Sunday, September 27, 2009

Honduran supermen and consistent inconsistency

The first two months of the season in Scotland have, frankly, caused me to die a little inside, so I took the calaculated risk of abandoning my beloved Caley in their hour of need against Partick Thistle, instead indulging myself in a dirty weekend with the high-class prostitution that is the English Premier League.

Considering I saw a stunning Wigan-Chelsea game with an underdog victory, a red card, a penalty, and a close up of an Ashley Cole hissy-fit, while "missing out" on Inverness losing three goals in the first half against the so-called Real Jags, would you perhaps agree that I made the right choice?

Of course, I feel guilty about my betrayal, but it won't happen again (not until November's Sunderland-Arsenal game, at the earliest), and, frankly, I'm not convinced that my long-term footballing partner is being supportive and loving enough to me to deserve my fidelity at the moment.

Caley seem to be stuck in a bizarre loop of good game-bad game-good game-bad game. Having given Motherwell a right scare in the league cup in midweek, everyone was prepared for the worst this weekend, and they were proven correct. I'm sure "consistent inconsistency" is an oxymoron, but it sums up things nicely. The only relief is that it remains such a close league that we are only five points off top spot, But we need to find some semblance of form asap or any hopes of a promotion challenge go out the window, particularly if Dundee find that semblance before we do.

So, instead of another turgid, dull Saturday afternoon in (I'm going to milk this analogy to death, dammit), I went to Wigan-Chelsea, and struck it lucky. Not as lucky as the proper Wigan fans, who saw their side beat one of the Big Four for the first time in 35 Premier League attempts and promptly celebrated like it was Christmas. Good for them, though the young woman behind me who screamed at 150 decibels when Wigan grabbed their third goal, scarring my eardrums in the process, really should be sent a bill for the damage done to windows in a three mile radius.

Chelsea were the football equivalent of Gordon Brown's government; they knew things were going all wrong, they knew that defeat was probably coming, yet they seemed pretty much helpless to turn things around. Even their tight midfield diamond was overrun, thanks to the power of the Austrian Paul Scharner, who won every high ball at the half-way line because Chelsea's centre-backs wouldn't risk advancing that far to challenge him, and due to their combination of defensive midfielders, Mohamed Diame and Hendry Thomas, who stopped Essien and Lampard from playing.

Hendry who? Exactly. Remember Wilson Palacios, the Honduran midfielder plucked from nowhere who ran Wigan's midfield for 18 months before being sold to Spurs for a cool 12 million? Well, they've replaced him with...another Honduran midfielder plucked from nowhere who now runs Wigan's midfield. He definitely has all the attributes needed; his tackling is timed as well as a Blackadder insult, his positioning is immaculate, and he has such an engine that you half expect him to be dressed in a pink rabbit suit and banging a drum whilst he makes the aforementioned tackles.

This surely is conclusive proof that Wigan have created a secret laboratory deep in the Central American jungle, where they are conducting experiments on Hondurans and turning them into top defensive midfielders. Obviously, a flaw in these tests early on resulted instead in the creation of Maynor Figueroa, who instead plays at left-back, but if Wigan are going to get 12 million for each of these guys, then it seems like good business. In fact, why not expand the operation and create an entire team?

So if Wigan Athletic win the league in a decade's time with a side made up entirely of unknown Honduran supermen, you heard it here first. And if I mysteriously disappear between now and then, you know it's a conspiracy!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Jeez, get some perspective

Is it just me, or does there appear to be some sort of curse on strikers who either play or have played for Arsenal?

First Eduardo becomes a massive public hate figure for, erm, falling over. Then Emmanuel Adebayor manages the seemingly impossible and actually manages to supercede him with his antics for Man City last Saturday.

What is slightly disappointing is that rather more is being made, at least in the press, of his supposed behaviour to incite a riot than his outrageous stamp on Robin Van Persie; that said, Van Persie had put in a shocker of a tackle prior to that and does not exactly have the reputation of an angel. But still, the Ivorian striker's studs could quite easily have damaged RVP's eye, and for that he deserves to have the book thrown at him.

But people seem a bit more focussed on the decision of Adebayor, having scored against his former club, to run the entire length of the pitch to slide on his knees in front of the Arsenal fans. Now, in my opinion, if you are an Arsenal fan who feels that is justifiable to try to invade a football pitch, throw objects at somebody and put the wellbeing of other fans, police and stewards at significant risk (that looked like a heck of a crush at the front of the stand), all because Adebayor left Arsenal for a bit more cash and because he's responding to you giving him dog's abuse for the whole game, frankly, you are an Arsenal fan who needs to get some sort of life. And, judging by the physique of said fans, you should also stop drinking and try to lose a bit of weight.

Admittedly, we've all been there. There are few football fans out there who can resist getting caught up in the atmosphere around them - even my esteemed co-writer was once witnessed shouting "Agathe - you suck!" at the eponymous Celtic player in a match at Pittodrie once, while I recall one particular tirade towards Saulius Mikoliunas which I am not overly proud of (that said, he was a diving cheat, and he had just poleaxed our left back right in front of us). I often wonder whether the police feel that it's better that people get all the rage off their chest at a football match rather than later that night in the town centre.

But come on folks. Emmanuel Adebayor did not just invade Poland, nor did he just introduce the poll tax, nor did he just sleep with your girlfriend whilst wearing your dressing gown and smoking your cigars (though looking at those Arsenal fans, I should probably substitute "dressing gown" with "boxer shorts" and "cigars" with "Lambert & Butlers". In fact, the whole metaphor probably falls down as soon as I use the word "girlfriend"...). He just acted like a plonker, that's all, and dared to do what a lot of footballers probably dream of - he got his own back.

So get a grip, for crying out loud.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Common sense prevails

Eduardo has won his appeal against his ban. Should have waited half an hour before writing my previous post.


Video nasties

I'm obviously in a tiny minority, but I've always felt a bit sorry for football authorities. It's not much that thought they were doing a great job without any thanks, but more that they've always been such an easy target for fans that it felt as if they were constantly being kicked while down.
Something has changed this season and I have found my getting more and more frustrated by them. The main reason for this has been the attitude to retrospective punishments that seems to have dominated the season so far.

It has stemmed from the Eduardo incident against Celtic. What I saw was a goalkeeper charging out and making marginal contact with a forward who threw his arms in the air and went down. I thought the referee made a mistake in awarding the penalty, but it wasn't really first time a player had made the most of a challenge to win a penalty. Obviously there was something wrong with the screen I was watching because everyone else clearly saw the worst case of cheating in sport outside of the Tour de France. Eduardo is obviously the secret love child of Ben Johnson and Dean Richards, if you could imagine such a thing.The SFA got involved and UEFA subsequently dished out a two game European suspension to Eduardo. If only we still had the death penalty!

I really can't see how Eduardo deserved a punishment that is effectively six time worse that the yellow card he would have received had the referee made the correct call at the time. Whether UEFA just bowed to public and SFA pressure, or decided to make an example of out of Eduardo, the decision seemed totally arbitrary and out of keeping with how a governing body should act.

Similar issues have been raised by the events of the weekend at Eastlands and White Hart Lane. There's a clamour for the book to be thrown at Adebayor and it will be interesting to see how the FA deals with it. To me he clearly deserved a red card for stamping on Robin van Persie, but I think the referee was right to just give him a yellow for his celebration. It was ill advised, but there are no excuses for the Arsenal fans who looked like caged animals. It's about time that football fans started taking responsibility for their own actions.

Anyway, I digress. Paul Scholes was perhaps a bit unfortunate to get his second yellow card against Spurs as he seemed to be genuinely trying his best to pull out of the challenge on Tom Huddlestone, although justice was done as he should have received a straight red for his first challenge. But when he collided with Huddlestone's leg, the Spurs player rolled around holding his face clearly trying to deceive the referee. It was at least as bad a what Eduardo was found guilty of but I won't be holding my breath waiting for him to receive a two game ban.

I know that UEFA dealt with Eduardo and weekend's event are the responsibility of the FA, but that only underlines the inconsistency and lack of co-ordination in the game. I'm all for retrospective punishment and stamping out diving, but it has to be consistent and fair rather than the arbitrary pandering to public opinion that we have just now.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Glorious failure...again...

There is no one out there with any sort of human feeling who did not want to put an arm around Kenny Miller and David Weir at the end of the Holland game, surely?

In one moment in the first half, vindication beckoned at last. The Dutch keeper made a complete dog's breakfast of Stevie Naismith's long range shot, it bounced back off the post, and from six yards an empty half of the goal faced Kenny Miller and his left foot. Vindication for Miller, the much-maligned forward forever tainted by the almost oxymoronic maxim, "a striker who doesn't score goals", who had the chance to fire Scotland into a critical leaf. Vindication, possibly, for all George Burley's tactics and team selections...heck, let's just say for his whole nearly two year spell of international management.

And then Miller smacked it straight at the prostrate goalkeeper. And all the hope and anticipation crumbled into dust. And didn't Miller know it. Never mind that a few minutes earlier he had produced an audacious lob out of nothing which smacked off the bar, never mind that he nearly fluked a goal in the second half that spooned out of the keeper's hands Scott Carson-style, only to spin the wrong side of the post. The Rangers striker will be haunted by the gift-wrapped, gold-plated, chance-with-a-cherry-on-top that he spurned.

Weir, meanwhile, seemed to have shed ten years just for this match. He was an absolute titan on the Hampden pitch, following one of the film 300's great statements; "give them nothing, but from them take everything". Then came one loose ball over the top, one tired, confused header at a stretch from the centre-half, and he could be seen sitting on his knees, head bowed, as Eljero Elia raced through to break our hearts. And, again, people will forget that up to that point the veteran was utterly magnificent. But his one error will live in infamy.

And on such breaks do international football teams rise and fall. In club football, the length of the season means that things tend to even themselves out. But World Cup qualifiers are seldom as forgiving. And if we fairly rode our luck in the Euro 2008 campaign, George Burley has instead appeared to be totally deprived of good fortune. For, excepting the last twenty minutes when Scottish legs ran out of puff, Scotland matched Holland in a way that we certainly did not, for example, match the French in 2006. And in a fairy tale world, all the endeavour and spirit, against a Dutch team playing only for their own pride, would have conquered all.

But the real world, or at least the real footballing world, is a cruel place.

Anyway, I thought, to a man, Scotland were phenomenal tonight. Burley got his tactics right, and every player gave all he had for the cause. That was the best I remember ever seeing Darren Fletcher play for his country, while the efforts of the aforementioned Weir and the completely unfit Steven McManus were a sight to behold. Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker rose to the occasion and will surely be in the frame for the start of Euro 2012 qualifying. But, while little is gone right for Burley in this campaign (not least Iwelumo-gate), the SFA cannot let their judgement be clouded by the fact that the last match and a half have produced the best performances of his reign. As I stated previously, it has got to the point where the "glorious" means nothing, and the "failure" means everything. We need, I repeat, need to be at Euro 2012. Is Burley the man to get us there? I'm not convinced.

But on the other hand, he's still a damn sight better than Souness!


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Burley cheats death for a few more days

If I was feeling very lazy, I'd churn out some proper cliches about the Scotland-Macedonia game, like "a game of two halves", or "like chalk and cheese", you know the like.

Since I'm just feeling slightly lazy, I'll go for this slightly tame analogy instead; today George Burley managed to pass his Macedonia exam (doing far better in the second part than the first), and he garnered enough marks to give him a small chance of passing his Netherlands exam on Wednesday. But if he fails that he gets expelled from International Management University.

Come on, you know the analogy works.

Anyway, we were guff in the first half, but full credit to Burley for giving the team a right kick up the proverbials at the break. Even before scoring the first goal (that was a damn fine glancing header by the way), Scott Brown was unlikely to be winning any popularity awards with Macedonians, having just about caused a diplomatic incident after winning a corner off a drop ball in the first half - that was very naughty, but look on the bright side, Scotland doesn't need Macedonia as a friend anymore, it's got Libya now!

Moving back from international politics to international football, my part-time colleague Iain continued to insist post-match that his half-time text, "it's about time Fadders stopped believing his own hype" remained justifiable, despite the fact that said Fadders had scored with a barnstorming 60 yard run which saw him tap in after dribbling past three defenders and the goalkeeper, in the process scoring the best Scotland goal since, erm, the one the same player scored in Paris four years ago. You might recall that goal, not least because of the national man-hugging epidemic it sparked.

Sorry, Iain, but while he was as rubbish as the rest of them in the first half, the presence of James McFadden on the pitch remains a necessity simply because he is capable of goals like these, providing a flair and creativity that is at a premium in this team. Which makes it all the more harrowing that he is suspended for Wednesday's game. Bugger.

So George Burley's impending doom is delayed for a little while longer, but while a draw would clinch us second place, we are virtually certain to need a win to avoid being the crappest second place team and missing a playoff spot. That said, if we do win (and that is an absolutely huge, enormous, behemoth of an "if") then that should be enough - that said, the calculations are enough to make quantum physics feel like a su doku puzzle. If wee George gets us to that stage then he is probably entitled to have a go at Euro 2012 - second place is what was expected of him, and progress from the playoff is random at best, with potential opponents ranging from Northern Ireland and Bosnia to France and Russia. On the other hand, I think his time has to be up if we don't manage it, simply because he hasn't done enough to suggest he can improve this side.

And we have to remember the lesson of 1999 - Craig Brown was on the brink, but that win at Wembley against England provided enough sentiment for him to keep going for two more years, by which point he had blooded few young players and we were left with a weak, inexperienced squad and no decent candidates for the manager's job (hence the dreaded Berti Vogts). This time, there is a candidate with suitable pedigree - Gordon Strachan - and if Burley does not get the result on Thursday then that should be it, even if his ship sinks on the back of the best Scotland performance of his reign.

After all, international football is not showbusiness. It is the results business.