Monday, 30 June 2014

The Lying Dutchman

Arjen Robben has looked like a fleet-footed sixty-five year-old ever since he arrived at Chelsea a decade ago. A mazy, tricksy, old-school winger he was, in the last Jose Mourinho team that could ever have been called entertaining. Some of us were hugely impressed with everything he did, and at the time Chelsea's designated diver was Didier Drogba so we hadn't seen him at his worst.

But no player spends ten years in the game without learning a thing or to. Arjen is now just about the most terrifying attacking player any defender left in the World Cup can face. Only Messi is as dangerous running with the ball at his feet. 

However, there's an additional peril when Robben comes bob-bob-bobbing along the edge of the penalty area. Will the scrawny dancing pensioner throw himself to the floor like some hoodlum has just knifed him and swiped his shopping trolley? Erm... yes. Yes, he will. Almost certainly. 

Robben's simulation is so ingrained now I wouldn't be surprised if he's the only man on the planet who could successfully fake an orgasm.  Referees are of course wise to his skulduggery, but unfortunately he is the sort of player who is likely to get fouled by defenders struggling to contain his pace and footwork. So it's hard for the officials. 

Indeed the winning penalty against Mexico probably was a foul, although not one that deserved the now ubiquitous chest-out, arms flailing, Munck's The Scream-faced histrionics that go along with every infringement against the Lying Dutchman. 

This time the perpetually fallen idol has admitted that yes, he did do a dive in the game and that he can only apologise for it. Which, given this bloke's track record, is like stealing a million quid and admitting to £10 worth of it. 

Regular readers will know this is a HUGE FUCKING BUGBEAR of mine and has been since the Gelled Tumbler of Madeira stumbled onto the green fields of England - actually since Francis Lee hurled his tubby frame into the quagmires of Maine Road and the Baseball Ground in the 1970's. 

The debate rages as to what we can do about this. The most facile argument put forward by pundits - particularly those of the forward variety - is the conclusion that if after viewing the slow-mo footage from thirty-seven thousand angles it becomes plain that 'there was contact' then the forward is, apparently, entitled to go down. 

In other words, no one can blame you for pretending that a waft of an eyelash has deprived of the ability to behave normally. It's like the response of some particularly neurotic wife during divorce proceedings. "He had his hand on her arm, so I'm entitled to deduce that there was a full-blown affair going on." 

Another way of looking at this, and Marquez is being accused of being dim-witted in the Holland-Mexico game, is that 'if you leave your foot in, someone will go over it'. So as a defender your best bet with Robben when he's in the box is to get the fuck out of the way and hope he misses (either the goal or your innocent withdrawn tootsies). 

If you do get lazy about this, you defenders, then, well you know, even though most able-bodied people learnt to walk when they were fifteen months old and have coped pretty well ever since, you can't expect a footballer to remember this fact once he moves into that treacherous place we all know as the penalty area. 

On behalf of 90% of viewers I hereby say this to any Costa Rican centre-back. As far as I'm concerend tou are ENTITLED to make as much CONTACT as you damn well like on Arjen Robben cos it doesn't matter whether you get him or not, he's going down. 

So with all this mealy-mouthed excusing of what is essentially a determination to buy a decision from the ref using years of cynically obtained nous, it's now over to FIFA to try once more to apply some sort of moral code to the situation. Yep once again football is caught between the cross hairs of FIFA and Fair Play. (Hilarious, isn't it? If the bidding procedure to host their bloody tournaments could operate fairly that might be a start.)

Any hoo, as I've said TOO MANY TIMES before, there is one thing the overseers of the beautiful game could do immediately. Retrospective bans for divers. Every serious incidence of cheating or foul play that officials miss during the actual game can be punished retrospectively. Only simulation seems to have a special place in the administrators foetid hearts. 

Oh we can all tell nasty biting gauchos to take four months off: eating people is wrong, and certainly not part of the fabric of football. But diving...? Well, you know, everyone does it, don't they? Yes, they bloody well do, but let's not let them. All right you can't change the result of the game that's gone, but you can at least mitigate against it becoming the way to win the next one.

Here's option 1: (the cowardly option)
Robben starts the next game with a yellow card to his name. Even the remotest bogus stagger and he's off. job done. 

Option 2: (a better option)
Give Robben a retrospective red card for the dive he admitted to. And ban him for three games. He'd be out of the tournament. Holland would be scuppered. Job done. 

Option 3: (I've touted it before and I think it might be the best of the three)
If a player is proven to be, or admits to being, a diver, they should dress like a diver - wetsuit, mask, snorkel, flippers, the whole nine yards... and then they still have to play the next game. As my old man used to say, there's nothing wrong with that lad that a bit of public humiliation couldn't put right. 

And of course, the biggest sadness is that, if you took the falling over out of Robben's game he'd be the best player in the tournament up to now (yep, including Lionel and the Baby-Faced Colombian). The fact that he so regularly cheats makes him one of the worst. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Nothing But The Tooth

So if - and more reasonably when - Luis Suarez is found guilty of biting an opponent for the third time in his professional career, what might be the best way to proceed for FIFA? (Given FIFA's recent track record the idea that it should have any sort of moral authority is laughable, but we'll gloss over that shall we? Unless of course we can leave Luis and Sepp in a locked room for 48 hours and hang - or enjoy - the consequences.)

But seriously what are the options?

1. Remove Suarez's teeth entirely.

2. Make Suarez wear one of those face guards you give to dangerous dogs - and if you want him to keep playing that's not as dumb as it seems. Humiliating, yes but stupid? No.

3. Insist that opposing centre-halves wear proper bite-proof protection. Although that argument works a bit like the one that says that girls in mini-skirts are just asking for it. Perhaps the Uruguayans might make that point. I mean,  if these svelte-shouldered Italians run around in their slinky blue tops, just begging to be nibbled, it's not Luis's fault, is it?
4. Give him a guest role on the UK tour of Dennis the Menace.

5. Ban him for at least a year and tell him to go and get serious psychological help. Small children often go through a biting phase but as far as I can tell they get over it by three years of age - the only exceptions being Luis Suarez and Hannibal Lecter and one of those is fictional. (It's Lecter by the way, Suarez does actually exist.)

Whatever happens, it'd be nice if close colleagues, enchanted by his footballing brilliance, could actually get their fingers out of their arses and condemn the toothy twat when he's done something like this. Or is pure talent enough to permit you to get away with anything?

If I were Sepp Blatter, and let's face it with enough money, brass neck and indifference to human suffering we all could be, I'd be banning the bloke for life. He's had so much support with his problems and quite simply the man's a serial offender. If he were a dog, he would be put down by now. The fact that he's a human being might make us a pity him a little as he's clearly a bit bonkers and that's not his fault. But you can't let him carry on doing this.

So come on FIFA. Make a stand. This man needs forcibly retiring before he eats someone.

Mind you, I can't help secretly wishing he'd been close enough to bite Phil Jagielka with five minutes to go against England. Which brings us on to the toothless final showing against an uninterested Costa Rica. Costa Fiver as I called them before the tournament started. What a chump I look now.

But it's a tad unfair to belittle that goalless draw. You can blather on all you like about getting back a bit of pride but those players were already going home so there was nowt to play for. If I'd made eleven employees redundant I'd hardly expect them to put in a proper shift on their last day at work.

Much is being made of England's apparent pool of young talent but that very youthfulness seems to have recently retired pros trembling like leaves for the future of the national game. I'm not quite sure why we need the likes of Gerrard and Lampard to hang around being not quite as good as they once were if they simultaneously keep aspiring players out of the team.

I hope they both, with gratitude for their long-standing but ultimately fruitless efforts, retire gracefully. If the next generation are to thrive they don't need to be dependent on tidy old pros, unless they stick around to offer a bit of wise counsel every now and then.

The flaws in the England team are not exactly difficult to identify. The defence is hogwash. Johnson couldn't protect stop a bath from overflowing and Jagielka and Baines are not quite up to it even if the formation didn't help them. Gerrard and Henderson are not great protectors of a back four - indeed the one player who should've been on the plane (and this is ironic since I've lambasted him in the past) was Michael Carrick, who is at least used to defending in that position.

Upfront, Sturridge isn't the finished finisher either and had he been we might well be sitting at home talking up our teams chances of turning over Colombia, or even Greece. But he's worth persisting with in the absence of others.

What I still insist was good to see was a lot of intelligent running off the ball and interchanging of position by England's front four, regardless of the personnel. The final ball was lacking - which is pretty crucial I admit - but that will improve if and only if these players keep getting picked.

Personally I don't think England were 'humiliated' in this tournament. They did about as well as we thought they would when they got there. This England team is average but can get better.

Here's a team to start the next game:
Hart, Flanagan, Cahill, Stones, Shaw, Carrick, Wilshere, Barkley, Sterling, Sturridge, Rooney. (Lallana or Oxlade-Chamberlain could start happily enough in that midfield too. Jones might yet come through if only bleedin' Man U would play him at centre-back!)

Obviously you'd have to insist on little refinements within that line-up. Wilshere only plays if he stops falling over. Sturridge can't miss three sitters and expect to retain his place. None of them get to do shoddy TV ads when they've done nowt to earn the right. And we give a naïve back four the right to fail every now and then, given that the more experienced one was pants anyhow. And give Ross Barkley a chance, too.

Indeed the likes of Sterling and Barkley wouldn't even have made this tournament were it not for Martinez and Rodgers's willingness to give youth its head. Surely they have to be retained, encouraged and forgiven before they can really improve our chances.

Which is the opposite of what we should do with Suarez. To the kennels with him!! Bad dog, BAD DOG!!!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Oh, bollocks..

Ah England, my England.

Every defeat is harder to take than the last. And this one wasn't so much deflating as a lit match to the R101 of our dreams.

I'm not quite sure why we had to get back to 1-1, just at the point when the pub was full of collective shoulder-shrugging. The fact that the pilloried Rooney should be on the end of it only added to the rush of optimism. In that ten minutes between 1-1 and 1-2 all sorts of encouraging thoughts began to play in our minds:

Glen Johnson just did a really good thing.
We have a better goal difference than Uruguay, they've got to play Italy.
At least we've avoided some horrible accommodation between Uruguay and Italy in their last game now.
Just imagine the confidence boost that's given Wazza. He can really start to express himself now.
I bet them Uruguayans are regretting all that time-wasting and faffing about they were doing earlier on in the half.
In fact, bugger the draw we can have these!!

But you forget, oh so quickly, that this is not how we do things. What we do is forget to keep an eye on the only player we need to keep an eye on, and the toothy little bastard nails us for the second time.

Now I don't want to be one who fails to give credit where credit is due. I have struggled and fought and strained to embrace this more embraceable version of Luis Suarez. But the bugsy, wrist-kissing, piss-taking Serb-biting, floor-tumbling sneak is back in my bad books. Only this time it's for being far too good.

Of course I was too keen to listen to the pundits, those recently retired know-alls who assured us all that Luis couldn't be anything like ready to do any damage cos he's only got one functioning knee. 'Scuse me, gents but that must be the same dodgy knee that roundly twatted the nation in its collective bollocks last night.

Maybe Phil Jagielka was lured into the same misconception. But that winner was utterly nightmarish. Schoolboys up and down the country have been outraged to discover that they are being accused of being that naïve. Danny Murphy says that if John Terry was playing that would never haver reached Suarez. Ah maybe. But four years ago, Terry was left looking like a donkey in a treadmill while Germany made a jackass out of him.

You might say England were a bit unlucky. Godin should definitely have been removed from the park and he's the best defender they have. But that's as far as it goes. They had chances, didn't take them and couldn't defend when it mattered.

So, what next, lady and gentlemen, what next? I could do without a timorous defeat to Costa Rica for one. But the bigger picture is this...

Hodgson must stay, if he wants to. There's a few mealy-mouthed naysayers already rolling out the drivel about needing more experience for a big tournament. Bollocks to that. Players don't get experience without going to a tournament like this. England were never going to win it, so why not let the younger lads have a go at it?

Chris Waddle's right to say that we make too big a deal of English players when they don't have a smidgen of the ability of, say, Suarez. Steven Gerrard - Stevie G to give him the stupid boy-band moniker - has to go. He's been a loyal servant, a tireless patriot, but he's very rarely achieved the heights of his club form at international level. The match-up with Pirlo in the last game proved two things: he's not a patch as a passer as Pirlo. And to even have a chance to get close he needed a minder or two in the middle of the park and Henderson isn't that bloke.

But our attitude to this World Cup has been tempered by a lack of expectation and those of us that tried not to get too hyped about the younger lads have been proved right.

I think the real question is, do those players have it in themselves to keep getting better at what they do? English football is littered with players who haven't quite gone on from precocious starts to became truly world-class players. I'd include Rooney in that, though again he had a fair game last night.

But there is a good set of players coming through. Let's not burden them with the golden generation tag. Let's just call them decent. And if Hodgson can keep Barkley, Sterling, Sturridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Shaw together for four years we will have a half-decent side. Even then, they're not going to win a World Cup, whatever Greg Dyke dopily hopes.

The main thing is that these lads keep getting better at their job. (And in Sturridge's case that means more shooting past the opposition keepers and fewer pass-backs to him. Scuffy Sturridge he was last night.) We've got to hope that they don't, having become one of those increasingly rare beasts of the Premier League, an Englishman playing first team football, get complacent and comfy on an astronomical wage and see their careers stall.

It doesn't seem to happen with the likes of Suarez and Ronaldo, Robben and Messi, but then again these are utterly exceptional footballers.

It would be good too, if they don't scurry off to the nearest big-club bench and sit there like decorative millionaires for two seasons (Jack Rodwell, where the fuck are you?).

So, yes, it was as painful as defeats can get, and no, it's not all over, but depending on Italy seems as long a shot as you can get. Balotelli wants a kiss from the Queen if they beat Costa Rica. Listen, if you beat Uruguay too the whole Royal family (of a consensual age) are your playthings for a fortnight, Mario.

But that wouldn't be right any road. England don't deserve to progress. I'd like to think that these lads will be better players for this. But then again I say that after every major tournament. Oh bollocks...

Monday, 16 June 2014

Upbeat Defeat

Right. Enough. The World Cup has begun with a magnificent flourish. Goals galore, the big players showing up early doors, the right things happening and England just happened to lose their first game against a very decent team. Which is a bugger, yes, but hardly worth getting all snide about.

First things first. The opening ceremony wouldn't have entertained a two-year-old Teletubbies fan. Garbage. Even J-Lo's arse had lost its lustre by the time it reared up out of that bollocksy chocolate orange jobbie at the centre of the stadium. If there were some undecideds amongst the Brazilian populace about whether this whole shebang was money well-spent, I'm sure that opening salvo of third-rate circus skills left 'em in no doubt.

Whether the desperate need for the hosts to get off to a good start permeated through to the Japanese referee's subconscious can only be guessed at. But Fred's ludicrous flop should not have been rewarded and we were left wondering whether the refs might ruin it.

But you know, it's settled down well now. It's a joy to watch. Lots of positive intent, and the utter dismemberment of Spain by Robin Van Persie - there's always a tinge of Sherwood Forest about his name - and the annoying bald sprite that is Arjen Robben was thrilling to behold.

Spain have problems but are not too stupid to sort them out. Iker Casillas - grand servant and all that - looks increasingly like a disorientated assistant gardener whose been given some big gloves to wear but can't remember why. De Gea or Reina need to come in. Bringing Torres on to help was like trying to stop a house fire with some damp toilet tissue. Why is he there?

There have already been some little moments to treasure

Otherwise there haven't been any major shocks save for Costa Rica's tonking of Uruguay. The Uruguayans looked amenably feeble and if England can keep up their attacking menace we should turn 'em over.

Which bring us on to Saturday night and, well, I'm not saying this in a Scottish way, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching England lose. Sterling was a delight, neat and nimble, gliding between players in an almost dare I say it Messi like way. But without the finish as yet. Welbeck had his best hour for England too, and Sturridge looked lively.

As for Rooney, well... give the lad a fecking break, okay. Yes, he's overpaid, and maybe he's overplayed, but the bloke put in a shift wide left to accommodate some Johnnie-come-lately in his favoured position. He also put over a sublime ball for Sturridge's finish and if Lionel Bleedin' Messi or Andres Ini-blinking-esta had knocked that ball across we'd all be cooing like grandmothers at a christening.

I don't actually think it's a big deal whether he plays or not. But he didn't have a bad game. The reason this has become an issue is cos the media feckers need summat to bang on about for five days and this is the best they can do. Leave it.

Let's see how he gets on against Suarez and co and maybe we can stop him pulling his hair out for a week or so. (He is looking a bit thin on top again. I thought them top-weaves were made to last.) Any road, Gerrard hardly had his best ninety minutes in an England shirt and no one's carping about him not starting the next game.

But as the skipper himself said, the last time this lot turned up at a tournament we had all the cutting edge of a space-hopper. This time we look like we might score. These are times to be optimistic not downright hacked off. Gone are the days when Owen Hargreaves and Darius Vassell represent progressive substitutions. Chin up, everyone.

The only genuine downside appears to be expert summariser Phil Neville who was dour enough to make Paul Scholes sound like Graham Norton. I mean I'm sure we all tire of that master of hindsight Andy 'he should've done a bit better there' Townsend. And no one can possibly treasure ninety minutes in the company of football's resident wag Mark Lawrenson, who lost any comedy value he might have had when that 'tache was removed. But PNev was just dull. He was Shaun Ryder on a particularly grim downer.

But what's really twisting my melon on this particular happy Monday is li'l ole Juninho, who, Teesside's sweetheart though he is, doesn't seem to be contributing much at all, bless 'im. It could be a language thing, it could be that he's not the brightest bulb in Brazil, but poor Gary seems to spend much of his time picking up the ends of Juninho's contributions like a tramp scouring ashtrays for fag-ends.

But apart from a bit too much writhing around from players as if someone's set fire to their sleeping bags, it's been a great start.

The beautiful game might just be getting its looks back.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Roll on June 12th!

Look it's been a while but apart from the odd bit of play-off nonsense - meaningless without the Teesside terracists to swell the Wembley throng (and chance would be a fine thing) - the last couple of weeks have just been a waiting game.

Oh I know there's a couple of stories brewing about this n that. There's talk of Southampton FC being broken up and divided amongst Champions League competitors next season. And Manchester United too.

Frank Lampard has finished with Chelsea, which is a huge relief, Nice man, frequently 'orrible team. I've always thought that Lampard was a very, very good one trick pony. The equal of any goalscoring midfielder but without the adaptability of, say, Gerrard or Scholes. In my head there will always be a question mark over his England appearances as I always wanted to use him off the bench if Gerrard was being a bit shit, rather than wedge the two of them in the same place and pray that they could somehow work it out between them.

But good luck to him. A fine pro, and a top bloke from what I hear.

But I'm just itching for the World Cup to start. The TV roster is in place at home. The rules are the same as they are every World Cup. If the footy's on, shut your gob and watch.

I have a ban on the wife uttering the following phrases:

"Not more football!" (You never hear me say 'Not more police drama centring on a dysfunctional cop investigating a child murder' so I see no reason why a reciprocal arrangement can't exist once every four fucking years.)

"But why do you care who wins out of Colombia* or South Korea*?" (*insert random obscure football nations in here)

"Can't you just watch the highlights later?"

"What do you mean, the lads are coming round after closing time?"

"Where's David Beckham/Jose Mourinho/David Ginola?"

"Is this what my license fee is going on?"

"Why's Michael Owen allowed to say anything?" (Oh no, wait, I'm the one who says that.)

There are of course many things she's allowed to say, such as: "I don't think you spend enough time down the Blue Bell these days" or "What do you think about Brazilians?" But generally she understands the situation and stays away, except during the England games when she participates whole-heartedly. But annoyingly. Kind of like Robbie Savage really. But more perceptive. And less peroxide.

What's particularly good about this competition is that our boys haven't got a Joey Barton's chance on Question Time of coming across particularly brilliantly and therefore, much like Joey, I'll be giving them plenty of leeway to be a bit crap here and there as long as they manage to entertain.

The major dilemma for Hodgson - at least this is what the media are talking up in the ansence of anything genuine to discuss - is whether Rooney merits a starting place. Against Peru there was that familiar flat post-season air to him. Come June the lad looks light last night's unfinished lager. In contrast Sterling and Barkley look like they've just come out the fridge.

But as Scholes suggested, would the manager dare to leave Rooney out. I don't see why not, myself. He's not the only source of creativity in the squad and when we've made him the cornerstone of the side, there's been a distinct lack of corners. Let him sit a couple out. I would.

But it is really refreshing to be going to the World Cup with that level of expectation, i.e. nil. Just imagine being Belgian right now. They have a golden generation of talented players who have qualified comfortably against run-of-the-mill teams and haven't played anyone good since losing 3-1 to Germany four years ago.

They've got a brilliant playmaker, Eden Hazard, who's done sod-all in the national team. Yep, that's pretty much how golden generations work in our experience. Sorry my flat-landed friends but this is the sort of story that ends in the last 16 with a disappointing scrappy defeat against a petulant Portugal.

I've also been preparing by going out for some hot and humid training just so I don't underestimate the difficulties our boys face out there in the jungle. I tried doing keepy-uppies in the wife's sister's greenhouse the other day. Knackering, I can tell you. Until I smashed through the glass ceiling. If that's what working women keep complaining about then take a football to work, ladies.

Of course you'll be wanting to know who I'm tipping to lift the old trophy and it's always a tricky one. There a few more imponderables than usual this time.

Will any European team be left come the quarter-finals or will they have dissolved into a pool of their own perspiration by then?

Can Brazil conquer the demons of 1950 and get to win the whole caboodle for the sixth time? Or will some falling masonry from an unbuilt stadium take out Neymar and throw the whole tournament into confusion?

Will an African side make it to the final? And if it's Ivory Coast, will Yaya Toure get enough vehicles from his national football federation to convince him to play in it?

Has Sepp Blatter and his pals already decided who the winner is? You can just picture the FIFA HQ sweepstake where every one of them pulls out the name Argentina and they all celebrate together. And indeed will the football be so festive and freewheeling that we can for a short while forget that not a decision is made by its governing body without someone seeming to be inserting a finger in someone else's pie.

Blatter is still insisting his work is not done. I'm sure there'll be a vote which has all the integrity of a Syrian election and lo and behold the ancient Big Swiss Cheese will still be ballsing up the international game.


Any road, I'll be casting me eye in greater detail over the challengers in the next blog. And what I don't know about Algerian football isn't worth knowing. Then I'll tell you that Brazil win it. Okay?