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.”