Monday, 23 March 2009

All Along The Watchtower

Howdy Folks,

JJ has been hogging the blog for a while, in part due to my crisis of faith, my chronic indifference to football for the past 2 months. However, after a barnstorming sporting weekend, my faith in sport is re-energised*

It came from a stonking rugby performance, a boxing world title and thrills aplenty in the Prem. A thing that concerns me a lot in sport is nerve (or as Tim Flowers would say, "....and you can tell Alex Ferguson that this team has got bottle. Every one of them has the bottle to see this through...").

There were some splendid examples this weekend. Ireland have had at many stages, excellent players and excellent teams, but lacked that collective strength of will to win championships and grand slams. This weekend, they overcame that lack of belief, and deservedly won. It must be said, though, despite their best efforts not to.

Bernard Dunne, a loud mouthed upstart, whose last title shot had him knocked out in 90 seconds, overcame two fifth round mishaps to eventually pummel his opponent.

And in the Premier League, United, Liverpool & Villa illustrated things perfectly. Firstly, let me be clear about one thing. Nerve is linked to ability, but it supersedes it. All top players have plenty of it, demonstrated by the ability to perform week in and week out in front of millions. To back up my point, consider all the players who don't make it. We all know 'that guy at school' who scores 5 goals a game, who can dribble the length of the pitch, who can bamboozle any opposition. Who now works as an electrician.

So, starting with Villa then. Any team can get a hiding, can have a day to forget. Unfortunately for Villa, this is not the first time. Bet you wish you had the Uefa Cup now Martin? Villa are on a horrific run of form, but why? I discount the tired players notion. Undoubtedly some are tired, and out of form, it is the manager's responsibility to rotate them. And when did this start, February, the wobble month. And where were they - alernating between 3rd & 4th. As Arsenal were imploding, Villa were starting to believe, and with the seeming certainty of it, they crumbled. They are no more tired now than they were then. Some have pointed to Heskey's signing as changing the formation, others to Agbonlahor's goal-shyness, and others to Laursen's injuries. The real question is - were they good enough to get fourth? I think yes. Have they bottled it? Yes. Who is to blame? O'Neill and the players.

Onto Liverpool, who are a fascinating case study. How does it change, how do you get 'bottle'? Great in the cups, where Benitez is swift to seize upon the underdog tag, they flatter to deceive in the league. They hammer Barca, and lose to Boro. They haven't yet shown they have the nerve to win the league. But maybe that is changing. Yesterday, the Liverpool of a year or two ago, would have drawn or scraped a win, this year, they destroy Villa. Looking at the fixture list, all their opponents are beatable. Pool could, should, and crucially need to win all those games. Chelsea, Arsenal & United have, over the years, produced stunning form at this stage of the season, and these next weeks will tell if Liverpool have it in them.

Meanwhile, at Fulham, United implode. Scholes panics under pressure, Rooney blows his top and gets rightly sent off and Ronaldo sulks. They've gone from a potential 10 point lead to a 1 point lead in little over a week. Are they losing their nerve? They had plenty of it last season, holding their Permier League lead all the way, and winning the Moscow shoot-out.

Only a few short weeks ago, they won the Carling Cup shootout. So what's gone wrong then? It ain't tiredness either. I think it was over-confidence. Every press conference for a few months had loaded questions about the 'best team ever' and the 'quintuple'. They started to believe their hype, while simultaneously feeling the weight of expectation - a potential quintuple and 3 premier leagues in a row! Who wouldn't be overwhelmed.

So have I made sense or have been getting rusty during my lay off? Am I feeling the pressure? Could there BE any more question marks?


*(Though it must be said, 50% of that energy came from the Battlestar Galactica finale, which
not only was the one of the best shows of the past 20 years, it also had killer music.)


Anonymous said...

That really is a lot of questions Mark! You have to give Liverpool a lot of credit for the way they've played the last couple of weeks, all they could do was win their games and put pressure on United and that's exactly what they have done. As for United, they've got what they've deserved from two ridiculously bad performances(Ferguson must take huge responsibility for the team selection and therefore the first half at Craven Cottage). Momentum is huge in a tight title race and it's all with liverpool at the moment, I just wonder if this surge of theirs is 3 or 4 weeks too early given that United should regain something of their lost confidence and form against a clearly flagging Villa and look to go on from there,still with that game in hand. Whoever finishes top of the league deserves to win it, a cliche I know but so,so true. If that happens to be liverpool so be it,they'll have deserved it.
p.s.Cardiff on Saturday was fucking unbelievable!! True heroes in every sense of the word. Saturday night at the O2 however was slightly different, a mouthy,cocky little chancer who should have been finished off in the 5th round gets lucky and wins in the eleventh! At least his head will now be a bigger target for his next opponent! Hope he gets hammered.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a dirty big pedant, but if you're counting potential points, then surely "They've gone from a potential 10 point lead to a 1 point lead" should read "They've gone from a potential 10 point lead to a potential 4 point lead".

Anonymous said...

They've gone from potentially walking it to potentially fucking it away in the space of two weeks! Serious questions should be asked about the contributions of Berbatov and Ronaldo, the two laziest cunts I've ever seen in a red shirt.I'd forgive Rooneys second yellow on Saturday,it was idiotic but at least it showed that he gives shit. I'm not sure Berbatov would waste the energy frowning if something did'nt go his way, 30 mill?? you're having a laugh! Ronaldo is just a big fucking child who stomps around the place like 5 year old when he does'nt get his way, I've said it before and I'll say it agin...United should have cashed in when they had the chance.
p.s.Welcome back Mark, it's been too long.

Mark said...

nice pedantry there! are you a contributor to the guardian's fiver letters perchance? I won't cover up my tracks by editing the post

Mark said...

is this man completely mad?

from the outside looking in, twould seem like a great idea, but imagine for the fans in those countries - "err, sorry, but you're relegated"

he really is a chump

JJ said...

Platini looks like he's workin on a monster dump there. Definitely touching cloth anyway.

Dumb, dumb idea as well. Blatter's Boy Wonder is doing the old man proud with this shite.

JJ said...

And by shite I meant the idea of merged leagues not the... well you get the idea.