Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Golden B*llocks

As the season pulls into the the final straight with league tables taking shape, cup competitions in their closing stages, title races getting more exciting, relegation battles more nail-biting, managers being sacked, teams in administration and Liverpool actually winning, the supposed biggest football story, not for the first time, centres around David Beckham.

It looks like Becks' dream of representing England in South Africa this summer have been dashed as the former captain twanged his Achilles tendon while turning out for Milan Old Boys at the weekend. Since the injury, news and sports news channels alike have provided wall-to-wall coverage of everything from the man in question limping away from Milan to the surgery itself in Finland to the diagnosis of injury. He'll be out for six months apparently.

Notice how I managed to sum up all the relevant information in just 76 words and didn't need to send a correspondent to stand outside the Finnish hospital in question to fail to add anything new or interesting to this story? Sky Sports News and poor cold Gary Cotterill, take note.

On a personal note, I've never been a big fan of David Beckham. Ever since he burst onto the scene for The Salford Bay Rowdies back in the mid-nineties there was always something that rubbed me up the wrong way about him. It wasn't the pretty boy looks, the Colgate smile or perfectly styled hair. Fair play to the guy for looking good; I can relate... Ok, maybe I can't but I feel I need to get it out of the way that my anti-Becks stance is not based on his appearance.

My dislike for young David was more than that I had for other Rowdies player. Perhaps it was because his ascension coincided with the pinnacle of my dislike for all things Manchester red following their second double in just three seasons back in 1996.

When he scored THAT goal against The Team Formerly Known As Wimbledon FC, I sneered in my early adolescence, refusing to be impressed and maintained that the goal itself was good but 'not that good' (Halfway line goals had been scored for years and continue to do so without such over the top fanfare) and ultimately meaningless considering the Rowdies had long since wrapped up said match. Furthermore, Neil Sullivan was in goal. I would have had more faith in my laundry basket to save the shot. The constant daily replays went on for what seemed like an eternity (Bare in mind, this was before even the days of Sky Sports News and YouTube!) and only exacerbated my contempt but at least I knew that this latest prissy-haired United player would only be confined to the back pages, right? RIGHT?


All of a sudden, David Beckham was all over the gossip columns being linked with celebrity women all over the place. From actresses to, of course, pop stars. Eventually he hooked up with one fifth of one the greatest musical abominations of all time and the rest as they say, was history. 'Posh and Becks' had entered the English lexicon never to depart (what is it that made Victoria Adams so posh in the first place by the way? Have you heard her speak??).

Overnight Celebrity

I'm pretty sure that for the genuine sports/football fan, Monsieur Beckham's private life meant absolute bugger all. Yes, he was a pin-up for teenage girls up and down the land but he wasn't the first and certainly not the last footballer to be so. So why the continued fascination? At the end of the day he was just another footballer with a famous wife yet the coverage they received would make you think they were royalty! This more than excessive bombardment simply fuelled my dislike for the boy.

Eventually, I thought, this kind of thing would die down surely. The next flash in the pan football golden boy will soon be upon us and before we know it we'll all be sitting around saying 'David who'?

Zero to Hero

But then France '98 rolled around and the moment that transformed his life/career into the outrageous circus that we have to unfortunately put up with today. Had Beckham not been sent off against Argentina, he would not have been roundly vilified by the entire country and we would have had none of the almost sacrilegious talk of his so-called 'resurrection'.

As an aside, despite of my personal bias against him, I always maintain that the decision to send Beckham off was a harsh one. The tabloid witch-hunt which followed was out of order considering it was a very, very weak decision by the referee. Always need a scapegoat in this country though, don't we?

What followed were tales of how he bravely defied the odds and spat in the face of adversity. Clawing his way up from rock bottom to become England Captain and stand atop the mountain.

Such sycophancy from the same people who decided he was the spawn of Satan after the controversy of St. Etienne .

Then came the glitz, the glamour, the marriage and the blatant attention-grabbing names of the children. The boy from Leytonstone had been replaced by an brand. 'Brand Beckham' if you wish. Commercial contracts came in by the truckload.

Once upon a time, kids would watch a football match and try and imitate the skills of their heroes in school the next day. But such was the proverbial pulling power of our Dave that it was his ever-changing hairstyles that would be replicated in playgrounds up and down the country rather than his footballing ability.

And it wasn't just children. Hell, even I bought a pair of white Adidas Predators following a Beckham endorsement. The term 'metrosexual' became the norm as men realised there was nothing wrong with them if they chose to look 'pretty'.

Beckham pretty much paved the way for the football celebrity/wag culture we have to suffer today. The recent John Terry and Ashley Cole scandals are merely a by-product of Beckham's manipulation of the media for his own exposure and personal gain.

But alas, it seems I have become guilty of the very thing I criticise. I've been babbling on for ages and have barely mentioned what he is actually paid to do for a living.

All this fuss made over the man might have some merit if he could actually be classed in the upper echelon of footballers. David Beckham is without doubt a good footballer but great? Not for me thanks.

Mentally, he is almost peerless. There are few players as hard-working and committed as Becks (no-one gives more for the shirt blah, blah, blah) but for actual ability the man is seriously lacking. Being able to kick a ball (By which I mean his excellent range of passing and set-pieces) should not mask the fact that he is severely limited in many other areas of his game. A one-dimensional player who cant tackle, has no pace, cant beat a man, is rubbish in the air and is questionable from the penalty spot doesn't not deserve the praise he gets as a player. At the risk of indulging in the improbably, if FIFA ever implemented a no over-head-height rule, where would Beckham be? If someone like Wayne Rooney were surrounded by such fanfare it would still be grating but understandable giving his undoubted footballing qualities.

It's as if the celebrity has infiltrated the football side of things to the point where the adverts he appears in and what his wife is wearing are considered 'Sports News'. For someone of such limited talent it is bizarre that every move he makes in the world of football is treated like some ridiculous soap opera? Aside from the furore following France 98, a simple dressing room row with his manager (because such a thing NEVER happens in football...) made both front and back page news and had far too many column inches speculating about a mysterious scar about our hero's eye.

Going Global

The Rowdies later sold Beckham to Real Madrid to become one of their 'Galacticos'. Cue mass hysteria. The fact that Beckham was being mentioned in same breath as the Figos and Zidanes and Ronaldos of this world was laughable and it's no secret that Mr. Spice was merely in place to sell shirts. Was it a coincidence that Madrid's form dipped dramatically after Beckham signed? One token league title at the end of his tenure to me does not equate to a successful spell in the Spanish capital.

Concerning that title, one of the great myths about Beckham was that once again, he faced up to the adversity of being dropped by Madrid manager at the time Fabio Capello only to come roaring back to help his club secure the title. Actually, anyone who actually watches Spanish football and saw the title run in that season would tell you that Beckham's contribution was nothing compared to that of the free-scoring Ruud van Nistelrooy, the midfield stability of Mamadou Diarra, the emergence of Gonzalo Higuain and the goal-keeping solidity of Iker Casilas. In fact, the game that actually clinched the title saw Beckham SUBBED while Real were 1-0 down. The player who replaced him, Jose Antonio Reyes, ended up bagging 2 goals in an eventual 3-1 win.

Beckham then decided to take semi-retirement and follow the dollar, dollar bills to LA to play for a team comically referred to as 'The Galaxy'. Beckham's reasoning was that he, with his profile, was to help enhance the popularity of soccerball in the states. Instead what has happened is that you have a load of people walking around wearing replica shirts with BECKHAM on the back, 90% of whom have probably never even watched a minute of MLS (Which incidentally, is probably of no better standard than the Saturday league I play in). What has really been enhanced here? The popularity of football in the States or the popularity of 'Brand Beckham'?

Fast forward to the present day and needless to say it the experiment was a resounding failure with even his team mates criticising his contribution. The had led to him running back to Europe with his tail between his legs to make rare cameo appearances on loan for an ageing and poor AC Milan side. People would argue that if he's not good enough to start for this side, then what business does he have in a team with serious ambition of winning the World Cup?

One man, three lions, no glory

But yet, up until Sunday's unfortunate injury, he has managed to somehow stay in the England fold and courting controversy over his ever-increasing number of England caps.

Being so self-absorbed and more concerned with what he is doing off the pitch while being devoid any leadership of leadership qualities on it meant that I was never on board with giving him the armband. However, I've never had an issue with Beckham PLAYING for England. His set-piece and crossing ability tends to bear fruit on occasion and I feel it says more about his potential replacements that he is still in consideration. Wright-Philips has regressed, Pennant (who?) was never good enough, Bentley couldn't seem to maintain his Blackburn form at Spurs, Lennon finally learned what 'end product' was but became crocked and Walcott still has a long, long way to go.

Last February, Beckham reached a personal milestone of England caps (equalling the 108 won by the late, great World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore) and yet again, this could not pass without an unnecessary amount of coverage. People felt it necessary to draw no end of comparisons which, in my opinion should be put to bed with the simple fact that Bobby Moore won the World Cup in an era of no substitutes while Becks' most recent caps have been nothing more than generous tokenism by Capello. Furthermore, with the exception of Germany '06, Beckham had flattered to deceive in the previous international tournaments in which he featured. The penalty against Argentina in 2002 was indeed a great moment but not even the most one-eyed Beckham fan can say he performed with any distinction in the far east.

Beckham's other great moment was the last minute free-kick against Greece to qualify for Japan/Korea and it would be remiss of me to ignore that but the fact that almost a decade on this is still the best moment of his England career (an EQUALISER against GREECE!!) makes you wonder why his selection or non-selection is such a point of contention.

Green and Golden Balls

But then again, what is straightforward in the life of Beckham? Just last week, after the Rowdies thumped AC Milan 4-0, the main talking points were not about how good the performance was, how good Wayne Rooney was/is, how far the mighty Milan have fallen but rather the fact that Mr. Beckham chose to wear one of those stupid green and gold scarves at full time. MAN WEARS SCARF ON COLD NIGHT IN MANCHESTER made front page news not just in the red tops but also the broadsheets. Of course, the reason for this was that it seemed to suggest Becks was throwing his support behind the pointless anti-Glazer protests currently taking place whenever United play. The man himself has since come out and claimed he never knew the significance of the scarf despite, in his words, being a Manchester United fan. I very much doubt he has been sitting in a cave with his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut because pretty much everyone in football knows the significance of those colours.

In truth, he may or may not be supporting the cause. It's irrelevant either way. What in fact he was actually doing by donning the scarf was making sure that the night and the 'story' was about David Beckham and the actual football was merely a side issue. Not for the first time either.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Weekend Observations 27th-28th February 2010 pt.2

Part One here.

Common sense? Come on!

This weekend saw the Carling Cup final between Premier League Champions Manchester United and fellow decorated stalwarts of English football Aston Villa. People like to dismiss the competition and show it little respect but the fact that two big sides are contesting the final yet again makes me think the people such as Arsene Wenger (Last trophy? Last cup final?) are wrong to disrespect and dismiss it as a nothing trophy.

Mind you, the credibility of the competition is dented when THREE Premier league games are taking place on the same day. No domestic football should be played on the day of a cup final. I'd even go one further and say no football during the entire weekend. These things need to be kept sacred. Who will respect the Carling Cup when people are more concerned about the battle for fourth place on the other channel?

Anyway, following that faux pas by the authorities, the man appointed to enforce the rules got his first major decision wrong. Forget all that happened afterwards, Vidic should have seen red when he gave away the penalty in the third minute. Of course, United kept their full 11, came back from 1 goal down and won the trophy once again. Boring!

The non-sending off is still a major talking point. We'll never know how the game would have panned out if Vidic had walked. Owen may never have got the equaliser or got injured allowing Rooney to come on and win the game.

Dowd is one of the few referees I actually have any time for in the premier league but he got this one glaringly wrong. The BBC were quick to suggest that previous comments of Taggart may have swayed him but I'm prepared to give the official more credit than that. The only reason I can think of for Dowd not issuing a card is that he didn't want to be accused of 'ruining' a cup final so early on. If the incident had happened up the other end, his decision would have been the same.

Some have suggested that he applied 'common sense'. I hate this idea that upsetting the status quo rather than applying the rules as they should be is somehow sensible. Had the incident taken place in the 75th minute, he would not have hesitated to send Vidic off. I don't see where common sense comes into play when you are supposed to be enforcing rules.

Dowd went on to have a poor game which begs the question as to whether he was prepared to handle the pressure of a cup final which contrary to belief is not like every other game. As a ref especially, your decisions face far more scrutiny than if you are taking charge of a midtable scrap between Sunderland v Stoke (disrespect very much intended).

A couple of other lines from the game and repercussions for England. I doubt many people who hadn't taken much notice of Steven Warnock prior to the Ashley Cole/Wayne Bridge/left back problem, but anyone who saw Antonio Valencia make mincemeat out of him will not be too optimistic of his chances against the world's best if he does make the England line-up.

Never mind just being in the squad, James Milner could start for England on current form.

And finally, while I don't want to indulge in the vomit-inducing sycophancy directed at Wayne Rooney (there's plenty more than enough of that elsewhere) this new found heading ability (8 in his last 9 games?) bodes well for the World Cup.

Bad weekend for the villains

Not only did a first Wembley final in ten years go sour but in the race for fourth Villa's chances took a significant hit thanks to wins for the abovementioned Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham this weekend.

I only saw the highlights of the Liverpool game which looked attritional (editorial licence. I know it isn't a word but you know what I'm getting at...) at best. Liverpool haven't played a match worth watching in months and it is unfair to put Sam Allardyce and football in the same sentence.

Spurs on the other hand were brilliant for 45 minutes on Sunday and 2-0 at half time didn't do justice to their dominance. We all know and are bored silly of Pompey's problems but allowing a player as good as Niko Kranjcar go for just £2million is criminal. Every time I've seen him this season he has looked brilliant and while his Croatian counterpart Modric (rightly) gets all the plaudits, Kranjcar's contribution to Spurs' lofty position cannot be underestimated.

The most interesting subplot at White Hart Lane however is the Pavlyuchenko situation. Seemingly loved by fans and in brilliant form. Harry Redknapp's snide 'when he wants to' comments and failure to celebrate when the Russian scores do not go unnoticed but he has had to swallow his pride and accept the importance of Pavlyuchenko in his team. Of course, Good ol' 'Arry would have you believe that it is he and his managerial genius that is somehow responsible for the player's rich vein of form.

Landon DOH!-novan

As good as Spurs played in the first half at White Hart Lane, the second half saw them allow Everton back into it and there is no question the toffees should have got an Equaliser when on-loan Landon Donovan cemented his appearance on every football blooper DVD for the rest of time with one of the worst misses you are ever likely to see. From about half a yard he somehow managed to hit the side netting with the goal gaping when it would have been easier to score.

As an afterthought, If Liverpool miss out on fourth by a couple of points to Spurs, how fitting would it be that an Everton player's miss could be a major factor?

And finally...

Jinxes and such.

Back in January, I wrote about how brilliant The Mighty Nottingham Forest had been this season and how they were enjoying a fantastic unbeaten run.

Their league form since then:
P 7 W 3 L 4

Prior to that, I cheekily suggested that Valencia might be in the title race in Spain.

Their league form since then:
P 6 W 2 D 2 L 2

This weekend Forest were hammered 3-0 by Leicester and Valencia 4-1 by Atletico Madrid.

You'd be wise to no longer read what I write because it's clear I have no clue what I am talking about.

TEAM IBYSS - Weekend Observations 27th-28th February 2010 pt.1

Lots to talk about this week...

Not that type of player? - They never are.

I'm certain you've read the countless articles and opinions on the shocking incident at the Britannia on Saturday. Indeed, more learned people than myself have eulogised and dedicated countless column inches to 'the tackle' but I feel it would be remiss of me to ignore it without providing some kind of comment so bare with me.

For the record, I genuinely believe that Ryan Shawcross didn't mean to break Aaron Ramsay's leg. It was a heavy touch followed by a reckless swing. Ramsay's touch was too quick and the Stoke man got his timing all wrong. However, Shawcross knew exactly where Ramsey was and knew all the risks of flying in like the proverbial steam train. He may not have deliberately broken his leg but in no way was the challenge an 'accident'. There may not have been intent but there was certainly excessive force.

Whether you mean it of not, if you're making tackles that result in an opposition player's leg hanging in obtuse angles then you cannot deny the dangers involved in your actions and should be punished accordingly. If you break someone's leg with a reckless tackle that fails to win the ball, whether you meant to or not, you deserve a red card. I wont use the example of the careful driver who jumps a red light once and kills someone 'not being that sort of driver' because I'm sure you've read it elsewhere. Wait a second...

Naturally, Arsene Wenger was displeased post-match and his comments have somehow come under more scrutiny that Ramsey's injury. It's a shame that people cant put their petty football rivalries, racism and bias to one side and would rather slate Wenger than focus on the issue at hand. Are Arsenal targeted? You'd be a fool to argue otherwise. There are countless examples of managers and players publicly stating that being over-physical and 'bullying' the frail Gunners is the best way to beat them.

He also has about the countless compound injuries suffered by his players not being a coincidence. Opposition players don't set out to break legs but they are certainly less mindful when they come up against Wenger's team.

This makes a sham of the ridiculous 'he's not that sort of player' rubbish spouted out immediately following incidents such as these. I don't doubt Ryan 'The Angel' Shawcross loves his mum, gave half his earnings to the fund for this weekend's earthquake in Chile and volunteers at the homeless shelter every Tuesday but when he crossed that white line on Saturday and made sure poor Ramsey wont be walking without assistance for the coming year, he became that sort of player. Even if it was just for 30 seconds. Why? Because of the aforementioned belief that he needs to 'get in the faces' of the admittedly more timid Arsenal players. (incidentally, I'll leave to you to judge whether he is that sort of player or not)

Surely if someone who 'isn't that sort of player' causes such horrific damage then that backs up Wenger's point that his team are singled out for 'special treatment'. I don't agree that they play the so-called 'best football' but they are undoubtedly blessed with a number of technically gifted footballers who also happen to be smaller and lacking 'muscle'. As such, a player's psyche is undoubtedly conditioned to go in harder against Arsenal's tricky softies and bully them into submission.

Deliberate or not, I don't believe for a second that Shawcross is making that sort of tackle against other 'good footballing' sides like Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs or City is he?

Don't get me wrong, I love a good physical game as much as the next man but when these sort of injuries become a regular occurrence, it's not 'part and partial of the game' like some would like you believe, but a major problem. There's a difference between being hard and being downright violent. If we continue to foster this aggressive 'man and ball' mentality to football challenges then more of these injuries will occur and 'The Best League in the World' will see some of it's best stars fleeing these shores for fear of being crippled.

All the best to Ramsey and here's to a swift recovery by the way.

Shake Rattle and Roll (I think all the Bridge related puns have been exhausted haven't they?)

The other main talking point from the weekend that cannot be ignored was the on-going soap opera in West London. I was thinking we could call it 'The Bridge' (Ok, one more).

For those of you who were living under a rock with your eyes shut and fingers in your ears, John Terry did naughty things with the baby-mother of his former team mate and good friend Wayne Bridge. This all came out in the press and Terry was stripped of the England captaincy as a result. Bridge, having moved to Man City before the scandal broke, recently made himself unavailable for future England selection. Quite understandable that he doesn't want to be anywhere around Terry but as luck would have it, Man City were scheduled to face Terry's Chelsea this weekend. The world went crazy, not over how they would fare against each other during the game, but rather whether they would conduct the customary handshake before kick off.

They did not.

Or rather, Bridge refused. Well done lad.

For the record, I think the pre-match handshake is a contrived and pointless ritual.

Team Tevez? Team Bellamy???

One of the most embarrassing facets of the whole saga was the way people felt the need to declare the support for either of the two protagonists in question with the cringe worthy TEAM BRIDGE vs TEAM TERRY t-shirts, banners, facebook groups and whatever else.

For anyone keeping score, or those that actually care about football rather than handshakes, the most exciting game (well, second half) of the season took place as the battle of the chav lottery winners went the way of City thanks to a brace each from Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez (I'm firmly in Team Tevez by the way). Lampard also bagged a couple for Chelsea as the score finished 4-2 to the away team. In keeping with the freaky nature of everything coming in 2's, 'the bloos' also had 2 men sent off. As for the two men at the centre of it all, Bridge put in an professional but unspectacular performance while Terry's recent poor form continued as he was partly at fault for at least one of the City goals. Some would say he was guilty of some TERRYble defending. Others might blame the HILARIOus goalkeeping.

After the game, Craig Bellamy hilariously stuck the boot in on Terry.


Yes, the irony was not lost on me either.... nor apparently John Terry.

A word on Chelsea fans, following 'handshake-snub-gate', some of the Stamford Bridge faithful decided to boo Wayne Bridge for the simple crime of having his best mate sleep with his ex-girlfriend. The nerve of the man. One would think he hadn't provided them with one of the greatest moments in the limited history of the club.

Part Two to follow...