Thursday, 24 December 2015

Ho ho ho! It's Robbo's Christmas Presents!

Happy Christmas Christians! And to the other 67%of the UK population - and the rest of the world - I hope you're busy being merry in the best way you know how.

Traditionally I like to play Santa at this time of year, bestowing my largesse on the great and good and piss-poor of our sporting world. So here's your pressies, people.

To Sepp Blatter: a mirror. Take a long hard look in it. You feel 'sorry for football'? The one you've left behind is like a deflated flaking casey that's been kicked through playing fields strewn with dog shit. And you Platini. Don't think memories of your twinkle-toed derring-do is going to get you forgiveness. 

To Jose Mourinho: one of those NHS posters warning you not to abuse the staff in the hospital. With Dr Caneiro's face on it. And a few brochures for property in the Cheshire area, just in case. 

To David Moyes; a lovely Titleist three-wood - it's the only new club he's going to get for a while. 

To John Terry - a mobility scooter - it'll make him quicker off the mark and it's got a tighter turning circle than he has. 

To Jesus Navas - some hypnotherapy to help him over come his fear of open spaces. Just cos your name's Jesus doesn't need to mean you can't put over a good cross. 

To Leicester City - sleeping tablets, so you can keep on dreaming. I was quite excited when it looked like Liverpool might bag a Premier League a while back. If Leicester win it I might have to have a bonfire in the back garden and throw every piece of cynicism I have on to it. 

To Guus Hiddink - a rear-view mirror (always assuming he can't have surgery to insert eyes in the back of his head.) Chelsea can still win stuff when the manager does what he's told - Avram, Di Matteo, etc. But if you're thinking of laying down the law, well, let's just say there's thirty pieces of silver under every coat-peg in that dressing-room. 

To Wayne Rooney - a trichology operation to undo the criminal acts done to his scalp. He's a kind of reverse Samson, Wazza. Ever since he had that hair put in he's lost all of his power. 

To Louis Van Gaal - a big thank you for his defiance in the face of the media scrum. It may sound a tad hypocritical but me I just make jokes at the expense of these extremely well-paid dictators. The proper press, as LVG more or less said, get to almost sack someone themselves if they really put their minds to it. Louis, now you know how Jeremy Corbyn feels. 

To Daniel Sturridge, Sergio Aguero, Andy Carroll - a special gentleman's remedy to make you relax a little more. A kind of anti-Viagra which might stop you being pulled off early so often.

To Roy Hodgson - Stuart Lancaster's phone number. They can have a good chat about how to play Wales and Woy can do the bleedin' opposite. 

To Remi Garde - a new Villa, preferably one on the Algarve fecking miles away from Birmingham.

To Tyson Fury - a kettle, a teabag and an instruction manual, so he can get his poor Mrs sorted on Christmas morning. 

To Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy - a pair of headphones each with some happy-clappy music playing, and a block on the phone numbers of their respective agents. Yes, a footballer's career is short, the time to cash in on your success is even shorter (particularly in Vardy's case) but withering on a bench somewhere amongst the rich kids is no way to further a career. Stay put. There's plenty of time to review options in the summer.

To Lord Coe - a Teflon suit, probably the one Blatter wore for twenty years. There's going to be some shit flying around and it's only a matter of time before some sticks to you. 

To Chris Froome - a few buckets of faeces at the ready for the Tour de France. They throw piss, you throw poo. It's the only way to answer these critics. 

To Andy Murray - well he's something of a gift to the rest of us if I'm honest. If the Scots get independence we'd lose two things of major importance: North Sea Oil and Andy Murray. The rest, you can keep. But any road I'd buy Muzza a GB team shirt so he can delude himself into thinking he's still playing Davis Cup when he hits the inevitable Federer semi* and Djokovic final.

To Gary Neville - a foreign language dictionary. Not English-Spanish by the way - I'm sure he'll catch on to that soon enough - but an English-PhilNeville dictiionary. Much of what Phil says gets lost in translation and given it's the younger brother who talks to the players at Valencia I'm wondering how the hell Gary can possibly survive. It might well be, as Phil might put it 'a bit of a baptismal of flame in that sense'.

To the drug testers in Rio 2016: patience, and more patience. Analyse every last drop of that urine as if you;re life depended on it. In fact if the competitor is running beyond 800 metres and is Russian, stand on her bladder until every last trickle has been eased into the pot. And best of luck.

To the international footballers of Scotland - some very comfy cushions for the summer time. Enjoy your rest. Just imagine how much fitter you're going to feel in August without a busy summer of action knackering you out.

To all the readers of this sometimes sporadic blog - have a great Christmas, and may the roll of the ball and the blow of the whistle always favour you.

May the dive not deceive you, the shoot-out not shaft you, the vagaries of fortune take you to the very brink of success.

And may Leicester City, in an act reminiscent of Usain Bolt's unmanning of Justin Gatlin, lift the title and make the country believe in the beautiful game all over again.

And failing that, may Boro keep tonking promotion rivals 3-0 cos I'm not up for any more of that May Day play-off tosh.

Happy Christmas!

[*You're right - the phrase 'hitting a Federer semi' doesn't have a good ring to it.]

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Just say MO to Fury

Well it's nearly Christmas time and that must mean one thing: it's time for the old 'Sports Personality! That's a contradiction in terms!' joke. Done.

Except this year there's one candidate who, for reasons best known to himself, is very much a 'personality'. Chris Froome. I jest. Chris Froome looks like a face found on a EU-banned potato, but has less charisma. I meant, of course, Max Whitlock. He's a gymnast, but not the one who did the dancing competition on the telly. I'm sure he's got a terrific personality but I wouldn't know as I'm still not quite sure who he is. 

No the real lively folk are Lucy Bronze and Lizzie Armitstead. Lucy was like a left-back who scored a top-notch goal and then that other lass scored that quirky own-goal and English football confirmed what it always knew about itself - heroic, noble, unsuccessful.

Lizzie is good at riding a bike. And is full of personality. Then there's Greg and Mo and Jess, the 2012 triptych revisited. All lovely. The real problem is the big beardie boxer bloke with the preposterous name. Tyson Fury. A colourful character, isn't he? He could have his own comic strip, couldn't he?

And as with many men who have built a career on punching people in the face, a man who rarely engages his brain before he speaks. Which is not to say he doesn't think before he fists someone's nose. Indeed the way he masterminded the defeat of the untopplable Klitschko was impressive stuff. But this isn't about whether he's got ringcraft. It's whether a homophobe and misogynist should be on the list in the first place.

Now this is a tricky one. First of all, he does talk bollocks. That is without question. His mouth opens and it's like a bin being emptied into a dustcart. My biggest hope is that Klitschko wins the rematch by a knock-out, announces he's gay and then snarls at Fury's stricken body "The best place for an intolerant bastard is on his back."

Of course, since the issue has caused much fence-sitting at the BBC and condemnation from right-minded folk everywhere, Tyson has sought to clarify his remarks about womankind and the oft-noted link between Satanism and homosexuality. His first attempt was:"Tyson Fury loves everyone, Tyson Fury doesn't hate anyone". And Robbo Robson hates anyone who uses the third person when talking about themselves.

The second effort saw an eerie glint come across his eyes as he sought to enlighten folks as to the attractions of Jesus Christ. Now I'm no expert but I don't remember the parts of the New Testament where Jesus says "Shalt it not be okay to twatteth another in the mush for money?" Or the part where Christ beseeches Mary Magdalene to leave his feet alone get on her back but not before the slapper's made a decent brew.

Of course there is that bit when poor Jesus is in the wilderness and the Devil appears unto him and tempts him into sinfulness by introducing him to a lithe and well-toned Nubian homosexual named Maurice.

But I digress. The question is: Should Tyson Fury be on the list? And the answer to that is 'yes'. Should he be allowed to say stupid things? Yes. It's called Freedom Of Speech. People have fought very hard over the years to be permitted to say what they like; many of those striving for such opportunities have been and still are gay and/or female.

We should not tolerate his bilious garbage, we should challenge it, preferably during SPOTY. I'd love to see Clare Balding having a right old pop at him. "Sorry for being here Tyson, but I've been resting up for this conversation - on my back - while Satan cooed sweet nothings in my ear."

Ban him and he just dribbles off back under that bridge and where them stupid goats trip-trap over the river. And spout even more cack whenever he is moved to speak publicly.

My SPOTY would be Mo Farah. Unless the Salazar allegations get in the way, he's a shoo-in. My overseas personality of the year would be Louis Van Gaal. Now there's a bloke with charisma, personality and a great sense of humour. This week he surpassed himself with:

"We are better than last year."

Well maybe, but that's like saying a firm turd is better than a runny one. It's still, at the end of the day, shit. Now obviously being 4th and getting beaten by the might Boro in the League Cup is no great shame, unless it's cost you a quarter of a billion quid to get there. LVG resembles one of them dopey toffs on Grand Designs who has to dolefully admit that everything is costing way more than he ever thought possible, and that's just for the foundations.

He added: 'It was a tough group."

Really? PSV, Wolfsburg, CSKA. Well now you mention there's an almost overwhelming European pedigree amongst that lot isn't there? Every one of them awash with modern greats of the game like the Polish winger Ooji-watzhit and the Ghanaian wonderboy Thimgummi. I mean, puh-lease, Louise. That's a cushy first six games, mate.

And if it was a tricky group and they are a bit better than they were, Manchester United are certainly, more than anything else, as dull as this font. I've been more entertained by the movement of the hour hand on the town clock in Yarm. 

There are mutterings that Van Gaal might be coaxed towards the exit door while Carlo Ancelotti does his regular successful two-year stint and gets ditched with his dignity intact. What's for certain is that United need to get a bit more bloody lively. Failure's bad enough. Turgid failure's unforgiveable. 

Arsenal's failure didn't come to pass, of course. In fact underneath all that po-faced sobriety Arsene had just a twinkle of smugness. And Giroud, a man maligned for appearing to be Bendtner Mk II when he's far from it, took his chances well. 

Pellegrini had a smile on his face too, which is hard to tae when normally, even in victory, the bloke looks like he's just witnessed a fatal car-crash. And Mourinho was all humility and diffidence. Yeah, whatever. I'm sure there's some myopic match officials just waiting to undermine him on Monday night. 

Citeh and Arsenal should still be smiling by then. Villa can't possibly stop a team so burgeoning with confidence and Swansea, without a manager, could have an easier away-day than the Etihad. 

By then we should also have learnt that either Mo Farah has won SPOTY or an entire fraternity of British sportsmen are wandering around the streets of Belfast urging women to take Jesus into their hearts and fall on their backs with. 

Just say MO, people. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Vive La France, Vive Jonah

There's no such thing as a friendly international. It used to be the case. Nowadays they are always 'feeling out' exercises that by and large leave England supporters disarmed by futile optimism. Tuesday night at Wembley had none of that, unless you actually look at England's performance.

Two neat goals. A young side with a bit of pep about it. Dele Alli looking less of a whim and more of a winner. That was an irrelevance. The main thing was that the game was being played at all.

First of all, it's hard to imagine respect and empathy better demonstrated by a sporting crowd than the pre-match proceedings at Wembley. It was solemn, hugely dignified (not least by the French players who, reluctantly in some cases I'm sure, put on their kits and put in a shift in the most onerous of circumstances); it was not indulgent, there was a footy match to be played after all, but neither was it without passion - I belted out the Marseillaise myself from the comfort of a pub stool and I wasn't alone.

But Christ Almighty, Allah Be Praised and Atheists Shrug In Disbelief, it has been a shitty old week. Let's make that clear. So don't expect too much of the funny here.

I have always had a problem with people who say that sport and politics shouldn't mix. Well, especially in matters of international sport, they always bloody well do. Occasionally this brings out the worst in us and Sun headline writers, but often it brings out the best.

Anyone who thinks that Nelson Mandela handing Francois Pienaar the Rugby World Cup trophy in 1995 wasn't of huge political significance is an idiot. Or two black men clenching their fists on a podium, supported by a white man who only recently has had his bravery acknowledged - Or the treatment of Basil D'Oliveira by the MCC.

Yes, it's a shame when the Olympic Games becomes a political football. (Sepp Blatter could make a fortune out of Political Football couldn't he? Hey, but let's not have a pop at the poor man, he's had a minor nervous breakdown and it's hard to sleep with all those rogue payments crumpling up your mattress.) But sport is political.

So similarly, but more solemnly, this harmless international fixture became a bold and emotional statement about what unites people, rather than what divides them. The tricolour on the Wembley Arch spoke volumes, as did the minute's silence while rivals came together around the centre circle.

That's what sport does - unifies, rather than separates. It's why it's so bloody infuriating that the men running it are so waist-deep in the sewage of their own corruption, and utterly unconnected from the passions of those that watch and practise it (except, possibly, in a ruthless exploitative way). If the likes of Platini and Beckenbauer, men upraised by the splendour of football and their place in it, have seen fit to grub around like hyenas in a carcass for the last five or so years I think we might as well all give up.

France of course weren't exactly at the top of their game. Conclusions need not be drawn form the result. But, what with more horrendous news from Mali today, these gatherings take on huge significance. There have been many more courageous acts in the last seven days, but nevertheless those French workers simply going back to work was impressive. Football has never seemed so important to the lives of decent citizens.

There have been other less momentous stories from the week's sport but one that should and has been properly marked is the very early death of Jonah Lomu. Me, I didn't care too much for rugby union. Not in England anyway. It was and still is the province of the posh lad at play. Its rules are murky, its occasional glimpses of wonder soon disintegrate under a pile of heaving steaming flesh, like a darting kingfisher suddenly crushed beneath collapsing cattle.

I couldn't help identifying more with the Wales team, peopled as it was by working men from grittty backgrounds. Plus they were way better than the lilywhite Englanders. But there weren't too many charismatic blokes around - Serge Blanco maybe.

Lomu blew a hole in all that partisanship. Here was a bloke who rewrote the rules. Your wingers were whip thin and swift, shimmiers and sidesteppers. Forwards were massive and slow. If your backs were fast-running streams your front five were glaciers, hard to stop but easy to catch up with..

Step forward Jonah, a wardrobe fixed with an outboard motor. Fast enough to go round you, big enough to go over you, strong enough to simply straight-arm you into the stand. And a lovely bloke. It's hard to remember quite how unbelievable he was until you look back at the clips of Lomu at the World Cup.

Occasionally there are sportsmen and women who outgrow the narrow boundaries of their sport for reasons of brilliance and sometimes outspokenness too - Muhammad Ali springs immediately to mind - or simply a certain unique genius that reinvents the sport they play. I'd suggest here is where Lomu sits, alongside current giants Federer, LeBron James, Messi, and of course Stewart Downing.

The idea that this behemoth could have been brought down so soon by an ailment he struggled with all his life makes me feel a little bit humbler. Lomu wasn't one to complain. We should celebrate him, too.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Spurs On The Up!

Confession time. This might come as something of a shock to many of few. It certainly shocks me. Here it is: I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Tottenham Hotspur. What, the laughably unsuccessful neighbour of the not quite so laughingly unsuccessful Gunners? (Okay, 2 FA Cups makes that very hollow.) Yes. Them. What the hell has North London got to do with a boy raised on steel and smog?

Well let me put this in context. First of all there was a brief time in the very early 70’s when Spurs were the last team to win the Double. Arsenal did it too in ’71 when Charlie George belted in an extra time screamer at Wembley but at the time the Double was a rare beast indeed, like an albatross in golf, or a decent cross from Shaun Wright-Phillips.
That 1961 double-winning team was captained by Danny Blanchflower, a man who turned down Eamonn Andrews on This Is Your Life. A hero of our age in other words. In the 70’s they won nowt as far as I can remember but David Coleman used to love shouting ‘Chivers… 1-0!’ on Match of the Day and they had a bit of that swagger about them.
A few years later and they were parading two members of the victorious Argentine World Cup winning squad. Osvaldo Ardiles was one of them. God it was exotic! Like opening your curtains and finding a flamingo trotting about in your water feature (I don’t have a water feature by the way but I hear North London is full of them). Bobby Robson managed a similar trick at Ipswich with the majestically spindly Dutch duo of Muhren and Thijssen. Ardiles spent that World Cup dancing about the Argie midfield as if he held the ball on a gossamer thread attached to his big toe.
Joining him at Spurs was a suspiciously elegant genius called Glenn Hoddle – one of those too talented Englishmen who, far from being celebrated for the nigh-on supernatural capabilities of his feet, was merely decried for not tracking back enough. (“So what if he can hit a seventy-yard pass onto Tony Galvin’s instep, can he outmuscle Claudio Gentile? Nah, I thought not. Poof!”)
With Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks forming a surprisingly sharp spearhead – Crooksy looks and sounds a lot blunter these days – this was the team to watch. It lacked pragmatism but more than made up for that with good old-fashioned flair. In essence they were a Cup team – which is football-speak for ’11 Fancy Dans who don’t like it much when it gets cold’.
From amongst the swirls of and spumes of Teesside, this seemed like glamour writ large. There they were in their spotless white shirts (apart from Steve Perryman who was the only bloke who liked a tackle in the whole team), the cockerel crowing cockily on their breasts, a bunch of lads playing continental footy the like of which we’d not really seen before. This was pre-Wenger, pre-Juninho… Spurs have always been a little bit bling, what with your Gazzas and Waddles and Ginolas.
There’s been some lowly and frequent hiatuses – Christian Gross wasn’t a name that promised much, indeed it sounds more like a couple of adjectives you might use when describing the American Republican Party, and Juande Ramos proved a Juan-day wonder, picking up a cup and then leaving Tottenham rock-bottom.
It’s hard to believe that Daniel Levy has been a wholly beneficial force at the club. His policy of managerial appointments has too often resembled Graham Norton’s red chair. But the current occupant of the hot seat (and if his seat’s hot then the one at Leeds United must be a bloody inferno)  Mauricio Pocchetino may just be lugging the club beyond its traditional position as Not Quite As Good As It Thinks It is.

Obviously Spurs were once just a botulism-infested lasagne away from Champions League glory – well, qualification anyway – and this may be the year they get there. Chelsea’s continued difficulties offer the opportunity to someone to get a top four spot. 

Of course, Chelsea are helped in their cause when the opposition centre-half stinks. I believe Diego Costa. He didn’t spend nearly enough time in the opposition penalty area cos old Stinky Shawcross was there. And NOT because Chelsea can’t create anything much at the mo unless it’s a fluky own goal or a Willian free-kick. Seriously though, anyone who’s worn a football shirt for more than ten minutes knows they bloody stink of their own accord. At least that’s my excuse.

So can Spurs clamber higher? Well possibly. Citeh should really win it at a canter but much depends on the tweaks and twinges of Aguero who seems to pull up more often than a medieval drawbridge. Arsenal have their injury concerns too. If you’re English and wearing a first team Gunners’ kit the stretcher-bearers are virtually following you round the pitch.
Leicester can’t possibly keep this up. Yes, I know it’d be nice. But it won’t happen. And Man U – well as a spectacle right now it’s like Crossroads - unwatchable and yet somehow always on. Spurs just need Kane to keep firing, Son to get fit again and Eriksson to maintain some brilliance for more than the odd half-hour and there’s a real chance for them.

So there… with the dizzying dribbling of Ossie and Ginola addling my nostalgia-ridden brain I’m going to say it. Spurs will do it this season. They’ll win the title…
…. of runners-up to Man City.


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Hardy Vardy*

All strikers get on a roll. Even Darren Bent. Hell even Paul Mariner, a man who looked like a featherless goose and often played like one, managed a fine run of goalscoring for England once. Last night Wayne Rooney got on the scoresheet for Manchester United and equalled Denis Law's total for the club. Despite the fact that Wazza increasingly looks like a concrete-booted version of his teenage self, we might have to start acknowledging that his record speaks for itself.

But Jamie Vardy is a case apart. I think we've all played against a Vardy. This lad stalks across your ploughed field of a school pitch. Not a scrap of fat on him, possibly whiffs of the Silk Cut he just toked behind the hedge, and he's already spouting off about how these are nowt much to look at.

The whistle blows and he's off like a ferret, scooting over the furrows, elbows and knees in a geometric blur. He's nagging the back four, leaving his foot in, a one-man bundle of thorns. He's backing his blade-edged bones into the centre-halves, spinning and leaving their galumphing strides in his wake like a streamlined trout swimming through the legs of a twenty-stone fly-fisherman,

But obviously the lad's in the side for his pace, his nuisance value, his chippiness. He's Robbie Savage with a sensible haircut and a turn of speed. And you might have thought that except he's just waltzed round the keeper and slid in his third goal of the morning, having dinked him earlier and scuffed in a side-footer before that.

If this sort of lad gets anywhere in modern football then by the time he's nineteen someone's come along and knocked the edges off him, buffed him up, and made him fit for purpose. That is unless he falls through the cracks and ends up plying his humble trade in non-league footy. Then somehow the rougher, ruder parts stay unrefined.

Of course, Vardy's passage through non-league somewhat mirrors his staunchest advocate Ian Wright. Wrighty, currently hoping a pair of outsized Harry Potter specs might encourage you to believe that his enthusiastic burblings are laced with wisdom, sees a kindred spirit in Vardy. And to be fair Wrighty knows.

There's a bit of the attack dog in both, a relentlessness to their pursuit of vulnerable old centre-halves. Neither seem to know when to stop running. Both seem to be driven by the injustice of a premature dismissal from the realms of professional football.

Vardy hopped around from Halifax to Fleetwood, scoring goals for fun it seemed, until Leicester scooped him up for a record non-league fee. Wright schlepped around with Greenwich Borough and had a fortnight in jug before a Palace scout sought him out.

Wright thinks Vardy should be in the England squad permanently, which is difficult for some of us to contemplate. Theoretically there are riches available to Hodgson upfront - Kane, Sturridge, Sterling, Welbeck, Walcott - all of them swaggering away with proper elite football teams that get to play big matches all the time...

Except (1) half of them are injured almost perpetually and (2) what does Jamie lack in comparison? And (3) no I didn't mention Rooney and maybe that's cos he's not worth mentioning right now. Indeed Rooney is barely a year older than Vardy and yet the Leicester forward possesses much of what the England captain appears to have lost in the last couple of years: pace, passion, stamina, desire...

A bit ago I posted a blog with my England squad on it. Vardy was conspicuously absent. And I suppose it depends, such is the fickle way with us footy fans, and I don't mean this tantrically, on how long he can keep it up. And how he gets on when he's up against the likes of France and Germany.

And whether he can keep his gob shut in a casino of a Saturday night. At least he's apologised though eh? Unlike, say, former England captains who are struggling at club level at the moment and won't take advice from Welsh pundits.

So yes, Vardy on the bench at the very least. And give him a run-out down the middle rather that stalking the flanks. Let's see whether the flinty Yorkie has what it takes. And if he fails, he'll keep on bloody well trying anyway.

*Out of respect for the dignity of his personal conduct this season, this blog contains no reference to the manager and arch apologist of Chelsea Football Club, Jose Mourinho. And if you're disappointed with that, don't blame me. Blame everyone - fuck it - anyone else.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Go 'WayJose!

Finding out that Aston Villa had fired Tim Sherwood was about as surprising as an England batting collapse. Villa have been unable to construct anything resembling a team plan since they lost the one-man wrecking-ball Benteke over the summer. (It says a lot about the state of Liverpool that they haven't worked out how to incorporate the big Belgians into a decent frontline - yet another example of Liverpool just buying anyone.)

Sherwood is one of those use chest-out, glass half-full, heart-on-sleeve characters that you wish the best for, in the full knowledge that a whole heap of shit's just waiting to engulf him. Villa will be shaking hands with their latest plastic Messiah very soon. David Moyes is the favourite - clearly on the understanding that his career is bouncing along the bottom and can only go in one direction. (As opposed to One Direction who are now officially going in Five Directions.)

It's about time Villa started sorting out their mess in a less inhospitable environment - League One might be a good place to begin. Not that even these perennial lightweights have anything like the number of potential shitstorms buzzing around as the lovely potboiler at the Bridge. 

Once upon a time back in the nineteenth century queues of people used to mass on the dockside awaiting the arrival of the latest instalment of a Charles Dickens' novel. Journalists are doing the same in West London right now, in moist anticipation of Mourinho's latest improbably wobbly chapter.
Remember the sweet perfume that wafted the air as he returned back to the Bridge? The Happy One, dimples twinkling, teeth a-dazzle, a charm offensive and a half? Now what? Well it's offensive still but that's about it.

The FA have his number on speed-dial, he pillories doctors, he shoves stalking teenagers (good for him), and at the moment he goes from touchline to terrace to potential stadium ban... The direction of travel suggests that he's getting further and further away from football itself. This time next week he could be sunning himself in the destination of his choice.

Of course when you get £30 million for getting sacked, that destination might even be Mars. It's marvellous how much failure can earn you these days, whether you're head of a major financial organisation or a football manager. Of course plutocrats like Roman want their guarantees and even the most successful gaffers can't offer you that. It's an investment and trophies can go up as well as down. Unless you're chucking money at a fawning tinpot Government who desperately want your dubiously acquired own to fund, say, a nuclear power station. Or build a hospital. In that case Success Is Guaranteed! British Infrastructure - The Gift That Keeps On Giving! 

But Mourinho's main problem is that his team is just bloody awful at the moment. He can bewail blatant penalties, witless refereeing, unnecessary persecution, but it's all tosh. Matic got himself sent off for two acts of stupidity. I'd hate to sit next to him on a train cos clearly he can't keep his hands to himself. And Chelsea were done by a top header from Andy Carroll, a bloke I'd still like to get in the England squad cos if he's fit and firing he'd terrify you. 

Of course the likes of Slaven Bilic can purr through their postmatch interviews about how they beat the Champions, but it's not all it sounds this season is it, less overcoming Avengers Assembled and more evading the Keystone Cops. Reduced to kicking opponents and railing at refs the whole edifice is crumbling like a slice of cork bread. 

Others wait to return. Ancelotti and Hiddink could pop back for a few months - hell Abramovic might as well just rotate between these three - throw Rafa in and he'll have a lot of eye-wateringly expensive contracts to pay off in the next decade. There are mutterings about Guardiola, but last time everyone wanted him he chose that oasis of calm at Bayern.

Whoever takes on the task may need to note the impact Klopp has had at Liverpool. That is, none. Time will tell but the supposed 'bounce' hasn't happened. Brendan had already mastered the frustrating 1-1. It's time though. Managers need time. And it's as scarce as accurate emissions tests on diesel cars. Or unbribed FIFA employees. Or peers of the realm who do what they're told. Bless em.

Things have come to a pretty pass when it's the unelected politicians saving you from the elected ones.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

England Expects (Very Little)

10 out of 10. England completed the job in Vilnius on Monday night with a comfortable win against a bunch of Nordic looking types who you've never heard of. It might well be that the Lithuanians weren't entirely au fait with the England team either. Danny who? Delli what?

Jamie Carragher says it's never been easier to get in the England team. He's right. Hodgson says 'It's not a situation where, the moment you kick the ball correctly from A to B, you'll get in the England team', True enough. Phil Jones can't even do that.

Incidentally how long will it be before we stop giving Jones the benefit of the doubt cos of his injuries and the fact that he hasn't nailed down his position and start accepting that he's a bit shit? Sometimes versatility simply means not much good anywhere.

But Carragher's point still holds. 32% of first choice players in the Premier League are English. If you get that far you're almost bound to get a kick in an England shirt. Witness Delli Alli. The lad looks elegant enough on the ball and is what we used to call 'one for the future'. But the future arrives much more quickly these days.

Now I'm not having an unnecessary pop at Woy. There are good reasons to blood youngsters as soon as possible and in this regard he's done well. But thirty-odd (occasionally very odd) players in this qualification and that's hardly indicative of a coherent long-term strategy. Indeed it's very reminiscent of Stuart Lancaster's build-up to the recent calamity in Toff Sport.

If you were looking at a 23 for next summer there are a few defenders I'd rule out instantly: Jones (he'll be injured anyway), Shaw (he is injured), Gibbs (he might as well be injured), Walker (I lost a stone in sweat every time he had the ball).

And I don't see the likes of Lambert, Ings or Vardy - that speeding skeleton of flinty knees and elbows - being there in France either. Other than Rooney up top somewhere - you'd prefer Kane but that ain't going to happen - and Hart in goal it's still all up for grabs.

All of which tells you that we don't have that great a squad when all's said and done. If you think a 100% record in our group is tantamount to putting us on the brink of major tournament glory then you're blinking potty. As preparation it's no better than a brave knight getting ready for the task of dragon-slaying by cuffing kittens with a peacock's feather.

Me I'd be pushing for the inventive Barkley to be starting - yes he's creative when it comes to losing the ball too but hey-ho we'll just slaughter him when does it at a really bad time. And isn't it great to have a lad who doesn't just use one foot for balance?

My first team'd look summat like this:

Hart, Clyne, Stones, Smalling, Shaw (Bertrand), Wilshere, Henderson, Barkley, Sterling, Rooney, Sturridge.

The squad: Butland, Forster, Chambers, Cahill, Jagielka, Bertrand (Baines), Carrick, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Welbeck, Kane. And Milner. Good old James. As English as a faltering Cup campaign.

Wilshere if he's fit should play. Which is as reliable as selecting a narcoleptic on the off-chance he's awake. And Sturridge too, if he's well. Which is as reliable as selecting Sepp Blatter to carry out a financial review - something I think he was until very recently pushing himself forward for.

I suppose I should have something to add to the troubles at FIFA. But the fact that they are all (seemingly) such terrible crooks that yet another (alleged) crook is in temporary charge means that it's all utterly laughable. These men have been on the make for decades? Really? It's like when that Sam Smith - the lad that sings like a ball of phlegm is stuck under his palette - told us he was gay. We all just raised an eyebrow, put a camp hand to our chest and murmured 'No!'

But the Euros have thrown up some heart-warming tales: Van Persie's divine own goal depriving the Dutch; Iceland's greatest success since Bjork; and of course Wales and Norn Ireland. And Scotland - don't forget Scotland - oh yes do forget them, of course. Ahem.

Now I'm not playing down the success of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom but - of course we all qualified! There's 24 teams in this monster tournament next summer! There were eight more places up for grabs and we bagged 'em. If it was only 16, Wales would be scrapping it out with somewhere scary like Albania.

(I'm sure if UEFA have their way, there'll be Europa League for them that finish fourth, fifth and sixth in each group which will last nine months and take in every Godforsaken square inch of the continent before arriving for a Kiev kickabout in the middle of August.)

Here's the thing, though. If Wales keep their best players fit they're going to do better than England in France. Now that might not mean they get through the group stage either but they'll make a better fist of not doing so.

If that seems a little pessimistic on England's chances, trust me. We've been there. We've done that. We've burnt the t-shirts.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Rodgers And Out

Not very long ago, Brendan Rodgers was the best young manager in the country. I know - he was even better than David Moyes. He led a side full of vim and vigour - a veritably Keeganesque mixture of attacking wizardry and defensive stupidity, with a little splash of King Kev's heroic failure to top it off.

That Liverpool team had a hellluva lot to recommend it. Gerrard was magnificently resisting the status of grizzled veteran, a kind of Scouse Pirlo, Sturridge was a stiletto blade of a striker, Sterling buzzed round in his Little Richard bouffant, hell even Jordan Henderson started to resemble a footballer. And the real bite was provided by a wantaway front man who transformed himself from villain to hero in nine short months.

Suarez left, Sturridge limped, Sterling mooched, Gerrard moped, and each has been replaced by... by a lamentably poor clutch of misfits. Even then, Koppites witnessed two Cup semifinals, but for a club who can justifiably wallow in past success, this is small beer. In fact it's not even beer - it's flat Lambrusco.

Rodgers' days have been numbered for some time now. And yet he has done his best to carry that large head around on that tiny body with the same confidence he had when Suarez was doing things Derren Brown could only dream of.

Even in the aftermath of another formless and nondescript performance, Rodgers would insist he can't criticise his players who had given everything. Brendan seemed not to realise that Everything = Nowhere Near Enough.

His main crime - and here the blame can be fairly shared around - has been the squandering of huge sums of money received from the sale of Suarez and Sterling. It's a struggle to think of anyone Bren's bought who could be considered even a qualified success.

Top of the list of misfits was Balotelli, a sort of kryptonite to the supermen of Rodgers's 2014 vintage. Ballotelli makes the original Maverick look positively conservative. Why Liverpool thought they could tame this fruit-loop is beyond, well, everyone.

Added to that, Rodgers seemed incapable of looking beyond Southampton and ripped the heart out of the Saints. Unfortunately, by the time it reached Anfield that heart was suffering from serious arrhythmia. Dejan Lovren transformed from defensive rock to powdery chalk, Adam Lallana went from nimble and inventive to nonplussed and defective, and Ricky Lambert... well at least he got to spend a bit of time back home, la'.

Recently Firmino and Benteke have turned up, neither of whom seemingly aware of why or how that happened. You can't help feeling Liverpool's transfer policy, conducted as it is by a 'transfer committee', is a total dog's dinner. It's not so much a constructive way to unearth real potential and talent as a kind of Merseyside X-Factor audition all of its own, with Ian Ayre playing Simon Cowell and whoever the can-carrying numpty who gets the manager's job playing Louis Walsh.

Jurgen Klopp is the new man, it seems. Here's a bloke who cuts the right sort of dash. He's got specs and he speaks a few languages which makes him smarter than your average gaffer. Dortmund were a fine outfit under his tutelage. And, as Arsene is Arsenal so Klopp could be to the Kop.

But the first thing he has to do, surely, is be allowed to select transfer targets and pick players who he sees might fit into a structure of his choosing. Otherwise, in three years' time we'll be looking at another £292 million that's gone to waste after the likes of Coutinho have been flogged to La Liga for the price of five no-marks.

But Rodgers, decent fella though he is, had to go.

Meanwhile, in other sports, the nation (that's England) is slowly edging out from behind the sofa, faces as white as the team shirts, as the Stuart Lancaster's men go into hiding. It was not pretty, that mauling at the hands of the Wallabies. (And that's just rubbing it in, too, isn't it? Australia is full of the animal kingdom's most poisonous bastards and yet we get beat by a pack of iddy-biddy kangaroos).

Two things about this:

one, England haven't been much cop for a few seasons now - even in terms of the Six Nations they've not been great and they were never going to win the whole thing;

two, home advantage is supposed to count for summat so how come England ended up in a group with Wales, Australia and Fiji? Look at the other frigging groups! I mean New Zealand have barely had to break sweat, South Africa can afford a humiliating defeat and still get Scotland as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Why couldn't they have recruited Sepp Blatter to do the draw? Warm those balls and the hosts don't suffer. Everyone knows that!

Of course Lancaster has to walk. He picked a brilliant League player in Burgess but had no idea where he should be played at Union. He deselected the stand-off Ford for the Wales game when England's whole attacking platform for eighteen months had been built around him. And even though there are many, many more people in England playing the game than anywhere else in the world, England still manage to resemble a bunch of lumbering cybermen who've run on to the pitch through a line of hospital bed-linen and can't quite get the sheets off their faces. Dire, it was.

And as with Liverpool, that's no going to change soon, but with a different bloke in charge, at least there's a chance it might.

In the meantime, let's support someone else. I'm backing Ireland. Life's more fun that way.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Costa Crime

For just once, I'd like to write about something other than Chelsea. I'd like it to be about pig's head and posh knobs. But this is a sports blog. And there are no jokes left on the subject of pulled pork.

So I'll keep this brief. Diego Costa is dickhead. There. Done.

Dammit, there is more to say. I'm with Keown on this... and every time I see his ghoulish face, the eyes hidden beneath a brow that protrudes like the lip of some forbidding cliff, I think I'd never dare to disagree with Martin ... but it's the trying-to-get-others-in-trouble shit that really gets under your skin.

We've all been on school pitches or playgrounds when some infuriating twot bleats out "Sir, sir! Robson trod on my foot, sir!" (All right, pedants, your name might not be Robson, but you get my point.) And it'll be the same twot who's been wittering in your ear all morning about the dubious provenance of your family or the sexual orientation of your father. Costa is that. A friendless nark. A tick but with less of a moral compass.

There's another thing that irritates me too - the fact that pundits like to praise him as a player. As if we can somehow separate footballing ability from his propensity to dump fellow pros in it whenever he can. That 'orrible wiggle of the imaginary card at the referee... it makes me want to crush that hand in a vice.

If it were me - and let's hope one day that it is - I would be tying the snub-nosed conman to a chair and slapping him around the face with damp trout until he promises never to do it again. I'm sure there are some muppets around the football world who'll tell you that he'd be half the player without that bit of the devil in him. Good. Let's keep the good half and lob the rest of him into a wheelie bin.

Only his manager, of course, the overseer of all things and an apostle of the Law that states that We Win First and debate later, he, Mourinho, thinks the Brazilian-Spaniard bruiser was the man of the match. Yes. Pretty soon there'll be a category on your Premier League Top Trumps that says 'Nuisance Value'. 

Even teammate Kurt Zouma suggested Costa 'likes to cheat a lot'. Kurt has since put it down to English not being his first language. But I'd just like to reassure the lad that he's using it with great precision at the moment.

It may be the beautiful game but there sure are some ugly buggers thriving right now.

None of this is to let Wenger and his players off the hook. Clearly he's no angel, Gabriel. Just as Santi is no saint. But neither particularly deserved a red card and it made a big difference in a game that Chelsea were desperate to win, especially given their parlous position. Costa's needling was part of a slightly desperate gameplan. (I was reminded of the mendacious Ronaldo wink.) But Arsenal were fools to fall for it. Utter suckers. I've already sent half the first team an email telling them how I'm stuck in Ukraine and they've taken my passport. I expect the money will come pouring in any day.

But on to more ennobling subjects. Firstly, Japan 34 South Africa 32. (This is rugby union, by the way, a game played in this country (England) by steroidal public schoolboys. Not long ago they would entertain themselves by shouted abuse at young women, throwing small people around bars and jumping into the sea from slow-moving vessels but that's all changed now. They're really top chaps, don't you know?)

Japan is not a country noted for the bulkiness of its inhabitants. Every time someone tells me of the health benefits of sushi I can't help replying that the Japanese are always eating that stuff and most of em look like they're wasting away.

Well in order to get together a rugby team that can compete against the muscular mountain ranges that pass for rugby players these days they've drafted in a few blokes from other places to help. Fact is, though, that they have mustered together a side that plays beautiful stuff: the niftiest hands since the Artful Dodger retired; feet so fast they make Fred Astaire look clompy; and all the stamina of the winner of one of them horrible Endurance gameshows their nation loves.

Now it may well be that South Africa have a bunch of players so long in the tooth that half of them have tusks. But Japan won through their own brilliance. And courage. And I don't think I was this happy to see a team win a game of rugger when England won in 2003. Indeed so far the Rugby World Cup has looked good. When it comes to my favourite sports rugby union comes somewhere between the biathlon and synchronised swimming, but a result like Japan achieved can't help but peak even the most sour of sports fan's interests.

And another thing... if Nicola Sturgeon insists on Scots getting another pop at independence could they not extend that self-sufficiency to the Davis Cup tennis team? It's fascinating that the best players of this game that we've ever produced haven't dripped out of the white-clad bore-holes of the Establishment at Play but rather from some gritty geezers from Dunblane and, 70 or 80 years earlier, Stockport. Fascinating and not coincidental.

These days the weak link in Team GB is always the Englishman but it was another exceptional effort from Andy Murray, who gets more likeable with every passing shot.

I have a problem with the Davis Cup, mind you. It's the format. It's a team competition, right? So how come one bloke can win three matches and the team wins the tie? Surely a true test of the strength and depth of the team would be if no player could play more than twice, that way avoiding the predominance of one particular player in the tie as a whole?

Obviously we'd get nowhere pretty quick, but that's not the point. A team sport should be about the team, yet Murray has single-handedly wrestled that squad through to the final.

Right now GB just need Andy (and Jamie). They might as well have me as the other player for all the difference it makes. It does not make sense.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Blue Days At The Bridge

What a pretty Premier League picture the table paints this morning.

First up, all hail Signor Ranieri and his fearless foxes. The quiet dismissal of Nigel Pearson was a bold move. Not least because Big Nige always has the bearing of a night-club bouncer who's just on the right sides of losing it. I saw a miffed silverback behind some bars over the summer and I swear he was giving me the Pearson glare.

Of course his dismissal - it would seem - was as much down to his errant son as anything Nige did (given he turned the tepid water of early season form into the heady fizzy wine of survival. His dismissal had more to do with his racist slur-using son - yes I'm sure some of his best friends are Thai - than anything Dad did. But who better to fill those shoes than the lovable Tinkerman?

Yes we all recall with great fondness his happy demeanour, his comical English and his mind-bogglingly changeable first elevens. Except he's not a chump, is he? He kept the same backroom staff that oversaw Leicester's amazing run-in last spring; he's identified what the team have that makes them good, namely great pace up front, terrific persistence and in Mahrez a lad with feet as nimble as Nureyev's. And he hasn't rotated the squad like they were rabbits on a spit.

Lo and behold they are playing brilliantly. It won't last though. Then again they said that about Southampton - and they were pretty much correct.

Secondly the very foot of the table has a familiar ring. Newcastle, strong enough to hold up the rest of the division, seem bound to plummet. Ashley seemed desperate to court McClaren even as John Carver looked certain to choke the life out of the club. The idea that Smiley Steve is the Saviour is a rum one - clearly Ashley would hire a fox to guard his chickens.

Just a quick glance at Derby's form in the last couple of months of the Championship could have told you that. Not even a play-off spot was indescribably bad. So far Newcastle have displayed the worst tendencies of a McClaren team, tentative in possession, unable to pick up the pace, rarely dangerous unless they're 2-0 down and there's nowt to lose. The squad looks bright enough but he needs to sort out his shit quick or Joe Kinnear will land on his shoulder like some great cockney albatross of Doom.

Of course the Big News is that Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are a bag of bona fide horse manure. There's been almost as many radio hours dedicated to their dreadful start as there has to the emergence of a socialist leading a socialist party in the UK. (I mean what the hell is this atheist republican doing not singing God Save The Queen?)

It's difficult to decide where the rifts are deeper, Walworth Road or Stamford Bridge. Mourinho's problems run deep. While his surprising humble and open post-match interview on the Beeb made you think that here was a man ready to roll with the circumstances, other factors suggest the delusional paranoia that helps to build a bunker mentality can also divorce one from reality.

The petulant hissy fit cos Martinez was answering questions before him on Saturday wasn't the act of a patient man in control of himself. More The frontline, led by a Diego Costa with all the dynamism of a narcoleptic hippo, couldn't cut through cellophane right now. The defence looks doddery with Ivanovic lumbering around like a concussed bear.

Nothing is working out for Jose. He blames misfortune - a couple of deflections went the wrong side of the post. Another of seeing that is that the defenders made good blocks. Everton score three from five shots. Unlucky Chelsea? Or clinical Everton. The sort of goals to chances ratio that Mourinho thrives on.

But much of it is Mourinho's making. The pursuit of Stones, nobly denied by Martinez, can't have reassured the present incumbents in the Chelsea squad. The haranguing of the team doctors seems to have left even those most self-centred of human beings professional millionaire footballers aghast at their poor treatment.

It's not a happy camp. Fabregas - a name that always sounds to me like something you take with you when you go camping - is playing like he's sprung a leak. JT just looks pissed off. Ivanovic could be replaced by a mighty oak and there'd be more difficulty getting past him.

Meanwhile the whole unseemly cesspit of cash sees hundreds of squad members being given out to the needy as if they were out-of-date sandwiches from a high-street retailer with a conscience. It's a bleeding travesty and the fact that it's not working is DELIGHTFUL. Yes, Mourinho did get one thing right. We ARE enjoying it, HUGELY.

Long may the topsy-turvy look of the league continue.

Of course some things remain the same - like Man City's European form being miserable. And football still being a contact sport with all the occasional horrors that that results in. Get well soon, Luke Shaw. At least time is on his side, but that's hardly a silver lining.

What might cheer him - and the rest of us - up is a perky 2-1 win for Maccabi Tel-Aviv tonight. It's far from unlikely. Hehehehehehe.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Well Done Wazza!

Congratulations to the Pie-Faced Wonder. Wayne Rooney crashed home another penalty to see him become England's record scorer. Glenn Hoddle purred that the keeper got nowhere near it. The keeper touched it on its way in actually, Glenn, but then, with your hotline to God, you do see things move in mysterious ways.

It is undeniable that Wazza is now the greatest striker England have ever had. Then again Margaret Thatcher was PM for 11 long years but that doesn't make her the best we've had unless you're a proto fascist fuckwit with all the empathy of a tapeworm - or George Osborne to give that worm its proper name.

Certainly those of us that witnessed the manchild's brawny arrival on the international would be unsurprised to have been told 11 years later that the lad had surpassed Sir Bobby in the legion of goalscoring greats. At that time Rooney looked capable of anything. Three Weetabix, a cow-pie and a liaison with a forty-something hooker... and it's not even nine o'clock.

Since then, like many an English prodigy he has slipped slowly back into the ranks of the Merely Very Good at a time when the Very Best are, when it comes to Messi and Ronaldo, Bloody Ridiculously Good Like You Might Be If You Were Having The Most Wonderful Dream Ever.

But even in the company of England's finest finishers, he's a little bit wanting.

Jimmy Greaves was the finisher supreme, they tell me. Fleet of foot, lithe and slippery, good on either side. And he did all this on pitches that halfway through October turned into the sort of pasture a herd of cattle might turn its nose up at. Those eyes that were once cold and ruthless lost their lustre in the perennial post-playing battle with the booze. He had a massive stroke recently but somehow football and its fans have mustered the £30,000 necessary to pay for his physiotherapy, possibly by asking every Premier League player to contribute 0.00001% of his weekly salary to help the greatest goal-taker the top division has ever seen. Or not.

Bobby Charlton took the record from Greavesie of course. He had much in common with the man who beat him at Wembley. They both played for Man U, both scored 49 goals from 106 games, both had humble beginnings and both were at pains to deny their baldness.

The Charlton comb-over fooled no one. Indeed the smallest breeze left Bobby's pate glisteningly free while the strands flew in his wake like a plume of smoke from a steamboat's funnel. (C.f Alan Gilzean, Ralph Coates - what the hell were they thinking?)

Rooney of course bought himself a topweave which to this day looks a little like it belongs to someone else. Frankly, footballers shouldn't give a shit whether their heads can be slapped or not. It's of no bloody consequence whatsoever and a bit pathetic and vain to think that it is.

Similarities between Wazza and Chazza end there though. Charlton was a barnstorming midfielder whose gentle demeanour was at odds with the dynamite in his boots. Rooney's dynamite is as likely to emerge from his brain as his boot. Cristiano Ronaldo can tell you that.

Michael Owen seemed destined to overhaul Charlton but ended up falling short. Well, writhing in agony on a touchline, really, as, once again, hamstrings overworked in his late adolescence by unthinking staff at Anfield twanged like so much perished elastic. Owen is now the least charismatic football pundit in living memory and I wish him every success with the gee-gees instead. Indeed any one of his gee-gees could make a more inspired contribution to a half-time review on BT Sport.

Before Owen we had the saintly Gary. Now there was a crisp finisher. He barely set foot outside the box, and now he's barely off it. Except for that penalty he would have joined Bobby. Rooney's penalty v Switzerland was struck with all the vehemence Lineker's lacked. For a man so wonderfully clinical in front of goal it is a moment of unrivalled embarrassment for Gaz: it's the football equivalent of Heston Blumenthal burning the toast or Darcey Bussell falling on her arse.

Each of these surpassed goalscorers seem to be better at scoring goals than Wayne. There are numerous reasons to downgrade Rooney's achievement then. His performances in major tournaments have been woeful since 2004. He has neither the predatory skill of Lineker or Greaves or the midfield drive and purposefulness of Charlton. But does that really actually matter folks?

In his defence, Rooney has often, both for club and country, had to 'do a job' for the team - which translates as having to be plopped somewhere because teammates are less adaptable. The current England dressing-room seem to admire him enormously - and like him too - which I'm imagining is less likely if you have to hang your coat on the peg next to the Gelled Winker Cristiano, or a truculent narcissist like Ibrahimovic.

Furthermore, the lad, regardless of whether he's having a stinker (and sometimes he looks like he's wearing cotton-wool boots), puts in a hell of a shift every time. Beckham had his limitations, many more than Wazza, and yet you could never doubt his commitment either.

So, while comparisons are odious - I haven't even mentioned Lofthouse and Shearer, who to my mind is still the best English centre-forward of my lifetime - let us not be so bloody churlish. I've heard people moan that Andy Murray is well boring (he sort of is), or that Stuart Broad is an arrogant sod (he can be), or that Lewis Hamilton is a massive cock (he is, he so is) but that doesn't mean we downgrade their achievements. And any road, Wayne seems to me like a decent fella.

So. Raise a glass to the lad, hell, have a fag too. He would if it were you

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Precious Stones Bound To Go

The window's closing and inexorably the cost of young English talent rises. Any club with a perceived gap in their squad is starting to leave extra sacks of cash outside the door of any lad with a UK passport and a smidgeon of talent.

The likes of Berahino and Stones have proven unable to resist. No doubt their agents, eyes on stalks and new Audi TT's in their sights, are helpfully nudging their clients into a trip to the manager's office. Martinez appears to be Stoneswalling the move; Pulis, ever the pragmatist is happier pushing the unwilling out of the door.

The greater the lure, the more the old heads on the comfy sofas urge restraint on the part of these kids. Loyalty and game-time are al very well Mr Lawro and Mr Shearer, but what about fuckloads of money and the odd trip off the bench in the Champions League, eh?

As with most things in life these days it's short-term gain versus long-term success. Raheem Sterling set the bar at the end of last season. He managed to combine flagrant disloyalty with poor form and virtually forced his way out of Liverpool. Berahino is missing sitters for the Baggies, ensuring a spell on the sidelines, increasing disaffection and getting even more entreaties from a Spurs team that gets no better with every passing season.

Clearly Chelsea have no one else in sight as a replacement for the warrior carthorse and captain JT. Mourinho has signalled his opinion: last year Terry was playing as well as he ever has; this year he's halfway to being dog-food. The latest offer is around £40 million. That's frankly mental. And Everton will have to accept. Or be 40 million quid less well off, and have a very grumpy centre half on their hands.

Of course there's the national picture here. We'd all like to see England benefit from our young players playing at a higher standard. But exactly how much will Stones play really? He can't rely on the numpty skipper getting himself a red card every weekend.

As usual, and with horrible cynicism, Chelsea are chucking out loan players like so many crumbs on a frozen bird table. Marin to Trabszonspoor, Cuadrado to Juventus, some other fuckwit you completely forgot about to somewhere you didn't know exists, etc.

Chelsea still can't resist buying talent just cos they can - Pedro seems a perfect example and his purchase leads to the temporary offloading of identical staff. So if Stones wants to improve as player he should probably stick it out at Goodison for a season longer. He's the best defender they have, and Jagielka isn't a bad bloke to have at your side.

But there's the estate in leafy Surrey, the bling, the West London lifestyle - and his agent might even encourage Stones to consider getting himself some of this too.

Meanwhile Everton look to strengthen their squad with a sixteenth of the fee with Spurs's haphazard hombre Fazio. Given Martinez's recent track record with centre-backs - Alcaraz, a man who defends like he's on the end of a parachute that's caught in a tree, comes to mind - Everton fans will be gnawing fingernails at the prospect of any new boy wandering in.

Spurs's pursuit of Berahino is understandable given that Pocchetino has three strikers, one of whom is a wonderful example to John Stones of what you can achieve if you combine a huge wage with a lack of commitment. Everyone's hoping that Harry Kane can keep up his brilliant form of last season but it's going to be bloody lonely out there on his tod. He's like the Ray Mears of goalscoring at the mo. So Saido's got to reckon on getting a lot of starts.

Of course one team that could well do with a centre forward - and who got shot of one over the summer - is Man United. Van Gaal, who is so eccentric he makes a Labour Party leadership election look straightforward, has now told everyone that Marouane Fellaini is a central striker. Given that David Moyes had him as a plodding holding midfielder with all the distribution of a postal strike, that's some change of role for the Sideshow Bob of Belgium.

Still, you look at the table and the facts don't lie. While United and Liverpool can't hardly score they can't concede either and with this Mourinhoesque dullness they might go far.

Meanwhile, if you have a teenager with talent in his toes and a keenness to learn and earn, well now's the time to start touting him around. You too might find yourself following a trail of gold coins and all the way up to the substitutes' bench of a top club for a five minute appearance in three years time on a blustery night in the League Cup.

Hell he might even get the chance to miss a decisive penalty in a shoot-out. We can always dream.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

More More Mourinho

Okay. It's been a long, long time. There are reasons why I've not been opining on footy for a while.

1. I was out the country and didn't fancy guessing how things were going back here.
2. By the time I got back it was pretty much done and dusted and you lot hate it when I write about the golf or the tennis.
3. I have had a personal bereavement - and apart Boro not making it to the top tier, my Dad passed away n all.
4. I was going to write a blog to coincide with the start of the new season but frankly I was too excited about the Aussies truly wonderful capitulation that I believe we should have postponed the start of the Premier League, collectively jumped on a bus, all come down to London and found as many bar staff as we could and pointed at them, yelling "Ha-haaaa!"

Fifthly, the beginning of the Premier League was already being hyped up like a bloated floating corpse on the Tees estuary and I didn't want to buy into it.

It felt like the same old, same old. Chelsea or Citeh to win, unless Van Gaal could arbitrarily arrange his overly expensive trinkets into summat resembling a team. Arsenal arrive neck-deep in optimisim only to be turned over by a bit of hard work and organisation. Liverpool keep slapping the cash around like a jilted bride indulging in retail therapy in order to forget about the guy that left.

And yet, it is footy we're talking about. And although come the end of the season there'll be the usual suspects in the top four, and a plucky upstart scraping into the Europa League, and the Stadium of Light will be emptying out by half-time every other weekend, the beginning has been a little web of intrigue all its own.

And, as ever, the spider at the centre of the web is the smirking, preening narcissist Jose Mi Amor Mourinho. It can't last but for those of us whose favourite psychiatrist is Schaden Freud, it's been a hugely enjoyable beginning.

First, the draw with Swansea and the scapegoating of medical staff; then the hammering at Citeh. In the first instance, the referee's decisions were beneath comment (i.e, correct); the second was a 'fake result'. It must be very frustrating for Mrs Mourinho if and when she has a genuine orgasm.

Of more long term interest was the substitution of one John Terry at the Etihad. Mourinho's rationale was wholly logical. Navas, Sterling and Aguero vs JT is the least fair fight since Goliath told David that slings were not allowed. Indeed Aguero seemed to be thriving on the Sterling Silva service.

Needless to say as Terry sat on the bench you could almost see his skull rattling like a pan-lid on a pot of boiling potatoes. Meanwhile Costa, a man who probably has to turn all the mirrors in his house to face the wall just to avoid punching himself, stormed around with a bandaged head like Dr David Banner after a particularly irritating call to his insurance company.

All this means that there's one of these early-season doomsday scenarios looming "What's gone wrong with Chelsea?" Well, they've lost a couple of games. And a couple of doctors. And a sense of reality, if Jose's perceptions are to be taken literally. But this is not a crisis. It's just quite funny. Enjoy. Here's two blokes doing just that having heard about the Etihad result.

(I can't tell you how hard it was to find a pic of Wenger smiling)

On Thursday the final test begins and I'd like to enjoy that as much as the last two. Like Chelsea, the Aussies will bounce back at some point but while England continue to bowl against the biggest load of nickers since Fagin patrolled the streets of Dickensian London, let's not give 'em the chance of a sliver of self-respect.

What's been most enthralling about the cricket - and yes I have really enjoyed it as much as any sporting event since London 2012 - is the fact that England are relying on the flair and exuberance of young lads to carry them forward.

Root continues to taunt like one of them ridiculous twelve-year old wunderkinds that occasionally get on to Countdown and humiliate middle-aged wearers of Pringle sweaters and floral frocks. Stokes flings himself about like Boris Becker in his pomp (and if you see his courtside at a Djokovic match you'll never believe how impressive that once was). Wood and Moeen frolic about like giddy lambs, unafraid of the perils that have dogged their ancestors.

And meanwhile Broad, Anderson, Cook and Bell beam like grandparents newly-enlivened by the arrival of delirious toddlers. And all of this under the inebriate eyes of a nation of sun-kissed revellers totally unused to such splendidness. Except we hammered them two years ago. and then four years before that. In fact they're not much cop. 'Kin brilliant isn't it?

Oh... and PS
Premier League champions? Chelsea - I know, I know.
FA Cup? Everton.
League Cup (or whatever the hell they call it now)? Liverpool
Chumps League Qualifiers? Citeh, ManU, Arsenal, bold eh?
Europa League? Spurs, Everton.
Going dahn? Sunderland (by Christmas), Bournemouth, Newcastle.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Blue Heaven, New Hell

So that's good, then. Great Britain has voted for its own funeral. Perpetuate the wealth staying in the hands of the already too wealthy, shuffling to and from our zero hours 'jobs' while the loaded push great wads of cash back and forth across an expensive oak table, grinning like the entitled pricks they are. 

But this is a football blog, and British football gives you a pretty good analogy for what our country has become. There is a self-appointed, self-aggrandising elite humming a happy tune to itself and relentlessly lording it over the rest of us. Meanwhile, the rest of us little folk shuffle around like doddering dogs hoping that some of the crumbs might fall from the table, or that we too might strike it lucky and wake up in the arms of a billionaire who made his money in a quasi-illegitimate way. 

Chelsea's title-winning effort was in of itself a fine achievement. Mourinho is, whatever else you think of him, an excellent predator of titles. He reminds me of those Komodo dragons that use a slow-working poison to kill their prey and then just sit around while the victim slowly descends into inactivity. The first half of the season was surprisingly flamboyant, the second half decidedly not, but there's much to admire in their defensive organisation. It's like the old Royal Tournament where you could watch military men doing complicated things with great precision - impressive, but God you wouldn't want to watch it every day. 

Their victory has not been welcome, but then whose is? They are boring, divey, smug, neurotic but more than all of that, boundlessly wealthy. You might say, 'ah but they use their money wisely'. Fair point. Better than the ragtag mercenaries in the sky blue shirts who turn up one year and down tools the next. Better than the extraordinarily profligate United transfer policy which seems to be reaching Citeh levels of bottomlessness. 

Better too, than the negligent rearing of Newcastle United by a porky cockney with not the slightest interest in the club beyond its capacity to generate money for himself. 

But the point is, wealth is all in football. The acquisition of it, the sustaining of it. Were Abramovich or Mansour to just cash in their chips tomorrow, Chelsea and Citeh would be bumping along the bottom within three years. Unless some twat with an online sports clothing company were to chip in a few quid. No wait, that doesn't make a blind bit of difference. 

There's a difference at these places now, I reckon. Such is the overweaning desire to be wealthy and to be seen to be wealthy, football grounds are now inhabited by an upper class that's there for the circus of it, rather than for the love. I don't doubt they feel committed, but it's not in their bones. It's in their wallets. David Cameron doesn't know who he supports but he has to support someone. West Ham Villa. Arse. 

Supporting your cash-strapped local club and wishing it well, as I do the Boro at Brentford, is a pathetic act of collusion in Hope over Expectation. But it's also an act of community and faith and devotion, and while that has not been entirely undermined by the Premier League's inordinate riches, it has changed match-going into what can only be called flagrant exploitation. 

When Hull feel it's okay to massively overcharge visiting fans, you have to ask what are we here for? 

At the bottom of the table, of course, are the underlings. Plucky, resolute, honest and hard-working, these fine fellows tirelessly plug away, occasionally shafting one of the big boys with a surprise victory: Burnley v Citeh; Leicester v United. 

But these are weird aberrations, like when the Lib Dems win a by-election (I'm not holding my breath by the way). When it comes to the big decisions, the wider picture, we're still looking in through the glass windows, counting the chandeliers and wishing we could all own a palace one day. 

Cheerier folk than me point to Bournemouth's success, achieved through consistency of selection, faith in a manager, canny budgeting and no little flair. It's a feelgood story through and through - unless you support Norwich - and yet all they're doing is spending a few months in the big house and hoping they'll be allowed to stay. 

Chelsea's victory was deserved, yes, but it was boring because, when any one of those obscene bastions of wealth and privilege wins, the inevitability of it is what's strikes home hardest. And here's where it differs from the election, We have a chance to change things, a little bit any road, every five years. That's what we've done. Voted to make it worse. Deliberately. 

And as every fan of a football club that's won bugger-all for bloody ages can tell you, there's a very peculiar masochism in that. I think, sometimes, that we all need serious counselling.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Backing The Boro

First off, I'm not pissed off. Boro were magnificent in their 4-3 defeat at Fulham and although it was a little heartbreaking to not get owt out of the game at all, they've got to be feeling that the play-offs is ours to win.I didn't blame the manager or the keeper - let's face it he's not the first reckless Greek we've seen in recent times.

The play-offs beckon. The prize the right to play David Cameron's favourite team next season - whoever the fuck that might be.You don't simply forget the name of the team you support unless you fucking well made it up. It's symptomatic of the superior, patronising and all too stage-managed nature of this election that some stuck-up knobhead thinks he can make us like him more by saying he's supports a football team. 

Any road, a visit to Chelsea next season will mean playing the Champions. Which means the rest of the League has been pretty poor. Not that Mourinho will give a fig. I don't particularly like the fella or the way he sets up his teams to play - especially in the big games - but frankly the bloke is nigh on a genius when it comes to eking out results. 

The team itself has lots to admire about it. It's just that those qualities  - organisation, discipline, efficiency - are the least uplifting. They're less a football team and more a high quality private security firm. At the Emirates, Arsenal fans resorted to calling Chelsea boring, and to be fair, I've had conjunctivitis that's easier on the eye. But one, George Graham was duller still, a Phil Collins to Jose's Coldplay; and two,  Wenger simply doesn't know how to beat Mourinho - be that football, or banter.

Indeed Wenger's comments about Chelsea are the verbal equivalent of an underhit backpass. He keeps making Jose come across like Groucho Marx.

Wenger: It's easy to defend.
Mourinho: You lost 3-1 to Monaco. You call that easy?

Arsenal fans: Chelsea are boring.
Mourinho: Not winning the league for ten years - that's boring.

You can almost see John Terry in a Harpo wig, honking the hooter at every retort.

Indeed Mourinho was right to point to his captain as outstanding. Terry continues to be the best centre-half in the country, and his fellow pros appear to agree with me. It's annoying when someone who is patently a git is undeniably good at something, though isn't it? It's like when people always insisted that Bernard Manning was a brilliant comedian, technically. He was also a great ball of vitriol and bile. Which trumps funny, I reckon.

So while the molten bronze gets poured into the mould for Mourinho's Special One memorial statue, the other managers huff and puff about might-have-beens in a somewhat self-delusional mode. Van Gaal reckoned Man Utd would have won the title had they made a better start... well, duh King Louis, and Paula Radcliffe would have won the London Marathon if she'd only done the first bit on a scooter. It's irrelevant.

Brendan Rodgers praised his side for their goalless draw at West Brom. 'Outstanding' he called them. Which is like calling an impotent man 'fertile'. Liverpool have a lot of head-scratching to do. I hope Rodgers sorts it out as he seems like a decent enough bloke.

At the bottom Tim Sherwood laughs off the notion of relegation. T'ain't a laughing matter. I'd rather I had Nigel Pearson telling me 'there was still a lot of work to do'. The prospect of Newcastle being caught on the line hasn't vanished yet. John Carver looks like a bloke trying to build a house with a sack of balsa wood and some cheese-string. Poor fella. Half the fans are staying at home while the others are bringing sofas into the Gallowgate so they've got something to hide behind.

Having said that it looks very much like Burnley and QPR are down, not least because every time they get a spot-kick, the taker shows all the confidence of a nd Sunderland/Hull will be slipping from the summit. If it's the Mackems then at least there'll still be two North-East teams in the top division.

Won't there?

Monday, 20 April 2015

A Keeper's Lot Is Not A Happy One

Ah goalkeepers. Like licking the socket on the kettle, stroking wasps and walking in on your parents at midnight, most of us learn from a very early age that it's not for us. Fly goalies is just a way of making sure you're not stuck there all bloody afternoon while your mates are doing their best David Mills and Alan Foggon impressions.

But there's always someone who finds it rewarding. In my experience, this person is (a) a mouthy great lummox who can jump off the science block without flinching and carries an air rifle with him at all times; or (b) an oppressed loner with an interest in military history, playing the saxophone and keeping reptiles as pets. Neither of them are run of the mill. 

A good keeper will snort when you show the bruises beneath your shinpads. He (or she I better say now we're all taking lasses' football seriously) will not have a clue how to dress himself. He will think he knows all about football when he knows more about nuclear fission (witness Schmeichel's punditry or Bryan Gunn's management). He will have Saturday's dirt under his fingernails come Wednesday night. And apart from the last bit, he wouldn't be me. 

For which all of us outfield fancy dans are eternally grateful. And for those of us that choose not to get kneed in the head by every Cockney rhymer's favourite player Stephen Hunt, or indulge in over ambitious step-overs when confronted by a pacy forward, let me say here and now we have nothing but sympathy. Coupled with a complete lack of comprehension. 

In the case of Mr Federici, I'm all heart. After a very decent performance the ball slid out between his legs like a fourteenth child. It barely touched the sides. To say I felt sick for the lad is an understatement, like suggesting the thoughts of Katie Hopkins are somewhat distasteful. (It's a long time since capital punishment was - rightly - eliminated from this country but there's always the exception that proves the rule and crucifixion's too good for her. She is a shadow on the lung of our body politic).

Federici left the field in tears having left enough of them out there to have watered Wembley for a lifetime. (Although not quite as much as Chelsea use before playing a slick passing team at Stamford Bridge). I don't blame him. If it was me I'd have been a huddled wreck cowering in my own net for the rest of the season. 

I hope he's got to sleep by now, but somehow I doubt it. 

Those of us watching the frenzy at the top of the Championship can tell you all about sleepless nights mind you. 45 minutes into Saturday's fixtures Boro were top after our gritty win at Carrow Road. Another half later and we're 3rd again. It's torture, I tell you. Then again I could be a goalkeeper. Or a Newcastle fan. 

It seems Ashley's pigeons are coming home to roost. Anyone who thinks Fat Mike gives a shit about anyone but himself has never bought a pair of jiggly bottoms from Sports Direct. Newcastle are those joggy bottoms: misshapen, uncared for and lacking any style whatsoever. John Carver steers the good ship Gallowgate like he's got his braces caught in the steering wheel. It's a terrible terrible joke and even I can't laugh any more. 

There's a bit at the end of Animal Farm where the pigs are eating with the humans and you can't tell them apart. That's Mike Ashley, that is. We've known for decades that English football clubs are rich men's playthings but at least Abramovich looks after his toys - for now. Ashley shoves his in a box, hides it in the attic and occasionally brings it down to give it a bit of a kicking. 

It's a bit like seeing the woman you love shacking up with a fella who doesn't even remember why he moved in in the first place. Ashley's the Katie Hopkins of Football ownership and he needs to be forcibly moved on. It'll take one mighty forklift but the sooner he's south of Watford Gap (that gap being 1 point currently - see Championship table) the better for all of us. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Manuel Labouring

So another filthily rich football club prepares to ditch a nice man coz the players can't really be arsed. Manuel Pellegrini wears a haunted look these days, and given that at the best of times the Chilean appears to have just stepped off the world's most terrifying ghost train, that's saying something.

Of course for those of us who observe from a distance, like inquisitive paupers in Downton Abbey, there's a certain delight in watching the wealthy fall. Self serving millionaires tend to get a little bored and complacent at times. Even Bill Gates must have a day off but unlike say Yaya Toure that tends not to coincide with a need to up your workrate to avoid being overrun in midfield.

As  Citeh's form goes up and down its easy to blame Yaya for the yoyo. He's a paradox, that lad, a combination of grace and fatigue. One moment he's powering through opposition like an American through pizza, the next moment he looks he's moving through glue.

But it's not all him. Joe Hart's done well since definitively holding off the man with the Mexican porn name Willy Caballero, and you can never fault Zabaleta for effort. Aguero will never be less than a brilliant forward but when your best player this year has been James Milner you've got to ask yourself what's going wrong.

There's no doubt Vincent Kompany has been astonishingly shit. Watching him flail around like a plastic bag in a jacuzzi has been as shocking in its way as seeing Ian Poulter in grey slacks or hearing Robbie Savage successfully arrive at the end of a sentence.

His direness is not down to lethargy unlike say the mercenary ex-Arsenal brigade. Of course the solution will be a managerial change rather than ditching the lax and lazy. FIFA fair play rules haven't helped but even then they've forked out a fortune on Mangala, a defender who makes Phil Jones look assured, and Bony who has merely become the latest in a long line of Etihad bench decoration.

Were it not for the eminent graciousness of the manager I'd be chuckling like the mean-spirited sod I've always been. Still maybe management of a ruthless organisation is too rough a post for such a bloke. If I were him I'd take the money and set up a nice over 50s five a side league in Santiago and never look back.

Lest we forget mind you we are talking of the Premier League champions, the team that robbed us of a lovely sentimental story last season when they pipped Liverpool. This season there's less romance riding on the Kop's achievements so people (and the press) are more able to focus on the misdemeanours of the misfiring Reds.

Perhaps Kevin Pietersen 's every move will be monitored more closely than Raheem Sterling. But I doubt it. The lad may be less bouffant this season but his head's much further above the parapet. His agent is clearly unconcerned about the boy's wellbeing and is fuelling his client's agitation for a move to somewhere like Madrid.

"STERLING TO EUROPE" There's a headline that will confuse Ukip voters.

But all the kid's done so far is turn down a lot of money and taken laughing gas, neither of which are that unusual amongst rich young men right now. Indeed if Sterling was, say, a successful stockbroker we'd all be expecting this rampant self-interest. After all it's what the Conservative party manifesto is all about.

While we're on the subject can I just remind people that Inheritance Tax does NOT mean that you pay tax on your money twice. You pay tax on it once. Then you die. Your children then pay tax on it (and even then that's only when it gets above a very healthy amount). It's called redistribution and it's perfectly reasonable. Sorry children of the reasonably well off you'll just have to pay the same sordid tax-dodge shysters to help you avoid that one too.

Where was I? Ah yes, Raheem. Yes he's greedy. It's how this country works right now. But for God's sake can we stop this scuzzy snooping when people are simply having a bit of a legal laugh. The odd ciggie or even spliff isn't the end of the fecking world.

Listen if Sterling is burning off defenders inter 2016 Euros and getting England the odd victory he can Robbie-Fowler up the touch line for all I care.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Up The Boro, Down the Boro

First to fourth. Like an over-optimistic British Olympian it's hard not to escape the feeling that we've forgotten to dip on the line. I'm not saying Boro's performances were pedestrian against Watford and Bournemouth. It was more like they were sponsored by Zimmer frames.

However, however, however. It's been a while since my nerves were this close to a cheese grater on a daily basis and while days like yesterday left me looking as cheery as a London commuter on a sweatbox train from Orpington (that's late, cramped, owned by a European State-funded train company and earning them a fortune), I am not complaining.

You can't help thinking that Bournemouth turned a massive corner, and as they have been the Championship entertainers this season they throughly deserve anything they get, and that second place will be Norwich's unless our lads turn em over a week on Friday. In which case the play-offs beckon, by which time I'll have moved on to pulling out my toenails for a bit of light relief.

But this has been a potty league, with more turn-ups than a 1970's jeans factory, so I'm ruling nowt out and nowt in. Much like a major political party's election manifesto.

Whatever happens, it'll be a damn sight more exciting than the league we're all fighting to get into. At least at the top. Chelsea are destined to win it, despite miracles from Charlie Adam. If Adam was sipping an ale at a bar I'd move to another bar. It's good to see him leave his mark on the game rather than an opponent's shin. But it didn't stop Chelsea from winning.

And what sort of champions are they going to be? I'll remember simulating central defenders, diddums ref-baiting, neurotic conspiracy theories and Diego Costa somehow staying on the park when all about him are getting their marching orders.

There has been one jewel, mind you. Eden Hazard. In English the name reads like a nickname for the serpent that tempted Eve, but he's got way more going for him than that. As and when his team lift the title, he's the main reason. While Costa's been dogged by niggles and nastiness, and Cesc once again bloomed and faded like cherry blossom, Hazard has been consistently the most dangerous attacking player in the competition.

He'd be my choice for Player of the Year. But I dunno, this season seems to have featured more reliance on outstanding individuals than any one previous to it. For Hazard at Chelsea, read Sanchez at Arsenal, De Gea at Man U, Kane at Spurs, absolutely no one at Man City, and in retrospect Suarez at Liverpool.

Of those De Gea deserves some sort of Purple Heart for bravery as he's played in front of the brittlest defence imaginable. I've seen Cadbury's Flakes with more spine. Indeed the current league position of Manchester United is one of the great mysteries of the season.

Van Gaal, who resembles more and more a man built entirely from molten rock - if he was in a superhero comic he'd be called Lava Man - has somehow happened across a team that looks quite good. The benefit of having a deep but injury-plagued squad is that eventually you hit on a formula that works.

Moyes must be thudding his head against a door rather like I was yesterday lunchtime when he hears that Marouane Fellaini is currently irreplaceable at the Theatre of Dreams. Juan Mata is playing brilliantly but wouldn't have started had Di Maria not got himself sent off. Van Persie's absence has led to Rooney playing up top again rather than like a kind of Paul Scholes Lite. It's all looking lovely for Louis.

And all the while the likes of Jones, Smalling and Rojo take it in turns to play the Three Stooges at the back, they still win matches. I tell you the Lava Man must have control of some dark forces. I wouldn't be surprised if the Hadron Collider discovers the Van Gaal Particle in the next six months.

Liverpool's season is in danger of imminent collapse. The sight of a 20-year-old turning down a 100 grand a week has never sat well with the great British Football Fan and whoever told Raheem Sterling to go on telly and tell the world that he just wanted to concentrate on his football needs a good slap. I'm happy to oblige if we can find the bloke. If the boy meant what he said he'd be on the training pitch not chatting to the Beeb in a sly manner.

After a brief period of stability Rodgers is rocking again but he's only got himself to blame. It was Brendan's idea to buy Balotelli, which is the managerial equivalent of trying to climb a hill while tied to a whale. Mario has never been anything less than a drain on resources and Rodgers was a fool to sign him.

The bottom of the table, where I still hope to find Boro this time next year, is a scrap of epic proportions. Leicester won't escape, but everyone else lives in hope. I fear for Hull, but then I always have. Of the others, well it's a toss-up but no one would be that sad to see perennial wallowers in former glory Aston Villa to take the long plummet. Chances are Burnley will save them.

But none of that is particularly important. What matters is Rotherham at home on Saturday. C'mon you Millers, you're as good as safe. Take the weekend off!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Total Eclipse of the Premier League


Well that's what the wife said when I got in, but it's what a lot of you have been tweeting darkly over the past few months, Well I've been working in America, home of the freak-based sports of basketball and US football, so I've not really caught up with the footy save by social media.

The fact that my absence both in the real and cyber worlds has coincided with a vein of form of Bill Gates-sized richness by my beloved Boro has filled your correspondent with no end of dread. Better surely to shut the fuck up until May and hope that sees Aitor's Avengers over the line?

Plus I've been working with this bloody Watford fan who keeps crowing about his scatty ragbag of a team so I really don't want to put the kybosh on my boys.

What we have agreed on though is that Championship football far surpasses Premier League footy for excitement, intrigue and unpredictability. And we'll keep saying that if neither of us get that promotion.

Then again, most Europeans would agree with that damning indictment of what they call the EPL. Any league that finds an absolute Horlicks of a team like Manchester United in third place has to be struggling.

The runaway leaders, mean-spirited ref-badgerers that they are, hardly represent the most thrilling entertainment you'll see this summer. Apart from the occasional glint of brilliance form Hazard, Chelsea seem to spend most of their recent games up the noses of the opposition. Everybody's bogey team, in other words.

PSG, shorn of their chief antagonist by a collective act of cynicism that would have made HSBC blush, deserved to grind their way past Mourinho's miserly misfits. But at least Chelsea got close.

Manchester City were taken apart like a poorly constructed Lego kit by a Barcelona whose early season travails seem long gone. Mind you if Burnley can roll them over then there's trouble in them their Etihads.

Arsenal failed to recover from an abysmal first leg v Monaco, and seem intent on provided plucky but fruitless second legs. Wenger will probably bag the FA Cup again and retain his job but if that club is going forwards then I must be walking backwards.

Liverpool ducked out at Besiktas and now have a bullish manager talking up an apparently revived squad. And Everton, the last hope, surrendered so meekly last night it was embarrassing. Rumours are that Martinez has got the team in early today to watch a film together: Escape From Alcaraz.

So should we be worried about the prevailing standards of our club football? Well first of all the days when we all got behind a British club in Europe are long since past. Celtic famously won the 1967 European Cup with a team made up of lads born within twelve miles of Parkhead. The next British club to win the Champs League will probably have at least two players from outside the Solar System.

It's hard to identify with a team whose only relationship with the country is that it is nominally based here. You look at Man City and you just see a collection of mercenaries who can't be bothered to be good for more than one season at a time. Had not Joe Hart De-Gea'd his way through the game at the Nou Camp we might well have seen one of the greatest humiliations in club football in recent times.

Chelsea too are little more than a managerial wish-list made real. You want to try and identify with the Brits involved but when the heart and soul of a club is John Terry even applauding them leaves you feeling soiled.

I think there's another factor at play here though. The rich clubs play with this ludicrous sense of entitlement, and with that comes complacency. It's as if George Osborne has designed the Premier League pecking order. Arsenal showed it against Monaco; Citeh against Burnley. The sheer delight of both of the uber-rich bastards getting turned over by Boro and Bradford in the Cup still brings me a rush of joy so complete that it almost means I have no need of alcohol.

The fans feel a similar inevitability about success too. It's partly why the Wenger fundamentalists are crumbling at the Emirates. And why Pellegrini has blown it, despite last season's success. And why even Brendan Rodgers, after a ridiculous level of over-achievement last season, was being ushered to the exit door by impatient Koppites before Christmas.

Then there's those of us that wait in line to see these moneybagses have to trundle up our street and take on our lively lads. Of course I'm desperate for the Boro to get there this season. They deserve it. But what to we get for it? Some top players at the Riverside. A better standard? Technically, yes, although compared to German and Spanish clubs, hardly the best.

But also you get to roll around in that trough of inbetweenness currently occupied by Leicester, QPR, Sunderland, Hull... Clubs that are on a weird extended holiday in a posh hotel but are really just waiting for some superior Maitre D to tap them on the shoulder and point them in the direction of Pontins.

Still, we'll take it, be grateful for 17th and hang around trying to become a Stoke or a Swansea. It could happen. We've got a top manager. We play nice stuff. But damn it, I'm getting ahead of myself, and putting the mockers on it already.

Because yes it'll be great to have these Euro also-rans down our way but we're not kidding ourselves. Citeh, Chelski, United... welcome back.

But don't get ahead of yourselves.

It's not like your Bayern or Barca is it?