Monday, 26 November 2012

Bewildering Benitez

I am starting to feel sorry for Fernando Torres.

Once upon a time he led the line like a footballing Legolas, fleet, flaxen and fatally good. Now he plods around like he's Legless. There's no pace anymore, his first touch seems to have been borrowed from Emile Heskey, and worst of all he glowers round the pitch like a grounded teenager who's had his X-Box confiscated. And let's face it the X-Box Torres is a far better player.

If Rafael Benitez has been brought back to revive ickle Nando then by golly he's going to need more than smelling salts and a common language. Abramovich landed the club with this folly-footed failure, just as he had with Sheva (not Shiva, destroyer of worlds, but Sheva destroyer of managerial reputations).

Benitez somehow has managed to get himself as a fifth head on the Anfield Mount Rushmore flag, and doe-eyed Scousers - the same ones that are presumably voting for that moon-faced bag o' shite Christopher Maloney in X-Factor - still revere that night in Istanbul when the Champions League was pulled out of the fire despite the manager, and because of Steven Gerrard.

Rafa repaid that miracle by sticking Gerrard wide right for a season. He also made the one decent purchase of his career in England by getting Torres. The Spaniard went on to terrify teams in the same way that Suarez does now (except for the odd leg-breaking lunge and the  racist jibe).

Benitez's subsequent career at Anfield was remarkable indeed. He spent shitloads on shite and blamed the lack of success on the chairmen, whoever the hell they happened to be, for not giving him even more shitloads. They won an FA Cup because Gerrard trumped a flapping defence. And when they finally got shot of him, he took with him a massive pay-off and the hearts of the Kop.

In short, the predominant quality Benitez had at Liverpool was luck. Ferguson suggested he'd got another dose by getting a six-month sentence at Roman's correctional institute (with John Terry playing Mr Mackay and Lamps as the kindly and earnest Mr Barraclough). I'm not sure Rafa will see it that way after the reception the Chelsea fans gave him yesterday.

The astonishing thing about Benitez's appointment is that Abramovich has replaced a whole-hearted man of Chelsea with someone who pretty much despised the club. (Why is the owner not getting his fair share of the flak for this maddening decision? Well cos ultimately he can take his ball home, in the form squillions of quid, so let's blame the Spanish Maitre D instead.)

It's laughable, too, that Rafa would want the job. You might think it shows an admirably thick skin. I think it's a choice made on the basis of pride and greed. He'll be well-paid whatever happens but if he thinks he can turn around opinion at the Bridge with a Torres tap-in he's living in the Land Where Reason Sleeps (which coincidentally is the tagline for an upcoming documentary on Chelsea Football Club).

Meanwhile Harry Redknapp returns to management at QPR, the Premier League's pit props. 'Course 'Arry does the press conferences very well - lots of talk of grandkids in blue and white hooped shirts, nice people at the club, working hard and running abaht. He's very good at making you feel you're just popping round H's for a catch-up or having a little chinwag outside the bookies of Monday morning.

It's hard to believe he lives in a massive fuck-off house in Sandbanks, home of the fourth most expensive real estate in the world, coz 'e's do dahn-to-earf!

Still the R's have got the best man available. Just ask the Ukraine FA. Harry was very tempted by their offer, he said. After all them Ukrainian fans are just loverly and Chicken Kiev is one of his favourite teas. But it was now or never for Fernandes to get the ol' geezer and you can't say it's the wrong decision. Indeed it as natural a fit as as Warnock and Leeds, or

But as with Torres's form, even Jesus Christ might be struggling to this squad to pick up its bed and walk. There were signs of improvement at Old Trafford, but as soon as United got one the game was up. It's not a coincidence, mind, that it was a QPR team lacking many of the expensive, needless bling that Hughes bought in.

'Arry's already stated he won't hesitate to cut out the dead wood and from what we've witnessed thus far he's going to need a chainsaw. Still it will come as bad news for the likes of Lambert, O'Neill and, increasingly, Pardew.

I like to think I had some influence on Newcastle's demise - I did after all reckon them coming fourth this season. The Barcodes have had injuries to irreplaceable players: Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Coloccini were cornerstones last season. But they've also suffered an utter relapse since Pardew was given a seven-year contract.

Symptomatic is Papiss Cisse who scored the best brace in the history of football at Stamford Bridge but this season couldn't score in a Stockton-on-Tees niteclub at 2am - and even Fernando Torres could manage that.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Roman Ruins

Rumours of Mark Hughes’s demise at QPR have been exaggerated. So are accusations that Lord McAlpine is to take over. Tony Fernandes’s votes of confidence are anything but confident, and QPR have made the worst Premier League start to a season since 1995.

This is dismal stuff and it’s not like the R’s came up, as have so many recently, with a workmanlike bunch of triers who might graft out a couple of results and hang on to the precipice. No sooner are they up but Sparky starts splashing around the cash like Donald Trump at a Tea Party convention.

You look at his acquisitions and apart from the shit-off-a-shovel pace of Junior Hoillet, he’s bought nowt. Jose Bosingwa has all the defensive abilities of a spineless hedgehog. Ryan Nelsen is a worthy but weary veteran. There are ten others who are barely worth a mention but who all suggest that the Loftus Road Chief Scout is not so much Akela but a lowly ranked seconder who wouldn’t know a necker from a woggle.

Players who have worked with Hughes insist he is a top manager. I don’t see it meself. Since he left a relatively successful stint with Wales his only marginal successes have been with Blackburn Rovers – and they were what commentators euphemistically call ‘a physical side’ (they kicked fucking lumps out of you).

The sacking at Man City seems to have indelibly hacked a chip in Sparky’s shoulder and he’s not exactly renowned for his loyalty. Then again he is represented by Kia Joorabchian, an agent for change, as it were. It’s unlikely that Kia would be encouraging a graceful exit when there’s more cash to be made from a sacking. That’s if Rafa Benitez’s benchmark millions from his departures from Liverpool and Inter are anything to go by.

Of course Benitez’s bank manager is supposedly warming his hands on some Russian gas-fired millions this morning after the announcement of Roberto di Matteo’s excision. Ironic that a lucky one-off Champs League winner might replace the other.

It must be a special kind of hell working for Roman Abramovich.

“Secretary! There is minor spelling mistake in email to ex-Missus! You are fired!” “Groundsman! Why this blade of grass 2mm longer than rest of blades? Are you try to make us lose? You are fired!” It must be hard for Roman to look himself in the mirror and not say “Nine managers in nine years. You are shit owner with no faith in own decisions. You are fired!”

Then again, they all sound a bit logical to me. There’s every chance that Roman will hire Benitez and sack him later in the afternoon so that he can say he is “first man ever to sack two Champs League winners in same day!”

So Chelsea have been a bit ropy recently. It’s no coincidence when Lampard, Terry and Drogba haven’t been around. For the first dozen matches, the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Mata were marvellous, and if Roberto can’t fathom out what’s happened to the errant Torres then he’s not the first, is he?

Torres continues to spurn easy opportunities like an anorexic at an all-you-can-eat buffet and it’s no surprise that Di Matteo left him out at Juve. Villas-Boas’ appointment last year seemed to point to the end of an ageing generation of mighty servants of the club, only the ageing generation weren’t having it. Now, when Di Matteo has no choice but to play the new breeds, Abramovich chucks him into the queue outside Loftus Road like he’s a trampled copy of Metro. The decision-making at the club has, for a long time now, been based on the owner playing ‘eeni-meeni-miney-mo’. (But let’s not extend that playground rhyme as Chelsea have had quite enough of that sort of thing in the past year or so.)

The spectre hanging over all of this is one Pep Guardiola. Never has a one-year career break been so lasciviously analysed. Even then, you’d think an interim manager for six months would be a pretty potty idea. John Terry as player manager has been floated which isn’t as daft as it sounds given that he already thinks that’s what he is.

Anyway would Guardiola be given the time to nurture a side into something that might mirror Barca? Would Pep pop over to pip others for the signature of, say, a Messi? Preposterous, maybe, but then there is nothing about Abramovich that fits into the normal scheme of things.

In the meantime, interim suggestions include: Sven-Goran Eriksson (lock up your daughters); Benitez (lock up your Rioja); Rijkaard (dreadlock up your Dutchman); Avram Grant (Return of the Dead-Eye); Harry Redknapp (quids in and it keeps his S); Mitt ‘g’is a job’ Romney; Danny Baker (he’d take ‘em down quicker than a whore’s knickers); and my mate Tony Thompson who reckons it takes the intelligence of one of them elephant’s that can do a painting to run that club.

“All you need is a marigold glove and enough KY to grease it and Roman’ll do the rest” he says. It’s not a nice image, but I think he’s right.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Paying Your Subs

An interesting aspect to Match of the Day 2 last night was the appearance of the now-permanent sub Michael Owen on the panel. (I can only guess he was a last minute replacement for someone else.) Owen has spent the last six years bathing in the afterglow of a career that burnt out yonks back.

Younger viewers might have watched with confusion at this nervy, wooden little chump with the ridiculous facial hair on the end of the sofa, and mistook him for some sort of club mascot. But no, that was England’s most lethal striker of the last fifteen years, boys and girls. You know that Rahim Sterling. Well Michaelowen (all one word, officially) made that lad look like your run-of-the-mill entrant in a Little Richard looky-likey competition. (What that’s sonny…? Who’s Little Richard…? Oh piss off.)

As for the facial hair, we’ll put that down to the marvellous Movember charity. What’s brilliant about Movember is that it allows the average man to access his inner pillock. There’s not a male in this country who doesn’t toy with notions of beardiness, but only Zen-Buddhist-Peruvian-knitwear-crusties seem to actually go for it. But now, for one month, there’s barely a chin that doesn’t betray a quite laughable arrangement of fuzz (and there’s not a wearer amongst them who doesn’t secretly crave approval, not for his charitable works, but for the ‘tache itself).

Only yesterday I guffawed as some bloke strode proudly up to the bar of the Blue Bell and ordered himself some ‘Cabsav’. “Ha! Good for you mate!” I said, pointing at the frayed brown bootlace on his top lip.  “Still it’s all for charity, eh?”

Turns out he’s never heard of Movember. He’s just a regular tosser. (And a Man City fan to boot.)

Which brings us back to Michael Owen and his analysis of one Edin Dzeko. Now Dzeko’s very keen to let everyone know that he’s not a kind of comfort blanket for a creaking frontline. I swear I’ve seen him start his touchline warm-up on the back of a white charger. But I do wonder what your modern footballer expects.

Citeh are playing twice a week most of the time, if you include their European games, though one could argue that they haven’t really been involved in one of them yet. Realistically Dzeko has three rivals for a starting berth: the Good, the Mad, and the Ugly. I could only ever envisage picking Balotelli if he was in an identity parade, so it really is a toss-up for the other three and they each bring something different, which is after all, what you want from a squad.

In other words, there’s no choice for Mancini but to swap players about. It’s ludicrous to think otherwise. So while, unlike Owen’s apparent contentment as a footballer-shaped scatter cushion, it’s good that Dzeko’s hacked off about it, if the lad keeps jumping out of the dug-out and saving the day you can hardly blame Roberto for keeping him there.

Indeed, the main thing that separates the better clubs from everyone else is the fact that they can rest players and bring in others without massively affecting the standard of the team they put out on the park. Unlike, say, Liverpool. If they dropped Luis Suarez (and if it were up to me I’d do it from a very great height) they’d never create a chance. He is to Liverpool what Van Persie was to Arsenal last year: the only hope.

A Scouse mate told me, in frustration, that he was thinking of writing a TV series called Fuck Rodgers In The 21st Century. I keep hearing him quoting figures about the number of chances they create. Yesterday at Stamford Bridge, it was one. Frankly I’m getting fed up of praise getting heaped on all this Barcelona Lite stuff. Little lads with neat feet and no end-product.

Celtic disposed of the real thing the other day (typically St. Johnstone proved a much tougher nut), so why this tippy-tappy tedium has to be lauded to the skies is beyond me. I know there’s a happy medium – we will after all be watching England’s latest attempt to familiarise themselves with a football and getting caught in possession would be a start for Woy’s men.

But there’s no point in keeping hold of the ball for these teams, really. Particularly as not one of them can defend a set-piece at the moment.

Of course there’s a lot of us who put this frailty down to zonal marking. Me, I’ve never felt comfortable ‘marking a zone’. That’s what cats do when they have a shit on the neighbour’s herbaceous border. (Never mind badgers let’s have a fecking kitty cull before the lawns of England become bird-free litter-trays.) No, I tend to think that people, and not ‘good areas’ score goals. So my theory is – and here feel free to shoot me down – that if you stay tight to someone when a cross comes in you might be able to stop him from getting a shot in.

Now I’ve said that, it seems so ludicrous and simplistic doesn’t it? Like when Andy Townsend says ‘The next goal is going to be very important’. Or when Garth Crooks says, erm, anything.

One thing I’m sure of is that standing still and watching the ball go over your head is never going to work on a football field unless you’re a midfielder in a Sam Allardyce first team. And that’s what most defenders do at the moment.

I can see a time in the not too distant future when Tony Pulis does a workshop on it.

“It’s not fucking brain surgery” Tony’ll say “get some right big lanky bastards in there and tell ‘em to get their fucking heads on it.” And then, to himself, “and you can shove your ball-playing centre-halves up your khybers.”

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Clattenberg Tapes

Apologies to one and all for the lack of bloggery last week. I was having a break in Brecon, near Hay-on-Wye, home of the world’s most expensive second-hand books. I bought one while I was there for £3.75. It was originally sold for £1.50. I expect some lackey of George Osborne’d tell me that ‘the book had decreased in value in real terms’. And I'd have to punch him in the face. Gladly.

Still it was marginally better than writing another blog on the plague-house that is Chelsea Football Club.
So I won’t do that. Much. I mean, steps are being taken by the FA – arthritic, doddery ones I grant you but steps nonetheless – and Clattenburg will be condemned or castigated one way or another so I’m not quite sure why Ferguson and Wenger feel the need to stick their oars in. Habit, I guess.
Clattenburg’s decisions in favour of United might mean Ferguson feels obliged to defend the bloke but it’d be lovely if he could keep his gob shut, just once. Wenger thinks such things should be dealt with in private, which is hard when even the partially-sighted can lip-read John Terry on their 44-inch TV screens. 

But what did Clattenburg say exactly, that was so inappropriate? It’s easy to misinterpret things in the current febrile atmosphere. But I have it on no authority whatsoever that the conversation went like this:

CLATTENBURG:                 Come here, son. I’m going to have to book your for that!
OBI MIKEL: He dived, ref!

MIKEL:  What did you call me?
CLATTENBURG: You cheeky monkey.

MIKEL: Oh it’s like that is it?
CLATTENBURG:  Look I let you off for one earlier so don’t be so niggardly about this one.

MIKEL:  I’ll be talking to my lawyers. I know you’ve got a reputation for being outspoken but this is ridiculous!
CLATTENBURG: I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade if that’s what you mean.

(Or maybe Clattenburg simply called Mikel a ‘donkey’ which is to be fair an unarguable fact.)
I hate to seem facetious about all this, and if the official concerned has uttered such regrettable remarks then his career’s in for the early bath, but in the light of recent events at Chelsea it’s hard not to get the sense of a bit of yah-boo going on here. The convicted user of racist expletives is still their club captain after all.

The situation would’ve been helped of course if the ref’s conversations were a matter of public record. Then there would be no doubt. No doubt too about the amount of obscenities lobbed in the direction of the referee during 90 minutes like so many bolts of phlegm expectorated from the throat and nostrils of the average footballer these days.

For that would be the danger of permanently miking up a Clattenberg – it would be a red rag to every prurient bull who reckons that passionate committed sportsmen should be able to compete whilst retaining the vocabulary of Noel Fucking Coward.

I remember being a tad incensed when Wayne Rooney swore down the barrel of a television camera – maybe that’s a tad too provocative Wazza - but if the lad can’t have the odd f-worded chunter at a ref who’s just turned down a stonewall penalty then we really are stepping back into the world of Mary Whitehouse – and what an annoying twat she was.
You get the same whinnying Nannies tut-tutting when Andy Murray effs n blinds after playing a particularly shit shot. So he should. The lad’s a brilliant tennis player and if it helps him win and doesn’t bother his opponent then, as Kim Sears no doubt puts it, ‘Fuck away, Andy, fuck away.’

Me, I can’t even play a crappity shot in a pool hall without upbraiding myself for being the most useless cunt ever to grasp a snooker cue. I just dread the idea of licentious do-right nobodies banging on about how these multi-millionaires can’t even put a sentence together without being a bit rude.
The Premier League continues to entertain us royally, with or without the odd wanker. (It's nowt compared to the Captial One Cup of course! A 7-5, a 5-4 and Boro in the quarters! That's entertainment). Two perennial Premier League tales are unravelling at present of course.

First, Arsenal – why have the wheels come off? Yes, Arsene Wenger’s temporarily solid Gunners have once again retreated into the same toothless keep-ball kittens: pretty and pathetic all at the same time.

Santos has proved once again that Wenger signs left-backs with a blindfold and a pin, and there’s no pace to scare anyone up front.

Giroud is just a paler version of Chamakh with less stupid hair. If Wenger insists on playing a centre-forward who can’t score he might as well play Walcott who is at the very least scarily quick. Cazorla’s a joy but there’s no devil up front without you-know-who who's doing very well at you-know-where.

Second, Sunderland – why have the wheels stayed on. When his teams do well, O’Neill looks like this genius football geek. When it’s going badly he looks like some bewildered blinking mole. The Black Cats' second top scorer in the Premier League is Demba Ba.

Martin insists they’ve not had the breaks, that they deserve better, but most of us watch them and think that the team play with all the artistry and wit of eleven Lee Cattermoles. Such is their dip in form that you’d almost think Steve Bruce was back at the helm.

There are other predictable sub-plots to the season: Suarez’s tightrope walk between genius and joke; Balotelli’s tightrope walk between joke and jerk; and Roberto Martinez continuing to prove that his sleeves are an endless source of cheap and very gifted footballers (Aruna Kone being the latest example).
We have the Champions League to look forward to this week. I’m guessing Mancini will already have written his post-match excuses. There is a small joy in watching them suffer in Europe. It's like when your rich neighbours come back from their skiing trip in Chamonix and he's got his leg in plaster. HA!