Monday, 30 January 2012

Footy gets the Tennis Elbow

After a weekend of FA Cup hoo-hah and a transfer deadline looming you might think a man who bleeds the letters F-O-O-T-Y when he cuts himself shaving would have plenty to talk about.

And speaking as a bloke who couldn't get a hit at our local tennis club cos I never could get that bluey-whiteness in my clothing that them hoity-toity bastards insisted on (I swear they'd have thrown me out cos my snot was the wrong colour) you wouldn't expect a ringing endorsement of the Australian Open tennis tournament.

Nevertheless, I don't think I've ever seen owt like that match. About 2 years ago we were wondering how many titles Nadal was going to rack up.

Federer couldn't beat him - and still can't when it matters - and everyone knew that the old smoothie was the greatest Swiss export since Ricola cough pastilles.

Nadal though was brutal. A terminator. If ever he looked down and out that Mallorcan light would blink on again and the beast would reassemble itself and give his opponent an almighty twatting.

I didn't warm to the bloke at first. He has none of the ease and grace of Federer. And it didn't help that the Mrs watched him with a nascent moistness about her, like Rafa was a sort of swarthy mystical gypsy who might drop off the back of his horse-drawn caravan and muscle her into the undergrowth for some Iberian love-making.

Trouble is, the man is just an utter gent. The way he conducts himself is even more faultless than his tennis. At times it seemed that the only thing that could stop him was a pair of knees that made Michael Owen's look robust.

Djokovic was just one of them also-rans. Talented but unfortunate enough to be playing in an era where the best were way too good.

And suddenly the guy is unbeatable. Again he's not one of them blokes who makes you purr. I don't think I've ever seen any sportsman get into the positions he achieves without summat snapping. In slow-mo it makes you wretch a bit. He's Dr. Octopus to Nadal's Sandman.

There's also his endurance. I note some posh explorer chappy (Olly, inevitably) has announced he wants to be the first man to row round the world. (Its always the toffs who do this, isn't it? Never the people who have to make a living.) Djokovic could do that and still have enough gas left to fend off a late Andy Murray revival.

But Novak's accomplishments seem all the greater when you look at who he's had to beat to get there.

The gluten-free diet seems to have helped him. I've looked into it and frankly you're cutting out a lot of important foodstuffs like bacon sandwiches, Dolmio pasta and possibly even lager. (If you're planning to row round the world then please translate that last sentence into 'proscuitto ciabatta, linguine arrabiata and ermm... lager.)

It'd be easy to major on the Serb's fitness and flexibility but we should remember that beyond that he's hitting the ball better than the others. That's why he's winning. He is the best player out there.

So we are in a quite exceptional time for men's tennis. As opposed to the women's game which continues to turn out Aryan Amazons from eastern Europe who play a form of tennis that would be entirely monotonous were it not for the variety of their ejaculations.

I'd like to gag the lot of them. Not cos it's unladylike - it's nowt compared to the eardrum-wrecking caterwauling you get in Stockton High Street of a Friday night - but cos it's unnecessary - and it's used to put your opponent off. You're hitting a tennis ball, love, not auditioning for Kill Bill 3.

Mercifully Azarenka made short work of Shriekapova and Melbourne's earplug vendors were left to rue the fact that women can't last 5 hrs 56 minutes.

And what of our lad? Andy Murray. Part of the Fab Four I'm told, but still playing Ringo. Occasionally allowed the lead vocal ('will you still need me, will you still seed me, when I'm 64?'... 'I get beat with a little help from my friend').

Well, let's face it he got close. Much closer. If Djokovic is the mountain-top then the boy's going to need some shit-hot crampons. But unless one of these heavyweights gets crocked for a Slam then you can't see him beating two of them to get to a title. He just can't sustain the level of brilliance that the top two achieved on Sunday. And it's probably unreasonable to expect it.

In the meantime, we will still get the odd bleat from a big time Charlie manager that his poorickle footballers are a bit tired out from playing 3 hours of football in a week! Pah! I think I used to think tennis was a game for refined genteel woofters. Not anymore. Given that you're not allowed to tackle anyone these days I think the jessies are very much the petulant, sulky ones in the pink and orange boots.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Nowt for North London

So that’s it, North Londoners. Neither of you are going to win owt this year, and speaking as an ardent Northerner I really wanted both of you to bag the big games yesterday.

"Nah mate I said I'm a dodgy geezer, not a tax-dodgy geezer"

Spurs were desperately unlucky at the Etihad. I confess to being one of them soft-headed fools who’s fallen for the hype when it comes to ‘Arry’s ‘Eroes. First off, don’t they play nice footy? Fast, slick, and with two speedy wingers. It’s like the good old days innit? Matthews and Finney. Vava and Garrincha. David Armstrong and whoever we had on the right-hand side at Ayresome Park.

They’ve got that cast-iron Cockney geezer in charge too. He’s lovely ain’t he? He’s like El Tel meets Mike Reid meets Walker out of Dad’s Army. He’s like Del Boy with a bit of savvy.

And of course they haven’t spent a fortune acquiring this outfit. (They have.)

And they’re up against that blinking Eye-talian and his crudely assembled mercenary millionaires. Yeah. It’s not been a good week for your Italian manager. If it’s not one of ‘em waving imaginary cards like a petulant tour guide, it’s Paolo Di Canio insisting he will keep doing the hokey-cokey on the touchline no matter what they tell him!

Oh and there’s the skipper of the Costa Concordia. Nuff said.

But the true Italian villain of the piece is the tyre-track-headed nutter Mario Balotelli. Crikey has there ever been a bigger bag of contradictions? He makes Gazza look like a high-achieving actuary.

Here's Mario in Mad March training.

I’m slightly bewildered by them that think his stamp on Scott Parker’s head was accidental. Although I must admit when I’m off balance I tend to look for the nearest head to stamp on to get me right again.

People have suggested only Mario knows what he was thinking at the time. On previous evidence Mario doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s thinking which is why he finds it so easy to stroke home a penalty with the last kick of the game.

Lescott’s assault on Kaboul was more clear-cut but every time I watch that ref I wish he was wearing a Webbcam. The world must look lovely through Howard’s eyes: he sees friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do?’ They’re really saying ‘I love you’.

Nevertheless Defoe should've got more than a faint metatarsal on that sitter and Ledley should've stayed on his feet (maybe them old knees just gave way again?). It all meant that the bad guys got by again.

I hear Spurs have put a £150 million price tag on Gareth Bale’s head. (Well I imagine they’ll just dangle it off one of his lugs – I mean you could hang a weighty duffle-coat off ‘em couldn’t you?) Well I hope they keep hold of the lad. When he pins his ears back – and just imagine how fleet he’d be if he had that particular operation – he’s terrifying, and yet he can stroke a cracker like that over a keeper like Hart from a standing position too. If he could only rewrite history and get himself born in Shrewsbury he’d be blinking perfect.

Meanwhile Arsenal continue to prove that in Arsene Wenger they have a manager whose powers are on the wane. The substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain – a footballer not a village in the Chilterns – for Andrei Arsewipe was dubious enough even before Antonio Valencia went through him like a Ferrari passing through a slum.

Arshavin is getting a whole heap of flak from Gooners this season, presumably on the basis that if they keep giving him lots of shit he might find he has a shit to give. Putting him on at the expense of the only threat Arsenal possessed all afternoon was akin to recasting Die Hard with Alan Carr in the lead role.

But then Arsenal owe their entire season to Robin Van Persie. It’s ironic that in the one season in which the guy stays fit he plays with a bunch of players who aren’t fit to lace his boots.

I kept thinking of Despicable Me. RVP is the criminal genius and everyone else is a furry one-eyed yellow numbskull assistant.

RVP and a myriad Rosickys

How Wenger can continue to select Johann Djourou is beyond me. He’s like a door-knob that keeps coming off in your hand – it looks okay but it doesn’t work and is really bloody annoying.

Time to groom Wenger's successor methinks and get him a comfy chair upstairs.

Capello was at the Emirates. I’m guessing that Walcott might just be overlooked given that at present he can’t pass, shoot or cross and Oxo-Chamberpot was twenty-three times better. But then Fabio still picks Glen Johnson – the English Djourou – ahead of Micah Richards, so Gawd knows who he’ll be picking.

But Spurs apart, those that trail in the Mancs’ wake all look several woggles short of a cub pack. Dalglish’s Liverpool features a breathtakingly expensive assembly of ordinariness. Kenny slated them for the defeat at Bolton but it’s not come as a surprise to the rest of us.

Here's Andy watching another game go by.

Chelsea’s stumbling seem to be focussed ever more on Pretty-Boy Nando. You might say that Dalglish got a fantastic deal on Torres were it not for the fact he spent that 50 million and another ten and a bit on Henderson and Carroll.

And at least Torres is brighter around the park. Only the yawning of the most open of goals makes him panic like a child at the top of a big dipper.

And Newcastle? Well they got beat 5-2 at Fulham. Which is a bit like a baby stealing candy of a codger.

So a two-horse race it is. And despite their position you just can’t see United, shorn of defenders and more often than not downright ropy, hanging on to the coat-tails of Citeh. It could start to be a breeze if the Sky Blues keep getting away with forearm smashes and river-dancing on the temples of others. It’s not like they need the help.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Two Feet Bad

Ah the two-footed lunge. The much-loved staple of Inspector Clouseau has become the talking point of British football.

Here's righteous Stevie G mistaking an Evertonian for a big puddle

Messrs Hansen, Dixon, and another chavvily-togged appearance by Shearer saw them berate the referees in this country for their lack of consistency. Clearly Glen Johnson’s Scholesian torpedo challenge was at least the equal of the Kompany effort at the weekend and Lee Mason did nowt.

Neither of them was as bad as Lampard’s effort the other week, but at least English football’s next couch potato (Christine will be training him up as we speak) had the good grace to admit that he thought he was off.

So what to do?

I’ve looked through the FIFA Laws of the Game thingammy I can’t find owt that says a two-footed tackle is a definite red card. Mind you, I can’t say I’ve read it in detail as, oh I dunno, I had some pins to stick in my eyes and that seemed preferable.

There’s lot of stuff on violent conduct but of course this is all down to interpretation and FIFA directives don’t help the officials whatsoever. What’s the difference between ‘careless’ and ‘reckless’? Surely it depends on the player, and I’m sure Mario Balotelli couldn’t distinguish between the two.

How many players and managers have insisted that there was no evil intent behind a challenge, and berated the poor old man in black for his inability to see into the mind of the guilty party. It seems that officials might have to be sent on a course in Criminal Psychology in order to enhance their credentials.

In the wet and slippery months, and I remember them well in the early days of my marriage, there was a delight in the sudden availability of the sliding tackle: the aniticipation of setting off into a challenge some thirty feet away from their nippy scuzzbucket winger; the satisfaction at the lack of friction as you ploughed new furrows into the cloddy earth; and the pleasure as you took out one or more of the following – the ball, the man, or the pitchside parents who were hollering like mad dogs from under their McClarenesque brollies.

Top slidey work

The criterion of success or failure in a tackle used to be ‘did you get the ball?’ That was it. (In both Kompany and Johnson’s cases, they did just that, very cleanly.) Wise creative types would leap nimbly out of the way of the speeding sideboard that was travelling towards him rather than take the hit (and again, Nani and Lescott did just that.)

These days, the balance has been lopsided in the favour of the attacker. Too many of them exploit this and spend way too much time behaving less like footballers and more like tumbleweed, but then FIFA shouldn’t be indulging the thespian fraternity of modern footy either and post-match bans based on desperate simulation should be just as punitive as any other censure.

But just as you can no longer get your hands on a decent plumber or chippy these days without having a nodding acquaintance with the Cyrillic alphabet (so I’m told by the odd racist barfly), it seems this country and the sport as a whole has lost the art of tackling. And I don’t mean clogging.

You look at the United team that crumbled at the Sports Direct Arena (that phrase rolls off the tongue like peanut butter) and not one of their midfield would know a block or tackle if dropped down from a pulley system and smacked ‘em on the head. Michael Carrick is supposed to be a holding midfielder but the only thing I saw him holding was Demba Ba’s coat while the centre-forward waltzed off towards the increasingly creaky Rio Ferdinand.

Getting the ball back off an opponent is one of the most important parts of football. Just ask Barcelona’s opponents. It’s no coincidence that Spurs’s fine season has coincided with the arrival of Scott Parker, one of the few players in the country who knows how to do it.

Give it a couple of years and I can see Scotty running workshops in the ancient art in some backwoods studio alongside some woodturners and whittlers.

But if we really want consistency from our refs then maybe they should just make it a clear-cut rule. Two feet off the ground means a red card. No questions asked. Forget the notional difference between careless and reckless.

That might seem bloody stupid – and it’s no more dumb than the laws around players whipping off shirts in celebration - but if we leave it to some sort of interpretation then we’re going to have more schoolboy spats between fellow professionals as happened in the tunnel at the Etihad.

Clearly Mancini’s Mummy didn’t give him what he wanted for Christmas. Blaming Rooney for Kompany’s dismissal was blinking feeble, and his needle about Johnson’s challenge had as much to do with the fact that his team were poor as the not unreasonable sense of injustice.

Indeed Citeh have ground to a bit of a halt just now and when Silva and Yaya aren’t about they lack both drive and invention. They worked bloody hard against Liverpool in the second half but the English contingent of Johnson, Barry and Milner are just plucky little plodders when compared with the Spaniard. It just reminds you that getting your hopes up for Euro 2012 is pure folly.

And of course this all means that Tottenham loom ever larger in the wing-mirrors. Adebayor’s finishing still has the cold calmness of a Charlie Sheen tweet, but you’ve got to fancy their chances if the Mancs keep on having to chug about Europe for the rest of the season in the hope of winning European football’s version of the Kinder Egg.

Manu indicates how far he missed with his latest effort

If they can just get their defenders to not challenge for the ball in the horizontal, it might just happen...

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Fergie Feels The Pinch

People across the world, and one or two in Manchester, are in despair. The greatest football manager in history has lost it. Two defeats in a row can pretty much tell you that. That’s right. Two. They’re three whole points behind the leaders. Shocking.

Man United are in meltdown. That’s according to the fair-weather fatheads who don’t really have a Red Devil running through their veins, they’ve just overdosed on a little bit too much vicarious glory.

There’s no doubt that Fergie has problems, but these have been bubbling under for a while. His main problem – as with a lot of managers – is that he’s in charge of a club whose fans have come to treat victory as a divine right.

They’ll tell you that the Govan Beetroot needs to invest urgently in some top-class players, as if just the name of Manchester United means the man can peel a world-class midfielder from off the soles of his hushpuppies. It’s garbage. Not even the thrill of a Europa League campaign will be enough for the likes of Wesley Sneijder.

So, hopefully it is going to be a bit of a crappity old season for United. The signs are promising. Vidic’s absence has left a back four looking as sturdy as a newborn foal. With Fletcher out for the foreseeable the midfield looks as frail as Gillian Anderson’s Miss Haversham (and how that woman can still look bleeding gorgeous whilst dressed as a rotting ghost is beyond me), and upfront His Knightship can’t decide who to pair up with the Boozy Scouser.

For the rest of us, this is a happier time. Chances are that the title this year will be between Man City and Gawd ‘elp us, Spurs. The usual suspects have been relegated to the back of the queue.

Citeh will win it, even allowing for Dzeko’s reversion to the gambolling giraffe of last year. Given they’ve got a decent left-back doing fuck-all for £90K a week it’s the blinking least they should manage, to be frank. Bridge should quit whining. I’d very happily have his job.

The loss at Sunderland will be seen as a blip. Martin O’Neill has transformed the team and enhanced his semi-Messianic reputation. If you listen to Robbie Savage, which I appreciate is almost as painful as Jools Holland’s tedious Hootenanny tripe, he’ll tell you that O’Neill keeps it simple. And given that he's talking to footballers that's just as well.

The Black Cats have pressed high up the pitch, and got a couple of sneaky last-minute winners and Wearside is aglow. It also underlines summat I’ve always thought –that Steve Bruce couldn’t manage a tea bar, let alone a football club.

The Christmas period was delightfully topsy-turvy. Barely a result went the way you might have expected, and it was reassuring to have Wenger back in full bleat after the defeat at Fulham.

Liverpool will be hoping that the dust has settled on the case of Luis Suarez, but frankly the club have handled the whole thing with the sort of crassness that you wouldn’t even find at a Republican primary. The T-shirts supporting the bugsy Uruguayan were insane. The indignation has been absurd. The scramble to climb up the highest of horses has done the club no favours whatsoever.

If we want to kick racism out of football, an eight-week ban for someone racially abusing a fellow pro seems to be a good place to start. Anfield has been in denial. The fact that Evra can be a needly little bleeder is unfortunate, but irrelevant.

You do wonder if the player concerned was, say, Martin Skrtel, whether the club would have been quite so fervent in its ignorance. Suarez is a cracking little player and Skrtel would only appear on a piece of merchandise if it were a parody of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

I mean I appreciate that the team ethic is important, and that managers, in public at least, tend towards tight-lipped support rather than damning the player outright. But that’s just not good enough in this case. I actually think Chelsea have handled the Terry case with a little more subtlety. At least their support has been guarded.

Suarez’s apology might just draw a line under things but the lament that the word ‘negro’ is commonplace in South America is disingenuous. The Black and White Minstrels were very popular in the 60s too, but now it makes us all feel a tad uneasy, Luis. If I snarl the word ‘black’ at someone seven times over in a couple of minutes (he says once but I think that’s almost certainly cack) then I think the bloke concerned might just think I’m accusing him of more than just possessing darker skin than mine.

The fact that Liverpool FC have a great tradition of community involvement, and have been at the wrong end of serious injustices in the not too distant past, makes the handling of all this even more difficult to fathom.

There are still the odd shit-headed knob-end who thinks that a player’s skin colour has owt to do with his contribution on a football field but one of the greatest advances in our national game is the fact that by and large a footballer is judged on whether he’s any good or not. Full stop.

There are more dimly lit corners of the continent where racism is rife – and I don’t doubt that Euro 2012 will unveil some shaven-headed tattooed pillocks, newly clambered out of the primordial soup, who treat football matches as an excuse to promote their illiteracy.

We can hardly condemn that sort of malice if we don’t clean the shit of our own doorstep.