Friday, 30 March 2012

Messi vs Everyone!

Whether or not the below quote exchange is true, what matters is it's funny...and possibly true.

Cristiano Ronaldo: "I feel like I have been sent by God to play football"
Lionel Messi: "Well I didn't send him"

Say what you like (and we all do, often in terms which would lead to a lengthy prison sentence for either GBH or sexual harassment) about Messi, that's a dam good quote.

So, first question: Is Lionel Messi actually God?

In all probability, no. I'm not here to provoke a mass religious debate, just a mass footballing many ways, I don't know which is more dangerous. What I will say is that when Messi runs, leaving sub-standard defenders on the ground, he does seem to emit a sort of ethereal glow. The man has an ability to make a 90,000 capacity stadium suddenly silent, with the collective intake of breath powerful enough to great a black hole. In seconds, your team could be ripped apart at a moment almost at Messi's choosing, as the chants cease and the positive atmosphere around the stadium suddenly becomes fraught with tension.This was often the case on Wednesday night at the San Siro every time Lil' Lionel touched the ball. Although the game finished goalless, Messi's presence was almost tangible as the raucous cauldron became quieter than a Coldplay gig. So although not as powerful as some divine, omnipotent being, we can argue that Messi is as potent as four alternative rock artists from London.

Verdict: As good as Coldplay, not as good as God.

Second question: Is Lionel Messi better than Cristiano Ronaldo?

Are you kidding me? I want to draw a graph which plots the relationship between those who say Ronaldo is superior to those who say that the Premier League is better than La Liga. In 95% of cases, people who say both are morons. I am not going to hide my allegiances to Manchester United, but the former Red Devil, good as he is, is nowhere near as good as the Argentine. For all his goals, for all the stats, there is very little to compare the two with.

Ronaldo scores more headers.
Valid point, but being a foot taller helps. Messi has made it pretty clear that he doesn't need to score with his head (please don't mention Rome 2009).
Ronaldo can score free kicks.
So could David Beckham and Alexander Kolarov, it does not mean the two are world-beating players.

Could Ronaldo put in a performance like the one Messi put in against Bayer Leverkusen earlier this month? Messi scored five goals that night and deserved more.
Could Ronaldo dominate a game of the highest magnitude? Cristiano has made a habit of putting in titanic displays against less titanic teams like Real Zaragoza, Levante and Fulham, whereas as time and time again, Messi transcends his peers when the pressure is at its greatest. See the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals, see last years semi-final first leg against Ronaldo's Real Madrid. The Portuguese was anonymous while Messi scored one of the goals of our generation.

Proof enough? Verdict: Messi.

Third question: Is Lionel Messi better than Diego Maradona?
This is the sticking point for many. Almost since birth, Lionel has had comparisons to his countries greatest export. No, not the Total Wipeout assault course, but Diego Maradona. The players are so similiar in many ways, small men relying on guile and technique, not brute strength. Both can/could score goals almost at will, either with a rasping shot, through unparalleled technique or with a ball seemingly glued to his tiny, tiny feet. Both have even scored contentious goals with their hands.

In terms of personality, there is no question who had the more magnetic personality. Maradona almost demanded as much attention off the pitch as on it. Described by a few as "the little boy who never grew up", Diego struggled with the burden placed upon his shoulders. Although he often rose to the occasion to touch greatness with his own mortal hands - literally - the man was just as likely to irritate as to inspire. As Maradona grew older, his antics became more and more erratic, from off-field clashes, to drug allegations, to health scares and back again. His latest misdemeanor saw him confront opposition fans during his latest managerial attempt in the Middle East. No comment.

His previous role in management wasn't without controversy either. At the World Cup of 2010, Diego seemed determined to cocoon his side from the wrath of an unpredictable and expectant media by attracting all the publicity for himself. His tactics may have contributed to the quiet tournament Messi had. Despite being the star attraction, little Messi seemed shackled by Maradona's insistence on shackling his sides natural flair and talent. Since then, the last frontier between Messi and footballing immortality has been his lack of success at international level. In mitigation, his record in blue and white is distinctly average. But so what? What should we read into international performances? Are we - in many ways - as good as the people we work with? No man - even Messi - is an island.

Compared to Maradona, Messi is quiet, approachable and warm. Always playing with a slightly malevolent smile on his face, Messi is one of the nicest guys in the sport. Not that that matters, but I'm building a shrine here, and I thought it best to throw in his dazzling personality. Next I'll outline all his charity work!

Verdict: It's tough, but football - like many things e.g. hairstyles and dental hygiene - has advanced since 1986. Those misty eyed, grey haired followers of generations past will tell us how good it was back in their day, but as Daft Punk would say, today's footballers are harder (hmm), better, faster and stronger than in the past. Maradona's opposition throughout his heyday were players like Peter Reid while Messi competes against Xabi Alonso and Wesley Sneijder. Is the tag of best of all time dependent on opposition or outright talent? In both cases, in my opinion, Messi may well be the winner.

Fourth question: Is Lionel Messi the best player of all time?

Who else is there?
Cruyff? Nearly, but he never quite held an audience like Messi does. I never smugly laugh in exasperation when watching Cruyff videos, but I do with Messi, a trait which often gets me kicked out of bars and houses around the world. Although half of our country forget it, owning Eurosport does not mean one knows everything about La Liga or foreign football, so I won't pretend to, because I'm not that self-righteous. I'm also not the kind of person who is convinced that putting "FACT" after a point makes said point true.

But Messi is better than Cruyff. FACT.

Pele? There is no doubting that Pele is the greatest centre forward of all time, but that's only because I don't really know what Messi's best position is. Pele's scoring record was phenomenal, with over 1200 goals in his professional career, with 77 for his country. Perhaps Messi and Maradona are lucky in that their position allows them to dominate games in a way Pele never could. Pele was - in many ways - employed to put the ball in the back of the net, although he did do so much more. But is Robin Van Persie the best player in the Premier League? Is Alan Shearer the best Premier League player of all time? In my opinion ( not "FACT"), the answer to both is no.

Pele will always be remembered and may well be seen as the best player of all time, if you want proof, just ask him. He won three world cups with Brazil, but he had players like Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and Garrincha throughout his career, Messi has Jonas Gutierrez and Esteban Cambiasso.

I assign very little weight to the importance of an ever-decreasing (in importance) international game. Therefore, for me, Messi trumps Pele just in the way he can control games.

Emile Heskey?
Probably just Messi.

Fifth question: Is Lionel Messi better than Lionel Richie?
Yes, end of discussion.

Comparisons are often skewed by our own biases and desires to live through the presence of greatness; my generation will always beat yours because beauty is in the eye of the holder. Football - and indeed history - is not for us to pick and choose who competes against whom and when. Different generations, players and teams mean mundane, irrelevant debates like this will always taken place, and maybe I'm just writing this to get people to read what I have to say.

Nevertheless, Messi is something special. Messi, although not as good as God, could definitely give him/her a game.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Herath of the titans

Sigh, another cricket article, another loss.
Sri Lanka 1-0 England

Although I rarely comment on England wins due to their recent disappearance and the lack of opportunity to moan, I woke up this morning prepared to write a piece celebrating an unlikely victory. But then I thought of the above headline and my intentions changed.

As I have said before, England's attempt to lose test matches all over the world means early starts for those who embrace cricket-induced insomnia. As those forgotten Gods of rock, 10cc, explained to us in 1978, "I don't like cricket, I love it". My obsession with this - in mitigation - really, really odd sport makes early morning starts that much easier. Curiosity as to England's fortunes often puts a spring in my step as I stumble down the stairs at stupid o'clock. Incompetence from the England team has recently had me stumbling back up to bed. Waking up to see/listen to (yes, I still don't have Sky) England getting destroyed can really put a dent in your mood for the day, and so it has proved during the last few months.

After the aberration of the Pakistan series in the UAE, the finest cricketers from all over the country*  were humiliated incessantly by our charming media. "Don't worry" we were all told. "We got to number one in the world; we are good enough to stay there". A combination of technical ineptitude and Pakistani mystery/embarrassing superiority sent England spiralling to earth faster than a Saeed Ajmal doosra, with twice as much scrutiny.

* - world.

With each soul-destroying loss, England's lambs to the slaughter looked more and more like desperate children as a number of excuses were offered to explain the catastrophe in the Emirates:

"We played too much beforehand" - Translation - Our porridge was too hot.
"We didn't play enough beforehand" - Translation - Our porridge was too cold.
"We didn't expect those pitches" - Translation - Their porridge was just right.
Other laughable explanations were given, including the DRS, our county system and Ian Bell's recent inability to hold a bat, but the fact was that England had no idea of how to play spin bowlers on spinning wickets.

But it couldn't be the same against Sri Lanka could it? Since the retirement of the great Muttiah Murilitharan, their attack was rendered more toothless than Bruce Forsyth, but half as potent. Now better prepared, with lessons learnt from their previous disaster, England were ready to do battle again.

On the first day, England started brilliantly. Reducing Sri Lanka to a score of 15-3, it seemed that England would be able to roll over their hosts quickly and have the chance to score a big first-innings lead. But then Mahela Jayawardene came in and effortlessly had the visiting bowlers wilting. By 11 a.m, in conditions hotter than a Hollyoaks girl’s pillow-fight, Mahela was cooler than the side of the pillow I longed to return to.

Still, England persevered and had the chance to restrict Sri Lanka to under 250 runs, which in context, would have been below-par. But as I have said (moaned) for the last twelve months, England still have problems dismissing the lower-order - and thus, worst - batsmen in opposition teams. I could talk about how I have stumbled upon England's fallacy against mediocrity, but I won't. As it happened, the home side racked up 318...or something.

Oh well, less than a year ago, opposition bowlers conceded more of the runs to our batsmen than to a Sri Lankan curry, surely on a decent wicket, we could amass a huge score again? The problem with that is, in the last six months or so, our batsmen have forgotten how to bat and opposition bowlers have learnt how to exploit that e.g. bring on a spinner, get the ball to bounce. At 90something for 6 - again, my selective ability to conduct research coming to the fore - England were being embarrassed as the breathtakingly average Rangana Herath tore England apart, claiming a number of top-order scalps, literally in Jonathan Trott's case, as he was clattered by Prassana Jayawardene, of which there is more later.

"I can take the despair, it's the hope I can't stand."

John Cleese said that and, like most of what he says, it is true, especially for England sport fans. In their first innings, England fought back to relative competitiveness, before taking five quick Sri Lankan wickets to leave them just 200 or so runs ahead with just five wickets left. Suddenly, England were right back in the game, and incredibly, foolishly, I dared to hope.

Big mistake Doug. Again, England got to within two wickets of dismissing Sri Lanka, looking likely to chase a target of around 250 runs, but then forgot how to bowl to two of the worst batsmen in the game. Supported by Mahela's brother, Prassana, the trio contributed a further eighty-seven runs, and out of nowhere, an achievable target looked impossible once more. The Jayawardene family must be very proud tonight, knowing that two of their sons have caused rather large lumps on my knuckles due to my persistent punching of cupboards, desks and passers-by (to the old woman who got off the 08:47 at Epsom yesterday, please accept my sincerest apologies, don't blame it on the boogie, blame it on Mr and Mrs Jayawardene). Prassana is the most incredibly average bastmen, yet every time he plays against my team, transcends himself, much like that charming Danny Murphy I mentioned in my last piece.

For the fiftieth time this summer, England were against the odds and for the fiftieth time, gave me just enough reason to hope they could achieve the unthinkable. Unfortunately, once again, England fell short as the...I can't believe I'm writing this...irrepressible Herath and the just irritating Suraj Randiv spun England into oblivion.

So, England lose again. As I said about two months ago, I intend to not wake up for the second test, but I just know that I will. I was born into a select group - the obsessive sport geek - and with that comes the responsibility to punish myself. Due to my obsession with trivial sporting matters whilst ignoring important things like tax-rates, coursework and my fingernails, I am sentenced to a life of early-starts, late finishes and angry middles as I follow my teams to temporary success but inevitable failure.

How will the second test end? Who really cares, England can't play spin, and until they can, mornings like today will keep happening to me. So for my sake, Messrs Pietersen, Strauss and Patel, start playing properly!

Otherwise "I won't like cricket"...and that's it.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Why must I support Man United, why can't I support Port Vale?

Coz I'm not a local fan? Didn't stop me supporting Manchester United though did it! IT'S COZ MY DAD SUPPORTED THEM OK?!

My army of Port Vale fans will probably ask me "Doug, how can you complain, your team is the best (wink) team in England, has legions of fans, whilst boasting a history prouder than Piers Morgan at Christmas dinner (they wouldn't say that, I would, because if I don't make enough metaphors/Piers Morgan references, the world will end)?" I'm about to explain to you why in my crazy, hard to understand style. Try to keep up, if you're a Port Vale fan and thus from the East Midlands...try harder to keep up.

Yes, supporting United throughout the nineties, noughties and the bleurghshfsfd-ties has been good to me, I have been spoilt. And that's the problem! The difficulty now remains in managing expectations, and when those expectations are not met, I find myself blacking out in people's driveways in a river of my own tears and vomit. Honestly, fans of lesser teams (which is everyone except Basel, Benfica, Athletic Bilbao - all great clubs - and half of Europe) it is no walk in the park. Especially if you support a team which insists on making life difficult for themselves and - more importantly - me.

The agony of a title race affects us all
United demand success and - generally - get it. A curse/blessing of this is that when the season reaches its climax, United's games take on added significance, knowing that one slip-up could be decisive. When the season ends, the plaudits/commiserations are handed out and after that, we can all breathe for a few months. I become an avid Surrey cricket supporter, get slightly tanned and put on more weight due to not losing kilos of body weight in perspiration. And I'm happy with that! In July, look at my face and it is happy, in March and April, that same face is riddled with evidence of crying and self-harm, although still retaining its striking good looks and distinctive cheekbones. These next few weeks see the cycle come back around, and it was never more evident than earlier this week. Three weeks ago, I looked at this fixture with relish. Approaching the pub at quarter to eight on Monday, I wanted to run home and cry.

Manchester United vs. Fulham.

Routine home win, innit? Fulham are useless away from home, United are near the top of the league. Well, no it isn't because, being part-Scottish, I harbour a constant state of pessimism and anxiety, with my inferiority complex coming to the fore...which disguises my genetic addiction to heroin.

These games are NEVER routine. Monday’s game was seen as an opportunity for the home side to erode Manchester City's goal difference advantage, a suggestion I scowled at, saying "I'll bite your hand off for a 1-0". Be careful what you bloody wish for because, such were my nerves and excessive fingernail-biting, I may as well have bitten my own hand off.

I get laughed at occasionally for my perception of United games, but these same people are generally smug supporters of inferior teams who ultimately fall short in January, never experiencing the hell of these months. As much as I despise them at times, I still envy them. I still yearn for mediocrity, for an end to the bloodshed (again, fingernails) and agony. In many ways, these months are more dangerous to me than they were to middle-eastern leaders last year. Arab spring? More like angst spring.

Anyway, I digress...for 600 words.

United set about their opponents in their distinctive style, e.g. look comfortable until a random mistake/poor final ball. My friends (and regular pub-goers in South London...yes I'm from South London, get over it) will understand that I find imperfection in the most earnest of attempts to succeed. In other words, I am never happy and I end up criticising people far more talented and important than me. But that's just football. We are powerless to influence it, despite what some fans may think e.g. by singing at the TV in pubs.

No caption needed.
After a start of breathless - literally - mediocrity, United eventually took the lead through Wayne Rooney. Thank God for Rooney. Your side taking the lead should be cause for celebration and, for two minutes, it was. Then the nerves really set in.

"Oh crap" you think, "now we have something to lose!"

My face after 89 minutes.
Such is the nature of the Premier League and - with all due respect - Fulham, home games of this nature are geared so that anything less than victory is inadequate. At this point, your missus/anyone who doesn't understand football will say "oh it was a draw? At least you didn't lose". I know you're reading this and you know who you are, so here's a tip. NEVER, EVER SAY THAT!

With a 1-0 lead, I found myself (kinda) in possession of this glory and with 45 minutes remaining to relinquish it, my nerves increased to the point where my fingernails were smaller than Nick Clegg's approval rating (not an innuendo for male sex organ, but if you dislike him that much, then go ahead).

The second half was torture. In hindsight, Fulham offered NOTHING. They were actually really poor, but with each missed United chance and every minute closer to full-time, my moans and despair became more and more prominent. "They're gonna get a chance, and you just know they'll score...and I bet it'll be Danny frigging Murphy" I said. Sure enough, with three minutes left, Fulham actually approached the United penalty area, my bum cheeks clenched so hard I felt faint and Michael Carrick - mediocre at the best of times - tumbled into the aforementioned Danny frigging Murphy. "NO PENALTY, GET UP YOU DIVING SCOUSE B*****D" I (probably) yelled. Upon further inspection and multiple replays, it was probably an absolutely certain, definite penalty, but I wasn't to know, my view was obscured by my hands and my extreme bias. P.S Danny Murphy is actually a pretty decent guy, it's just difficult to think properly at times.

But still a clear dive.
When the full-time whistle went, I nearly fell off my chair with relief. The nerves were gone and I was safe for another few days. I walked home with a spring in my step, grinning at strangers who stared back with a mix of consternation, anger and awe. I was free from the tension... until the next game. That game is Blackburn away and - despite their general uselessness, apparently inept manager and often clueless fans - I know that I will still bite off some hands for a simple 1-0 win. Why? Because lesser teams raise their game when they know they're playing a team I support.

But that's the nature of the beast I'm afraid! I hate title races, but I'd be lost and half-dead without them. You know that City fan who started crying at Swansea? Inside, I'm just like him...only taller and not full of pie and nicotine.

Women like a man who can cry.
But women also like TOWIE.
If I supported Port Vale, I'd be amongst an "alumni" including Robbie Williams and err...Robbie Williams. But at least I'd have constant weight and status, which is kind of ironic.

It's not fun and it's not entertaining to support Manchester United, but I have made my football choice, and I will stick by it, even if (when) it takes me to an early grave.

At ten to eight on Monday, I decided to let football entertain me. By ten to ten, I was loving angels instead.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Oh my God, they hate Kenny!

Oh, I have to comment on the sudden demise of Liverpool FC? Don't mind if I do.

Since taking over as Liverpool boss last year, Just Kenny Dalglish has apparently helped establish a sense of stability at Liverpool. The fans loved him, the BBC loved him and the world watched in awe as Kenny dragged England's sixth best team to the heights of seventh place. The world was at Dalglish's feet after just a year of his tenure at the club at which he is apparently 'King'. Which King he is is the subject of much debate, and although I would love to talk about past Kings of England, I would rather slate Liverpool.

I must say, Dalglish did an OK job in 2011; turning Liverpool into a team with a genuine chance of challenging for Europe in the next season. But then he bought Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. The reason I keep bringing this up is simple: if the team you hate the most signed Jordan Henderson for £20 million, you would still be laughing in your sleep. Nevertheless, Liverpool remained in with a chance of a Champions League spot as 2012 came into view. Since then, Liverpool's record is such that they have picked up less points than any Premier League side this calendar year. Even Wolves.

At the weekend, Liverpool went from awful to dreadful, a bit like National Treasure 2. Although their home form has been less impressive than Roberto Mancini's strength of mind, many - even me - expected Liverpool to roll over Wigan Athletic - hitherto bottom of the league. I have also wanted to say the word hitherto in one of these blogs, so I can't fail now. However, Liverpool were so bad I almost felt sorry for them. I didn't, but I almost did. Wigan didn't even sneak the win, they actually deserved it, and finally the murmurings of discontent are becoming more and more audible. The fact that Gary Caldwell scored against Liverpool may well be the straw that breaks Just Kenny's back.

So how has he survived this long? Because I am lazy and don't like forming proper paragraphs, I will explain via the medium of the bullet point.

  • Liverpool's victim complex. I'm sorry, but Liverpool have a major issue here, it's never anyone's fault. "But Kenny never moans in press conferences, he keeps his head high because he's a top guy who I wish would kiss me on the forehead and tell me everything is OK". Ahhh, but he does! He taps into Liverpool's insistence upon siege mentality and hard-done-by...ness. He always looks like a man being beaten up by the world, or a man who has forgotten his PIN number. His downcast manner has many people thinking "ahh poor Kenny, I wish he was my grandfather so I could see him every week". He has many people fooled. BUT NOT ME KENNY! The reason you are so "unlucky" is because you keep buying and picking crap players. The reason your team have hit the woodwork more times than any side this season is because THEY ARE MISSING! 
  • He is a legend there. There is no question that as a player, Dalglish was a top figure at Liverpool. Scoring goal after goal, you have to pinch yourself after reading his record at Liverpool, whilst remembering that he's Scottish. Legends as players always have a little more time than others, and it is for this reason that he is staying put. I am not saying sack the man, I just wish the world would stop licking his face.
  • The media! OK, here comes some standard Doug Elder hypocrisy. After accusing Liverpool of paranoia and a victim-complex, I have to say that the press LOVE Dalglish. Why? Because he sells papers. Why? Because anyone ex-Liverpool is in a position of power somewhere in the media. Stand Collymore, really?! Dietmar Hamaan, really?!  Rafael Benitez, really?! Added to this, us football fans are a sad, sad bunch. As a result, many a Saturday night is spent absorbing and pretending to understand the words of two middle-aged men sitting casually on a sofa. A bit like Brokeback Mountain but with less sex and more funky graphics. I am of course talking about Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson. I'm not paranoid, BUT THEY ARE CONTROLLING OUR MINDS!
  • They won the Carling Cup. Woop-dee-do Basil, they beat Cardiff City in the final, allowing Liverpool to win their first trophy in seventy-nine years. That's great. Their subsequent qualification into European football - the Europa League... hallelujah - means that the focus on league position has been abandoned. Added to this, Liverpool have proceeded to the semi-final of the FA Cup, courtesy of a jammy draw, with the exception of...
  • Beating Manchester United. Unfortunately, this feat seems to weigh more than any in an argument in the the analysis of a Liverpool season. Beating United has cleared up the FA Cup for them, giving them an excuse for their awfulness in the Premier League. Even that day, Liverpool were terrible, they just happened to play less terrible than a Manchester United side who have also been shit for 90% of the most seasons.

    There we go, detailed enough? But Doug, we are desperate to know, why are Liverpool doing so badly? And why do you hate them so, did eleven men in curly wigs and moustaches do naughty things to you as a child? I will answer one of those questions.
  • Their best player is always injured/beating up DJ's. Steven Gerrard, where has he been all year? I haven't seen him play at all this season, either he is more physically unlucky than Ann Widdecombe or he has been anonymous whenever he has played. The system Liverpool operate - a sort of 4-5-1/4-3-2/3-6-1/2-3-1-2-1-1 - thing doesn't bring the best out of Gerrard, but he has been ordinary all season. Of course, it is Frank Lampard getting all the stick from the media while Gerrard goes unnoticed. No comment.
  • Their second best player is a frigging arsehole. This is also part of the reason why Kenny has been allowed to stay so revered for so long, as it has provided a distraction. While the world and his wife are busy thinking of new ways to hate Luis Suarez, the teams mediocrity slips under the radar. I moan enough about Luis Suarez as it is, so I won't do anymore. But if you see him, please throw some shit at him, it would make me laugh.
  • Crap team. After spending millions of pounds on squad "development", Just Kenny's side remain behind Newcastle in the table, a side whose XI which beat West Brom today cost £34.5 million...or 99% of an Andy Carroll. How can a team with so much financial backing succeed so consistently at buying crap players?!

    And no, I wasn't abused by eleven men in curly wigs and moustaches.

    There we have it, the Gospel truth. I will never see eye to eye with Liverpool or their succession of mediocre managers, but I felt the need to document the fact they lost at home to Wigan. And let Gary Caldwell score.

    'King Kenny' may have had the wool over the eyes of many for a while, but it's slowly being removed, as the Liverpool fans blink into the harsh light of another day of being a Liverpool fan. If anyone has an objection to this, I would advise simply this:

    "Calm Down"

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A day in the life as a Chelsea fan

At around 19:43 this evening, I was born again.

This was a new me, a Douglas Elder shorn of his liberal, nervous, over-complicated  approach to following football. For one night only, I was to be a Chelsea supporter.

Normally, such a decision would lead to either a suicide or self-denouncement, but Premier League title races are fickle, and as Chelsea have had little interest in this battle for about six months, I decided to tackle head-on all the issues that being a supporter of the fine club involves. Until May or so, I hate Chelsea, but I hate Manchester City more. It's a bit like choosing between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, or - for those who have no interest in politics (Chelsea fans) - Freddie vs. Jason.

I approached the game with a kind of nervous anticipation. I love neutral games as I can watch with the liberated feel of a man who has recently swapped briefs for boxers. I like being able to sit back, knowing that it wouldn't be my team keeping me on the edge of my seat due to a combination of their incompetence, my hyper-activity and my Scottish pessimism. The pressure was in many ways off, but I still had a reason to support a team, and reasons to be strangely optimistic. In recent weeks, Manchester City had forgotten how to play football and Chelsea had done the opposite.

Besides, in the past, every time I wanted Chelsea to lose, they would always seem to pull out a jammy win, so I thought, surely by tricking myself into liking Chelsea, not much bad can happen. Well, my generally deflated demeanour (kicking the cat, slamming the door - and hurting my hand - and only cleaning my teeth for one minute because, at the end of the day, what's the point?) upon arrival at home suggested otherwise. I have been let down by my Chelsea contacts, and it is a strange feeling that I am still pining for a time machine so that they could win tonight's game.

Anyway, after a long wait, the match, dubbed "El Cashico" by people smarter, funnier and lonelier than me, began. The game itself is neither important nor up for much analysis, but it was an OK game...for a neutral...which I wasn't really. Instead of killing time at home, pretending to do coursework or something constructive, I went to the pub (where 83% of Chelsea fans live, so I was getting in character). With little regard for my Manchester United based-heritage, I decided to put away my prawn sandwiches, my camera and my Chinese passport, swapping them for a tattoo, a short back and sides haircut and nonsensical remarks about football and Polish builders.

For about fifty-five minutes, I sat nervously as all those around quaffed their pints, argued about the merits of Fernando Torres' continued existence and showcased general apathy towards the game itself, interrupted by the occasional shout of "Go on Chels" or "Keep the Blue Flag Flying High", both of which make - at best - little sense. Perhaps the race for fourth place is not as absorbing as those at Sky have us believe, spooging at the very mention of it, but the lack of interest was strange. That was at least until Gary Cahill opened the scoring with quite possibly the jammiest goal of all time.

Chelsea, who had struggled to create anything of note until that point, relied on a combination of: set-piece, David Luiz, Cahill and massive deflection. Not that I cared, Chelsea - my team - were ahead and I was going to milk the moment for all it was worth. I was even tempted to shout out a rendition of "Blue is the colour", but I realised that it is a terrible song, which is essentially just a mission statement - "we play in blue, we are called Chelsea, we aim to win". Brilliant.

After the goal, I am sorry to say it, but Chelsea were so, so, so bad. They offered so little in attack and not much more in defence, as wave after wave of City attacks descended upon their goal, like an overpriced, light blue swarm of wasps around David Luiz's stupid, stupid hair.

As well as my attitude to City, another badly-kept secret is that I frigging hate Carlos Tevez, and his introduction served only to raise the temperature some more, so much so that I had to remove my cardigan - a must-have for any Chelsea fan. City's push for an equaliser always looked likely to produce the goods, and so it proved when they were awarded an incredibly dubious penalty. After a corner was half cleared by Petr Cech (when did he get so bad?!), Pablo Zabaleta, a player who will take over from Wes Brown as the worst player to win a Premier League medal should City top the league, fired a shot at Michael Essien. Save from a James Franco-style amputation, there was little the midfielder could do to avoid the shot. Nevertheless, Mike Dean, a referee who has never liked Chelsea, pointed to the spot with not so much conviction, but urgency, with a creepy smile on his disgusting, smug face.

Upon converting the penalty, City pushed more, buoyed on by the shouts of all seven of their raucous supporters. Chelsea continued to show little ambition going forward and inevitably, they were punished. Samir Nasri - a player I hate nearly as much as Tevez - swapped passes with the %^*& Argentine and after losing his marker Frank Lampard - clearly tired after playing his second game in seven days - supplied a neat finish to put City ahead. The Etihad stadium nearly exploded, such was the fiercely moderate reaction of the home fans.

Time of death: 21:35ish.

The duration of my life as a Chelsea fan was an entirely miserable one, as the visitors could not muster the effort or skill to pull themselves level. No-one in the pub seemed to mind, possibly as they had turned their attention to their next fight/hilariously witty comment. I was suddenly a Manchester United fan in a Chelsea pub, and in typically courageous United style, I got the hell out of there.

Hopefully Chelsea become good next season, because I do not want to go through tonight's events again any time soon. I prefer the boring, mundane life of a Manchester United fan, supporting a team not as talented as Chelsea, yet infinitely more competitive.

At the weekend, as they are the next to play my rivals, I will become a Stoke fan. So I will eat nothing but pies, forget how to read and highlight the benefits of a football team which plays rugby. I love football, but boy I hate what I become as a result. Try and make a Chelsea fan support United and you will get the same problem. We fans are all tribal in nature and are prepared to hate our rivals more than we are to love our own team at times.

I'd love to say tonight taught me something new, that being with Chelsea fans in their environment was both eye-opening and enlightening. But it wasn't. You love who you love and hate who you hate, and that's it.

That, sadly, is football.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Tendulkar holds his head high and his country low

This weekend saw Sachin Tendulkar - India's "little master" - finally register his hundredth international century. Thank fuck for that.

Sometimes, sporting events happen which you just know will not happen again in our lifetime, and in reaching this milestone, Sachin has achieved greatness. The last twelve months have been a ridiculous circus as Tendulkar became the centre of the quest for one of sports "impossibles". Tendulkar is often flocked by hundreds of Indian fans wherever he goes, his demi-God status preventing him from having any semblance of a normal life. Tendulkar's quest has seen his entourage grow to huge levels, as innings by innings, Indian loss by Indian loss, anticipation grew and grew.

After scoring a majestic century against South Africa in a group match at the World Cup, opportunity after opportunity to reach the landmark passed him by, first in the World Cup semi-final against Pakistan, then the final - in his home town of Mumbai - against Sri Lanka. Next was the disastrous tour of England. In his last appearance at Lord's, the (self-proclaimed) home of cricket, he failed again. Despite coming close in his last match in England, the country where he scored his first test century, he ended the tour still on 99 hundreds. Which was really annoying.

Then India came to Australia and, contrary to the insistence of their long brainwashed and deluded supporters, India and Tendulkar failed as, match after match, they were well beaten. In his last tour down under, in the country he has always thrived in, he was still left looking for this bloody hundred.

And then he got it in Dhaka against Bangladesh. What the hell? In the most unglamorous of venues against the least attractive of opposition bowlers, Tendulkar made history. Plaudits came in from around the globe, Sachin fans wept with joy and India as a nation celebrated. And then India lost the match. To Bangladesh. This has all been swept under the rug, and that is the problem with India cricket.

The next few years should see the end of India's era of run-hungry batsmen as, following the retirement of fellow legend Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar also approaches the end of his career. The moving on of the two highest run-scorers in Test Match history should be cause for serious consternation and worry for India, but it needn't be. The fact is, Tendulkar and co have been holding India back for ages.

The India media, in "control" of over a billion people, boosted by a booming economy and a need to sensationalise events to create drama to the millions of Indian fans who treat their cricketing heroes like deities, feel the need to stir up passion and emotion for these players, which often gets out of hand. As India grows bigger and richer, the need to revere these cricketers should decrease, meaning Tendulkar may be the last of a dying breed. As a result, cricket in the sub-continent is often about records, statistics and milestone, often at the expense of the team. Yes, Tendulkar has scored more runs than anyone else in the history of the game, but that does not make him the best player. To be controversial, Sachin's runs are at a slightly more attractive exchange rate than others, e.g. Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Brian Lara.

Sachin's century of centuries have seen India win just 54 of the hundred games he has reached three figures in. In test matches, India have won just twenty of the fifty-one games in which he scored a hundred. Added to that, his century against Bangladesh came at a strike-rate of just 77, a figure which would make Jonathan Trott look like Virender Sehwag. On top of that, in reaching the last thirteen runs required for his most recent milestone, he took twenty-two balls, which, in the latter overs of a One Day International, against very spread fields, is very pedestrian. If ever proof was needed that sub-continent teams place a higher bounty on individual records over team performance, it is Tendulkar.

A few months ago, Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardene was run out attempting his ten thousandth run in test cricket, a run he was never likely to complete. A coincidence? Maybe, but the suggestion is that the Indian fascination with records has spread further afield. On India's disastrous tour of England last summer, as soon as Tendulkar got out, India went limper than a Samir Nasri slide tackle. Without their spearhead and inspiration, the whole team lost heart and incentive. That can change now if his team take off the shackles of the media-imposed weight of expectation.

I do like Sachin, he remains a very humble, generous and focussed man, with an incredible talent. But his exploits, although brilliant, have often been to the detriment of his country. With every hundred, each loss becomes diluted. There is rarely anything beautiful or celebratory in defeat and yet, Sachin's silver linings seem to be worth their weight in gold for his adoring fans. Congratulations to Sachin Tendulkar, but rather than signalling the end, his retirement could signal the beginning of a new age for India. That's if they get over the day of mourning that will be called when the Little Master finally hangs up his bat.

F1 is back with a whimper

This afternoon - for those of us not rich enough/with mums stubborn enough to keep the forces of Sky Sports at bay - saw the real return of Formula One. And I'm a little underwhelmed.

I usually await the new season with a mixture of excitement/tension, as my weeping/crying/excessive sweating over the football season is slightly diluted by the sight of twenty-odd cars going around some track on the other side of the world. Such is Bernie Eccelstone's desire for more money, - regardless of the utter shitness of the venue - races take place all over the world, which means very early starts. Thus, often hungover, always cranky, I would pad downstairs and follow the live action.


The first part of this blog won't really be analytical, but then neither will the second, third and fourth parts...or any of my blogs. It will essentially be a well-worded attack on everything that the BBC has done wrong.

So, without further ado:

The commentary team. 
Who the hell is Ben Edwards? Bring back Jonathan Legard for goodness sake, at least he had a voice which was unforgettable in its inadequacy. He would make mistakes, shout too loud and interrupt, but he knew what he was talking about...ish.

Did you know I want to be a sports commentator? The employment of Edwards tells me that firstly, the BBC do not do an audition process for commentating and I shouldn't even bother but secondly, that if that guy can get the job, then who knows. This new guy is as well-qualified as Terry Connor and half as popular. David Coulthard, informative and giving of many shits, must be thinking "I quit F1 so that I didn't have to be dictated to by idiots", and he gets Ben Edwards. No passion, no knowledge, no style, other than that he's a passable replacement for...

Martin Brundle.
Come back Martin! He was an amazing commentator who took to the role so well after years as a pundit. But that doesn't stop him being a greedy tit. Sky - as they often do - came in with more money than the next highest bidder, and Brundle pissed off. It's ridiculous that we get one season of Brundle after two years of Legard and now an eternity of Ben Edward's voice in my head.

Jake Humphrey.
Is he really that good? He has the authority of an eight year old told to the look after the class while the teacher takes a piss. He's just so irritating, but then maybe he's just a way of getting us desperate for the race to start. He's also always walking (don't make a typo) every time I see him on screen and you just want to yell "STAY STILL YOU MUG!” He's actually managed to make Eddie Jordan MORE annoying, impressive.

OK, now for the race.

Jenson Button, starting second made a really good start and overtook team-mate Lewis Hamilton going into the first corner. And that was about it. I waited six hours, desperately avoiding all sport information to watch a race which was pretty dull. In the midfield, it was a decent race, but who gives a dam about the middle of the pack? Fernando Alonso wrestled a dreadful car to fifth; Felipe Massa didn't as, contrary to a previous blog, he is a terrible, terrible driver. From seventh to thirteenth places was a constant change of position, a bit like the Premier League, but faster and more boring. Kimi Raikkonen returned to action, but even the usually unpredictable Finn was becalmed as lap by lap, the race ticked away.

I haven't really paid Jenson his due for his victory; he drove a great race and always looked like winning. I don't know when he got good, but it's really working for him, he is almost unrecognisable from the driver in the middle of his first season at McLaren, where he kept finishing fourth, but strutted around like he owned the place...I don't know what "the place is" but he thought he owned it, but he didn't. Bernie owns the place. Not you. But now he is in the form of his life, and if anyone looks like wrestling the World Title from Sebastian Vettel's sweaty, efficient German grasp, with his irritating long fingers wrapped around the handle, it will be Jenson.

That's because Button's team-mate, Hamilton, just never looked up to it. The usually wild and aggressive Hamilton was desperately flat, and he never got close to winning the race after surrendering the lead with alarming ease off the start. As for Vettel - or Das Finger - he went from sixth on the grid to second without passing anyone. See? Efficient. He really is a jammy sod, but that's what makes champions, so good luck to him...but not too much luck.

So the F1 bandwagon rolls onto Malaysia next, where I will have to wait around all day again, not checking my usual websites of BBC Sport, BBC Sport, and BBC Sport. History says it will rain, which should make for a good race, which is all I can hope for. F1 2012 has barely got under way and I'm losing my usual, irritating enthusiasm.

Let's hope it improves or, like Jake, I'm walking.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

BPL 2011-12 BABY!

Due to my lack of decent ideas, this post will be the equivalent of a "clips" show from a friends episode.

Nothing funny has happened in a while and my to-do list is a scarier sight than Titus Bramble approaching you in a dark alley...naked and clumsy.

As I say every season, this has been a brilliant Premier League campaign...except for Liverpool, Aston Villa and QPR. I am kinda forced into sympathising with one of those teams - and it's not Liverpool - so hard luck to them.

On with the waffle!

I think it is best to assess teams in descending league order a) because I'm lazy and b) because for the first time since October, Manchester United are first. Lick my testes City. Please note: it is best you read this immediately. Given the mediocrity of so many teams, a team who are eighth here may be thirteenth by Sunday. It's nothing to do with the fact that my heart skips a tiny, tiny beat when I get an extra page viewer, particularly if they're from overseas. Coz I don't. I'm professional. Like Carlos Tevez.

MANCHESTER UNITED - It seems Manchester United are actually making a habit of copying all their past seasons. Make an average start, make sure you fall five points behind at some stage, catch up at Christmas, cock it up in January, lose to the worst team in the league, then end up six points clear in April and no-one knows how. As much as I wish I was as magnetic and sexually intense as him, it is not often I agree with Alan Hansen, but he is right when he is says this United team rarely play really well but find themselves top. It truly is a credit to Sir Alex Ferguson that such an average, average team are top. Any manager who can give Michael Carrick four Premier League medals and the chance of a fifth is something special.

MANCHESTER CITY - By contrast, if you listen to the media, City play well in every game, have the best players in the world and in Mario Balotelli, have a man as talented and enigmatic as Jesus or Bender from Futurama. And yet they find themselves second. Of course, things can change, but people overlook the fact that their away form is atrocious, their defence is poor and without Yaya Toure eating opposition midfielders, the team is sub-standard. Their run in will test them, and like at Swansea for that fat bloke, it could all end in tears. If Sheikh Mansour ends up spending half a billion pounds on a team that can't beat this Manchester United team, Roberto Mancini can expect to return home to see his loved ones bound to a chair. Knowing Roberto, he would probably wait for the Sheikh to apologise, and all will be well...provided he can prove himself fit to perform whatever task the manager wants.

TOTTENHAM - SPURS IF YOU CHOKE FROM HERE YOU WILL BE LAUGHED AT FOR ETERNITY. Arsenal have actually given Spurs their annual trophy - the North London cup - this year. In all honesty, Tottenham really deserve to finish above Arsenal given their respective seasons, but you often don't get what you deserve, e.g. buying Roman Pavlyuchenko. Spurs have played really well but they are being worked out via a combination of a tough fixture list and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Add in the fact that Luka Modric is the most over-rated player in the world, and the problems start adding up. I still think they will finish third, but if they don't then - given the ability of Arsenal fans to wind people up - Harry Redknapp will wish he'd been found guilty of tax evasion. When Arsenal fans can gloat at you, you'd rather be behind bars.

ARSENAL - The Gunners, or the Robin Van Persie XI, after an embarrassing start to the season are suddenly within touching distance of Spurs, with Arsene Wenger's hot, onion breath on Tottenham's neck. Simply put, Arsenal were awful at the beginning of the season, but have turned it round, much to the cost of my sanity...and maybe for Arsenal themselves. I often say this, but Arsenal are a fantastic club, but they are still papering over the cracks. For a team with alleged world-beaters in every position, their quality is not what it was. Perhaps they need to take off the hand-brake. Something remains fundamentally wrong with how the club is run and how transfer funds are distributed. If the ambition is to break-even and finish fourth, then they are doing a fine job. The quality of their football and Tottenham's new-found superiority complex means I hope Arsenal finish third, but work must be done next year to ensure that third is not top of the priority list.

CHELSEA - Ahhh Chelsea. I did a piece on you last week, a piece that nearly cost me my dinner, so the less said about you, the better. Things need to change or you'll be just like a former big club with annoying fans and poor ambition. Talking of which...

NEWCASTLE - Have had a great season, but momentum is starting to wane. That said, they will finish above Liverpool. Alan Pardew has done a great job in making Newcastle similar to what they were in the past, which is annoying because he's a pretty shit manager. You'll notice my analysis of each team is getting shorter, it's because I'm getting bored.

LIVERPOOL - Contrary to Sir Alex Ferguson, Just Kenny Dalglish has succeeded only in making a mediocre team more mediocre. A Carling Cup success against Cardiff has been the highlight, but if beating Wales' second best team is as good as it gets, then L O frigging L. Perhaps Kenny is merely rebuilding, and with such a tight budget, no-one is denying what a difficult job he has, but things look grim. That said, they will at least have the delicious, low-hanging fruit of the Europa League to pick next year.

SUNDERLAND - Are eighth. That's basically all I know. After sacking Steve Bruce, Martin O'Neill was brought in and has done a fantastic job, he's even got Nicklas Bendtner scoring for God's sake, give that man - Martin, not Nicklas - a knighthood. (Feel free to make St. Nik jokes).

EVERTON - Like Manchester United, have the same season over and over again. Start terribly, consider moving David Moyes on, then David glares at them with his glowing red eyes and they think better of it. Like every year, they are ninth, and look set to stay there. Why are Scottish managers amazing? Because Scottish people can't PLAY football, only ANALYSE it...hence Alan Hansen and Andy Gray still having jobs...ish.

FULHAM - I haven't fallen down the stairs, this bit will be done as if said by Martin Jol...coz I'm hilarious. Fulham have had a dechent sheashon, that new Russian guy whoshe name I cannot shay hash done really well, with Clint Dempshey continuing to improve. Shexhy Martin Jol hash got Fulham playing Shumptuoush shoccer, and shafety is shecure for another year, at thish rate, they may finish ash the besht team in Wesht London.

SWANSEA - Having a great year, with their ... manager doing a great job. I put a "..." there because I have no idea where he's from, but he's called Brendan Rodgers. Their style of passing from the back should have been worked out ages ago, and in many ways, it was. Then teams forgot how to combat it and they look certain to play in the English Premier League once more. (Thanks for Sunday.)

NORWICH - Seriously, how the f**k have Norwich not been relegated? They have NO players and play in a crater. And yet they are twelfth and certain to stay up. I know more of their fans than their players, but despite such a limited playing squad, Paul Lambert - another Scot - has worked miracles. Anyone who can get Grant Holt to score three times as many goals as the world-class Fernando Torres deserves a pat on the back.

STOKE- Stoke were eighth or something once. Now they're thirteenth. They were in the Europa League. Now they're not. They used to play physical, unattractive football...

WEST BROM - Are fourteenth

ASTON VILLA - Another Scottish manager! Who is doing a TERRIBLE job, so we will move on. They are safe for now, but without Darren Bent, a crap side has become shit. If Alec Mcleish is still manager next season, I will apply for the Aston Villa job.

BLACKBURN - A Scottish manager who, contrary to moronic, impulsive, stupid fans, is doing a good job. What Blackburn fans don't realise is that they support Blackburn. Firstly because they are from Blackburn and thus off their tits on White Star Cider and secondly because Blackburn are NOT a big club. Mid-table should be the height of their ambition. It seems the height of the ambition of their fans is to settle down in a nice house with their sister/wife and start their own lives.

BOLTON - A Scottish manager who always wears shorts. Bolton are struggling but slowly starting to improve. They have the players to remain safe...wait, no they don't, their team is awful, but their manager is savvy enough to keep them safe.

QPR - What on earth?! The "Four-Year Plan" obviously didn't take into account what would happen to QPR AFTER they got promotion to the Premier League, because it's gone tits up and they don't have a clue. With Mark Hughes as manager - WHO IS WELSH, NOT SCOTTISH MUAHAHA - what else did we expect? Have the quality to turn things round, but their run-in suggests otherwise.

WOLVES - Have some bloke as manager. Why they sacked Mick McCarthy last month is a mystery and the fact they play United next means that I will keep my mouth shut, but things are spiralling a little too quickly, and the end looks nigh.

WIGAN - Remain the poorest team in the league but somehow look capable of staying up. They have been in the Premier League for SEVEN years now, wtf?! Surely that stay will come to end. I like their manager, but they add nothing to the league and the sooner they are relegated, the better.

There we have it, a Premier League review which took me three times longer than I thought it would take due to my major difficulties in understanding the BBC Sport website. I hope I haven't been too harsh, but one laugh would vindicate would a page view...not that I count them.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Go, go poorer Rangers

Like it or loathe it, money makes the football world go round as fast as the wheels on the KONY 2012 bandwagon.

Don't worry about two things:
I won't be talking about Rangers too much in this blog
I won't make KONY jokes (KONY has the red squiggle under it, even Microsoft don't know who he is...he must be stopped)

I'm basically going to be talking about money in football, as the "have-notes" rule it over the "have-nots". If the title is misleading, I just wanted to showcase my brilliant pun skills some more.

A few weeks ago, me and a couple of mates were sat in the pub, having watched Manchester City play Arsenal, the original "cash vs. class" match. Of course, "cash" won the day, which is the problem. Later that night, a stranger - whose views on football we were so desperate to hear - came over and explained why fans should not blame those players who seek further financial reward. He offered us this awful comparison:
Would you quit your job for one which offered you twice as much?
Putting aside how terrible that is as justification for Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri being skid-marks, it doesn't cover the fact that players CAN leave their jobs for twice the money, mere pawns to the highest bidder.

It is to footballs great disservice that teams like Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool can pay Kings ransoms for average players, while Portsmouth, and particularly Rangers are in massive trouble. The latter have to find ways to cut £1million a month. When Scottish people have to cut their budgets by that much, you know there is trouble. As for Portsmouth, I haven't really researched them because I can't be arsed, but they're also in trouble.

So who's to blame?

Well, owner Craig Whyte is pretty near the head of the list. This guy is more out of place than Mitt Romney as the leader of 300 Spartans. If you don't get that joke, it's because you're not American. If you don't get that joke and you are American, you're the reason the Middle-East hates Americans. His irresponsible running of the club has left the clubs in dire straits, which is ironic, because the club could do with some Money for Nothing right now. Their administration has left the very real prospect of a boring Scottish Premier League with little competition for the league's top prize, imagine.

Capitalism? Yeah why not, maybe some kind of footballing communism could be implemented, where teams have a finite budget on which to compete. It can't be much worse than the current system, where clubs wait to be shit enough to be taken over by a crazy Arab billionaire, upon which they can do what they do every night, try to take over the world. But, like those in front of St Paul's, Rangers represent the 99%, while those at the top of the pile eat the juicy, juicy flesh on football's carcass. Unlike those in front of St Paul's, Rangers fans - being Scottish - are definitely not hippy vegans, but they do share the same ignorance of the UK tax system. And they'll also be kicked away under the gaze of those who can do so much, but do so little.

And it is this system which is allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to slip further into the greasy, sweaty arms of the tax man. Clubs at the top continue to accrue mountains of debt, free from reprisals due to their substantial assets (yes, I'm talking sense, bear with me). You give Manchester United's debt to Bristol Rovers and you see how far they get, unreliant as they are on hundreds of millions of Chinese, Beckham-shirt wearing fans. UEFA have tried to address the balance by introducing the "Financial fair Play" system, encouraging clubs to spend within their means. Yet somehow, you just know someone is going to make like a Greek, spend too much, wait to be rescued, and complain until they don't. Maybe a bit harsh, but I am secretly hoping Manchester City hold their own referendum where they vote for either financial suicide or execution.

As fans, we stay awake in those hot July nights, wondering who our clubs are going to buy with the money at their disposal. In the absence of actual football, we are forced to pretend to like other sports a little bit more. As for football, we have the transfer window - another abomination I will probably moan about at some point - to fret over. You know the drill, your club lines up the player they need, you start thinking how your team will benefit...and then City spend £30 million on him and you are left to buy Bebe, Charlie Adam or Yossi Benayoun. We are left with a football system with an oligopoly, where those trying to take a piece of the pie are shot down...or they go too far the other way and spend £20 million on Jordan Henderson, even City didn't outbid Liverpool on that one.

Until something is done, we continue with the situation which has blotted the current football landscape. Of course, some teams have benefited as they are forced to look within their own cities to uncover a gem. But for how long? How long until they get swept away into the vast, lucrative ocean of bench-warming? In a recession, many clubs are struggling to make ends meet while others remain unaffected. In a country where unemployment is reaching record highs, average players are making vast sums of money. Something has to be done. I am sorry to come over all serious, but if it has to be to the detriment of my team, then so be it. Let's make football fair again. The Financial Fair Play rules are a start, but teams will jump over potential shackling for their sins as easily as Madonna does for her crimes against music/humanity, provided the lawyers are smarmy enough, of the small print is fine enough.

So, to that crazy guy at the pub, I don't give a toss about that Masters degree you said you got, but didn't. Greed isn't good. While people (and clubs) are starving, those at the top take the delicious, filling biscuit.

Let's live within our means, let's not use a bail-out to rid parties of their massive debts, let's start over again and make football what it should be, a sport where us mortals are still shit but still aspire to be on the T.V, hoping to earn the millions are so called "heroes" are given.

In this week of mass bandwagons, I propose my own, let's make the beautiful game just so again.

Who's with me?

I actually have no plan to change things. I won't set up a 30 minute long video for your friends to fawn over and block your news feed with. I can't subtly indoctrinate you into believing you can change the world while those at the top still run the show. But I have an idea - and a blog available in 7 countries ;-) - and ideas are hard to kill.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Roman's roubles turn riches to rags

I tried - and failed - to get a decent headline done by 21:00. Unlike Andre Villas-Boas, I'm not going to make millions of pounds for losing my title race. Lol.

Can we please ignore that awful joke? I have a quota of puns to fulfil and it's late, so let's get on with this.

Yes, Andre Villas-Boas (until people call me D.E, I will not call him AVB) has been sacked just forty games in his "project". Haha, who calls their work a project?! Eight year-olds and douche bags, that's who. Although everyone saw the managers dismissal coming, it doesn't excuse what a ridiculous decision it is.

Now, people will testify to the fact that I don't really like Chelsea. I don't know if it's their awful stadium, their overpaid players, their abundant wealth or a combination of the lot, but we just don't get along. The arrival of Roman Abramovich and - to a lesser extent - Jose Mourinho has turned Chelsea into the equivalent of the Bush administration: All the gear, no idea.

Chelsea have become a bit like the lottery winner who spends half his winnings on Pot Noodle, that guy who says he's your "uncle", but is just a lonely, rich friend of the family or the guy who turns up at a dinner party driving a Saab, claiming none of his seven Aston Martins are working, which kind of explains why Chelsea persisted with Raul Meireles when they could have bought Luka Modric. A once proud, economically omnipotent club has become a laughing-stock, yet still harbouring unsustainable delusions of grandeur, a bit like The Only Way is Essex or Vladimir Putin. It's unlikely the two will ever meet, but I live in hope.

Mourinho-lite did not have the best time at Chelsea, winning just 19 of his 40 games at the helm, but the man had an idea. The fact it was an utterly stupid idea doesn't matter, Chelsea should have stuck it out until defeat was inevitable, a bit like Gordon Brown did. Abramovich spent a fortune in disposing of his old coach and will now have to do the same again. In 14 months, the Russian oligarch has spent almost £100 million on buying Fernando Torres and sacking Villas-Boas, that's £2.5million a game for the deposed manager and £20 million a goal for the decomposing striker. Stats aside, the manager wasn't given time and Chelsea will now suffer. In typically pessimistic style, they will continue to suffer until they stick with a manager for more than a season.

I don't think any of us will ever know what goes through Abramovich's head, but I will give it a go. My principle assumption is that he was discriminated against by Chelsea fans in his youth, although whether Chelsea prejudice extended as far east as Russia in the 1970s is open to debate. If not, maybe he just wants to take Chelsea down. If so, here is his ten-point plan for doing just that.

1) Spend loads of money 
If I get them onside, they will forgive me when I spend £70 million on David Luiz and Fernando Torres. I will ask fans to vote on whether they are good purchases, and if the results aren't favourable, they can be amended to a 65% approval rate anyway.

2) Win the league every now and then.
Like cheating in blackjack, sometimes you've got to minimise suspicion. I'll keep out of the way every couple of years to keep everyone happy. Then, when public opinion is at its highest, I will strike!

3) Rotate the "squad"
If managers can rotate their staff, so can I.

4) Buy Fernando Torres

5) Hire a manager who knows what he's doing
If I get a manager in who is good enough, his success will deprive my fans of independent thought. When he gets too good, I will get rid of him. When I do that, the fans will beg for him to return and when he does, I will be a God again.

6) Replace him with someone who doesn't
Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti (after I sack Ray Wilkins).

7) Get involved every now and then
Why not? How different can football be from Football Manager? I'll just piss off a few people and make it the managers fault.

8) Make everyone hate the club
Buy Ashley Cole. Keep John Terry.

9) Buy Fernando Torres

10) Make sure we play a Champions League final in Moscow...Then grease the crap out of the penalty spot when we have the chance to win it.

Then I'll let the shit hit the fan, may even let Di Matteo take over for a laugh.

Probably a bit speculative, but I liked it, so I hope you do too.

If Roman Abramovich really wants Chelsea to become the best team in Europe, he has a lot of work to do. God knows who they will hire (and fire) next, but they need to act fast or their season will slip away from them. In the meantime, expectations will need to be lowered if Chelsea can pick themselves up. Until then, they will be the heavyweight fighter who didn't quite make it, while the rest of the world laughs, a bit like David Haye.

I don't like Chelsea, but it is always sad to see an average club hit the murky waters of mediocrity. Here's hoping they can turn it around for their sake. If they don't, the misery will go on, and my awful jokes will continue. You decide which is worse.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

If football is beautiful, friendlies are prostitutes.

I don't think I have to expand much on that title.

Honestly, it was an OK game of football, but international "friendlies" - which is a STUPID name - remain superfluous. Ironically, like this blog, so is the word superfluous.

I had quite an evening last night. First, some **** (I will keep my opinions private until all the insurance stuff is sorted) went into the back of my girlfriends car. And then I had some Nando's. I have now mentioned Nando's in two of my posts, if that isn't worth a black card, I'm not sure what is. The only reason I started this blog was to become famous, and the only reason I want to be famous is to have delicious, free, perfectly-cooked chicken, available in most large towns, ready for my enjoyment at any time.

So I'd already had a big night when I came home to see the thrill-a-minute (from minutes 57 to 58 and minutes 85 to 91) match between England and Holland or the Netherlands...whichever works for you. Incidentally, I started watching from the 56th minute, so all those at Wembley - except Chris Smalling - you can thank me thatsomething actually happened. But despite all the action, the whole game was flat. It was like a Nicholas Cage film, lots of action, lots of twists, but ultimately shit.

The problem is, most international friendlies are. I know that in the build-up to a major tournament, teams wish to experiment with players and get a good set-up, but wouldn't it be better to scrap them, finish the season two weeks earlier and let teams have more friendlies prior to said tournament? Then again, football is run by Sepp Blatter, so I won't hold my breath.

All England friendlies these days take on the same pattern. The same players get mysterious injuries/knocks right before/during the match and players like Frazier Campbell, Joleon Lescott and Kevin Davies get games, which of course provides plenty of information about England's best XI. Fans of smaller clubs then moan about their players not being selected, saying things like "what have Grant Holt, Danny Graham or Emile Heskey got to do to get a call-up?" The answer is of course, be good enough, but that doesn't matter. If England win, cue mass hysteria and proclamations of England's standing as genuine tournament contenders. If England lose, cue moaning about how England players don't have pride in the shirt, something about Wembley/Wayne Rooney or the sycophantic eulogising over the one player who did OK, usually Phil Jones, Theo Walcott or Adam bloody Johnson.

Aside from annoying me, friendlies are simply taking on the role of World Ranking calculator, while meaningless factors like tournaments are overlooked. ENGLAND ARE RANKED FIFTH IN THE WORLD! FIFTH?! Then again, their recent tournament record backs this up:

Euro 2008: LOL
World Cup 2010: Slightly less lol

Yes, international football is pretty poor right now, but come on, England are not that good. Don't give me "oh, given the chance, Daniel Sturridge and Ashley Young could be world-class" nonsense. Sturridge can't finish a sentence and Young can't cross the road. As is the case every year, England have two good players, seven decent ones, and two other blokes such as: Phil Neville, Steve McManaman, Gareth Barry, Paul Ince, Trevor Sinclair, Gareth Barry, Glen Johnson, Gareth Barry etc etc. England are ranked above Italy, Brazil, Portugal, France and Argentina. All five countries have had problems, but would England beat them in a one-off game? Honestly?

Friendlies are also injury-lotteries. Who will get needlessly injured next time? For once, I feel sorry for Arsenal. Their players, shorn of the usually world-class physio facilities at the Emirates, travel far and wide across France and bits of Africa, only to come back with groin strains which, as we know, take months, even years to recover from. By the way Arsenal fans (and Russian readers, wink), Andrei Arshavin scored last night...I know, that's how bad international friendlies are!

What has last night taught us then? That I have some weird golden touch, whereby when I enter a room, apart from making women swoon, action suddenly happens in football? That drivers in Sutton are planks? That England may have found their best team in time for Euro 2012? Two of the above sentences are true, make your choice.

Thank God it's another few months before fans of decent clubs (sorry Norwich, Swansea and of course, Heskey lovers) have to cringe their way through matches, scared to death that some big Serbian bloke is going to clatter their centre midfielder, or their star striker goes over on his ankle or even worse, Gary Cahill is responsible for your interests, hopes and expectations for the evening. I love football, I even love international football, but I feel we can all do away with this nonsense. Some of us have clubs to lose sleep over. I say either scrap friendlies, use them as genuine proving grounds for young talent, or do some weird charity thing which Georgie Thompson can present.

Even if you agree to none of the above, that last point surely deserves some thinking.