Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Weekend Observations - 7-9 November 2009

1. No defending that kind of performance.

At the start of the season, City were making some serious noise about finishing in the top 4 and maybe even sustaining some sort of title challenge. Quite simply, that will not happen with their current defence. With their new found wealth, Mark Hughes could and should have done a lot better than spend 40 million quid on a defender who is half the player he was in 2004 and one who masks his obvious defensive limitations with his contributions at the other end of the pitch. The fact that Toure scored one of City's goals against Burnley – with an assist from Lescott no less – just goes to show how misplaced their priorities are as a central defensive duo.

Dont even get me started on Wayne Bridge.

2. If anyone finds Darren Fletcher's dummy, please forward it to Old Trafford

I've never made it a secret that I have no time whatsoever for the Manchester United, their manager or any of their players. However, as the country's top side over the last two decades, it's hard not to give credit where it is undoubtedly due. Aside from constantly building great sides, Sir Alex Ferguson often knows how to get the best out of what are perceived to be mediocre footballers. None more so than Darren Fletcher. In the last 12 months, Fletcher has, in the continued absence of sicknote Hargreaves, established himself as United's most important midfield player and certainly most improved player overall. However, he is far from perfect and still often guilty of clumsy and reckless tackling that often sees him penalised (and often not). So for him to blame the comments of Arsene Wenger for the fact he (Fletcher) was stupid enough to clatter into Ashley Cole and subsequently give away the much debated free kick that led to the Chelsea winner on Sunday just seems like a case of the petty childish reactions that always seem to go hand-in-hand with a Manchester United defeat. If Fletcher is worried about the comments of managers influencing referees decisions against him and his club, then maybe he should start looking a little closer to home.

3. Open Arse

Arsenal are potentially the best side in the county. Their phenomenal goal-scoring ability so far this season has shown that they certainly don't miss Adebayor as much as many so-called experts predicted that they would and could potentially go on to win the league and potentially break all kinds of scoring records in the process. But isn't that the same old problem with Arsenal? Since their unbeaten title winning campaign way back when, the only thing we ever seem to hear from Islington is about the potential of the club and the potential of the players season after unsuccessful and disappointing season. For all their goal-scoring exploits, Arsenal have a horrible tendency to lose concentration and concede at any given time. Fair enough when you're 4 goals up, letting one in is hardly a disaster and it seems churlish to complain given their recent hot streak but surely when you're 4-0 up in the 89th minute, the easiest thing to do is shut up shop and make sure you get that clean sheet? Sloppiness cost them against West Ham late on and will almost certainly do so before the season is out. Despite the firepower going forward, Arsene Wenger needs to be aware that his side will not score 4/5/6... every week and needs to make sure his team sort themselves out defensively otherwise we will be talking about what this side could potentially do once again next season.

4. Unpredicta-villa-ty

It's virtually impossible to predict what Aston Villa will do next. When you look at a home defeat against Wigan, a draw at Wolves, and just last week a defeat at West Ham, you cannot even imagine them hitting the dizzy heights of last season. But then with a home win against a supposedly unstoppable Chelsea and a convincing 3-1 victory at Anfield, Villa definitely look as though they could make a decent enough attack on the sacred champions league places. A rampant performance against an admittedly atrocious Bolton this weekend could be seen as a statement of such intent if it wasn't a real possibility that they will drop points against Burnley next time around.

5. Chelsea good, not great yet.

Ok, they may be top of the league, they may be 5 points clear, they may have one of Europe's best managers, they may have already beaten 2 of their supposed 'big four' rivals but I'm not going to jump on the band wagon and say that the league title is theirs to lose just yet. They've already shown their susceptibility in the league twice this season and they have been far from convincing in their last two games; against a very poor Atletico Madrid in Europe and of course an injury-ravaged Manchester United this weekend where they needed a questionable goal to secure the points and looked second best for much of the match. A five point gap is far from insurmountable and of course, January and the African Cup of Nations could well be their undoing (although they do have some generous fixtures during that period). Trophies are not handed out in November.

6. "Forlorn, Forlorn! With hope in your hearts...."

That said, I think it's safe to say that Liverpool's title challenge is pretty much dead in the water and it doesn't seem to be getting any easier with their next set four league fixtures

Man City (h)
Everton (a)
Blackburn (a)
Arsenal (h)

I'm not saying these games are not winnable (having the 'tougher' games at home will be welcome) for Liverpool but they are hardly games they would have hand picked right now given their current form and injury problems. Add to that two must-win champions league games sandwiched in there and you cant see them not dropping yet more vital league points after last night's controversial draw with Birmingham...

7. People need to accept that diving will be part of the game until there are rule changes.

Speaking of Liverpool, David Ngog's actions in winning the decisive equalising penalty have unsurprisingly filled many a column inch this morning. It was indeed a dive no question and one of the most blatant and disgraceful I have ever seen despite what some people might say about riding clumsy challenges and avoiding injury etc. But it barely warrants discussion as far as I'm concerned. Whether the Frenchman is indeed ashamed of his actions, he can rest easy knowing that from a FOOTBALL point of view, the matter is over. He's not the first player to do, certainly wont be the last and until some kind of consistent and coherent retrospective punishment can be implemented for dives/simulation that are missed by refs then it will continue to go on regardless of how many articles are written and experts go on TV to talk about it for days upon end. When UEFA charged Eduardo after the Celtic incident, the Croat was cited for 'deceiving the referee' which Arsenal successfully and rightfully argued was impossible to prove. Such a broad charge would extend far beyond diving and you'd soon be forced to charge players for wrongly claiming throw-ins which of course is ridiculous. There needs to be a specific, acute charge of simulation which can bring about retrospective punishment. It doesn't make sense to me that you can do this for violent conduct but not for diving. I also refuse to buy into the whole 'if the ref has seen it, nothing can be done afterwards' nonsense.

On a side note, it would appear that Ngog is being crucified in much the same way Eduardo was but barely a word has been spoken about Darren Bent's dive at White Hart Lane on Saturday. But of course, English players don't do that sort of thing do they?

8. In the Brown stufF?

Hull v Stoke. If someone told you 5 years ago that this would be a premier league match you would have laughed them out of the pub but not before they bought you a drink as punishment for their insane rantings. It would be the equivalent of me telling you Chesterfield v Hartlepool will be contesting 'Super Sunday' in a few years.

Credit to both teams to making it into the big time and it's a testament to the managers that have got them to where they are. Which makes it all the more perplexing that Phil A-lighter-shade-of Brown is seemingly under the pressure he is right now. We all know about how awful their form has been in the last 12 months but the fact they stayed up last season and given the amount of dross at the bottom of the league this time around, Hull City certainly have a reasonable chance at a third season in the top flight. For a team that nearly went to the wall some years back, their current standing in English football must be beyond the wildest dreams of everyone on Humberside. Whatever you think of Brown's awful tan, awful singing, awful demeanour and questionable stories of heroism, he's done a fantastic job at the club and deserves more than to have his job so publicly scrutinised. I guess Brown is the victim of impatience and ungrateful nature of modern football...

10. "Have you Fer-got everything I've done for you?"

...Which brings me delightfully onto the now former Peterborough Manager. Ferguson has 'left' Peterborough this morning after his side slumped to defeat at Newcastle on Saturday leaving them bottom of the Championship. On the face of it, it would appear that the Scot wasn't doing a very good job. However, having achieved two successive promotions with the club, you'd have to say that is a tad unfair on poor Darren.

Mind you, given who his father is , I'm struggling to feel much sympathy.

Rumours are abound the Ferguson is being lined up to replace Brown at Hull.

11. David James' shirt

If David James continues to show up in the luminous pink atrocity, I really hope Pompey do go down.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Naming Wrongs

NB: Now then. It's been a good long while since I've written on this here blog. I make no apologies for my lack of commitment and laziness but I seem to have caught the writing bug again so more regular updates could well be forthcoming. Of course, in the spirit of true cliched footballing terminology concerning returns from injury, I may not be 'match fit' just yet in terms of my output but I'm sure it is only a matter of time before I return to the epic rantings of days gone by.

Apologies to William Shakespeare:

"What's in a name? That which we call a football club
By any other name will play as bad"

So the geordies are seemingly up in arms over the fact that their 'home' has been renamed. In a move that has sparked anger amongst the long suffering Toon Army, the ever-popular Mike Ashley, not content with relegating the club and trying to flog it to anyone that would appear to have more money than sense, has decided to re-name, or in business bullsh*t speak 're-brand', the historical St. James' Park stadium as Sportsdirect.com @ St. James' Park.

Not very conversational is it?

Aside from the fact it is an awful name and sounds like a spam email address (Although probably not selling Viagra given the club's troubles staying up last season...), the outraged fans have suggested that it is an attack on the heritage of the club and even went so far as to stage protests before yesterday's win over Peterborough.

Ashley's actions reflect the direction modern football has been heading down for many a year now. A sport that is more concerned with branding, commerical interests, marketability, and quite simply how much money can be made rather than sporting endeavour and achievements on the pitch. The 'business' of football extends far, far, FAR beyond 22 men kicking a leather ball around a patch of grass for 90 minutes.

Rightly or wrongly, this is debate for another day. What bothers me most about this whole situation is the misplaced righteous indignation of both fans and commentators alike. I alluded to the idea of loss of heritage line that has been trotted out all week but I'm struggling to see why people are so upset. The name addition (note: NOT name change) means nothing. Quite simply, the stadium is still on the site of St. James Park, the place is still called St. James Park albeit with a rather unnecessary addition, and most importantly, the fans(not just of the Magpies) will STILL call it St. James Park. In fact, the only person who this name change will affect is Richard Keys who will be obliged to introduce the ground as so when Newcastle feature on Sky. And to be honest, who really cares about Richard Keys?

This has no impact of the history or 'heritage' of the club, the careers of Milburn, Robson and Shearer nor the subsequent careers of future Newcastle heroes.

Indeed, the club's much maligned owner hasn't exactly covered himself in glory since taking charge of the club. However, for the sake of this argument let's take Ashley's explanation for the 'rebrand' at face value. He claims it will maximise the commercial potential of both his team and his sportswear empire. Leaving aside the fact that all the subsequent negative publicy has made that extremely doubtful, surely this means he had the best intentions of the club in mind when coming to this decison. The more succesful Sports Direct become, the richer Ashley gets and the more money goes into the club right? If the club benefits overall then what is the problem? I suspect that the other club involved in naming rights discussions this week wont have their fans reacting the same way. You have to wonder if the protest is against the idea or the man behind idea. To me, it just looks as though the fans just want any other excuse to vent their collective spleen at their less than illustrious leader.

If the agenda isn't one against Ashley, once more you have to suspect that the self-proclaimed best fans in the world have some kind of complex about how they are percieved and feel they need to kick up a stink just to show the rest of us how much they think love their club. All this needs now is for Kevin Keegan to show up in some capacity make the whole ridiculous charade complete.

I also struggle to understand the reason why those up north consider stadium sponsorship/branding to be the work of some advertising Beelzebub when they happily walk around with replica shirts emblazoned with Northern Rock of all bloody things on their front.

Who knows? The name change may even bring about a change of fortune and see Newcastle actuially win something in the modern era...