Hull City 2 Manchester City 4: Some Thoughts

It’s becoming a bit of a habit this, Manchester City making life hard for themselves at Hull before ultimately pulling through.

An interesting team sheet. The main talking point was of course the choice of goalkeeper, with Willy Caballero somewhat surprisingly given the nod over Joe Hart. There was no past incident with Hart to trigger this decision from Pellegrini, but as I have mentioned before he did not sign Caballero, a man he knows well, to sit on the bench as a clear Number 2. He is competition for the main jersey and Pellegrini feels he needs match time as much as Hart does. I would guess Hart starts on Tuesday, but we will see.

So it was two up front and another outing for Milner, which is always good to see. Hopefully this game time is linked to the desire to tie him down on a new contract. He needs to feel loved.

And so it was an electric start from City and after ten minutes it seemed like it was almost job done.  The finish from Aguero was sublime, the finish from Dzeko even better, whipped in with such power it didn’t have to be in the top corner to beat the keeper. My only surprise was that the first goal wasn’t disallowed for a foul by Zabaleta when he won the header. It wasn’t a foul, but was just the kind of thing a referee blows up for.

But where’s the fun in coasting to victory? Enter Mangala, and a performance in stark contrast to his debut against Chelsea.  As Phil Neville commented, his body shape was all wrong to firstly head in a cross that Kompany probably would have dealt with otherwise, then a rash, high challenge gave away the clearest of penalties. It was a stupid way to lose our grasp on the game. Maybe three games in a week was too much for the man.

Nevertheless, and despite the shakiness that Mangala displayed thereafter, City persevered. Whilst Hull had their moments and fashioned the odd chance, there’s no doubt that City were largely dominant and threatened often. No surprise therefore that they scored their 10th and 11th goals in just over two hours of football.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man as Edin Dzeko did what he does best and scored when the team most needed it. It was a lovely finish to put City back in the lead, precision over power that saw the ball just evade defender and keeper. Then to cap it off with three minutes left and allowing us all to finally relax, Frank Lampard did what he does best and that was that. A much-needed three points to keep on the tails of Chelsea after a tough run of games.

A comical moment for the 4th goal. I watched the game in the <NAME OF PUB REMOVED FOR LEGAL REASONS> and as Zabaleta drove into the box the feed froze only to return a few seconds later to show Lampard hugging his teammates, a moment greeted by the loudest cheers of the day.

That’s four goals in a week for Lampard now, and he has been of far more value than I could possibly have anticipated. His past value is undoubtable – he was/is one of the greatest Premier League players. Even at his advanced age (I wish I was at that advanced age) he has still got that magic touch. A great addition to the squad, for however long it may turn out to be.

And let’s hope he stays for five years, just to wind-up chief voyeur and king of the whingers Arsene Wenger.

Once more, there was a great use of the substitutes by Pellegrini. Navas freshened up the attack even if it meant exposing the midfield a bit by removing Fernandinho, whilst Lampard’s introduction for Aguero speaks for itself, and helped City take a stranglehold on the game.

Alan ******* Green as the Match of the Day commentator? I DEMAND my licence fee back.

And so back to the Champions League, and another “must-win” game. Well, not quite, but defeat is not an option.

That Ronaldo banner fly-by – dear oh dear. Beyond parody.

Manchester City 1 Chelsea 1: Some Thoughts

Phew. Mere minutes away from Chelsea clinching the league title in September, an old friend came back to haunt the champions-elect and dampen the premature exclamations about how this season will conclude. In the end, both sides will probably be fine with the point, though circumstances made it feel almost like a win for the home side. It was of course ridiculously early to be handing titles to any particular team especially considering the narratives of the past two seasons, when a team has seemingly had the title wrapped up six months later than now and let it slip. What’s more, Chelsea started on fire a couple of seasons ago before fading away. I’d argue also that the fixture list has been slightly less kind to City than Chelsea so far this season. Advantage them though at this early stage. An Indian summer and a 4pm start made for a lively atmosphere (at times) and the team-sheet helped heighten the interest. I personally had not been overly-concerned about the absence of Mangala, as I felt he was being saved for after this “week of death” before being introduced into the side, especially as Demichelis is a more than adequate deputy. I was surprised therefore to see him start – a bold decision by Pellegrini and this was a day where he did not shy away from them. The other surprise was playing both Aguero and Dzeko upfront, as I had presumed, and hoped, for a 4-4-1-1 formation after our midfield was overrun last season by Chelsea and by other similarly skilful teams. My concerns were unfounded. Until the final twist, the match was textbook Chelsea, textbook Jose Mourinho. City had a passive dominance, controlling the ball, possession, the match, but without fashioning many chances. Once more, Chelsea seemed to have come for a draw, as they have done many a time in big matches, and which they have every right to do, especially as it was a policy that almost brought them all three points and a huge advantage in the title race. They defended excellently as you would expect, and then took their chance. So whilst City dominated the ball, they couldn’t quite create clear-cut chances. Almost, but not quite. It’s never easy against Chelsea. Apart from a header from Toure, when he could have done better, there was little of note. An Aguero chance in the 2nd half that almost then fell to Dzeko was the best chance before it all kicked off. Despite all that, I thought City played well as a team, they just couldn’t get the breaks on the day. Let’s be honest, once Chelsea took the lead, there can’t have been many City fans that expected anything other than defeat. For ten minutes or so, from the red card onwards, City lost composure and shape. The goal followed, Hart saved a header and the post was struck. They kept going though, and not all City teams in the past would have done that. I wondered why on earth Lampard was coming on, it made little sense apart from being an act of desperation, and that’s why I don’t manager Manchester City (well there’s other reasons too I guess). A day of fruitful substitutions and tactical nous from both managers, as none of the starting 22 scored. As for the red card that preceded the Chelsea goal, I can have few complaints. The first booking was soft, but once he had it, it was reckless to commit the foul that got him dismissed, a clear yellow card. How much of an arse Diego Costa is does not change that fact. Which brings us to everyone’s favourite topic. The referee. Eight bookings in a game that contained no nastiness was excessive, but there was an argument that cynical fouls merited such punishment. The problem is when you only apply rules to certain players, whilst others, Cesc Fabregas springs to mind, escape all punishment. Another strange performance, but I’m used to them now. As for penalty appeals, the Toure handball was not even close to a penalty, as he had turned his back and had arms slightly outstretched for leverage whilst being close to the shooter. The foul by Ivanovic was a penalty, it’s clear on the slo-mo replay, but I can understand it not being given. This is now the fourth game in a row that City have had legitimate penalty calls turned down. I’m guessing we won’t see another spate of articles this season about how lucky we have been. No, scrap that, we probably will. I find ex-players not celebrating goals rather tedious, but you could probably make an exception for Frank Lampard, whose connection to Chelsea is stronger than most. So despite not creating many chances, I thought it was a good City performance, as mentioned previously (though the stats show 16 attempts by City to Chelsea’s 6, with 4 on target and 2 for the visitors). Man of the Match was clear in James Milner. It continues to exasperate that with every England match we have to go through the same tedious routine of him being slagged off by ignorant pea-brained so-called England “supporters” as if somehow all of England’s decades of under-achievement are down to the occasional appearance on a football field of this one man, who is no better nor worse than most around him, and when on form, as we saw yesterday or in the Allianz Arena last season, is a class above. Against Chelsea he played in at least four different positions during the ninety minutes and never faltered, had a 98% pass accuracy, won 4 tackles, made 15 crosses and created four chances, plus an assist of course.

milnerheatmap
James Milner heat map

But the rest of the team also performed admirably, with no key weaknesses. Kompany and Mangala bossed Costa, and what a debut it was for the Frenchman, showing us why he cost so much, an athlete paired with strength and no little speed either. He won all his aerial duels, had a 91% pass accuracy, won 4 tackles, made 4 clearances and made one key pass. Fernandinho continued where he left-off in mid-week, and whilst the attackers did not have a fruitful day, they worked hard and were far from poor. Yaya Toure played well enough too after recent criticisms. More of the same (and a bit more on top) please Yaya. I didn’t find the Chelsea fans particularly annoying. A rarity indeed. Manuel Pellegrini however did irk somewhat by dropping his guard and attacking Chelsea. I think it was probably a dig at Mourinho, which is fair enough, he deserves no respect whatsoever, but there was no need to bring Stoke into it. Poor Stoke. So now Hull away. Time to start converting performances into wins. There isn’t much room for error left now in the coming weeks, but in the toughest of eight days, there has been little long-lasting damage done either. Bravo to Mark Clattenburg , for it takes a special level of incompetence to give that first penalty to Leicester City. Still, it was bloody funny.

These Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review Available on Kindle & in Paperback

 

“Huge admiration. His calmness and maturity won City that title. He set the right tone in the run-in, when the heat was on, and he showed great consistency, reassuring the players after the difficult start to keep playing in the same way. In press dealings he’s a gent – and not afraid to say what he thinks.” Jonathan Northcroft on Manuel Pellegrini.

Re-live another amazing season for Manchester City as their new Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini and his holistic approach to football saw City secure a domestic double, capturing another last-day title victory whilst breaking goalscoring records along the way. With thoughts on every match and a look at the issues that forever surrounded the club, the book charts the journey from the start of the post-Mancini era, the highs and lows of the cup competitions, the difficult start to the season and the nerve-wracking title run-in that culminated in the clouds breaking as the trophies were paraded around a very blue Manchester city centre.

Includes:
Three Bumper Bundles of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
City’s Squad Value
The A-Z of City Legends
The A-Z of City Villains
An Open Letter To Txiki Begiristain & Ferran Soriano
Two Open Letters to Ed Woodward
Harry Potter & The Theatre of Dreams
What Has Happened To City’s Departed Stars?
End of Season Q & A with Oliver Kay, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Gary James & more..

And much more…..

Buy the book on Kindle now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/These-Charming-Men-Manchester-Season-ebook/dp/B00KH8H22Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401187587&sr=8-1&keywords=howard+hockin

And in paperback:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/These-Charming-Men-Manchester-Season/dp/1499639732/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1401187587&sr=8-1

Bayern Munich 1 Manchester City 0: Some Thoughts

Damn. Beaten at the death (again) in Europe by a deflection. Football can be a cruel game.

Once more, European fever had not gripped my particular household. It has been drummed into all of us for years that this is the premier club competition, something every footballer and club aspires to, and the most exciting of prospects. Well considering we were playing away to a giant of the world game, I didn’t give too much thought to the game until the teams were announced. Domestic football still rules for me, as I’ve said many a time.

And so to the team. Thanks to the ridiculous trimming of Manchester City’s squad and enforced absences, there wasn’t a huge amount of leeway for Pellegrini, stranded in the stands. The initial surprise of picking Dzeko over Aguero soon made sense, as City needed a physical man up front to hold the ball, an outlet. The defence was as expected, and once more Navas was picked, perhaps slightly surprisingly over Milner. There’s probably a thought too that three games in eight days is too much for Aguero.

City started on the back-foot and should have been behind in the first minute. An accidental slight contact on Muller was enough for him to screw the ball wide, but it was a worrying start. City recovered but for much of the match Bayern had a moderate but not overwhelming superiority. City had their periods, and whilst the second half was generally considered the half in which we played best, I thought we had numerous promising situations on the counter-attack in the first half, but never made the right pass. To state the obvious, we were playing a world-class team and they were always going to have some chances. Few other teams can stop Muller getting chances few stop him scoring. We did well all things considered in my opinion, but we still need to take one step up to compete in the latter stages. We’re still not there yet. It’s coming though, as I briefly mention later.

Hart was of course excellent, apart from one spilled shot. He will continue to divide opinion because he will continue to make the odd mistake, flap at the odd cross or get beaten at the near post. But as he said after the match, he tends to be busy against German teams. He’s done plenty right this season, but he needs consistency.

Other notable performers were City’s central defenders, who cleared time and time again. Fernandinho got his mojo back and did a sterling job for two people. It’s of little doubt though that we missed Fernando, who is a recognised defensive midfielder. The extra protection he would have afforded the defence was apparent for periods during the match. Sagna too was fine, though still attracted criticism from some fans bizarrely. Silva was magical and could have scored with a diving header, but once more Samir Nasri had a forgettable game that was not terrible but had no highlights.

I’ve read that it was the right result as Bayern Munich deserved to win. But as they hadn’t ball in the net until a late deflected effort and we should have had a penalty, then that simply isn’t the case. Having more attacks and chances does not automatically merit victory, as City have found out to their cost in the past.

Making the opposition keeper work hard doesn’t merit victory either – that’s his job. It’s no different to a succession of great tackles in defence or a brilliant goal by a forward. United used to have quite a decent keeper who bailed out his team game after game, and I doubt many people called them lucky then. God knows how many times either that United went away in Europe and stifled games against moderate opposition and came away with a result.

And what’s more, the shot from Boateng was heading wide until it hit Goetze on the back. Jamie Redknapp blamed Kolarov for not tracking his man, but is it that surprising that he doesn’t wander over to a right-back position? It depends if you think this is a separate transition from the corner that preceded the goal.

As for the penalty, there’s no denying it was one – City don’t get the breaks in the Allianz Arena. If that had been given (and then scored), the whole outlook on the game would have changed and City would have been praised to the rafters. Fine lines.

Much of the above leads onto the theory that City should be more positive in such games, a theory born from the Barcelona home game last season. There’s no right answer of course, but applying caution away to a European giant that has previously ripped you to shreds is understandable. City would have been slaughtered if they had been thrashed after playing an attacking line-up. Such an approach can only work with utter discipline, and we didn’t have the personnel for that last night.

And linked to this: one of the most ridiculous things I have read is that Bayern Munich were “there for the taking”. Both teams were missing important players. One team was missing its manager too, though this wasn’t a major factor in the result. There was no distinct advantage for Manchester City, as neither team has started the season on fire after the World Cup. Bayern Munich are a huge force at home, there are few teams in the world that would win there (except City of course). A chunk of the team have just won the World Cup and they have one of the best forwards in world football and a brilliant new acquisition in central defence. They were not there for the taking. We were playing Bayern Munich away for god’s sake. But for a deflection, we would have got a point and become just the third team in 35 matches to prevent Bayern scoring at home. Hey, maybe I am setting my sights too low. Maybe this inferiority complex needs to be dropped and a different approach given to such games. But for me, that wasn’t a bad performance last night.

However, for all the luck of the winner, it can’t happen if the ball is in the opposition half. By defending and dropping back in matches like this, Manchester City are inviting such an occurrence. Plenty of goals are deflected or plain lucky – the way to avoid them is to be in possession of the ball and attack rather than defend. There is a huge psychological barrier faced by teams considered the underdog in situations like this that makes them panic and retreat to try and hold onto a draw. United utilised this for a decade and got many a late winner.

As for Ballack in the studio, there was a complete inability to analyse subjectively any of the action, such was his reluctance to criticise anything Bayern. A waste of time having him there then and yet again no City presence.

 

And so onto Yaya. An away game in Munich demands a talking point and so we got one courtesy of our bone-idle Ivorian (according to my twitter feed that is).

Firstly, the laughter. Ah yes, you can’t beat a bit of mock outrage, and the ridiculous overreaction to a player laughing after a defeat (in which he did not excel, importantly) is a case in point. No, for some people, the only acceptable reaction to a defeat is a slump to the ground, a flood of tears, an inconsolable blubbering mess laid out on the pitch and reluctantly dragged to his feet by an opposition player. A single tear must make its way down the player’s cheek as he throws his shirt into the crowd and applauds their endeavour (staying awake after 24 pints). Above all, look sad at all times. This extends to the journey back to England. There is nothing to smile about. You lot would probably ban laughter at a funeral if you had your way.

Okay, that was partially tongue-in-cheek. But for me, it was an overreaction. Toure was connecting with his old manager, and smiled and joked for a couple of seconds. Big deal. He was solemn, as the rules dictate, before and after. This was one early-season match in a season of 50+ games. I’ll cut him some slack on this occasion. Some City fans though wanted Yaya Toure sacked last night. Yes, that’s right, they wanted a £30m asset to have his contract nulled because he didn’t play to a desired level and for smiling afterwards. Sometimes I regret turning on my computer.

Now don’t get me wrong, Toure was poor against Bayern and has done little of merit this season in any game. He needs to improve, and quickly. There’s talk of a new deal, which should be earned. Right now, that deal should not be offered, as there’s too much hanging in the air after the summer and Toure has not entered the new season with it all behind him.

Some though seem to directly link this performance to the summer saga, but this performance could have happened in any season, and what’s more, it has happened every season. He often gets lost in games like this, against an energetic, pressing, skilful midfield, and this may have been as much the reason for his performance as other factors. He is not a defensive player (anymore). He in the team for his attacking abilities, for his drive from midfield that can devastate opposition teams. That’s not to excuse him totally. He has a languid style at the best of times but any team member has a duty to track and tackle and chase and Toure did little of that against Bayern Munich. It was a poor performance and our management team shoulder some blame too for not taking him off when Milner came on.

Toure has won us cups and leagues – he has been so important we may have won nothing without his contributions. For a few that means he now gets the benefit of the doubt. That was then, this is now. You don’t get credits for past performances, or a bye for a season. Some of the barrage of criticism he received after the match was not just due to a poor performance and him laughing afterwards though, it was linked to the summer and the denigration of his legacy. Suggesting Yaya might be a bit of an arsehole meant a few of us being labelled pillocks by one angry correspondent. But Yaya Toure doesn’t seem too bothered about his legacy with the club. He is in it for himself, and I have no problem with this. He wants to be remembered as a great, he is annoyed at the lack of recognition he gets and that extends to his national team and his continent’s perception to outsiders. He is not a diplomat though. He is not a Vincent Kompany, who is an ambassador for the club, for whom every action is considered and rational. He lives in a different world to us and will not be aware of how his actions are perceived. And for his actions in the summer he came across, irrelevant of how magnificent a player he is, as a bit of an ar*e. Sorry. So was Carlos Tevez, but he did it on the pitch (when in the country), and that’s all that mattered to me and it’s all that matters to me about Toure. The issue with me, the only issue with me, is his level of performance on the pitch, and it needs to improve. End of.
Personally, I see progress in this team. Not all City fans thought so last night, but I did. There is a train of thought that with City’s money we should be competing for this trophy right now. There is another train of thought that you have to grow into this tournament, that experience is key, and I think City are slowly doing that. Of course, a wretched performance at home to Roma will soon put that theory to bed, so only time will tell.

So the hardest game out of the way, but Roma’s emphatic win puts the pressure on City from the off, and a point in Munich would have given us a huge boost in the race for qualification. Three games without victory and Chelsea on the horizon, the vultures will be circling if City lose at the weekend. Of course no other team will have played three of the top five and Bayern Munich away in the first month of a season. The time to truly assess will come towards the end of the year.

 

VOTE NO.

Arsenal 2 Manchester City 2: Some Thoughts

Test one of three in the most challenging of weeks happily passed – just. A draw at Arsenal, a team undefeated at home in 19 games is no disaster.

My money-can’t-buy analysis of the game? What a bloody great match. Thoroughly entertaining and a draw probably the right result and Manchester City avoided the prospect of suffering successive league defeats for the first time in four years.

A very interesting team line-up though there had been plenty of rumours about it beforehand.  Frank Lampard surprisingly made his debut and City not surprisingly went with one man up front. Yaya Toure was late back from international duty so was left out – with a slow start to the season it wasn’t the biggest blow but this was a game and a City formation where he could really have flourished. Pellegrini clearly had an eye on the week ahead.  Other notable absences were of course enforced, which allowed Milner a rare start.

The game ebbed and flowed in the first half-hour. Arsenal shaded it, finding space in front of City’s defence and attacking with pace and flair as you’d expect.  Apart from a misplaced pass from David Silva that should have set up Welbeck for the opener, there was little in it though, despite what the commentators tried to suggest. Meanwhile, Michael Owen called City United by accident and I can’t say I’m even slightly surprised at his ineptness any more.

With Navas in the team to try and exploit Monreal, and Arsenal’s policy of leaving their full-backs stranded up the pitch, the tactic bore fruit as the half-hour approached, a sprint down the right and the perfect (slightly deflected) pass finding Aguero to put City in the lead. After that, I felt City were the better team and Silva could and probably should have made it two.

So City went into the second half ahead and predictably Arsenal were quickly on the front foot searching for an equalizer. City defended admirably though, and were looking fairly compact, but the game turned on two fouls not given followed by two moments of great skill. Aguero was clearly fouled in the lead-up to the equalizer but City still had opportunities to clear, Clichy was turned too easily and for the second game in a row, Hart gambled and lost by expecting a shot to the far post, as Wilshere “did him” with his eyes.

And then the Sanchez goal. The referee and his assistants must have been the only people in the stadium not to see Kompany nudged by Welbeck as he headed a cross clear. A few seconds later, the ball was in the net. You win some, you lose some. Naturally, Arsene Wenger felt the referee went against his team – it was ever thus. Great finish though.

Credit to City though, who fought back well. The equalizer came from a sublime header from Demichelis and thereafter City dominated and could have had three goals. The woodwork was hit twice and Dzeko should have scored late on before an offside Nasri shot into the empty goal.

So what many considered a weakened team did well and Pellegrini got the formation spot on, if not all the personnel. Lampard was a gamble that didn’t really pay off as he did not have the legs to cope with such a big game due to age and having not played previously. Navas was great down the right, though you still wish he’d beat his man more, Fernandinho, who I have had concerns about recently grew nicely into the game and it was great to see him get some playing time to help get him back to his best and over his summer horrors. Kompany was immense, Silva a joy in this formation and Aguero class as expected. Apart from the equalizer, Clichy performed admirably. Nasri did a good defensive job second half and worked hard, his non-inclusion from the start understandable as he has not performed well against Arsenal since leaving there, the juvenile boos failing to fire him up. Milner was Milner, and did his job admirably. All in all it was a good team performance.

As for the referee – he was terrible. City should have had a penalty in the second half, both of Arsenal’s goals shouldn’t have stood and Wilshere shouldn’t have made it to half-time. Two of City’s bookings were ridiculous though he was lenient on others at times, Milner the obvious example. This was a classic home performance, though much of City’s fouls were correctly given – what annoyed more was how he felt the need to talk to City’s players yet didn’t feel the need to do the same to Arsenal players.  He did get plenty right, but got plenty wrong too.

It’s rare that Pellegrini speaks out about anything, this only the second time he has had a go at the referee, after his Swedish outburst last season (followed by a sincere apology).  It is clear he feels this was two points lost, not one gained.

And so on to Chelsea, who already have a five point lead over City. Needless to say, we cannot afford to lose this, though it is not a must-win game. City’s start to the season has been tough, which makes the defeat to Stoke all the more annoying as they lost at home to Leicester this weekend. There’s a long way to go and it is far too early to be drawing conclusions from the table, but I saw enough from the Arsenal game to know that City will compete for the title once more. Before that, the small matter of Bayern Munich away. One upfront again please Mr. Pellegrini.

Have a shave Lineker.

Report: The Louis Van Gaal/Falcao Press Conference

Following another series of predictably sycophantic reports on Louis Van Gaal’s latest press conference, I have collated what happened for your convenience….

You could feel it in the room. A buzz. An essence. A sense of expectation rarely experienced within the stuffy confines of a media centre.

The sense that fireworks were imminent, a far cry from the snore-fest that accompanies any visit to United’s noisy neighbours down the road, a Pellegrini sound bite as rare as a misplaced Januzaj cross. This boring man. Back in the theatre of dreams, my eye caught that of Sam Wallace. A knowing nod from him spoke volumes. This was it, buckle in for the ride.

Louis, Louis wherefore art thou Louis?

And then in he came with his new protégé. His entrance was understated, as it always is with the Dutchman, a keen proponent of the Maoist philosophy of Chung Tao, which respects the entity of silence and careful travel. All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.

What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

It wasn’t planned, but it felt right, a spontaneous acknowledgement from all the journalists present – we stood as one and applauded. Applauded what? The situation, the presence of giants and the return of United’s DNA in human form. An invisible force had hauled me and others to our feet and it felt natural.

Van Gaal, who probably speaks 17 languages fluently, maybe more, can express his desires and aims in many ways, and when he described Falcao’s sumptuous two-yard tap-in from the previous day’s training session you could almost smell the goal, such is his way with words, and he exudes a self-confidence that journalists find irresistible. Falcao shared the air of authority. A quality of English way beyond anything that the other South American nomad of these parts, that waster Carlos Tevez, who was still mono-lingual after seven years in England, the idiot god I hate City. And somehow he fits – you get the innate feeling he is at his spiritual home now. He looks good in red too.
“You suit the kit,” I said to him timidly after the press conference and the Columbian flashed a charming smile my way. I swear that for a brief moment in time I went weak at the knees.

It is Louis van Gaal’s habit to peer intently at the player sitting beside him at a press conference table. At one point he seemed keen to stroke his new signing, to express his confidence in his very being. He loves those who have powers of self-expression – a valued part of the Dutch “total person principle”, so fundamental to his philosophy. Vorsprung durch technik.

That is why Danny Welbeck had to go – he was not a total person. Van Gaal was blunt in why he was sold, and you can only admire such honesty in a manager, bereft of riddles and clues, he says it as it is, unlike that moribund entity down the road.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

Van Gaal was clearly proud that Falcao is embracing the mother tongue. He demands this from his disciples. … the spontaneous round of applause which once more burst outwards from the collective seemed only natural. One good turn deserves another, after all. Somewhere towards the rear of the room, there was a crash and as it turned out, a journalist from a regional publication had fainted. Here we saw the other side of Van Gaal, a fatherly, protective side that would happily have you nuzzling in his bosom, as he enquired to the wellbeing of the fallen comrade. And when he then relaxed and said he would be fine, we all knew that he was right instinctively we knew.

And then it was all over, like a heady blur. The press conference was brief – that is Van Gaal’s way, and his way rules. This above all: to thine own self be true. Brevity is the soul of wit, after all.

And now onwards to QPR. Hopes of redemption lie at Falcao’s feet. No pressure. And as the manager strode confidently from the arena, his arena, a PR lady tried to pass him a drink which he kindly refused. She tried again, to no avail, and seemed taken back at his rejection.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Fifteen Rules To Improve Football

Let’s start off with a statement of the obvious – football is great. Right, that’s that over with. But however great it may be, there are always things that could be better. So as we celebrate the start of the season, fuelled by Sky Sports adverts and reminiscing about the good old days of penny tickets and rivers of urine flowing down the terraces, here’s a few things I dream of seeing to make the sport we love that little bit better in the coming years. None of it will never happen.

First off, ban Monday night football. Sky think we all love Monday night football. I recall Richard Key’s excitement when it made a triumphant ticker-tape return a few years ago. His instructions were clear. Get the bunting out and dust off that bottle of Asti Spumante you’d been saving for a special occasion, because this was the news we had all been waiting for. MNF is great if you are at home on the most boring night of the week, but for match-going fans it is utter rubbish. Any team’s season-opener on a Monday night instantly kills the buzz of the opening weekend. Thanks for nothing Rupert Murdoch.
Football games should only be played on a Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (except for Tranmere, who can play on a Friday).

Video technology. No in-depth analysis here, as you will already be bored senseless by the debate. The average football game only has about 60 minutes of play – to claim it will slow down games is nonsense. The FIFA viewpoint that if it is not available to everyone then no one can have it seems ridiculous to me. Better some have an advantage than no one – it is 2013, not 1970 – and the world’s biggest, most popular game is one of the few sports still stuck in the dark ages. The whole technology might not work, I accept that – but that’s what trials are for. At least the ball is rolling on this now, with the introduction of goal-line technology.

Get rid of the rule that an injured player has to go off the pitch – it was introduced in good faith, hoping to eradicate the feigning of injuries. It hasn’t, and it punishes genuinely injured players. It is stupid, pointless, and annoying.

Speaking of which, allow players to be treated on pitch while play continues, like they do in rugby. Should lead to a good bloopers video, if nothing else.

Whilst we’re at it, get rid of the equally stupid rule of a yellow card for taking your shirt off. Unless there’s a pointless message on a white T-shirt below. Then it’s a straight red card, especially if they are thanking a deity.

No one who is a club chairman or even on a club board should have a position of influence at the FA. Impartial? David Gill was at the Etihad watching Manchester City v Manchester United the other season wearing a United club tie.

When the season starts, the transfer window closes. How it is allowed to drag into the season is beyond me, and it not only creates tedious sagas like that of Wayne Rooney playing against Chelsea a few years back when seemingly on the verge of crossing the divide, but it also leads to an uneven playing field.

Ban all player interviews, on camera and in print. They are undoubtedly boring, and will be misquoted to gain a story anyway. I can live without hearing Wayne Rooney tell us how he is over the moon, and just stuck it in the onion bag, ya know? I really could not care one iota whether Patrice Evra thinks Samir Nasri would be a good signing, or have the slightest interest in David Beckham commenting on how Ferguson should get Wesley Sneijder, or about anything he has said, ever. This is not news. Save it for the ghost-written autobiography.

No substitutions should be allowed in injury time (unless replacing a player unconscious on a stretcher).

Ban all goal music. Punishment for clubs that flout this rule should be similar to those that go into administration.

Change the red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity that also results in a penalty – it is totally unfair to dispense a double punishment, especially if for a genuine attempt to make a tackle – a red card and a penalty seem too harsh a punishment for the defending team, though I should add I am not sure what the solution is.

Sin bins – trial them for acts of dissent. I am probably in the minority here, but I have always liked the idea of sin bins. I don’t think referees will ever have the nerve to show yellow cards for every act of dissent, as it will decimate the number of players on the pitch (at least for a short while). But sin bins provide an alternative, as 10 minutes a man down should hopefully force the players to keep their mouth shut (eventually).

A proper “Fit and Proper” test. Make it live up to its name – if you want to buy a football club, there must be assurances about financial security, plans for the club, and rules in place to prevent the selling off of assets.

More money to trickle down to the lower leagues, grass roots football, and for hiring greater number of coaches in this country. Secure the future of institutions such as the Football Supporters Federation by using some of this money rather than have its survival rely on the whim of Peter Scudamore and a few of his cronies.

But – get rid of the ridiculous levels of money swimming around the Champions League that has turned it into a cartel that preserves the power of the status quo, and make it a straight knock out too, so that we are rid of all the dreary and fairly predictable group stages. At the very least remove the back-up of 3rd place teams falling into the Europa League. Of course there is more chance of me being trapped on a bus with Sandra Bullock that will explode if it goes under a certain speed, but ultimately I end up being saved due to the bravery and cunning of Keanu Reeves.

Cheaper tickets, obviously.

A return to terraces, obviously.

Real ale at the Etihad.

 

I think that’s 18 rules. Sorry.

The Loneliness Of A Long-Distance Sky Sports News Reporter

The alarm sounded at 5:00 am, but he was already awake. Dread filled his stomach. The day had come, the one he had tried not to think about, the day he had tried so hard to convince himself would be ok. He knew it wasn’t going to be. September 1st, 2014. It was transfer deadline day. Twice a year, his worst nightmares came true.

Reporter F went through his daily routine. Shit, shower, shave. It helped to have a routine. He picked out a casual suit, but decided to dispose of the jacket. A nice yellow tie had been provided by Sky Sports News management, and he was obliged to wear it. Corporate image and all that. Yellow signified happiness and fun, said the email from HQ.
The crew would provide the food, but he had some provisions of his own – Monster Munch, scotch eggs, Lucozade and of course the hip flask. He hoped he wouldn’t need that, but just in case…after all, what if it was like deadline day January 2012, outside The Britannia Stadium? He shuddered as a cold chill passed through his entire body.

He met the cameraman and sound crew outside St James Park. They seemed pretty down too. Talk was fleeting and muttered. Everyone knew they just had to get through the day and that was that. Strong coffee was taken, and the odd pill.

The morning was ok – they usually were. Little to report, and the kids were in bed. Apparently the schools were off, so that didn’t bode well. Not well at all. They’d be here at some point – a case of when, not if. A gradual trickle and before you knew it, they’d be everywhere. Keen for their fifteen minutes of fame, they could stand in one spot for a hell of a long time. It could be worse. He could have been at Stoke. The poorest performer always got Stoke. He’d had it twice, and it wasn’t a day you forgot, nor got over easily. He still had the odd flashback.
The only thing that kept him going was the thought that one day he would be rewarded with the ultimate desk job – presenting from the studio. Jim White’s larynx couldn’t hold out forever.

There were tales of woe that had become legend down the years. Everyone knew them. The day Alan Irwin got his foot run over chasing after Harry Redknapp outside the Spurs training ground. Kaveh Solhekol molested by Rod Hull and Emu near Old Trafford. Gary Ciotterill having his ear flicked constantly for seven hours by a man in a mankini as part of a Paddy Power PR stunt. There were many more. One day he’d laugh about all of this, as a nurse fed him his daily medication.

But today Reporter F had been given the Newcastle gig. God knows why, he lived in Bournemouth. He had to stay in a Travelodge overnight. Anyway, there were rumours of possible late deals, but nothing concrete. It was trying to rain, whatever that meant. No deals announced in the morning, none on the horizon either it seemed.

At 1pm though, his worst fears were realized. He saw them out of the corner of his eye whilst making some notes. Four teenage boys. No, make that five. One was wearing a curly hair wig and another was carrying an inflatable sheep. When they saw the camera and Reporter F, they started cheering and quickened their pace. And so it began. The boys stayed there for seven hours, fuelled only by Haribo and sheer stupidity.
They were soon joined by others. They all seemed a tad simple and shouted stupid things a lot when he was talking to camera. A couple had made banners, bless them. I LUV KATY, HI MUM, TOON ARMY 4EVA, JONNY SUCKS D…..

When he was off-camera they looked at their phones a lot and insulted each other. The day trundled on. More teenagers arrived and gurned at the camera. Alan Pardew arrived at the ground but wouldn’t acknowledge Reporter F. He tried to get a word with the assistant manager but he said he had no news. No deals had yet been done. He talked to camera about a possible move for Hatem Ben Arfa. As he talked, he felt a tickling sensation in his ear. He swatted away what he thought to be a fly. No, his mistake, a young man was poking a blue dildo into his ear.
At one point he had to stop mid-sentence and tell those behind him to keep the noise down. Soon after, he was hit by a cream éclair. During his next report a kid shouted “I love pussy” as he discussed possible arrivals. Why did Sky keep coming to him? He had nothing to say!

Men don’t cry, his father had always told him. Men don’t cry….

Other rumours came and went. Deals fell by the wayside, no one moved despite talks. He was wasting everyone’s time by being there and speaking to camera. As dusk fell, the children drifted away. Not all of them though. A few hardy souls stayed to insult him further. One mooned the camera from the safety of a grass verge. Back in the studio, Natalie Sawyer, clothed entirely in yellow, was forced to apologise to viewers. His feet hurt now. He was laughingly called a roving reporter yet he had barely moved in twelve hours. Cramp was setting in. His stomach yearned for some food. A half-eaten Haribo tangfastic bounced off his shoulder.

 

It was long dark now. Reporter F stood outside a deserted St James Park. Behind him a man in a luminous jacket swept some twigs from the road, whistling as he worked. A white van trundled past. A security man looked vacantly towards the camera, whilst nibbling on a Twix. He could hear beeping – another van was reversing somewhere in middle distance. A Mercedes pulled up! Could this be, possibly, Alan Par… no, it was someone from the catering department. Reporter F solemnly spoke into the camera. As suspected earlier in the day, Newcastle would not be doing any business on transfer deadline day. Was it raining? Or did a solitary tear run down the cheek of reporter F? No one could be sure.
He mouthed to the camera “Help me. Someone please help me.
A pigeon crapped on his shoulder. The camera faded to black.

Football In The Bible

Genesis

  1. In the beginning God created the Premiership and BSkyB
  2. And God said, Let there be light entertainment: and there was light entertainment.
  3. And God saw the light entertainment, that it was good: and God divided the light (Division 1) from the darkness (Divisions 2-4).
  4.  And God called the light THE PREMIER LEAGUE TM, and the darkness he called THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
  5. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, synthetic and real and also creosote markings.
  6. And God said, Let there be floodlights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night. And let them be to give light upon the pitch: and it was so. And let not Malaysian betting syndicates remove this light; but it was not always so.
  7. And God created in his own image Richard Keys and Andy Gray, though he made Richard with great hair, even on his hands.
    Andy, less so.
    For many years the two reigned in paradise, but wisdom was gained through disobedience at severe cost. And the lord saw that misogyny was their forbidden fruit and their downfall was a snake.
  8. But before all could progress, new laws were set in place for the citizens and the devils and the pensioners and the toffees and the canaries and the Geordie tribe and the Mackems from the north and the gunners and their neighbours the spurs and more.
  9. And God spoke all these words, to all, but mostly to the citizens:
  10. The Eight Commandments
  11.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Moss Side, out of the land of debt.
  12. You shall have no other gods before me, not even David Silva.
  13. You shall not murder Sloop John B songs, even if the city is yours.
  14. You shall not commit adultery, unless you are a footballer or Russell Brand.
  15. You shall not steal, unless it’s a leverage scheme and a loose Fit & Proper test has been passed.
  16. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour by pretending they have lots of empty seats.
  17. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife unless you are Ryan Giggs, or his male or female servant unless you are Ryan Giggs, his ox or donkey unless you are Ryan Giggs, or anything that belongs to your neighbour, unless you are Ryan Giggs.

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  1. Then hear thou in heaven, and of thy people Manchester, that thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk (with a swagger), and give rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people for an inheritance and also as a curse. And a great plague was sent down on Manchester, and it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and then another 40 days and 40 nights, and so on and so forth for all of eternity. And yet still when the rain did relent the lord said until his people that there would be a hosepipe ban. And further plagues were sent down on the people, first swarms of glory-hunters then Monday night football then Jim White.
  2. But before all this came a man with false hair to rule over the Citizens. And at first all was well and Peter (Swales) doth say this is easy, but it was not easy.
  3. The people did lose heart and rebelled, refusing to enter Maine Road and crying for a new leader who would take them back to the promised land.
  4. During these years of wandering in the wilderness, Swales’ patience was continually tested by the murmurings, grumblings, and complaints of the people. At one point, Swales’ patience reached its breaking point and he sinned against the Lord, in anger against the people, by signing Steve Daley.
  5.  When hence he did depart, their saviour arrived, but nothing was well still.
  6.  The citizens turned and took a journey into the wilderness by the way of Division 2, as the LORD spake unto them: and they compassed administration many days and many months. And the LORD spake unto them, saying, “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.”
  7.  Now rise up, and get you over the black burn. And they went over the black burn.
  8. And the space in which they came from York, until they were come over the black burn was two years;

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  1. And Jesus provided many miracles, not least the return to the Premiership. And he did feed the 5000 (Fulham (H)), yet still they did run out of chicken balti pies by half-time. And Jesus said: “I have compassion for these people: they have already been with me 90 minutes and have nothing to eat, and they have been with Stuart Pearce for three years and have no goals to see.”
  2. And Jesus expelled the money changers from the temple, accusing them of turning the temple into a den of thieves, especially those ***** at Viagogo.
  3. Thaksin was expelled into the wilderness, and he fled to the east. And all the while Sven begat Ulrika and Nancy and Faria and begat anyone who moved.
  4. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which were in Moss Side and now Beswick, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
  5.  And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Shinawatras, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Mansours, and the Sheikhs, and the snazzy F1 race, and the desert, and that appalling Michael Owen helicopter video on Youtube.
  6.  Seriously, look it up. It’s terrible.
  7. If thy people go out to battle against their enemy, whithersoever thou shalt send them, and shall pray unto the LORD toward the Citeh which thou hast chosen, and toward the council house that I have built for thy name. And my followers will not care about defeat, both now and the previous week, because of inebriation. And that shall be OK.
  8.  And so it was noted in Leviticus (19:27): “ You shall not round off the side growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard, and to maintain the strength of your bitterness and lies your moustache should never diminish.”

rob

  1. Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at the theatre of dreams, which belongeth to Trafford, and was pitched between Manchester and Salford, in the north.
  2. And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Alex, of Govan, whose height was six cubits and a span.
  3. And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a nose as red as the blood of the citizens of Bethlehem;
  4. And he had by him Wayne of Rooney. And Wayne had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And this brass was as old as the hills of Mezualeb.
  5.  When Graham Poll and all referees heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid. And all the men of the FA, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid.
  6. Now Roberto was the son of that Aldo and Marianna; and he had two sons, who he placed in the reserves. And he asked what shall be done to the man that defeateth this Philistine, and doth knock him off his perch?
  7. And the people answered him after this manner, saying, so shall it be done to the man that killeth him, thou shall be inducted by Garry Cook into the Manchester United hall of fame.
  8. And Roberto put his hand in his bag, and took thence a billion petrodollars, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
  9.  So Roberto prevailed over the Philistine with silva and more, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of Roberto. And during this period did all witness the Exodus.
  10. And so it was only 3-1, but the crowds did depart. It was only 4-1, yet more had left. It was only 5-1, yet the empty seats were plentiful. And then it was 6-1, and the land was bare. And so it came to pass that it should have been 10. And they did thank themselves that it was not 10, and considered the good fortune of the illegitimate.
  11.  And it came to pass in the eighteenth year after the children of England were come out of the land of the football league, in the fourth year of Mansour’s reign over the Citizens, in the month May, which is the fifth month, that Roberto finished building the house of the champions*.
  12. And the City had no need of the sun, neither of the blue moon, to shine in it: for the glory of petrodollars did lighten it. And the people did say Agueroooooo. And the word of the citizens came to Roberto, saying, “Blessed are the owners, and may all their teas be chippy teas”.
  13. And the lord did say “Drink it in. Go forth and celebrate, for you will never see anything like this again.” And they did drink it in and they continued to drink it in and some are still drinking it in.
  14.  But the rejoicing did wane as a great curse returned on the team. Roberto was betrayed by one of his apostles, probably the kit-man, who did travel to the Sun and tell of his master’s tyrannical ways.
  15.  And so from a cold land came a holistic man who brought with him many goals.
  16. And the knight finally departed, not only because he was of great years and his powers had waned, but also because he transgresseth by wine. But the fear of his followers, who numbered three billion and ten, were assured not to worry, as on the mountain of Sinai in the summer of the 14th year of the millennium the chalice which no one yet knew was poisoned was passed to the chosen one: David from the town of Glasgow in the north. And they did proclaim that the legacy did live on.
  17. And so it came to pass. But they couldn’t, because they were English, so the chosen one led his followers back into the wilderness. But behold! There was great rejoicing in the west as it came to be that they now had an official drinks partner for America and Asia.
  18. And a star rose in the east, and the Lord called him Adnan. And he came from the land of Albania and the land of Belgium and the land of Kosovo and the land of the English.  And he told the Lord that he did not know from whence he had come. But the Lord and all around him saw that he shone brighter than any other star, and he guided the wise men to Bethlehem and beyond, into the realm of the cusp of the Europa Cup.
  19. Blessed is the war chest for it shall break open and restore the power of those in red. And the growth begins and it shall be organic, both through history and success, in the west and especially in the east, where their star shines brightest. And it will be so as is it is in their DNA. And the chosen one went forth once more and he proclaimed “we are back!”
  20. But then they were defeated at home to Swansea.
  21.  And David did proclaim (Psalms 3:6): “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” And he had by him the holy trinity, so all was well in the kingdom.
  22.  But more support was coming in the dark. For, lo, David did raise up the Men In Black, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
  23. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall force Rio Ferdinand to sign a new contract. But they shall not force Nemanja Vidic to stay as he leaves the chosen ones.
  24. And having slain some families on Wembley Way they doth proclaim: our work is done. And it had to be so, as they did not return to the land of the twin towers for a long time.
  25. Numbers
  26. But the blue tribe had become too powerful, and the other tribes doth protest at this power, which had not been earned how they wanted it to be. And thus Michel pushed for new laws, for he was angry as he had a woman’s name.
  27. And one man who protested hard was Arsene Wenger, but to no avail, as in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And the weight of Arsene’s coat was five thousand shekels of gold.
  28. The special one did also speak, and he did speak some more, then some more and the lord said to the people “please shut up this interminable bore” but the special one was not for shutting up and he doth speak some more.
  29. Jesus, crosses, blah blah…..