Monday, 27 October 2014

Allardyce, Bless Each Morning You Greet Me

A really very curious weekend of footy. I keep thinking Middlesbrough could have been top - that's how weird it is.

The Premier League table just looks odd, like a cut-out and keep from a time when Ipswich and Burnley and Derby could and by God did win the First Division title. (They were happier times: pies were tuppence, terraces were human wave machines and modern beef cattle would've turned up their noses at the pitches.)

Southampton stroll forward with a curiously able collection of talents assembled by Ronald Koeman, who I keep imagine being played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Had anyone really heard of Pelle, Mane and Tadic before August? I was lamenting the disembowelment of Pocchetino's posse just weeks ago - now it seems it couldn't have been kinder.

Just as astonishing is Fat Sam's Fancy Dans at Upton Park. Again what Allardyce has managed to find - and this is football's equivalent to finding a suitcase full of cash in a public lavatory - is two goalscorers. We knew about Valencia but the other lad is lethal. Indeed, with a tight defence, a snappy midfield and agreat front man you could see Sam's got the full package: the backs, hacks and Sakho.

Big Sam seemed more than a little chuffed to be kissed by Russell Brand. I was looking forward to reading Brand's new book Revolution but at the last minute I realised that simply by purchasing the contemporary tome I'd be buying into a tired and unaccountable establishment paradigm that disenfranchises the working-class and only seeks to propagate its plutocratic hierarchies ad infinitum. So I eschewed its doubtless enticement and found myself compensated by the twin enchantments - steady there missus - of a glittering pint of Northern ale and a beautiful lady. Don't you know. (Anyone could write that stuff - trouble is, he does.)

Amongst all these refreshing table-top developments we cannot of course overlook the leaders and their comfy six-point cushion.

Chelsea continue to bolster the received wisdom that titles can be bought. Yesterday's match against the latest converts to that principle, Manchester United, threw together two of the most charismatic managers in the game. That's what I was told, anyway. Repeatedly. Til I told someone to shut the fuck up before I lamped him.

Journalists love to purr over these so-called masterminds as if this was less a footy match and more Kasparov v Karpov. Unfortunately for football managers, when they actually put their pieces into action they more often than not fail to behave int he expected fashion. Just ask Gus Poyet, whose solid rook Wes Brown turned into a right prawn, while the steady unyielding King Vito fell over and resigned long before the game was lost.

Nevertheless, Mourinho does seem to take a tighter hold of his men that most, if that doesn't create too unnerving an image. Once he and Van Gaal had disentangled themselves from as sincerely a held embrace as two men have ever mustered (I can't imagine Wenger even hugging his wife with such feeling) Chelsea fell into the Jose shape and stayed there.

Meanwhile Van Gaal's back three, four or five (depending on how many fingers you had covering your eyes) resembled a Dad's Army outtake at times, all of 'em darting in opposite directions, none of which was towards the ball. Mourinho missed a trick - there were goals to be had, particularly while Hazard was up against Rafael, a man who defends like a teenager lost in a haunted house with just a dim torch for company.

Mourinho's caution backfired, Fellaini mysteriously found some form and, as ever, United's forward forays showed enough swagger to encourage the Stretford End. Van Persie's goal was celebrated with the sort of clamour you'd expect for a late equaliser at, say, St Andrews. (There'll be one before 2015's out, I tell you). Yes, United get a plucky point. Well done, you scrapping hard-pressed little millionaires!

Although both Jose and Louis indulged in an after-you session when asked who might be the better of the two, I'd have to agree with the Dutchman that Mourinho pips him. The accusation with Mourinho is that he's only ever done it with huge squads on massive budgets. True. But not every one is good at that. Just ask David Moyes.

I'm not saying that Jose's teams spread joy to all and sundry - as Sunday showed he'd rather have a Matic than a Messi - but he knows how to get rich egocentric young men to work together and that takes some doing in this day and age.

Of course even he finds some players 'unmanageable'. Signore Balotelli, for one. Ironically a simple tap-in from three yards is what Mario finds 'unmanageable' at the moment. I feel a bit torn about the bloke. At least he's trying. It's just, well, I'm not sure he's really that much cop. And neither do the Kop.

Yes it's a rum old league at the mo, and with the top twenty in the Championship separated by a distance even shallower than the depth of Peter Schmeichel's analysis (seriously keepers don't really know owt about footy do they?) it's looking like everything's very difficult to predict. Apart from Chelsea winning the Premier League. Tsk.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Moaning Geezers

There's always a tipping point in a Premier League season, where managers under pressure can't be bothered to zip it any longer and out pours the bile in a kaleidoscopic yawn, such as you might see from a Bigg Market reveller on a Friday night .

This weekend is a case in point. They were all at it. Harry Redknapp says he can't play Adel Taarabt cos he's three stone overweight, a fantastic achievement by the lad in four months. The old cockney claims he could get about the park quicker than the Fatman of Fez. Maybe so, but could Richard Dunne outsprint either of them?

Who ate all the couscous?
Clearly Redknapp's demeanour isn't helped by losing a game against a bloody awful Liverpool team. Even Rodgers couldn't hide from the outrageous fortune of two own goals, a quite bewildering array of misses (Leroy Fer's first chance suggests he couldn't hit a Taarabt from five yards) and a lively performance from Sleepy Sterling.

Harry insists he's not under pressure. Er... he is. When you're bottom of the league and your central defenders are running them into your own net from everywhere, you're in deep doo-doo. Word is he would have had Taarabt on the bench, but the subs at the other end of it were terrified of what might happen to them when the Moroccan sat down.

Meanwhile Garry Monk, whose Swansea team started so brightly, is incensed that the lack of a win since August is down to bad refereeing. Also, down to poor finishing, but hey let's not your team's inadequacies get in the way, eh? And it was one bad refereeing decision on Sunday, Garry. Moses went down like a tablet of stone and the ref bought it. The dolt. How could he?

Well, he bought it not just cos of crowd pressure but because Moses decided to try and con him. It's typical of the ridiculous hypocrisy that football perpetuates that a referee can be pilloried while the cheat is almost forgiven as it's 'part of the game'.

Not that Monk's forgiven him. Apparently the Swansea City team ethic is so squeaky-clean that players get bans for doing that sort of thing. We'll see - but it's nice to hear some proper condemnation of the dive.

Meanwhile mealy-mouthed Mark Hughes reckons that Shawcross didn't foul Bony, and that somehow poor Ryan's getting picked on after some intrusive analysis into aspects of the lad's defensive play. In other words, just because Shawcross holds onto attackers like a kid holding on to the handlebars during his first ever bike ride, he shouldn't be penalised.

Well, fact is, Sparky, he should. It doesn't happen, no. But it should. And in this case it did. Definite penalty kick. And Hughes took Shawcross out of man-marking duties after that which probably goes to show that if more refs gave such decisions, wrestlers like Ryan might be relieved of their duties more often.

Meanwhile, look at Arsene Wenger's interview with Jacqui Oatley. This is as close as you can get to watching Wenger call someone a total fucking idiot. Oatley asked searching questions that were effectively asking Le Prof 'Why aren't your team doing very well?' 'My God you still need a holding midfielder and a decent centre-back' and 'Are you saying you couldn't win cos they defended too much?'

Yes, these are the sort of polite and fair questions that are bound to incense a football manager, and Arsene responded by suggesting that the reporter - she - 'wasn't listening very well' and was asking incomprehensible questions. Petty France. Not dignified.

Yes it's a long time since Arsenal won that Community Shield, innit? It's a long time since Swansea were in the top three, And it's a long time since anyone got beat 8-0. (Save the best til last).

Gus Poyet actually mustered a reasonably controlled response to the hammering, given that Sunderland caved in like a bamboo bath chair beneath an elephant's arse. The Uruguayan confessed to utter embarrassment and admitted that there were some players who basically hid behind the furniture for the last twenty minutes.

Vito in happier times
Vito Mannone lived up to his appearance - his performance was as Gru-some as the other Despicable Mes in the team - but at least he's offering the fans their money back for a 700-mile round-trip of abject misery.

And that's the least he could offer, Frankly Southampton couldn't have had more freedom and space had they been offered an afternoon at a cabinet minister's country pile. Koeman sat there like a Dutch Buddha, smirking away and probably feeling none too troubled by the fact that he can no longer call on Lovren, Lambert and Lallana. Indeed why Brendan Rogers persists with Balotelli when honest Rickie sits on the bench in Taarabt-like inactivity is beyond me. People keep telling us how talented the lad is. Irrelevant! He's a lazy little sod. Lazy enough to get into Sunderland's first team.

PS Boro. 3rd. Just saying.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ricketty Rooney

It's hard watching England, almost all the time. But currently we have a new problem. The three lions are going to be up against five sets of donkeys. And given the lions are tired and toothless it's a bit like watching a veterans' match at the Coliseum circa 50 BC.

San Marino turn up first, the punchbags of international football. You'd be better off fielding eleven boxes of tissue paper. It's not their fault. The Most Serene Republic (and during previous clogging sessions against them I've wondered where all that serenity goes) is small and its team has two professionals in it. That, in short, is why they're shit. 5-0 is a pretty pathetic effort, but, you know, it's all about the three points at the end of the day and a clean sheet is always welcome.

(By the way this: 

doesn't make that seem like an achievement. In fact it just shows you how much assistance is required.)

Then came Estonia, one of a pair of utter Baltics that our boys must tackle. A bigger test, we're told. This team had achieved notable results against Holland and Italy in recent years and, well, there's more people live there than in San Marino.

They'll press hard and get two banks of four and it might be tricky. And two of their players are named after legendary circus performers Vunk and Pikk. In the end Estonia were bloody awful. They even helped by losing their best player with forty minutes to go.

And in return England got remorselessly worse and worse. It was a weird feeling watching them - a bit like waking up in a tent and realising that your airbed has got a slow puncture and having to lie there and accept that by the end of the night you're going to feel bloody uncomfortable.

Of course you can't really criticise the defence - except for Calum Chambers who, poor lad, is continuing the England manager's preference for playing centre-halves as right-backs. Jones, Smalling, Stones - they've all had a chacne to prove that they're not as good as Nathaniel Clyne and they've done it.

With any luck Chambers and Stones will form a dependable centre-back partnership in the future but, Jeez, Woy, pick a bloody right-back to play right-back.

I slated Wilshere last game but he looked much perkier last night, although he does have the odd dozy moment. Lallana did little to suggest that Oxlade-Chamberlain or Sterling shouldn't have started in his stead.

Up front we had the Danny Welbeck that can reduce you to ripping up telephone directories with your teeth. Little tippy-tappy balls that even Mr Magoo could see coming. Dispossessed so easily you'd think he was an eel trying to keep hold of a bar of soap. Just a terrifying turn of speed to worry the defence but keep him in front of you and you're laughing.

As for Rooney, well I've said it before but the lad - or dad if you're Jack Wilshere - is simply not all that good a player. Trouble is, we all thought he was when he was 17. It's not turned out that way.

Look he's not bad. That was a decent free-kick, even if the goalie dropped like a felled redwood before fumbling it in. But he missed a hatful and if that was Ronaldo, or Messi, or anyone who is extremely good, he'd be booking himself for serious counselling. Trouble with Wazza is, like Welbeck or even Sturridge, we're not surprised.

We should remember of course that here is a lad who earns sequescadillions of quids a week and is captain of Manchester United and England. And frankly it's debatable whether he should be in either side (bans permitting). There are times when he looks laboured in movement and thought and even the gifted right foot can't stop a football from escaping him like an unreined toddler in a shopping mall.

The trouble is, England still want him as a focal point and he's not up to it. As an out and out forward he's never reached the heights of his teenage years. There are better players in that squad - he knows it - and that's why his confidence is shot.

Still, you can't drop Dad, but you can, apparently, drop the stroppy tired teenager Raheem if he tells you he's like, you know, knackered. He's 19!!! How's he going to feel when he's 49? I've every right to wake up feeling cream-crackered.

Maybe that bouffant Pepe Le Peu job is a lot of weight to carry around? Or maybe he's got a manager urging him to keep his powder dry and that ain't Hodgson. Whatever it is, it's a ludicrous state of affairs and if he keeps belly-aching like that even Nigel Farage might suggest that we don't want to keep Sterling after all.

But any road, people, we've got several more of this grinding bores to get through. They'll tell us absolutely nowt about the team's capacity to progress in the tournament proper. (Mind you Capello's England qualified in rampant fashion, and then slid way like shite on a continental toilet when the real business began, so who knows?)

Suffice to say, it's nice to have some proper footy to watch at the weekend.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


How do. Been a couple of weeks and more and I can only apologise, unless you're among the ones who feel that the break has been quite a relief.

It's probably taken me that long to get over Middlesbrough's penalty shoot-out loss at the home of the honeymoon blues, Merseyside. Some of you might think it's exciting to be involved in such a major piece of football history. Bugger that. We lost. Folks used to say the same about Malcolm Nash (Glamorgan bowler hit for 6 sixes by Gary Sobers). It's the kind of recognition you don't want.

Still Merseyside is an eerily edgy location if you're a football fan right ow. On the one hand, there's Brendan Rogers, a man who looked for all the while like some kind of footballing saviour last season.

There he was galloping off with the Premier League title, a string of English steeds trotting in his wake, a bite-less bandito taking lumps out of the opposition in respectable ways (that was before the Spaghetti Chiellini of course). It was 25 years since Hillsborough too. There was a neatness, a poetry, a romance about the whole thing that most of us thought football had long since lost.

All of us, even me, were swept along in the wake of this inevitable outcome. And then came three goals in fifteen minutes at Selhurst Park and the whole edifice crumbled like so much team spirit in an English cricket team's dressing room.

Now the gaucho is grazing pastures new, and Brendan has armed himself with questionable replacements. Gerrard looks more and more like that other Scouse hero Red Rum. Soon there'll be the Anfield statue to welcome you and the real Gerrard will be moving slightly more slowly during the game.

I'm not having a pop, it's just the old fella's last hurrah isn't far off. Injuries haven't helped and you can tell how worried Rodgers is cos he won't allow Sturridge to have some shooting practice against San Marino - which is a bit like not letting your toddler play on the lawn cos of the sharpness of the blades of grass.

That rallying cry from last season 'We Go Again!'? It's been replaced by a somewhat crestfallen 'Here We Go Again...' Still at least they can beat Boro. After thirty bloody penalties.

Meanwhile the blue half are undergoing a transformation from swaggering speedy top-four fanciers to relegation dog-fighters. Those that worried that Martinez had arrived from a demoted club may about to be vindicated. There is something remarkably Wiganesque about Everton's defending at the moment.

Baines and Jagielka look a little scarred from being, well, a bit shit for England over the summer, and there seems little prospect of it getting better when Roberto is intent on keeping his better players on the pitch for the endless unappetising finger buffet that is the Europa League.

Indeed both clubs have not found the transition from  domestic competition to Europe and back again very easy at all. All right they're doing better than Man Citeh, but the list of crocks grows longer by the week and neither of them look like they have the energy to prosper in the League this season.

The sooner both leave the European adventure behind and get back to having a rest in the week the better.

Of course Chelsea don't seem to be too bothered by such distractions. But then they have a squad that's deeper than a Siberian lake and Mourinho's found a centre-forward. Frankly if they'd have had a number nine last year who could get on the pitch without trying his shoelaces together they'd be champions now.

Diego Costa is the difference, and one wonders how crocked he was for Spain during the World Cup for all the difference he made. Mind you he was feeding off tippy-tappy scraps there, whereas, with Fabregas and Hazard moving the ball much more quickly, here he's got time and space to pick his moment and when the chance arrives he finishes like Danny Welbeck... has done... once. Or maybe twice.

Chelsea look like they could be champs by Christmas, although there's always Man United. They're positively buzzing now they've got away with an offside and their keeper's diverted bullets like Wonderwoman used to.

(And let's pause there and think about Lynda Carter). 

What's certain about United, with Di Maria showboating like he's wandered out of the circus, Rooney hacking away at knees like his kicking the heads of dandelions, and the defenders looking like the're trying to find their way out of a maze, they ain't going to be dull.

And to be fair, entertainment allied to failure is a winning combination in this country. Look at Keegan's Newcastle. Redknapp's Spurs, Rodgers' Liverpool.  Barely won a thing between 'em. And we love 'em. Hell if Van Gaal can keep this up we might even warm to United a little.

And I guess we should spare a little thought here for Kevin Pietersen, a man who still clearly has no idea how he comes across. Here's a clue KP - when someone so ridiculously blessed with talent becomes dispensable, it's cos you're one heck of a knob. The fact that there are other pillocks in that dressing-room who aren't much better doesn't in any way validate your point-of-view.

By the way, Middlesbrough are a point off top-spot. Just saying.