Which Premier League manager will get fired first

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"

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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.

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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


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

Thursday, 17 June 2010


When fame sustained me and arenas acclaimed me
I floated through life in a cloud
of love and insanity and pagan profanity
before a worshipping crowd
Now my status is ill-defined
As an icon I'm inclined
to be coming under friendly fire
shot in the fatal cause of rock-and-roll
but whatever dull or clever points they've scored
I have never, oh no never, been ignored

I would think the Argentina manager would feel a twinge of empathy with Frances Barber’s Billie Trix as she sings about how the lustre has faded from the legend while people seek to damn her with faint praise as he struggles with the pressure of being a the living legend who will take Argentina to glory as a player and manager and join ‘Der Kaiser’ Franz Beckenbauer who is currently the only person to do so.

1 week into the world cup and already Diego Maradona is on the warpath demanding Pele rejoin the dinosaurs at the museum and the referees send off anyone who is mean to little Lionel especially the South Koreans who if Maradona is believed are a bunch of dirty ninjas hell-bent on crippling any skilful players in his team, a belief built on the Mexico 86 tournament when the South Koreans had the nerve to not just roll-over for Argentina and actually scored although the game was beyond them by that point. Apparently the Koreans spoilt things by tackling Argentine players, defending and trying to score all of which Diego felt smacked of some higher conspiracy to stop him winning.

Spain keeper Iker Casillas got no comfort from his girlfriend when at a press conference after the Switzerland game she asked ‘How did you mess that up then’ to which the unusually uncliched honest answer of ‘I don’t know’ was given The sight of Carlos Perreira lambasting the referees performance for correctly sending off the South African keeper despite not actually seeing the incident and Cristiano Ronaldo’s when he was fouled and then booked for being fouled and a drop ball given (despite the ref booking the Ivorian concerned), was almost as funny as the look on a German journalists face when she asked Wayne Rooney if he wanted to meet Germany in the last 16 and he said ‘Yes, so we can beat them’

The Germans have claimed that if they play England they will just play for penalties in that match because they will win. Plenty of mind games there then.

This world cup has not been the best in terms of goals but given Maradona’s presence I think press conferences will become far more entertaining especially if Argentina win the tournament (given the tone of his outburst when they qualified we may be on another Keegan I’d just love it moment especially if they get Brazil along the way) and it could get even more pressurised given that Spain, France and Portugal could all be going home if they fail to win their next match. As Mr Tennant once said ‘Ring the bells, tell everyone, Revolution can be fun’

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Red Ngone

So I turn my head to the north,
swallow that pill
that they call pride
The old me is dead and gone,
the new me will be alright

Justin Timberlake has hit the nail on the head and so have the Liverpool board as they removed Rafa Benitez from his post at Liverpool this week.

Rafa has given his all to Liverpool over the last six years bringing home the Champions League trophy and FA Cup while leading them to a 2nd place finish last season so how has it all gone wrong for Rafa?

I would be inclined to think that it began with the now infamous FACT sheet and rant about at Sir Alex Ferguson but many feel that the cracks had started to show with his unsuccessful pursuit of Gareth Barry and subsequent loss of Xavi Alonso. Rafa's track record in the transfer market had always been a bit questionable but he signed players like Reina, Torres, Agger and Mascherano who were an unqualified success but his public courtship of Barry while openly touting Alonso to Juventus and his signing and then sale of Robbie Keane at a large loss started people questioning his judgement in that area although his spend this season was equal to money raised from sales.

On the whole he seemed to have blended together a really good team that was capable of playing highly attractive football but he seemed unable to throw the shackles off until it was almost too late. Victories including a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford, 2-0 home win over Chelsea and a 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa were undermined by draws at Stoke and defeats by Bolton, Blackburn and Hull City. Despite this however Liverpool finished in 2nd place only 4 points behind Manchester United and were tipped by many to win the title this season.

So where did it all go wrong?

Liverpool started the 2009-10 season as favourites and finished it in 7th place only 2 points ahead of Everton. Yet you couldn't easily look at Rafa and say You Know Where You Went Wrong. The rot seemed to have started with his sale of Xavi Alonso who was replaced by Lucas as new signing Alberto Aquilani was injured yet Glenn Johnson and Sotirios Kyrgiakos were decent signings and his starting 11 of Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Insúa, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Benayoun, Gerrard and Torres was one which should have been more than capable of mounting a strong challenge for the title but it was the supporting players that were to prove his downfall.

The season started and ended with poor results with Tottenham winning the curtain raiser and a draw at relegated Hull closing their campaign and while the supporting players live Rodriguez, Babel, Riera and Ngog were decent enough players some squad members started to complain not just about lack of chances but also about Benitez's man-management. His season seemed ultimately to be undone by a mixture of injuries, poor substitutions (often involving Torres being taken off), a run of 5 defeats in 11 at the start of the season and a Liverpool Club beachball providing one of the most controversial goals of the season.

Liverpool's record under Benitez actually compares quite favourably with others with Liverpool finishing in the top 5 every season bar this one and had an excellent relationship with the fans but ultimately he has been undone by his stubborn nature, poor relations with the board and the 3 league titles, Champions League Title and 2 League cups that Manchester United have won over the same period. His failure to adequately replace Alonso or purchase decent deputies for Torres and Gerrard has cost him dear in terms of his pursuit of the English League title.

Rafa's next destination could well be the San Siro but considering the last 2 managers there Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho won 5 league titles between them with Mourinho lifting the Champions League trophy the managers seat at Inter could well work out to be as equally poisoned a chalice as Liverpool.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Know Wot I Mean ‘Arry

This week sees the 44th anniversary of Sir Henry Cooper’s heroic defeat to Cassius Clay (who later became Mohammed Ali). This fight more than any other has come to personify the concept of the heroic loser especially given that he had knocked Clay down in their previous round and Clay had been saved from a knock-out due to a dubious delay and Clay’s manager illegally using smelling salts to bring him round .

Here we take a look at some other plucky English Losers: -

Frank Bruno - Perhaps one of the most famous lucky losers considering he took beatings by Mike Tyson, Tim Witherspoon and Lennox Lewis. Although he finally won the world title from Oliver McCall he lost it when Tyson once again came calling. Most famous for HP adverts, panto performances and his friendship with Henry Cooper whose interviews led to the phrase “know what I mean Harry” he became a well loved popular icon.

Tim Henman - Like Andy Murray the most gifted British Tennis Player of his generation Tim had the misfortune to play at a time when Pete Sampras and Lleyton Hewitt were ruling the grand-slam circuit. Reaching 6 grand-slam semi-finals and winning 15 ATP tour titles he was hardly a failure but there was such a high-level of expectation about him he was often judged (unfairly in my opinion) by his failure to win Wimbledon suffering at the hands of Sampras, Hewitt and Goran Ivanišević much the way Murray has suffered at the hand of Federer in Grand-Slam finals.

Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards - The best ski jumper in the United Kingdom, setting a British record of 73.5m Eddie the Eagle endeared himself to millions around the globe and in the process upsetting the ski-jump establishment who felt he was mocking them to the extent that they had the IOC change the rules to stop him competing by insisting that athletes compete in international events and place in the top 30 percent or the top 50 competitors. Eddie had the final say though carrying the Olympic torch for the 2010 Vancouver games.

England Football Team - The England football team have become notorious for narrow defeats in the latter stages of tournaments. In Mexico 86 they were robbed by Maradona’s “Hand of God”, Ronaldinho’s free kick in Japan 02 and on penalties in Italia 90, France 98, Euro96, Euro 2004 and Germany 2006 with 2 of those penalty defeats also producing red cards for David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.

Paula Radcliffe - While a successful athlete in most competitions something about the Olympics didn’t agree with her. Whilst she achieved 4th & 5th in the 96 and 2000 Olympics she failed to finish either of her events in 2004 and placed 23rd in 2008. On the flipside she broke the world record for the London Olympics in 2005 but was forced to apologise for an unfortuante incident towards the end of the race.

So there we have it at major events England seem to be best at coming 2nd, 3rd or indeed anywhere but first but it is worth remembering that we have won the Rugby World Cup, Ashes, Ryder Cup, World Championship & Olympic golds and 20/20 World Cup in recent memory. We now need that to transfer to Football and Tennis this summer and we may well be happy chappies on our sunbeds.

(assuming the Germans haven’t been out with their towels again)

Monday, 17 May 2010

World Cup Theme Songs

This week marks the commemoration of the event that inspired England's most well known International theme tune - The Dam-Busters.

While the song was originally meant to commemorate the brave men of 617 squadron it has become universally known as a tune to taunt the Germans with at international matches, But what other World Cup songs have we had? Here I take a look at the past and give my opinion on if they were good or awful.

World In Motion - Probably the best England song ever. Fresh from their success with True Faith, Blue Monday and Bernard Sumner's Electronic collaboration with Johnny Marr and Neil Tennant New Order tried their hand at writing an England Football song with Comedian Keith Allen and came up with an inspired dance-floor hit. Combining Sumners earnest singing with a John Barnes rap was the perfect recipe for a number 1 hit. - OUTSTANDING

Three Lions - The Lightning Seeds and Baddiel & Skinner tried to replicate New Order's success for Euro 96 and were in general successful however subsequent new remixes of it have been a bit repetitive and it is released again this year with Robbie Williams lending his vocals. - GOOD BUT OVERPLAYED

Jerusalem - Released by Keith Allen (this time as Fat Les) he teamed up with Alex James from Blur and Damien Hurst to produce a rousing version of this classic hymn. A Remix By Pet Shop Boys was released to clubs with great success. - OUTSTANDING

Back Home - The first official song was a fairly standard sing-along affair from the England squad setting a precedent for less than harmonic communal singing - CATCHY BUT CHEESY

Vindaloo - Another Fat Les offering it was another catchy anthem for World Cup 98. The song was inspired by an incident on a BBC politics show when Keith Allen said to a minority spokesperson It's not a chip you've got on your shoulder, it's a vindaloo!" explaining to press reporters that a vindaloo is as faux ethnic (this piece of Goan cuisine actually originated from Portugal) as those who masquerade as self-appointed spokespeople for ethnic minority communities' rights in order to censor arts and culture according to their own pet prejudices. The song reached #2 with some conspiracy theorists claiming that it sold more than the Three Lions remake but was kept off the number 1 spot deliberately by the BBC - CATCHY BUT REPETITIVE

All Together Now - This re-working of The Farm's classic 1990 anthem was well-received and commercially successful. Originally produced by Suggs (Madness) it was re-edited by DJ Spoony. NICE, CATCHY ANTHEM

World At Your Feet - absolutely AWFUL. This shocker by Embrace was the theme tune for 2006 and although it reached #3 in the charts most England fans hated it. - AWFUL.

This year there will be no official theme tune but I suspect their will be several unofficial anthems to sing along to. What we really need is a remix of GO WEST to round it off but can't see it happening.

Together We will go away
Together We will win some day
Together Do something new
Together This is what we'll do

Go South
Win a trophy there
Go South
Give everyone a scare
Go South
Wear with pride the shirt
Go South
End all those years of hurt

Go South
Bring the cup back home
Bring the Cup
back where it belongs
Bring the Cup
Home to Wemberley
Win the cup
With Rio and Rooney

Anyway we have a good chance this time as the squad will not be distracted by recording chart-topping singles (unless Tennant/Lowe get hold of these lyrics and finish them) and hopefully we will be seeing Rio holding that trophy aloft in July.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Milli-Band Of Brothers

As the Labour Party leadership contest starts in earnest over the next week or so the possible contest between the Milliband brothers Ed and David will be fascinating to watch. One of the key questions I guess people will ask is what's the difference between them. Surely they are just 2 sides of the same coin and yet there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Ed being the younger of the two has to some extent been in the shadow of his older sibling for a few years. Although he has held ministerial offices since 2007 the fact that David has been Foreign Secretary and has had a global platform on which to operate does overshadow Ed's own position as Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change. The Prestige of being Foreign Secretary often meant that David Milliband's meetings were high-profile and his achievements more obvious.

In spite of this Edward Milliband has suddenly been seen as the favourite of the two to take over leadership of the party. Many feel that David is too closely associated with the previous regimes of Tony Blair & Gordon Brown to gain a broad enough support from the grass-roots membership especially given that he was head of Blair's Policy Unit which formulated a lot of the policies of the New Labour project.

It is fair to say that both brothers have been influenced by the political views of their father Ralph who was a noted Marxist theorist and take a lot of their ideals from his New Left movement which through the New Reasoner and Socialist Register many hold responsible for the legacy of what they call "politically-correct multiculturalism" which was seen as a key focus of New Labour with some wondering whether New Labour was just a re-packaged and more successful version of the New Left movement.

Whatever the outcome whichever brother succeeds in succeeding Gordon Brown (assuming they can first defeat Ed Balls) the greatest challenge will not be winning the contest but integrating the New Left with Old Labour values to re-invigorate a Labour Party that many think has lost its way from its original ideal to represent the interests and needs of the urban proletariat rather than the "chattering classes" of Islington, Hampstead and Notting Hill.

If one of them does become the Leader of the Opposition will this Band of Brothers stay as unified as Easy Company in the TV series. By the end of the summer we will know