Robbo 10: W**kin Frankel - Click On My Face To Listen!

Monday, 8 September 2014

England's Swiss Rollover

Well that's my Basel Faulty headline ruined. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. It's like finding fifty quid in your old coat,

England have won a game, thereby enabling Roy Hodgson to have a better win record with England than he did with Switzerland. And what's more, they deserved it.

The Swiss, bar some shifty Shaqiri shimmies and the odd thundering challenge from their midfield bullock Behrami, offered very little, and England, on occasion, offered a great deal, mianly through the scary speedsters Sterling and Welbeck. In the latter's case it's hard to know what might happen when he gets it, but two goals suggests he's halfway there.

But hey, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. It's San Marino next. In the meantime, here's the scores for our heroes. (A polite ripple of applause).

JOE HART - 8 - Look, even if he drops every cross there's no one else to replace him. A couple of smart stops and does he look dashing with his hair relaxed?

JOHN STONES - 7 - Solid defensively after a horrible nutmeg early doors. Nowt going forward but then (a) He's a centre-back and (b) it's a bloody relief it's that way round after years of Glen Johnson.

GARY CAHILL - 7 - Brilliant clearance off the line after the linesman let Drmic - the walking eczema cream - go in on goal. Other than that, a solid enough effort. Never tremendous with the ball at his feet.

PHIL JONES - 6 - The usual mixture of buccaneering derring-do and bird-brained folly. Could have been sent off, might have scored, strained his thigh. He's not David Luiz, but he doesn't inspire much more confidence.

LEIGHTON BAINES - 7 - Looked like he might have got his mojo back. Neat, decent performance and not so exposed defensively.

JACK WILSHERE - 5 - I'm beginning to lose faith in Jack. Not available enough, too prone to giving silly passes. Unless everyone's playing tippy-tappy he looks lost. He'd be great ina five-a-side, but the lad doesn't seem to use his noddle, bless him.

JORDAN HENDERSON - 6 - Forgot he was there for the first half-hour. Had a strong second half, though, and he does work his arse off. In the absence of anyone else he'll do.

FABIAN DELPH - 7 - Early booking aside, he did really well. A top pick from Woy. Plenty of endeavour, a good turn of pace, and should of have a stonewall pen when Djourou drove into him like he was the Snappy Snaps to George Michael's SUV.

WAYNE ROONEY - 7 - Solid Wazza turn. Linked well with the younger faster lads and it looked like he wasn't trying too bloody hard for a change.

RAHEEM STERLING - 8 - a bit high I know, but he's 19, Ferrari-fast, Tyson-tough, and sometimes he cocks it up. So what? He's the best chance we have for a bit of forward thrust so I'll give him ten every time if he keeps leaving skidmarks on the defenders match-eve pyjamas.

DANNY WELBECK - 8 - Was going to give him 7 then he did that winning smile at the end. Bless. Two goals, pace galore, and the merest hint that a quality marksman lurks within those capricious boots. Then again, he's at Arsenal now. Walk it in, Danny, that's how they do things at the Emirates.

As for Roy Hodgson, well, Delph and Stones did him proud, the team looked far more solid defensively although when Switzerland did ping together a few rapid passes the heart of the defence looked open. Jones is a worry, but he's not exactly spoilt for choice is Roy. It was James Milner's 50th cap - that's how many options the poor bloke's got.

Wilshere isn't the holding midfielder - I'd like Carrick back in there if he's fit and willing. And Stones did fine but Clyne is the best English right-back around. That's bloody obvious, isn't it? Still onwards and upwards. The group's in the bag, France Allons-Nous. Keep playing like that and you never know we might just...

Oh shut me up, ffs!!!

It's just nice to have a little something to be pleased about.

(If we can just keep hold of Scotland I'd be dead chuffed. I wouldn't blame you, my Highland friends, it's just, well don't just leave us with Cameron. He's got to be one of yours with a name like that.)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Window of Woe

In the light of Roy Hodgson's record-breaking England squad announcement last week - the Worst Squad in Living Memory (and I'm including that couple who were celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary's memory) - it's interesting to note what's happening to the (one-time) 'best' English prospects at the moment.

Danny Welbeck seems destined to leave Old Trafford. Mind you, if he wants to go to a better team then there's plenty of choice at the moment. Micah Richards, yesterdays's England right-back for a generation, has been seen in Florence. Jack Rodwell is gracing the Stadium of Plight. Zaha's back at Palace.

Meanwhile those Englishmen still retained by their clubs, probably on the basis of UEFA's home-grown players legislation rather than any respect for their abilities, sit in idle splendour, doing fuck-all for a fuck-of-a-lot.

Scott Sinclair, more renowned for being the boyfriend of the ever-exposed Helen "put 'em away love" Flanagan than a professional person in his own right, is still at Man City. Josh McEachran has been loaned out so many times he's a Chelsea player in name only. From Boro to Arnhem; he's goes to all the glam places, that lad, and I think that Arnhem might be a bridge too far.

The call-ups for Colback and Rose are truly dispiriting. That barrel must be well and truly scraped now. Pardew says that some have called Colback 'the ginger Pirlo'. Good, Alan. And I'm sure someone will have called Alan Pardew the Cockney Clough once. If they're a twat.

It's not that encouraging that Jagielka, Milner and Johnson have been retained either. Injuries haven't helped Hodgson but we are truly in forlorn times as a national team.

It doesn't help, therefore, that Manchester United - once a bastion of bringing forward youth players and thrusting them into the fray - have seen fit to simply buy every mildly ambitious international superstar in the world game. Falcao's loan from Monaco underlines the fact. It's hard to make a case for even Rooney starting a game at OT now.

The only Englishman likely to get given a game by LVG soon will be Smalling or Jones - and that selection will be made on the toss of  a coin.

This is a transfer window that needs to close before those of us with an abiding if misplaced love of the England national team throw ourselves headlong out of it and dash our scrambled brains on the pavement beneath. The last time England were this bad, that Norwegian commentator launched into his 'your boys took a helluva beating' monologue. Thankfully, England open their autumn campaign with a friendly against... Norway. Shit.

But if there is an abiding memory of this particular August flogfest it will be the flock of football locusts that swept along the north coast of the Solent this August. A once-prosperous crop of flourishing seedlings lopped down and transplanted into new soil.

It'd be fascinating to ask Nathaniel Clyne (surely the best English right-back available at present) or James Ward-Prowse (a better bet than Colback) how they feel about still being at St. Mary's. Like survivors of some desperate military campaign they must occasionally ask themselves 'Why did I survive, and not the others?'

Morgan Schneiderlin, after a fine performance in Saints 3-1 victory at West Ham (and please God can the Hammers not drop down a division so that we're spared the relentless stodge of Allardyce's teams - they are the footballing equivalent of workhouse gruel) - yes, young Schneiderlin looked bewildered that he was still there too.

It would be nice, don't you think, for the bigger clubs to take a look at Southampton, see how they discover and develop such fine players, and ooh, I dunno, try and do the same thing themselves. Rather than just waiting for them to cough up a Bale or a Walcott or a Lallana.

While I've got me middle-aged man's munk on, forty years ago, the Saints would've kept that entertaining squad together and developed a team that would, within two or three years, have won something.

I've just begun reading 'The Unforgiven', the story of Don Revie's Leeds United. Revie started with bog-all, bar a curmudgeonly centre-back called Jack Charlton and a twinkle-toed malicious little sod called Billy Bremner. The rest of that simultaneously horribly brilliant, brilliantly horrible team was, with a few additions,
peopled by what UEFA would nowadays call 'homegrown talent'.

It couldn't happen today. Simply could not. Sadly, the Southampton squad, shorn of native talent but awash with cash, is loaded now with plenty of new talent, very little of it English. Or even British.

The fact that Ross Barkley has pledged his immediate future to Everton is a minor miracle. Then again, the overachieving fifth place is unlikely to materialise this season and then we'll see how limpet-like the lad's attachment to the club is.

Of course there's another reason that Hodgson's squad is so threadbare. There aren't enough decent and uninjured Englishmen available to bloody well fill the squad places. And there's a deeper malaise too. Why is it that talented teenage Englishmen barely get any better at the game as they get into their twenties.

Is Rooney better now than he was in 2004? What the hell has happened to Phil Jones, when as a 19-year-old at Blackburn he bullied the hell out of top opposition strikers? And will Andy Carroll actually walk again without pulling a groin? More to the point, will Sterling, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the other few wither on the English vine or step up a level like Gareth Bale (NB not English)?

The transfer window simply illuminates the paucity of available English talent and the lack of interest the big clubs have in using them even if they are there. Manchester United's pre-season shopping is reminiscent of Abramovich's Chelsea when the money first came in. It's a kind of arbitrary purchase of anyone going, as far as I can tell.

And in all that spend. spend, spend there's only been one Englishman: Luke Shaw. And he's now in a squad with Rojo and Blind. And the manager doesn't rate his fitness. He's got bench-warmer written all over him.








Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Welcome to the Real World

While many were marking the 50th anniversary of Match of the Day last Friday by trawling through gloopy memories of days when it felt like more than two clubs might win the League, two things stuck out like sore thumbs. Firstly -  and as a man very sure-footed about which way he swings I can say this without fear of innuendo - wasn't that Alan Hansen a dishy-looking fella back in the day? Two, Hansen's equally confident assertion that 'You'll never win anything with kids' rang down the decades.

Well, I've won a few things with my kids: nothing tangible but it's opened the way to a few conversations with idle young Mums in the park that I wouldn't have started otherwise. Since my two have got older I've stopped hanging around them swings - you get the wrong sort of reputation.

But it's seems poignant on the morning after Manchester United were thrashed by MK Dons (a football team and not a middle-range gentleman's outfitters) 4-0 to ask whatever happened to United's production line of junior talent.

This morning Louis Van Gaal must have walked on to the training ground like a farmer who wakes up to find he's left the door to the coop wide open. All them pretty little chickens torn to shreds.

Okay, it was the League Cup, and Van Gaal predictably put out the B team, complete with a few children from the youth squad. The way they played, though, you'd think this was the Z team. Arsene Wenger does the same thing in this competition and never gets so utterly demolished by the lower ranks. (He tends to leave such humiliations for first team away fixtures).

Van Gaal insists this wasn't a shock for him. Presumably when he puts his fingers in a light-bulb socket he feels nothing. I'm sure it was a huge shock to Angel Di Maria. And don't be fooled Man U fans - just cos he called Angel doesn't mean he'll be supplying any divine intervention. Yes Di Maria has a lot of qualities but resurrecting the near-dead isn't one of them.

And actually, even by today's standards I would have thought £60 million for a talented but inconsistent winger seems a helluva lot to me. Adam Johnson would've cost a tenth of that.

There's one person in the country who I'm sure is finding it hard to resist a chipper little whistle as he trots down to the paper shop this morning: David Moyes. Oh yes, when LVG tells the press 'we're in a rebuilding process' I'm sure the Gollum-faced Chosen One nods sagely and mutters 'Good Luck with that one'.

Van Gaal has a track record of starting badly in his management role - Bayern nearly sacked him after three months before he turned it round. But this is altogether different. The Dutchman has not just been charged with turning around a huge oil tanker - he's first got to haul the bloody thing off its side and stop it gurgling gunk all over Old Trafford.

The back three so beloved of the manager is obviously going to take years to bed in. He's forgotten that he's given this new formation to a set of predominantly British centre-backs, who have always formed part of a pair. Indeed Jonny Evans played like a man who couldn't count past two last night. (Although I expect another impressive Arsenal striker on loan might have changed that when he made it 3-0. Arsene has Afobe and Campbell and still Sanogo's first in the queue?).

Of course, Welbeck and Hernandez aren't going to be starting many games ahead of Mata, Rooney, RVP and Di Maria but it makes you wonder what Van Gaal has in mind up front. You could see the 3-5-2 operating like Holland's in the World Cup, with Van Persie in the same mode and Di Maria doing a Robben impression. That would be the longest-faced front two in football history of course.

It would leave Mata prompting a la Sneijder and Rooney, the ever-flexible Rooney, being pushed one way or the other to accommodate these game-changers. It's evident that United's squad is going to be puddle-deep this season but if an understanding can be built between the forward players then they might just bring enough firepower to offset the glaring almost Brazilian sized holes at the back.

(By the way, I should of course have given MK Dons the credit they deserve after a fine performance. But one, the name still sticks in the craw of an old traditionalist like meself - 27000 fans would disagree I'm sure - and two, whether they like it or not, the story is how shit United were.)

But the fact is Van Gaal has not started well - far worse in fact than Moyes - he hasn't so much hit the ground running as hit the ground digging. And he may have a lot more of that to do before he find where to put his foundations. At least Moyes, theoretically at least, had an established first choice back four to pick.

And you know for all the glory of his tenure, I'd still lay much of this at the door of Alex Ferguson. When you hand on a torch to the next man it's best that the torch still burns brightly, rather than it sputtering away cos someone's just pissed on it.

Fergie did of course win the Premier League in his last season. That he did that is more miraculous than Liverpool's almost championship last season, or Sunderland's great escape. The reins he handed to Moyes were slippery as hell. Van Gaal hasn't even found where Moyes left them quite yet.

But, given that Alan Hansen's tenure at Match of the Day coincided with years of relentless and to most of us bloody irritating years of United dominance, this bleak period in Old Trafford's history is very welcome.

Yes, United fans, this is what it is like to be a regular supporter of a football club. You hope to goodness that your young local players might arrive fully-formed into a senior eleven and lift your struggling regulars to heights undreamt of. You hope that you too can win something with kids, that a Beckham and a Scholes, a Giggs and hell even a Neville are lurking in that youth team.

But as Hansen said, it doesn't really happen. Not twice any road.

So (barring spending 131 million quid in two months) Welcome to the Real World, Angel.