Monday, 5 October 2015

Rodgers And Out

Not very long ago, Brendan Rodgers was the best young manager in the country. I know - he was even better than David Moyes. He led a side full of vim and vigour - a veritably Keeganesque mixture of attacking wizardry and defensive stupidity, with a little splash of King Kev's heroic failure to top it off.

That Liverpool team had a hellluva lot to recommend it. Gerrard was magnificently resisting the status of grizzled veteran, a kind of Scouse Pirlo, Sturridge was a stiletto blade of a striker, Sterling buzzed round in his Little Richard bouffant, hell even Jordan Henderson started to resemble a footballer. And the real bite was provided by a wantaway front man who transformed himself from villain to hero in nine short months.

Suarez left, Sturridge limped, Sterling mooched, Gerrard moped, and each has been replaced by... by a lamentably poor clutch of misfits. Even then, Koppites witnessed two Cup semifinals, but for a club who can justifiably wallow in past success, this is small beer. In fact it's not even beer - it's flat Lambrusco.

Rodgers' days have been numbered for some time now. And yet he has done his best to carry that large head around on that tiny body with the same confidence he had when Suarez was doing things Derren Brown could only dream of.

Even in the aftermath of another formless and nondescript performance, Rodgers would insist he can't criticise his players who had given everything. Brendan seemed not to realise that Everything = Nowhere Near Enough.

His main crime - and here the blame can be fairly shared around - has been the squandering of huge sums of money received from the sale of Suarez and Sterling. It's a struggle to think of anyone Bren's bought who could be considered even a qualified success.

Top of the list of misfits was Balotelli, a sort of kryptonite to the supermen of Rodgers's 2014 vintage. Ballotelli makes the original Maverick look positively conservative. Why Liverpool thought they could tame this fruit-loop is beyond, well, everyone.

Added to that, Rodgers seemed incapable of looking beyond Southampton and ripped the heart out of the Saints. Unfortunately, by the time it reached Anfield that heart was suffering from serious arrhythmia. Dejan Lovren transformed from defensive rock to powdery chalk, Adam Lallana went from nimble and inventive to nonplussed and defective, and Ricky Lambert... well at least he got to spend a bit of time back home, la'.

Recently Firmino and Benteke have turned up, neither of whom seemingly aware of why or how that happened. You can't help feeling Liverpool's transfer policy, conducted as it is by a 'transfer committee', is a total dog's dinner. It's not so much a constructive way to unearth real potential and talent as a kind of Merseyside X-Factor audition all of its own, with Ian Ayre playing Simon Cowell and whoever the can-carrying numpty who gets the manager's job playing Louis Walsh.

Jurgen Klopp is the new man, it seems. Here's a bloke who cuts the right sort of dash. He's got specs and he speaks a few languages which makes him smarter than your average gaffer. Dortmund were a fine outfit under his tutelage. And, as Arsene is Arsenal so Klopp could be to the Kop.

But the first thing he has to do, surely, is be allowed to select transfer targets and pick players who he sees might fit into a structure of his choosing. Otherwise, in three years' time we'll be looking at another £292 million that's gone to waste after the likes of Coutinho have been flogged to La Liga for the price of five no-marks.

But Rodgers, decent fella though he is, had to go.

Meanwhile, in other sports, the nation (that's England) is slowly edging out from behind the sofa, faces as white as the team shirts, as the Stuart Lancaster's men go into hiding. It was not pretty, that mauling at the hands of the Wallabies. (And that's just rubbing it in, too, isn't it? Australia is full of the animal kingdom's most poisonous bastards and yet we get beat by a pack of iddy-biddy kangaroos).

Two things about this:

one, England haven't been much cop for a few seasons now - even in terms of the Six Nations they've not been great and they were never going to win the whole thing;

two, home advantage is supposed to count for summat so how come England ended up in a group with Wales, Australia and Fiji? Look at the other frigging groups! I mean New Zealand have barely had to break sweat, South Africa can afford a humiliating defeat and still get Scotland as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Why couldn't they have recruited Sepp Blatter to do the draw? Warm those balls and the hosts don't suffer. Everyone knows that!

Of course Lancaster has to walk. He picked a brilliant League player in Burgess but had no idea where he should be played at Union. He deselected the stand-off Ford for the Wales game when England's whole attacking platform for eighteen months had been built around him. And even though there are many, many more people in England playing the game than anywhere else in the world, England still manage to resemble a bunch of lumbering cybermen who've run on to the pitch through a line of hospital bed-linen and can't quite get the sheets off their faces. Dire, it was.

And as with Liverpool, that's no going to change soon, but with a different bloke in charge, at least there's a chance it might.

In the meantime, let's support someone else. I'm backing Ireland. Life's more fun that way.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Costa Crime

For just once, I'd like to write about something other than Chelsea. I'd like it to be about pig's head and posh knobs. But this is a sports blog. And there are no jokes left on the subject of pulled pork.

So I'll keep this brief. Diego Costa is dickhead. There. Done.

Dammit, there is more to say. I'm with Keown on this... and every time I see his ghoulish face, the eyes hidden beneath a brow that protrudes like the lip of some forbidding cliff, I think I'd never dare to disagree with Martin ... but it's the trying-to-get-others-in-trouble shit that really gets under your skin.

We've all been on school pitches or playgrounds when some infuriating twot bleats out "Sir, sir! Robson trod on my foot, sir!" (All right, pedants, your name might not be Robson, but you get my point.) And it'll be the same twot who's been wittering in your ear all morning about the dubious provenance of your family or the sexual orientation of your father. Costa is that. A friendless nark. A tick but with less of a moral compass.

There's another thing that irritates me too - the fact that pundits like to praise him as a player. As if we can somehow separate footballing ability from his propensity to dump fellow pros in it whenever he can. That 'orrible wiggle of the imaginary card at the referee... it makes me want to crush that hand in a vice.

If it were me - and let's hope one day that it is - I would be tying the snub-nosed conman to a chair and slapping him around the face with damp trout until he promises never to do it again. I'm sure there are some muppets around the football world who'll tell you that he'd be half the player without that bit of the devil in him. Good. Let's keep the good half and lob the rest of him into a wheelie bin.

Only his manager, of course, the overseer of all things and an apostle of the Law that states that We Win First and debate later, he, Mourinho, thinks the Brazilian-Spaniard bruiser was the man of the match. Yes. Pretty soon there'll be a category on your Premier League Top Trumps that says 'Nuisance Value'. 

Even teammate Kurt Zouma suggested Costa 'likes to cheat a lot'. Kurt has since put it down to English not being his first language. But I'd just like to reassure the lad that he's using it with great precision at the moment.

It may be the beautiful game but there sure are some ugly buggers thriving right now.

None of this is to let Wenger and his players off the hook. Clearly he's no angel, Gabriel. Just as Santi is no saint. But neither particularly deserved a red card and it made a big difference in a game that Chelsea were desperate to win, especially given their parlous position. Costa's needling was part of a slightly desperate gameplan. (I was reminded of the mendacious Ronaldo wink.) But Arsenal were fools to fall for it. Utter suckers. I've already sent half the first team an email telling them how I'm stuck in Ukraine and they've taken my passport. I expect the money will come pouring in any day.

But on to more ennobling subjects. Firstly, Japan 34 South Africa 32. (This is rugby union, by the way, a game played in this country (England) by steroidal public schoolboys. Not long ago they would entertain themselves by shouted abuse at young women, throwing small people around bars and jumping into the sea from slow-moving vessels but that's all changed now. They're really top chaps, don't you know?)

Japan is not a country noted for the bulkiness of its inhabitants. Every time someone tells me of the health benefits of sushi I can't help replying that the Japanese are always eating that stuff and most of em look like they're wasting away.

Well in order to get together a rugby team that can compete against the muscular mountain ranges that pass for rugby players these days they've drafted in a few blokes from other places to help. Fact is, though, that they have mustered together a side that plays beautiful stuff: the niftiest hands since the Artful Dodger retired; feet so fast they make Fred Astaire look clompy; and all the stamina of the winner of one of them horrible Endurance gameshows their nation loves.

Now it may well be that South Africa have a bunch of players so long in the tooth that half of them have tusks. But Japan won through their own brilliance. And courage. And I don't think I was this happy to see a team win a game of rugger when England won in 2003. Indeed so far the Rugby World Cup has looked good. When it comes to my favourite sports rugby union comes somewhere between the biathlon and synchronised swimming, but a result like Japan achieved can't help but peak even the most sour of sports fan's interests.

And another thing... if Nicola Sturgeon insists on Scots getting another pop at independence could they not extend that self-sufficiency to the Davis Cup tennis team? It's fascinating that the best players of this game that we've ever produced haven't dripped out of the white-clad bore-holes of the Establishment at Play but rather from some gritty geezers from Dunblane and, 70 or 80 years earlier, Stockport. Fascinating and not coincidental.

These days the weak link in Team GB is always the Englishman but it was another exceptional effort from Andy Murray, who gets more likeable with every passing shot.

I have a problem with the Davis Cup, mind you. It's the format. It's a team competition, right? So how come one bloke can win three matches and the team wins the tie? Surely a true test of the strength and depth of the team would be if no player could play more than twice, that way avoiding the predominance of one particular player in the tie as a whole?

Obviously we'd get nowhere pretty quick, but that's not the point. A team sport should be about the team, yet Murray has single-handedly wrestled that squad through to the final.

Right now GB just need Andy (and Jamie). They might as well have me as the other player for all the difference it makes. It does not make sense.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Blue Days At The Bridge

What a pretty Premier League picture the table paints this morning.

First up, all hail Signor Ranieri and his fearless foxes. The quiet dismissal of Nigel Pearson was a bold move. Not least because Big Nige always has the bearing of a night-club bouncer who's just on the right sides of losing it. I saw a miffed silverback behind some bars over the summer and I swear he was giving me the Pearson glare.

Of course his dismissal - it would seem - was as much down to his errant son as anything Nige did (given he turned the tepid water of early season form into the heady fizzy wine of survival. His dismissal had more to do with his racist slur-using son - yes I'm sure some of his best friends are Thai - than anything Dad did. But who better to fill those shoes than the lovable Tinkerman?

Yes we all recall with great fondness his happy demeanour, his comical English and his mind-bogglingly changeable first elevens. Except he's not a chump, is he? He kept the same backroom staff that oversaw Leicester's amazing run-in last spring; he's identified what the team have that makes them good, namely great pace up front, terrific persistence and in Mahrez a lad with feet as nimble as Nureyev's. And he hasn't rotated the squad like they were rabbits on a spit.

Lo and behold they are playing brilliantly. It won't last though. Then again they said that about Southampton - and they were pretty much correct.

Secondly the very foot of the table has a familiar ring. Newcastle, strong enough to hold up the rest of the division, seem bound to plummet. Ashley seemed desperate to court McClaren even as John Carver looked certain to choke the life out of the club. The idea that Smiley Steve is the Saviour is a rum one - clearly Ashley would hire a fox to guard his chickens.

Just a quick glance at Derby's form in the last couple of months of the Championship could have told you that. Not even a play-off spot was indescribably bad. So far Newcastle have displayed the worst tendencies of a McClaren team, tentative in possession, unable to pick up the pace, rarely dangerous unless they're 2-0 down and there's nowt to lose. The squad looks bright enough but he needs to sort out his shit quick or Joe Kinnear will land on his shoulder like some great cockney albatross of Doom.

Of course the Big News is that Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are a bag of bona fide horse manure. There's been almost as many radio hours dedicated to their dreadful start as there has to the emergence of a socialist leading a socialist party in the UK. (I mean what the hell is this atheist republican doing not singing God Save The Queen?)

It's difficult to decide where the rifts are deeper, Walworth Road or Stamford Bridge. Mourinho's problems run deep. While his surprising humble and open post-match interview on the Beeb made you think that here was a man ready to roll with the circumstances, other factors suggest the delusional paranoia that helps to build a bunker mentality can also divorce one from reality.

The petulant hissy fit cos Martinez was answering questions before him on Saturday wasn't the act of a patient man in control of himself. More The frontline, led by a Diego Costa with all the dynamism of a narcoleptic hippo, couldn't cut through cellophane right now. The defence looks doddery with Ivanovic lumbering around like a concussed bear.

Nothing is working out for Jose. He blames misfortune - a couple of deflections went the wrong side of the post. Another of seeing that is that the defenders made good blocks. Everton score three from five shots. Unlucky Chelsea? Or clinical Everton. The sort of goals to chances ratio that Mourinho thrives on.

But much of it is Mourinho's making. The pursuit of Stones, nobly denied by Martinez, can't have reassured the present incumbents in the Chelsea squad. The haranguing of the team doctors seems to have left even those most self-centred of human beings professional millionaire footballers aghast at their poor treatment.

It's not a happy camp. Fabregas - a name that always sounds to me like something you take with you when you go camping - is playing like he's sprung a leak. JT just looks pissed off. Ivanovic could be replaced by a mighty oak and there'd be more difficulty getting past him.

Meanwhile the whole unseemly cesspit of cash sees hundreds of squad members being given out to the needy as if they were out-of-date sandwiches from a high-street retailer with a conscience. It's a bleeding travesty and the fact that it's not working is DELIGHTFUL. Yes, Mourinho did get one thing right. We ARE enjoying it, HUGELY.

Long may the topsy-turvy look of the league continue.

Of course some things remain the same - like Man City's European form being miserable. And football still being a contact sport with all the occasional horrors that that results in. Get well soon, Luke Shaw. At least time is on his side, but that's hardly a silver lining.

What might cheer him - and the rest of us - up is a perky 2-1 win for Maccabi Tel-Aviv tonight. It's far from unlikely. Hehehehehehe.