Friday, June 24, 2011

Money is ruining the game - even in the Championship

Even Leeds are not immune from the power of money in the modern game as today it looks like one of their better players will leave because of the financial and contractual issues associated with his employment rather than the football issues.

Schmeichel joined the club on a Bosman free transfer from Notts County thirteen months ago, has a year left on his contract and is now being sold for £1 million.

No doubt paraphrasing the words of Ken Bates, Leeds boss Simon Grayson stated: “We feel this is the right deal for the club. We spoke to Kasper’s agent at the end of the season about a contract extension and it was apparent that it was going to be difficult to agree a deal. Given the fact that he has one year left on his contract, we feel this is in the best interests of Leeds United.”
In other words take the money now and trade the club's football ambitions and aspirations for hard cash.

Schmeichel through his representatives said: “At the end of the season, Leeds United and I both made a commitment to honour the last year of my contract and try to win promotion. Therefore, it’s with great disappointment that I have learned that Leeds have accepted an offer from Leicester. I want to put on record that I have never asked to leave Leeds United, nor did I reject an offer for a new contract, since one was never put to me. I was enjoying being a Leeds United player and was looking forward to winning promotion this season with the club.

We too often blame greedy players for the financial malaise that has hit the game but this time the club must shoulder all the responsibility. All Schmeichel can be accused of is arrogance (a statement through his "representative" - why not deliver it yourself Kasper?) and total stupidity (I was looking forward to winning promotion this season with the club).

And by the way Leeds - if you're looking for bargain basement alternatives, too late for Brad Friedel - he's already spoken for.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blue is not the colour

The German World Cup squad from 1974.... can we hear shades of the Chelsea classic in there?

Barbie comes of age

If you can't beat them, join them. Barbie follows that age-old advice and takes up the beautiful game. A special edition football table featuring Barbie dolls on display in a department store in Berlin to coincide with the FIFA Women's World Cup, which kicks off Sunday in that city.

Get your kit on, get your kit on, get your kit on for the boys. Get your kit on for the boys.

Monday, June 20, 2011

If you go to Chelsea, I'll put this where the sun don't shine ...

Close season and time to take stock.

Where are we and where are we going to? Or more relevantly, where are Modric and Bale going to? The skies around White Hart Lane are filled with circling vultures, weighed down only marginally by bagfuls of dinars and rubles. The chances of us holding onto our prize assets – listed above in order of value – appear slight.

And where to then for Spurs, I ask?

Our flirtation with the Champions League proves that teams outside the Big 4 can compete with Europe’s best on the field – forget the Everton debacle in 2005 - but it also indicates that maybe teams outside the Big 4 cannot compete with Europe’s best off the field.

Our key players will be snapped up and we will go about our normal business of buying capable but limited-life internationals (think Gallas and Van der Vaart) just before transfer-window close. A reasonable short-term policy but not one that is likely to sustain a long term challenge to the aristocracy. Last year we had a moral victory by taking Manchester City’s place at the table but ultimately in the football game, avarice and greed win out. This year they took their place back, and now the Champions League will be graced with the class and grace of Mario Balotelli. Somehow, football aside, the change that has occurred this year is a depressingly repetitive tragedy.

So is money the only reason why next year we will be travelling to Lodz and Antwerp in the Europa League on a Thursday and playing a large portion of our Premier League games on a Sunday? Sadly probably not.

Harry Redknapp is a man who is to be admired for his forthright talking and his honesty, at least when it comes to matters concerning football. Her Majesty’s tax officers may have a different view.

I am however very disappointed at his inability to get more from what is the largest squad in the Premier League (albeit only 26 can be named for use). This disappointment surfaced largely towards the end of the season and our performance in winning only one league game from 12 February to 15 May can best be described as appalling, and in other instances has resulted in teams being relegated.

Redknapp’s tactical dependence on Peter Crouch is worrying. So too some of his decisions to rest players as crucial league games approached – clearly his priorities were misguided and we were never going to win the Champions League. Surely a long-term strategy of CL participation year-in year-out has to be based on year-in year-out qualification?

But tactics and strategy aside, perhaps the most worrying facet of Harry Redknapp is what achieves him his greatest notoriety. Harry has “in his honest manner” always made no bones about the fact that he would be willing to move to greener pastures should the opportunity arise, and the fact that he moved on swiftly from Portsmouth when Spurs came knocking and he left a club in turmoil and financially irreparable, is a worrying observation. Done at a time when supposedly they achieved more on the field than they had done for years – strong parallels with Tottenham here. How many times have we heard Harry tell us that Spurs were bottom of the Premier League when he took over, and we have nothing to complain about when drawing at home against Blackpool, West Ham and the like.

I’m not saying I’m calling for England to come and take ‘Arry but I am saying that his repeated comments about what has been achieved to date stink of mediocrity; not to mind also being open to an interpretation that he is trying to abdicate on future accountability about taking us higher than the bottom half of the table. His posturing around the Modric Chelsea maneuverings have too much of a tone of “look what they’ve done to me now” about them, with hand held abjectly in the air in despair.

Look Harry, we all like you – to use your own parlance, you’re a diamond geezer – but let’s cut out the David O’Leary imitations and get on with the task of getting us back into the Champions League. If he goes, take to money for Modric and use it wisely; get rid of Crouch and other London-life hangers-on and show us you’re the guy we all thought you were - like Gladys Protheroe, a football genius.

Verdict – jury’s out. This could go eitherway.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Poetry - The Railway Children by Seamus Heaney

When we climbed the slopes of the cutting
We were eye-level with the white cups
Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.

Like a lovely freehand they curved for miles
East and miles west beyond us, sagging
Under their burden of swallows.

We were small and thought we knew nothing
Worth knowing. We thought words travelled the wires
In the shiny pouches of raindrops,

Each one seeded full with the light
Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves
So infinitesimally scaled

We could stream through the eye of a needle.

A tribute to the arrival of summer and the innocence of youth.

Bloomsday 2011

Budding thespians and aspiring literary genii dancing around the streets in butchers outfits.

Led me to wonder did James (not to be confused with John) Joyce ever experience the joy associated with the beautiful game – I’m talking here of the elation of a last minute equaliser in a tightly contested local derby or the anger at a dubious penalty awarded for a blatant dive - seen by everyone in the stadium except for the dozy referee.

Probably knew nothing of the game I naively assumed, dismissing the thought that the final as-yet-unpublished chapter of Ulysses would have Leopold Bloom strolling up Phibsboro Road to catch an evening Bohs v Shels encounter in the Dublin City Cup. Yea, knew nothing about it I thought - until the power of the internet revealed details of Joyce’s meeting with the Hungarian national team in Paris in February 1937.

Let Vladimir Nabokov take up the story:

“There in the middle of the Hungarian soccer team sat Joyce—he was a rather small man, you know—and he sat there with his dark glasses on and his cane and paid perfect attention to my lecture.”

The lecture was apparently honouring the centenary of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin‘s death, with Nabokov, a Russian and largely unknown at the time (still is), filling in for a female Hungarian novelist, word of whose illness had yet to trickle through the expatriate Hungarian population.

The plausibility of this chance encounter becomes slightly questionable with an examination of FIFA’s records which can supply no logical reason for Hungary being in Paris at this particular time. Perversely the Hungarian side’s previous competitive match was in Dec 1936 - a friendly in Dublin against the Irish Free State and the romantics among us will assume that Joyce was captivated by the Magyar style of play and had determined to follow them to away games – even when there wasn’t one on.

So what explains Nabokov’s assertion that Joyce was mingling with the finest that the Hungarian Football Association could send out to Europe (16 years before they went to Wembley and demolished Engerland in the famous 6-3 drubbing)?

A possible explanation for this mystery may lie in Nabokov’s own character and his interest in the game of soccer. Did he “invent” or “see” the Hungarian team sitting in front of him in an empty auditorium? Had he, having playing most of his short career “in nets”, the madness traditionally associated with the goalkeeper?

Let him conclude, and then let us then conclude:

“I was crazy about goal keeping. In Russia and the Latin countries, that gallant art had been always surrounded with an aura of singular glamour. Aloof, solitary, impassive, the crack goalie is followed in the streets by entranced small boys. He vies with the matador and the flying ace as an object of thrilled adulation. His sweater, his peaked cap, his knee-guards, the gloves protruding from the hip-pocket of his shorts, set him apart from the rest of the team. He is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender.”

So there you have it – Vladimir Nabokov was as mad as a March hare. Joyce, equally mad himself, was probably at home in Dublin at the time of this reported meeting, sipping coffee as he gazed at re-runs of the Free State Cup Final from 1926 on a balck and white television which hadn't been invented yet.

Part plagiarised from "the global game" blog.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

.....and if the dam breaks open many years too soon....

A song that was ever-present in our teenage years was "American Pie" by Don McLean, flashing into mind as I observe the above photograph of a levee protecting a house from the flooded Yazoo river in Mississippi, United States. "Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry" "But" the levee was dry? Was that not what it was supposed to do?

Scanning Don McLean's official website it reveals that "American Pie” was "partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealized 1950s and the bleaker 1960s". His description of the political changes during this period give an alternative view of the romanticism we traditionally associate with the swinging sixties.

According to the website, "the 1950s were an era of happiness and affluence for the burgeoning American middle class. Americans had a feeling of optimism about their prospects for the future, and pride in their nation which had emerged victorious from World War II . Sinister forces such as communism were banished". One could ask Don to dwell on the era of McCarthyism here. "Popular music, epitomised through Buddy Holy and his ilk, matched the mood of the nation".

It goes on to surmise that "the 1960s was the antithesis of the previous decade. The exuberant simplicity of the 1950s was displaced by a much more volatile and politically charged atmosphere. The cozy world of white middle class America was disturbed, as civil rights campaigners marched on Washington, D.C., ..... while on the world stage, America’s leading super-power status was being challenged by the Soviet Union, and its military might was being tested by the Vietnamese. Even in music, America soon found itself overrun by a British invasion."

By 1971, America was still deeply troubled and in the opinion of the song’s producer, Ed Freeman, it was the funeral oration for an era.

Meanwhile back in Ireland, we literally couldn't give a fuck, or weren't remotely interested in understanding what the song was about. All we were certain of was that we were going to sing it raucously round the fire in every An Oige hostel we visited and make sure it got our vote for a good airing at every hesitant feel-your-way sixth year party we got to in the mid-seventies - when we had finally freed ourselves from priest-ridden Blackrock and boarders like Tom Gilvarry.

Let's face it, it gave us a real feel-good factor and you know - it stills does. So cast away the chains of career, marriage, fatherhood and medicine and drift back to Blennerville in Kerry in 1974 and the sound of Don McLean drifting over the airwaves from the transistor radio on the top shelf in the sweet shop. And all of life still ahead of us.

I want you to go back, back in time....

Mike reminds the class of 75 what the score was on his first trip to Elland Road.

Gerry reminds the pyromaniacs of how far the explosion went on St Stanley Day.

Leighton Baines - cult hero

Nice bit of writing by Andi Thomas of the Twisted Blood blog who champions the cause of Leighton Baines as one of the game's all-round cool guys:

If there were any justice in the world, Ashley Cole would have been inflicted upon a tiny island nation with no hope of making a World Cup any time soon — let’s go for the bank-crashing ash-spewing bastards of Iceland, and consider it revenge for the horrors of Sigur Ros — and the international stage would have been largely free of his malign, grotesque super-competence. The path suitably clear, England’s number 3 shirt would fall around the slightly-stooped shoulders of Leighton Baines, an affable man who sounds like he should be a town in Hertfordshire, looks he could have been the tour manager for No Way Sis, and is one of the more remarkable footballers in the Premier League. I have no idea if Leighton Baines’ shoulders are stooped. But I imagine they are, and so – bang! – they are. Writing is fun.

Yes, he’s good at free-kicks and corners and stuff. And he’s a cracking defender, a fantasy football staple, and a vital part of a decent Everton side. Fine. But what I like about Baines is the simple and apparently unshakeable humanity of the man. He turned down a move to Bayern Munich because he didn’t want to uproot his family. Is that lacking ambition? Or is it recognising that, while football is a transient career of moments, children are the rest of your life? It could, of course, be both; “ambitious man” is often code for “greedy fucktard who is using you”. That doesn’t feel like Leighton.

Earlier in his career, he’d only been able to bring himself to leave Wigan for Everton. He’d rejected moves away from the club that had nurtured him out of a sense of gratitude, and in the end only went because the club that came calling were the club in which he’d invested his terrace affections. Then, when he did leave, he admitted to worrying. Fretting. Lying awake at night, asking himself if he was up to it. That’s what decent human beings do. They act out of gratitude. And affection. And they cry into their pillows at their own inadequacy, and the enormity of a world that hates them. I have no idea if Leighton Baines’ has ever lain awake crying into his pillow. But I imagine it, and – bang! – there he is, sobbing like a tiny child. Writing is fun.

What this all means, of course, is that within the machismo-riddled world of English football he is viewed as weak; a perception that reached its peak last summer, when his omission from England’s South African raiding party led to the guttersnipes winking and throwing around the word “homesickness”, which is code for “not a real man”. But, if the choice is between enjoying the summer with the woman you love and the kids you adore, or being trapped in a hotel complex with 24 pathetic, needy, whining pseudo-celebrities, constantly having John Cunting Terry winkling you into corners and outlining his “concerns” that “the manager” might not be “English” enough, and that “the lads” are thinking of staging a “cup de tit snarf honk” against “Meester Crapello snark snark snigger giggle burp” …

No choice at all. Thanks but no thanks. Fire up the barbecue, pass me the apron, and yes, you know, I think I will have a beer. Leave the telly alone, love. There’s nothing good on.

Basically, I’m trying to say: he’s not a twat. Which is a roundabout way of saying: everyone else is. Writing is fun.

Let's home the summer transfers don't shatter Andi's loyalty and affection.