Tuesday, 30 April 2013

QPR - Quite Properly Relegated

(With apologies to Chris Charles)

So the hopeless hoops have plummeted down to the Championship.
Reading v QPR’s game on Sunday was the equivalent of a bunch of lads doing half-hearted keepy-uppies in a funeral cortege. Reading’s players were given more sympathy and that was almost right. Apart from the strange handling of their only saviour Adam Le Fondre – there was a period in the season where Adam was wandering around Berkshire supermarkets converting mineral water into Pinot Noir and reviving the sick – you can’t imagine there was much else Reading could’ve done to survive.
McDermott - still, I think, cruelly dismissed – created a strong team ethic that sustained throughout the season. The players simply weren’t good enough and the Reading faithful probably know that. In other words, they’re the polar opposite of QPR.
Rangers were simply a hired gang of mercenaries with no leader. The movie Wild Geese springs to mind. Loftus Road was a bit like a trashed South American economy where, if you were able to get in there quickly, you could make an awful lot of money with an equal lack of effort and get out of there before anyone really noticed you.
Here’s the squad that Harry had…
Green, Cerny, Murphy, Julio Cesar, Traore, Samba, Hill, Yun, Onouha, Bosingwa, Da Silva, Ben Haim, Magri, Diakite, Derry, Park, Taarabt, Wright-Philips, Granero, Jenas, Hoilett, Townsend, Mbia, Johnson, Mackie, Bothroyd, Remy, Zamora.
I’ve highlighted the ones who looked like they could give a shit. The others played in a state of permanent constipation. Hopefully, one of the facts that has been confirmed from this season is that Mark Hughes is a dull uninspiring manager - about as Sparky as a matchbox in a rainstorm.
Secondly, it seems obvious that high wages and a random collection of greedy people do not a football team make. Unless a Mourinho gets hold of ‘em, they won’t get too interested. Chris Samba may bleat all he likes about unfair criticism but the fact is that on £100K a week he should be playing better football in a better team.
Redknapp shouldn’t be getting away scot free. I think the wily old goat saw the great vacuum in the soul of the playing staff and flagged it up early doors, but these are not – on paper – poor players and you might ask why Harry’s record with them is no better than Hughes’s.
At least H is staying. But now begins the process of yanking various noses out of the west London trough and pointing them in the direction of less superior slops. Fernandes insists that he won’t sell anyone the manager wants to keep – an empty pledge when that probably amounts to no more than seven.
If buyers are interested in stumping up bloated salaries then Samba, Remy and Hoilett will have interest. The rest of ‘em…? Well they might just fancy sitting on fat salaries and doing about as much as they’ve done this season. It’s not as if the club have negotiated any reduction in wages for failure. One of the great new spin-offs from big business’s involvement with football is the assurance footballers – and their agents – have that even if they are downright fecking crap for a season their wages are protected by ludicrous contracts.
In marked contrast, a club that has a history of plunging headfirst into the transfer market in a desperate attempt to prove to its fanbase that it’s a serious player might just have turned a corner in a manner other clubs could aspire to.
Yes, whisper it quietly but Aston Villa might just stay up after all. And with a team full of children. The marquee buy Mr Bent has sat sulkily by. Mr Lambert has cut a slightly forlorn figure – at times looking less like a man with a vision and more like one of those householders whose home has just been flooded but who insists, bleakly, that he will carry on.
If you hark back to the League Cup semi-final defeat to Bradford City you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that here was a bloke waving his P-45 at the world. But the hilariously named Randy Lerner – yes he sounds like a frat kid from a Porkies movie – actually stood by his man.
Lambert has managed without Dunne. He has played three upfront, and built it all around Benteke, a man who started the season as ‘a bit of a handful’ and has ended it as a truckload of trouble.
The defence, as callow and sure-footed as a herd of stoned giraffes, had leaked like a child’s bath-toy but Lambert nobly stuck to his course like one of those pioneering sailors who insisted the world wasn’t flat. And sure enough, he hasn’t fallen over the edge. He’s only gone and come back round again.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not reckoning that Paul Lambert is the future of football. But it’s damn good thing that a coach who saw fit to invest in the young players at a club gets due reward for it – especially when its relegation rivals have been trawling through agents’ lists and scooping up whatever they can find.
It’s no accident that Ferguson manages to push through youth-team players into the full squad. It helps the team, if the players are good enough. Not that the Morphy Richards of Manchester is averse to spending a shedload when he needs to.
So I for one will be delighted if Villa survive (when McLeish was in charge I would have said the opposite.) Middlesbrough try their best to push thrpugh the local boys too. Whatever else it does, it doesn't half make you root even more for the team you love.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Tooth Hurts

You want a piece o' me? Huh, Luis? Do ya?

Well such a huge heap of disgust has been tipped onto the bugsy gaucho's bonce
that you could be forgiven for thinking he was being investigated by Operation
Yewtree. (The news that Rolf Harris may be in trouble too is almost too much to
bear - the phrase 'can you tell what it is yet?' will never sound the same

But how much do we need to tolerate on a football pitch? Nothing escapes a Sky
cameraman's eyes.

Let's not pretend that footy used to have a noble heart. When I was growing up
the true villains of our beautiful game were celebrated, elevated to the level
of cult heroes: Bite Yer Legs Hunter, Chopper Harris - someone once called us
Roughhouse Robson and I didn't mind a bit (although in retrospect it sounds a
bit camp). On the flipside there was the exploitative attacker Francis Lee, a
man who tumbled like Nadia Comaneci every time a set of metal studs got within a
foot of his shinpad-less legs.

The fact that today's bad boys live in gated mansions and spend the tail-ends of
their careers buying their seventeenth sports cars and getting themselves
groomed for the role of pundit couch scatter cushions only makes them even more

Luis Suarez, though, eh? In the rampant dash towards notoriety Suarez is making
John Terry look like a choirboy. A cheat, a racist and now, a devourer of human
flesh. It's not as if that set of choppers isn't already rather dangerous-looking. You could certainly open your bottles of beer on his gob.

But biting someone. Actually chomping. Isn't there something in the DAngerous Dogs Act that means we're allowed to put him down for the sake of society? 

I must confess the first time I came across him was his clenched fist as Asamoah
Gyan missed that last minute penalty in the World Cup after he'd punched a shot
off the line.  Lots of people were calling him ungentlemanly scum at that point.
Me, I thought he did what just about every other footballer in the world would
have done. Got himself sent off to save the team. The penalty was missed. He was
vindicated. Of course he was pleased.

Now he's been at Liverpool a while we have been really made more aware of the
man's qualities. It turns out he really is a quintessential piece of pond life,
save for the fact that his feet do quite wonderful things to a football. The
pass for Sturridge's equaliser wasn't football, it was Art. If he were an
employee of the Government he'd have had his funding removed long ago.

Suarez's handball to gift-wrap Chelsea's second was the work of a dopey and
inveterate cheat whose instinct is as much for the deceitful as the brilliant.

As for his fit of the munchies... Well, first of all it's worth taking time out
to praise the remarkable restraint of Branislav Ivanovic. The man deserves a
fecking sainthood. Most mortal men would have yanked a corner-flag out of the
ground and used the little nibbler as a hog-roast.

Suarez's apology - and that of his club - has been rapid and cringeworthy. After all, he's
bitten people before.

And the big question is not 'Why is Suarez such a cunt?' We need highly-trained psychologists and
animal-trainers to get to the bottom of that. The real question is: 'why would
Liverpool put up with such a twat?'

Liverpool FC is not the most rational place in the world. There's reason for a
sense of victimhood. The maltreatment of the memories and families of the 96
should never be forgotten. But even the exaltation of Benitez is less difficult
to fathom than those that seek to excuse the Montevideo Man-Eater. At
least his team-mates will be excused the indignity of wearing pathetic t-shirts. I expect they've been printed up already... A picture of Luis, donkey teeth splayed in a wide grin of triumph and a little legend beneath it saying; 'The Tooth Hurts! But Luis Is Innocent! ' 

But Suarez is not going anywhere. Ian Ayre has said that already. We just need
to teach him how to play nicely, he says (this habitual faller, faker and

Some folk say that the great trough of dosh that the Premier League brings with
it hasn't corrupted the honest John of British football. But the retention of Suarez by Liverpool is down to 2 distinct factors: 1. He's very good at football; and 2. If they got rid of him now he'd only get bought up for less money than he's worth by some club with the morality of a mosquito.

So, ho hum, say Liverpool, we're lumbered with him.

But there comes a time when even the most talented and costly individual needs to be jettisoned, not cosseted. Surely. I assume that the FA will give him a Cantona-like eight months to cool his heels and, who knows, file down his canines.

In the menatime, never mind limp-wristed, ineffective, meaningless, fines, Liverpool Football Club. Show some courage, Koppites. Get shot of the great embarrassment. And breathe the pure clean air of righteousness. If you do, you won't be walking alone.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Mancini Blames Everything Else

So there he is, that Roberto Mancini, with money sloshing around him like a great watery ocean. When he opens his front door a great flood of coins spills out of his house. When he gets out of his car, the gutters and drains turn into gentle rivers of Abu Dhabi dirhams. When he swings open the portal to his squad’s dressing-room it’s like he’s just pulled the lever on the world’s largest one-armed bandit.

So given this bottomless trough of wonga, and the fact that his team were very much the better side at Old Trafford, why are his team so desperately adrift? 
Well Mancini was getting his excuses in early on Monday.

The main one is that he didn’t manage to buy any good players in the summer. He says it like it wasn’t down to him… as if the players he missed had never quite had the opportunity to be entranced by the Italian’s oozing charm.
Clearly the likes of Rodwell and Sinclair were enchanted by him and the club. Or maybe they’d just had enough of all those prying eyes watching them work every week and fancied a year of utter obscurity. There was a time, you know, when Jack Rodwell looked like he might be a really good footballer. But you can rely on the moneybagses of the Premier League to relegate British potential to a watching brief.

There were other pleas from Mancini but none of them wash. The weediest was that teams are scared when they play at OT, which is pretty much the managerial equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework'. He is in charge of a squad which should win the Premier League from here to eternity. He certainly shouldn’t be overseeing Champs League failure every year. He’s fortunate he’s not working from Abramovich. Or Venkys.
United on the other hand may well be wondering how they get things so easy this year. The noisy neighbours finally delivered their first born league title last season and, as with many a new parent, have been distinctly quiet ever since. Ferguson’s champions have Van Persie, yes (hardly a masterstroke really, without old Longface Arsenal would have disappeared up the A1 last year). But not much else has changed.
United are in transition. The midfield is a creative wasteland. Carrick’s had his best season ever but he’s no Pirlo. When Modric trotted on to the park for Real and tucked home that equaliser you couldn’t help thinking that United had missed a trick there. Kagawa’s a delight – and let’s not pretend, he’s good for the Glazers’ Far East income - but he’s a bit of a butterfly amongst all the pounding hooves in the Premier League midfield.
Given the stifled orgasm suffered by United last season, you can’t deny Fergie’s enduring brilliance this year. But United’s success this season is a reflection of other’s failings as much as their own ability.

Down in the depths, Harry Redknapp’s face was a picture of grief. It normally is but this weekend he had good cause. It’s not a good year to wear blue and white hoops – as opposed to all those other years, right. QPR are done for. Reading are out. There remains one place and a hell of a bunfight for it. 
Me, I hope Wigan and Villa escape if only because they’ve shown more faith in their managers than the rest of them. I appreciate that in the case of Villa that’s a new concept. But the rest of them – chairmen moving chairs on their respective Titanics – well you can but hope it doesn’t work out.  

Of course there is one club slowly descending who I’d rather didn’t join Boro in the Chumpionship. Hump it Lump it Thump it Bump it. Stoke City. Here’s a team who make Sam Allardyce sound like a fey 18th century French poet.
No one wants to watch Stoke. Unless it’s peripherally, like you do when you drive past a car accident. But there’s always been this patronising pat on the back for the Potters and the pragmatist Pulis. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

Every now and then, pundits are given licence to purr as Stoke prove they can ‘get it down and play’. This is usually when they’re 2-0 up and Matthew Etherington gets the ball. The rest of the time we’re left to grimace at the pounding plodding clogs of Glen Whelan, Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross. And the rest.
There’s nowt wrong with playing to your strengths of course. Delap’s absence, whatever you doughty Potters say, has robbed Stoke of 50% of their attacking options. Ryan Shotton can’t throw it so far. The Potters should get another six or so points and get out of it. And I really don’t want ‘em down the Riverside despite the fact that we all have a bit of fondness for the Panzer Huth.

Of course all this Premier League pales into insignificance when we think of the great woman we lost this week. She saved the country, Cameron said. Saved? In a Rob Green v USA way I presume.
Lots of folk round our way were delighted to buy their council house. And sell it. A third of one-time council property is owned by private landlords today. She misunderstood the concept of social housing but not the concept of greed.

I’ll be honest. I fucking hated her. The union-bashing, privateering, Mandela-cuffing, patronising big-haired piece of shit. But her death has come too late. The damage has been done. There’s Dave and George, twin Thatcherite sons crying ‘bitty’ as they suckle on her full-fat me-first milk.
So I haven’t been partying. They’ve no respect for society’s etiquette. But then there’s no such thing as society so what did the great blonde thug expect?

Up the Boro! What's left of it.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Torn A-Sunderland

Just in case you thought that the stupidity of British football had reached its peak with Blackburn Rovers and its managerial hotseat (not that any managers sits in it for long enough for it to get even lukewarm) along come Sunderland FC to remind you that we North-Easterners know how to do things really dopily.

It’s not really a great surprise that O’Neill’s been sacked. Sunderland carve out opportunities with all the regularity of a North Korean anti-government march.  Were it not for Stephen Fletcher’s opportunism they would have scored fewer goals than Jan Vertonghen. This is a desperately poor team and even O’Neill’s habitual spring lamb bounce has disappeared. In recent weeks he’s been about as thrilling a watch as a Bank Of England statement from Mervin King.

So, yes, O’Neill had to go – but now?  As with Adkins at Reading, the new man’s going to be lumbered with the same set of thinly-talented players. Adam Johnson is thin and talented, actually, but so work-shy that I’m surprised that the Government aren’t seeking him out for fiscal punishment.

Anyway it turns out that, unlike Blackburn or Wolves, that Sunderland did have a replacement in mind. The papers started by touting Steve McClaren, or Mark Hughes, on the basis that Mark Hughes is always available when someone’s given the boot. It’s a reflex speculation these days, like assuming Suarez has dived or Messi has scored.
But no, Sunderland have turned to international football’s answer to Benito Mussolini, Paolo di Canio.

That’s right. Something radical needed to be done at the Stadium of Light and so Sunderland chose someone with very views that are about as radical as it’s possible to get.

Di Canio has described himself as a ‘fascist, but not a racist’ which, when you look at the twentieth century history of fascism, makes him the single exception to the rule. Some might argue, as Tony Thompson in the Bell argued last night, that ‘Hitler was a fascist and you can’t say his team did badly in Europe.’

David Miliband has resigned his position at the club – a knee-jerk reaction according to the Swindon Town chairman Jeremy Wray. That’s right, Mr Wray, those Jews get a bit oversensitive when it comes to fascists. Dunno why, eh?
However the fact is that many of us remember Di Canio with a mixture of trepidation and delight. From Paul Durkin’s laughable tumble after being gently shoved by the Italian, to the sublime volley against Wimbledon, Di Canio never failed to entertain. There is a level of worship at West Ham that borders on the homoerotic. They like Tevez too, but not in that way.

Di Canio’s time at Swindon was successful but punctuated by moments of mild insanity. The replacement of his goalie after 20 minutes was the best. Crikey if England managers did that after the keeper’s made one mistake there’s be a whole bench full of men in green jerseys on the bench.
In an interview with the BBC he described himself as having an ego as big as an elephant. He also sits there gesturing like a cartoon Italian, the sort that Paul Whitehouse might lob off in an Aviva commercial.
All in all, it’s a potty appointment. Foolhardy in the extreme. But eminently more exciting thatn Reading’s decision to appoint good ol’ Nige Adkins. Presumably Sunderland didn’t want a safe pair of hands.

He wanted someone who’s going to go in there and say to Simon Mignolet:
“You gotta quarter-of-an-hour to make-a me like-a you or I’m a-gonna-senda-you to a-de place where the sun don’ta shine.”

“Mais, non, Gaffer, anywhere but Middlesbrough” he will no doubt reply.
Sunderland want a man who’s going to run on the pitch at the half-time whistle and have a stand-up row with Danny Graham for proving to be every bit as limited as seasoned Swansea watchers thought he was.

What’s for certain is he won’t go in there and be conciliatory or kind. Dare I say it, his management style might be a tad fascistic.
Now I don’t condone his politics in any sense. I think it’s wrong and bad and there’s way too much of it going on in Eastern Europe and of course in Italy. There's plenty here too and they don't need a figurehead to rally around. The idea that Di Canio can uncouple his fascism from racism is laughable. Not one of the stone-skulled numpties on the terraces at Lazio does that because for them they are pretty much one and the same.

Nevertheless it doesn't make Di Canio a bad footballer, anymore than the fact that Ian Dury wasn't very nice to people makes 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' a bad song. It certainly doesn't make him a bad manager. The successful ones are pretty much all dictators.

So I reckon the Sunderland fans have got it right. Keep your opinions to yourself, Paolo. Keep that arm straight and true and pointing to the ground. Try to get the best out of a team of woefully underconfident footballers. And good luck to you when you come to the Riverside for the Tees-Wear derby next season.

And if it doesn't work out, there's always Mark Hughes.