Robbo 10: W**kin Frankel - Click On My Face To Listen!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Jowsy Jose

Jose Mourinho has received hundreds of plaudits over the years. He's the man whose Inter stifled Barca, whose Porto won the biggest prize in club football from nowhere; a man whose tactical acumen is beyond compare; a man who takes all the flak and charisma for himself, allowing his teams to be really dull and really effective.

This season he has been his usual charming self. On occasions one is almost fooled into believing that he is being alarmingly frank. But this is the man who Barca fans still call The Translator - and you need to have just such skills available for every sentence that leaves his pursed little Thunderbird lips.

Jose: We have no strikers.
Translation: It's not my fault we can't score goals.
Truth: It is. He could've kept Lukaku and/or bought someone.

Jose: Et'oo is a pensioner.
Translation: He's not the young and ruthless player he once was, but that's not my fault.
Truth: It is; you brought the bloke in.

Jose: The team is too young to be successful just yet.
Translation: it's not my fault if they don't win anything, but if we do, well Jeez, we'll just have to accept that I'm a genius.
Truth: Chelsea still have oodles of money and talent, both of which should be sufficient to win something every year, regardless of who's in charge. (cf Di Matteo, Avram Grant, Rafa Benitez)

Jose: Wenger is a specialist in failure.
Translation: Wenger is a specialist in failure.
Truth: Wenger is a specialist in failure.

Whatever Jose says, its meaning always comes back down a mixture of extraordinary self-regard and a desire to spare his players the flak. To be fair Ferguson was exactly the same (only with all the suavity of house-brick).

And while no one can deny that he's good value as a gobshite, it helps to detach his eminent charm from the teams he puts out on the pitch. His most successful campaigns are invariably typified by a pragmatic hard-nosed approach to winning football games and last night's triumph against PSG was a case in point.

While it's lovely to have these twinkle-toed midfielders knocking it this way n that, PSG (which sounds to me like something bad you get in Chinese food) weren't really struggling to hold them out. Indeed for the last 25 minutes they looked far more likely to score and, with a bit more composure, would have done.

I just hope Cavanni displays the same finishing prowess against England in the summer. You'd think with a name like Edison he'd be a little more inventive.

Jose, desperate for that winning goal, ditched any pretence at elegance and threw on the Three Amigos - Scuffy, Puffy and Huffy - to somehow wrestle a goal from its least likely source. We were then treated to a display of footballing effluence from the Happy Special One as he resorted to Allardycean Prehistory for a way to unlock the French defence.

And as so often with a Big Sam or a Pulis, the plan only went and worked. Football from another century it surely was, but then sometimes we can learn from the past. I'm not sure there's a chalkboard at Stamford Bridge on which the gaffer puts three centre-forwards in the box and says "Roll it back to JT and let him hump it so hard it could be a team-mates's missus."

I've seen more creative ploys in a pre-pub Sunday league fixture. But given its success, why criticise? The manager left it to Lady Luck and the Blessed Woman came up trumps. In the myriad methods of Mourinho, the one constant seems to be Good Fortune.

Those people (myself included) who argue that Andy Carroll might just be a good option on the bench for Hodgson over the summer have been vindicated by this sophisticate's latest move. Your average central defender these days doesn't like it up 'em and Carroll isn't capable of much else.

Demba Ba claims in this morning's papers that Chelsea do have three good strikers. What apart from the one at Everton, you mean? I don't think so. Torres is like this ghost-like parody of his Liverpool self. Et'oo creaks along without truly threatening and Ba himself needs a team that plays to his strengths and this one ain't it. Route One isn't Option One, even if it worked last night.

None of which should detract from Chelsea's achievement, or Mourinho's wonderful touchline sprint. Another example of ego - 'ooh look at me!' - combined with cold-eyed ruthlessness - 'Nando get your backside into defensive mode, you goal-shy Jessie, we've got five minutes to hold out'.

In the meantime, the shakedown at the foot of the Premier League is suddenly becoming clear. Sunderland, woefully, have ground to a halt. Cardiff, 'lucky' red shirts looking ludicrous when watched by miserable blue-shirted fans, never were good enough, but Mackay would surely have had them a little higher.

The last spot seems like a straight fight between Fulham and Norwich. I was all for Norwich hanging on if only because they still had the same manager they started the season with. Until Sunday. A win at Craven Cottage would make them safe. If they fail, they're getting nowt from their last four games and Fulham will catch 'em.

In other words, it's utterly pointless changing the manager now. Every one of the bottom seven has changed their boss this season. Only in the case of Pulis has it made any bleeding difference. I tell you what even bleeding Merlin wouldn't last more than half a season in this country.

In other news the FA make a good decision. Hull City FC stays intact. It won't stop me pushing through with my plans at the Riverside, mind you. Middlesbrough Muggers, anyone?

Monday, 31 March 2014

Still Citeh's to Lose

Brendan Rodgers. There he is, on the touchline, a massive bonce on a stocky little body, like an adult Charlie Brown, only with a lot more hair and self-confidence. Beaming away, he is. A man with a plan, and the plan is working. The polar opposite of David Moyes, in fact.

But things didn't start this brightly for Bren. Phone-ins were full of mournful Scouse voices this time last year, as Rodgers attempted to reorder the way his team plays. All right, there weren't exactly small planes flying over the ground (numpties!) but there was discontent. They didn't make the Europa League. Luis Suarez auditioned for the lead in the next Hannibal film and the rest of the team spent the season hitting post and bar more often that an inebriate Royal Mail employee.

So what's changed? Well, a hell of a lot. Not least the fact that not making the Europa League was a huge plus! (Man U and Everton take note! Maybe Sherwood has been drafted in at Spurs to avoid such inconveniences.).

More than anything, though, Rodgers has developed a squad which can alter its formation and still perform at a high level - and that includes several English players, too. That's right. Brainless automatons that have spent their lives simply adhering to a positional discipline and learning how to keep going at 90 mph for 90 minutes have been entrusted with taking on board more than one idea. Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson... all seem to be able to cope with the expectation of not having to play exactly the same way each week.

Roy Hodgson won't know what to make of this when the lot of them show up at training and asks him what the point of 4-4-2 is again.

Equally radical is the fact that Rodgers plays to his players strengths. Sterling roaming in the hole, or chopping and changing position with Sturridge and Suarez has worked beautifully, not least because the lad is more slippery than a greased eel in a bubble bath.

If you take his opposite number, the temporary boss of Tottenham Hotspur, Tim Sherwood, or indeed Moyes, you'll see how this apparently obvious policy is not always adhered to by Rodgers' contemporaries. Christian Eriksson on the left wing, anyone? Juan Mata wide right? Kyle Naughton anywhere near a first-team squad?

As someone who wasn't a rocket scientist once said 'It's not rocket science'. Plaudits have rained down on the eminently placid but lethal Suarez. That old crate of horseshit about nasty players needed to keep a healthy dose of malice or they'll lose something from their game doesn't seem to be true in his case, does it? I've never quite understood why utterly losing it once every five games is good for anyone.

But most of the superlatives are being reserved for the skipper Steven Gerrard with many old Anfielders unable to contain the warmth of their ejaculations. There's a certain late middle-age whimsy at work here. Gerrard represents that bit of we ageing souls that can do a good 40-odd keepy-uppies in the backyard and tell ourselves that we've still got it.

Gerrard is being touted as an English Pirlo now. Sitting in the pocket, a football-playing Joe Montana, a brandy in one hand and a fag in the other, absent-mindedly delivering forty-yard laser-guided missiles to the pacey front four to feed off.

Well he's not quite Pirlo, but he can still trot up to blast a free-kick in, roll in more than the odd penalty and you have to say he fits this new armchair as snugly as any man that ever sat anywhere. Liverpool are closer to the title now than ever they were under the stuffed-shirted dweeb that was Benitez - but then Rafa liked to use Gerrard as a right-winger whenever he could. The dolt.

But can this team hold it together til the season's end? And more than that, are they capable of turning over Citeh and/or Chelsea at home? Wonderfully, Rodgers managed to insist his team was taking the run-in one game at a time, adding that the next one was Manchester City when it is in fact West Ham away - all of which rather suggest the manager is getting ahead of himself a little.

As Palace proved on Saturday there are no gimmes in this league this season. (And there's four letters that make a fan happy - JT OG). Indeed you can't even take victory for granted if you've just taken the lead with 30 seconds to go, can you Baggies?

Spurs and Newcastle are losing the plot in rather similar ways to their gaffing gaffers. Sunderland's games in hand look meaningless, the way they're playing. Norwich and Hull are doing the two-forward three back relegation hustle and frankly it's like trying to predict how many roads a man must walk down before you can call him a man.

There are many reasons why it would be good for Liverpool to win the trophy this year: They're very entertaining; they don't quite have the financial clout of their two biggest rivals; and it's 25 years since Hillsborough - and a title would seem very appropriate this year.

Such sentiments would not deter Mourinho, whose trips to Anfield are still haunted by the Ghost Goal. Nor will Man City need to worry about working their way past the porous 'Pool back four. Then again Rodgers's S & S will be more than happy to be up against one of Lescott or Demichelis. I predict a 3-3. But I also can't help thinking Citeh will nick it in the end.

Monday, 24 March 2014

No More Encores, Arsene

When they finally write the obituaries for Arsene Wenger's career - and that 'finally' seems closer every day - what will they say?

It's a tricky one. For currently he bucks the trend of virtually every other club in Europe and retains his job despite really achieving very little. There are those who protest that getting into Europe season after season when the club is not spending dosh cos of paying off stadium bills is one hell of an achievement. Maybe so.

But it follows a period of success so impressive and indeed uplifting to the neutral footy-lover that simply finishing in the top four is little short of mundane. It's like Nigella Lawson suddenly presenting a show on the finer arts of arranging salad leaves. It still looks nice but it could barely sustain a rodent worth its salt.

Wenger continues to plough a particular furrow - every goal the team scores seems to be based on a Pythagorean principle. They can often seem like a session of keepy-uppy raised to the level of high art.

But football, as Barca's boys will testify, is not simply of matter of tippy-tapping around while the opposition stand off a fretful yard and wait. No, half of it (or a third of it in Barca's case) is about getting the ball back, and Wenger seems entirely to have forgotten this fact.

It should not be so easy for an astute manager to simply arrange for his players to chase the opposition around a bit til they cough up the ball like smaller, harried sea-gulls cough up stolen chips at the seaside. Mourinho's genius game-plan was simply to copy Brendan Rodgers's.

The truth is that Wenger's teams 'don't like it up 'em' and that has been the case for years. Stoke City have known this for years. Allardyce's Bolton were the same. Neither of those teams had the wit to exploit it with quite the incisiveness of Man City, Liverpool or Chelsea but nevertheless it still holds true.

It wasn't the same in the old days mind you when Wenger had the foresight to arm his central midfield with some firm-thighed no-nonsense Frenchmen. Vieira has never been replaced. Nowadays the quintessential Wenger boy has become a nimble-toed little lambkin that couldn't take the leg off a house spider, let alone the ball off a fellow professional footballer.

Wenger seems oblivious to this, somehow. This year, defensive solidity has improved for the most part with the re-signing of Flamini. His absence on Saturday was criminal. Arteta, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain - these are talented lads who meet a tackle like a bag of crisps meets a tractor tyre.

Look at rival midfields and you'll see what he's neglecting. Gerrard sits deep for Liverpool, sometimes with Allen for company. Matic and Luiz - or a similar combination - anchor Maureen's dogged Chelsea. Pellgrini has Fernandinho (and Yaya when he feels like a tackle) to give a bit of ballast. These are important players and to think you can do without them in a match of this significance is, well, a bit barmy.

It all points to the fact that top-flight football in this country - for all that Arsene contributed to it in the best of ways - is leaving Wenger behind. Or he is stubbornly refusing to go with it.

So you start to think - and surely the Arsenal board must be considering something similar - that 1000 games in charge is good going but he's won fuck-all for yonks and it might be time to send the old prof upstairs to a titular post as head of the Gunner Folklore Museum or some such.

Better that than allow him to sit in the stands and intimidate his successor. Moyes may insist he gets loads of advice and support from Fergie but I tell you no one wants to go to work every day with an angry Dad looking over your shoulder.

Mind you, I've been saying Wenger's days are numbered for about five years now - based entirely on such fripperies as the team's results and the players he's bought - and he's still there like some slender old owl, murmuring about the squad's technicality, physicality, mentality but never quite changing its personality into one that can put a trophy in a cabinet.

Yes, of course there's the FA Cup. That's in the bag, innit? Except... every time Arsenal have been asked a question in the last nine years they've come up with a surprisingly wrong answer. I still think Hull will do 'em. And if that happens it'll be time to thank Arsene for a truly wonderful decade and a less than impressive eight years and wheel him out to pasture.

Actually even if they do win the Cup, surely, Monsieur it's time for you to go. Hop Off. Klopp In. Job Done.