Category Archives: football
“Why don’t you just change teams?” my wife habitually enquires, usually as I slip into yet another sulky stupor. My standard response is to gently remind her that it is far easier to change wives than teams.
In some ways I pity her, going about her daily life utterly oblivious to the lifelong endeavour of fanship. But then again, she isn’t the one hurling remotes at the TV, sitting hunched over in front of the laptop theorising about fictitious transfers or cursing referees like they’d violently slaughtered a herd of Unicorns (the correct collective noun is a ‘blessing’, but I couldn’t do it).
Much like a good marriage, fandom is based around loyalty although depending on which team you support, you may as well rewrite your vowels to say “in sickness and in hamstring injuries, through mid-table mediocrity and relegation dogfights, till administration do us part.”
But if Tottenham Hotspur were a wife, they’d be the type that takes up all your spare time, spends all of your hard earned and despite all the promises of a birthday romp, you wind up having to settle for a wristy when a timely migraine kicks in.
Okay, so maybe I’m overreacting. At least Spurs fans haven’t married an ex-stripper, all prone to bankruptcy and relegation, like the fans of Leeds United. But the fact the Tottenham faithful are still trading off the glory of the league/FA cup double some 50 years ago is a surefire sign that recent generations has had less than Russell to crow about.
Granted, we’ve seen some amazing players pull on the famous white jersey – the likes of Linnekar, Gazza, Klinnsman, Ginola & Anderton (wait, did I just type that last one?) to name a few, but the great teams have been as rare Cockerel’s teeth.
For a team that appears forever consigned to unwavering mediocrity, it is of little surprise that Spurs treat the race for 4th place like it is winning the Premier League. Not so much trying to climb Everest as content to scale the heights of Scafall Pike.
But not only are Spurs aiming low, they also seem to enjoy the kind of luck previously reserved for the Boston Red Sox after they dealt their Babe to the Yankees.
Take ‘Lasagne-gate’ on the final day of the season in 2006, where Spurs only needed to match Arsenal’s result to secure 4th place and the spoils that accompany it. Cue ten first team players hunched over an assortment of buckets and toilet bowls, a loss to West Ham and our season emphatically ended, rather poetically, in a sea of vomit.
But it hasn’t all been doom & gloom on the European front. In 2010-2011 we played in the Champions league, an event my Arsenal supporting friend described as ‘having his retarded brother follow him to the school disco’. But for a supposedly mentally handicapped side, Spurs played some very good stuff and topped the group giving defending champions Inter a belting in the process. That was followed up with a convincingly victory over AC Milan, but then the usual luck kicked in as we drew Real Madrid in the QF. Aaron Lennon got sick/nervous as the players were exiting the tunnel at the Bernabéu , Crouch got a soft red after just 15 minutes and there was no way back from there.
Last season, Spurs actually managed to finish 4th again, before lady luck (wearing Chelsea blue) scuppered our Champions League football yet again. To call Chelsea’s run to the trophy ‘arsy’ would not even begin to do it justice. From the late penalty to force extra time against Napoli, to the man-down-2-0 turnaround against Barcelona – Chelsea left even Cinderella and Euromillions winners feeling a little short changed in the luck department. But to top their unbelievable run, The Blues even managed to defeat a German team (who were playing at home) on penalties in the final, moving Spurs, for all intents and purposes, to 5th place. I mean c’mon!!!
But the fun for Spurs fans has not stopped there, so neither will I.
Tottenham didn’t just dip their toe in the transfer market this summer, they cannonballed off the 5 metre springboard. The first and most influential change came early in the summer as ‘Arry & the club parted ways. I, presumably much like Daniel Levy, had grown tired of the cliché fest that was Harry Redknapp – a man who the press adored for his ability to speak only in idioms, cockney riddles and constant sound bites, but who is yet to display any sense of footballing acumen in either a coaching or punditry role. But if he gave the club one thing it was stability. Something Spurs have seen only twice in the last decade, once under Martin Jol and again through Redknapp’s tenure, but both men felt the wrath of Daniel Levy and his distaste for 5th place.
Six managers over the past ten years (not including those in a caretaker role) has made coaching Spurs less desirable than drumming for Spinal Tap. But the steadfast rule to any managerial changes is before you wield the axe, you must have someone better lined up. Andre Villas-Boas was a failed experiment at Chelsea, who played favourites (particularly with fellow countrymen) and froze out senior players without the hint of an explanation. To put it mildly, he is the complete antithesis of stability.
There is already disharmony in the ranks with new signing, Hugo Lloris, already demanding sit down talks with the manager and he only joined the team 5 minutes ago. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a French keeper scorned, but it was the signing of Lloris that could have easily been deemed unnecessary to begin with. Despite his age, Brad Friedal has barely put a foot wrong between the sticks since he arrived at Spurs at the beginning of last season. Considering there is an £8 million pound reserve keeper (biggest impulse buy in history), Heurelho Gomes on the bench, as well as the artist formally known as ‘ the best stopper in world football’, Carlo Cudicini, sitting next to him, it could have been safe to assume that the money spent on Lloris could have been better invested elsewhere. There is no denying the French stopper is a talented keeper, but it seems most Spurs fans would have liked to see a sell-before-you-buy strategy undertaken here.
A surplus of keepers we can live with and I’m even willing to give AVB a chance to prove the naysayers wrong, but what Levy did to the midfield with the transfer clock winding down was unforgivable. To put it in its simplest terms, he took our best 2 attacking midfielders and replaced them with Fulham’s best 2 attacking midfielders. There is no better example of Spurs’ quest for midtable mediocrity than that. I’m not doubting Dembele could well transform himself into a club legend, but it will be some time before he is filling the huge boots left by Modric & Van der Vaart.
Hefty bans have been handed out following the A-League pre-season melee between the Jets and the Phoenix despite the aggressors presenting a highly plausible defense. During the hearing to decide the fate of those involved, the player that sparked the brawl, Manny Muscat, revealed that it was all just an elaborate welcome to the new FFA chief executive, David Gallop.
“Although it hadn’t been officially announced, news leaked into the dressing room before kick off that Gallop was the new boss (of the FFA). I had a quick chat with the players and we thought it best to welcome the man in the best way he knows how… with a big, pungent, steaming heap of controversy” Muscat revealed as the players faced the match review committee.
As he elaborated on the ‘welcome party’ it became even more apparent that the entire event was orchestrated by Muscat, and it was only through some quick thinking and the help of technology that he managed to get his opponent Tiago Calvano involved.
“We were trying to fire the Jets boys up in the tunnel to goad them into a bit of biffo, but I was struggling with Calvano as my Portuguese is more piss weak than Ronaldo following the slightest contact to his face. But then I was hit with some Gallop-spiration. I quickly borrowed Ricki Herbert’s I-phone and showed Tiago the infamous picture of Joel Monaghan and the dog with the blurry face. Turns out Calvano’s a real dog lover as they’re everywhere in Brasil. You could almost see the stream coming out of his ears… he was always going in hard. After that I just had to clock him one in the face, you know, as a congenial gesture to Mr Gallop.”
Despite his honest omissions, Muscat was still handed a 4 match ban by the FFA but was philosophical following the punishment. “Look, it’s only right that Gallop is immediately shown that suspensions & the name Muscat are synonymous in Australian football. I’m just glad I was able to make him feel at home in the A-League and get him up to speed.”
Other players involved, such as the Phoenix’s Ben Sigmund and Andrew Durante were also handed bans for charging in swinging during the incident that cleared both the benches. Durante’s defense was similar to Muscat’s as he explained his part in the fisty-cuffs. “For both teams to come running in like that is unheard of in the pre-season, especially after only 20 minutes or so. Plus there wasn’t even that much in the tackle. So i’d say it is pretty clear from the outside that this brawl was our way of rolling out the red carpet for the finest sports administrator in the country.”
Durante was probed further by the committee to try to reveal his motivation for this violent show of hospitality. “It was a momentous day” he states “I mean, the fact that Gallop can now say the word ‘football’ and it actually convey the correct meaning is landmark.”
When asked by the press outside what he believes Gallop might add to roundball in Australia, Durante said “well, we’ve got a new TV deal coming up and there are also mining magnates galore wanting their piece of the A-league, so there appears to be some cash money on the horizon for us players. So I dare say (Gallop’s) experience of being equipped to deal with a bunch of overpaid, uneducated, ultra-competitive morons who are generally a pretty thirsty lot with far too much time on their hands, might just come in handy.
But mostly i’m looking forward to a few rule changes. Maybe ’10 in the bin’ following a yellow card, or even tweaking the shoulder to shoulder contact law to also permit full-blooded shoulder charges. We do that, then the likes a SBW, Folau and Hunt might all be up for a code switch. I mean, another code switch.”
Muscat, Calvano and Sigmund were unavailable for comment following the hearing, as they were all off to the pub for a heavy session followed by a trip to the local tattoo artist.
It appears the welcome for David Gallop is only just beginning.
The regrettable urge of itchy thumbs that seems to supplant basic common sense in a footballer’s brain has yet again come under scrutiny in Premier League land. No, I’m not talking about Roo’s chubby opposers punching in the digits of some two-bit floosy from Bolton to arrange a booty call, but more of Rio Ferdinand’s fondness for Tweeting.
The controversy has stemmed from a somewhat convoluted chain of events that occurred during the trial of the Chelsea Grand Wizard, John Terry. Terry was charged with racially abusing the younger of the Ferdinand brothers, Anton, and during the trial, A$hl€y Col€ defended his Chelsea teammate in court. Around that time a Tweet was sent to the account of Rio Ferdinand, which said “Looks like Ashley Cole’s going to be their choc ice. Then again he’s always been a sell out. Shame on him.” Rio responded to this in a positive manner and even repeated the slur by saying “I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic hahahahahahha!!”
Now it doesn’t take the linguistic skills of Noam Chomsky to see that ‘choc ice’ refers to someone who is black on the outside but acts white in the inside. So it would appear for all intensive purposes that Rio thought it best to fight the racism fostered by Terry using some race based prejudice of his own.
Rio quickly backtracked by posting a follow up Tweet attempting to pass the comment off as nothing more than a reference to frozen desserts by stating “I’m more a cherry brandy man! Used to go for the twisters too back in the day! Classics” but no one was biting into that excuse for a second.
The English FA obviously got wind of the media storm the comments created and have now charged Ferdinand with improper conduct.
Sir Alex Ferguson is one manager who has made his views on Twitter clearer than the urine of a Chinese swimmer on a strict diet of masking diuretics. The fact that Ferdinand is a Twitterholic has never sat well with Ferguson who has described the social networking site as “a waste of time.” He has tolerated it thus far, but one must wonder how long Twitter will still be given the green light at Old Trafford if Ferdinand now receives a ban from playing.
The list of Twitter casualties continues to grow like the herd of disappointed British Olympians.
West ham’s Carlton Cole was fined £20K for suggesting that many of the Ghana fans watching the friendly at Wembley were illegal immigrants, Ryan Babel was hit with £10K for Tweeting a mock picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United jersey and Jack Wilshere was handed a warning from UEFA for implying he bet on a teammate in a first goal scorer market. Despite this ever-growing list of whimsical cock ups, imposed Twitter bans from sporting teams are a rare occurrence, particularly at club level.
Rants on the social networking site can even lead to more extensive punishments. Swiss player Michel Morganella was even expelled from the Olympics for his racist remarks regarding South Koreans following Switzerland’s opening game loss to them.
Whilst his removal was perfectly justifiable, the question has to be asked ‘how much longer will clubs, managers and representatives, deem it appropriate for the thoughts of their players to be instantly beamed around the world?’
The players can talk up their newfound ability to connect with their fans all they like, but as soon as it is directly impacting in a negative manner on the team itself, then injunctions are sure to follow.
As for Ferdinand, well, he may soon be forced to count his ‘followers’ merely by the number of fans waiting outside for autographs. Not only has he Tweeted something highly inappropriate, but he has now found himself guilty of the very same close-mindedness that he took exception to in the first place.
The events of last season have highlighted how sensitive the racism issue in football is and Rio should have known better than to call the kettle black.
Of all the jobs in the world, the one I’d give anything to trade with right now would be Arsene Wenger’s therapist. Assuming of course, he has one. But considering the loyalty being shown to him by players he has bought to Arsenal as virtual no names and nurtured into stars, then an hour a week waxing lyrical on a nice comfortable couch must seem like a pretty appealing prospect.
“Well, I believe that I have put in place a sustainable economic model whilst delivering success to the club, but many of the fans still question my abilities. I disagree with what they say, they are impatient and petulant. I delivered to them an undefeated season, is every fan suffering from dementia? As for my squad, well, I have developed these boys into men, given them a comprehensive football education and they want to leave me for more money as soon as it is offered. And as for the red cards, of course I saw them. I saw them all, I have eyes, no?”
You’d be hard up finding someone who wouldn’t sympathise with the revered manager, save for Spurs followers and restless ‘Gooners’ who are blood thirsty for some silverware after seven baron seasons. Wenger has every right to feel a bit sorry for himself. There is no doubting the intelligent Economics graduate has been the gunpowder that has helped fire Arsenal to a host of major trophies since he first took the reigns as a virtual unknown back in 1996.
Since that time, Arsenals involvement in the Champions League has been as assured as an Eastern Block accent on a London pole dancer. In fact, the Gunners having qualified for Europe’s top competition during every season with Wenger at the helm, with the exception of the first when they only missed out on goal difference.
But track record aside, some crucial developments last week have unearthed another man with apparently very little sympathy for the plight of his manager in the form of club captain Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has refused to sign a new contract and openly slated his club for not providing him with a seat at the smorgasbord of ambition at which he longs to dine. This has all but signaled an end to his days in an Arsenal shirt as only 12 months remain on his contract forcing the club to either sell or lose any chance of a transfer fee.
There is no understating the enormous contribution RVP made to Arsenal last season scoring 30 of their 74 total league goals and assisting on a further 9. Theo Walcott, who also had considerable influence over recent seasons, is in a similar situation contract wise and may also follow his captain out the door. The loss of these key players, as well as the poaching of Nasi and Fabregas last summer, signals panic stations at Emirates Stadium as it is indicative of a club unable to adapt to the realities of modern day football.
The interplay between the major clubs in world football is changing. Whilst the main players still exist (Juve, Inter, AC, Real, Barca, Bayern, Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal) and are highly active in the transfer market, a host of other clubs whose cogs are usually greased by black gold have entered the fray with bravado and the dollars to back it up.
The Rolex, Lamborghini & supermodel wife now all play second fiddle to the must have accessory of today’s billionaire – the football club, and many of these owners are just itching to pour their money into creating a team like they’ve just discovered Fantasy Manager.
The cream of Europe’s best footballing talent is now being enticed, not only by the usual suspects, but by Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia, as well as clubs in the Middle East, China and even to Ligue 1 to enjoy life in the narrow streets of the French capital. Even some Brazilian clubs have been shown to be capable of hanging onto young talent and coaxing aging stars home to pasture. But the Big Daddy of them all is Manchester City, who, in the same vein as the Chelsea sides of the mid 2000’s have shown that trophies can indeed be bought.
This new footballing reality leaves the likes of Wenger and his youth driven ideals between a rock and fourth place. Arsenal’s transfer policy and relatively frugal wage stucture is such that they will never be able to coax football’s top talent or even retain their best players, with few exceptions such as local boy Jack Wilshere who is as passionate an Arsenal supporter as there exists.
Much like Peter Crouch’s missus, Arsenal’s model was ogled at by the big spending clubs throughout Europe for a long time. Buy young, develop and sell on at a profit was their mantra, all the while maintaining a positive balance sheet and the ability to acquire trophies. But what was once the envy of the big spenders now appears to be the epitome of a small club mentality as the likes of City, Chelsea and United have shown the ‘value’ in purchasing the finished product.
Let us not forget, ‘Le Profs’ and his somewhat shallow pockets did manage to put together The Invincibles, the undefeated Arsenal side of 2003-04. He achieved this using his unique eye for spotting talent by acquiring lesser known, but very skillful players, at bargain bin prices (Henry £11m, Pires £6m, Viera £3.5m, Lehman £1.5m, etc). Although the chances of a team achieving similar successes in this fashion now appears impossible due to the extortionate salaries on offer from rival clubs and the extensive global scouting systems in place.
Arsenal are a club that is economically sound, yet as long as the notoriously stubborn Wenger is at the helm, they will not be upping the ante by paying large sums for established stars who could take them to the peaks of European football. Like a Catholic priest spouting the dangers of homosexuality, Wenger is at risk of becoming a manager who is grossly out of touch with the realities of the modern world.
If the mass exodus of their most prized assets continues, the future plans of Arsenal are left as broken as the tibia of Aaron Ramsey following a heavy challenge from Ryan Shawcross. And much like it was when the fans witnessed the horrific tackle on the young Welshman, the Arsenal faithful are sure to be left with a burning anger and the taste of sick in their mouths following the demise of their once glorious club.
At this summer’s European championships, UEFA have been faced with the near impossible task of dealing with constant volatility, but lead by their midfield general, Michel Platini, they have performed admirably drawing plaudits from a sway of human rights groups, fair play associations and most importantly, Sol Campbell.
Administrating this tournament was always going to like navigating a minefield, but UEFA’s hard line stance on the big issues, like branding on boxer shorts and entering on the playing field/arena, has sent a gallant message to the youth that follow The World Game.
When asked about their tough stance regarding ambush marketing, Platini stated “Children are highly vunerable and impressional creatures. That’s why it is important that we only pepper their subconscious with subliminal messages from UEFA approved conglomerates, not some faux Irish betting agency.”
So perhaps it was the gambling aspect that was the key issue that concerned UEFA in the Nicklas Bendtner’s Undies-gate case.
“We have no problem with sports betting provided it’s done through the correct channels, like the Italian FA” Platini stated with a face so straight, it could have been a bat that belonged to Geoffrey Boycott.
The Frenchman continued “UEFA have solid partnerships with many of our business friends who produce what we consider to be child friendly products. For instance, Coca-Cola and Castrol, although there was some confusion there initially as we thought those companies produced the same thing. McDonalds has a clown as their ambassador, so it’s more a less a, how you say, ‘gimme’ that it must be great for kids. As for Carlsberg, of course we do not condone underage drinking although we fully endorse the consumption of Carlsberg mid and low strength products for those under the age of 18.” ‘
Potential pitch invasion’ has also felt the heavy arm of UEFA, with the English FA being fined 5000 Euros for fans that ‘considered’ entering the playing arena following Danny Wellbeck’s goal against Sweden.
“We have trained out stewards impeccably in the lead up to this tournament, including lessons from Obi Wan Blatt-oni in Jedi Mind Powers. The steward in question was a telepathy specialist and was certain that the English fans had every intention of entering the playing arena, although they never actually got the chance.” Platini explained.
But UEFA must be applauded further for their attitude to officiating the matches, with the extra pair of eyes from the goal line assistant referee turning out to be a roaring success. “Sure, people will bring up the goal that wasn’t which destroyed the hopes and dreams of the impoverished fans from an already severely outclassed host nation. But replay technology offer no guarantees of the correct decision being made, at least that’s what my friends in Rugby League administration tell me.”
Other minor issues that have cropped up over the course of the Euro round matches have been that of the violence and racism variety. UEFA must be commended for sweeping these under the rug with in a swift manner with as little fan fare as possible. This way, the spotlight light has been shone elsewhere, meaning these footballing treasures have been allowed to fester without being eradicated.
“This is football and the sport just wouldn’t be the same without them.” Platini said of these two nuances that occasionally hinder football matches. “I don’t want it to get to the point where a child cannot bring a banana to a football match, I mean, it’s a piece of fruit. Like my great friend Sepp said, often these problems can be dealt with using a handshake, but maybe that is a little too lenient on the offenders. At UEFA we’re looking for something between a handshake and a slap on the wrists. A low-five perhaps?”
The tournament continues this week into the knockout stage, and there is little doubt that UEFA will continue on their noble quest to instill purity into the greatest game of all.
Despite the plane being full of leather clad Russians, all of whom were looking rather serious and sporting perfectly symmetrical, comb down fringes; as we hit the tarmac for the opening weekend of the Euros in Poland there was nothing but a smile on my face.
The irate-for-no-good-reason-Russians & I were greeted by a shiny new airport terminal, which matched the spanking new airport bus, which drove past the brand new stadium, which made it clear from the get go that the Polish were wearing their Sunday best for this greatly anticipated tournament.
Whilst the affable Poles did an admirable job of hosting, there was no shaking the Eastern Bloc feel of this Euros. Everything from the concrete render finish on the Miejski Stadion, to the military style friskings when entering the Fan Zone, to the curious tri colour salads that accompanied the massive slabs of meat; all bore the musty stank of a cold war hangover.
Before the opening match in Wroclaw (Russia vs Czech Republic), the atmosphere in the beautiful old town was brewing nicely and all were hoping that it wouldn’t boil over. It was a distinct possibility as the Russians marched around pumping out chants that were so militant, they would have made Che Guevara look like nothing more than a GP from Bueno Aires.
The Czech fans were far more relaxed as they went about their business of maintaining their status as the world’s leading consumers of beer.
UEFA’s concerns about ambush market clearly didn’t extend to the city centre, as there were enough promo girls floating around to have me believe the playboy mansion had installed a tunnel direct to Wroclaw. Three new credits cards, four new mobile phone contracts & a couple of carcinogenic- Eastern-Bloc energy drinks later, we decided to drag out sore necks out to the stadium.
As we began to make our way, the early game was in full swing and it was the hosts, Poland, in complete control at half time against Greece. Few could have predicted that just a week later, the Greeks would not only be going to the polls but finishing above them. Football is the most unpredictable beast and only time will tell if Zeus’ lightning can strike a second time and deliver Greece the most unlikely of tournament victories.
Not having tickets turned out to be no problem at all as we encountered an older Russian man on road out to the stadium who looked desperate to sell. Using his trophy wife as an interpreter, we offered him half price and as the rain started to get heavier, he begrudgingly took it. Little did we know, the old man must have had some serious UEFA connections. As we moseyed in to our seats right on the halfway line and rested out feet on the dugout just a few meters from the head of Russia’s Roman Pavlyuchenko, it looked as though the football Gods were smiling on four Aussies with an unwarranted interest in European football.
The quest for a pre-game beer lead us to a lengthy line serving Carlsberg. It was only after standing in the queue for a few minutes we saw the most deflating, un-Polish fine print imaginable. There in English, of all languages, written in the equivalent of font size 8 on a large beer sign were the dreaded words ‘Non Alcoholic’.
After consulting the ‘beer’ server who shamefully confirmed the lack of potency, we felt it only appropriate to inform the line full of Czechs and Russians looking to wet the whistle, before the whilstle, about UEFA’s fun police policy. This deterred barely any of them and one even turned to me, shrugged his shoulders and said in an accent that belonged to a bond villain “it is still a beer.” Well, actually Sir, no it isn’t. But despite this, they took the cold ones away a half dozen at a time and I even saw something resembling a beer snake later in the night, but minus the messy tribe you usually see in Bay 13 holding it aloft.
The game itself was a cracking affair with Russia dominating proceedings and looking very sharp. Alan Dzagoev, himself a victim of the uniform Russian fringe, looked highly deserved of the hype that surrounds him. Arshavin’s oversized rump seemed to stretch from the wing to the area behind the strikers but his creative influence was palpable. Pav scored a cracker, largely because I whispered in his ear before he went on that he should shoot on site, something Spurs fans will claim he was already fully aware of.
The Czechs were virtual onlookers although they did have a sniff after getting it back to 2-1 as Vaclav Pilar, ‘the Czech Messi’ according to the chaps next to me, found the net. Despite the goal, the only comparisons I could draw with Messi were the fact he was left footed and most likely needed growth hormones as a child.
Apparently this game was marred by violence against the stewards although we saw nothing of the sort and as we filed out, we high fived the Mr Tickets & his trophy wife who had, unforgivably, ended up with worse seats than us.
It was a fantastic match with goals a plenty and the ensuing party went long into the night. A perfect start to our time in Poland and a great taste of the best the Euros has to offer. Well, apart from the kiddy beer that is.
A catastrophic run of injuries and some controversial withdrawals has lead England coach, Roy Hodgson, to play a side made up entirely of Liverpool football players at this year’s European Championships.
“Yes we’ve suffered setbacks” Hodgeson lamented, “but I like to see the positives in things. The cohesion will be there, that’s important. And for me personally, I will finally get a proper chance to show the world what I can do with this team and make things right.”
Club captain, and therefore by default national captain, Steven Gerrad, was equally upbeat saying “You know, it’s a chance for the greatest club in the world to win the only cup it’s never won. Despite the fact Manchester United were crowned Champions of Europe in ’68, ’99 and ’08, I can’t for the life of me ever see them getting the chance to be crowned European Champions… you know, of the Euros.”
This all came about following the horror run on training injuries which lead Hodgson making the unprecedented move of fielding a club side at international level. After initial injuries to Ruddy (broken wedding ring finger), Barry (weak groin), Cahill (broken jaw following an argument with Andy Carroll) and Lampard (Partied Out Thighs) in the first week of the campaign, the horror show continued with injuries to Hart (ruptured vocal cords), Green (World Cup flashbacks), Jagielka (distended forehead), Cole (fell on diamond encrusted money clip), Parker (Achilles), Defoe (blinged out), Milner (soul issues) and Terry (groin and surrounding areas). Rooney was also forced to withdraw following the flaring up of an old Metatarsal injury that no one knew he had.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott also withdrew following a home visit from Sol Campbell citing safety concerns. “If we went, Sol might put us in a coffin when we got home. You can see from his transfer dealings that Sol is utterly without a soul and cannot be trusted” Walcott stated.
When asked if he had racism concerns, Glen Johnson replied “Suarez has always been a great teammate to me. Plus I do well with the ladies from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, so no, I’m not concerned in the slightest.”
There were further withdrawrals from Joleon Lescott, who on the advice of his brother, left to play for Scotland and Jones, Young and Wellbeck were all released as they play for Manchester United, arch rivals to Liverpool FC.
Martin Kelly, one of the players called up, conceded “Sure, it was tough to send the Man-U lads home, but we have to put the team first and think about the dressing room, and we loath United, their winning culture and their post 1990 league successes.”
As well as Kelly, Hodgson has bought in the following players as replacement; Spearing, Carragher, Shelvey, Eccleston, Coady, Sterling, Robinson and Joe Cole. Brad Jones has renounced his Australian citizenship and joined the Englandpool squad but insists he was planning on doing it anyway as he was so moved by the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.
This strategy may have come as a shock to many, but for Hodgson it has been a natural progression. “People think this plan began after the injury to Gary Cahill, but it was actually in the back of my mind when I first picked the squad” Hodgeson stated. ”I mean, a young chap like Stuart Downing would not have been in the squad if he played at ‘Borough, no matter how many goals or assists he racked up last season”. After being reminded that Downing actually registered no league goals or assists last season, the England boss responded “See there you go. Case in point.”
When asked why Rio Ferdinand was once again omitted, Hodgson claimed it was purely for ‘Footballing reasons’. When pressed as to whether or not it had anything to do with his brother Anton being involved in a race row Hodgson said “Well of course, but that happened playing football.”
After being asked what it was like missing out on the squad a second time around, to players who are yet to even debut in the premier league, Manchester City’s Micah Richards was diplomatic saying “Yeah, I’m gutted. But you will not find a bigger Liverpool FC fan this summer than me. I’ll be singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at the top of my voice after I learn all the words and wish the boys all the best. After all, they’re representing Liverpool.”
Support has come from the strangest of places, with the city of Boston now set to support England throughout the whole tournament now that they have been informed the European Championships are on this summer and Kenny Daglish was quoted as saying “We saw Liverpool light up the league this year, it’s about time they had their chance on the international footballing stage.”
Significant ‘transition’ has also occurred away from the training pitch. Following a horror run of workplace accidents and injuries at the Umbro factory, Warrior Sports is now rushing to complete a new kit in time for the Euros although the red and white colour theme looks set to remain.
The England base for the Euros has also been moved from Krakow to Croxteth meaning the team will now have access to hot showers, a diet extending beyond sausages and boiled meats and their travel time to Donetsk is now halved when airport efficiency is factored in. Ian Rush has been brought in as assistant coach, Robbie Fowler as goal celebration advisor and Rafa Benetiz has been drafted in an advisory role due to his European expertise.
At long last Eden Hazard is premier league bound, and I say that not as a fan who is waiting to see him tackle the most exciting league in the world, but more as a purveyor of footballing tabloids that has grown very tired of his endless flirtations.
Hazard and the people he surrounds himself with have played the press like a Flemish Harp by using them to show a bit of shoulder to virtually every big club in England. In doing so the sought after winger has created hype and driven his salary skyward, but in the process has become the most despised man in English football. All this despite the fact he is yet to put a studded boot to ball in The Old Dart.
The murmurs began as far back as 2009 and as is usually the case with young players from the French league, it was Arsene Wenger who was reported to have shown interest in the Belgian ‘wunderkind’. This was no real surprise as Wenger has displayed such a penchant for French speaking youngsters over the years, it’s a wonder the police have never confiscated his hard drive.
Over the past season the murmurs have become certainties screamed from the terraces of not just the Emirates, but also White Heart Lane, Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford. All these clubs, at one point or another, were made to think they were a very good chance of landing their Lille Saviour who was practically a certainty to become the biggest Belgian hit in England since Tesco launched its Waffle Maker.
But it was Chelsea who scuppered the deal which topped off a pretty good month for the London club. Roman Abramovich landed his man for a staggering £100K a week AFTER TAX (50% tax rate on all earnings over 150K p.a. in the UK). That immeadiately puts Hazard up there with the big boys in terms of the number of portraits of Queen Elizabeth he’ll have in his pocket , so it could be argued that it was a successful move playing the clubs off against each other.
Maybe it has maximized his earnings, but at what cost?
As well as incurring the wrath of every football fan who supports a decent sized club in England, Hazard has inadvertently lumped a massive amount of big-money-move-pressure on himself. The added strain and microscopic analysis that follows players involved in such expensive deals has been too much for the likes of Torres,Veron and Shevchenko to deal with at Chelsea, and they were all men with far more experience than the young Belgian.
Hazard also tried to tried to fool us with the idea he was picking a team for the right reasons and not just for who wrote the largest cheque. You know, footballing reasons and presumably which club had the most noble record for nursing injured baby seals back to full health. “The decision will depend on the amount of play I would see and the position where I would play. That will be a consideration when I decide on my club” Hazard informed us via the ever expanding group of microphones that followed him around constantly.
But as The Guardian’s Fiver Team so clearly pointed out, Chelsea don’t even have a manager at the present time, so just who could be giving Hazard assurances about exactly where or how regularly he’ll play? His noble facade was shown to be as transparent as Pamela Anderson’s wardrobe, unless of course, Abramovich has decided to do his coaching badges and have a crack.
But the worst part of this whole debacle is that Hazard has taken to every sports stars new favourite medium, Twitter, to go about cryptically annoying football fans 140 characters at a time. He finally put us all out of our misery when he tweeted “good afternoon guys. i made up my mind. see you later. Thanks” but in his haste, presumably accidently, Eden omitted exactly which club had offered to pay him the most money, I mean, which club he had decided to join. Then, a mere 9 hours later, it came when Hazard Tweeted “I’m signing for the champion’s league winner.” Yet again the name of the club was missing, but by this stage we could all do the math.
The fact he couldn’t simply state ‘I’m joining Chelsea’ meant the Lebron James comparisons began to come thick and fast. Whilst there was slightly less hype surrounding where Hazard would end up, the similarities in their transfer sagas remain and there are few that doubt James does not severely regret his decision to nationally broadcast his Decision.
Since Lebron told the world he was “taking his talents to South Beach” he has gone from an extremely popular figure in the game, to the most intensely scrutinised and polarising athlete to ever tread the hardwood. The where-will-he-sign-hype instilled such high expectations in Miami fans, that James even suffered some backlash from his own supporters after he failed to bring home the title last season. Not to mention the unbridled elation from all the non-Heat fans and tall poppy slayers who had a hopeful eye on his failure.
As the most poignant of our modern day poets, Vanilla Ice, put it “anything less than the best is a felony” and if James fails to raise the trophy again this season he’ll be sentenced to another offseason of (being given a) hard time.
You would have thought that one of Hazard’s advisors may have given him the heads up on how it all worked out for King James, as even the most fickle NBA follower knows that he ended up with a good whack of ESPN-Special-overhyped-soufflé on his face. But Hazard has decided to tread a similar path and it is tough to see the neutrals cheering him on or wishing him well. One thing is for certain, the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Joey Barton and Nigel de Jong will be lining up to give the much hyped Hazard a proper Premier League welcome.
Chelsea’s Champions of Europe party continued long into the week, with a dent in the trophy always a distinctive mark of a memorable celebration. But it was the figurative dent that was of far greater concern, brought about by the post-match comments of Fernando ‘Worth Every Penny’ Torres.
With his first Champions League medal draped around his neck, the blazing blue of Chelsea on his back and his taste buds enjoying the wondrous cocktail of sweat victory and ridiculously expensive champagne, Torres began firing verbal bullets at the very people that had just provided him with the greatest prize in club football.
“It’s contradictory because I feel like I’m at a peak moment in my career… but I’ve had to spend the final on the bench. There was huge disappointment when I saw the starting lineup, maybe the biggest disappointment of my life,” Torres said. “This season I felt things I had never felt. I felt they have treated me in a way I was not expecting; not in the manner for which the club brought me here. We have had many conversations and, now the season has finished, we will have more talks… this is not the role for which I came. I’m not happy.”
Now back up the truck there Fernando. The peak of your career? Even the most casual football observer has been able to see that, with the exception of Mark Zuckerberg, no one’s stocks have managed to sink quite so quickly as yours.
That little rant could well go down as one of the most ungrateful, sour-grape laced whingefests of all time, especially when you consider it came from a member of the winning team who actually played over 35 minutes of the final. It is clear these comments were made by a man so preoccupied with riding the Ferris Wheel in Torres-land that he is completely incapable of assessing his own form.
There was something in the air that night, his ego shone bright, Fernando.
He was standing there not for you or me or the blue of Chelsea, just Fernando.
And that little prima donna whinge, I hope you regret.
You were carried to glory by your friends, football’s Ringo, Fernando.
To get those not familiar with the trials and tribulations of Torres up to speed (something he no longer has) – he was, at one time, one of the most destructive forces in world football. He used to bang in the goals for Liverpool with such regularity his song would ring out around Anfield almost as often as ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ “He gets the ball and he scores again” the catchy number stated and its assessment was barely a victim of hyperbole.
But back in the summer of 2010, Fernando Torres completely lost his mojo in front of goal and without a fat bastard to blame (Rafa Benetiz had been moved on), no one was sure exactly what the problem was. The dip in form was put down by many as the result of knee surgery that Torres underwent and never completely recovered from which stripped him of the blistering pace that had been central to his success.
Others hypothesized that he had suffered a bad case of Ian Baker-Finchitis which, for no explainable reason other than mental disintegration, typically renders its sufferers literally unable to play the sport they once excelled at.
A very ‘special’ few (okay, so maybe only me) believed that Torres goal scoring ability was derived from some kind of Samson-esque power, and that it was the cutting of his trademark blonde mane that had transformed him from a goal machine into a striker who’d be lucky to finish a sentence.
But it appeared Chelsea football club subscribed to the first theory and felt that given time, Torres’ knee would heal and he would no doubt return to his level of former glories. They were so sure of this, they shelled out a British record 50 million pounds to acquire his services. To put that into perspective; that is about 5 Thierry Henrys, 33 Tim Cahills or 0.625 Cristiano Ronaldos, depending on how you look at it.
So Torres arrived in England’s capital amidst 50 million quids worth of fanfare and with expectations higher than Joey Barton’s testosterone levels. Quite predictably (at least if you bothered watching the World Cup and season that followed it), Torres struggled to make an impact. Perhaps this was forgotten when he said “they treated me in a way I didn’t expect”, as I imagine Torres played in a way Chelsea didn’t expect.
To put it another way, Roman Abramovich paid Liverpool top dollar for what he thought was a classic Porsche that was only in need of a tune-up. But his new ride quickly revealed itself to be little more than a spluttering and clunking lemon. What’s worse, the entire world was watching as he drove it off the lot. These comments must have felt like somebody had relived themselves in his petrol tank.
With the Euros around the corner, it will be interesting if Torres spends more time on the pitch or on the pine. Despite David Villa being ruled through injury, the excellent form of Soldado and Llorente may reduce Torres’ role to that of a bit part player. It is highly unlikely Torres will be airing his dirty laundry of disappointment publicly regarding the national team set up, as without the £50 million insurance policy, his speaking out will simply mean he is not picked again. But at least it is certain to be great weather at this year’s Euros, as even if clouds form over the skies of Poland and Ukraine, the sun is sure to shine brightly out of the ring piece of a certain Spaniard who has an unperturbed belief in his own ability.
In a Premier League season that’s brought us more twists and turns than the Norwegian rally tour, we might have expected the odd 360 degree slide out in the dirt on the final day of the season. But with a Joey Barton brain-snap, a galant attempt from Mark Hughes at a revenge Gazpacho & a late Manchester revival of the bluest kind, it all seemed a bit more like somebody flipped their Subaru Impreza straight off the side of the mountain.
This was the kind of ‘Relegation Sunday’ climax that had to be seen to be believed and one that became an instant reference point in Manchester rivalry folklore.
Over in Sunderland, United placed some early title pressure on City by netting after just 20 minutes with Rooney’s full head of luscious hair ghosting towards the back post and burying a Phil Jones cross.
Back at Etihad stadium, City had all of the ball but struggled to break down a stubborn Rangers defense. But that all changed as the first half drew to a close, as City put together a slick move that has become a trademark of their season.
Despite having spent the better part of the last 10 minutes hobbling around the park like a Polio inflicted child (we can laugh about it now, there is a vaccine), Yaya Toure made sure he had some lasting impact on the match by playing a short but perfectly weighted through ball with his one working leg into the path of Zabaleta who unleashed a shot at goal. Kenny Paddy got more than a fair chunk of glove on ball which sent it spiraling into the air and 48000 hearts collectively migrated into the mouths of the City supporters at the ground. It seemed as though an eternity passed before the ball finally fell into the corner of the net, with Zabaleta’s first goal of the season as timely as they come and Toure cutting an almost comical figure as he hobbled towards his team mates to celebrate.
As they went in for pep-talks & oranges; the sun was shining, Noel & the high flying birds were singing and City’s Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak looked on with a grin of contentment that suggested the Emiratis were getting something that resembled value for their 800 million pound outlay. The title was in City’s hands and everything appeared to be in its right place.
It was at that point that you could have spent your life savings calling psychic hotlines, for not a single one to come even close to predicting the events that unfolded in the second half. Sure, the majority would have guessed there was a Joey Barton red card on the way, but not even the clearest crystal ball could have seen it coming sandwiched between 2 QPR goals.
The first of the QPR goals came from Cisse, who kept his astonishing record alive of either scoring or being sent off in every game he has played for Rangers. He finished cooly following a terrible defensive header from Joleon Lescott who sent the ball in completely the opposite direction to which he intended.
Then came Barton’s time to do what he does best, and in a throwback to his prison days, the QPR captain managed to elbow, sucker-kick and head-butt 3 different City players all in the space of about a minute. The carnage began with the elbow to Carlos Tevez which brought about the red card, although replays suggested Barton was heavily provoked by the Argentinean striker. The red card was the catalyst for a very public unraveling from Barton, as he marched up to Sergio Aguero who had his back turned and cleated him in the back of the calf. This all made very little sense as the initial problem was with Tevez, although it is entirely possible that all prolific, plucky Argentines with questionable haircuts look the same to Joey Barton. He later said on Twitter that he was merely trying to “take 1 of their players with (him)” which, of course, seems like completely rational behaviour.
Following the dismissal, everyone assumed it would be City who would push on although it was QPR who managed to score next. Jamie Mackie caused a deathly second-place-fearing silence to spread around Etihad stadium by finishing a great counter attacking move that Manchester United fans would have greatly approved of.
City’s title bid looked in dire straits and Roberto Mancini was forced into gesturing like someone who has spent the last decade sniffing petrol. In a moment of clarity, he managed to make some key substitutions bringing on Dzeko and Ballotelli who would both go on to make significant contributions.
As the 5 minutes of injury time began, Dzeko managed to get his head to City’s 19th corner of the match (QPR were yet to have a corner) and breathe life into the match instill a lifetime of regret into the few City fans that had already left the stadium in tears of disappointment. Then just 2 minutes later, the most mind boggling of comebacks was complete when Balotelli played a cheeky pass whilst lying on the ground to Aguero who took a great first touch and finished across the face of goal.
The irony that the 2 goals that brought City victory were both scored in ‘Fergie-time’ will not be lost on United’s or City’s supporters, but this will merely add to the memorable nature of this fascinating day of football. It capped a remarkable year of football and a day of drama which also included Everton finishing above Liverpool, Arsenal holding onto 3rd place in a 5-goal thriller and in a weird twist of Irony – Spurs fans (many of whom are Jewish) becoming instant die-hard supporters of German side, Bayern Munich, in next weekend’s Champions League final.
But the glory of today belonged to City and seen as the champagne has been on ice some 44 years, it is sure to taste even colder & sweeter than any Manchester fan in blue could ever have imagined.