Good week for diminutive midfielders/ Bad week for team morale
"Football," said Bob Marley, "when I wake up, it is a part of I…" Despite his commitment to smoking huge quantities of home-grown and shagging anything that moved, Bob loved football and played three or four times a week. It's reckoned that he fathered 30 odd children, and could tell if they were his by their distinctive big toe. Which is faintly ironic when you consider that it was his big toe from where the cancer that killed him originated. It's also rumoured that he refused treatment on said toe so he could continue to play football, which seems oddly committed for someone who basically had a third lung in the shape of a shoot-through bong.
In those 11 words, he's essentially nailed what it is to be a fan of the beautiful game. From the moment I wake, I’m after the latest stats, opinion and rumour. I agree with Bob that the most fulfilling thing a football fan can do is actually play the game, closely followed by watching a rip-roaring live match in the flesh and ably backed up by gathering with a group of mates to scream at a TV. There is no joy to be had, however, by watching a game in a stale environment with a group of people there for the sake of it.
I was due to make the long journey up to Anfield this afternoon to see my stuttering team take on Aston Villa. I know someone who works at Standard Chartered and had managed to get four tickets. He's not a football fan, bless him, and he called me yesterday, excited. "I've upgraded you, " he said, "you've now got a full VIP treatment and will be in a box." I went through the motions and thanked him, but in reality I was thinking of my excuse already. I was due to take my stepson, his mate and his mate's father. Due to the snow we hadn’t told the boys we were going to save disappointment. I called him yesterday and told him the predicament. "Fuck that," he said, "I HATE corporate hospitality."
What’s the point? Why take the emotion out of the game? Why subject myself to being at the only church I worship at without being able to speak in tongues? Why take two impressionable young boys and imprint this on them at a callow age. My stepson’s first game at Anfield was Sami Hyypia’s last, a momentous occasion almost ruined by the cold-blooded Rafa Benitez. It would have been great to be there for Gerard Houllier’s return, but not as a passive voyeur. The beauty of football is in the participation, whether it’s with a ball at feet or scarf around neck. It is not, as Roy Keane so succinctly pointed out, with a prawn sandwich and a glass of Bollinger in hand. This is not fucking polo.
Roberto Mancini likes a scarf. When he first arrived in England, this was seen as proof of his Italian sophistication. ‘Look how neatly it’s tied, he must be fucking brilliant’. Now people just think he is cold. Carlos Tevez, great player though he is, made himself look a right wazzock with his rant at Mancini when substituted against Bolton on Saturday. But Mancini doesn’t do himself any favours when it comes to respect. Following a game that City should have won 8-0, Mancini had this to say. “If I’d have been playing, I would have scored two or three.”
Avram Grant is apparently a lady-killer who makes women go weak at the knees and lose all ability to function when in his presence. From what I can see, his effect on men is the same.
He was a fine player, Mancini, a classic Italian number 10, or fantasista, with a pretty good goalscoring record of 1 every 3.5 games. But he wasn’t Batigol, or fat Ronaldo, or Romario, he wasn’t a steely-eyed assassin in the six-yard box. He was a tousle-haired glory-boy fond of a back-heel and, ironically, a massive tantrum. All he’s done here is a Glenn Hoddle and basically told his players they are not fit to lace his boots.
At present, no player in England is fit to lace the size fives of Samir Nasri. With Fabregas in-and-out of the side, he is both font of creativity and tip of the sword for Arsenal. How he didn't make the French World Cup squad is still beyond me. I remember watching him come on as a substitute for Marseille in the Champions League against Liverpool a few years ago and hoping Benitez would sign him. For the good of football I’m glad he didn’t. He may look like Zammo from Grange Hill after a couple of ten-bags but at 21 is as good as anyone outside of Catalonia. The slaloming change of direction in mid-air followed with the pirouette and finish for his second goal against Fulham was delicious, and showcased the mix of drive, technique, fantasy and dead-eyed accuracy that Arsene Wenger encourages in his young players. You can only wonder why Arsene doesn’t call on the services of one of his old boys to teach them to defend. They’d be six points clear by now.
The greatest thing about Sky Plus is that I don’t have to listen to Shearer, Hansen and Lineker. I interviewed Lineker once, and only libel laws stop me telling you exactly what a ‘character’ he is. Normally, I either fast forward through the ‘analysis’ or watch Goals on Sunday from behind a paper. Until this weekend, I hadn’t seen MOTD in HD and thought I’d have a butchers. HD is not good for Alan Shearer. It was always clear that he wouldn’t age well, but technology has put ten years, and pounds, on him. I’d like to think that the bags under his eyes are from staying up all night on Wikipedia to find out about players rather than from being in Stringfellows with his regular fourball.
It’s not that they’re totally shit, more that they only tell you what you can see with your own eyes. It’s obvious that Chelsea aren’t playing well, it’s even more obvious that they are lacking penetration, so why tell us? Why not instead focus on the excellent Steven Pienaar constantly pulling the Chelsea midfield out of position? Why not show us how Lampard adds a similar dimension and that without him the midfield is rigid and lacking lateral movement in the space in front of the opposition back four? Why not? Because they don’t care. It’s a gig to them. Hansen cares about Liverpool, Shearer Newcastle and Lineker himself.
Weren’t Newcastle rubbish yesterday? Don’t get me wrong, West Brom were excellent. Committed in midfield, tight at the back and keen to play incisive, passing football, they moved Newcastle around all too easily and controlled from start to finish. Ameobi and Carroll can be a very effective partnership for The Magpies, but not when having to chase shinned clearances from Sol Campbell.
Elsehwhere, Big Sam has probably gone back to his Spanish dictionary and pursuit of Jose Mourinho’s job after Blackburn smashed Wolves, ‘Arry is back to the drawing board when it comes to holding onto a win, Martinez and Pulis were united in their assertions that they both deserved a win and West Ham returned to turgid type at Sunderland. According to respected football journalist and tweet-a-holic, Tor-Kristian Karlsen, Avram Grant is apparently a lady-killer who makes women go weak at the knees and lose all ability to function when in his presence. From what I can see, his effect on men is the same. Bet he can’t even blow a bubble.
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