Jumping for Moyes


It is hard to imagine a way in which David Moyes’ tenure at United could have gone any worse in his first half season at the helm. Granted, their star striker is yet to bite anyone’s neck or get banned for performing a controversial celebration. But in a month that has seen the Red Devils get thumped by their noisy neighbours and dumped out of both domestic cups, some form of sympathy must be felt for the new boss.
Clearly mistakes were made in the summer. Fellaini may still come good, but his signature came too late and was not enough to lift a squad who had clearly been overachieving in Fergie’s swansong.
The people above Moyes should have acted more quickly in getting their new manager in. By the time he arrived, half the summer had gone meaning the club were on the back foot when it came to signings. Look at the success his predecessor had in bagging top players early doors.
Both Van Persie and Hernandez were bought as soon as the season had finished, the former gaining a full pre-season to get to know his teammates, whilst the latter would have cost twice the price had he been signed after the last World Cup (where he played a blinder).
A similar story can be seen a City, as Pellegrini purchased a whole host of new players quickly, so that they could ensure the Etihad would be a fortress from gameweek one.
So what has happened to the champion squad of last season? Have players lost the intensity shown under the greatest British manager of all time? This seasons performances certainly highlight the extra effort levels Sir Alex could squeeze out of his troops. Look at Messrs Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. They each look at shadow of their former selves and look ready to hang their boots up.
Meanwhile, players such as Cleverley, Young and Valencia just don’t look like United players. It says a lot of the current squad that the team has been carried this season by a half-crocked Rooney and an 18 year old wildcard Adnan Januzaj.
The nadir surely came last Wednesday however, when at first it looked as if Hernandez had turned the tide of turmoil at Old Trafford. A rare clanger from De Gea looked to have sent the Black Cats through in the Capital One Cup, yet Chicharito popped up with a last gasp goal to take the game to penalties.
What transpired was one of the most calamitous collapses ever seen on a football pitch, as four out of five United players missed their spot kicks. Where were the more experienced heads in the shoot out? Evra, Carrick, Valencia, Evans all failed to volunteer their services. Of the old guard, only Darren Fletcher can hold his head up high, scoring as he did the only Utd penalty.
Moyes’ glum face was a picture and one can only hope that the signing of Juan Mata can lift David and his players for the second half of the season.
Fourth place and a decent Champions League showing, and the domestic cup won’t Mata.


Image conscious


Just like Ronaldo, I love to recline on the armchair with my top off and twelve pack out…that’s beers rather than abs of course.  You would hope that the above photo is staged to show CR7 in all his chiselled glory, eye candy for his many adoring fans across the planet, rather than an example of how the Merengue likes to relax in his own home.  Anyway, wouldn’t you take advantage of a perfect pair of pecs in order to make a bit more money?

Ronnie exemplifies the modern, metrosexual footballer, both sportsman and demi-god. Using more hair gel that Ross from friends, the Galactico is a PR dream, combining good looks with superb skill.  With a more extensive wardrobe than Beyonce, Cristiano fills both the football and fashion magazines with images of himself in various states of attire. A slow-burner at United with his dyed streak of yellow hair and slight frame, it was Ronaldo’s move to Madrid which really opened up the fashion possibilities for the number seven. Replacing miserable Manchester with Spanish sunshine enabled CR7 to show off his full range of open-necked white shirts and aviator shades. Rather than feel threatened by the arrival of the similarly slick Gareth Bale, Ronnie overshadowed the Welsh one with his superior tan and more expensive wash bag.

Yes, welcome to the world of the modern day footballer. A place where the price of your ‘beats’ is as important in the dressing room as your ability on the pitch. Footage of a Premier League squad getting off the bus on matchdays looks like a roll call of rap stars ready to DJ at their local nightclub.

And it doesn’t stop at headphones.  Take Joe Hart, the City and England goalkeeper. Being as he is, the only player in the national squad without a skinhead, the stopper is now as well-known for being the face of Head and Shoulders as he is as England’s number one. Surely he must be getting some serious stick at the Eithad for appearing in such a cheesy commercial. Perhaps his recent dip in form correlates with the frequency with which Hart has to leave the pitch for a quick shampoo and rinse.

Yet this willingness for players to sell themselves is by no means a recent revelation. I’m sure you all remember images of an oiled up Freddie Ljungberg plastered on every bus stop from Brixton to Bangor during the early noughties. It was always hard to take the svelte Swede seriously on the pitch after he proved to display a superior tackle off the field than on it.

Recent rumours suggest that Fred the Red (that’s the former Arsenal midfielder, rather than the Man U mascot)  pipped football’s fashion icon himself, David Beckham to the post, in gaining the Calvin Klein contract, due to Goldenballs being too famous a name for the underwear giants.

Despite his bashful behaviour, Becks has certainly not been shy in coming forward off the pitch when it comes to marketing his beautiful bod. Perhaps in the early days, Victoria realized that her husband’s ability to resemble a clotheshorse with manners could make up for her lack of singing talent.  With his own range of H&M undies, David’s popularity has ‘swelled’ with the old sock down the boxers trick being seen in city centres across the country.

So as we get set to brave the cold conditions to watch players prance about the pitch in sponsored gloves and personalized boots, is it any wonder we hark back to the halcyon days of Bobby Charlton’s combover and Chrissie Waddle’s mullet?  A time when men were men and the idea of high fashion was a splash of old spice and a dollop of brylcream on your bonce!

Hodgson’s headache



    Moldova at Wembley?  It doesn’t excite the masses as much as it used do. In fact what with the super-hyped, over-publicized Premier League stealing all the headlines these days, it is any wonder Roy Hodgson can call on any England players at all.
   A few days after the exciting end to the transfer window madness, we all have to wait another week to see our new acquisitions make their debut. Instead, we must hope that our million pound man avoids getting crocked in that ‘vital’ qualifier against a European minnow.
   I do feel sorry for Roy as the pool of players  he can choose from becomes less and less each international break.  The media have made much of this lack of numbers to call from, with statistics showing the influx of foreign owners employing foreign managers who in turn fill their squads with Johnny Foreigners increasing all the time. But part of the problem could lie in the overinflated prices Englishmen go for  (I still can’t believe the £35 million Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll after seeing him play six good games for Newcastle and twice for the National team).
  Is it any wonder that new coaches look abroad for bargains, when British talent is so pricey? Look at the bargain Laudrup found in Spain in the shape of Michu, one of the Premier League’s star performers last season, who was snapped up for a bargain £2 million.  It is therefore understandable that much of the business done this summer involved recruiting outside of the British Isles.
    The limited pool of talent on show in the Premier League means that often players like Andros Townsend or Ross Barkley get the England call up far too early and are jettisoned when they’re no longer flavour of the month. Having said that, I think it’s hard not to feel delighted for Rickie Lambert who, after a dream debut, played a blinder again on Friday. I wonder whether he tires of the condescending nature of some pundits, who keep banging on about his rise from Non-League obscurity and mature age (at 31, he’d be a stalwart in the Italian team for another seven years!)
  The nation’s desperation for success has also meant that new players who do perform well quickly get too much pressure put on their shoulders. To a certain extent, this  could have been what stifled Rooney’s progress since bursting onto the scene at Euro 2004. Our Wayne was quickly heralded as the answer for club and country after perfect performances in Portugal and he has suffered from heavy criticism when his form has fluctuated ever since.
   Surely we have to follow the Turkish model and introduce a minimum quota of home-grown players for each squad in the top league. That way, at least when a Jack Rodwell or Jermain Defoe joins one of the big boys, they won’t spend their days warming the City and Spurs benches whilst ANOTHER new signing takes their place.  We can but dream!

Window Shopping


So another crazy transfer window has come to a close, in a busy evening of moves. Like the first day of the January sales, managers have come out of the shops with any purchase they could get their desperate hands on,  some not even looking at what they had bought until arriving home (to find that the cut price mop they bagged was actually Marouane Fellaini).

It was nice to see that the rolling news channels, who often spend the day regurgitating the same two items, actually have something different to say, as crazed clubs all threw their car keys on the table and came home with a different ‘player’.

Never has a deadline day been so active outside of ‘arry Redknapp’s living room, with Wenger finally opening his dusty  wallet to sign someone decent in the form of the marvelous Mezut Ozil.  It will be a relief to Arsenal fans that the Professor has finally splashed the cash, though perhaps another attacking midfielder to join Rosicky, Podolski, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta and Oxlade-Chamberlain, will result in a somewhat crammed 1-8-1 formation.
Elsewhere, Sunderland and Palace were by far the most prolific clubs in the transfer window (acting like a sixteen year old with his first pay cheque)  as a  squad-sized, fourteen new players was bought by each.

Di Canio seems to be on a one man (fascist?) crusade to transform the Black Cats. However, he may have a bit of explaining to do to the penniless Mackem parents, recovering from having blown £50 on a new Sessegnon shirt.
Spurs did most of their business early on in their risky ‘spend before you get paid’ policy,  using up the expected Bale millions.  Whilst, for my money, Everton did the best deadline day business in securing the trio of Lukaku, Barry and McCarthy to fill the afro-sized hole left by Fellaini’s departure.

So with a terrifying  total of £630 million quid being spent this summer, all those managers can rest easy knowing that they finally have a settled squad. Nobody’s head will be ‘turned’, nor will their playmaker hand in a untimely transfer request six minutes before the deadline….until it all starts again in January!

Out on Bale


    So Gareth has finally got his goal, signing for Los Merengues yesterday in the most drawn out story since the BBC producers thought they’d pitch a London-based soap to rival Corrie back in 1985. 

     £85 million.  Just five more than president (and dreamer) Fiorentino Perez paid for Ronnie, suggesting perhaps he was more intent on splashing the cash in response to his Catalan neighbours (who bagged Neymar for peanuts)  than bidding an accurate amount for the Welsh wizard. Don’t get me wrong, The ex-Spurs star is a good player and was well-deserving of his double player of the year gongs last season.   But in the cash crazy climate, is the Welshman worth eight Daniel Sturridges? Or three Robin Van Persies?

      Despite the FIFA Fair Play ruling coming in, it is hard to put a real value on players these days, yet even now, the £2m Swansea paid for Michu last season was great business, as was the small change Liverpool paid for the league’s top scorer so far this campaign, Sturridge.

    I must say I’m happy Bale finally got his move, as he was looking a forlorn figure, dressed as he was last week in pink hat and t-shirt, like a teenager lost in Disneyland, hiding at his agent’s gaff.  He deserves to do well, but will be under massive pressure with the world record price tag. 

    Madrid have a custom of putting on the full ‘Galactico’ show  in which the new signing is paraded at a packed stadium like a penguin on parade at the zoo. Gareth looked a little overwhelmed today as he went through a medical on film and had a ball thrust into his hands at the Bernabeu for the customary keepy uppies (he was a bit limited with the tricks in comparison with the Zidanes and Ronaldos who’ve performed all manner of circus tricks in previous presentations. instead, Gareth held onto the ball for dear life as his shyness showed in front of the world’s media

   Still, at least the newest Madridista can’t do any worse than Messrs Carroll and Torres, who also cost a bomb  one transfer window not long ago, but failed to explode like one. 

One game wonders


            Thierry who? Walcott’s shown with his brilliant hat-trick last night that he is the future of English football. Yes the Arsenal boy has become a man. The Beckham era has ended and the Walcott era has begun. 

    This was some of the hyperbole found in the papers the day after Theo played a blinder against Croatia in arguably Capello’s finest hour as England manager. The Gunners’ match-winning performance was rightly heralded in the press at the time, but five years on, the ex-Saints academy player looks more Gareth Gates than Bale in the current Arsenal side.  Walcott still has explosive speed, but like a dog running after an imaginary stick, Theo often enters the box suddenly realising he has left the ball ten yards behind him.

    Yet the hat-trick hero joined a long line of players who , like a sporting version of the KLF (topping the charts in 1988 with the memorably awful ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis) make one stand out performance, then spend the rest of their career living on the memories.

   Michael Owen had a fantastic early career for Liverpool and England scoring goals aplenty for club and country. Yet it was his solo World Cup wonder-goal v Argentina in the 98 World Cup, for which the diminutive dynamo will best be remembered (despite the Three Lions actually losing said game on penalties). Of course, the racehorse owner (and miracle self-publicist – it still amazes me how he managed to stay in the Premier League for so long despite becoming less mobile than Geoff Capes in his pomp) was also the main man in Munich for England’s 5-1 humiliation of Germany three years later (so humiliating that the night’s opponents made it to the 2002 World Cup final). Yet the baby-faced boy’s latter career was spent warming the (surprisingly comfy) benches at Old Trafford and the Brittania.

     Other players who have done the business for ninety minutes and then seemed to suffer from overhype have been and gone. Karel Poborsky’s (deflected!) lob at Euro 96 gained him a lucrative contract at United the following season, yet he turned out to play like the spitting cartoon puppet Pob when attacking the Stretford End come the Autumn. Fergie had obviously been on holiday that June, as in the same summer he signed Jordi (son of Johan) Cruyff, who joined his new Czech teammate in flattering to deceive at United.

      This worrying tendency to think that one good game makes a career has happened with greater frequency as the England national team become more an more predictable. One header from Andy Carroll in the last major tournament was perhaps not enough to remind Kenny Dalglish why he had invested enough money to buy one and a half Robin Van Persie’s the previous January.  Even Steve Stone managed to find his way into the squad for Euro 96 after playing well at Nottingham Forest for all of seven seconds.

    So as we approach another round of international fixtures, I have my fingers and toes crossed that the same fate will not befall Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend, who have been selected by Hodgson for the first time, after playing well in the opening round of Premier League games. I won’t hold my breath!

Tit for Tats


                   Watching a live game of football in any country these days and you’re likely to see more ink than you’d find in a Staples warehouse. But when did it become fashionable for every footballer going to cover their entire body in cheap tats?

   Many feel that it was Goldenballs himself who pioneered this body art obsession. Beckham claimed that it was his way of expressing himself having had such a sensible youth. Rumours that it was merely his way of teaching Victoria to read are as yet mere speculation. 

    Is the modern footballer so bored and overpaid that all he can think of doing is defacing himself with the name of his pet goldfish? And there are some truly terrible tattoos out there. Djibril Cisse of Liverpool, Sunderland and QPR fame is probably best remembered for his outrageous haircuts, however you may not know that he also gets a leopard spot tattoo done every time he hits the back of the net. (Perhaps the lack of available skin explains his regrettable record for the Hoops last season).

   The subject of recent transfer talk Wayne Rooney has the words ‘Just Enough Education to Perform’ inscribed on his forearm. Wazza has allegedly given the all clear for a similar sentence to appear on his other arm ‘JEVTFS’ – Just Enough Vocab To Form A Sentence’.   Whilst Chelsea’s record signing ‘El Nino’  Torres is such a big Lord of the Rings fan that he has ‘Fernando’ written on himself in Elvish, the language of Mordor.  This could explain why he has not been Baggin(s) the goals in since signing for the Blues.

     Where will this tattoo trend end? With John Terry sparking a fight with an opponent, who recognises his wife’s phone number stamped onto the Chelsea captaIn’s forearm during the pre-match handshake?  Luis Suarez advertising colgate toothpaste on his gnashers? One thing’s for sure, I’d happily bring back the days of mullets and moustaches anytime!