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Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Why Can’t Footballers Have Opinions?

In Football on September 22, 2011 at 9:46 am

Another furore over Twitter. An investigation looms. A young professional footballer faces a hefty fine, or perhaps even worse, over expressing an opinion that breaks no laws. If this sounds like a bullet point of several stories that have run over the past few months, that probably because it is. Yet, ultimately what is it about footballers that should preclude them from expressing an opinion publicly? Why is it that they are subjected to a higher level of censorship than Joe Public?

The latest storm in an e-cup revolves around Nathan Ecclestone, a 20 year old player who has only made nine appearances for his club, Liverpool. Despite the fact he is far from high profile, a possible future star at best, he has 39,000 followers who all seem intent on hearing what he has to say on a daily basis. What pressure then to entertain. The life of the average 20 year old is far from interesting and there is a tedious mundanity about the grind of being a professional foorballer. It can’t all be mobile phones up arses, roasting drunk girls, crashing sportscars. For some it’s wake up, train hard, go home, wait to see if your name appears on the Saturday team sheet.

But of course you still have opinions, so why not share them? After all, this is probably the one good thing about the internet. While politicians and hysterical tabloids will tell you it’s nothing more than a delivery vehicle for child porn and terrorist activity, it is primarily used for the rapid exchange of information and opinions. It’s what we all use it for.

And footballers are no different. Yet whenever a footballer, or indeed any high profile sporting celebrity, chooses to express an honest opinion about their industry that might deviate from the one commonly held by the public, the uproar doesn’t go away until someone has been forced into action or an apology. Whether it’s Paul Dalglish expressing his distaste at Howard Webb being made an MBE, Glenn Johnson pointing out Paul Merson might have had a bit of a gambling problem, Wojciech Szczesny suggesting that maybe Man Utd get the rub of the green in big decisions, it’s not long before it’s being investigated.

Mind you, at least those all revolve around their sport. Now it seems that footballers can’t even have opinions about politics or world events. Forget Carlton Cole casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the average Ghanian’s right to be in this country, Ecclestone’s offending tweet about September 11th reads “I ain’t going to say attack don’t let the media make u believe that was terrorist that did it. #OTIS”, the acronym at the end standing for “only The Illuminati succeed.”

Nathan is a 20 year old footballer, not a political analyst, not an eminent historian, not a seasoned journalist. He, like many others, clearly believes there’s more to the September 11th attacks than meets the eye. Many won’t have done much more than light reading on the matter as they don’t fall into any of those alternative careers. Regardless, the internet is awash with conspiracy theories that range from the vaguely plausible to the ridiculous. Flag-sucking patriots may find some of them offensive, families of the victims might not enjoy such speculation about the factors behind the deaths of their loved ones but freedom of speech is protected in the west, prized above almost all other freedoms.

Why then have Liverpool had to release a statement reading “The club takes this matter extremely seriously and senior club officials have informed Nathan Eccleston that we are undertaking an investigation into the circumstances surrounding these postings and will decide on an appropriate course of action.” What exactly does the investigation entail? Has it now become some form of professional misconduct to state your views about anything that may be construed as vaguely controversial outside of your work place? Evidently it has and most clubs are now looking at imposing a Twitter ban, a ridiculous measure.

Of course, here’s the real reason why this matter always manages to grab people’s attention – the petty jealousy of the mindless fools that make up the followers. They sit there, like some form of cyber-Stasi, waiting for someone to say something they disagree with. Then, en mass, they decry it as being wrong, as being unprofessional, as being offensive. The next move is to find who they can complain to, where to send that e-mail, which newspaper to contact. It all happens so quickly that before the footballer can delete the tweet in question, the damage is already done.

The thought process of the average moron that engages in this activity is quite transparent. Footballers earn exorbitant wages for kicking a ball. My job requires more hard work than theirs and I get less money. This is not fair. In that case they should be held up to a much higher standard of behaviour… Plus they’re role models to children, so yeah, if they step out of line in any way, fuck them. Take their money away, take their sponsors away, force them into humiliating public contrition. This slightly redresses the balance because I’m free to do all of the things I demand they don’t.

These people try and edge the spheres of their non-compatible, irrelevant arguments towards the discussion surrounding the endless Twitter controversies. The only discussion that is worth having is whether or not you believe profession dictates your right to freedom of speech. What you earn, what you do, who you are just shouldn’t come into it and all the bleating sermonising about what’s the “right” thing to do does not alter that.

While I have no doubt that Ecclestone had no idea his tweet would cause such consequences it at least might finally lead to something comprehensive being decided on the issue. Clearly, if clubs and the FA start to impede the rights of players to express political views it won’t take long for a legal team to overturn it. And when that happens the floodgates will finally be open. This oppressed profession will be free at last, free to spout their stupefyingly ill-informed views, free to speculate wildly about what it all means and free to moan about the way a game panned out the same as any fan can. Would that really be so terrible?

I have no idea how it got to the stage where clubs can take it upon themselves to investigate the political sympathies of players. If you do think this is correct picture this scenario – next time you’re shuffling papers in your office nine to five you get a tap on the shoulder. It’s your boss. They haul you into the free room, the plastic furniture laminated with the tears of the dismissed. Someone has sent them a screenshot of you saying something negative about Israel and how they should get out of Palestine. What have you got to say for yourself?

Cosmic Forces, Newcastle Versus Villa & The Children Of Pardew

In Football on September 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm

It was judgement day in the house, the twice a season moment when the relationship gets strained. As an estranged Geordie living in Birmingham having shacked up with a Villa fan there was the possibility that it would add an extra element of spice to the fixture. Instead, it has become an exercise in diplomacy, a constant forced grin fixed to my face and having to mumble platitudes to the other half as the game goes on, only to get dagger stares when I accidentally yelp “Have it you cunts” when we bang in that vital goal.

The penalty for defeat is worse than another three points surrendered in a season that screams impending mid-table mediocrity. It will be a week of that kind of smug consolation that women do so well… “Don’t worry about it baby. You’ll get a result next week” with a smirk on her face that can freeze over even the warmest heart. Do the players even know what is at stake here?

The game itself was always destined to be a boring one. It had earlier been tweeted by the MOTD production that Aston Villa would pretty much always be the last match and it’s easy to understand why, The McLeish brand of anti-football is now well documented and his shameless slither across to Villa from Blues is probably the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in the modern game. Having been forced into watching Villa a few times this season I can honestly say it’s never been pleasant viewing. Like a flair vacuum, the McLeish ethos simply sucks the life out of any team he presides over, making me wonder exactly what a training session comprises of.

“Ach, no… Ye passed it forward laddie… That’ll never do”

And while Villa fans have my deepest sympathies, the same sympathies extended to me when it was announced we’d be taking on Alan Pardew, this brand of cloggery isn’t welcome when my beloved team come to town.

We’ve hardly been setting the world alight ourselves, our last match seeing us get humbled by the mighty Q.P.R. as we trundled to a 0-0 draw. The week before that we had to rely on Leon Best being hypnotised into believing he was Messi to come up good against Fulham. I know we’re unbeaten and I know we’re riding up in the Champions League spots but a long, long season awaits, make no mistake about it.

The good news was that Pardew, who declared Shola “Sho Stopper” Ameobi to be one of the bets professionals he’d worked with, finally realised he is shit and dropped him for a player that almost single-handedly kept West Ham up in the form of Demba Ba. He was the one bit of business that excited me in our transfer dealings that seemed content to make us twinned with some shit team in France. Having come off the bench to turn the screws on Fulham with his pace and power he has to be preferred to a player who is only remarkable for the fact he’s stuck around so long. Probably because no-one else wants him.

I wanted to hate Pardew when he came in but all things considered he’s probably the perfect manager to work under a chairman who is as demented as he is overweight. Pardew is “the company man”, that middle-tier manager in the office who continues to apply for promotion while endlessly being passed over for younger candidates. He’s solid and steady so it’s probably understandable that the team we’ve become reflects that. But Newcastle fans get restless with such consistency. We want the terrifying highs, the giddy lows, the constant tabloid inches. We’re simply not used to anything else.

The team lacks invention too and the compact midfield is incapable of supplying Demba Ba in the same way that even West Ham could. Check Tiote is rapidly becoming the next David Batty, unaware of the art of forward passing and good only for a yellow card. Since his goal against Arsenal, which was rewarded with a massive deal and contract, he’s started leading a sedentary lifestyle in midfield. When you couple that with Obertan – a player that has less awareness than Milan Baros, all head down and running in a straight line – and Cabaye, a player whose most spectacular thing about him is his name, you’re not going to create a lot of chances. Probably something that is highlighted by Leon Best being our top goalscorer with three.

A lot of pressure rests on Jonas Guttierez but it’s clear that he is also struggling to find his best form in this new look team. When he first came to the club he was described as “electrifying”. When we went to into The Championship he was “electric”. Now he’s being described as “tricky” and he struggled to make the most of a Villa defence that can be generous despite McLeish being billed as some sort of ginger defensive mastermind.

It’s not as if we’ve got a solid defence ourselves. While it’s clear that our foreign players actively benefitted from the season in The Championship, adapting to the physicality and bringing it back up to the prem, we’ve still got problems. As demonstrated in this game we can’t deal with pace, we can’t deal with strength and we like to be the architects of our own downfall. This was ably demonstrated this game by Steven Taylor, the most disloyal “loyal” player in the game (kissing the badge one minute, transfer requests the next, his agent linking him with Barcelona and a host of other clubs that would never touch him before contract negotiations) when he almost gave away a goal. He made up for it by putting it out for a corner when it was going wide anyway.

We could also use a reliable keeper. Aston Villa have got ours. Ah, Shay… How I miss you. His performance in this game showing that Villa got themselves a keeper that is capable of winning matches on his own, something he’d have done for us more often if we’d actually had defenders instead of applicants for clown college. This is the keeper that somehow managed to keep clean sheets despite playing behind the brothers of destruction Boumsong and Bramble, players that put in as many tackles on each other as they did opposition attackers. I felt his absence more acutely each time Tim Krul came to play out a backpass and winced.

So yes, our team is very much a product of Pardew. Average, steady, opportunistic. There’s no-one exceptional in any position but, I suppose, it is better than having a blend of players too good for the club being made to feel that fact every day by having to play with the bungling and inept. It’d just be nice if I believed that he could be inspiring. Clearly he can’t. His soft whispering voice before the game and at half time clearly put the players into a coma that it took twenty minutes to wake up from each time. Not even Paul McKenna can do that.

What did I learn about Villa? Well, obviously I’ve had the misfortune to watch them a few times this season because of the connection with her indoors. I honestly believe McLeish will do to this team what he did to Birmingham and Villa fans need to be wary of that before backing their man. He simply doesn’t know how to play in a manner that will see an abundance of chances and that wastes the attributes of the best players in the Villa squad. He will have to rely on the form of players like Agbonlahor.

He was the main talking point around the Villa half of Birmingham, whether or not he should be starting for England. As much as he worked our defence he’s not an international class player. He has pace and he’s getting better and holding the ball up but ultimately that’s all he can do. The interview with him on Football Focus before the match showed he lacks the brain power to add much more to his repertoire.

The reality he is that he has come to the forefront simply because Darren Bent has taken so many steps backwards. He doesn’t look anything like the player he was last season and missed a sitter that would have surely wrapped the game up. In previous fixtures this season he’d been caught offside often, his eagerness getting the better of him, or perhaps a lack of concentration. Against Newcastle he played deep and seemed to be disinterested. Worrying times because when he gets like this he’s normally setting himself up for a big money move, much like he did to enable him to move to Villa, a club that were battling relegation as opposed to the team he left that were challenging for Europe.

A draw was a fair result all round, even if we could have nicked it and it looks like we’ll be finishing above Villa this season on this evidence. Certainly our brand of slow and steady seems to be less problematic than the one McLeish is forcing down the throats of the Villa faithful. The result puts Newcastle fourth in the table, a massive over-exaggeration of the footballing side we are, but it’s still a sign of a progress of sorts even if the glory days of the Keegan era remain a distant dream.

As for the relationship with the missus? She and I left the bar and I was allowed to put my arm around her. Indeed, I didn’t mind touching her at all. We were still friends and neither of us had lost anything. The draw was completely fair and the only result that could have created this pleasant outcome. It won’t always be like this but maybe, just maybe, some cosmic force wants this relationship to work out.

The Worst Footballing Debuts Of All Time

In Football on September 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Your club has just forked out its entire transfer kitty on a new superstar signing. After a fairly uneventful pre-season, which means nothing anyway, you see your new hero step on to the pitch for the first time wearing your colours. This is where it matters, this is where the season begins, this is where your team proves it finally has the balance required to make a push for honours. He strides out, imperious, and applauds his new set of fans as he takes his position on the field of play. Then, somehow it all goes horribly wrong, a hideous display of ineptitude that makes you want to strip the replica shirt bearing his name from your back and burn it.

Here’s the worst footballing of all time…

Jonathan Woodgate, Real Madrid

Defensive debuts don’t really get worse than this but it’s especially nightmarish if you take into account how long the fans had to wait to see their inexplicably popular British import represent the club.

After being signed in August 2004 from Newcastle for a then costly £13.4 million it took Woodgate over a year to even make his first appearance for the Spanish giants and when he did the crowd certainly wished he hadn’t.

He opened the scoring with a spectacular own goal putting Athletic Bilbao 1-0 up at the Bernabéu. Desperately trying to atone for this cardinal sin the defender started throwing in some fairly needless challenges and inevitably was sent off after acquiring two yellow cards with twenty five minutes of the game left.

Just to underline how utterly unnecessary to his teams efforts he was, they still managed to win 3-1 despite his contribution. It was only one of nine appearances, memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Ali Dia, Southampton

Not only one of the worst debuts of all time but perhaps the most embarrassing transfer in English football and it’s all thanks to the hardest of the Chuckle Brothers, Graeme Souness.

Then the manager of Southampton, Souness received a phone call from someone claiming to be Liberian legend George Weah. Although the details of the phone call have never entirely been made public, the person who made the call – likely Dia himself – stated that Dia was Weah’s cousin, had been capped by Senegal 13 times and had at one time been on the books for Paris Saint-Germaine. It was all grade A bullshit that Souness bought wholesale.

Thinking he was getting some sort of bargain he immediately picked up Dia on a free transfer and registered him in time for the game against Leeds, seemingly without ever having seen him play or train.

He came on as a substitute, for the great Matthew Le Tissier no less, and was hilariously below Premier League standard. Lacking fitness, pace, touch and passing ability, Souness was left with no other choice but to substitute him later on in the game. Southampton lost 2-0.

Le Tissier would later talk about the embarrassing incident on an interview on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyT1r_oVcdA) where he said “it was unbelievable. He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice; it was very, very embarrassing to watch.”

The 22 minutes live on in infamy and left Souness’s credibility in tatters. Things didn’t get much better for the player either, who went on to play a few games for non-league team Gateshead before they too deemed him not up to standard. Dia by name, dire by nature.

Mike Salmon, Oxford United

OK, keepers do have a tough time of it. We all know that. Every mistake is highlighted because it usually leads to a goal or looks so hilariously bad that even someone as inherently laughable as Mark Lawrenson can feel safe to criticise it. Still, to play only one game and be voted the club’s worst ever player in a magazine poll? That takes some spectacular kind of ineptitude.

And indeed it was. Salmon, looking every bit the proverbial fish out of water, made his debut the day after signing on loan for the club against Birmingham City. Straight in the starting line-up he put on a display so wretched that it contributed to what still remains Oxford’s largest defeat as they were mauled 7-1 at the hands of the blues.

Salmon is now the goalkeeping coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS league.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, AC Milan

When Milan managed to secure the loan of a player that was coveted by top European clubs and had already played for the world’s best, they believed it was something of a coup, a move that would alter their fortunes in the league and rejuvenate their aging squad.

His debut was against the comparative minnows and Serie-A debutants of Cesena. A quiet first half from the Rossoneri somehow saw the underdogs 2-0 up at half time, with Ibrahimovic having rarely threatened the opponent’s goal.

Still, on they plodded and in the 88th minute Milan were awarded a penalty for a clumsy challenge in the box. Up steps their newly acquired £60 million rated striker to set up a barnstorming finish… Except he missed the penalty and Milan lost the game.

This debut didn’t stop the club making the move permanent at the start of this season.

Wayne Bridge, West Ham

Bridge had been in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons prior to his move to West Ham. The player that will likely be remembered for little else except bringing the “bro code” to professional football.

West Ham fans might remember him for something a little bit different with what is likely to go down in history as the worst defensive debut the Premier League has seen and is likely to see. In a game where West Ham lost 3-0 it was the debutant that was to blame for all three of the goals they conceded.

The first goal was bad but perhaps forgivable for a player starved of first team football at Man City. Failure to get anywhere near the pacey Theo Walcott allowed the winger to whip in a cross for an Arsenal lead. Just before half time his leaden legs struck again when he failed to move as Van Persie cut a ball back from the byline returning the favour for Walcott.

The most catastrophic of his errors came in the 77th minute where, again skinned for pace by Walcott, he tackled the player from behind and gave away a penalty. He was hauled off in the last minute of the game but the damage was done. West Ham fans looked aghast, even more so when it was revealed in the papers he was allegedly being paid £90,000 a week.

Henrik Larsson, Celtic

It might seem amazing to think that any Celtic fan could have anything bad to say about the hoops legend but after his debut many were left shaking their heads thinking they had acquired yet another dodgy foreign import.

Coming on as a late substitute against Hibernian with the game tied at 1-1 the man who would become Celtic’s top scorer of all time made the decisive play of the match… By passing to Hibs midfielder Chic Charnely who scored to award the game to his side. His European debut wasn’t much better, scoring an own goal against Tirol Innsbruck in a macth Celtic won 6-3.

Still, his quality came to the forefront as the season progressed, banging in eighteen goals in all competitions and laying the foundations for what would be a glittering career with the club. Proof that debuts aren’t always the best indicator of whether or not your team has bought a lemon.

Redknapp Is Not The Man For England

In Football on September 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

We’ve already seen the damage that can be done when managers are talked into jobs by their friends in the media. The most recent example was Roy Hodgson’s move to Liverpool. A mediocre, journeyman gaffer suddenly talked up as manager of the year for a lower mid-table finish and getting thumped in the UEFA Europa League final and then given the reigns of power at a big club he should never have been at.

Now it seems the same thing is poised to happen with England. Despite it being a long way off, the successor for Capello’s departure seems to have already been decided. But should Harry Redknapp, known to his friends as simply ‘Arry, really be given the most difficult job in world football? Here’s some reasons why it will likely be an unmitigated disaster.

Wheeling & Dealing

When you’re an international manager you can’t simply take to the transfer market, signing every African midfielder that’s available in an attempt to rejuvenate an already swollen squad. You have to work with what is there, which for the most part will be the same old names that have been there for the past decade or so. It’s doubtless that someone who revels in their image being the equivalent of a used car salesman will find this mundane reality particularly stimulating.

Can a man whose instinct told him to look abroad when he was managing a team with one of the best young squads in Britain – West Ham – really be the man to help assemble a consistent England squad? Will the temptation to tinker and pick some wild selections prove too great? Just who would be the UK equivalent of Marco Boogers and Florin Raducioiu anyway? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Wild Excuses

He’s always got one, hasn’t he? And to be fair, England fans are sick of hearing them from a string of manager’s that simply can’t put their hands up and say they are out of their depth. Already he’s been at it this season having the audacity to claim that having one player in his squad “tapped up” is the reason for a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of a superior Man City. Then after agreeing to sell vast swathes of his squad players before the transfer deadline he then bemoans what a small squad he actually has, setting up future excuses as they may be required.

Of course, by having friends in the media, these outbursts are glossed over as him simply being plain speaking. However, will people want to hear about the “lack of available players” or “congested domestic schedule” after crashing out of the qualifiers for an international tournament? Doubtful. We’ve heard it all before.

Antiquated Tactics

Everyone would agree that football has come a long way in the last thirty or forty years. The modern game is as much about tactics as it is about having the playing staff, the proof of this being numerous in the new breed of football manager typified by Mourinho. Do England then really want a manager who thinks it’s all as simple as having a couple of quick wingers, a large centre forward to aim crosses at and a small, rapid striker to feed balls through to? Don’t forget the combative midfielder.

While such dull and often trotted out truisms such as “you can’t beat pace in the premier league” are all well and good, do we really want to see England relying on the same game plan it had before it finally decided that maybe foreign coaches were the way to go? Tottenham may well be labelled an attacking side and an entertaining one to watch but that is more down to the staff they have in the ranks (emerging talent such as Bale who was being touted as heading on loan to Birmingham back in 2009, the mercurial talent of Modric) rather than any genuine tactical innovation.

By his own admission they’ve suffered due to not being able to field their big players – in the international world where injuries and suspensions define whole tournaments, a genuine general is going to be required for success.

Blind Loyalty

Everyone knows Ledley King has no knees. I don’t mean “no knees” in the same way a fat bloater huffing and puffing around the Sunday league pitch has no knees. I actually mean he has no knees. If he plays one game, he’s invariably out for three… If he makes training at the start of the week, he’s resting by the end of it.

I know all this because Harry Redknapp never stops talking about it. We get it. It’s a real tragedy. Ledley King isn’t the first talented player to have limitations put on his career by physical problems and he won’t be the last. The real question though has to be why, knowing that he has no knees, Redknapp has made no real effort to replace him. Why does he allow him to remain on the payroll? Why doesn’t he just cut his losses? Why doesn’t he put the arm round the shoulder and tell him it’s time for retirement but not to worry as he can coach the kids, who do have knees?

It’s because Ledley “is a great lad”, which is probably true. Still, you want a manager to make the tough decisions. If I worked in a call centre and had no vocal chords, great lad or not, I’d expect the gaffer to tell me I should probably go and flip burgers instead.

Taking injury prone players to international events because they’re great lads is a surefire recipe for disaster and not one I trust Redknapp to steer clear of.

Old Grudges

While on the one hand he’ll be loyal to players who can’t play, it’s a fact that Redknapp has also has some pretty unsavoury run-ins with his fellow managers. Always one for the dodgy deal, several managers have accused Redknapp of unsettling players and has left whole clubs cursing the day he had dealings with them.

Given that the relationship between the national manager and those at club level has to be one of give and take, can Redknapp smooth over some of the past transgressions in order to ensure that he can have those players free for a friendly, or take someone recovering from injury into a competition?

Would he even want to is another question. He can be every bit as cantankerous as you’d expect a human Bagpuss lookalike to be. Old arguments would likely lead to the standpoint of cutting off his nose to spite his weathered face.

Self Interest

Whatever anyone says about the England manager’s job, it being labelled as a poison chalice for anyone who takes it could not be truer. Whether it’s the comedic ineptitude of Graham Taylor, the emotional fragility of Kevin Keegan or the voodoo fixated Glenn Hoddle, the scrutiny and pressure makes fools of them all. Look at the fate of Steve McClaren, once touted as the best modern coach England had produced, now reduced to impersonating the Dutch and managing Forest.

Ultimately no job in football carries a heavier penalty for failure, which is all well and good, yet Redknapp always seems to emerge from even the worst of situations looking immaculate and this is largely down to him always acting based on his own self interest. His track record within club football points to a manager who persuades chairmen to part with vast sums of money, presides over a period of success and then, the minute the peak has reached, plots his next big money move to a new home to repeat the cycle again.

Given that managing England is likely to be his last job in football, is it not entirely likely that when the going gets tough, Redknapp will walk out just as his country could really use him? And that would be the end, with him accepting a huge advance to write his memoirs like a disgraced politician, being drafted in by Sky Sports as a pundit for England games so he can criticise his successor and sit next to his son, like some hideous advert for the ravages of time.