Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Walking Man: Julio Cesar

gutted

Sometimes the game is simple. It can be stripped bare to its base components. Sometimes it just hurts to lose a game. Julio Cesar felt this so viscerally on Wednesday night that all he could do was apologize to his teammates and fans, then trudge off into the night, back home. He walked past his car, through the departing fans, with only his thoughts for company.

I would eloquently describe this as being ‘gutted’. And in a basic way, I know just how Cesar felt. As I’m sure does anyone who has ever played a game in which they were so personally committed that to lose felt like abject failure. Or, something approaching that for a while. And to suspect you had some hand in that failure? Thoroughly disconsolate.

That’s why I enjoy hearing of reactions to that feeling like Cesar’s ‘stroll of shame’. Sometimes I don’t want to hear the carefully rehearsed answers about ‘giving it our best shot’, or ‘manning up’. Sometimes I just want to see a player look like they got punched in the stomach when they lose, just like I do.

continue reading…

Advertisements

Restoring a Reputation

Think, think about it

Last Sunday marked the return of Roy Hodgson, swinging his leg over the saddle at The Hawthorns and taking the reins at West Bromich Albion, as they bid to avoid relegation. He returns to Premier League management just over a month after being relieved of his duties at Liverpool. Hodgson now faces the dual task of ensuring the Baggies remain in the league, whilst also attempting to repair his damaged reputation, following his turbulent time as the Reds’ boss.

Following last year’s league campaign with Fulham it seemed Hodgson could do no wrong and was voted the LMA Manager of the Year for his achievements. However, during the intervening eight months he has undergone a media metamorphosis from Kindly Uncle Woy, to a bumbling Mr. Bean character. It has been a cruel deconstruction of a solid coaching career.

continue reading…

Ian Holloway’s Cup Final Football

‘I want my players to never stop attacking and this new system I’ve brought in is wonderful to watch.’ (Aug 2009)

Ian Holloway has a question to answer. It’s not from a journalist hoping to prompt another madcap turn of phrase ( “Rory Delap is like a cake!”), or his sage advice on the state of the game (“Let’s have chimpanzees as referees!”). Instead, the question he faces is can his new system really withstand the examination of the Premier League? Holloway has always maintained his preferred style is a combination of winning and entertaining. But with Blackpool now bottom of the form table, off the back of five straight losses, his conviction is set to be tested until the end of the season.

continue reading…

England Players Show No Interest in Playing

Miss the badge

Following one of the most remarkable weekends in the English Premier League, a growing list of players have withdrawn from both the Under-21 and full England sides for friendly games this week. Stuart Pearce, England Under-21 manager, has meekly suggested a choice must be made between the EPL and international football. Unfortunately for Pearce the choice has already been made, 1-0 to the Premier League, and it didn’t even go to penalties.
continue reading…

Joe Cole: A History of an Uncrowned Prince

Uncrowned Prince

Wednesday night marked the coronation of Luis Suárez, Crown Prince of the Kop. Meanwhile, Joe Cole sat in an empty castle cursing his wretched fate. As servants hurried away the remnants of the evening’s feast, Lord Cole mused on fickleness and fortune.

* * *

July 2010 was a period of great uncertainty in the Scouse Kingdom. The Spanish Duke Benitez had been deposed and the Machiavellian barons, Hicks and Gillett, were trying to auction off the crown jewels. There had been little fanfare when the House of Hodgson took the new throne; indeed many questioned its legitimacy. But one event drew the people together and offered an optimistic future – Joe Cole signed. The most technically gifted midfielder of his generation, the English Ronaldinho, had thrown his endorsement behind the new regime. Even the Duke of Gerrard modestly described him as better than Prince Consort Messi.

However, Cole’s start was an ignoble one, dismissed in the opening battle against Arsenal after an anonymous 45 minutes. Upon his return, he took up a regular position, beginning six straight skirmishes, before being felled in Bolton. He survived, but the regime did not. During this crucial time, a constitutional crisis arose questioning the legality of the Barons’ rule. After much protestation, the Court decreed Liverpool were to be ruled by the Knights Who Say NESV.

It was a period of increasing optimism, as the Red Empire appeared to be rising once more. However, Lord Cole was becoming increasingly marginalized; absent from affairs of State due to ill health. Rumours also began regarding his monarch’s own health. Specifically that he was suffering from a peculiar case of leprosy, whose symptoms could only be relieved by intense rubbing of the hands and face. His condition grew worse until he could no longer carry on.

* * *

When Hodgson abdicated (by mutual consent) the clamour was for a return to the old lineage, namely King Kenny of the Dalglish clan. A descendant of strong boot room stock, many view him as the rightful heir. Unfortunately for Lord Cole, he is not known to suffer fools gladly. Despite belief that Cole’s infirmity continues, he has sat behind King Kenny on three out of five occasions. Yet, in each one, the young squire Jonjo Shelvey has featured in his stead.

It is apt that Lord Cole’s last contest was also the last of Hodgson’s reign (a dismal rout at Blackburn). The promise of both quickly evaporated as circumstance contrived to undermine them. Both have become intrinsically linked to the old regime. Although there is still a glimmer of hope for Cole, there is a sense that it’s only a matter of time before he too is exiled. History does not remember the losers and on Wednesday night Cole’s visage faded a little further.

Hopes & Expectations: January Frontmen

The January transfer window was defined by clubs throwing caution, and sack loads of used fifty pound notes, to the wind. So what did all that money buy and what can reasonably be expected from the top five wallet-emptying forwards?

Darren Bent, Aston Villa (cost £18m, rising to £24m)

Expectation: Four key goals. Villa are just five points clear of relegation and still twelve from the safety of forty points, which adds up to four key wins. If Bent can provide vital goals to get those wins he’s paid for his transfer fee. Simple. A winning goal against Fulham at home on Saturday would be a great start.
Hope: Another fifteen goals to match his tally from last season would make him the bargain of the window (if he’s not already). Ideally, he could also bring the best out of Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Gabby Agbonlahor. A new England front four?

Fernando Torres, Chelsea (cost a cool £50m)

Expectation: Stay fit, stay in form and stay classy (less of the ‘I’m at a big club now’ talk). If Torres can continue to look like the recently invigorated player, scoring three in his last four games, Chelsea could well threaten a late title tilt, or at least a serious run in the European Cup. However, if he starts challenging Nicolas Anelka for most infantile strop, watch out Blues’ fans.
Hope: If he can score another eleven, bringing his season total to twenty, he could effectively force Didier Drogba and Anelka to move on at the end of the season, leaving him as heir apparent to the new free-spending Chelski. Roll on the roubles.

Luis Suarez, Liverpool (cost £22.8m)

Expectation: Though scoring for fun in the Dutch Eredivisie (81 goals in 110 games, since 07/08 with Ajax), Liverpool fans may want to consider Dirk Kuyt also had a similarly impressive scoring record there before his move to the Reds (71 goals in 101 games over three years with Feyenoord). Perhaps expectations should be as modest as settling into the team quickly and offering to work hard, something Kuyt knows well. Oh, and don’t bite anyone.
Hope: That unlike Kuyt, Suarez can actually hit a barn door from six yards and scores some goals. Torres accounted for almost a third of Liverpool’s league goals so far; what better way to make the Kop forget about it’s Spanish fling than matching that.

Edin Džeko, Manchester City (cost £27m)

Expectation: Make an impact on the first eleven. Not earth-shattering, but plenty of forwards have tried and failed at City in recent years. With such a rotating squad and fluid tactics, ‘The Lamppost’ (‘Kloc’ back home in Bosnia) will do well to keep in first team consideration and better that next season.
Hope: That he develops into the perfect foil for Carlos Tevez. He appears to have a great first touch (see his assist against Wolves on his debut) and already scored in the FA Cup. If he can strike up an understanding with the wee Argentinean, his name might be guaranteed second on the team sheet.

Andy Carroll, Liverpool (cost £35m)

Expectation: What do you expect from a 22 year old who’s halfway through a decent debut season in the Premier League and suddenly becomes the club record signing? A bit of humility might be a start. The price was mental, but mitigating circumstances were involved. But not many Liverpool fans will be excited to hear him say he didn’t want to leave Newcastle.
Hope: That he can somehow justify the outlay; be it in assists, goals, or simply avoiding Liverpool Crown Court for a while. He may also want to watch where he parks his Range Rover.