Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Sign Of The Times In Manchester

In Football on January 28, 2010 at 5:29 am

On the evening of the 27th January 2010 history will recall that there was a local derby match in the semi-finals of the league cup. One club was mired in debt, the other was the richest club in the world. After a tussle that wasn’t always easy on the eye, but entertaining nonetheless for different reasons, the club that was struggling financially emerged triumphant in injury time to book their place in the final and a trip to Wembley. And to think, they say that cup romance is dead in the English game. It sounds like a barn-storming tale on paper, one in the eye for the people that still believe you can buy success in football. If you fill in a few more of the facts though, the story loses a lot of its shine… The winners were Manchester United, the dominant force in English football since the creation of the Premier League. The richest club? They’ve not had a cup final appearance in what will now be thirty-four years.

Prior to this latest Manchester derby there were calls for calm from all the usual mouthpieces. Of course, one cannot be perceived as neutral either, so while at the same time as calling for the city to unite in the programme notes at the last home game before this fated fixture, Ferguson also was happy to ramp up the pressure by saying that his city rivals lacked the “mental strength” to win such a big game. The match was marred by ugly scenes both from the players on the pitch and also the fans. Projectiles were hurled at an away team player, not for the first time this season in a trend that is becoming worryingly commonplace. Perhaps it was a small mercy that the game was killed off before extra time could be played. That extra tension was not needed this time around.

The furore didn’t seem to be warranted when you took a look at the facts. Manchester United had always treated the League Cup as a distraction more than anything and would often field weakened teams to make sure it didn’t impact on league and European campaigns. Yet when they won today the aging manager danced a literal jig on the touchline as if he had won a far more significant trophy. Equally puzzling was the fact that the city players, who in truth have been cruising for long periods of the season and not justifying their huge salaries, looked devastated at the prospect of not competing for the competition. Perhaps it is the fact that they know come the start of next season many will be loaned out, have moved on to pastures new, or will be rotting in the most expensive reserve team ever assembled. Those that will remain however must know that trophies will be coming their way – anything else will simply not be acceptable.

Yes, while all the lazy hacks would have called it “a shift in the balance of power” had Man City beaten their more successful rivals, the truth is that in defeat the shift will still be happening anyway. Football changes and some things are inevitable. The Manchester United of old will have to surrender its status as the best at some point and there is no transition in place for when that proud old guard do stand down and retire from campaigning. For all the rightful praise that Wayne Rooney, perhaps the most naturally gifted footballer England has ever produced, has received this season, in this match where would they have been without a veteran Paul Scholes? And it is a question that you can expand on for the future. Who replaces the irreplaceable?

By this I also mean Ferguson, the mastermind behind the success. He is a one off, one of God’s prototypes. That make of real champion that will be loathed by many until the day he finally quits, then revered from then until the end of sporting time by everyone as one of the true greats. There is no other outcome for him when you measure his achievements. There is nobody alive right now that could fill his shoes and only one or two that have the ability to try with any real credibility. With the rumours doing the rounds at the moment would anyone want to try and continue the legacy?

It is no falsehood to say that Manchester United is now in massive debt. It isn’t a secret and no-one is denying it. They may have been one of the few clubs to have turned a profit, but even that was offset by the hugely inflated sales of star talent and the purchasing of players that are cheap and medicore by comparison. Several big name signings have been talked up and then resoundingly played down, with the transfer window about to slammed shut. If this is to be a trend, if it is the only way the Glazers can run their newly acquired asset then how long before key players like the mercurial Rooney, Vidic and Evra are sold to keep the red club in the black?

City have no such worries. A proven continental manager with a long career ahead of him, a blank chequebook provided by a genuinely ambitious owner, a squad that already has enough talent to be in a Champions League spot and time to get it right. While criticism of Hughes still seems to be something of a taboo since his unceremonious and shockingly public removal, one thing is true – he never made the transition to appreciating the big name signings. He still wanted the blood and thunder type, players that matched his own personality when he was one of the great strikers, but that won’t win you trophies in this day and age. The game has changed. The iron fist has to be inside a velvet glove.

Players like Lescott were never top quality and he could have had a proven European giant for a fraction of that price. As was shown by the transformation at Chelsea, you can have the money and the backing, but if you don’t deliver, expect to see the door in quick time. There is always a price to be paid for an unlimited opportunity. It is too soon to say that Mancini will succeed where Hughes has not, but given his pedigree and the clubs he has worked at already, you feel he understands this more than Hughes ever did.

In just a few seasons this fixture will be seen for the relatively insignificant match up that it was. Manchester City will be competing for bigger accolades than a league cup inside of two seasons and Manchester United will have a much more important battle ahead, something I suspect all involved with the club right now know deep down, and maybe the fans too. Think about it… The most successful club of the modern English game needing the league cup to justify their season? It’s the sign of the times.


The Murder of Frank “Bruiser Brody” Goodish

In Wrestling on January 26, 2010 at 2:25 am

The wrestling industry is one that is never short of shocking anecdotes and stories. Even now, in a climate where the capacity to shock seems to have been greatly diminished by global events, scandals involving wrestlers still make headlines. The industry is closely scrutinised, more so in the wake of recent tragic incidents involving some of the biggest names in the business. Curiously though, one example seems to have been largely forgotten about in Wrestling’s checkered history despite involving the murder of one of the industry’s true pioneering stars. I refer, of course, to the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Frank Goodish AKA Bruiser Brody in 1988.

The 1970s were a time before Wrestling had moved into clearly defined characters with their own idiosyncrasies and instead archetypes were sufficient to generate a reaction from the fans. Performers could be easily pigeonholed into their appropriate category, which was more often than not dictated by their physicality more than anything. Always popular with fans would be the “big man brawler”, their sheer size and brutal, street-fighting style – usually a product of their physique being inappropriate for pure technical wrestling – were an easy sell with the blue collar. Promotions quickly looked to trump each other as to who could attract the biggest, strongest and most menacing to their rosters. It is in many ways a trend that still exists today.

This was advantageous for the young Frank Goodish whose large build had enabled him to satnd out at College football, turning professional in 1968, and making the taxi-squad of the Washington Redskins. It was clear though that he wasn’t going to progress and he left the squad to ponder on his future. As it happened there were several modest wrestling promotions springing up that offered a quick buck for those that could come in and do the job. He made his debut in 1973 under the pseudonym “Bruiser Frank Brody” and was quickly warmed to by the crowds who always liked to see a big man in the ring. Although it was before he had a clear defined persona, Goodish immediately grasped the theatricality required and would play the part of a pantomime monster to good effect, gurning and growling his way through matches much to the delight of his audience. Although quickly in demand he remained a freelancer, but did most of his work for the National Wrestling Alliance. It was here, after forming a tag-team partnership with Stan Hansen, another footballing hopeful, that he would win his first belt, claiming the NWA Western States Tag Team title.

By now he was called simply Bruiser Brody and had started to build something of a cult following. His repertoire of high-impact, low-finesse moves were not an entirely original concept, but his levels of physical fitness and the pace with which he could deliver them gave them a new element that hadn’t been seen before. All his moves that built towards his coup-de-grace, a running knee drop, were all in themselves miniature feats of strength, not least of all his penchant for the one armed body-slam. However, despite rival promotions all wanting to offer him exclusive deals, he remained a freelancer and continued to wrestle across several promotions, winning several belts and building up a significant fanbase as a result of this diversity.

In 1975 one of his matches had caught the eye of the respected Walter “Killer” Kowalski who was establishing himself as one of the main heels in the WWWF. Something of a bruiser himself he saw the potential and spent some time trying to persuade Vince McMahon Sr. to bring him into the federation. Eventually, he relented and Goodish accepted and it didn’t take long for him to go over with the fans. The long-standing champion Bruno Sammartino needed somebody new to feud with after his ongoing spat with Kowalski and Bruiser Brody was in the right place at the right time. After a string of matches building up the newcomer, it wasn’t long before he was in headlining matches against one of wrestlings all-time greats and he performed some of the best work of his career in these matches. Of course, Sammartino being the face of the promotion wasn’t going to lose, but many rooted for the big man anyway, even if they weren’t supposed to. After losing the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship match there seemed to be a shift in Brody’s attitude. He had always refused to sign long contracts with anyone he wrestled for, in a bid to avoid being tied down and not cut his own chances profit. Now he was flat out refusing to lose to other wrestlers and was deviating from pre-scripted outcomes in the ring. It was the cardinal sin of the industry and made him immensely unpopular with his colleagues and indeed the management at the WWWF. Although still a big draw with fans, it wasn’t to last and he left the company in 1977 amid various rumours and accusations.

Some said that his refusal to sign a long-term deal was the issue as it was becoming standard practice for the star talent to do so as the WWWF attempted to protect its investment. Others speculated that it was the fact that he simply could not be placed into any scripted or viable storyline – after all, how do you create a realistic feud with anyone who refuses to either lose, or appear vulnerable, at any time? There were also accusations of professional jealousy, with Jim “Kamala” Harris saying in 2002 that Brody and Gorilla Monsoon could not work together because “Monsoon did not like other big men who were over with the fans.” The reality is that wrestlers who were known for being difficult would often find themselves out in the cold and ones that were difficult and popular with the fans would be the most disliked of all workers, their status affording them a degree of protection they probably didn’t deserve.

It was to prove no different when he was given the opportunity to wrestle out in Japan, where the sport enjoyed a huge following and world stars would be handsomely rewarded for their participation. His ring entrances by this point were as spectacular as anyone’s in the business, without the need for pyrotechnics. He would typically enter through the ringside crowd, swinging a chain round his head and bellowing unintelligible noises while Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” would blast out at high volume. It would whip the fans into a frenzy before he had even got into the ring.

In a time when the term “hardcore wrestling” is often synonymous with the likes of Mick Foley and Terry Funk, it is worth noting that Brody could easily be considered the performer that popularised this style. Often he would take part in matches that had props to be used on him as weapons, or in environments that were more dangerous than a standard ring. He revelled in being seen to soak up the punishment and still defeat his opponent with blood streaming for strategic head wounds. It added to his myth, created a believable dimension to the notion that he was an unstoppable monster. Certainly he had no issue with this new extreme presentation so long as he remained victorious and some of his matches in Japan featured some previously unseen levels of gore.

After a biding war broke out between New Japan and All Japan Pro Wrestling to secure his services, he had somehow become the highest paid wrestler in the world, earning $14,000 per week in a time before the “superstar” era. His signing to New Japan even made front page news in the country. His spell in the promotion was cut short though when once again he refused to put a rival wrestler over with the fans. Antonio Inoki was the person who founded the federation and also had a huge following, but Brody wouldn’t play ball. As such their feud was somewhat farcical in nature, their matches ending in no contests or disqualifications to avoid either one having to concede to being the lesser man than the other.

Of course he would always find a way back into the promotion. He was simply too big in terms of box-office in Japan not to be a serious consideration. Even if he only did one or two shows, those would be the ones you could guarantee would sell out. When it seemed he had pushed his luck too far in 1987, when he was blacklisted from Japanese promotions for failing to turn up to a tag team title tournament, he was still back in the country within the year. Not that it mattered too much to Brody. There were other places he was as equally revered and could make as much money. Whenever he pushed his luck too far in Japan, he would go elsewhere while it cooled down. But by 1987 he was almost exclusively working for the Word Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico, enjoying high profile feuds with Abdullah the Butcher and the Puerto Rican legend Carlos Colon. Still, even here in what could have been a haven from the politics, it was the same story. He had made a lot of enemies in the dressing room and there were some who not only refused to work with him, but there were those who wanted him out of the promotion altogether.

This duality of being revered by fans but disliked by his fellow professionals was one that would ultimately define his career and one that would play a part in the events surrounding his death. On Jul 16th 1988 the man known as Bruiser was set to wrestle Dan Spivey at the Juan Lobriel Stadium at Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He went in the shower before his match and was joined by José Huertas González, a wrestler known as Invader #1. Whilst both were in there Brody was stabbed several times, with enough force to piece his lungs and liver, and the big man was left bleeding in there for some time.

The relationship between the two seems to be equally shrouded in mystery and no coherent explanation of a motive for his stabbing has ever emerged. The only credible reason seems to have been revealed by a brief exchange between Tony Atlas and Brody. Atlas seemed to be under the belief that Brody had bought a controlling interest in the promotion. Whether or not this was the catalyst behind the situation that occurred was never established, not in court or out of it. Yet the fact is that conversation took place only two days before the stabbing. As Atlas was quoted as saying to Tapout Zine:

“The only thing I remember about Brody was that two days earlier Brody had said to me ‘Tony, I finally got in’. Whatever that meant, he didn’t say but I think he meant he got shares in the WWC, I know he wasn’t talking about wrestling there. The only people who really know what happened are Brody, Jose, and Carlos.”

Although details of what happened in the shower have never fully been confirmed, not even remotely through the subsequent botched police investigation, the one fact that we can all agree on is that Gonzalez definitely stabbed Brody. He admitted to such under the mitigating circumstance of self-defence. But the fact is that the investigating police were met with a wall of silence from the fellow performers who were in the dressing room that night. They refused comment on such small and trivial details as who had been in the shower, who went in first or second… None had heard or seen anything. It is also stated by Atlas that Brody lay there injured for some time, his fellow professionals ignoring his pleas for help. Whether the second part is to be believed or not it is clear that Bruiser’s lack of popularity played a part in his death.

Atlas, who would offer his services as a witness, was one of the few forthcoming with any information:

“Jose came over to Brody. Carlos, Jose, and Victor Rica were sitting in a huddle, but only Jose came over to Brody. Brody had his bag in one hand and Jose tapped him on the shoulder and they went into shower. Everyone else was watching me draw. Then Brody hollered. I ran into shower, grabbed Brody and laid him on floor. Brody said ‘I’m hurt brother don’t let him hurt me no more’. The cops came in, asked what happened. I told cops ‘that guy over there stabbed that man’. The cops said they have different story and said a fan did it . They asked everyone in that locker room what happened, and they all denied seeing it.”

In the end, the combination not only of the time it took to get an ambulance on the scene, but also a lack of decent medical care lead to Brody’s death. He died of blood loss while doctors tried to operate on him. It is said that the amount of aspirin based painkillers he would take between performances thinned his blood and prevented clotting. He was declared dead before his proposed match and the rest of the workers refused to perform. The 25,000 stadium was packed to capacity and the audience were all told their tickets would be honoured next week. It wasn’t announced why and the fans went home without knowing what had happened until it hit the front pages the next day.

The police investigation was a farce and was documented as such. Tony Atlas, who had given a statement and said he witnessed what had happened was never called to give his version in court. Wayne Keown, known as Dutch Mantel, was also expecting to give his version of events in court but that never transpired either. As he said in his account:

“I was told by the detectives that Jose Huertas Gonzalez would be charged with first degree murder and advised me that when the time for the trial came, I would be subpoenaed and transported back to PR to testify. They told me that airfare and hotel would be arranged for me and that security would be provided. That’s what they said. However, that’s not what they did. I was depressed when I left PR and even more so when I got back to Birmingham. If you’ve ever been to Birmingham, you’d know what I mean. I told my wife in detail everything that had happened. She told me that nothing would be done to Jose Huertas Gonzalez. I got mad at her. How could something not be done? I told her to wait and see. I waited, and I saw that she was right. I got two separate subpoenas for the trial. The first trial date was postponed. The second trial was scheduled for January 23-26, 1989. I still have my subpoena. It was issued 1\3\89 but according to the post date was not mailed until 1\13\89. That meant that it laid on somebody’s desk for a full 10 days. Remember the trial was to start on January 23rd? I received the subpoena on January 24th. I had already heard the verdict by the time I opened the subpoena. I never heard from the detectives again, not even to this day.”

After just one year Gonzalez was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. The Puerto Rican judicial system differs from others in that a jury does not have to be unanimous, but a verdict can be given by a simple majority vote. In the absence of any witness testimony against him, and amid accusations of corruption, Gonzalez walked without any further punishment. He maintained the story that he tried to fight off a physically superior opponent who wanted to kill him by any means necessary, yet that story does stand up to any scrutiny, or tie in with anything that anyone else said surrounding the killing.

The verdict did cause a small backlash with many high profile wrestlers refusing to work in Puerto Rico as a result of it, but in time things got back to normal and the tragedy was largely forgotten about. Jose Huertas Gonzalez continued to wrestle, even holding belts, and amazingly he still enjoyed a strong following in Puerto Rico up until his retirement in 2006. He has since expressed an interest in moving into politics.

Bruiser Brody was a larger than life creation, an entertainer that wouldn’t conform to anyone else’s set of standards but his own. He was meant to be a villain, yet his natural charisma and exuberant performances would draw fans to him and his popularity never waned with the fans he had given so much to. He wasn’t liked by his fellow professionals and in many cases this was with good reason, but the man behind the persona felt this was a necessary sacrifice to preserve the purity of his character and to give the fans what he felt they wanted. Because make no mistake, as much as what he did was for Frank Goodish, it was as much for the fans as anything. A whole generation of those fans were robbed of seeing a performer who at 42 still had something to offer the world of wrestling and we will never know why.

Football Must Remain An Antidote To Tyranny

In Football on January 9, 2010 at 11:21 am

Through Western eyes it seems completely incomprehensible that a football team, containing players  from some of the top clubs in the UK, could come under a sustained gunfire attack while simply travelling to a tournament. While supposedly more pressing conflicts are continually forced upon us, it is easy to forget that Africa is still plagued by civil wars, tribal in fighting, attempted genocides and the oppression of corrupt governments. For many in certain regions of Africa these are part of the day-to-day, something that many have adapted to that it has become an almost mundane component of the mathematics of survival. Far better instead to concern yourselves with protecting yourself and your family than to ponder on matters that you cannot change. With some luck, better times might be over the horizon.

The attack on the Togolese national team as they rode coach to Africa’s premier footballing event is of course a reason to be shocked. The coach driver was killed, his body riddled by bullets. Some of the staff and coaching team were also injured, along with two of the players themselves, Serge Akakpo and Kodjovi Obilale. The siege on the bus lasted close to thirty minutes, something that must have felt like a life time. Emmanuel Adebayor of Manchester City, the world’s richest football club, has already told of the horror of those moments and described scenes of panic as players phoned loved ones fearing they would be killed. They are now reportedly thinking of pulling out of the tournament, an understandable reaction under the circumstances.

In typical blinkered fashion Premier League managers have come out and called for the tournament to be shut down, for their “assets” to be sent home ensuring their safety. It is an easy knee-jerk reaction to arrive at, but one that would not be in the spirit of football, or indeed any sport of the people. There is a long standing history of football being the one societal aspect that never kowtows to the pressure of politics despite being permanently intertwined with it. Whether it be Stalinist Russia where the people could vent their anger against the army team of CSKA, or Argentina’s World Cup triumph in 1978 giving the people something to cheer about despite the oppressive regime of the junta, football remains pure by contrast to the murky world of politics. Not content with our legacy of interaction with the African continent, would we also really presume to rob the populace of a cause for celebration also?

For the many African people the Cup of Nations brings moments of unadulterated joy not present for the rest of the year. Any journalist who has attended will find a wealth of material to write about that verifies this, stories that have since become weighted in cliché. Whole communities coming together to huddle round one working television set, businesses being closed for the duration of the competition, the setting aside of conflict and the coming together of whole villages, towns and cities. Win or lose the pageantry never diminishes. It is as fine a spectacle in world football as you are likely to see and often the tournaments are remembered not for what takes place on the pitch, but what takes place in the stands and the crowds.

African people of all denominations love their football and it is followed devotedly by them wherever they may be. Angola, the host of this year’s tournament, is one of the world’s poorest countries; starvation, disease and death the spoils of a twenty-seven year long civil war that has left the country reeling. The people of Angola have little cause for cheer – yet being selected as host to this tournament, which will see a cavalcade of some of football’s biggest stars arrive to play, is certainly one of them. There is also the real, although brief, economic improvement the tournament will bring to those with businesses in the surrounding area of where the matches will take place. In addition to that there is a chance for Angola to be presented to the world in a way that not many have seen it before, a point of national pride for their people and an occasion they will want to rise to.

I feel for Togo – genuinely. If they choose to withdraw I’d respect it. If they decide to compete then they are brave beyond belief and should be applauded. But I always remember Didier Drogba talking about why he will never miss a game for the Ivory Coast after witnessing a stadium crush that left many Ivorian fans dead on the football pitch. Every game he plays for his country he dedicates to their memory. That is the key here – the players, though scared as anyone would be, need to do this for the people of Angola and give them something to take the mind off their problems. It may be a nervous few weeks for the national squads – for the residents of Angola, it is a much needed diversion from an all too brutal and long lasting daily reality.

At Last – A Worthy Chief For The Redskins

In NFL on January 7, 2010 at 9:57 am

The news that Jim Zorn was being fired with immediate effect from the Washington Redksins will have come as a shock to very few, not even Zorn himself. After having been stripped of his right to call plays in October and rumblings about interviews for the non-vacancy taking place under his nose, it will have probably been a blessed relief when he was told that it was over. A relief for Zorn, sure, but also a relief for the D.C. fans who had to endure a rotten run under the beleaguered head coach, one that saw them lose eighteen of their last twenty four games. No, Zorn will not leave behind many friends and fewer fans as he moves onto pastures new, although I would expect a prolonged hiatus after prolonged exposure to such toxic failure.

Of course, Zorn was always a risky appointment and in truth it is just one in a series of wretched appointments from the owner Dan Snyder since he took over in 1999. Not one of his coaches ended their tenure with a positive winning ratio and many spent most of their time trying to implement radical changes in playing style that left the team directionless and unrecognisible from season to season. When Snyder made the announcement regarding Zorn’s future he himself said that he had to “accept responsibility for mistakes that I have made” of which there were many. He seems to be someone who lacks fundamental understanding of the nature of the game. How else can you explain his inability to grasp the concept that having your offensive and defensive co-ordinators having the same ethos as your head coach is one of the fundamentals to success? Yet in 2006 he appointed the former Chiefs offensive co-ordinator on a huge contract despite the fact that the head coach, Joe Gibbs, wanted to play a completely different way. Naturally this lead to problems on the field and it showed with their inconsistent form.

He has also authorised huge payments to free agents simply so he can be seen publicly to have “got his man” yet rarely have these players delivered on the field in a manner befitting their paycheque. To boot, it has caused dressing room disharmony if the insider reportage on the sports pages is to be believed. He is someone all too keen to use his considerable financial standing to take shortcuts to success, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem if the shortcuts all too often didn’t take the franchise down some cul-de-sac before simply having to turn around again and go back to the beginning of the journey. With such sense of direction you’d have to say that Dan Snyder is no more a true footballing mind than he is a taxi driver.

However the announcement of Mike Shanahan should be met with scenes of rapture and it represents the best decision Snyder has yet made since he was put in charge. Perhaps more importantly is the absolutely explicit statement that Shanahan will have the “ultimate authority” on all footballing decisions, something that implies – as many suspected – past coaches were not afforded this luxury. Indeed, it is not just a matter of going from someone with little coaching pedigree to bringing in a former Superbowl winner, although that in itself would be cause for any fan to start getting optimistic. But it is not this alone that should give Redskin fans fuel for wild dreams of glory. It is what Shanahan embodies – for he is, in the purest sense, a builder.

Put aside what he did as offensive co-ordinator for 49ers, which is no small feat considering they are heralded by many as the greatest offense of all time. But when he came into the head coach spot at the Broncos in 1995 there was still plenty to do. But his eye for talent, his ability to get the best out of his players, and the relationship he enjoyed with the legendary John Elway all played their part in creating one of the most successful NFL teams. Their achievements read like statistical pornography for anyone who loves the game – A record of 46 victories for 10 losses in a three year span, back to back Superbowls, an NFL record for first quarter points that still stands to this day, a string of individuals delivering huge rushing and receiving yardage… He has taken names that no-one had heard of and late round draft picks and turned them into world-beaters. At the end of his tenure, the wheels may have come off a little bit, but all good things have got to come to an end and had he left on a high, maybe in 2006 after they beat the Patriots, then things may have been a little different, he would come to Washington with more of an aura. But make no mistake – he is a winner and knows exactly what is required to turn the franchise around.

Having already instilled his son as offensive co-ordinator bodes well too. His former team, The Texans, might have blown hot and cold but as a student of his father’s teachings he will be relishing the opportunity to put it into practice with a head coach he knows will be on the same page. It is the foundations on which another great NFL offense can be built and you would expect clashes to be kept to a minimum.

So, with Snyder now set to take a back seat and the appointment of a real leader it simply comes down to one question – how long it will take before the Redskins are marauding the play-off plains? Maybe a season could be too soon, the five year contract belies the size of the task in hand… For me though the smart money has to be on D.C. being serious contenders sooner rather than later though. History shows us by two seasons a Shanahan team will be running at full steam and I’m sure when that time comes he will receive all the plaudits. And while every line written will be doubtlessly true and deserved, the real congratulations should go to Snyder. It takes a big man to recognise a bigger man is required to succeed. It may have took a while, but the Redskins have found someone worthy to be their chief.

Winter Is Cruel To The Spanish Turnip

In Football on January 7, 2010 at 9:52 am

“How long Lord, oh how long?”

It is a question that the red half of the Mersey have asked themselves for sometime. Their club has been without a domestic championship for too long and many of their fine fans felt that this could be their year… They even somehow managed to blot out the fact that they had uttered such sentiments the year before, and the year before, and the year before. At least they had some incredible runs in Europe to ease the pain and to provide a genuine spark of enthusiasm and rekindle their belief that they could soon rule the Premier League. Statistically it wasn’t foolish optimism or chirpy sentimentality – under Rafa Benitez the club had made significant steps forward and had they not have fallen to so many draws against lesser opposition, this whole train of thought would be moot, nothing more than a tale of footballing history through the looking glass.

But this season Benitez has the look of a man bereft of ideas, incapable of altering his – and indeed Liverpool’s – destiny. The season has already become a hideous train-wreck, unfolding in slow motion, piece by piece, casualty by casualty. I haven’t seen anyone look so utterly doomed, both hopeless and hapless, since the days of Graham Taylor in charge of England. We all know what is coming and even the most staunch of Liverpool fans must now be asking themselves “how long lord, oh how long?” once more, but for very different reasons.

It is clear to all but the most blinkered of fans that he hast hit the wall and not only has the club ceased to make forward progress, it has now come screeching to a halt before finding only the reverse gear as it frantically tries to keep momentum going. Everyone who knows the game knows there is a huge difference between a genuine title challenge and simply making up enough ground after the chance has gone to make it look respectable. Benitez isn’t capable of delivering anything but the latter, but now a great club is faced with the real prospect of being overtaken by the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa in that scramble for Champions League revenue.

Benitez may well publicly decry big spending clubs, but even he must be conscious of the hypocrisy loaded in such hyperbole. Let us not forget that this a manager who has been allowed to spend 220 million pounds to build a side that is over-reliant on two players, and he inherited one of those. Would such frivolous spending be tolerated anywhere else? Certainly not at the clubs he has criticised where managerial turnovers are common if expenditure is not directly proportionate to success.

It is not even as if you can say he has a particular eye for talent. Liverpool fans groan when they see some of his purchases on the team sheet, they know what they deliver week in and week out. How can someone capable of winning a Champions League trophy let a player with the engine and raw talent of Sissoko go for what would be considered chump change in the current climate? How could he honestly believe that selling the elegant and gifted Alonso and replacing with Gareth Barry would be a wise decision? Yet that is a move that was touted for so long that it became a large part of why the Spaniard left the club for better opportunities. And he also has been the author of the greatest of footballing mysteries – just what is it that Lucas brings to the table? Even the most generous of spectators are baffled.

Is he a good man manager? The evidence would suggest not, based on the fact that earlier in the season he publicly criticised Gerrard, a player who always bleeds for the cause and has been the sole reason behind so many Liverpool victories down the years. He has even delayed key players from getting much needed surgery and lay-offs in his bid to try and salvage something of the season, a tactic no manager should have to resort to. A player will always be resentful of their long term future being risked by even the smallest percentage, especially if that cost is only to achieve mediocrity.

Of course, it isn’t all bad, I’m not so hard nosed I can’t find good things to say about Benitez, but they aren’t relevant in the here and now. The slump that Liverpool find themselves in is one that needs to be addressed and soon. The transfer window opens in January and a new manager with fresh ideas, players to offload and a bit of money to spend could transform the club and at least make fourth spot a realistic goal. But there is a bigger nightmare ahead than just no Champions League next season if that is the outcome. Even players as loyal as Gerrard will find their loyalty tested come the Summer if Liverpool look nothing like a title challenging club for yet another season. What then for the future?

Much like Taylor you feel he has entered into that territory where one decision going against him could cost him his job. Football is too cruel a game for that position to be maintained for too long without catastrophic consequences. In this instance though Benitez’s loss will be Liverpool’s gain.