Sunday, 20 May 2012

Charmed Chelsea!

There’s a lot of baloney written in sport about Fate, Inevitability, Something In The Stars. It’s hard not to imagine that Chelsea were destined to win the Champions League last night. The flakier amongst you might ascribe their success to God, who is clearly no fan of Spurs.

Nevertheless what was a rather tedious final coiled up the pressure until finally the inexorable Blue victory came to pass.

Bayern are a strange side. They possessed a lot more invention than Chelsea, but most of it came from the flanks. Ribery has always been wildly overrated. Robben is a pain-in-the-backside but can be exceptional. Chelsea set out to defend their penalty area and the two wide men made it very easy for them by cutting inside and into defenders.

When they did get the ball into the middle they had that terror of European defences everywhere, Mario Gomez. Now, okay, maybe I’ve never seen Gomez on a good day, but I swear to God Morticia, Pugsley or even Wednesday could’ve done a better job. And yet those stats of his! Gomez must be like a second-hand car on a dodgy lot – someone’s been fiddling with his clock (I said ‘clock’) cos there’s no way such a lumbering great numpty with the first touch of a bunioned rhino can have scored quite so many goals.

The main threat came from Muller, although he wasn’t quite rampaging like he did for Germany against England a couple of years back. This was more Muller Light. His goal came as a surprise, really. Bayern had had chances but fluffed them. Robben was brilliantly marshalled by Ashley Cole, Cahill was terrific (who needs Terry, Woy?) and Chelsea seemed to be coping comfortably. And then Cashley lost his man and Muller’s downward header bounced feebly over a strangely confused Peter Cech. Game over.

Then came Drogba. The headed equaliser was utterly brilliant. And this after spending much of the game in his usual one against four routine while David Luiz humped the ball hopefully upfield like a Teesside lunk on a windblown school pitch in Hartlepool.

In fact it’s ironic that after all the money the sinister smirking Abramovich has put into the club in order to assemble a side that entertains, it’s the dourest one of the last ten years that somehow wrestles the Champions League back to West London.

Di Matteo can take a lot of credit for reviving the form of players who were not exactly on fire during the reign of AVB. Lampard, Drogba, Cech and even Cole spent six months telling the manager to stop pissing in their chips.

Then again Villas-Boas was brought in specifically to be the new broom. But old muck is hard to shift. In a way AVB’s departure put Di Matteo in a position where he could only win. He has stroked the egos of the uppity and reminded them of their responsibilities. He has knocked together a lot of defensive nous that must’ve fallen out of AVB’s trousers as he crouched like a constipated frog on the touchline.

And more than that he’s been kissed on the arse by the Mistress of Good Fortune. The turning around of a 3-1 deficit against Napoli was the key. The win in the Nou Camp is the most ludicrous result since the stone was rolled back to reveal that Jesus was gone. And even last night’s victory was stretching the bounds of belief.

Chelsea had barely mustered a shot when they went behind. Extra time was minutes old when Drogba got his big pink boots in the way of another pointless Ribery scuttle and the ref had no choice. Robben, strutting about like a shaved bantam, seemed certain to score but Cech snaffled it comfortably.

And then there was the familiar pussy-footing around until penalties.

That's why I don’t like penalty shoot-outs. Not cos they aren’t impossibly dramatic – that’s clearly to be enormously enjoyed, especially if you’re a neutral. But they often make for tepid periods of extra time where no one wants to lose. I’d be tempted to make both teams dispense with two players each at the start of extra time, and then lose another two after 15 minutes. More space on the pitch would make the game way more stretched and chances more frequent.

Of course the TV companies will want to know when it’s going to end so until football gets off its televisual umbilical cord the old penalty shoot-out is here to stay.

And therefore we will still have the dubious pleasure of watching Bastian Schweinsteiger – a truly wonderful servant of his football club – letting his teammates and supporters down horribly. Strangely I empathised with him enormously whereas when Terry slipped on his arse four years ago my first response was to laugh like a drain.

The penalty shoot-outs do reveal a lot about the players involved. Robben didn’t have the nuts to take another one. Neuer did. Cole was happy to. Torres wasn’t. The bottle is about stepping forward in the first place. And of course Big Balls himself scored the winner.

It must be tempting for Drogba to renew his contract but someone with a lot of objectivity should tell him the time to leave is NOW: head held high, at the very top, nothing else to win, really. Job done. Go line your nylon shorts with Chinese cheques and keep up the good work back home.

It wouldn’t be so bad for Di Matteo either if he was asked to step aside. His record would be pretty near perfect, and Chelsea is still a club that needs a right good shake-up. The cornerstones of Abramovich’s reign – Cech, Terry, Lampard, Drogba – there’s little time left for them.

I doubt Di Matteo is the man to oversee the transformation. And yet he’s just won the Champions League. The idea of anyone not getting the job after that is unthinkable. Unless you happened to be a megalomaniacal Russian with an assassin’s smile.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

End of the Season's Greetings!!!

Well there's not a lot to catch up on, is there?

First thing's first. Well done, Man City. It's been a practical demonstration of the limitless power of immense wealth in this day and age. City are going to be the best team in the Premier League until the oil runs out.

I don't mean to be churlish. You couldn't ask for a better finish to a season. The toe-curling agony of them fans at the Etihad is going to be hard to beat. Never have I seen a football scarf so brutally treated.

But, much as when Chelsea first started getting bank-rolled by suspiciously-obtained roubles, the Premier League is the least Citeh should have expected. Toure, Kompany, Aguero and Silva have been terrific of course, as has Joe Hart (although he's going to have a bit more to do in Poland and Ukraine.)

Mancini has somehow managed to keep his hands on the tiller despite the mutiny and the fireworks. Ironically Tevez returned to help steer the ship and his only saving grace is that when you stick him on a football pitch with a ball to chase he becomes the most loyal of Argentine Terriers.

As for the United fans, well, they've tasted very little sour since Fergie took over. And this is bitter stuff indeed, but I can't say I'm too downhearted for 'em. The future has looked flaky before - and the impending retirements of Scholes (again), Giggs and Ferdinand pose some questions about the short-term. Long-term, it's about replacing the gaffer himself. And as he's irreplaceable, I suggest they just stick a cut-out of Fergie in the dressing-room, with some guttural Glaswegian on a loop, and a hairdryer in its hand, and I'm sure it'll be business as usual.

As for the bottom end, Bolton's departure saddened me until some anti-Coyle Burnley fan roared his approval in my ear at a boozer. She meant it n all. But the Trotters have been dogged by ill-fortune, near-tragedy and some well dodgy decisions and they've not been utterly undermined by the numpties in charge as has been the case at Blackburn and Wolves.

And QPR have played with all the headless chickenness of a Mark Hughes team: niggles, snarls and more red cards than a Soviet Union ticker-tape parade. You almost pine for those calm and thoughtful days when that beacon of football purity Neil Warnock was in charge.

In the meantime Roy Hodgson announces his first England squad and it reminds you instantly of two things: one, I've seen more strikers on a North Korean picket line; two, Roy is a honest but uninspiring bloke.

The big decision was to leave Rio behind and take Terry. A bolder man would've seen this as a time to lay a foundation and just left 'em both behind. Roy says it's a football decision, as if football is immune to external pressures. It isn't. Terry's position in the squad is no less invidious because Ferdinand's absent. He's not been playing well, he's up on a racism charge, and he's a bit of a knobhead. Why take him?

I'm also bemused by the absence of Micah Richards, Adam Johnson and/or Aaron Lennon. And the presence of only four strikers, when the only decent one can't play for the first two games, by which time the plodding Terry will have been outpaced by some speedy foreigner and the seven billion miles the England squad will have travelled for three games of football will have counted for nowt. Crouchy should be in there.

Nevertheless, Carroll's inclusion is welcome. He seems finally have got his act together.
As is Oxo-Chamberpot's.

I'd have had: Hart, Ruddy, Green (if we must); Richards, A.Cole, Baines, Jagielka, Lescott, Cahill, Jones, G.Johnson (in the absence of Kyle Walker); A.Johnson, Gerrard, Parker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lampard (in the absence of Wilshere), Walcott, Milner; Crouch, Defoe, Rooney, Carroll, Welbeck/Sturridge (it's like choosing between cheese and cheese.)

Then of course Fenway Sports Group trump all this by all but fire-bombing the temple of Anfield. You cannot sack Kenny Dalglish. You have to invite him to leave, like you would the Archbishop of Canterbury. It's like pulling down Nelson Mandela's trousers in public. It's like saying David Attenborough's a piece of shit. You can't do it!

Two Cup Finals does mean something, surely? But not as much as the slush fund available should you make the Champions League and for Dalglish that was as remote a possibility as an intelligible press conference.

But sentiment aside, it's a sensible decision. Dalglish has bought some right dopes. His team have functioned only fitfully. And Everton finsihed above them. That's right, Everton - the quiet neighbours who live in a shed and shop at Aldi's (where you can get a Jelavic for a fifth of the price of a Carroll).

Next in line for LFC...? Capello. What's the point in ruining a budding career like Rodgers's or Lambert's when what you need is a fierce, dogged bastard in charge?

Whoever it is, he'll need a hotline to God Almighty to get past Man City next season.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Drog Does Work

Now I think I’ve probably written off Man City about three times this season and United about four. So I’ll steer clear of saying owt more about it, not least cos I’m starting to gag every time I even think of Mancini flourishing imaginary cards or Ferguson breathing deeply into the ear of a fourth official just before the added time board is put up.

This weekend I was in a sleepy Danish town where I found – and it didn’t take long – a fine establishment called The English Pub. By the prices you’d have to say that this English Pub was taking the piss. (As opposed to in Britain, where they simply serve it.)

Looks like DD is happy to see Wembley again
So I helped myself to a pitcher of Carlsberg (when in Denmark...) and exchanged pleasantries with the Danish landlord who professed himself to be ‘Liverpool through and through’. Jan Molby would’ve been ashamed of the lad’s accent, mind you.

I settled down to watch the FA Cup Final. Out of duty mainly. I didn’t give two fat shits who won the pot, but Drogba at Wembley is always worth a look.

And by ‘eck, he was magnificent again.

Drogba has been a big bulwark of English football since he arrived. When he first appeared you wondered why a big lumbering lunk with the first touch of a nervous teen attacking a bra-strap was being brought into a club that could buy anyone.

But his second season at Chelsea saw his strength and touch improve and he simply started to terrify people. He was pacy, haughty, and defenders slid off him like satin sheets. Your best hope with Drogba – and this is still the case – is that he gets what I call his ‘hammock head’ on and spends 90 minutes preferring to lie prostrate on the turf with his head in his hands, like a lazy sunbather playing hide n seek.

On Saturday Drogba led the line with the old arrogance, outdoing Skrtel in the air and linking up well with fellow countryman Salomon Kalou. (Although surely Hassungotta Kalou must get his marching orders this summer. Maybe he comes in a package with the Drog, but it does often make Salomon look the dense, hopeless Mrs who comes along on alds’ night out and contributed absolutely nowt.)

At the other end, Suarez scuttled around beneath preposterous forward punts. And Gerrard patrolled the deep waters in front of the back four when they really needed up in the shallow end. Indeed until Didier confirmed that he actually owns Wembley (there is a new drinking-hole in the executive boxes called the Drog Bar), Liverpool were shite.

Down the left it was like Downing and Luis Enrique were speaking a different language – in fact that might just be the problem – and Henderson couldn’t find a curry house on Brick Lane let alone a teammate with a four-yard pass. Chelsea barely broke sweat fending them off.

At 2-0 down, Dalglish fumbled around in his bag of tricks and pulled out a pony-tailed joke; football’s equivalent of that gun that can only fire a flag that reads ‘Bang’. A kind of Fernando Torres but without the success.

Yes, it’s Andy Carroll. He sounds like a useful tune to have about your person around Christmas time, but he is in fact £35 million pounds worth of Geordie G-force. Aw my God, said an adjacent Dane decked out in red. And then splurged out some guttural oogly-boogly Danish which sounded appalling.
(Incidentally I reckon every English oath and insult ever uttered is derived from Danish. While there, I managed to get a packet of Spunk, a telecom company was entreating me with the legend ‘Slut Spurt’, the phrase ‘man spill’ appears in some Danish song or other and the train to the airport took us through the town of Middelfart (which sounds like the only place in the Lord of the Rings where you can get a decent lamb bhuna)).

Jan Molby: Carlsberg on the outside, Carlsberg on the inside

Any road, much to the dyed-in-the-wool Scouse-Dane’s delight, Carroll gambols on and within minutes he’s turned the game on its head. The dopy hopeful punts are more successful now that they’re landed on a dopy, hopeful head. And, aided by Bosingwa’s gaff (I’ve seen better defenders in Hello Kitty pyjamas) Carroll skinned Terry and tonked Liverpool back into the game.

It was – slightly – reminiscent of one Didier Drogba. From then on Chelsea backpedalled like Bolton Wanderers with a two-goal lead and only one miraculous Cech save kept them in it. For a moment it looked like I would have to lead a crack squad of vigilantes into FIFA headquarters, strap down Sepp Blatter in his swivel-chair and force feed him the scarves of various clubs who have been denied by his fucking ridiculous insistence that the fourth official can’t look at a telly and tell the ref whether a goal has been scored or not!

But, as it turned out the linesman got it right. Carroll was denied but he should’ve scored. It was – slightly – reminiscent of one Darren Bent.

Chelsea held on and deserved the win. Liverpool have one cup already, bless ‘em. (The shit, meaningless one, but don’t tell anyone I said that.) And while Drogba may yet get another season out of Chelsea, especially as they can’t seem to shake off the old veterans no matter how hard they try, perhaps, just perhaps, young Mr Carroll might start living up to his billing, if not his ludicrous price-tag.

After the season he's had Carroll understandably celebrates nearly scoring
I hope Woy takes him to the Euros. We’ve nowt to lose. Shorn of Wilshere and Rooney there’s a lot of guile missing. Sticking the big lad up the top is a good option if you’ve run out of ideas. It nearly worked for Dalglish.

And on Woy...
I’m very happy with him as boss. He seems a really decent human being. I doubt we’ll get any bullshit off him. The players he has available are run-of-the-mill honest Johns by and large. Roy does okay with them.
Good luck to the man.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

By Woyal Appointment

So what happened at the FA?

This is what happened.

1.       Harry was asked to fill out a form. Now we know he’s got the writing of a two-year old so clearly what he scrawled was illegible. Roy Hodgson on the other hand has a fluent hand. Well it’s neat and tidy, if not exactly joined-up, much like the sides he puts out on the park.

2.       Someone at the FA has spent months casting his eye over the relative backgrounds of the only two pretenders to the job and has come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly that Redknapp might have more skeletons in his closet than the average anatomy lecturer.

They’ve done this sort of thing before. My guess is that the last rather successful England manager was a bit of a geezer n all. And they don’t like that.

Now I’m not talking brown envelopes here – and I’m sure ‘Arry’s stationery is whiter than white anyway, but it’s fair to say that H has had a lot of flies sniffing round his shit for a few years. And the FA don’t want the slightest whiff of dodgy dealings besmirching the good name (ha!) of English footy.

Hodgson on the other hand is as straight as a dye. And that’s despite the fact he occasionally reminds me of the designer of the daleks, Davros. No Inland Revenue investigations, no potty weather-girls on redial, no barmy proclamations about the disabled, and he's prepared to stand out in the open air during bad weather. 

3.       The FA must’ve been impressed with the way Redknapp has put together a frequently scintillating team at White Hart Lane, with quality players throughout the first eleven. But do we really want an entertaining national team? No. Do we want a side that is poor at best being encouraged to swap places at the drop of a hat? No we bloody well don’t.

We want someone who can cobble together a ragtag bunch of individuals into a side that knows what it can and can’t do. Woy’s good at telling players of limited ability and grey matter what to do, where to go, and more importantly what not to do. Speaka da English, Gaffer! 4-4-bloody-2. 

So there we have it. We’re not going to win owt for a few years any road, so why get so flustered and start pretending like Redknapp’s a latter-day Cloughie (minus the trophies)? Just cos the media got all dewy-eyed about cheeky chappie press conferences wiv the ol’ barrow-boy and his charming faux naivete doesn’t actually mean that the FA have to buy it.

Indeed the fact that ManU’s tweetmeisters instantly rallied to darlin’ Arry’s cause would rule him out for sure. They all loved playing for Capello too. Didn't they?

‘Ah’ I hear you cry ‘but what about Woy’s Liverpool debacle, eh?’ Well, I reply, I don’t really give a toss how bad that was. Compared to Kenny’s team’s League form he did all right. The main problem with this appointment is not that Redknapp’s better qualified (he isn’t) or that no Scouser ever saw fit to scrawl SuperWoy on a bedsheet and spread it across the terraces of the Kop, the main bloody problem is that not only will England not win many more games, they’ll be bloody tedious to watch in the process.

The upside is that Hodgson need not linger over the old guard – in fact very few of them appear to be putting out the bunting for him anyway – so at least he might have the nuts to give some younger players a chance to bed in. And I for one wouldn’t mind a period of plucky honesty from some keen young pups even if it does mean we slide down below Hungary in the world rankings. At least expectations won’t be high.

Not as high as they were for the Manchester derby which I found about as absorbing as a bathroom tile. Mancini, under pressure in the second half, resorted to type and manned the barricades rather than pushing for the winner.

Fergie, bewilderingly, chose Park over Valencia and left Hernandez on the bench. When the crunch came, he wheeled Giggs and Scholes hoping that the two wily old shepherds might muster his flock a chance. England’s bright new dawn shimmered like a lit match in a church vault. One puff from Kompany and Smalling was blown out.

Rooney scowled around like a tethered pit bull. United couldn't bring themselves to fashion a chance and in the end the neutral was left wondering how the best league in the world could come up with these two at the top. 

I still reckon three points at Newcastle might be a stretch for Citeh. The Geordies will be eager to restate their case after Moses parted their defence with ease at Wigan. 

Spurs still look favourites for 4th which might give Redknapp some solace if indeed he was ever bothered in the first place. And of course we have Chelsea, who the Nation have embraced, albeit with all the warmth of a sunburnt man hugging a cactus, after the epic 2-2 at the Nou Camp. 

Di Matteo must get the job, which almost certainly means he won't. Even Torres has started scoring goals, even if it was against no defenders in Barcelona - and less than that against QPR. 

Whisper it quietly though. United will still, somehow, win the Premier League.