Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Joe Kinnear's on You, Geordies


You wouldn't want their economy. You wouldn't mind their food (gazpacho aside - cold soup is a contradiction in terms). You'd love to have their footballers. Indeed, a simple bit of redistribution of their wealth might go a long way to solving their financial problems.

But the iniquities of the tax system are not the first things that come to mind when you watch Andres Iniesta doing multiple dragbacks. There is something of the matador about the ghostly Iniesta. Uruguayan defenders are notorious bullish and yet he sidestepped them like a piss-taking toreador.

The first half of Spain v Uruguay was a demonstration of why the old tippy-tappy stuff is hard to disagree with. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, unless the thing that you possess is a class A drug and you're on a South London stop and search initiative. Uruguay, no mean technicians in their own right, swiped away like cows' tails at the remorseless swarming Spanish flies but to very little avail.

They are still the yardstick by which other countries are judged. Although it doesn't harm a team to have free-kick takers like Luis Suarez or Andrea Pirlo around. Both scored the free-kick I have dreamed of for all of my forty-summat years, but like a 1987 East German, just getting over the wall in the first place would be a start.

Of course the Confederations Cup - FIFA's answer to the question 'How the hell do we get by with no footy in June and July?' - has served up some beautiful moments. The sort of moments that you can guarantee will be gracing the Internet Knock-Off Sports Gear Arena next season now that Joe Kinnear is the new 'Director of Football'.

Now I'm a little old-fashioned, me, but I do kind of wonder what a director of football does that a football manager doesn't do. In Joe Kinnear's case, you can only imagine a football being directed either 'down the channels' or skywards.

It's not like Joe is going to bring a more sophisticated influence to Newcastle's playing style. The closest he's ever got to anything continental was the time his wife bought them funny quilts in the 70s. And Joe was quick to get her back on sheets and blankets, I can tell you!

Still, if you read Joe's interview you'll realise that this is an entirely mistaken point of view. Yes, he can't pronounce players' names properly but hellfire, who can? I mean I've heard his name pronounced as 'Jokin' 'Ere' - as in "You have to be Jokin' 'Ere".

Kinnear claims he can also 'open the door to any manager in the world' which might mean that the director of football is simply a glorified bouncer. He claimed to have signed Tim Krul (he didn't - Souness did which came as a shock to me), and to have won the manager of the month three times (he won it once). So his memory's shot and he can't count but - get this - he's way more intelligent than his critics.

Well I'm sorry, Lard Ashley, but this really is the final straw for your average Toonite. Geordie suspicions were held at bay the season before last when Pardew's team put together a really brilliant season. 2012-13 was less impressive but at least, you thought, perhaps too charitably, it's good to see a manager stay in place for the sake of a bit of stability. Plus the bloke's got an 8-year contract to see out. I don't know anyone who's got an 8-year contract. I bet the new Pope hasn't even been given that by God.

Now we have the apparent hiring of another geezer from down south into a role which serves no apparent purpose whatsoever. Director of football.. tsk! I mean the Chancellor of the Exchequer doesn't require the help of a director of finance, does he? (Okay, bad example).

The only hope the Gallowgate End has is that poor old Joe might not quite remember how to get there. Kinnear is right to point out that when a heart attack brought his previous tenure to an abrupt halt he got a great deal of support from the Geordie fans. But, sadly, here Joe is confusing human kindness and sympathy with respect for his work. I mean I hoped he'd get better too but I didn't want to come down the Riverside to become Pointer in Chief.

It's a bit of a bloody farce if you ask me and I think it takes Ashley's reputation and relationship with the Newcastle faithful back to square one. The only thing that I can say in Kinnear's favour is that he may know one or two players who aren't French.

Chelsea get Mourinho. United get Moyes. Everton get Martinez. Stoke get Mark. Newcastle get Muppet (a very intelligent one at that).

Monday, 10 June 2013

Feats of Clay

There was a time when I found the French Open tennis tournament a really dull spectacle. Lots of Southern Europeans (or Swedes) pattering around through the dirt and looping enormously high shots back and forth at each other so that the net became an irrelevance. Points that lasted millennia. Whole days lost to it monotonous routines. Occasionally you'd almost believe that the volley had been outlawed from the game. What with that and French television's relentless search for an artsy-fartsy cut-away of a ball bouncing on a surface the colour of an Geordie lass's Saturday-night skin, or a sweat-band brushed across a lank-haired pate, and the whole thing made me yearn for the football season to hurtle back into view as soon as possible.

Of course nowadays a serve-and-volleyer on any surface is eyed with suspicion, as if the poor thing has been swept up in a trawler-net like one of them fishes we thought were extinct. But baseline rallies have also become much more compulsive - extraordinary slugfests punctuated by startling angles and brutal hitting.

There's no doubt that they wouldn't have managed this sort of stuff in the days of wooden racquets and no sitting down between points. With these new bats I swear you could hit a serve around a street corner with no great difficulty.

Nevertheless it's hard to believe that we have ever witnessed tennis of the sort of standard offered up by the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and, increasingly rarely, Federer. Of course clay is as natural a playground for Nadal as it was for Demi Moore in Ghost. There is something about that topspin forehand of his that makes you wonder whether it could remove your head with one swipe, like a grizzly bear's forepaw.

After outlasting Jockey-Itch in the latest chapter of a series of quite ludicrously long matches between the big four (yes, Murray does count), he then took on Ferrer in the final. Ferrer has lots of qualities  to admire: speed, stamina, fitness. But not power. Like Dido's voice, the harder he pushed it, the weedier he looked. It began to look like Nadal was playing against a child-sized version of himself.  Rafa Max v Rafa Lite.

Ferrer talked afterwards about how he needed to be more aggressive on court when he played the Majorcan marvel but frankly it wouldn't have made much of a difference had he secreted a Kalashnikov down his pants, Rara would still have been pleased to see him. This latest triumph, achieved after eight months out with a very nasty injury, is enough to officially crown Nadal as not so much the King of Clay as its Eternal Emperor.

There's a facile argument going round that Rafa can now claim to be better than Federer. On clay, yes. But not everywhere, and to be fair Federer is not the power he was. But he is utterly phenomenal - and a nice man too, bless 'im.

The day before, a woman who can fairly lay claim to be the finest sportswoman in the world right now won her second French Open title. Serena Williams is a curious cove, isn't she? No matter how complimentary and polite she is in post-match interviews there's a radiant arrogance to her that underpins everything.

I don't know about you but I don't consider that a bad thing. She's won 16 titles now and she too has overcome injury and personal sadness to get there. You might say there's a lack of subtlety to her game. There's often the insinuation that she lacks femininity - you know, like that lezza Navratilova did. Take Sharapova's comment on the Serena serve: "I think if I was built like Serena, I hope I'd be able to hit a big serve like that, too." Hard not to hear a 'miaow' in there, eh?

I'd simply respond by saying that if Maria could actually get here second serves in occasionally it might just even things up a little. (Nails in, girlfriend!)

The fact is that Serena Williams, like Navratilova before her, is an utterly fantastic tennis player. Really bloody wonderful. I'm aghast that she doesn't quite get the credit it deserves, except from John McEnroe who is relentlessly positive about her.

It all sets up Wimbledon rather nicely. No one's going to beat Serena there either, but in the men's... well you know the lad Muzza. Remember him? Well, he's got a chance this year. A big chance. Just hope and pray he's not in the same half as Nadal. Or Djokovic. Or both.

On a different note, Stuart Pearce has been lamenting the absentees from his labouring England Under-21 squad and you can't help but sympathise. England have always treated the under-21's as a stepping stone to the full squad. It's not the real thing. Never mind that you'll have young lads playing tournament football - probably against players that they'll be playing at senior level for years to come.

Pearce is right to be frustrated. He's wrong to persist with tired old methods of playing football that make Hodgson's Dark Ages look like a halcyon day of summer. But, just for once, it'd be nice if we tried to win one of these gongs. Like Germany did, when that Meszut Ozil ran the show. Mind you, look what happened to him, eh?