Robbo n Smart "Dafne, Dick and Dodgy Linesmen"

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.