Monday, 24 February 2014

Bren Rodgers in the 21st Century

After a week of European football that saw the two English candidates suffer 2-0 home defeats the weekend's action seemed a little more pedestrian. And predictable. Of course the main reason Citeh and Arsenal lost in midweek were the two red cards, both of which were mourned by the respective managers.

Wenger thought that the ref should have changed the rules for Szcezsny. Pellegrini thought the ref should change his nationality, what with Sweden being a two-bit backwoods nation (unlike Chile).

As Man City's dizzying heights recede into the past (the 1-0 v Stoke being further evidence of fantasy football fatigue) Liverpool seem bent on serving up goal-fests every time they take to the park. Rogers' team play like a frantic ship's crew in a holed boat, relying on the bailing out ability of their main men, while the other dolts plod recklessly about in the hull, putting their feet through more rotting planks and threatening to capsize the whole vessel.

It's 24 years since Liverpool won the title so these are bound to be heady days at Anfield. So what's the secret of Brendan's success - always allowing for the fact that he's won eff-all so far.

A month ago you would have said Luis Suarez. He's still their outstanding player, of course. There are times when the Uruguayan is so inventive and nimble that you wonder why he gave up the day job at the circus. It's entirely believable that Luis goes to and from training on a unicycle, all the while doing seamless keepy-uppies with three footballs and a couple of Granny Smiths, those fine front choppers chomping away on the apples as he goes.

Yes he still flops to the floor like a set of tumbling dominos when the mood takes him, and although he hasn't been scoring with the frequency of an Operation Yewtree trial, he is still serving up more chances on a plate than a Yo-Sushi! conveyor belt.

Leading the feeding frenzy is one Daniel Sturridge, a lad capable of looking both sorry and sublime within the same minute. Despite his strike rate, his finishes are never nailed-on. He is, nevertheless, the best English centre-forward currently playing. Yes, better even than Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe and Grant Holt (irony alert).

Sturridge has his faults - well one mainly - he's a greedy bastard. Still you'd rather that than the timid roll it across the six-yard box merchants. And it's easy to forget that here's one lad who - and it's his own fault - spent a few seasons decorating benches in Manchester and West London rather than developing his career.

If it were down to me I'd ban any youth international from the books of Citeh and Chelsea in order to ensure they get to kick a football in earnest once in a while. (Anyone remember Jack Rodwell? From what I hear Jack Rodwell doesn't even remember Jack Rodwell).

Rogers' greatest triumph as a coach however comes in the form of Jordan Henderson who has this season started to look okay as a footballer. Gerrard's withdrawal to in front of the back four has given Jordan a bit more space to operate and while for a while he looked like a agoraphobic meerkat, he seems to have settled into the role now. He's playing well.

As is Raheem Sterling, another off the production of twinkle-toed wastrels that this country specializes in right now: Young, Adam Johnson, Walcott, Lennon, Townsend - truly, Hodgson is spoilt for choice and yet only Townsend has really threatened in an England shirt. Sterling stands out because he seems to have coupled pace with an ability to pick a pass in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, Coutinho is clearly class, and the lad Flanagan looks very good going forward.

The troubles are at the back, where Skrtel in particular continues to turn in performances that make you long for his name to become a verb. In the film 'Skrtel' he would be played by a madcap Jim Carrey, who would delight us by Skrtelling into opposition forwards and Skrtelling crosses into his own net.

When the defence is spared a Skrtelling it gets 'Kolo-ed'. A Kolo is scored when a defender's error is so calamitous it might as well be an own goal. (see Santiago Vergini's Kolo at the Emirates this weekend).

Of course, not doing much last season has probably helped Liverpool in this one. They don't have to beetle off to the arse-end of nowhere of a Thursday night this season. Like Spurs, who always come back from the Europa League like they've been on a flaming booze cruise.

Indeed there is something a bit Keeganesque about Liverpool's harem-scarem approach to winning footy matches this year and it's a delight to behold. And in such contrast to the niggardly attitude of Mourinho's league leaders who are turning this season into an exercise in grinding pragmatism.

Jose, while not denigrating Arsene Wenger for his failures, has been returning to form with a charmless Chelsea team that, once Hazard is shackled, looks unlikely to cause alarm to anyone. They are still horribly short of a proper goalscorer and yet, and yet, and yet... they might just teeter over the line in first even with a front one or two with the cutting edge of an air-bed.

In a season of such attacking flamboyance for their three nearest rivals this would be a major disappointment for all of us who love life. Still, the Happy One beams his snidey smile, and the likes of Martinez can bleat away in the trophyless wastelands of not-near-enough and never-weres and he will shrug and say 'what have they won?'

The more the Blue Meanies sneak scruffy late victories the more you want someone - anyone else - to win the bleeding thing.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Taxi for Moyes

It's difficult to see where David Moyes can go now. The late equaliser by Darren Bent - a man who misses chances Harry Redknapp's wife could finish - has really summed up his season. I was reminded of Poland's streaky draw at Wembley in 1973.

Man United camped in Fulham's half like a washed up shoal of jellyfish; destined to be there but without a fucking clue why - a bit like Moyes really.

I've said already on this blog that Moyes was handed a busted flush. Ferguson hand-picked a bunch of youthful Englishmen none of whom look capable of playing above Championship level. And indeed if Boro were offered Cleverley or Smalling, I'd politely turn them down in favour of a sack of flour and a hat-stand.

But the team that the Anointed One put out today was full of thrusting match-winners. Van Persie, Mata and Rooney (whose hair has grown as unconfident as his form in reason weeks). These are good, indeed at times, great players. Not one of them shook so much as a stick at Fulham for seventy-five minutes.

And this is Fulham we're talking about. The worse team in the league right now, if you allow for the fact that Newcastle have just about enough to stay up. New signings aside - and Holtby had a decent start - the idea that the Premier League Champions should do anything other than have the decency not to laugh in their faces seems ludicrous.

And yet...

United put together the worst set of crosses since the Judean Crucifixion Squad's store room got flooded. Ashley Young, robbed of the option of blatantly throwing himself to the floor, looks abject. And he was paired with Rafael, another bright spark sputtering in a rain-drenched winter.

Indeed it's hard not to think of Moyes stranded on a tiny knoll as flood after flood of desperate results lapse against the silty ground on which he stands. Even if the former Everton man chooses to blame misfortune over mismanagement, it's pretty clear his squad needs a bloody good dredging come the summer.

The question is, will he be the one leading the clear-out? And to me, it looks very very debatable. Folks point out that Ferguson was given a fair crack of the whip, but let's face it United weren't so much a sleeping giant as genuinely catatonic when he took over. Poor David's team slide down the league like flailing Slopes-Stylers.

And while we're on it, well done Jenny Jones for winning bronze in that potty but plainly exciting event. She's reasonably easy on the eye too so I reckon Inverdale will be straight in there for a natter. (I missed the opening ceremony due to not being very interested. Was it as camp as their oft bare-chested president? Tell me he was in a dance routine called Putin on the Ritz, please. Make it be so.)

Where was I? - yes Moyes. Well unless the Anointer can keep his influence going then I can't see Moyes hanging on much longer. The big summer spend is going to be vital and there's not a half-decent Herbert out there who isn't being touted as the next Man U addition. But who wants Europa League football year after year? It's not as if Moyes drew in the big names with such promises at Everton.

I think the Glazers will cut the poor lad adrift.

Meanwhile the man who would have not done it the United way and would probably have the team in the top three by now is sitting pretty aboard the showboat that is Chelsea.

Mourinho is starting to purr now. I like this remodelled version. He's jokier, gentler but just as sneaky with the soundbite. Chelsea are a little horse, my arse. It's like saying Justin Bieber is a bit of a worry. And ever since he started this phoney war, Citeh have stumbled and failed to score in two games running. Now he's calling them a jaguar. Well if they are they're behaving very much like the ones in Winnie-the-Pooh that often fell out of trees. I tipped Chelsea at the beginning of the season, so...

And of course Arsenal finally had their inevitable crash-landing n all, and so Jose is well placed to deny any title-seeking aspirations. Wenger has a horrible little run to contemplate in the next few games but he'll be very relieved that the first one is home to Man U. That should right the ship.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Close That Bloody Window

There are some lovely windows in the world. The one at York Minster takes a bit of beating. And our neighbours' new French windows - their fenetres as I like to call them - are right canny and you can say what you like about UVPC but it's bloody practical and doesn't rattle like comedy teeth in the slightest breeze. Windows can be unattractive and functional, as Bill Gates would testify.

Then there's that other somewhat unattractive opening: not Miley's gob, no. I mean the transfer window. The simple imposition of a period in time when players can be bought and sold has turned from a novel diversion into an entire fucking industry.

Even the BBC had a 'transfer deadline day' special. I'm sure Sky have been doing this for years but they are the originators of the three-numpties-on-a-couch-talking-about-nowt format. I hear Richard Keys and Andy Gray are about to relaunch their careers from the top of a bit of scaffolding on a 1980's building site. Every time I see Keys bellyaching on the box like some discarded silverback I just think he's lucky that anyone put up with that crap for as long as they did. 

Any road, on the Beeb, Dan Walker was yapping away at the excitement of it all like a bright-eyed collie when, in actual fact, the day was about as thrilling as a bucket of overboiled broccoli. It's a true sign of our times that one of the most significant developments in our media is the unending capacity of sports people to talk about absolutely fuck-all forever.

There must be someone making a packet out of running former pros through the cliche mill. I'm fed up to the back teeth of the phrase 'game-changer'. If only it were accurate. "We're six-nil down, lads" said the game-changer "but let's see how good this Man City team is at... Cluedo!" (Actually I'd love that. Samir Nasri as Miss Scarlett? Has to be.) 

At the end of January 31st - the broadcasting equivalent of a bagpipe being droned for an entire day, what do we have to fill today's bar-room banter with?

That Kim Kallstrom eh? Just what Wenger was looking for. That midfield of his was lacking quality wasn't it, eh? Chelsea have signed a dance-fitness exercise class from France for £12 million. Owt else? Not really.

Konoplayanka - can't be bothered to check the spelling - decided not to join Brendan Rogers' purring preening reds. Draxler stayed in Schalke (which sounds like an announcement regarding the car industry). Cattermole stayed with Sunderland rather than joining Charlie Adam and Glenn Whelan at Stoke in what many were dubbing a Midfield From Hades: more ankle-biting than a mosquito's stag-party.

I suppose the main talking point will surround Fulham, where Berbatov has departed for Monaco. That's got to suit the lazy old genius hasn't it? Tax-free lolling about with the occasional bit of work to do. He's been replaced by a Greek centre-forward called Mitrologou who looks for all the world as if he's spent four weeks being crimped and primped by a Selfridges beautician. He's like a footballing Rylan.

Now whether this bloke, along with the workaday Holtby, can turn around Fulham's season is debatable. What will help is the despatch of Senderos to foreign fields. I honestly don't think I've seen a worse central defender in the Premier League. Unless you include them other lunks that Wenger lumbered on to the pitch a while back - Stepanovs, Luzhny... oh and there's always Titus Bramble - Jesus Navas, how DO these blokes keep getting employed? Why do managers buy them?

I mean if I'd watch a window-cleaner cave his mop and bucket through the veluxes on my next-door neighbours I'd hardly be invited the bloke over to my gaff to squeegie my glass clean.

Any road, Senderos has left the opposite of a gaping hole in the Fulham rearguard and that might just help Meulessen paper over the odd crack.

In the real quality division of British football, the Championship, some desperate clubs have hired in goalscorers who have long since forgotten how to do their job. The greatest sufferer of Heskeyitis is one Danny Graham, and where's he gone? Yep. To the Boro. There are times when I despair. Let's hope that somewhere along the road to Marske the scales fall from his eyes and he remembers how to find the back of the net. The way he's been playing I doubt he'll even find the Riverside Stadium.

So there's sort of quite a lot to talk about, if you really could give a fig that Wilfred Zaha is going to playing for Cardiff for a bit which makes you wonder why the silly sod left Palace cos he'd probably be happier there.

But this transfer window should really be scrapped. It's such a bloody freak-show cum cattle-market nowadays that I've forgotten why it was introduced in the first place. It inflates prices, it makes clubs rush through ridiculous deals, and only those with oodles of disposable income ever benefit. And they're the ones in charge in the first place.

But worst of all it just creates employment for the next wave of recently retired pundits who have stepped down of the production line and monotone muppetry that passes for analysis these days. The only problem with all of it is that with every passing syllable, Robbie Savage becomes more interesting. It's all relative, but the likes of Michael Owen make numpites like Robbie Savage eminently listenable to, in the same way that UKIP make George Osborne appear kind.

The only reason to keep the window open at all is so we can get a through-draught to waft out the stench of all the horseshit we've listened to for the last 24 hours.