Category Archives: Comment

No Point Lane for Jose and his Conspiracy Campaign

Conspiracy TheoryIf Jose Mourinho’s in-match performance was his usual artful theater, his post-match turn had the whiff of a whodunit mystery with some B-movie conspiracy theory waffle thrown in for good measure.

Despite his side conceding five goals at White Hart Lane (one win in nine league games for Chelsea now at so-called Three Point Lane), Mourinho chose to focus on the non-award of a penalty for a handball by Jan Vertonghen in the first half as the main reason for his team’s collapse.

In the interviews I watched, Jose said

We had the biggest opportunity to score the second goal which is a shot from the penalty spot.

I honestly had no idea which incident he was referring to until I dug further in to online commentary. This was the straw that Mourinho was clinging to – a clearly accidental handball by a falling defender -ball-to-hand, as Jose himself would no doubt be quick to highlight should, say, Gary Cahill been the victim of the same circumstance.

Jose Complaining

Jose also bemoaned the “honest” Eden Hazard who fell to ground after a tackle from Federico Fazio on the edge of the Tottenham box.

He’s a very honest guy in the way he plays but that’s another problem.

Based on his sideline histrionics, Jose clearly saw this incident as a foul. Hazard? Not so much. He immediately got to his feet after the tackle with no appeal to the referee. The Chelsea manager admitted that Hazard confirmed it was not a foul.

So that is good, in spite the fact Mr Dowd was too slow to follow that ball. He was 40 yards away but made the right decision. The decision in the first half, he was 10m away he couldn’t make.

When confronted with the evidence that Gary Cahill had, unprovoked, kicked the prone Harry Kane in the back while on the ground, Mourinho’s response was one of pure deflection.

I didn’t see that. But it was like the back – not like Sterling in the face?

It continues the “conspiracy” narrative that Mourinho started in the last week, his not-so-subtle attempt to pressure officials in to giving his players the benefit of the doubt in future games.

Even when he’s not accusing the officials of cheating him and his team, he’s extremely ungracious in defeat.

I hate to lose, of course, but I prefer to lose like I did against Newcastle with a clean performance by (referee Martin) Atkinson, an unlucky performance by us, a lucky performance by Newcastle. But a game you lose because of football.

And there’s not really anything wrong with that outside of it just making you an arsehole.

Mourinho is a great manager. He’s proven that time and again. But is he a great manager because he’s an arsehole or a great manager who happens to be an arsehole?

Eighty Two: My first World Cup and why it was awesome

When I heard Richard Sadlier and Ken Early on @SecondCaptains talking about how their first World Cup memories were 1990, I felt very grateful that even though only five years their senior, I can still vividly recall golden moments from the 1982 World Cup.

I’d only recorded eight years on the odometer at that point so I was innocent

Naranjito, the mascot. I guess Pique was the next one.

Naranjito, the mascot. I guess Pique was the next one.

enough to cheer on England and Northern Ireland, my psyche as yet untainted by tribalism, jealousy and Schadenfreude.

LUVFOOTY 1982 WORLD CUP MEMORY Bryan Robson hooks home after 27 seconds against France in the first World Cup game I watched from the beginning.

 

So much has changed since the tinny sound and grainy pictures of 1982.  Back then on-screen stats consisted of occasionally showing the score and elapsed time whenever the director remembered to push the button.

But more strikingly football has changed. Back then international football had a mystique borne out of exotic ideas like two substitutions, players wearing numbers greater than 11 and people who didn’t speak English.

Let’s put it this way.  Josef Venglos was manager of Czechoslovakia at the 1982 World Cup.  Eight years later he was to become the first foreign manager of an English club.

In 1982 there wasn’t even any live English league games on TV. The first live league match since the 1960s wasn’t broadcast until 1983. So to see a gathering of the greatest players in the world over a four-week period, live on television, was the event of the year.

LUVFOOTY 1982 WORLD CUP MEMORY An Arab Sheikh protests on the pitch after France are awarded a goal against Kuwait, leading to the referee changing his mind. 32 years later Sheikhs are still heavily influencing the game. #satire

 

A cursory review of the squads reveal what global football was like at the time.  Spain and Italy’s 22 men squad all played in their respective leagues. All but Uli Stielike (Real Madrid) played in West Germany. Tony Woodcock was the only member of England’s team playing outside the country (he was at Cologne). Didier Six (later to play for Aston Villa) was France’s lone traveler, at Stuttgart.

Oh, and the Soviet Union’s entire squad played behind the Iron Curtain. But I suppose that makes sense considering the Communist Soviet regime of the time.

Today the squads are dispersed all over the world. Nine of Spain’s 23 are outside the country, France have 15 outside the French league and seven Germans ply their trade in foreign climes.

Meanwhile Russia’s squad …. plays entirely in the Russian league.  Oh.

LUVFOOTY 1982 WORLD CUP MEMORY Marco Tardelli’s celebration in the World Cup final made him one of my favourite players. Then he became this guy.

 

But can the 8 year old kid today watch the game with wide-eyed fascination like I did?  I was seeing Zico, Socrates, Maradona, Zoff, Platini, Kempes, Rummenigge and Boniek for the first time.  The next time I’d see most of these guys might be two or four years down the road. In the meantime, it was back to Jimmy Case and Mick Channon for me.

Sure, 8 year old.  Enjoy seeing Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, Xavi and Fellaini this month.  And then when the festival of football is over, you can just turn it on again the next day, and the day after that and the day after that.

How can one enjoy sunshine when it never rains, I ask you?

Is there some method, somewhere, to Levy’s madness?

Unless Daniel Levy is cackling away like a madman in his 100% leather-bound office, while putting the finishing touches to Frank de Boer’s managerial contract, it seems obvious that Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino is about to leave the family-friendly south coast for a turbulent sixteen months in charge of Tottenham.

Pochettino v Owen, 2002

He’s the guy who brushed against Michael Owen in 2002.

I think it’s fair to say the news has been broadly received with a mixture of bewilderment and concern by Spurs fans.  At least the promotion of Tim Sherwood brought with it a sizable scoop of amusement to temper the negativity.

True, Levy never promised us a world-class manager like the Football Association of Ireland did shortly before Steve Staunton was appointed. But when names like Louis Van Gaal and Frank de Boer were said to be in contention, we at least expected to see someone you could label “a winner” take the hot seat.

Pochettino (who I guess should be added to my browser dictionary now) has done a decent job at Southampton albeit by inheriting and motivating someone else’s players.  He improved Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw so much that they are going to the World Cup and probably going to be playing for Champions League teams next season. He continued to get good service – and thirteen league goals – out of Rickie Lambert (another English World Cup squad member) and got a fifteen goal return from Jay Rodriguez.

If Levy is looking at this as evidence of that Pochettino is the man who can take a sixth place team and turn them in to a fourth place team, then maybe I can see that. Perhaps, for Levy, the key for 2014 is saving two high-profile transfer flops (and Spanish speakers) Soldado and Lamela, inspiring genuinely talented players like Paulinho, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen that their future can be bright at White Hart Lane and getting the best out of wild cards like Sandro, Dembele and Andros Townsend.

Spurs squad is very strong and the failure of last season’s class should be shared among Director of Something, Franco Baldini, Levy and the two equally-guilty managers Sherwood and Andre Villas-Boas.

There must be something in the Levy strategy that has put Pochettino over the top and left four-time title-winning manager Frank de Boer scratching his head.

Tromso victory fooling no one

An unconvincing victory over Norway’s Tromso on Thursday night did not even paper over the cracks for anyone but the most optimistic Tottenham supporters.

Spurs laboured to a 2-0 victory over a team to whom Shamrock Rovers would have given a good game.

While the Europa League has been a relative success for Tottenham – 7 wins out of 7 with 19 scored and 1 conceded – the standard of opposition has not been high. The most challenging opponents should have been Anzhi Makhachkala, but the club went in to financial meltdown prior to the start of the season selling 135 million euro of talent.

Back in the Premier League on Sunday, Tottenham take on a resurgent Manchester United, fresh off their biggest European away win since the 6-0 victory over the aforementioned Shamrock Rovers in 1957.

All the signs point to a very difficult afternoon for Andre Villas Boas’ struggling side.

Against Tromso there was a personnel shake-up but no tactical change.

The midfield of Mousa Dembélé and Étienne Capoue showed little adventure and Andros Townsend’s deteriorating form was further cause for concern.

Roberto Soldado continued to struggle, failing to record a single shot in the whole game. Soldado is only months removed from a free-scoring period in Spanish football. 81 goals in 141 appearances for Valencia was preceded by 33 strikes in 66 games for Getafe. At Tottenham, he looks like a player who just does not fit.

Vlad Chiriches scores and is in line for a start versus the Champions

Vlad Chiriches scores against Tromso and is in line for a start versus the Champions

In spite of all the new signings this summer, Gylfi Sigurdsson continues to be one of Spurs’ most reliable performances, operating tirelessly on the left wing. And Vlad Chiriches took the defensive plaudits for a solid performance alongside the ailing Michael Dawson.

What Spurs fans expect to see on Sunday is a solid defensive unit with overlapping full-backs exposing the space that the inverted wingers – which has been AVB’s tactic of choice for much of the season – open up for them. They also expect to see Paulinho, Sigurdsson and Townsend get in the box and get shots on target. It hasn’t happened for much of this season and if Spurs give a toothless and spineless performance akin to last weekends, then a second Manchester thumping is on the cards.

And that, I would think, would be the end of Andre Villas Boas…regardless of what a former manager says.

Aside

A lot of faith has been put in Andre Villas-Boas.  Perhaps a little unfortunate to miss out on the Champions League gravy train in May, this season he was given a squad that is probably title-challenging quality but has the … Continue reading

Fantastic players versus the idiocy of the internet

Gareth Bale.  He’s very good you know.  He’s so good that one of the richest clubs in the world want to buy him for a world record fee.  Gareth Bale

It’s funny that for the longest time, football fans across England scoffed at the illustration of Bale as a superstar with charges of him being overrated and not all that.  As last season unfolded and he continued his fine form – even improving under AVB – they reached for another weapon: his penchant for diving.  They did the same thing to Cristiano Ronaldo: a one-trick pony, show-boater, diver, whiner, fancy-dan, nancy-boy, only scores so many goals because he takes all the free-kicks (yes, really).  I had the same reaction to Ronaldo myself when, truth be told, I would have loved to have him at my club.

It seems that to be a player held in esteem by fans of other clubs, you must perform very well all the time.  I’ve heard Man United and Liverpool fans and  fans talk about the time they played Spurs and Gareth Bale was in the pocket of Rafael or Glen Johnson, which completely shot down this theory that Bale was any good.  And did you know that Bale’s great performance in Milan in 2010 was only because he was up against the over-the-hill Maicon?  I’m guilty too – I talk about the time Cristiano got played off the park by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.  Yeah, that really damaged his market value and ability to score more than a goal per game at Madrid, didn’t it?

Yes, there is much idiocy out there.  We call it “trolling” but it’s really bullshit.  If you can’t see the absolute class from players like Ronaldo or Bale or Suarez then you’re not really worth debating.  I can question the value of Christian Benteke because he’s really only had a season to show it at the top level. Perhaps he’s brilliant.  But perhaps he’s another Benjani or Andy Carroll.

But when the likes of Bale perform extremely well for three seasons and show a considerable array of talents (skill, pace, goal-scoring, intelligent runs, heading, crossing) you cannot question his ability with a straight face.

Bale isn’t as good as Messi or Ronaldo. I’m not sure anyone is suggesting he is. But he’s one of the top ten to fifteen players in the world and I don’t think there would be too many credible people arguing with that assertion.

On that basis, he’s worth £80m.  In fact, he’s pretty much invaluable to Spurs because, even with all that money in the bank, they are not going to replace him.  There’s no one as good as Bale who will score over 20 goals from midfield next season, that is going to join a team in the Europa League.

Bale will be a big loss to Spurs if that’s how this media-driven saga plays out.  And one way or the other, as soon as he has a few poor games we’ll no doubt hear about how rubbish he is.

An insidious package

Defenders of Luis Suarez blame everybody but him for the challenges he faces: it’s the Imagemedia’s fault, it’s Evra’s fault.

It’s not – it’s Suarez’s fault.

He talks about his treatment at the hands of the press, how he can’t even walk his baby. But Suarez has brought all of this on himself. Does Sergio Aguero, Fabricio Coloccini or Pablo Zabaleta get pursued? Have the media been camping on their lawn? No.

What’s the difference? Well as Carlos Tevez and John Terry would tell you, if you do stupid things then you will be pursued, they will write stories about you and people who don’t know you will write pieces about you that may not be entirely sympathetic.

It’s not a case that Suarez bites like Jermain Defoe did once, or dives like Gareth Bale does, or shows a lack of sportsmanship like Martin Keown did when roaring in Ruud van Nistelrooy’s face, or sneers and lacks humility like Craig Bellamy.

It’s that he is all of these things in one insidious package.

As a private human being Suarez might be personable, an upstanding individual with solid family values who donates regularly to charity. But none of these matter to the millions who see his very public petulance and occasionally outrageous behaviour on the football pitch.

He says he has not been judged as a footballer? He was shortlisted for player of the year while playing in a team that stumbled inconsistently a long way from the top of the league. His goals and his skills are regularly cited and admired, even by his most fervent opponents.

Suarez says he does not want to move for money or for Champions League? Well then Liverpool should only agree to sell him to a similarly-ranked club in a foreign country who will pay him the same money as he earns now: Sevilla, FC Twente, Parma, Dundalk. That will test the motivations of the player.

I respect Liverpool and I respect Suarez as a player and would love to watch him week-in, week-out in the Premier League – but without the brazen and insolent swagger of the self-absorbed man-child that he is.