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.