Monday, 24 December 2012

Swansea Nativity

This is an extract from the Premier League Bible. It is taken from The Gospel According to Midtable Obscurity. I hope, like all of us who believe, that you enjoy it.

'Now in a corner of the country known as Swansea there lived a girl called Mary and one night when her fella was out and that, there was a bright light in her bedsit and Angel Rangel appeared before her.

'"Be not afraid" said he, but in a weird accent Mary didn't understand, "for I have been sent with great news. You shall carry a child and he shall be called Michu, and many opportunities shall he take. He shall be in a stable born. Not an unstable, that's where Mario Balotelli was born."

'"But it cannot be" said Mary, "for I am a Virgin."

'"In Swansea?" smirked Angel.

'"I am, you cheeky bastard" she insisted. "Although the Government would like me to be replaced by First Trains. Have you been sent by God?"

'"Yes, although He had to ask permission from Sir Alex Ferguson first."

'So saying, Angel Rangel vanished in a flash of light and wasn't seen in the first team for quite a while.

‘Now across the land, Word came that a Messiah was to be born, a leader of the line who would prove that from poor beginnings goalscorers do come. But lo, word did reach the lands in the East. Or the Eastlands.

'And there came an edict from he whose tresses look like a photograph from a hairdresser's window in the early 80s. And he did demand 'Bring me this mother of Michu that we might make him ours, and drape him in blue as blue as the sky, as we always do with blokes who have made their name in funny little places, ha ha!'

'And soon the cry rang through the ears of all mothers of prospective footballers and those with any sort of pride and loyalty fled before they were captured by the Abu-Dhabi Lucre.

'Mary was heavy with child and so her husband, a bloke who so loved footy and carpentry that in his spare time he made wooden centre-backs called Williamson and Bramble. We shall call him Joseph or Joe-Cole for short (and I mean short).

'Joe-Cole managed to get hold of a tatty old donkey and then this Tony Adams carried Mary much as Robin Van Persie had carried Arsenal for two seasons, or Steven Gerrard Liverpool for full seven years, the poor sod.

'Eventually they arrived in a town called Bethlehem. Now all the inns there were taken up by rich holiday-makers, two of whom, Messrs Berbatov and Sturridge, were over-relaxing by the pool.

'The inn-owner said they had a stable with a few animals in there but the Leeds fans would be gone before dawn. So Mary and Joe-Cole lay down with the Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joey Barton (the ass).

'And that night, to the WAG a baby Michu was born (once the doc had turned up to perform the elected caesarean). And glory shone all around.

'Meanwhile above the town and up in the hills, three shepherds were playing keepy-uppie with a sheep's bladder. It was one of those new sheep's bladders that moves unpredictably through the air.

'Angel di Maria appeared to them and they were sore excited cos he was, like, almost as good as Ronaldo... on his day... but not very often for Argentina.

'"Be not afraid" spake Angel "For know that an excellent striker has been born this day."

'"But why tell us?" said the older shepherd. Moyes was his name. "We won't be able to afford him."

'"Nor I" said Redknapp, the second shepherd (although to be frank, he had a bit of cash stashed away and was more than ready to put a bid in).

'"Nor I" said the third, who had only really dallied with shepherdry and knew naught of it, despite his name of Shearer.

'"But this striker may yet be cheap, as little as a fifth of a Giroud and yet in truth twenty times his worth."

'"We shall come to see this miraculous sight" said Moyes optimistically, even though the Kenwrighting was on the wall.

'And then in the East there appeared a star. And not long after that, Manchester City bought it. It would've gone to Chelsea but the star wasn't sure he liked what their captain said about stars. It's quite possible he was starrist.

'But three wise men followed this star (at least until Kia Joorabchian became its agent). And the wise men were called Hansen and Lawro and Andy Townsend (and yea, verily, the word 'wise' was used ironically... c.f. Little Peter Crouch, Upright Luis Suarez, Squeaky-Clean Sepp Blatter.)

Yea, and many opinions had they of this star, many of which were so fucking obvious they didn't need saying but they said them anyway.

'They never made it to the stable. But the Three Kings did.

'That's 'king Chelsea, 'king Manchester City and 'king Manchester City.

'And they found the infant forward lying in a manchego and they offered it gifts: gold, gold and more gold. Just loads of gold really. And Frank, incensed, Lampard in part exchange.

'And though the Mary Mother of Michu hated the thought of it (she was from Croxteth originally) she felt unable to resist and finally allowed the newborn king to go to one of the Big Three for a six-figure salary.

'And lo he of Man U did hold the baby aloft from his Manchego, cried Hosanna Bless the Lord and placed the child upon a lowly bench where it sat like Andy 'Christmas' Carroll for a whole year and a half and the poor lad and his Mum wondered why they'd left Swansea in the first place.*

Happy Christmas To One And All!!! I shall be knocking back an extra hot toddy for you Villa fans out there.

Up the Boro!

*In later chapters Michu finds himself in the wilderness for a whole season. When he returns he is crucified for missing a penalty, before finally managing to get on the end of a decent cross.  

Monday, 10 December 2012

Tackling the Tossers

Maybe Manchester City's fans have as much money as the owners these days. Certainly throwing loose change at the likes of Wayne Rooney is a genuine waste of time. Wayne probably smiles to himself when he remembers the days when he'd have gladly picked it up and toddled down to a lady of the night for some entertainment. Word has it when Wazza first visited Turin and heard he was to playing the Old Lady he took some extra Euros with him.

Love of your club and hatred for its rivals are two sides of the same coin, which may well be a metaphor too far for the knobhead who lobbed one at a celebratory Rio Ferdinand. There are always those who take things too far and once again it's the honest Johns who swear quietly into their half-time Bovrils who are getting lumped in with the louts.

It's a shame cos the Manc derby had much to admire in it, apart from Mario Balotelli. I dunno if it's the haircut but increasingly Mario plods about like a truculent dinosaur, and probably finishes about as well as your average deinonychus n all. (I have a 9-year-old son, I know about these things).

Whatever you think about Carlos Tevez - and that'll be many more thoughts than the little gaucho has had in his entire life - you can't deny that he's ten times the player Balotelli is, which means he's half the player Balotelli thinks he is. Why Mancini persists with his fellow Italian is one of the great conundrums of British football.

(The others are: 'How Come The FA Aren't Imposing Retrospective Three-Match Bans On Diving Little Cheats Like Santi Cazorla?' and 'Jordan Henderson - Why?')

That aside it was end-to-end stuff and Fergie's positive team selection had a lot to do with that. Every season feels like it has to be his last and yet he still manages to get most of the important decisions right. It's infuriating. You do feel that whenever he does leave - and despite huge and grudging admiration I'll be on one end of the lever - that the next bloke is going to have the toughest job in football. Well, apart from being Roman Abramovich's manager-finder general.

If you want to understand the difference in commitment between the two, you could hardly do better than look at the Citeh wall for United's winner. Samir Nasri, a gifted mercenary who joined the millionaire swells last year, was just another prick in that wall. And a loose prick at that. It realy was the most effeminate attempt to block afree kick I think I have ever seen.

In fact women's teams are much more slid when they line up a wall, I reckon. Although that's possibly because there's less to protect. Nevertheless, Nasri deserves a thorough dressing-down by Mancini if only to discover whether he actually has any balls.

Lescott must be wondering quite what he's done wrong too to be replaced by Nastasic, and then Kolo Toure when Kompany came off. The big wardrobe was very good at the end of last season.

But it all led to a typically Fergiefied finish. He's like a latter-day Fagin, isn't he, leading a team of arch pickpockets as they nick win after win.

Perhaps the man most likely to succeed him upped his chances on Sunday too when Everton snatched a last-gasp win. Everton under Moyes have become a second favourite team amongst many fans simply because the manager's stuck with 'em and his team play football the way we'd all like our teams to.

Jelavic glad-handed every player on the bench when he left the park after grabbing the winner and frankly that's not a sight you'd ever see on the bench at Eastlands. That's probably why I begrudge every point Citeh get at the moment. It really is a flagrant assembly of self-interested wealth-creators, that squad. So for once I was happy to see United win.

I still don't reckon on United strolling to the title from here on in. They've got the Champs League still, which happily Citeh don't, but more than that they're not so much better than every other candidate out there - unlike, say, Saltburn's own James Arthur (he won X Factor by the way).

Mind you if Teesside could be bothered we'd win every talent competition going, man. The walls of our buildings are dripping that kind of raw soulful brilliance it's just we don't like to go on about it. NB there's a bit of irony in that statement.

Of course the throwing of missiles by the fans is going to be the main subject of conversation for the next few days and I have to say it drives me tonto. I've no doubt that much of this is laced with naked jealousy for the preposterous amounts of money these blokes earn. But that's giving it too much credence as some sort of protest.

Yes, they're overpaid. Yes, they behave like children. Yes sometimes their celebrations could be termed as 'provocative' although given similar circumstances I'd be sliding on me knees and raoring with delight too. And yes, sometimes, as with Cazorla (who seemed delighted by his deceit) they don't deserve even the minimum of respect.

But for Chrissakes most of us stopped throwing stuff at other people when we were seven years old (that school window costs my Dad a fortune to fix). I've no desire to see Rio Ferdinand's blood unless it's been delivered to drug-testers (and a good thing that would have been, eh?)

Let us not forget though, that the vast majority of footballers, even the ones wading through wonga, simply get on with the game because they love it. And in the case of both Glen Johnson and Joe Cole, they remember that fans have long memories and do the decent thing when they score against them.

All Citeh can do is find the tossers and ban them. Otherwise we'll go back to the days when Dads stopped taking their kids along and we'll all be even further in hock to Rupert Murdoch if we want to get our football kicks.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Le Fin, Arsene

Europe is a nice break for Arsene Wenger these days. He can toddle off to the mainland where his brand of possession football is highly regarded and, to a limited extent, successful (you might say he gets nice easy qualifying groups if you’re Mancini). Whether Athens, with its seething hordes of disenchanted people jeering at authority, felt any different from the Emirates is a moot point.

Part of the joy of football punditry these days comes in the form of the annual ‘Is it time for Wenger to hang up his puffer jacket?’ debate. It’s woven into the fabric of the domestic season like a Chelsea sacking or a ‘plucky newcomer to the top flight’. Or even the phrase ‘Mark Hughes is the early favourite to take over at Anywhere FC.’

It’s hard to recall quite when a Gunners team has been so roundly booed as the one that departed after being  beaten by Swansea on Saturday. It’s one thing to be overturned by a bunch of alehouse meatheads playing route one plebeian footy the likes of which wouldn’t look out of place on a windswept park in Northallerton (aka Sam Allardyce’s Bolton – YES I KNOW there’s more to Sam’s game than that, but not against Arsenal) – but it’s another thing entirely to be outpassed and outclassed by a bunch of no-marks that cost tuppence.

Of course Swansea have a wonderful player as their manager and he’s done brilliantly to move Swansea on from Rodgers’ team, even while losing the likes of Sigurdsson and Allen. It must be particularly galling for a Gooner to have to watch their latest costly imitation centre-forward when Laudrup’s wafting the cut-price PleasedTo Michu under their noses. Giroud, Chamakh – they’re not so much target men as targets. Of abuse.  

So is the writing on the wall for Wenger this time? Well you’d have to think so. He’s found a decent-ish centre-half in Mertesacker – whose name my mate Chris Charles always insists sounds like Mark Lawrenson saying ‘motor-cycle’.

And he’s bought a wonderful player in Cazorla too, but he does look like he’s been manufactured from Arsene’s Prototype For A Perfect Player. He’s dinky, neat, good feet, can’t kick it all that hard, really, but he's very good at keeping it and he's easy on the eye.

You wonder whether Arsene can see anything in any other type of player: Rosicky, Arshavin, Arteta, Coquelin, etc, etc. Most independent observers would tell you that Arsene’s glory years were underpinned by a couple of vital things: a defence that took care of itself (and which was largely assembled by that niggardly envelope-passer George Graham) and a couple of midfielders who knew how to tackle – Vieira, Petit, Gilberto, Flamini, Edu….

Good tacklers aren’t necessary if the opposition keep giving it back to you. Arsenal would have no problem against, say, the full England team. But if the opposition can keep it and all you’ve got are little scurrying tippy-tapsters who couldn’t remove a lollipop from a toddler’s grasp without a struggle then you’ve got problems.

It doesn’t help that Wenger seems resigned – Freudian slip there – resigned to losing his best players even if one of them is that annoying nerk Nasri.

Now many of us have admired the way Wenger set about the job of transforming a side that had built its former success on not conceding and bagging the odd goal by Ian Wright. God they were fecking boring that team. The football equivalent of Cliff Thorburn.

Wenger’s Arsenal flowed. It oozed quality. Upfront you had Thierry Henry rolling right-footers into the bottom right-hand corner like a master crown green bowler. Bergkamp must have come into this world feet first he was so adept with them. Anelka, briefly, was lethal. But if they got past you they had Keown, Winterburn, Adams, Bould, Dixon… central casting for the heavy mob.

Now, to be frank, Arsenal are just a bit prissy. And so is the manager. He talks of ‘desire, technicality, quality’ but the first one’s pretty much lacking these days. He’s always been offended by an up and at ‘em attitude to playing Arsenal. Sometimes he’s come across like someone whose night at the ballet has been ruined cos some oiks ran on and started congaing.

Yes football can be art, but not all art has to be beautiful. Or good. Or even art. In a perfect world, Arsene’s home ground would be the Gardens of Versailles and his team would play against eleven elegant water features. It feels to me like the game has moved on and left an old school romantic behind.

It’s lovely to stick to the old philosophies come hell or high water. It’s great to have a proper wage structure when Manchester City are paying obscene amounts of money to the pedestrian likes of Gareth Barry. But tippy-tappy and club loyalty are distant memories for most of us. Wenger should know that when his team lines up against Citeh, the club his feeds.

So it’s not now a question of whether he should go but how he should go. He’s an obstinate old so-and-so. It’s not going to be easy. But you wouldn’t want to see him sacked – cast aside like some Stamford Bridge dishcloth. There should be a dignified moving on. He’s brought them as far as he can. Stand in the middle of the Emirates, wave everyone goodbye. Not a dry eye in the house. Move upstairs to an ‘administrative role’.

And then, in a perfect world, nick Guardiola and leave Abramovich flailing around with Faffer Benitez at the helm…

Maybe not the last bit. But definitely, au revoir et merci, monsieur.