Monday, 26 October 2009

Lucas in his happy place … and welcome to crisisville Man City

Alright folks,

Well at least The Apprentice is on this evening as, after a heroic amount of Smithwicks yesterday, I’m good for nothing other than ordering pizzas and flicking channels. What will the Breffmeister get up to this week eh?

Back to the football and beyond the Pool game – as most of the papers have dissected that thoroughly and I feel the pictures above and below sum up my reaction to the win for the home side – both Arsenal and Man City lost two goal leads yesterday and both are lucky their capitulations have been relegated to minor reports in today’s sports pages. However, while the Gooners can count themselves a tad unlucky, City’s expensively assembled defence continue to look very ropey and should be a huge concern to Mark Hughes.

There’s the outrageously overrated Joleon Joleon Joleon Joleeeeonnnnnnnnnn Lescott, the formerly outrageously overrated Micah Richards, alongside the distinctly average pair of Wayne Bridge and Kolo Toure; the more you see of them together, the more they don’t look like a defence that will help them into the top four.

They’ve now gone seven games without a clean sheet and surely the leadership of Richard Dunne, so brilliant in the past few years for City and continually excellent for Ireland, would have made a difference yesterday and indeed as the season moves onwards. Playing for two managers with absolute faith in him – Martin O’Neill and Giovanni Trapattoni – Dunne has excelled.

There was the suspicion that it was the owners of City rather than Hughes that wanted to usurp Dunne with Lescott; trading an established international centre back for a player who struggled whenever Everton went into Europe and who was a cause for alarm any time he touched the ball in most England appearances. Like Beckham-era Real Madrid, Louis van Gaal’s Barca and other teams have proven in the past, sides that spend money almost exclusively on banner names, with little thought to knitting a side together, tend to win precisely feck all as the season wares on.

As Pool’s season gets in to gear (he said with fingers crossed), as Chelsea kick back into action, United get a wake up call and Arsenal, well continue to be Arsenal, City may find themselves a few more dropped points away from being the new crisis club in the league.

Right, where’s that pizza menu….

Later, JJ

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Quick prediction for today…

Good god it’s hard to be positive for any Pool fan after the last few weeks but there’s something about this that reminds me of an eight game spell without a win before heading to the Theatre of Prawns and winning one nil earlier this decade.

It was a Danny Murphy lob that, what with fate being an absolute bastard, kept Gerard Houllier in a job for two seasons longer than was necessary.

The losing may stop today again, winning though… a bridge too far perhaps and I’d still stick with Benitez no matter what the result is today anyway. I’ll go for an entertaining 2-2… and Michael Owen will score. He will celebrate. And he is, as today will confirm, Satan in Sports Casual.

Enjoy, JJ

Monday, 19 October 2009

Danger Here? Maybe not…

France it is then, full blog later but initial thoughts are that we can beat them over two legs – I can see Ireland scoring once in Paris against a suspect defence but the home leg will be huge, need a win there.

At the very least it means we get to hear Johnny Giles' unique pronunciation of 'Henry' (“we need to watch Enrae Bill”) a lot over the coming weeks…

Later, JJ

Who’s it to be?

The ridiculously cool Rooskies?

The pikey Portugeezers?

The jammy git Grecians (sic)

Or Raymond the mentalist and his band of moody men….

Bring on 1pm.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Saturday predictions…

Hey folks,

Right, after that minor rant on the ridiculous notion of the Atlantic League here’s a quick few predictions for Saturday’s Premier League games…

Aston Villa v Chelsea: Hmmm, Villa have been somewhat of a bogey team for Chelsea – the defeat that sent Mourinho pretty much on his way a few seasons ago, a few nil-all draws, one four-all draw - and coming after an international break I think Martin O’Neill’s side may have a chance here, especially with the game taking place in Birmingham. I’d say Chelsea will only get one goal so I’ll go for 1-1.

Arsenal v Birmingham: See the Blackburn game a few weeks back for reference. 3-0.

Everton v Wolves: The slow start is out of the way for Everton but Wolves are an absolute bastard to predict thus far. Every time I think it’s an easy ‘Wolves to get an absolute belting here’ they seem to eek out a point or three. I have a feeling this time they may just do some damage as well and I’ll go for 2-2 with a late equaliser from the away side. Cue 4-1 Everton.

Man Utd v Bolton: No Rooney but Berbatov did get a hat trick during the week… then again that was a hat trick in a meaningless game and the great criticism of him at United thus far is not getting important, game-breaking goals, as opposed to the fourth of five against Spurs, Wigan etc. I’d expect United to get all three points whoever scores though as Bolton won’t get a goal. Easy enough 2-0.

Portsmouth v Tottenham: ‘Arry’s back innit. I’ve just stuck Jermaine Defoe in my fantasy league team so I’m hoping he does to the Pompey defence what he’s done to so many Zoo cover girls over the years and pillages and plunders to his heart’s content. Portsmouth had the great misfortune to get that one win away at Wolves just before the international break and may have lost all the momentum that result could have given them in the weeks since. I’ll say 1-3.

Stoke City v West Ham: West Ham have to click into gear at some stage this season – and if they had of beaten Liverpool last month I suspect that would have started them off on a decent run. They might just dent Stoke’s home record come Saturday. 0-1.

Sunderland v Liverpool: The heart says away win, the injury sheet says a draw. No Torres, no Gerrard… but then again Pool did beat United last season without the pair as well (except for a ten minute cameo from Gerrard). That however, wasn’t in a week where Lucas and Mascherano flew all around the world, only arriving back on the day before the game. I could actually see Aurelio starting in midfield and I can also see Benayoun being the fulcrum of play. Fuck it, I’ll be confident… 1-2.
Have a good one, JJ

Good idea/Bad idea

Hi folks,

Regular readers will know that myself and Mark have a frankly shameful lack of knowledge when it comes to the League of Ireland. It’s something I’ve been meaning to address and I’ve caught a few games this season on the TV, watched MNS and listened to the LoI banter on Off the Ball. It’s a shabby effort, but like Kevin Kilbane, I’m trying, plus a break from the relentless Premier League machine is welcome every now and then.

I know this is a Johnny-come-lately thing to say but, while the league has plenty of faults (years of poor promotion around the country, overstretching themselves in the boom years with players’ wages etc), one of the great moves of the last decade anywhere in European football has to be the change to summer football in this country.

Starting the season in direct competition to England and the rest of Europe stopped making sense some time ago and since it was brought in it can’t be a coincidence that Irish teams have performed relatively strongly in Europe (well in comparison to previous years) as well as the knock-on effect of players hitting the ground running when they make the trek across the water to sign for English clubs in Premier League or Championship pre-season, which is of course mid-season for Irish players. Keith Fahey and Kevin Doyle are two examples of an admittedly rare breed but it’s a good trend nonetheless and one that is likely to continue.

All in all though, summer football is definitely a good idea. However, the only reason I bring it up is that football organisations so rarely get major decisions right. From bans to fines to TV deals and much more there is usually a great amount of bungling that goes on in the halls of footballing power around Europe and beyond.

Here is one very bad idea though, and one that could only have been dreamt up by men running the game who know as much about football as a blind goat. I give you the Atlantic League.

Set to include the Celtic and Rangers it has been backed by clubs from Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, and it’s now all set to be presented to the talking heads at UEFA as a serious prospect.

How much longer do we have to deal with these awful attempts by the Old Firm to divorce themselves from their own league? Admittedly Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell last branded the whole a "Frankenstein" concept, but you’d suspect if UEFA gave them the green light they’d jump at the chance, while over at Rangers (where old men tell fantastical tales of transfer budgets above £6,000….) they badly need any cash on offer.

The Atlantic League idea has been floating about in some form or another for a decade, while we’ve had a good 15 years of both Celtic and Rangers banging on about how they’d like to join the Premier League. Both clubs of course blissfully ignore the facts that (a) nobody in the Premier League wants them to join and (b) the three tiers behind the Prem would rightly be outraged should such a merger happen. Usually only resurrected as an emergency topic when a journalist has nothing left to say to Walter Smith, these days the English dream of Scotland’s two biggest sides is pretty much history but this new idea is gaining pace.

Its major problem though is that, unlike the very good idea of summer football in Ireland, this is a very bad, very, very, bad idea. Hugh Grant 'hmmm I wonder if I drive down there can those ladies give me some directions' bad.

It’s an idea that will, most likely, cause immense damage to the leagues in each and every country that takes part yet Dutch giants Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, Belgium’s Anderlecht, Danish side Brondby, and Swedish club AIK Stockholm all want this. One voice of reason has been FC Copenhagen who are said to “believe the competition would compromise Champions League ambitions”. Club secretary Charles Maskelyne said: "If you are qualifying for the Champions League group stage then when can you fit in an Atlantic league? It is not really an option for us."

And therein lies the problem, sides like Celtic, Rangers, PSV and others listed above watch the Champions League (well Rangers will watch it once they’re fucked out of their group before the real competition gets going) and feel that they belong in this company as well. That they should be part of a league that will excite Europe, create revenue and be seen as a league where the best players in the world will want to ply their trade.

If the revamped UEFA Cup can’t do this for teams outside the Champions League tier, then the Atlantic League hardly will. Will anyone anywhere want to watch Rangers vs Brondby? Hardly. Yet these clubs are all willing to sell their own leagues up the shitter for a few extra euro, all in the quest to, irony of ironies, eventually gain enough revenue to compete in the Champions League before dropping the Atlantic League like a bad habit as soon as possible.

It will be a vicious circle full of desperate clubs who, rather than looking at UEFA or other leagues to sort out their problems should just get on with promoting the game locally, getting in young talent and trying to compete as best they can. It’s not the ideal solution but it’s certainly the least destructive when compared to the notions of the money grabbing blazers across Scotland, Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia. The shoddy gits.

Later, JJ

Monday, 12 October 2009

Schoolboy errors off screen and on...

Afternoon folks,

Watching an Ireland game has often involved baring witness to schoolboy errors. Certainly the entire regime of ‘The Gaffer’ was filled with them while the early days of Brian Kerr – which coincided with John O’Shea’s patchiest period in the green jersey and the fading careers of the majority of our then-midfield – had its fair share of them as well. However, on Saturday it was me who managed to make a basic, but crucial, error during a World Cup qualifier.

Having taken a seat in my local, all of maybe seven yards from a large plasma screen TV, myself and a few mates watched the first few minutes quietly impressed with how Ireland were going about their business when, just as Liam Lawrence was about to swing in a free kick we heard a massive roar from the other side of the bar, then looking back to the plasma screen in front of us we saw Glenn Whelan latching on to Lawrence’s deft pass to put Ireland one nil up.

The dreaded analogue v satellite curse had struck. And we were in satellite land.

There was a good two seconds difference. While the commentary running through the pub was in sync with the Sky feed of RTE coverage that we were watching, on the other side of the bar, where there was a grainy projector-style screen and no bloody room to sit down, there was RTE’s analogue coverage showing those gathered around it a window into the near future.

The executive decision was made to stay in place (we’re lazy, lazy people) and, yep you guessed it, we heard groans before the Camoranesi goal, a huge cheer when St Ledger scored that excellent header and finally we heard a sound that resembled 40 people having their souls popped simultaneously when Gilardino poked the ball past Shay Given.

Beyond this basic mistake on my part to pick a pub that, with the bar in the middle, has to have two separate screens, therefore opening myself and my mates to the possibility of such an event, I thought Ireland ticked a lot of the right boxes on Saturday. You’d have to hope that the experience of letting in that late goal will keep concentration levels up when we face one of Europe’s other top sides in the play offs.

There is of course, that argument that we should have learned that lesson already though. Against Bulgaria, twice, we lost leads only to draw. In Cyprus we were heading for campaign meltdown after losing a lead again only for Robbie Keane to pop up with a lovely finish. Both Bulgaria goals came from individual errors, while the Cyprus goal was just a decent finish so there’s no point picking over that too much.

The play offs too will be very different games to Saturday’s, as Italy happily sat back once the game went to one each. Indeed, predicting anything for a two-leg tie where our opponents haven’t even been drawn yet is fairly fruitless. For now, we should remember that this is definite progress, and while it’s progress that I’d certainly feel could do with Andy Reid’s presence on the bench, that’s another story.

On the positive side, we have Lawrence’s promising form, Dunne’s uniformly excellent display, the front two looking like they’d be a handful for any side and a quality contribution from the bench from Stephen Hunt.

In the negative column there has to be St Ledger’s slack defending for the second Italian strike, O’Shea’s for the first (and Given didn’t cover himself in glory on either goal), while McGeady’s continued lack of a final ball may prove crucial in play off matches that will, by their very nature, be extremely tight affairs.

We are there though, in a position that many would have doubted at the start of the campaign. Hopefully, the luck of Trap will continue and we get Greece in the play offs, but for now let’s hope more fringe players get a chance on Wednesday and McGeady begins to find a final touch.

I, on the other hand, will be far more careful when picking a bar stool for the play offs.

Later, JJ

Friday, 9 October 2009

Before the big game, a word on egg chasing

Alright folks,

I was going to do a blog on tomorrow’s game, with my selection for the side but I forgot that Il Trap likes to get in his selections early. So, while I will blog on the game tomorrow I thought I’d throw open the floor to a psychological question today, and one that doesn’t have anything really to do with football. However, it’s a subject that I think most of you will have an opinion on.

The big question. What is it that makes some Leinster fans so utterly, utterly annoying? I emphasise the word ‘some’ here as many aren’t horrendous individuals. Not many, but some. They play London Irish this evening and I don’t wish defeat upon them but I wish infernal pain among some of the number.

I’m from Dublin, and in general I like a lot of the players who play for Leinster due to their exploits with Ireland and whenever I’ve heard of anyone meeting fellas like Shane Horgan, Luke Fitzgerald and Brian O’Driscoll, they’ve apparently been absolute gentlemen. But the fans…

There’s something about the fans that just makes me think sport as a whole would be better if this entire Leinster franchise – and if there’s one sport that deserves the word franchise it’s rugby considering that it is a game that has evolved into a professional one in an era that is all about marketability, kit sales and Sky Sports deals – would just limp off into the distance supping Maximuscle Viper Energy Drink.

Walking through south Dublin city in the last week I’ve spotted people that, in the manner of many a Leinster fan, just strike me as folk who don’t actually like sport. It’s never sat well with them. Hurling and gaelic football were sports to be patronised during the summer. Soccer is just the thing on in the background of the pub until there’s an actual bandwagon to jump on (2002 for instance).

But rugby sits well with them. Or rather, Leinster rugby does.

The home stadium backs onto the disco where they all got drunk as 14 year olds, the players speak in the same accent as them and there’s now a successful team there. Sure, there were crowds in D4 years ago but nothing like the last two seasons when the side began to flourish.

But, all in all, I feel that a lot of Leinster fans just don’t get sport as whole. They wouldn’t watch aussie rules, NFL, the Olympics and any form of soccer because they just don’t like sport. They like a specific team in a specific sport at a specific time – it’s a scene more than a sport. Some would say there’s nothing wrong with that, but despite this just take the accent, the ignorance and Johnny Come Lately ‘lifetime’ fans and that’s enough for me to pass judgement.

And while we’re on the subject – be you someone from Leinster, Munster or anywhere else there’s another phenomenon that has to be addressed. One that proves rugby to be an inferior sport to soccer for one, and inferior to many others as well.

Throwing rugby balls to each other – and you see blokes of all ages doing this in some parks around Dublin – what in the name of greek buggery is that all about? You’re a grown man. A grown man playing catch. I don’t care if you put spin on the ball. You’re playing catch, a game mastered by every four year old known to man. You’re just holding up a sign saying ‘I know my rugby’ and it’s an odious sight.

In essence then, some Leinster fans… you never needed sport before, sport doesn’t need you, let’s hope this whole mad love affair comes ripping apart one way or the other soon. Your thoughts folks?

Yours in rant,

Friday, 2 October 2009

Hold that infobar!

Hi folks,

Over the past year or so I’ve had a bit of an addiction to the BBC Gossip column. Every morning I’ll trawl through the page to get the latest transfer rumours, exaggerated headlines (anything with the word “fume” in the headline never actually relates to anything approaching real rage) and pint-sized versions of some of the better football stories of the day.

In that time though I’ve begun to realise that while this slimmed-down version of what’s in the papers is less of a chore to go through than the F365 or Guardian versions, it is nonetheless, a bunch of nonsense in it’s own right.

Here’s a selection of today’s tales along with what the stories actually mean… after a year of reading the thing day in day out, you get a feel for reading between the lines.

Storeeeee bud: Manchester United and Real Madrid are both keen on Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic, who scored twice against Liverpool in the Champions League this week, but the Italian side are set to offer the Montenegro star a new five-year contract. (The Sun)
What it actually means: The Sun had never heard of Jovetic until this week, despite World Soccer Magazine and numerous other publications flagging him as a potential star for two years now. The Sun saw him score two against Liverpool. The Sun wonders which clubs can they can drag into the story and puff this out with discussion of previous battles. The Sun remembers the good old days when they could mention the ‘Ronaldo to Real’ story punctuated with all manner of bullshit for weeks on end and get away with it. The Sun digs up all this shit again to create another ‘Unireh versus Real’ story.

Storeeeee bud: The Premier League is ready to take over at Portsmouth to stop the club from slipping into administration. (The Independent)
What it actually means: If several – possibly hundreds – of events happen, along with some alignment of the sun, the moon, the earth and Fratton Park, this might happen. So it won’t. But The Independent like financially-based football stories as they have no actual contacts within most major clubs. Example – Jason Burt who did one interview with Oba Martins when he joined Newcastle and insisted the Nigerian was joining Arsenal at every chance for the next two years. That’s Wolfsburg’s Oba Martins.

Storeeeee bud: Football Association chief executive Ian Watmore has called for a crackdown on "hostile and abusive" chanting as part of a campaign against disorder in football grounds. (The Times)
What it actually means: Ian Watmore means nowt to no one. Every six months this story trots out and a party-line prat is sent out to say the right things but nothing happens. Gary Neville will one day be the Ian Watmore of the PFA.

Storeeeee bud: Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov admits he has been a failure at Old Trafford since his £30.75m move from Tottenham in August 2008 and says his poor form caused him sleepless nights. (The Sun)
What it actually means: It hasn’t caused him one bit of bother. If there’s one thing you can’t imagine Dimitar Berbatov struggles with at all it’s sleeping. But using this line for some local reporter might save his reputation in some United fan’s eyes for a few more weeks.

Storeeeee bud: Liverpool forward Ryan Babel says being dropped by the Netherlands ahead of next summer's World Cup finals has scared him into trying to salvage his Anfield career. The 22-year-old has struggled since joining the Reds for £11.5m from Ajax in 2007. (Daily Mail)
What it actually means: Scared is a ridiculous word to use. Ryan Babel is an odd, odd man and a hugely frustrating player to watch but being ‘scared’ into salvaging his career is rubbish. He had no choice. He can’t get a move until January. Essentially, when someone asked him about the World Cup he most likely said he’d hate to miss out – he’s hardly going to say ‘well I was thinking of heading to Courtown for three weeks during and get wild on Dutch Gold so who gives a shit’. This is turned into some mini-horror story where words like ‘scared’, ‘feared’, ‘sweated over’ and more overblown nonsense gets brought out to fatten up a non-story. Hello double-page spread.

Storeeeee bud: Hotels in South Africa are raising their prices by up to 440% for next summer's World Cup finals. (Daily Mirror)
What it actually means: No shit Sherlock. Irish hotels raise them 300% for a bloody bank holiday. Anyway, a 440% rise for a South African hotel means they’ll cost around 60 yoyos for the presidential suite.

And finally… (possibly not as accurate on my descriptions here…)

Storeeeee bud: Gillingham boss Mark Stimson says referees would get less stick if they went back to wearing black rather than multi-colour outfits. Stimson said: "They get enough abuse as it is. As soon as they walk out with pink shirts on, people laugh at them." (The Sun)
What it actually means: Mark Stimson finds Graham Norton funny and he’s worried this may be the start of something life-transforming.

Storeeeee bud: Preston legend Sir Tom Finney has told National Football Museum bosses that he wants all his memorabilia back if they leave Deepdale to move to Manchester. (The Sun)
What it actually means: There is no Tom Finney. Football didn’t exist before 1992.

More infotainment soon, later