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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Bayern in 'Not Rubbish' Shocker



Analysis of the extent of the injury to Wayne Rooney (predicted on this blog on March 15) may have been the central theme to many of the articles sifting through the aftermath of Man United’s defeat in Munich last night, but this throws only a thin veil over a thoroughly tepid performance. Not just that, but believe it or not, Bayern Munich were actually quite good.

In the build up to this quarter final, you could be forgiven for thinking United were facing easy opposition with a win almost a foregone conclusion. The blind, unthinking media view seemed to converge around the prediction of a fairly comfortable 2-1 United win, a prophecy only reinforced by the news that Arjen Robben wouldn’t be making the starting XI.

Although the current Bayern side is not as famed as the vintage version featuring the world class duo of Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg, a quick glance at the team sheet from those days at the turn of the century also reveals the very workmanlike talents of Carsten Jancker, Jens Jeremies, Michael Tarnat and Alexander Zickler.

Fast-forward 11 years and, Frank Ribery and Robben aside, Bayern have a similar set up. The likes of Mark Van Bommel, Holger Badstuber and Danijel Pranjic provide a decidedly unglamorous supporting cast. These lesser lights did not lay down and die, however, and alongside the famed German efficiency, a ruthlessness is always lurking somewhere near the surface. That Bayern came into the tie on the back of a couple of 2-1 defeats domestically perhaps hinted the Germans were focusing their collective gaze on the Champions League – a competition they have not won since 2001. And, lest we forget, Louis Van Gaal has previous with the competition, albeit back in 1995 when his brilliant Ajax side were worthy winners.

As limp as United may have been last night, Bayern were good value. In the second half they came into their own, with Carrick and Fletcher being marshalled ably by Van Bommel and Hamit Altintop, Ribery flying past Neville with ease and Bayern attacking with purpose. United looked tired by the end, especially the usually dependable Patrice Evra, caught in possession by Ivica Olic who put away his chance coolly in injury time.

With four stars above their crest, Bayern have won the European Cup once more than United. And although English commentators would have you believe otherwise –Jamie Redknapp still thinks United will go through, surprise, surprise – they possess a side more than capable of going to Old Trafford and nicking a goal, nullifying the detrimental effect of Rooney’s second minute volley. This is the quarter finals of the Champions League; there are no easy games. Bayern’s rich tradition in the competition, their passionate support, the watching Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and the rest of the Munich Mafia demand nothing less than a full-blooded, disciplined display at Old Trafford. United’s path to the final is now precarious; fail to win and they are out. Thoughts of another ‘easy’ tie against Lyon or Bordeaux can be put to bed for the moment and United fans must pray that Rooney’s ankle is as bulletproof as his form of late if they are to progress. Adam Bushby

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Zola, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye


Those at the bottom of the Premier League table decided to take over the ‘you first, no you first, no you…’ exchanges from the top dogs and prove that they really are all as bad as each other this weekend. For the second year running (and possibly more), those that survive a season in the top flight will know that it’s not necessarily because they were good, but rather because others were just that little bit more rubbish.

In the thick of this race to remain stranded on less than 30 points for the season are West Ham. If the other clubs in the relegation mire are in freefall, West Ham are approaching terminal velocity.

One argument is the oft-repeated mantra that Zola is ‘too nice’, but that’s not quite it. You don’t really tend to cut it as a professional footballer for 20 years at the very top if you’re ‘too nice’. Zola’s problem, in fact, is that he is simply too inexperienced and this has brought with it the majority of his managerial difficulties.

West Ham tried to rectify this by bringing in Steve Clarke from Chelsea and were widely applauded for it. However, I can fully imagine a wealth of scenarios in which Zola bows and has bowed to Clarke’s knowledge and experience ahead of his own – though Clarke’s CV itself is quite brief, being in charge of Chelsea youth teams before building a reputation with the teams of Mourinho and Grant.

Spot the difference – Mourinho isn’t short of belief and courage in his own convictions and Grant, previously a Champions League finalist, is now being widely lauded for the job he is doing at stricken Portsmouth. They are men who require an assistant to assist, not to mentor.

Contrast that with the belief that can be seen draining from Zola with every goal conceded. Consolidating a first relatively successful season at the Boleyn Ground has proved difficult. Contrast it further with his playing career. We all knew how good he was, but crucially so did he. That’s why he isn’t ‘too nice’. You have to be a bit arrogant to be one of the best footballers in the Premier League. Being a manager though, inexperienced and up there to be shot at each Saturday brings with it a whole different set of demands. Clarke’s advice may be being asked for with increasing desperation, an influence that may also inform its content.

I don’t think you can watch Jeff and the boys on Soccer Saturday or Match of the Day without someone (normally Mark Lawrenson) saying what a ‘lovely fella’ Zola is. I revered him so much as a player that I don’t really want to believe he won’t succeed as West Ham manager. But his apparent loss of belief and this infectious uncertainty that has come across in the press has transmitted itself into his players. By publicly questioning his own future in the midst of a scenario where the successful generally stay silent and stoic, I can’t help but think that while he will always be a darling of English football for his playing achievements, his managerial career might be short-lived.

Art Class An Option


The list of superlatives bestowed on the Spanish national team in the last few years are lengthy in quantity. Lengthy and undeniably well deserved. Remarkably, they have won 41 of their last 45 matches, scoring 103 goals and conceding just 22, and they seem to win at a canter too, toying with the opposition, for want of a better metaphor, like a matador toying with a bull before going in for the kill.

With the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas to call upon in central midfield, not to mention a back-up cast comprising Marcus Senna, Diego Capel and Santi Cazorla, it is unsurprising that a player of the calibre of Mikel Arteta has found his route to the international scene blocked by this succession of prodigious talents.

Arteta has been resident in England now for five years as of January this year, following his move to Goodison from Real Sociedad. Interestingly, due to his failure to receive a call up to the national side of his birth, he is available for Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad should he decide to apply for dual nationality.

It is the man that Vicente Del Bosque has decided to overlook who could prove to be a fruitful wild card for Capello should he risk the wrath of the English footballing public and pick the player born in San Sebastian with no previous links to England prior to his move in January 2005.

That possession is nine tenths of the law at international level is a given, and it is something the English have always struggled with. Paul Scholes aside, there has never been an English midfielder in the past decade or so who has looked as accomplished on the ball as a Zinedine Zidane, Fernando Redondo or Pavel Nedved. David Beckham, perhaps but English midfielders just don’t seem to realise that the frenetic nature of the Premier League allows for Steven Gerrard to spray a 50 yard pass into touch because odds are, Liverpool will be back in possession within 20 seconds. This simply does not happen against the best sides in the world on the international scene, and the likes of Spain, Brazil and Argentina will make England pay for squandered possession, of that there is little doubt.

Arteta is as accomplished on the ball as anyone in the Premier League. At 27, he has become a mainstay in the centre of Everton’s midfield, excelling with his short and long range passing and displaying a vision sadly lacking from a lot of English players’ games. It is exactly this type of player who could fit nicely into the midfield four favoured by Capello in June. Arteta is arguably better than Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry in possession and as controversial as his inclusion would be, would it not be worth the risk if England are to live up to their (in my opinion) frankly ludicrous tag of second favourites with the British bookmakers? Adam Bushby

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Gerrard On Borrowed Time?


Watching Steven Gerrard’s body language this season, you’d have been forgiven for thinking he was a man condemned. And in some ways, perhaps he is. Out of the title race by December by all accounts (2-0 defeat at Fratton Park anyone?), FA Cup and Champions League runs ended prematurely and sidelined at intervals by groin and hamstring injuries, Gerrard could be forgiven for feeling a little sorry for himself.

Every player suffers a loss of form from time to time. It is an inevitable consequence of playing week in week out in such a competitive league at such an intense level. Good players recover from loss of form. Great players even quicker. And I don’t believe it is too large a leap of faith to class Gerrard in the latter camp. He is a great player. He has proved this time and again.
What is most worrying about Gerrard’s loss of form is its timing. Having watched an awful lot of Liverpool this season (awful being the choice word), it has been at times alarming to see the stupor with which the Liverpool captain has hauled himself across the pitch. I don’t know of any other player who could be allowed essentially a whole season of poor form in a World Cup year at supposedly their peak (29) and still get on the plane to South Africa.

Case in point being his moody sauntering around the Old Trafford pitch, contributing nothing at all in a game that could feasibly have gone a long way in preventing the title going down the wrong end of the East Lancs Road. Gerrard should have relished that game on Sunday. He should have been inspiring confidence in those around him, rallying his troops and all manner of other footballing clich├ęs. That is what is expected of him. That is what he is capable of.
The logical conclusion is that Rafa Benitez has lost the dressing room so spectacularly that Gerrard is limping on until the end of the season, in a sort of all-consuming daze of indifference, scarcely able to believe that this is (Xabi Alonso aside) more or less the same side that came so close to bringing the league title back to Anfield almost a year ago.


Even if this be true, which given Albert Riera’s recent rant does genuinely seem the case, Gerrard’s behaviour is incredibly petulant. It is precisely in such poor form as Liverpool found themselves more or less from the start of the season, that Gerrard’s presence was most needed. Instead he seems to have given up, reminiscing of Istanbul and wallowing in self pity at the injustice of sharing a pitch with David Ngog and Lucas.


If Fabio Capello is true to his word that he will pick players purely on form then Gerrard will not be in the starting XI against the USA on June 12. I would argue that he isn’t even worth his squad place and I never thought that would be something I would write. If Joe Cole has played himself out of contention then the same has to be said of Gerrard. As a gambling man I would put good money on Gerrard lining up on the left hand side of midfield in that first World Cup match. It will, however, be a place scarcely deserved. Adam Bushby

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Avram Grants Pardon


In a world where Man City’s mercenary strikeforce of Emmanual Adebayor and Carlos Tevez sit atop the Premier League wage league table, raking in nearly £300,000 between them, you could be forgiven for thinking that any sense of justice in top flight football had long since made an extended walk off a short pier.


Naysayers need not wallow in their own cynicism just yet, however, with the very touching and human news coming out of Fratton Park today. Apparently Portsmouth players, along with their manager Avram Grant have been dipping their collective hands into deep pockets in order to pay the wages of some of the more unsung heroes behind the scenes. Tug Wilson, the long-serving groundsman at the club has seen his job saved, alongside three other workers since the dreaded administration-marked axe fell.


Grant asserted: "I think the moment the club loses its human side is the first step towards it being finished. I can say that most of these people were here before me and the players, and they will be here after.”


“We need to keep them,” he added. Sentiments we can all agree with. Portsmouth are to be applauded for this show of solidarity that goes a little way to making me think that there is a heart and soul still left beating in the Premier League once insufferable talk of the ‘Big Four’ subsides.


The Betfair Dungeon From Hell

5 idiots. Yesterday. Or today. Or WHATEVER.

If you think you live somewhere a bit shit because the drunk man outside your window didn’t stop shouting ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaah!’ until three in the morning, take heart. It could be far worse. You could have an infestation of idiots instead. Worse still, they could be idiots with free money.


‘This week in the Betfair front room…’


Oh God. What always surprises me about this statement is that after a week of these guys sitting around dishing out their rapid fire real-life sports banter [sic], the final cut is only about 20 seconds long. And rubbish.


The thing that really rankles about ‘Betfair Brother’ is its incessantly formulaic approach to their concept. Five clueless idiots sit in a room and debate their equally and increasingly idiotic views. The basic script seems to be:


Fan 1 pipes up with basic currently-pertinent football topic as if previous conversation has been based around hours of insightful analysis.


Fan 2 disagrees immediately.


‘Oh, let’s bet on it!’


Banterbanterbanterbanter (all join in) banterbanter (let’s all start talking over each other) banterbanterBANTERBANTERBANTER (as the whole thing descends into shouting and finger-pointing)


Banter means laughter! HAHAHAHAHA! WE ARE LAUGHING! But we are unaware of the cameras! We’re always like this! Don’t you wish you were as funny-yet-knowledgeable-but-argumentative about football as us?


[End]


I am not a huge fan of the Betfair Petting Zoo. I don’t want ‘banter’ forced on me by men who clearly don’t have any and who laugh like it’s a competition to find out which can most loudly impersonate a cackling feckless wanker. I also refuse to have my reference point for matey banter issued by a group whose limited imaginations can only come up with ‘Scouse’ as a nickname for a Liverpool fan. Who is from Northern Ireland.


I’d like to see a ‘Tonight in the Betfair front room’, when the football’s finished and they’re all sat there, £60 down and arguing over whose eggs are left in the fridge and who drank all the Vimto.


I really want a ‘This summer in the Betfair front room’ where they’re all contractually obliged NOT to film that WKD advert and are forced instead to bet on Wimbledon and the Hay Book Festival.


Or a chip pan fire.


I think I might be most annoyed because, like everyone else, I am perfectly capable of spraffing my money away all by myself, thanks very much. I do not need to be reminded each week that somewhere, grown men are getting paid to do exactly that in a series of adverts that make me want to eat my own head.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Heavy Betting Results


'In a bet there is a fool and a thief.' ~ Proverb

Saturday gone saw Bushby and MacDonald lose their respective £2 bets, rather inevitably. Failing to break the habit of a lifetime, the news filtered through that both got the same results (3 correctly predicted), with York v Wimbledon inexplicably called off due to a waterlogged pitch. Though we both went for York, so it doesn't matter.

Bushby correct predictions: Dagenham, Nurnberg draw and Heracles

MacDonald correct predictions: Dagenham, Scunthorpe, Heracles

More of the same to follow this weekend.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Heavy Betting

The better the gambler, the worse the man’ (Publius Syrus).

In what may or may not become a weekly occurrence, here are some randomly selected fixtures, as well as two very relevant ones, complete with our predictions. The betting odds are real and our £2 bets are too. And yes, it is a competition.

1. Dagenham & Redbridge v Macclesfield Town
2. York City v AFC Wimbledon
3. Scunthorpe v Plymouth
4. Burton Albion v Chesterfield
5. Xerez v Tenerife
6. Nurnberg v TSG Hoffenheim
7. Boulogne v Lorient
8. Heracles v NAC

And in alphabetical order (somewhat pointlessly), the contenders:

Adam: Dagenham, York, Draw, Chesterfield, Tenerife, Draw, Lorient, Heracles.

Odds: 1,748-1.

Rob: Dagenham, York, Scunthorpe, Chesterfield, Draw, Nurnberg, Lorient, Heracles.

Odds: 1,039-1.

Are we bad gamblers, or bad men? I know which one I’d put money o- DAMMIT.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

C U Next Tournament

Mighty Morphin' Power DICKHEAD


Ironically for Jose Mourinho, last night was the night Chelsea became the jilted lover. From instigators of the separation from their old manager, Chelsea became the party somehow wronged, furious at the injustice not only of Mourinho winning but of… of… just EVERYTHING.


‘Take that, adversity’, Didier Drogba thought, as his petulant and squealy strop connected with Thiago Motta’s ankle ‘by mistake’.


‘Don’t they know I only turn up on Saturdays for the free lunch?’ wondered Michael Ballack. ‘I’m not here to cover my defenders.


‘…?’, shrugged Nicolas Anelka, non-existently.


‘F***ING S**T’, opined John Terry, a man who knows a thing or two about jilted lovers, to the fourth official. Presumably not as familiar with internal rhetorical questions as most of his colleagues, and upset at being soundly beaten, Terry took a few moments to remind us that it wasn’t all about Mourinho after all.


Similarities have already been drawn to Chelsea’s ignominious exit at the hands of Barcelona last year. Chelsea (nay, the whole of football) should have learned at the time you’re supposed to take the chances afforded to you – should you create any – than whining about the ones that are not. The referee is not going to consider your protests, however carefully constructed, when the moment has passed. He certainly won’t consider them when you present them as though the injustice is so severe that you cannot comprehend existing for another second in such a cruel and thoughtless world, just because someone trod on your shoelaces and you went down like a sack of shit.


Never grappled anyone to the ground at a corner, John Terry? Never delayed taking a free kick? So blinded by fury was the Chelsea captain, he even drove over a steward’s leg on the way out of the ground.


A little introspection in these situations would go a long way. A little introspection was what we were supposed to have been getting from the former England captain following his eventful few weeks. Yet again he didn’t manage it. Yet again it is doing my head in. And I do NOT want to hear the ridiculous excuse about the ‘will to win’ and ‘passion for the club’ that is wheeled out every time a footballer takes leave of his sense of humanity and embarrasses us all. Anyone with a brain can see the difference. Maybe that’s the problem.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Brown and out


Beckham’s Achilles tendon wasn’t the only casualty of an eventful 24 hours. In good news for Hull’s Women’s Institute and bad news for geraniums, Phil Brown was placed on gardening leave by Hull City. It’s a shame his last memorable act as Hull manager was to apologise for Jimmy Bullard and Nick Barmby having a fight, which, by the way, it is a miracle they both survived without getting seriously injured. Hull’s solariums may not be so lucky.

We’d like to think that Phil is currently strolling around the streets of Hull, ‘looking for clarity’, in the way he did when he saved a suicidal woman from topping herself on the Humber Bridge last September.

"You don't know, do you, until someone jumps, whether they were actually going to do it?" Brown said at the time. That he was pushed from the KC Stadium today means that the same question, as far as the rest of Hull’s season is concerned, won’t get an answer.

Beckham Dead

David Beckham has died. He was 34. The cause of death was his Achilles tendon snapping at the San Siro, Milan. And with his untimely demise, England’s World Cup chances were also laid to rest. Oh no wait, Wayne Rooney is still alive right? No death blow dealt to his metatarsal this year? England’s World Cup chances resurrected once more; for this Lazarus moment we are thankful.

Putting the overexaggeration aside, we should look at Beckham’s injury for what it is – a slightly premature end to what has been an incredible career. Now watch and enjoy the wheels coming off the media circus that surrounds Beckham’s every move.

Ah, the media circus. It’s been the practice of many a journalist to try and avoid this David Beckham effect. ‘If you’ve picked up a paper today,’ they say, forgetting they’ve been published in one, ‘you’ll see Beckham splashed across the front AND back pages’. Then, giving a cursory nod to the ‘media hype’ (of which they are not a part, remember) and promising to add some perspective or focus purely on the football side of things, off they go.

I’m always quite surprised by this. It’s not newsworthy to comment that other people will be commenting ceaselessly in other newspapers. It’s hypocritical for journalists to be all sniffy about the ‘circus’ and what’s more, gentlemen, it’s extremely difficult to ride a high horse if you’re wearing oversized trousers and your face is covered in custard pie. If you don’t want to talk about him, you don’t have to, alright?

I am not ashamed to talk about what is a very sad day for a very popular bloke. It is. I like him and I feel really bad for him. End of.

Let it never be said that Beckham doesn’t embody all things English though. Having been almost a sure thing to make the World Cup squad, his body has fallen apart at the last minute, as it is prone to do when you’re a 34-year old professional footballer and you’ve been playing since you were a child. Likewise England, who looked sure to go to the World Cup and do ok, have seen the first eleven slowly disintegrate to the point where even Beckham with one leg still looks a viable option to have on the bench. He’d be more mobile than Heskey.

The mania whipped up on the back pages today got me thinking about the behemoth that is going to roll into town as we edge closer and closer to June 12th and England’s date with destiny (the USA) in Rustenburg. One half of me is excited. Very excited. Like a kid whose drunk too much Slush Puppy at a ball pool before being rendered useless by brain freeze.

The other half of me, the cynic, is dreading, and I mean DREADING the inevitable injury to Wayne Rooney and the accompanying interminable media hell that will follow. ‘Wazza injury watch’ on Sky Sports News. Alex Quinn and Simon Thomas presenting hours of footage of a red-faced, sweaty Rooney in plaster, hobbling from the team bus to a hotel. Like a shit Groundhog Day. The Sun issuing free prayer mats so we can kiss his quad / calf / inner thigh and ‘get our Wayne fit to win us the World Cup’. Psychologists, psychiatrists, sports physicians, osteopaths, chiropodists, a whole host of reputable individuals and Uri Geller on GMTV, urging the nation to beam their good wishes to him through a spoon, all so we (and Wayne) can sit helplessly at home and watch England fail to win any group games and get knocked out in the quarters by Lionel Messi.


"Touch this boot. Or my face. I don't mind which."

Friday, 12 March 2010

Literally Corner


Literally Corner has gone and literally got too big for its boots. Luckily, we've found it some new space.

So welcome to Literally Corner. Come in, put your feet up and enjoy a roll call of the nation's pundits stating the bastarding obvious in such a linguistic manner as to make it completely ridiculous.