. The victory has given the lads ‘something to build on’ so we look forward to the Swedes digging up the foundations like a bunch of Scotsmen with armfuls of turf-cutting equipment.

"'As 'e finished his bleedin' blog yet?"

In the meantime we've got 'Arry's trial to look forward to in January. I think all this talk of secret Bung Bung parties in Portsmouth is just newspaper waffle. Don't you?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Stand For Fergie (If We Must)

Regular readers will know that I’m not given to outlandish statements, foolhardy predictions or irrational outbursts. But I say this to you: Democracy is dead.

The Greeks invented democracy, right? They exported it around the world to other nations who set about doing it way better. Like England and football, really. And cricket. And rugby.... tennis... *sigh* And now our Hellenic friends are holding a gun to the head of Europe and cobbling together a coalition to try and answer the continental concern.

In democracies everyone gets to vote – which is nice but quite often leads to stupidity winning the day. (See Frankie Cocozza).

I'm just bein' a knob and gettin' away wiv it. Eat your heart out Robbie Savage.

Me, I’ve always thought that the best system of rule is a dictatorship. You just have to get the right dictator.

Take Manchester United. When I was growing up they were English football’s glamorous afterthought. Post-Busby they slipped into the second division as easily as George Best slipped into a nightclub. O’Farrell was replaced by Tommy Docherty and the little gargoyle kept us entertained with the likes of Coppell and Gordon Hill (a kind of prototype Manc Cockney for Beckham) but had only an FA Cup to show for his efforts.

The Doc was a ‘character’ – a phrase that I think meant ‘pisshead’ – and United replaced the slurring bon viveur with Dave Sexton, a man with all the charisma of a woodlouse. Sensing that the crowd at the Theatre of Dreams were dreaming all too often while Sexton’s team were on the park, United turned to a Black Country version of Docherty, the Bling Magnet and Casual Racist Big Ron Atkinson.

Again, United copped a couple of FA Cups but were never able to muster a really significant assault on the League.

And to be honest, apart from the genetically encoded Scouse spite, no one really minded Man U. There was a bit of glamour sentiment attached to them, but essentially when The One True Dictator arrived Manchester United were a side overly reliant on Bryan Robson and Worthington’s Best Bitter.

What’s interesting about United managers prior to Fergie is that they lasted 3 or 4 years. In Sexton’s case, whilst doing f-all. The Govan Beetroot himself managed 4 years of diddly before they stumbled past Crystal Palace in an FA Cup Final.

What I mean to say is, they let the bloke be a bit shit for a while. How likely is that nowadays? (Apart from at Middlesbrough, where we wait for them to prove that they always were a bit shit before we move ‘em on). Ferguson had to change the culture of the club, which meant them getting used to such novelties as hairdryers, shallow frying and a drink called Water.

Slowly the dictator ossified into place and if we must all take it in turns to kiss old Taggart’s ring, then it’s fair to say that his greatest triumph has been his ability to recognise when players are past their use-by-date and when they’re ready to be thrown into the big time.

Me, I’d love to dwell on the things that didn’t work. And that basically means Eric Djemba Djemba, Kleberson and Taibi. It’s just that in 25 years that’s not bad going. Benitez managed to buy twice as many duffers during his somewhat shorter stay at the western end of the M62.

There should be many other instances where his faith hasn’t been justified. His interest in horses clearly extends to Portuguese show-ponies, but the mincing strut of Ronaldo and Nani has paid huge dividends in the end.

Giving gainful employment to a French background artist with a potty line in poetry shouldn’t have worked either but Cantona continues to be his masterstroke. That Kung Fu kick led some wags to suggest that this was the first bona fide cast of the shit actually hitting the fan.

Then there’s his sudden deployment of the cornerstones of England’s ‘golden generation’ – your Neville, your Butt, your Becks, your Scholes, your – shit, I’ve come over all Lawrenson – who were way too young to win the title. Of course, put that lot in England shirts and they became a less precious metal – the leaden, tinpot generation, I think you could call it.

My point is, if Ferguson’s tenure had been subject to the forces of democracy then none of this would’ve happened. If the season ticket holders of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand (and frankly I wish he’d stop standing and just sit the fuck down in a comfy armchair somewhere) had been given their say as to whether, say, Roy Keane should spend more time with his wife’s puppies, or even if Carlos Tevez should haul his greedy ass across Manchester, they’d still be sitting in the North Stand today.

And if it was one fan one vote, Fergie would’ve been winding his way back up to his favourite Glasgow chewing-gum vending machine with his tail between his legs after a couple of years. The fans didn’t much care for 11th in the First Division in 1987 (which as the name suggests, teenagers, used to be the best division in the country).

I’m telling you, dictators are the best bet. If only you could rely on them not being too malevolent. And only opposition managers, former players, referees and BBC executives could ever accuse Ferguson of owt like that. Could they?

Me, I’ve always blamed his Mrs. There was a time, after a trophyless season (ah happy days!) when if it wasn’t for her elbowing him back to work we’d all be chuckling behind our hands as the Glazers or whoever went through managers like the lad Cocozza gets through Bacardi-breezered totty.

But he’s still there, dammit. It looks like he’s mellowing. We can but hope.

So well done, your Knightship but please, enough is enough. Martin O’Neill’s tired of waiting. Time for a new dictator.

And that George Papandreou’ll need a job.

Man U? Compare to the bleedin' Greek economy is a piece of piss, innit?