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Which Premier League manager will get fired first

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Electric

From the opening bars of Axis to the laser charged euphoria of It's A Sin and new single Vocal, Pet Shop Boys delivered an awesome show reminiscent of the Prodigy, KLF and 90's raves at their best.  Unlike their Performance tour in 1991 which was almost like being at the theatre this was what a pop concert should be: lasers, lights, loud music and dancing which had a sold out crowd at London's O2 arena ecstatic (which considering the queue started at 9am that morning is impressive when they took to the stage 12 hours later).

There was a good mixture of older hits (It's A Sin, West End Girls, Opportunities, Rent, Go West & Suburbia) and newer songs from last album Elysium and forthcoming album Electric. Axis and Vocal are fast-paced rave tracks and Thursday saw guest vocals from rapper Example with the surprise being a medley of Springsteen's The Last To Die and Somewhere which worked surprisingly well.

The support act (John Hopkins) was  a 45 minute blast of techno which gained more reaction from the Italian and French sections of the crowd (one suspects that he is a bit obscure in England) but didn't really engage with the audience which had the effect of making everyone even happier when Pet Shop Boys came on themselves.

The Tennant/ Lowe repertoire is still there, baseball cap, shades, frowning and nonchalant keyboard playing by Chris Lowe whereas Neil Tennant has really mastered the art of showmanship projecting confidence and charisma throughout the show.  Sure there are still aspects of artiness with the costume changes and dancers but at the heart of it are still 2 guys with a microphone and keyboard whose ambition was to record a single with Bobby Orlando that would be on sale as an import 12" in the Soho Shack and have described everything else as icing on the cake and given they achieved that in 1984 that is a lot of icing.

Electric is a show that reminds us all why we love dance music and I think even the most hardened rock music fan would be hard put to not enjoy.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Leaving

I know enough's enough and you're leaving
You've had enough time to decide on your freedom
but I can still find some hope to believe in

Ipswich Town have announced the departure of Paul Jewell and a not a moment too soon if some of the message board postings are to be believed. His reign has seen no improvement with his win % narrowly lower than Roy Keane’s. Whilst Keane’s team drew too many matches by conceding late goals Jewell’s team has seen a continuation of his management form he showed at Derby and Sheffield Wednesday with neither the team or manager showing much drive or determination qualities which his predecessor had in abundance.

As their 3rd manager in 5 years leaves some serious consideration needs to be given not only to who the Ipswich board appoint but also to why as there needs to be some long-term strategy in place this time if they are not to tumble down the divisions. Bolton have solved their managerial problems by pinching Crystal Palace’s boss. As Blackburn start to do a Middlesbrough and slip down the championship after forcing the manager out when they are in the top 3 the Ipswich board could do worse than look at how Blackburn have operated recently and do the complete opposite.

There are 3 real strategies they can follow and they are a firefighter, old head or up and comer. Given they are in relegation trouble they could hire someone with a track record of keeping teams up but then what do you do after they have. Managers of this type rarely manage to drive their teams up the table and generally you get mid-table mediocrity at best.

An old head can be good but also stuck in their ways and unless they are proven at getting teams out of the Championship you again get mid-table mediocrity and there are high expectations at Ipswich born out of the Bobby Robson era that the club belong in the top flight not the second tier.

An up and coming manager could well be the answer but that is where the choices become difficult as some who have been successful in the lower reaches struggle as they move up the leagues with Paul Ince and Darren Ferguson being examples of where they have done well in Leagues 1 & 2 but struggled in the Championship (or Premier League in Ince’s case).

So who can they look to appoint? Here is my guide to the best runners and riders: -

Old Heads

Alan Curbishley
A great manager with a proven track record but hasn’t worked since 2008 and while he has a good tactical brain and motivational skills does he really still have the hunger to take on a new challenge. I think he finds the pundits sofa too comfortable and will stay there.

Mick McCarthy
Has proved that he can get teams to the Premier League although keeping them there has proved challenging. He has a lot of experience and is able to get players to adapt to the physical demands of the league. His main weakness is his less than media friendly voice and that his tactics can be a little bit one-dimensional. He is a strong contender though.

Phil Brown
Has had previous success keeping a team up and then winning promotion to the Premier League with Hull but this has been an isolated success with mediocre spells at Preston and Derby. Can be a good motivator but has also made high-profile mistakes such as his on-pitch team talk and singing of Sloop John B. Could do well but could just as easily do badly would be a risky choice for both clubs.
Ronnie Moore
A solid and experienced manager who has Tranmere moving in the right direction after struggling under Les Parry. He guided Rotherham to the Championship but has never managed above that level. Could be an excellent choice.

Up and Coming Managers

Paulo Di Canio
Has won promotion with Swindon Town and is an enthusiastic and energetic manager with the ability to motivate his players and a good tactical awareness. He is however a volatile character who is critical of players and board members who don’t share his vision for the club. Constantly linked with other clubs at the moment I don’t think his outspoken manner would go down well with the owner.

Michael Appleton
Has been doing a solid job with Portsmouth and it would be interesting to see how well he could do at a club who can sign players for longer than a month at a time. Operating under serious financial and operational constraints at Pompey. Ipswich and Palace could do well to appoint him.

Steve Davis
Won promotion with Crewe last season but there is a question over whether it his team or Dario Gradi’s that he won that with. Has a conveyor belt of youth due to Gradi’s excellent academy set up but is unproven at dealing with experienced professionals. Had a good management spell at Nantwich Town but Crewe is his first major management role. Would be a big risk not just for Ipswich but for him as the set up at Crewe means he gets a lot of support from Gradi.

Owen Coyle
Notable for his success at Burnley he has proved anything but that at Bolton Wanderers leading them to replace him with Crystal Palace’s Dougie Freedman. His early career at Falkirk and St Johnstone was positive but he has not done anything to indicate that he can handle the demands of a high-profile club with a demanding fan-base and whilst regarded as being tactically innovative he may struggle to replicate the success he had at Burnley which could well be his next destination.

Some assistant managers at other clubs such as Graeme Jones, Billy McKinlay and Tim Sherwood could prove interesting but risky choices as a replacement but are well regarded coaches and would at least bring something newer than the usual merry-go-round of failure. The Ipswich Town job is in my opinion one that managers should be queuing up to apply for as it is a well-run club, financially stable with a strong regional fan base and if Alan Shearer decides to give up the MOTD settee would be a better option than Blackburn Rovers.

Mick McCarthy is probably the best choice of them all but Appleton or Shearer could be good options but I expect either McCarthy or Owen Coyle to be appointed when the dust settles.




Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New York City Boy


New York City Boy  
You feel the deal is real
You're a New York City boy
So young, so run
into New York City

At just after 2am British time a serve return hit slightly long by Novak Djokovic gave us the moment we had been waiting for since the 2009 US Open Final should us the potential of a skinny kid from Dunblane the opportunity to say British Grand Slam Final without using the words Fred Perry and 1936. That it should happen on the 76th anniversary of Perry’s last win (which was also at the US Open) and in in his fifth Grand Slam final (the same amount that it look his coach Ivan Lendl to win won) can be seen as nothing less than synergy, fate, destiny call it what you will. It was harder to see which emotion was the more prevalent, relief or joy, as he collected the Championship trophy with the accompanying $1.9M cheque secondary to what it represented.

Many, including myself, say Federer’s insistence that Murray’s loss at Wimbledon would make him a stronger player as an encouraging but mainly empty platitude but his turned out to be very much the case. Murray crushed Federer at the Olympics and held off Djokovic when the momentum seemed to be swinging very much in the favour of the Serbian. The statistics bore witness to exactly how close the game was. The score of 7-6 (12-10) 7-5 2-6 3-6 6-2 barely told the story of a match 4 ¾ hours long with both players winning over 155 points each and 25 games each. This was an epic tale of endurance mocking the modern footballer who is unable to play 2 matches of 90 minutes a week with Murray and Djokovic playing almost double that time 3 times a week during the tournament

Murray fully deserves the congratulations and praise that has come his way after 2 outstanding tournament wins this summer with the second capping off a magnificent summer of sport. He may even take home a 3rd when the SPOTY award comes up in November although he will face stiff competition from Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah and it may be that his quiet public demeanour will lose him that one although one suspects that Ivan Lendl may not be too displeased with that.

The challenge for Murray is building on this win to secure the other 3 Grand Slams during his career which will not be easy. Djokovic and Federer will want revenge and Nadal will surely have some impact on Murray’s ability to become World No. 1 when he finally returns from injury. Andy will need to repeat this level of skill and endurance on a regular basis given that he and Djokovic are the same age and within 1 ranking place of each other theirs is a rivalry that has several years and one suspects some outstanding games ahead.



Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Winner

This is the moment, we’ll remember, Every day for the rest of our lives
Time may rush us, hurt or love us, but on this day we have arrived

I’ve been a loser, I’ve paid my dues
I fought my way up from the ground
Now at this moment the crowd acclaim us
Will you just listen to that song

Looking back on all the times we felt downcast
Didn’t think we were going anywhere just living in the past
But in that desperation you get inspiration

You’re a winner, I’m a winner
This is all happening so fast
You’re a winner, I’m a winner
Let’s enjoy it all while it lasts


No doubt inspired by the pre-Tennis music on Henman Hill Andy Murray thrashed Roger Federer to claim an Olympic gold medal, his demeanour in stark contrast to the dejected and emotional figure that he cut just 4 weeks ago.  At the time Federer said that the pain of losing matches like that makes you stronger and he was proved right as Murray dished out a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 straight sets defeat that no-one can honestly say they expected.

Andy has not been the only one rto realise their hopes of medals on home soil with some magnificent individual performances by Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford, Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins backed up by team victories in Equestrian, Rowing and most impressively Cycling.  The manner in which the womens team pursit trio broke their won world record 6 times in a row was unquestionably one of the most impressive performances the sport has ever seen with some countries reduced to complaining that Team GB put their wheels away when they have finished using them (the cycling equivalent of he took his ball in with him).

The Olympics as a sporting spectacle has been fantastic and if we forget about the Olympic lanes and rampant commercialism, security fiasco, strikes and ticketing mistakes it went pretty well.  Unfortunately being Britain we had all of those but have managed to create a fantastic celebration of a diverse range of sports including shooting, martial arts, beach volleyball, handball and gymnastics with Tema GB picking up a haul of medals the Aussies and French can only gaze at with undisguised envy.

Sadly Team GB's mens football team weren't listening to the Pet Shop Boys Olympic anthem (well it should have been as the Muse one is dreadful) and kept up the usual English habit of losing a quarter final on penalties. A feat made worse as they had 2 penalties in normal time and missed the second that would have won the game.  Why Aaron Ramsey took it instead of Giggs I am at a loss to explain but Team GB were as devoid of ideas against South Korea as England were against Italy in the European Championships and one kept wondering if only there was a big centre-forward like Andy Carroll up front and someone actually capable of crossing the ball to him in the team.  The absence of David Beckham or at least someone who can cross the ball and take set-pieces to the same standard has been highlighted by this summers 2 major football tournaments and until that changes we aren't going to make much progress in Brazil in 2014.

Still the new football season is upon us with the transfer market remarkably quiet with only Chelsea and Arsenal making any major additions to their squads in what appears to be is going to be a last-minute runaround to get new players in.  A lot of teams need major strengthening Newcastle need defenders, Sunderland need 2 strikers, a midfielder and 2 defenders, Tottenham need 2 strikers and Manchester United still need a replacement for Roy Keane since Owen Hargreaves lacked longevity.

Anyway here are  my predictions for this years Winners: -

Premier League - Manchester United
If they get Van Persie with the return of Vidic and possibly Darren Fletcher then they have an excellent chance of a 20th title.

Champions League places - Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal
FA Cup - Tottenham Hotspur
League Cup - Newcastle United
Champions League - Real Madrid

Relegated - West Ham United, Wigan Athletic, Reading

Championship  -
Promoted - Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City
Relegated - Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers

League 1
Promoted - Sheffield United, MK Dons, Swindon Town
Relegated - Crawley Town, Tranmere Rovers, Yeovil Town, Walsall

League 2
Promoted - Rochdale, Southend United, Fleetwood Town
Relegated - Dagenham and Redbridge, Morecambe

Naturally most of these will be wrong but it will be fun to see how it goes and as long as the top prediction is right and Southend go up I don't mid if the rest are a load of rubbish.

Just remember

You’re a winner, I’m a winner
Let’s enjoy it all while it lasts


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Jupiter’s Icy Moon

Europa is a far distant world, covered by thick ice and a small chance, if any, of life there and from his comments this week it would seem Harry Redknapp feels that you may as well be playing there if you finish 5th and that he would sooner finish 6th in the Premier League rather than enter the EUROPA League next season. If Spurs fail to beat Liverpool this weekend he will get his wish but is playing in Europe's 2nd tier competition as bad as he thinks it is.

The Europa League is a bit strange as clubs sped all season qualifying for it and then complaining about being in it yet it provides opportunity for extra revenue, a chance of silverware and the opportunity to play against some of Europe's top clubs (and some not so good ones as well). Whilst Stoke and Birmingham fans are overjoyed at the prospect of playing in Europe some Tottenham and Liverpool fans seem less than overjoyed by the prospect even though (if they approach it properly) they have a decent chance of winning it. After all Fulham reached the final last season, Liverpool reached the semis and Spurs did well in this season's Champions League so they should be looking forward to it with some confidence of picking up another trophy instead of wondering whether they can cope with that and their league campaigns. On that premise why bother trying to get into the Champions League? In fact why bother entering the FA Cup or Carling Cup and see if you can win the Premier League while only playing those games.

In reality those who blame the Europa League are just looking for an excuse to mask their own performances. The current Premier League leaders reached the FA Cup semi-final, Carling Cup quarter final and are in the Champions League final yet I don't hear any complaints from Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge about the number of games played. Winning becomes a habit no matter what competition it is in and you give yourself as many chances to win as possible. Cup runs breed confidence and players who may never get a league winners medal get a chance to win something. Fulham, Rangers, Celtic, Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Arsenal have all reached the final in the last 15 years and although only Liverpool have emerged as winners the fans of all those clubs have enjoyed the experience of reaching the final and would not trade the memory for anything. Ask Spurs 1984 UEFA Cup winning side what they think of the trophy's importance and you will likely get a positive response of it being one of the highlights of their career and likewise the 2001 Liverpool cup winning team and I daresay the Rangers, Celtic, Middlesbrough, Arsenal and Fulham players would likewise all speak of it favourably. The last 8 winners (including this season) have been from Spain, Italy, Russia and Portugal with 4 British finalists in that period. It is a great chance of a trophy and clubs should not be regarding it like a trip to the outer reaches of the solar system because ultimately whilst success breeds success the same can also be said of complacency and indifference, two things that are a far greater threat to Spurs than Thursday nights on Channel 5.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Up and Down

We are at the sharp end of the season again where the relegation and promotion spots tend to be in the mix and there are this season 4 teams who are running away with their league titles, a couple in strong positions and several in the play-off and relegation mix and I am going to stick my neck out and make my predictions as to who will go up and who will be back down a division.

The easiest place to start is the Blue Square Premier simply because Crawley Town are already champions. As for the play-offs the winners of Luton v Wrexham should decide the order and Fleetwood Town's meeting with Kidderminster who the 4th spot will go to. As for who will be promoted the smart money will be on AFC Wimbledon as they have an excellent squad and have been strong all season but the play-offs don't always go according to plan and all the play-off contenders have taken points off Wimbledon this season so I think Luton Town will be making a return to the Football League in the summer.

The Scottish Leagues are also up for grabs although Livingston's 21 point lead at the top of Division 2 is enough for them to win promotion, Arbroath have a 5 point lead and should win Division 3 but Division 1 is a tight race which Dunfermline are my bet to win simply because they have a 1 point lead and home advantage when the top 2 play each other at Easter. The SPL will see Hamilton relegated and Rangers are my bet for Champions due to sentimental reasons as it is Walter Smith's final season before retirement and it would be a lovely send-off for him.

League 2

Chesterfield are running away with the League 2 title but the places below them are still really tight. Only 5 points separate Wycombe in 2nd and Accrington in 8th and Port Vale have a chance at the play-offs still as they are only 3 points adrift of Stevenage in 6th. I actually think Bury & Wycombe will be promoted and Gillingham will drop out of the play-offs in favour of Accrington Stanley. Both Bury & Stanley have games against Barnet & Burton so they will be decisive when it comes to the relegation battle and it will be Burton's game in hand that saves them as it comes against an out of form Bradford City. Torquay are my vote to win the play-offs as they are on a decent run of form and will just pip Shrewsbury in the final.

League 1

Once again this is a division with runaway leaders in Brighton & Hove Albion. The Seasiders are making real progress under Gus Poyet and have led from start to finish needing only 1 more win to secure promotion and 3 more for the title with 6 games left. The play-off picture is close but Southampton's 2 games in hand should see them pip Huddersfield to 2nd although they have to play Rochdale and Brighton away with both teams hunting wins (Brighton to seal the title and Rochdale to sneak into the play-offs) but with games away at Plymouth and at home to Bristol Rovers both at the wrong end of the table they should have just enough to do it. I think Rochdale will beat Bournemouth to the last play-off spot as Bournemouth are struggling and Rochdale are coming into form at just the right time. It would be nice for them to win it and get higher than they have ever been but I think Darren Ferguson will repeat his promotion feats with Peterborough again this time. Relegation will be tight but the bottom 3 will be as they are now with Bristol Rovers surviving despite Notts County having 2 games in hand and a new boss in Martin Allen.

Championship A few weeks ago this looked cut and dried but 1 win for Swansea and an FA charge over player ownership has made it less so. QPR are 9 points clear at the top but allegations over 3rd party ownership of a player could see a 10 point deduction which shouldn't stop them going up but on current standings would put them in the play-offs. The fight for 2nd is intriguing with Swansea, Cardiff & Norwich fighting it out for the other promotion spot. All 3 have to play Portsmouth and Cardiff have to play QPR who will desperate to win so as to minimise the impact of any FA sanctions. I fancy Swansea to take 2nd as Norwich have a local derby which Ipswich will be desperate to win and a tough games against Forest. The play-offs will be won I believe by Cardiff as they have an excellent strike force with Chopra, Bothroyd & Bellamy. The bottom 3 will be as is with Sheffield United doomed and Scunthorpe and Preston finding form too late to escape.

Premier League.

Whilst many would like to pretend otherwise the Premier League title will be heading to Old Trafford for the 19th time barring a major collapse. Arsenal, Chelsea and City will make the Champions League with goal difference being City's saviour. Spurs will join Birmingham in the Europa League and I think Stoke City will make up the quartet after losing the FA Cup Final to Manchester United. Relegation is almost too close to call with everyone from Sunderland down in danger. If Blackpool beat Wigan on Saturday then the picture will become a lot clearer but a lot will ride on Wigan's game against West Ham. Wolves have an excellent chance to save themselves as West Ham have the hardest run in playing Chelsea, City and Villa. Add to that the probability that the Hammers and Wigan will cut each other's throats then they have a great chance to stay up but I still believe in the Tangerine dream so unfortunately every relegated club this season will start with the letter W and not be called Albion.

Champions League

I'd like to be biased and say Manchester United will win this season but while I think they will make the final I believe Cristiano Ronaldo will make the Special 1's year and make him the first manager to win Europe's Premier trophy for a 3rd time and with his 3rd different club cementing his reputation as one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Something Special


I want it now, My chance has come and I will grab it I want to be something special

Wayne Rooney certainly delivered something special in a weekend that swung the title race firmly in the favour of Sir Alex Ferguson's team. at half-time it looked like 2 West Ham penalties and chaotic defending had thrown the doors open for Arsenal and Chelsea but Rooney's hat-trick coupled with the London clubs failure to overcome their opponents has slammed it shut in their faces as Manchester United extended their lead to 7 points at the top of the Premier League to close in on their 19th title. Whilst United have for many years mastered the art of the fight-back this one was special even by their standards although helped by Lee Mason inexplicably failing to send off Nemanja Vidic for a professional foul on Demba Ba. Rooney's goals were excellently taken and add a tidy finish from Hernandez and the Red Devils were happier ahead of their Champions League quarter final than Chelsea will be.

The question is where has it all gone wrong for the Blues. Double winners last season with a blistering start to this campaign it should have been all over in their favour but it hasn't worked out that way. Several factors have contributed to this, the injuries to Frank Lampard, Drogba's malaria and the strange dismissal of Ray Wilkins all destabilised the team at a time when the league seemed to be there for the taking. It hasn't helped that Fernando Torres has yet to justify his price tag and doesn't look like doing anytime soon for his new employers. In fact given the fact that he was under-performing at Liverpool makes you wonder why Ancelotti spent £50M on him. His only effect has been to alienate the other strikers who have regularly performed for the club and, as happened when Kevin Keegan signed Tino Asprilla halfway through the season, created uncertainty just as things are looking up.

At the weekend Stoke seemed to be warming up for their cup meeting with Bolton as they started brightly and took the lead. Chelsea responded well and could have won the game although a draw seemed a fair result on balance. The Blues do not look like they are firing on all cylinders and although it would take a 6 point swing in Tottenham's favour for them to fail to qualify for the Champions League I don't believe fourth place in the table is where they envisaged being at the end of the season.

The Arsenal experiment has failed and there is a real danger that Manchester City could overhaul them by the end of the campaign and finish in 2nd. On too many occasions the Gunners have failed to beat opposition that they would normally expect to beat comfortably. In the past the accusation has been that they are too soft away from home whereas this season their most damaging results have come at the Emirates. While United have only dropped 2 points at home all season Arsenal fans have endured draws with Blackburn, Sunderland and Man City, defeat to West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and add to this away draws at West Brom, Wigan and Newcastle (the latter after leading 4-0 at half-time) and this is where the damage has been done to their aspirations rather than defeats by Manchester United, Tottenham or Aston Villa.

It has been the same old story this season as Arsenal somehow contrived to lose any chance of winning a trophy. Outmuscled by Birmingham, Outplayed by Barcelona and undone by Manchester United they tumbled out of 3 cup competitions in a month and now their title ambitions have taken a fatal blow. Arsenal need to inject the steel and killer instinct into his side that Ferguson has into United, a belief that they can win every game regardless of how the opponents play. It is something that made Mourinho successful at Chelsea and that Wenger inherited from George Graham's players that he left behind at Arsenal.

Considering the fact that Manchester United drew 5 of their first 8 league games this season the fact that they are now 7 points clear is testament to the fact that unlike their challengers they have taken advantage of others slip-ups and if they win their 19th title (which is looking increasingly likely) take advantage of a good chance to lift the FA Cup (assuming they can see off Man City which won't be easy) and can achieve a 3rd Champions League for Ferguson that truly will be something special.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Competition

The Champions League has a strong Quarter Final line up this season and the draw has produced some intriguing ties that may provide some surprising results with no easy route of passage to the final.

Whilst Barcelona seem to have got the easiest draw with Shakhtar Donetsk they have struggled against Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev in recent seasons so the Ukranians may not prove the easy passage that some Barcelona fans anticipate. If they do negotiate the cold of the ex-Soviet city they could well come unstuck against Real Madrid who will have a point to prove following their thrashing in the El Classico match earlier in the season.

Whilst Tottenham have done extremely well in this year's Champions League I expect Cristiano Ronaldo to prove the difference between the two sides as he has played against Spurs on several occasions whilst at Manchester United and while Van Der Vaart will want to prove a point against his ex-employers and Gareth Bale will force them to defend deep Sergio Ramos has a good goal threat as well and may well force Bale to start deeper than he would like. The two matches between Spurs and Madrid will be exciting and entertaining but I think the Spaniards will produce one or two moments of special skill that will ultimately turn the tie in their favour.

Spurs will be a side that Inter Milan will be glad to have avoided and the defending champions will (with some justification) really fancy their chances against Schalke but while the Germans have struggled in the league this is a competition that Raul loves and will want to win again before retirement but I think it will be Milan who progress.

The tie that stands-out though is Chelsea vs Manchester United simply because of the rivalry between the teams and the controversy surrounding refereeing decisions within recent meetings between the two at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea will want revenge against United for their defeat in Moscow whilst United will want to ensure that Chelsea remain without any silverware this season.

The key in this match will be the battle between Didier Drogba and Nemanja Vidic. Whilst Torres has historically been a difficult opponent for Vidic he seems to have forgotten where the goal is and turned the tide of the league match at the Bridge when he came on as United were in cruise control at that point. That is not to say that Chelsea are a one-man team but for all the skill of Essien, Lampard, Malouda and Cole, Drogba is the natural outlet and a player that causes every opponent problems. United need to get a grip on their midfield which will be helped if they can get Fletcher and Ferdinand fit. If so I fully expect a 4-5-1 line up with a midfield of Nani, Giggs, Fletcher, Scholes and Valencia with Rooney leading the line on his own.

As a United fan I am going to be biased and say that United can reach the final as they do have the ability to see off either Inter or Schalke, but it is Real Madrid not Barcelona who I think will ultimately stand between Sir Alex Ferguson and a 3rd Champions league triumph at Wembley.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Kuyt Flying

Yesterday was possibly the worst day as a United supporter that I have endured for a long time. Dirk Kuyt scored what is likely the easiest hat-trick he will ever get as United's defence fell over themselves to gift 3 points to their bitterest rivals. After the manner of their midweek defeat against Chelsea they needed to shake off the cobwebs and get back to winning ways and unfortunately failed to do either. Missing both 1st choice centre-backs Ferguson selected an attacking line-up hoping to extend their lead at the top of the table after Arsenal had been held by Sunderland but it was not to be. Liverpool were full of industry, pressing and harrying their opponents all over the pitch forcing 2 defensive errors out of their opponents back four. Luis Suarez showed the skills that convinced Liverpool to pay over £20M for his services and that Andy Carroll is grossly over-priced at £35M. In fact after an hour we were left wondering whether he was actually needed as the shadow of Fernando Torres was swept away in the run that set up the opening goal. It left people asking why Kuyt has been shunted out to the wing for so long. He was full of hustle and bustle and his fortune was in stark contrast to those of Dimitar Berbatov who hit the post and had a chance cleared off the line by Suarez. Apart from letting Jamie Carragher and Rafael stay on the pitch after a couple of shocking challenges there was not much controversy for Phil Dowd to deal with.

There will be an inquest into what went wrong for United and people will point to probably 3 areas.

Formation, Midfield and Personnel.

It is unusual to criticise a manager for setting out his stall and going for the jugular and if United had won I wouldn't be but given that Wes Brown and Chris Smalling are not 1st choice for United a 4-5-1 may have been better utilised to stifle Liverpool and then switch to 4-4-2 later in the game to take advantage of that.

This game was one that really needed Darren Fletcher rather than Carrick in Midfield and the Scots' presence on the bench as Carrick and Scholes were overrun underlined how much they are missing Owen Hargreaves and Anderson. The midfield did not perform and when Nani went off they had to move Rooney to the left as Valencia is still unavailable through injury. The United engine room needs an overhaul in the summer before it conks out.

This brings us to personnel and there will need to a be a lot of changes in the summer. Van Der Sar will likely be followed into retirement by Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen as the persistent injury problems to the two Owens may mean they have to call it a day and Scholes will probably recognise as did Gary Neville that he is starting to decline.

Also needing to be cleared out are Kusczak, Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan and replaced by higher quality players. Danny Welbeck may provide some striking options when he returns from Sunderland but the following signings would help United dominate the Premier League further: -

Manuel Neuer, Brede Hangeland, Lassana Diarra, Romelo Lukaku and Bastian Schweinsteiger would be good replacements for them and wouldn't cost a fortune although a winger to replace Ryan Giggs has to be high on the agenda with Gareth Bale a natural target along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

High-profile signings like Kaka, Ribery or Benzema would certainly be interesting and welcome but are not very likely.

United will probably still win the title despite this result, especially if they overcome Arsenal and Chelsea in their upcoming matches, but if they want to stay at the top the Glazers are going to have to spend big in the summer.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Wings and Faith

With wings and faith
you can fly, into the sky

Wayne Rooney certainly did that on Saturday afternoon with an excellent overhead kick that settled a tightly contested Manchester Derby that looked set to be a draw until that stunning intervention. The effect of this result on the Premier League table is significant in many ways.

Firstly in terms of the title race although United still have to travel to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea it is fair to say that this match ended any hope Manchester City had of winning the title this season. Mancini threw off the defensive approach that his team is perceived to have but in the end it was to no avail although one wonders how the game would have turned out if Silva's early chance had been taken and if he had started with Wright-Phillips instead of Kolarov. City now sit 8 points behind United having played a game more and even the most blinkered BlueNose will accept that only Arsenal have a realistic chance of stopping the relentless march of Sir Alex Ferguson's team to the title. Although at times playing like the United of old this season's team has, in general, played more like Stoke City grinding out narrow results rather than the expansive United teams of recent years.

Secondly the more pressing problem for City is holding on to 3rd place. If Chelsea win this evening they will close the gap to 2 points alongside Spurs and City will not want that margin to be the same when they travel to Stamford Bridge next month or when Spurs come calling in April. Ironically the blue half of Manchester needs a United double over Chelsea as much as the red half. Key fixtures also involve trips to Anfield and the Reebok and a visit from Sunderland who are chasing a European spot. It is not inconceivable that after a season that has promised much they could once again finish 5th and outside the Champions League.


Another impact will be on the FA Cup a trophy that City are taking very seriously and will need to cope with a resurgent Aston Villa assuming they can get past Notts County. United should be confident of seeing off Crawley at Old Trafford a match which should see starts for Hernandez, Michael Owen and several other squad players who haven't had many opportunities to impress this season.

United have tested the faith of their fans this season with an inability to regularly pick up 3 points away from home and with some hard matches coming up they do need to improve on their travels especially as failure to take 3 points from Chelsea and Arsenal will open up the race again just as it is starting to look closed off. I would say this season we have seen the end or near end of some fantastic careers. Ronaldo and Gary Neville retiring within a week of each other is something that is disappointing but had to happen given the decline in their games and if United win the title I suspect Paul Scholes will also hang up his boots. We are also I think seeing the end of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba at Chelsea.

At £50M there is no way Fernando Torres will not be first choice striker and as he and Drogba are very similar players I expect the Ivorian to move on probably back to France although quite a few Premier League clubs would be interested (Newcastle anyone). Terry has a direct threat to his position from David Luiz compounded by Ancelotti's very public statement that he will need to accept being rotated could lead to him moving on as well. Whilst Lampard has no threats to his position at the moment, at 32 he may well have to settle for a bit-part role as a younger player comes in or move to a club where he is more likely to start. Again Newcatle, Sunderland, Villa, Fulham or even Everton could be good moves for him.

This is a fascinating season that may yet have some twists and turns and with Liverpool playing City, Arsenal and Spurs 3 wins coupled with maximum points from their meeting with Sunderland could yet prove decisive. What chance that the table may look like this at the end of the season: -

1. Manchester United

2. Arsenal

3. Tottenham Hotspur

4. Liverpool

5. Manchester City

6. Chelsea.

7. Sunderland

8. Bolton

With Arsenal, United, City and Chelsea still in the FA Cup and Arsenal have a chance to win the Carling Cup 6th and 7th place could yet yield a Europa League spot so will see some tight games towards the end of the season.

As for relegation anyone with 30 points or under still needs to be concerned although West Brom are in the worst position with them still playing Wolves twice, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool , Sunderland and Tottenham and in all fairness it is hard to see where they will pick up a total of 4 point from those 7 games. The games against the top sides are consecutive and with the 3 preceding and 2 subsequent matches being local derbies (Wolves, Stoke, Birmingham, Villa and Wolves again) they could well be relegated before their May meeting with Everton.

They more than Manchester United need Wings and Faith over the next few weeks.

Monday, 24 January 2011

How I Learned To Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll

Someone states the obvious
Someone sneers at all you love
Someone preaches ugly manners
excluding some, including me

This is how I learned to hate rock 'n' roll

Rock 'n' Roll a phrase which conjures up various images from long haired hippies with flowers in their hair sitting in the grass strumming their guitars and singing catchy ditties while talking in a drawn out manner like Neil from the Young Ones or people in leather trousers and tasselled leather jackets bawling out songs accompanied by loud guitars, heavy percussion and the occasional keyboard (Aerosmith, Whitesnake etc). As Depeche Mode put it this is Music For The Masses (although their music was primarily electronic).

So why do I hate this type of music?

The easy response would be that rather than hate it I have simply have never liked it as my earliest musical exposure was to New Romantics and Mods, groups like Duran, Duran, Madness, The Jam, Adam and The Ants and then into early Hip Hop/ Electro but that would only be a partial explanation as my musical tastes used to drift along without much focus in the early 80s until the mid-80s resurgence of the synthesiser. An instrument outwardly despised by rock musicians and seen as a necessary evil to produce some of the sounds they needed for their tracks coupled with the perception that a 'real musician' wouldn't need one as they were for people like me who don't play the piano very well and need to sequence their music. This led me to take the opposite view that Rock Music was for hippy communists or middle aged losers who can't dance and still want to be John Lennon (who managed to fit both images of the typical rock musician in my eyes). This was further emphasised by the rise of Indie Music and the sudden desire of everyone in Manchester and its surrounds to dress and play like sub-standard Beatles throwbacks.

Now given the fact that I do own and like some albums and singles by Rock artists you may well be justified in asking how I can claim to hate rock as a genre and it is difficult to explain as it is more due to being contrary and reactionary rather than down to any musical critique. The holier than thou patronising attitude that some rock aficionados have in respect to dance music and anything that uses a keyboard as its main instrument went a long way to polarising my attitude to it. Now that is not to say that Pink Floyd, Metallica, Queen and countless other rock groups have no talent in fact the complete opposite is true in many cases but I just can't bring myself to like them. Part of the problem is the idea that some artists have that they just have to pick up a guitar and they are suddenly rock musicians whilst churning out something which it would be kind to describe as ordinary. During this period of dislike and musical transition certain sounds started to stand out and lead to the path of electronic music. 3 records were instrumental in achieving this, Blue Monday, Two Tribes and It's A Sin. The sounds of these records were completely different from most other synth-based sounds of the mid-80s and pioneered what a good dance track could sound like. Yes there had been good synthesizer groups such as Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Ultravox and the Human League but whether it was (in the case of Two Tribes Trevor Horn's production, the fact that Blue Monday was completely different to anything New Order or Joy Division had previously done or the strident chord structures and bass-line of a Stephen Hague produced Pet Shop Boys I decided by the mid-80s that synth-pop and dance were the way forward and stayed with it.

Having decided on my musical direction you would think life would be simple and yet the opposite became true. For every Music For The Jilted Generation there was a Use Your Illusion For every Very, Introspective, Fundamental, Wild, Technique or Yes there has been singles by U2, Aerosmith and others that have sought to tempt the listener back towards rock. Added to that the decline of genuinely good pop music in favour of R&B and Simon Cowell induced rubbish a particular problem has become prevalent. Do I stick with my chosen genre risking the fact that only 1 or 2 decent albums may come out a year, listen to rap music embrace mediocrity or start dusting off the electric guitar and admitting defeat.

All feelings blunted, all passion spent
Everybody does what everybody does

That is what embracing current chart music would bring me, with rap I am always reminded of some dialogue from The Last Boy Scout

Bad guy - You think you're so cool, don't you? You think you're so cool. Well just once, I would like to hear you scream, in pain. Bruce Willis response:

Play some rap music.

Rock music won't make me feel much better although a listen to U2's greatest hits album is always good but I thankfully (due to having to use tapes in the car at the moment) am reminded of one of the central tenets of my musical tastes

don't like country-and-western
I don't like rock music
I don't like, I don't like rockabilly or rock 'n' roll particularly
Don't like much really, do I?
But what I do like I love passionately

Listening to those thumping Chris Lowe bass lines and chord structures reminds me of what I do love passionately music-wise and it does not involve leather pants and long hair.

Friday, 26 November 2010

It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas

Nothing on the TV that you'd want to see
And it's hardly ever snowing
The way it's meant to be
Like in White Christmas year after year
Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby,
Are you listening to me?

It doesn't often snow at Christmas
the way it's meant to do

There were recent times when betting on a White Christmas was as much of a waste of cash as placing a wager on Manchester City to win a trophy but over the last 2 years the odds have reduced on one of them and the other is now a cast iron certainty. There will be another snow covered Christmas Day in the UK without a doubt. We will be able to make snowmen, snow angels, have snowball fights and excuse to not visit the in-laws (the roads are too bad, honest!! will be the refrain) but most importantly you get 4 helpings of Premier League football over that week that will go a long way to deciding where the league title ends up and who gets relegated. Assuming the positions and points margins today remain the same up until the 19th let us see how the league could be won and lost.

The festive period starts on the 19th with Chelsea and Manchester United stepping out at Stamford Bridge and if Chelsea do not improve their form between now and then they will be handing a 3 point lead to United going into Christmas. It is hard to say who has the hardest festive schedule but it seems evenly matched as Chelsea who take on Arsenal, Bolton, Villa and Wolves whereas United face an in-form Sunderland, Birmingham, Stoke and West Brom. Arsenal have trips to Wigan and Birmingham and entertain Man City and Chelsea so it will not be an easy Christmas for Arsene's men who could fall behind to City (Blackpool, Newcastle and Villa), Spurs (Villa, Newcastle, Fulham, Everton) and even Bolton (West Brom, Chelsea, Liverpool and Wigan). Villa take on 3 of the top 6 and their performances will have a huge bearing on the title but given the way the season is going I expect United to go into the new year top by about 1 point, Chelsea to be second, Spurs 3rd and City Fourth. Bolton and Arsenal fighting over 5th and 6th as I think Arsenal will end up drawing their 4 matches whereas Bolton will probably win 2 and scrape a draw in one of the others and I think Villa will beat City and Chelsea will draw 2 of theirs and I can see United getting 3 wins and a draw.

The bottom is where the fun really starts though as West Ham and Wolves are already looking doomed and the Hammers festive programme of Fulham, Everton, Wolves and Newcastle could well see them fatally adrift especially if they lose to Fulham who are already 5 points ahead of them and Wolves. Avram Grant is in his natural environment at the moment (bottom of the table and getting relegated) and unless things change in the next 3 games I think they are doomed. Carlton Cole was quoted as saying they had lost the game psychologically in the first 10 minutes at Anfield an attitude that will not endear him to Hammers fans at all as if you can't have any fighting spirit for even 10 minutes of a game you may as well give up and it appears that is what West Ham did last weekend.

All in all I think that it will still be tight at the top come the new year but I feel that unless they pick up 3-4 wins between now and the new year West Ham and Wolves will be as good as relegated before Christmas .

As for the assertion that it doesn't often snow at Christmas since the Pet Shop Boys released that single we've had lots of snow so it seems that post-modernist irony is alive and kicking again although White Christmas is the local theatre musical this year and as the film will be on BBC2 or Sky this year I don't think Bing Crosby will be listening when I tell him to get off my TV screen.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Survivors

Don't shrug your shoulders (it's always easy)
You can't ignore

That life is worth living, It's still worth a damn
One might be forgiven for thinking
it's something of a sham
Many words may make it sound contrived
but somehow we're alive

(The survivors) Our heads bowed
(The survivors) At memorials for other faces in the crowd
Teachers and artists (it's never easy)

Tomorrow it will 92 years since the end of World War 1 and an opportunity to remember the sacrifices of not just those who fell in The Great War, World War II and other conflicts since but also those who survived but at great cost either physically or mentally. It is fair to say that no-one returns unscathed from war. Soldiers witnessed horrific scenes and underwent experiences that would affect them for the rest of their lives whether it was life in the trenches, the gas attacks of Ypres or the Extermination camps of Auschwitz, Dachau and Belsen or simply seeing comrades that they fought against having their lives snuffed out in an instant by a bullet, mine or grenade.

It is difficult to objectively analyse the effects of war and conflict as political views often colour our perceptions of any war we are involved in. In Britain we look at WW1, WW2, Korea, the Falklands and the Gulf War as necessary wars fought because of aggressive invasion by other countries. However our views on Iraq and Afghanistan are just as polarised as American opinion was on Vietnam. How many people really look at Remembrance Day and see the true significance of what it represents. WW1 was a strategic war fought mainly to prevent German Hegemony on the European Continent, the results of a complex series of mutual defence treaties. WW2 on the other hand was a war fought against not just a strategic position but an ideal and a belief that National Socialism was wrong and should be stopped. As the range of Nazi atrocities was revealed at Nuremberg very few people questioned that stopping Hitler was the right thing to do. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands Britain went to war on a wave of national support for the conflict as British subjects were directly threatened but recent conflicts have not had that luxury. Whilst the Balkans War wasn't overly questioned as it was a UN-led operation the motives behind the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are constantly questioned as although few would deny that Saddam Huussein and the Taliban were repressive regimes we no longer live in a world where people view regime change as a legitimate aim of warfare. They may accept it as a by-product of a conflict where there is an imminent danger to our own shores but many do not believe that national security is defended by fighting in foreign fields.

This has led to a distinct change in the way that war veterans are viewed and treated. Anyone fighting in World Wars or the Falklands are treated with respect and understanding whereas those who have served in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq do not. They are insulted openly by some sections of the populace and treated as the aggressor rather than people who were simply fighting to protect our security by helping democracy take shape abroad.

This Remembrance Day please remember the sacrifices of the fallen and appreciate the freedoms that they have safeguarded but also remember those who survived the war as many have paid a high price either physically or emotionally as a result. The effect of conflict upon a nation should be to make them stronger as a group and driven by a collective will and unity. Let us all have the unity and will to appreciate what has been done for us by those who fight on our behalf.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Big Freeze

Lots of things are frozen at this time of year generally pipes, boilers, schoolchildren and office workers as boilers spring into life for the first time in 6 months and promptly break down again. We always seem surprised when this happens and are never prepared. Take last year's winter for example the country ground to a standstill as it actually had the audacity to snow on more than 2 consecutive days while other countries like Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Norway, Russia, Canada and the USA managed just fine with far higher levels of snow. This unpreparedness is once again evident as George Osborne unveiled his Big Freeze of public spending.

For months we have been told that there will be cuts in the public sector as a result of the recession and spending review as the state hadn't really cut any staff during the last couple of years the way the private sector has so clearly something has to be slimmed down.

The problem is figuring out if the cuts will lead to a Weightwatchers type reduction or a Slim-Fast lose as much as you can very quickly diet. Many of the changes are good in principle but not really targeted in the right way with the Child Benefit cut being one of the main ones. In principle cutting Child Benefit for higher earners is a good one but linking it to the rate of tax paid rather than household income was not giving a scenario where a single income family on £47000 per annum would lose the benefit whilst a dual income family on £80000 per annum would keep it. William Hague claimed the former were a minority whereas most would say it represents about 25% of the Conservative Party's core voters with some of the cuts potentially proving to be political suicide.

So where are the cuts good or bad? Reducing prison costs is a positive step as long as it doesn't lead to people who should be in custody (those with previous convictions for violent or sexual crimes or on trial for murder or flight risks being excluded), reducing the amount of quangos again not a bad idea as long as it actually saves money but counter that with reductions in government building programmes and decommissioning Ark Royal while talking of increasing overseas aid and it is not easily apparent where the true savings will be made as those made redundant will likely claim some kind of benefits (paid for by the state) and tax receipts will decline as a result. A 20% levy on the EuroMillions and Lotto winners every week would go a long way to increasing tax receipts as would stopping some of the tax avoidance used by LTD company contractors who are in effect disguised employees and umbrella companies.

The truth is there are no easy answers as to what cuts are good and which are bad as someone suffers regardless of how it is done. Some companies that work to get jobseekers into work sound like they are providing a positive service yet the cost to the taxpayer that they are charged by them is quite high and that work would be better done by the JobCentre anyway. It seems overall that the plan is to force government departments to spend their budgets wisely and ensure that projects are funded on merit rather than influence.

Hopefully in 5 years we won't be saying that The more that it hurts the less that it works

Thursday, 23 September 2010

My Night

We're gonna light up the night like fireworks
flashing through the sky like a satellite
A series of bangs, beautiful colours
Baby, tonight this is my night

It is a fair assumption that when the Carling Cup draw was made not many people thought that Northampton, Brentford, Newcastle, Scunthorpe and West Bromwich Albion would be the teams that would be celebrating but with the assumption of Scunthorpe United that is how it has transpired and even then it would be fair to say that Manchester United were flattered by the eventual scoreline considering the boys from Glanford Park had double United’s attempts on goal, both on and off-target and had it not been for some outstanding goalkeeping by Tomas Kusczak it would have been a lot closer. You can understand Chelsea putting out a reduced side considering they were at home to a newly promoted side with some difficult matches coming up but considering Liverpool have no chance at the title this year one would have thought that they would have given Torres & Gerrard some easy target practice but Roy Hodgson felt that he would prefer to give his fringe players a run out and paid the price.

Several commentators have said that it is one thing when you are winning trophies regularly and your reserve team has players like Michael Owen, Darron Gibson, Anderson, Park, Hernandez, Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand in it and another thing when it is mainly players no-one has heard of and you aren’t winning trophies. If Arsenal and Liverpool took the competition a bit more seriously they could well have won the League Cup in the last 5 seasons but for me the worst offenders last night were Manchester City considering that they have spent more money than anyone else and were away to a Premier League side and got to the semi-final stage of the competition last season I would have thought that Mancini would have viewed the Carling Cup as a winnable trophy and played his first team or at least limited it to 3-4 changes. As it was Sky have had 2 nights of outstanding cup results to report on which should ensure higher viewing figures in the next round.

So who are most likely to be in the final at Wembley in April. Arsenal have got an excellent chance as while Wenger plays his youth they are undoubtedly talented but to have any chance they will need to avoid Manchester United, Villa and any physical sides like Blackburn, Stoke and Birmingham until the semis Realistically it will be very hard for Brentford, Burnley, Ipswich, West Ham, Northampton or Leicester to reach the final as there will be extremely tough games in the forthcoming rounds against clubs who will take the competition seriously. Stoke, Newcastle, West Brom and Birmingham will fancy their chances of at least the semi-finals and a trip to Wembley but for me I believe this years final could well be a repeat of last seasons as United have improved their side and Houllier has always taken this competition seriously. Villa have a solid side and whilst Milner has left Albrightson has come in and played very well but you wonder will Villa run out of steam again this season. If I was to nail my colours to the mast I am going to plump for a final of Manchester United vs Arsenal with United winning by a couple of Michael Owen goals as he will want to finish the match this time after his injury after scoring last seasons equaliser.

As unpalatable as it may be to non United fans I think Gary Neville will be lifting that trophy in April at the end of what is likely to be his last season at United and singing that it is indeed his night.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Between Two Islands

We sailed on a fishing-boat, between these two shores
the Island of Lovers
and the Island of Whores

Well some footballers have certainly been there recently whether it is Rooney, Crouch or half the French national team there seems to be a recent run of ladies of the night having what they call "affairs" with Premier League footballers. I've never understood how footballers fail to realise that these stories will eventually be sold to the newspapers (especially with Max Clifford sniffing about like a dog on heat) but we seem to be condemned to reading the same old sordid rubbish year after year. I personally would like to see some real scandal involving sportsmen such as England captain reads a book or Shaun Wright-Phillips crosses the ball properly you know real juicy stuff.

Of course George Best and Alex Higgins really started off the celebrity sportsman culture spending loads of time with models and ladies of questionable virtue but while unusual then it is almost a cottage industry now simply because of the vast amount of money that footballers earn and newspapers will pay for stories concerning them. In the 1980s and 1990s pop stars and actors were the main targets of kiss and tell scandals but these have faded into obscurity since the rise of the WAG who are, as we know, West End Girls who want a relationship with a footballer rather than a quick story so that they can maximise the flow of money to spend in boutiques, salons etc (for an example see Alex Curran). Now that is not to say that all footballers wives are money-grabbing self-publicists, the largest proportion of them, in all likelihood genuinely love their husbands and stick with them regardless of circumstances simply because of that, it is just a shame that not all their spouses return that character.

But anyway I promised to talk about Islands and so I shall with the Isle of Wight up in arms about Emma Thompson's remarks on a late night comedy show about torturing people and shooting Scotsmen and the Irish. Apparantly council leaders were up in arms at being confused with the Isle of Man and have demanded that such a thing never happens again. Islands however have a place in our hearts and consciousness that continental countries just don't get. After all Radio 4 don't broadcast Desert Country Discs do they and people speak about escaping to tropical islands rather than countries and there are a myriad of pop songs about Islands but why do we love them so much.

I think the key atrtraction to the Island is the perception that it is unspoilt and no-one else will be living there or if they are it will be at the other end of it providing an unfulfilled escapism that people are desperate for the more monotonous their lives become and they have a romantic view of a simpler life that will be far easier than their current existence (a view that lasts until they need the fridge, washing machine or TV) which is understandable and wuite attractive if a little unrealistic.

The sad thing is as they can't escape to an island people become islands through the paranoia and fear that pervades the media and no longer reach out to a wider community unless it is through the safety net of social networking sites, second life, or role play games. The core identity of a person shifts dependent on what online media they are using and slowly detach themselves from the people who are physically around them to dissappear into a virtual world which is a sea awash with ways of interacting without ever leaving your computer.

Safe in our life-jackets, salvaged from the sea
Now I'm drowning,
Won't you rescue me


The truth is rescue only comes about by embracing the world around you rather than constantly seeking seclusion and remembering the words of John Donne that "no man is an island"

You could follow me on Twitter but not if you live on a remote island with no phone or broadband connection

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Out of my system

My decision is implacable, because we're not compatible
I'm gonna get him out of my system


Well Roberto Mancini has certainly started to get people out his system quite ruthlessly. Craig Bellamy told his only allowed move is to Cardiff, Robinho being told to find another club, Santa Cruz looks to be on his way out to be replaced by players that he is happier working with. One wonders how much money he will spend and lost before he has got rid of everyone Eriksson and Hughes signed and replaced them with his own players.

Mancini seems to have a good idea of what system he wants to play and if you don’t like it he simply gets rid of you but will the spend lots of cash approach work for him. He seems like a man intent on buying every player on the market but if he plays the system he did against Spurs how long will Adebayor, Balotelli, Tevez, Jo or other players happily sit on the bench. It is a juggling act which if he gets right may well yield great results but if discontent starts to rear it’s head and he can’t stem it will he become another high-profile managerial casualty. Mark Hughes was sacked due to having the wrong trajectory of results yet Mancini did not provide much of an improvement on City’s position although they finished 1 place higher in 5th than they were at the time of Hughes’ sacking there is nothing to say that Hughes himself wouldn’t have delivered a 5th place finish and after Hughes had led them to the Carling Cup semi-final City were knocked out by neighbours United (who Hughes had a good record against) and therefore delivered no progress on that front either although they did reach the 5th round of the FA Cup 2 wins against Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe hardly represented a massive return on investment for the manager.

City however seem to have a plan and Mancini is busy putting it into operation and as it involves publicly tapping up other clubs players and offering them substantial financial increases to entice them City are rapidly becoming more unpopular than Chelsea, United and Liverpool especially as they haven’t exactly had a massive amount of recent trophy success that would allow them to be perceived as a step-up for ambitious players. City have the finance to become a great club and certainly have some fantastic players but it is hard to see the current owners having a lot of patience if things slip early on. City fans point to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Inter and Juventus as examples of teams able to consistently by success yet £250M didn’t do Real or Pellegrini any good last year and also overlooks that Serie A and La Liga are not as competitive as the Premier League although the owners are far more impatient.

Mancini will not get the sort of time that Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger or Rafael Benitez got to assemble a good side but is more likely to get a similar time period that Claudio Ranieri got from Abrahamovic and come may he may well rue the treatment of one Mr Craig Bellamy.

Paul Scholes was asked recently whether he thought the investment at City and close rivalry was a good thing to which his reply was “I’d rather see them back in Division 3”. It will take a lot less for Mancini to be out of Manchester City’s system if he gets knocked out of the Cups early this year and isn’t in the top 4. In football lots of money does not lend itself to lots of patience.

You can follow me on Twitter but I'm currently changing my name to erase all the silly comments I made on a chat site 30 years ago about Mastertronic tapes on the Commodore Vic-20 being rubbish (www.twitter.com/adampsb)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Up Against It

Wrapped in nostalgia to queue for a show
Back to Trafalgar, One kiss then I'll go


Newcastle United returned to the big time last night and due to the cruelty of the fixture computer resumed their familiar refrain of losing at Old Trafford. February 12th 1972 was the day they last got 3 points at Old Trafford and they haven’t won since I was born 10 days later. While it may be mere coincidence that Newcastle haven’t won away at Manchester United while I’ve been alive (and if it isn’t then it will be a long time until they do) as a United fan it is really rather fun looking forward to what seems to be guaranteed points every season.

The main problem for Newcastle fans is that while they are the eternal optimists they can’t help looking back and comparing the current squad with teams of yore whether it bee the FA Cup winning side of the 1950s, the Malcolm McDonald led side of the 1970s or more recently Kevin Keegan’s irrepressible side of the 1980s and the problem this time around is the current squad doesn’t even have better players than the side that got relegated 2 years ago. A lot of the blame is directed at Mike Ashley since he decided that NUFC would be run like a business (i.e. have to make a profit or at least break even) and that Keegan would waste the transfer money he was given unless someone else scouted out the players for him. The first was an excellent idea the second a fatal mistake that led to the Geordies spiralling down into the Championship on the last day of the season.

The key question this season is do Newcastle have a good enough team to stay up and do well? It is hard to judge on last night’s performance as United were excellent with Paul Scholes imperious in central midfield but you do fear that Andy Carroll is not a number 9 in the mould of Andy Cole, Alan Shearer or Les Ferdinand and unless a more prolific striker comes in then they may suffer, especially if they continue with the defensive generosity that Keegan’s team were noted for. It is a lot easier to outscore the opposition if you have a partnership of Cole/ Beardsley or Shearer/ Ferdinand up front that if you are starting with Andy Carroll and Alan Smith.

I also have some concerns about how inventive the team is. There is no David Ginola, Rob Lee, Ruel Fox or Scott Sellars type player to provide the invention needed and there is some doubt that Gutierrez or Routledge can fill that gap satisfactorily. I have no doubts that Newcastle will stay up but it will be a long hard slog and unless they get some invention and guile into their forward play rather than having Carroll as a human battering ram then they will be up against it or otherwise with their penultimate game away to Chelsea as they go past Trafalgar Square it may be one season then they’ll go.

You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adampsb but I'm busy pretending to be pop stars I don't like and cancelling all their concerts. (sorry Axl)

Friday, 30 July 2010

The Way It Used To Be

What remains in time that didn't fade away?
Sometimes I need to see the way it used to be

Another Premier League season will soon be upon us and after about 6 weeks of non-stop live football and various tantrums thrown by footballers supporters of teams who either haven’t won a trophy for 34 Years (yes you know who you are) and are unlikely to win another trophy for 34 Years (again you can guess who I mean) will start talking about how football isn’t any good anymore and how it was better in bygone days.

The question is though was it?

I mean do we want to go back to an era where Manchester City and Newcastle actually won trophies? I would say no simply because as a United supporter living in Sunderland I was brought up to despise both teams but there is a lot to be said for the merits of a time when Blackpool, Sunderland, Preston North End, Burnley, Swindon Town and Huddersfield Town could win major trophies and Rochdale could reach the League Cup Final.

But were those days really better and if so why?

Prior to the 1970s I would say they were certainly more competitive with 23 teams lifting the League title at some point in their history and the FA Cup over the years has had 41 different winners and 50 different finalists and despite being perceived to have lost some of its lustre there is still a lot of excitement about the competition.

Smaller clubs had nationally recognised stars and internationals who could identify with the ordinary man in the street the way today’s millionaire footballers never will, atmosphere’s at grounds were friendlier although rivalries were strong the hostility and violence that became associated with football did not really take hold until the 1970s and with prices within reach of everyone men and boys went to football matches weekly supporting their local team regardless of fortune. While larger clubs had fans outside their regions they were often as a second allegiance with supporters still going to watch their local teams.

So where did it all go wrong?

Certainly the abolition of the maximum wage made it easier for larger clubs to offer better financial incentives to persuade players to move and with the advent of Sky Sports that has advanced further to the point where ordinary journeymen players receive wages that many fans view as disproportionate to their skills.

Supporters are more disconnected with players and clubs with the community feel of many disappearing as commercial realities have begun to bite.

But I would say that the main cause has been what I call The Rise of the Reds.

Whatever your feelings on the 2 clubs the fact is that since 1972 Manchester United and Liverpool have dominated the English game winning 11 titles each, and United winning 8 FA Cups and Liverpool 5. Adding that to the extended reach of the game due to increased television exposure both in terms of matches broadcast and TV shows such as Superstars and A Question of Sport meant that smaller clubs fans didn’t just start watching bigger clubs on TV but stopped attending their local clubs which with increased prize money and the inception of the Premier League has meant smaller clubs have suffered over the years.

So were the old days better? In many ways yes, teams were more competitive, trophies were more evenly distributed, capacities were higher (although stadium safety is now much better), atmosphere’s were better and I bet the pies even tasted better.

But if the new football stops City, Newcastle and Liverpool from lifting the league title again then I can live with it (but it isn’t necessarily better).

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Monday, 12 July 2010

The Patience of a Saint

Why should I care, I’d rather watch drying paint.
But I would try the Patience of a Saint


And they really did test poor Howard’s patience although his credibility wasn’t helped by Mrs Webb saying that she didn’t know how he controls a football match when he can’t even control his kids (a statement even more damning when you consider that he used to be a police officer).

To be fair his achievement of being the first Englishman since 1974 to referee a World Cup Final was submerged under the flurry of cards that he was forced to show to control a match that had you looking around for Brian Jacks and Bruce Lee at one point. The key problem was that the game itself was awful and was almost exactly the same as the Inter-Barcelona semi-final at the Nou Camp with the Dutch forgetting that the match wasn’t over 2 legs and that they would actually need to score.

But enough of the final here are my World Cup High Fliers

Surprise of the Tournament - Chile
This was a hard one as there were a few underdogs that did well including Uruguay, Paraguay, Japan and Slovakia but Chile tried to play with pace and flair but were unfortunate enough to meet Brazil in the last 16.

Team of the Tournament - Germany
They had some really strong results and if they had not been without Mueller for the semi-final I suspect that they would have turned over Spain as well.

Result of the Tournament - South Africa 2 - France 1
This was really close as the 4-0 tonking of the Argies by Germany that sent Maradona and Messi home crying that the mean Germans wouldn’t let them win was a fantastic moment but watching Henry and Co become the first team to be on the plane home was much more fun.

Disaster of the Tournament - France
I was almost tempted to pick England as we were absolutely awful but considering we made the last 16 and the French didn’t we are at least spared that embarrassment.

Player of the Tournament - Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Not only did he perform imperiously in Germany’s midfield he also has a really funny name although Thomas Mueller and Diego Forlan ran him close.

The question is now though which player would represent a good investment after their showing at the World Cup and apart from the German trio Schweinsteiger, Mueller and Ozil, Maicon, Lucio or the young Uruguayan goalkeeper I would say no-one really stood out enough to warrant paying a premium for.

This World Cup has not been the best and the final summed it all up in that it was one of the worst matches of an otherwise poor tournament. I will leave it to Electronic to describe my feelings on the whole thing.

Disappointed, once more
Disillusioned, encore

Lyrics are from the Electronic songs Disappointed and the Patience of a Saint

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Friday, 2 July 2010

Bright Young Things

Pardon me. Mr. Murray, something's really been bugging me.
Just how did you get here?
Producer's a friend of mine. Had a teamster drop me off
(Space Jam - Daffy Duck & Bill Murray)

I’m sure if Daffy Duck was to ask this question of today’s Wimbledon semi-finalist he would get an answer of hard work and determination 2 qualities that were missing from the England football team and qualities that most MP’s show when trying to claim their expenses. Much has been made of Lord Dave’s cuts this week and many have complained that he failed to cut where most needed i.e the heads of most of the national football team.

So where did it go wrong for Capello?

Well picking or not picking players was the start no Hargreaves or Neville left him at the mercies of Gareth Barry and Glenn Johnson who are not even the best English players in their respective positions in the Premier League, picking Heskey cost him not only goals but Rio Ferdinand and against Germany when chasing the game instead of being able to bring on Bent and Walcott he had to settle for someone who hadn’t scored a goal since February. As Harry Potter would say

RIDDIKULUS (apt considering that for most England fans a Boggart would turn into Emile Heskey wearing an England shirt)

So what next for Capello well I would say it is time to say goodbye to David James, Glenn Johnson, Matthew Upson, Gareth Barry, SWP and Heskey and switch to 4-3-3 which would allow a 3 man midfield of Hargreaves, Gerrard (or Lampard) and Beckham (at least until Lennon & Walcott learn how to cross the ball properly) with Adam Johnson or Ashley Young and Lennon or Walcott flanking Rooney. Stick Bent and Owen on the bench in case you need to change to 4-4-2 and you are sorted. We do need a new right back & centre-back so maybe Gary Cahill needs a chance in a couple of friendlies and stick Gary Neville at right back until we find another decent one as at least he knows how to defend and cross the ball.

And therein lies the problem until England have a commanding and consistent goalkeeper (Joe Hart maybe) and a defence that stops parting like the Red Sea England will continue to struggle against quality opposition. On this years showing even Wales will fancy their chances so lets get back to basics make some cuts and actually start winning games or in terms of England as a world power Obituaries appear /You can leave your tributes here

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Yawn Tennis

In the greatest feat of human endurance since Sir Robert Falcon Scott went to the Antarctic Mahut and Isner (who surely are really Cyborgs taking a break from the new Terminator movie are playing themselves to a standstill in a battle that seems to be taking longer than the Vietnam War. After 3 days, 5 sets and 138 games they have even managed to relegate the last minute wins of the reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer to a minor interest story as Isner finally wins.

Tennis is a strange sport in Britain where we manage to produce 1 world class player a decade who then seems to be constantly denied by the latest of the greatest. In the 80’s it was McEnroe, the 90’s Sampras & Hewitt and now Federer who seem to be intent on ensuring no British player ever wins a Grand Slam event again. The LTA are in bit of an invidious position as if they invest in grass-roots tennis and produce lots of good players one of them will win an event, will the nation will breathe a huge sigh of relief and then stop bothering to watch any Tennis.

The problem is that like Golf, Tennis is viewed as a rich man’s sport and as a result of that perception coupled with the cost of joining a Tennis club and getting good coaching there is no real working class presence in professional or amateur Tennis and until there is we will not have the number of successful players that the USA and Australia seem to produce (a position backed up by our Davis Cup position).

The world cup is proving fun at the moment as big names Italy and France have gone home with the possibility that Spain could join them

BRILLIANT

Unfortunately England have joined them. More on that rubbish set of performances later