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2014 in Football: A Review – The Charming Man, Philosopher Rodgers and FIFA’s Crooks

So it’s goodbye to 2014, another action-packed year on and off the football field. It peaked as Manchester City overcame destiny, history, big flags, a ball-sucking Kop and Steven Gerrard to share the title with Liverpool. It also saw the Germans at their efficient best, leaving a whole country in mourning in the process.

January was cold and dark as it often tends to be, as Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City tied for the lead in the title race. Liverpool kept their counsel, for now. The teams jousted with each other through the coming two months, as Liverpool kept their counsel. Arsenal of course fell to pieces, as Liverpool kept their counsel.

AND THEN -they struck.

Yes, Liverpool swept all before them and went on a long winning run that confirmed the genius that is Brendan Rodgers, a run that put Liverpool right in the title race and even stirred up Gerry’s pacemaker. Destiny was calling, and it seemed it wanted its first Premier League trophy. In the end, all destiny got was the equivalent of a Blankety Blank chequebook and pen. Never mind, next year is definitely their year.

But first it briefly looked like it could even be Chelsea’s title to lose, but lose it they did with two capitulations at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. Liverpool just had to beat Manchester City to surely win that title, and they came through the sternest of tests. Their fans could start celebrating now – there was no way they could throw this away.

Then Chelsea came to town, still hungry for points.  Rodgers was calm before the match, and gave a stirring speech to his players:
“Players, gentlemen, Romans. I come before you not to mock, but to praise. This is your moment – THIS – is your perfect moment. Carpe diem. Think not what you can do for Liverpool fans, but think what they can do for you. It is a far, far better place that we are going to than we have been. Alas, poor Pellegrini, I knew him so well. “
Sadly, his stirring speech was in vain as Steven Gerrard slipped on his arse, and gave it to Demba Ba. Steve Gerrard, Gerrard. City did the business at Crystal Palace, and the title race swung back in their favour. The following week, Liverpool lost a 3-goal lead at Palace and football witnessed the most joyous image of the whole year, one that may never be beaten – Luis Suarez crying. It was beautiful beyond words.

gerrardslip

City won their two last games with ease and the title was theirs once more, and this time goal difference didn’t matter.  My season review book was out within the hour. Naturally, Brendan Rodgers won Manager of the Season- and they say you win nothing for finishing second. Liverpool fans (some of) committed the cardinal sin – they sang about winning the league before they had won the league. This is something that should not be practiced unless it is mathematically impossible to lose the league. I considered it acceptable to sing “championes” two minutes into injury time against West Ham.

But what a sad way for Alan Hansen to finish his job at Match of the Day. So, so sad.

The next day I somehow stowed aboard the 2nd parade bus, and thousands of people waved at me whilst wondering “who the **** is he?”. Sheikh Mansour even sorted the weather, and a great time was had by all.

Elsewhere, Alan Pardew applied the ‘Glasgow kiss’ to Hull’s David Meyler at the KC Stadium, having moved on from telling opposition managers to “shut your noise you old c***” or pushing over match officials. It was progress of sorts, I guess. Next on the “to do” list is not to lose against Sunderland, though it looks like he’ll be doing that at Crystal Palace. #babysteps

Away from the Premier League, Atletico Madrid secured a magnificent La Liga title with a draw against Barcelona, whilst FIFA continued their honourable stewardship of the global game, so nothing of interest to report on that front. Oh ok, maybe not, as we will see.

So onto the summer, which of course meant the World Cup, in the 2nd home of football, Brazil. England did what England do best, and exited with a whimper, though at least they could claim to have lasted longer than Spain.
With Harry “honest as a North Pole day is long” Redknapp spreading rumours that some players couldn’t even be bothered playing for their country, Ian Wright very sensibly suggested that each of those players should have to phone the parents of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to explain themselves. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that?!

“Hi, is that Mrs Smith?”
“Erm, yes..”
“Sorry to bother you, but this is Andros Townsend, I pulled out of an England friendly against Peru last year to be with my heavily-pregnant partner and I’d like to apologise profusely and explain my actions.”
“Right..erm..I’m not sure this is really relevant to me, and it’s not a good time to be honest….”
“Yes I appreciate that, but I think it a fitting punishment for my indiscretion that I explain to a complete stranger why I did what I did in full and I think it fitting I explain to someone currently grieving who has no interest in football whatsoever…”
“Yes, but now really isn’t a god time, we all need privacy right now..”
“I respect that, but let me take you back to my departure from the squad, at a time when…hello… Mrs Smith…hello…?”

The tournament started with a riot of goals and riots in the streets. Protests around social conditions were followed up with protests over Adrian Chiles’ presenting skills, which resulted in the studio being pelted with rocks. Welcome to our world, Brazil. Matters came to a head when Chiles presented a show in shorts and flip-flops, and the internet fell over.

Things weren’t much better elsewhere. Some executive had the bright idea of inviting Robbie Savage into the commentary box, where he had a tendency to shout a lot and sound exasperated at every missed pass. Then of course there was Phil Neville, who single-handedly sent a nation to sleep with his vocal cords. He did us all a favour as England succumbed to Italy and Uruguay, though they did secure a plucky draw against the behemoths Costa Rica.

The worst of the lot though, again, was Mark Lawrenson, who in the early days of the tournament seemed to be residing under a canal bridge judging by his on-screen appearance. Eventually he got his s**t together, but once more Mark seemed rather inconvenienced at being paid handsomely to commentate on a match in the Maracana. To make matters worse, Jonathan Pearce struggled with the concept of goal-line technology, for some reason calling a goal proven to have crossed the line “a controversy” and we all pined for the days when he did Robot Wars.

FIFA themselves were embroiled in scandal, as is their natural state of existence – and as usual they swanned about the host country like royalty. Sepp Blatter was carried around in a sedan chair as specially chosen children from the favelas fanned him with gold-plated coconut leaves, whilst all the FIFA delegates relaxed in 5-star hotels, ate only the finest food and drank the finest wines known to humanity whilst taking advantage of the many spurious laws that FIFA impose during a world cup competition. These included:
•             Sepp Blatter to be addressed at all times as “your excellency”.
•             A masseur to follow three steps behind FIFA delegates at all times.
•             Budweiser to be the only alcoholic drink to be consumed by Brazilians during the month of June.
•             The FIFA logo to be projected by laser onto the moon for the duration of the competition.
•             Bendy hot-dogs branded illegal as they went against “the ethos and ideals” of the FIFA family.
•             Set times for tides.
•             A 75ft statue of Sepp Blatter to be erected outside the Maracana made entirely from hardened zero-fat cottage cheese.
•             All team kits to be one matching colour (oh hang on, that one’s true)

There was uproar on Mumsnet.

Brazil staggered onwards before having their pants pulled down by Germany, who eased off once six goals to the good. Sadly Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis were reduced to tears as Germany triumphed in the final.

suarezbite

The 2014 World Cup was also the year Luis Suarez tripped up and accidentally ate part of another player. Again.
Such a clumsy player.
Suarez explained what happened: “I was running at full pelt, intending to get on the end of a deep cross, when I stumbled, and soon found my mouth coming into contact with Chiellini’s body. As a man with a powerful and troublesome gag reflex, I immediately panicked. I immediately closed and opened my mouth repeatedly in an attempt to get air down my throat, and it was at this point that I sensed a chicken taste on my palette. My front teeth really hurt.
“Anyway, in Uruguay, biting a man’s shoulder is considered a sign of respect. Some of my favourite boots are black.”

FIFA had soon moved on to new scandals. Its awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was understandably still raising eyebrows, and the predictable stories of corruption, bribes and Sepp Blatter swatting it all aside soon emerged. Naturally they decided to investigate themselves, found no wrong doings and the lawyer hired to make the report quit because it has been doctored so much. Crooks, liars and thieves continue to run the global game, and it’s not funny really. Our only hope now is the FBI, who have smelt a rat, or a few million of them to be precise. Go team FBI!

The organisation officially became a parody of itself with the release of United Passions, a vomit-inducing room-spinning portrayal of those that run FIFA, propaganda that Joseph Goebbels would have struggled to match. Russian newspaper PRAVDA called the film “rather far-fetched”. The film cost £17m to make, and took £120,000 globally. More money well-spent by the keepers of our game.

The final straw though was the vote for the 2026 World Cup. They were as follows:
England – 2
The ancient city of Atlantis – 5
Mamis, one of Saturn’s inner moons – 8
Tim Roth – 26

Soon after, Jack Warner was announced as official travel agent for “all the Tim Roth family, and his associates”.

quenelle

The “quenelle”, which I assumed was mashed potato spooned into a fancy shape, became a gesture of great controversy. Arguments raged over the racist intent of various players, but the pertinent point that emerged from all of this was the reminder that some footballers are just really, really stupid. It was the death (que)knell for Nicholas Anelka and his facial hair’s English career (apologies for the pun – it won’t happen again).

Managerial changes were once more numerous during the close season. The biggest appointment was the arrival of Louis Van Gaal on our shores. His arrival was greeted by some journalists like the second coming, Ian Herbert laughing so hard at a Van Gaal put-down that his bladder split in two. Allegedly.
Herbert’s funniest moment of the year? This quote from Van Gaal: “I Think David De Gea is one of the team, so he is a goalkeeper, so he has to stop (the ball).”
Reminds me of Rossiter, Hancock or Sid James in their prime.

And then there was Wigan, and their chairman Dave Whelan. Little known fact – whilst researching this article I found in some old Rothman annual listings that Whelan once broke his leg in an FA Cup Final.
No really!
Anyway, as we all know, the older generations are a “bit racist” and Whelan put his foot in his mouth and decided to keep it there by first appointing a manager in Malky Mackay who was under investigation for comments made in private messages and then decided to try and outdo his manager with some lazy racial stereotyping of his own. It’s just banter though.

2014 though was the year of the chosen one. David Moyes was the unlikely successor to Alex Ferguson, and whilst it was somehow acceptable for his ballsy successor Louis Van Gaal to comment that Manchester United needed to be more like their noisy neighbours City, for Moyes it was the final straw, and soon after he fell on his sword, before seeking the move he’d always wanted anyway – Real Sociedad, in a climate more suited to his complexion. Moyes seemed overawed by the job at United, like the first form schoolboy asked to run the common room, finding out he had the job when visiting Ferguson’s home. Moyes wondered if he had dressed appropriately for the occasion. Everyone else wondered what strength wine Ferguson was sipping at the time.  Ryan Giggs took over as caretaker manager, an appointment tremendously popular with the playing squad, as it meant they knew where he was.

Ferguson’s band of not-so-merry men began to fall by the wayside. Roy Keane moved closer to his “Falling Down” moment, yet inexplicably continued to be employed in various posts. The beard got bigger, and angrier, and his high standards were predictably rarely met. Like the littlest, and most furious hobo, he never stayed for long in any one place.
For Roy Keane, down the road is where he’ll always be. Every stop he makes, he’ll make no new friends. He can’t stay for long – just turn around and he’s gone again.
Maybe tomorrow, he’ll want to settle down – until tomorrow, he’ll just keep moving on.

Steve Bruce ended the year wondering if Hull would ever win another game. The less said about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the better.

And so onto the current season, and Chelsea had the league officially wrapped up in early October, whilst Charlie Austin was the in-form English striker, a remarkable transformation for a man who only 8 years ago was delivering papers or working in a beetroot factory or something. Liverpool swapping Luis Suarez for Mario Balotelli mysteriously didn’t work out very well.

Yes, Mario Balotelli returned to our shores, and I battened down the hatches. Everything since has been utterly, utterly predictable, but some people JUST WON’T BE TOLD. Predictably, the media reported every fart, parking ticket or slightly wacky bobble-hat (and there were many, many wacky bobble-hats) and it was boring beyond belief. Just as predictably, Balotelli was of little use on the pitch, got suspended for a social media post, and Brendan Rogers wondered where it all went wrong. As we reach the New Year, we still eagerly await his first league goal.

Rodgers was bullish though: “Mario for me is not just a player. He is a giant amongst men, a revolutionary, an angel and a devil. He thinks in sections, and we like that in our players, he is part of our family, and it’s a unique family, the Liverpool family, like on Bread, but more of a family than that. The lad’s showed great character, even after those four consecutive red cards, and for me he has found his home here at Anfield, as we all have. All of us are on a magic carpet ride of development – our quest is relentless, as I cannot live a second without hope.”
Rogers’ utterances would be worthy of the great philosophers of the ages – Socrates, Descartes, Brand, Barton.
“I play Glen Johnson not because it is easy, but because it is hard,” he added.

By the end of the year, City and Chelsea both topped the table for points earned in the calendar year, but Chelsea had a three-point gap in the league table and went into 2015 as title favourites. And in the end City won the league, I met Tim Booth and finally changed my toilet seat. #holytrinity

Here’s to absent friends and a fascinating 2015.

 

Social Media/Online Highlights

‏@DickinsonTimes

If Henderson goes to the World Cup, I don’t see a place for James Milner. Not sure Italy and Uruguay will be on tenterhooks

Daily Mirror article: After Man City’s loss to Wigan, Mark Lawrenson wonders whether Manuel Pellegrini is actually that good a manager .
Pellegrini really does seem to have a blind spot with Demechelis. Every single time he plays he makes a mistake.
Sometimes he gets caught out, sometimes he doesn’t. But it is inexplicable that for all the money that they have at their disposal, City could not go out and buy a better quality centre-half.
Joleon Lescott must look at him and think: ‘What is going on here?’ because you would go with Lescott over Demechelis every day of the week.

Daily Mirror Article by Mark Lawrenson, May 12th: Manchester City’s title win vindicates decision to replace Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini.
“Whereas the Etihad was a madhouse under Roberto Mancini, it is a more calm, more serene place under Pellegrini and City’s decision to go for him has been vindicated.
“He also has the Capital One Cup in his locker so, all told, it has been a fine first season for him…. It has been brilliant management to keep all of his three strikers motivated and focused…”

Alan Hansen on Match of the Day; “When Steven Gerrard picks up that trophy..”
(youtu.be/0XiT7TE8dX4 )

Daily Mirror article: Dave Kidd on Manuel Pellegrini: He’s Nothing Special.
We’ve heard the question all season long from the red half of Manchester: Why did United appoint David Moyes when Jose Mourinho was available?
Pretty soon, the Blue Moonies at the Etihad will be asking: Why Manuel Pellegrini when City could have had the Special One?

Any team, even one as flamboyant and richly-assembled as City’s, is only as strong as its weakest link. And from Barcelona to Wigan, they all recognise that City’s is Martin Demichelis.
The Argentine’s blunders look to have cost the Mancunian Blues two trophies already and if Pellegrini continues to select him, he will scupper their title bid too.

Daily Mirror article: Liverpool aim to win this title in the most sporting way possible says Brendan Rodgers….

Jim White @jimw1  ·  Apr 21
Ryan Giggs/Gary Neville would be a managerial double act to revive Old Trafford…

ROB @1RobBeasley  ·  Apr 26
Jose has told Everton and spurs to forget about trying to sign Lukaku. He wants him back at Chelsea for pre-season.

James Maw @JamesMawFFT  ·  May 18
James Milner Rooneying his way to a £200k a week deal at City, who need to keep their home-grown quota up. What a world. Played, Jimbo.

Piers Morgan @piersmorgan  ·  Aug 2
My Premier League prediction: 1) Arsenal 2) Mercenaries City 3) Chelski 4) DisUnited 5) Spurs (as always)  6) Liver ‘not good enough’ pool.

Manchester City FC @MCFC  ·  May 11
93. THAT’S IT! CITY ARE CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND! #TOGETHER #MCFC

 

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