Saturday, 29 January 2011

Time to stop bouncing then...

There must be plenty of us who wish we were the ‘aul dear giving Bertie Ahern a hard time outside Dáil Éireann the other day. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she said repeatedly to the part-time inane columnist who once led this country for over a decade and who, according his court records anyway, is one of the most phenomenally lucky gamblers in history.

Ahern, of course, was playing out the last chapter of his incredibly long goodbye to Irish political life. Two and half years ago he felt that – after handing in his resignation as Taoiseach and heading for a goodbye scoop in Fagans – he had made a dignified goodbye to life at the centre of national politics. Dignified goodbyes though are very, very rare in any walk of life, particularly politics, and after the criticism of his tenure that has followed, there is now a general consensus that this was a bumbling yes man who got several things right but many, many of the big things wrong.

There’s little point in going into the minutiae of what Bertie did and didn’t do, but suffice it to say he believes that everyone should still think he’s a wonderful man of the people. Denial is the order of the day, and while most of us remember his true legacy, he just remembers that celebratory pint of Bass in 2008. Steeped in self delusion, a dignified goodbye is no longer an option.

I’m obviously thinking about goodbyes because, as of yesterday all Liverpool fans like me must surely have accepted that, despite the initial shock, we will soon be saying goodbye to Fernando Torres. Goodbye to a phenomenal goal record, goodbye to the only man on the team self confident enough to tell Jamie Carragher to shut up, goodbye to lengthy absences from the team and goodbye to that bouncy Anfield chorus that paid tribute to ‘Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s number 9’.

I don’t blame Torres for wanting to leave, I don’t believe he owes anybody anything either. This is a bloke who’s nearly 27, and who must look back on the summer of 2008 and think where did it all go wrong? He scored the winning goal in the European Cup Final, he had just had an astonishing first season for Liverpool and he was heading back to start an assault on the Premier League and Champions League believing he could win both with his team, and indeed came relatively close on at least one front.

Since then, he has drifted further and further away from top club honours – his stated reason for leaving Athletico Madrid in the first place – while having won the World Cup for likely the only time last summer, his joy was tempered by his terrible form throughout the tournament and painful injury during the final itself. A multi-millionaire who can’t buy a break when it comes to the big things he wants to achieve, how could he not be interested in Chelsea’s offer?

Even if the side is aging, they appear to have the funds to keep buying in new stars and it’s the thorny subject of reassurance of transfer money that sparked his major problems with Liverpool in the first place. Having been, in his opinion, lied to by the Hicks and Gillett regime, this summer he stayed around in the hope that a billionaire might arrive. FSG’s promises of revival based on steady progress and wise investment clearly doesn’t appeal to a man heading into his prime. Frankly, those who don’t understand why he’d go have their heads buried in the sand.

The only real question now is whether it’ll be a quickie divorce or lengthy, drawn out affair. Or of course, there may be reconciliation, but if Mrs Doubtfire taught us anything – and I’m not sure it did – it’s that sometimes, these things just can’t be fixed. As of now, there are pretty much three possible outcomes.

(1) Liverpool accept a bid from Chelsea and Torres goes.

It’s the most obvious, least messy option but it is more than a little complicated. Kenny Dalglish won’t like the idea of losing a prized asset during what he hopes are the first six months of his second tenure as manager and won’t let Torres go easily. Those who’ve read Roy Keane’s autobiography will vouch for the fact that Dalglish can be a bit prickly when it comes to losing out in major transfers. In turn, Chelsea will now have to come up with a bid that meets Dalglish’s valuation of the player, not to mention appease the money men in Fenway Sports Group.

Chelsea need to send a fax (apparently English clubs still use fax machines for such things) to Anfield with an offer that will make up for the lost commercial revenue that Torres generates and that offer is well above the £35 million offered yesterday and, most likely well above the £40/£42 million offered last night alongside Daniel Sturridge. Will Chelsea have the cash to spend? £50 million might just be the type of symbolic figure that would do it, though a Chelsea player in exchange may also be needed. Or maybe they could just take Joe Cole back, which would be very nice of them. Doing all of this in a few days, during which Liverpool can’t sign a striking partner for Luis Suarez, is going to be a challenge but not impossible. Odds on option one? 3-1

(2) Torres stays until the summer and leaves for a bigger fee once Man City get involved.

As a Liverpool fan who tries to remain somewhat reasonable when it comes to emotional attachment to the team (I try not to use the words ‘Football Club’ very often anyway), I’ve learnt that transfers should always be viewed as cold business transactions that must make sense to all sides. Break it down to the basic elements of any deal and even Robbie Fowler’s return a few years back falls under this category*.

With no major tournament this summer there’s time to benefit from a big-money deal. Potential targets will know Liverpool have money to spend both on the strength of the Suarez move, as well as the massive funds likely to come from Torres going. The cash could also be used to reshape the side. Torres is the latest in a long line of footballers at Liverpool who have become the focal point of play; where the team is built around them but once they’re taken out of the side no semblance of a proper style is in evidence.

Think of Arsenal, they play based around an ethos that Arsene Wenger has imposed upon the club; it’s what Mourinho did for three seasons at Chelsea (even going so far as making sure all the youth teams played in a similar formation to the first team). Liverpool haven’t had a recognisable style (and no, ‘boring’ doesn’t count as a style) that runs through the team and rules how they approach each and every game for 20 years now. Pass and move was replaced by brute force and little imagination under Souness; fractured focusing on stars under Evans; hard work and crippling fear of failure under Houllier; and finally reactionary chopping and changing under Rafa.

Not that I’m saying Rafa didn’t do some great things for the club, but far too often he designed his team structure around the opposition. While some may argue that he imposed a style that focused on quick movement and pressing high up the field during the fourth year of his tenure (when Torres was at his best), this was, let’s be honest, based on a little luck. After two terrible years, Alonso came into form, Gerrard’s ego was massaged by not technically taking him out of the middle and, of course Torres’ immense form led the whole juggernaut from the front.

Take Alonso or Torres out, and the house of cards generally fell (though to be fair there was no Alonso present in the 4-1 thrashing of Man United). The reality is, take Fabregas from Arsenal in the summer and at the very least the team will still play in a similar manner, being as they are a construct of Wenger’s footballing design. Take one element from the Royal Flush Rafa had in his possession on 08/09 and things just fell apart. Odds of a big transfer in the summer and rebuilding, a hopeful evens.

(3) Torres stays, strikes up a partnership with Suarez, changes his mind ala Rooney and Tevez, following further discussions and everything is hunky dory.

Okay, sometimes I’m an optimist. This could happen, but it’s hugely unlikely. For one, Torres wants to play in the Champions League, the only time he’s looked happy this season was putting two past a big side (yep, that’d be Chelsea) while goal celebrations for anything else have been more than a little muted. Could playing alongside a kindred spirit like Suarez (well, they have the same agent at least) reignite his belief that Liverpool Football Club (sorry) is a team that’s going places? Probably not. The odds on this, a good 20-1.

Of course, as an infrequent and pretty bad gambler my odds may be askew there but whatever the outcome let’s just not lose the run of ourselves. Who knows, it could even be the best thing for Liverpool to let him leave. As the comic actor David Schneider said on Twitter this morning: “It's ok Liverpool fans. Suarez is a perfect replacement for Torres. They just have to check he has hamstring/groin problems and you’re sorted.”

Ok, it’s only the bloke from the Friday Night Armistice, but he might just have a point.

Later, JJ

*I’ll defend the Robbie Fowler statement in the comments if needs be. I can sense some doubts, though that’s mainly because people really, really dislike Robbie Fowler.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The England Question... (and some Fianna Fáil bashing)

Hey folks,

Having just come out of a sports shop in Gatwick Airport emblazoned with St George’s flags I thought I’d found the reason for Irish fans’ general pattern of hatred for England. Over the past few months, the subject of whether we should have any problem supporting Fabio Capello’s side during their exploits in South Africa has cropped up again and again in pub conversations, on radio talk shows, during awkward conversations with taxi drivers and in almost every opinion column in the nation’s newspapers

Indeed, non-football-loving columnists seem to be the biggest culprits, many of whom seem to think they’ve just written the first ‘expose’ on this subject and have found a variety of ‘definitive’ answers to the quandary. They haven’t.

Anyway, back in Gatwick it was the sheer ugliness of the St George’s flag that caught my attention. The pretty stark horror of it never really comes out until you see it on mass – be it on the stands during an England game or in a corner of JD Sports. But there it was, all over t-shirts, flags, jerseys, hats, shorts and plenty more pointless apparel.

It’s bloody hideous.

In all honesty though, I think this distaste for the flag is more to do with my brain trying to scramble around for new reasons to revel in the suffering of the English than anything else. Other justifications are falling by the wayside. Ignore the tabloids and there’s none of the press over-confidence that plagued the 2002 and 2006 World Cups in particular (well not yet). At this stage too it’s a bit tiresome bleating on about Britain’s past sins when it comes to Ireland.

It’s a generation or two since the ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs in England and none of those messages were plonked in the pub window by Steven Gerrard or Fabio Capello.

The latest reason most Irish fans have for despising Capello’s side is that, like McClaren and Sven’s teams before, they play woeful football. Similar to the spiritual awakening Eamonn Dunphy has experienced in the last few years, it appears we’ve all become purists who can only support slick passing football. However, I think this is only another decoy reason to dislike them.

I think the thing we really detest about the English is what we also delight in, and will continue to do so despite appeals for a more sane, all embracing approach. We hate them because they always lose.
Since the State was formed a great proportion of the Irish people have thrown their weight behind a winning side. No matter who they are or what they’re doing. When we adopt teams, we don’t adopt loveable losers. We adopt great big fat winners.

We love teams with copious league titles, we love teams which get to the latter stages of cup competitions, we love big spending, all conquering football sides. I know there are a few exceptions – I was talking to a Scunthorpe fan from Dublin last week – but on the whole, and I include myself in this, we get very caught up in trying to follow a team that will give us more happy days than sad.

Obviously, some Brits – such as cockney Man United and Liverpool fans – are just as guilty when it comes to football but I don’t think it permeates through their collective mindset like it does over here.

In day-to-day life, you only have to look at the general religious fervour adopted by supporters of Fianna Fáil for more evidence of this in our psyche. The party has been out of power for two years in the last 20. Two bloody years. Despite this they will blame anyone – from American banks to volcanoes and wars waged in far off countries – as being responsible for our woes. Not them.

Not the men and women who had complete control of budgets, taxes, legislation and development for 90% of the last two decades. It’s all down to that PD in health so it is. It’s all down to interfering independent TDs. It’s all down to “the meeja”. It’s all down to the Dáil bar to put six pints on expenses and never mind about having a second scoop lads, sure the chauffeur is bringing you back home. Result.

But do Irish people desert them? Nope. Alright Enda Kenny is about as charismatic as a particularly boring otter, but even so, more should be migrating away from Brian Cowen’s party. But no, no, they’re the lads with the power, let’s stick with them, let’s stick with the winners… and no, I don’t buy into opinion polls like the one in the Irish Times this week and believe many of us will be just as moronic next time we vote…. Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah, England…

Anyway, England will never offer that winning feeling, they only bring more heartbreak and that’s the last thing we need. Had their football history had a few more World Cups and the odd European Cup thrown in, we’d most likely have them as our second team by now.

We should be over our pettiness at this stage but England’s stubborn refusal to win and let us be at peace with getting on board a bandwagon has kept us hating them. Damn them so for not giving us a reason to love them. It’d be great, if only so we could listen to ‘World in Motion’ without a nagging sense of guilt, but for now we just can’t embrace more pain.

Perhaps we need them to win a World Cup to get it over with and test out my theory*.
Later, JJ

*Not this time though, I gave a mate 3-1 odds that they wouldn’t make the semi finals, so another quarter round exit please Lamps. Next time I’ll be more mature, I swear.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

And now... the end is... now

And like that, he's gone...

Okay, the dance video we posted last week didn't help, but taking everything into account I'd say this is a fairly dignified exit from Rafa Benitez. "It is very sad for me to announce that I will no longer be manager of Liverpool FC. I would like to thank all of the staff and players for their efforts," he said.

"I'll always keep in my heart the good times I've had here, the strong and loyal support of the fans in the tough times and the love from Liverpool. I have no words to thank you enough for all these years and I am very proud to say that I was your manager. Thank you so much once more and always remember: You'll never walk alone."

Yes the last bit is cheesy but it does make a change from his default sarcasm mode that was adopted for the vast majority of the last 18 months. Of course, the suspicion has been there from supporters for a while that the players needed to hear a new voice. Someone to cuddle up to the poor love starved millionaires. Bless.

Whatever your opinion on Rafa - and opinions of opposition fans tended to veer towards outright hatred, which sort of made me love his style - ask any Pool supporter and they'll tell you that there are monster egos and fools in that dressing room that many fans would have had gone well before Benitez (Gerrard's several personalities making up most of the bunch); and that's before we even begin to talk about the selection of horror film characters in the boardroom.

Anyway, if there is no money to spend once the new man comes in (seeing as it could be a short term thing with little cash to work with, Roy Hodgson seems the logical choice) they could do a lot better than getting rid of the foreheadless captain.

Feck the speculation though, for now, adios Rafa, thanks for the fifth European Cup at the very least... oh and for pissing off the old boys brigade of Whelan, Thompson et al, for that I am forever grateful. The shower of bastards.

Later, JJ

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

World Cup Songs on State of Play

Whattup folks,

I'm on Phantom 105.2 this Thursday on a show called State of Play discussing the best and worst football songs ever created, or to be more precise World Cup songs.

Some gems I hope to mention include this MOR beauty from the New Zealand team in 1982, Germany's brush with the Village People, the obvious brilliance of 'The Flame' and, let's give them a wee bit of credit, England's 1990 gem 'World in Motion'.

Tune in if ye get the chance by clicking here at 7pm tomorrow, or you can just tune in the wireless of course.

Cheers, JJ

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Dirty Dancing

Oh dear. There really are no words.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Avoiding Ray Winstone

When Michael Owen ran through on goal to score the winner in the 2001 FA Cup Final most Arsenal fans couldn’t believe that after 90 minutes of absolute domination they had been sucker punched twice in eight minutes and lost a game that always looked theirs.

Arsene Wenger held his head in his hands, the Arsenal end went silent save for a few angry expletives, and somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean Kevin Costner threw his bottle of Bud at his 50-inch TV screen while screaming “you little Scouse son of a bitch”.

In fact, when Sami Hyppia lifted the trophy, Costner was almost certainly out the back of his ranch shooting a racoon as some form of rage therapy.

Of course he was.

Why only a few hours prior to kick off Sky Sports had an interview with him where he professed to being “a real Gunner” and The Postman wouldn’t lie to us, would he? Sky wouldn’t just dole a celebrity in front of the cameras to pad out six hours of FA Cup final coverage would they?

Alright, in reality Costner was most likely making a three-hour epic at moment Patrick Berger’s long range pass found Owen at the Millennium Stadium, or perhaps he was trying to charm a masseuse the old fashioned way.

Obviously, Costner’s appearance that day is symptomatic of the kind of rubbish which often gets served up to football fans and masquerades as entertainment these days. A light relief from the serious business of punditry with Jamie Redknapp. In reality, it’s actually an excuse for a Sky, BBC or ITV reporter to meet someone famous and ask searching questions like “do you believe (insert team name) can do it today”.

So, with this in mind and with the FA Cup final today and World Cup on the horizon, I thought I’d lay down a marker for TV coverage over the coming six weeks; a handy default setting for all to stick by.

If, at any stage, you see Ray Winstone just turn off the TV and wait for kick off. Yes, he has a box at West Ham, yes he looks a little like Terry Venables and yes, he’s not the worst human being on the planet but why on earth do TV channels still believe that we want to hear the opinions of the sixth male lead from The Departed on relegation worries and England’s World Cup chances?

Over the past five years, Winstone has turned up on ITV and Sky on numerous occasions to spout the same lines about West Ham or his country (though the BBC have fallen into this trap as well at times) and the viewer gets treated to nuggets like “West ‘Am fans are best in the league” or about how “England fans are the best in the world int they”. Same shit, different movie to promote.

On each occasion we’re treated to a bravado filled interview which, to be fair, is usually the result of a star struck reporter trying to be matey with Winstone. Soccer AM is nowhere near as bad a show as some people make it out to be but the interview style there is a perfect example of such fawning nonsense. It’s a style which sees everyone involved desperate to prove that they’re as down to earth as a Hovis advert and not asking anything in particular, instead just throwing a series of statements at the subject in question (“you got to love Scotty Parker eh”) and waiting for agreement on the subject.

A more general note to interviewers meeting up with the often US-based Winstone would be that in 2010 everyone in the developed world realises there are different time zones across the planet. I’m pretty sure I was aware that New York is five hours behind GMT at seven years of age.

With this in mind, the revelation that (insert celebrity name here) gets up at “the crack of dawn to watch their beloved (insert team name here) in a local sports-bar while it’s the afternoon back home” is not a revelation to the TV audience watching anymore. It hasn’t been for decades.

Yet, once you get that camera back to the Football Focus couch they can’t believe the commitment of this enormously rich celebrity who chooses to go to the pub at half eight in the morning.

The rolling out of famous names to pad out coverage is, obviously, just an offshoot of BBC, ITV and Sky having zero faith in their pundits or the game they’re serving up for the audience. So expect plenty of it in the coming weeks then. I await Jude Law’s thoughts on England’s final 23-man squad with interest.

Later, JJ

Wednesday, 5 May 2010