Tag Archives: World Cup

Blog Blitz


I have neglected this blog terribly. December has thus far been a totally barren month and this is not at all in the spirit of festive good will. I must rectify this. I doubt I have such a thing as a “regular reader” anymore, the friends I’m aware of that used to follow this are simply far too busy these days. But if you’re out there and by some miracle check things here often enough to have been disappointed by the lack of output, I apologise. I was away in Spain and since I have simply been lazy and slightly emotionally erratic. Here is my bumper Christmas plan to put things right:

1)      Firstly I shall publish two reviews that are already available via the excellent FlickeringMyth, of an African documentary and blockbuster Iron Man 2.

2)      Secondly I’ll unleash a trio of top British films I’ve watched over the last two days on my new Blu-Ray player. I have only watched them as DVDs but all three look marvellously upgraded by the technology, a pleasant surprise as I assumed it all to be a barely noticeable gimmick. Any of the films I watched would be Christmas gift worthy. (The Disappearance of Alice Creed/Fish Tank/ In The Loop)

3)      Thirdly, or perhaps in between to break up the movie fest, I’ll publish one of my doodles from my recent holiday.

4)      I also plan to release a political piece on the Lib Dem tuition fee saga and…

5)      … a football based article about the controversial FIFA host nation decision for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

6)      Finally I’m currently devouring Michael McIntyre’s book Life and Laughing, which has personal significance to me as well as being truly gripping and funny. I’ll jot down my thoughts on this and some books I read on holiday when I’m done here for your (whoever you might be) pleasure and amusement.

Right that’s it. I’ll get on with it and try not to get bogged down with friends and the snow.

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666: Omen in results a reminder of darkness lurking beneath the surface of the beautiful game


Goals. Goals galore. What a feast of football the new Premier League season has already provided. We’ve had a bit of everything. From the ageing ginger maestro showing the new crop how it ought to be done to the youthful English goalkeepers beginning a battle for the national side’s number one jersey, to all three newly promoted teams notching one good win and one crushing loss. There’s been so much incident and entertainment to remind us that the new kits and faces of club football are so much more satisfying than the repeated disappointment and failure of England. However many papers were quick to latch onto the trio of 6-0 results this weekend and lead with the ominous headline “666”. The results themselves made it clear that immense gulfs in class still exist within our great league, in which teams like Blackpool cannot hope to compete with bigger clubs’ financial might. The headline prompted me to examine the true greatness of our league when such vast inequality exists and generally to think about the morality of the game in this country, especially in the light of the 2018 World Cup Bid gathering pace.

Let’s start with the good. Paul Scholes being interviewed on Football Focus on Saturday after surprisingly stealing the limelight in the opening games of the season with commanding displays showed that it is possible to still be a modest professional and family man in this mega money era. The interviewer refused to let his awkwardness at being questioned drop, either trying to paint Scholes as a saint for shunning the media or a freak for not realistically acknowledging their existence. The chaps in the studio chuckled at Scholes’ schoolboy shyness and simultaneously gushed about his legendary passing ability and awareness. Lee Dixon dismissed Arsene Wenger’s gripes about late tackling, saying that Scholes had had to learn to put his foot in when playing in the middle alongside the likes of Roy Keane. It was generally agreed that Scholes was a great and United’s worrying overreliance on him this early in the campaign was glossed over.

Also largely good was Newcastle’s 6-0 thumping of Aston Villa, showcasing the return and rehab of former bright young things like Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton as well as the emergence of the next big thing in Andy Carroll if you believe the papers, all in front of a loyal, long suffering Geordie faithful at St.James’ that deserved a reward. Let’s not mention that Villa’s shambolic defence and an awful penalty miss enabled the victory, or the ridiculous hyperbole greeting Carroll’s hat-trick in the press. In The Times the match write-up lays the comparisons to Alan Shearer on thick, all the implications suggesting an England call-up and a solution to the long term question of who partners Wayne Rooney. The praise is present throughout the press, as are the criticisms of Carlton Cole, with writers shooting down notions that Liverpool were thinking of paying handsomely for his services a few weeks ago as a lucky escape for Roy Hodgson. The fickleness apparent here after one hat-trick performance against a defence that were laying goals on a plate and a couple of non-effectual performances in an essentially unchanged, poor West Ham side shows a negative of our game. Andy Carroll has gone from unproven Championship striker to England’s next number 9 overnight and Carlton Cole has crashed and burned in a similar period. Whereas the praise heaped on Scholes is backed by medals and many minutes of evidence on the pitch Carroll’s is premature hype. The yo-yo of fortunes in the press makes it easier to see why players like Scholes, content and detached from the media bubble, are a dying breed. When Carroll’s stock falls as Cole’s has done he might well become understandably disillusioned and unloved.

You could certainly not call the Blackpool players unloved. The amazing orange fans of the seasiders were still applauding their team at the final whistle after their demolition by Arsenal at the Emirates in cruise control. I saw Blackpool beat Yeovil Town in the League 1 Play-Off Final at Wembley a few seasons back and their support that day was an eclectic, enthusiastic mass of good natured colour then too. Their rise to the top flight from that moment has been nothing short of a fairytale. In a week in which FIFA inspectors examine the potential cons of England’s 2018 World Cup bid, we can only hope that supporters across the country were as loyal and well mannered as Blackpool ones. An article in The Independent points out the black marks left by the behaviour of fans of teams like Millwall in the past, as well as other weaknesses in our supposedly “unbeatable” bid according to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. We have sold out in this country, the article implies, so that we will be quite comfortable watching teams of foreigners play each other in the 2018 tournament. For a nation that boasts about being the home of football we have neglected the grass roots, our own national side and embraced excess and great waste of wealth. There is also a strong argument that whilst England might be the “easiest” place to host the tournament according to Sepp Blatter, another country would benefit more, invigorated by the investment. Another country not already saturated with football might use the tournament to develop more sustainably, with beautiful stadia and clubs as well as proper training and investment in their own youngsters.

Manchester City of course has come to symbolise all that waste and excess in football that was already lurking beneath the surface. On Monday night City’s gladiators finally clicked, delighting their giving emperor the sheikh who had made the trip to see what his drops of oily magic had achieved. Roberto Mancini spouted after that final whistle that it had been important to him to put on a show for the owner and yet he still only started with the one striker in Carlos Tevez. City’s embarrassment of riches meant a midfield packed with holding players in Barry, De Jong and Toure, forcing out exciting players like David Silva that ought to be gracing the field every week. On the plus side Adam Johnson and James Milner both sparkled, both with English blood coursing through their veins, even if it does seem tainted by their warm, greedy embrace of the millions instead of that English quality of loyalty shining through.

Despite the excess and the greed Man City’s win over Liverpool demonstrated that the fundamentals, the crowd, the goals, the colours of the game, remain what is important. The extravagance may both add and take something away from our beautiful game, but when it comes down to it the pure pleasure remains and that feeling, not the mounds of money, would make sure we hosted a fantastic World Cup.

Too late for tactics: Decisions on Personnel not formations will make or break Capello’s World Cup from here


Hope remains, the dream lives. Tomorrow’s papers will be bursting with optimistic rallying cries rather than gloomy obituaries and angry rants. The headlines will be oozing with the juices of glory and we, the long starved masses, will enter a phase of frenzied belief, salivating as we devour every cautiously hopeful word that makes us think “maybe this year…” The doubters and pessimists will remain a constant presence, this is England after all, but they will be shunned and ostracised. Against Slovenia the patient was revived and for a while buzzed with a brightness we all insisted was there all along. No matter that he only just staggered to the next ward for further treatment, elbowed to the side by a forceful American on the way. For the time being we’ll laugh and say it wouldn’t be England without the tension and the worry.

There are genuine reasons for enthusiastic optimism. This was the best England performance in a long while. It was a match played at a Premier League tempo often called for by commentators and fans, who rightly question why it is their heroes perform so much better each week for their clubs. Capello also appeared to resolve some selection dilemmas once and for all. James was a solid presence in goal under considerably more pressure than he was against Algeria and Upson passed a tough test to emerge as the sensible partner for Terry in defence. Milner proved himself a performer in midfield and particularly as a winger with some beautiful crossing and much needed running at the full-back. Defoe showed he could score when it counted and that the team played better having to think about their service to him, as opposed to mindlessly lumping it up field to Heskey. Capello shall also no doubt win plaudits for his passionate touchline display of emotional gesticulations that would have been unthinkable from a certain ice cold Swede.

Capello was also right to decide against the diamond midfield formation that Eriksson toyed with unsuccessfully as England coach. The BBC commentary debated whether this was due to the Slovenian full-backs attacking tendencies and represented it as a last-minute tactical change of heart by Capello that was proven a masterstroke by events. In reality Capello would have recognised the gamble of changing the system well into a tournament and its possible destabilising effects. I believe Capello wrongly came to this World Cup without a plan B. He had a qualifying campaign that ended prematurely and warm-up games in which to experiment with other formations and has not done so. I accept there is a strong argument that England’s players play their best football in a 4-4-2 and over complicating the system will not help them. I also think Capello would be unwise to change the formation again now at this tournament. Where Capello should be surer however is who plays where in his formation, most crucially in midfield.

The best teams at this World Cup and those that are successful will be the ones who arrived with a well practiced system, understood by all the players and a regular starting eleven, with healthy competition from the bench. The best managers will be those who can choose the right substitute at the right moment of a game to change things on the pitch for their team. Tactical changes that have the most impact will be minor tweaks to existing formations rather than wholesale switches between them. This is Capello’s first World Cup and in many ways it is showing. He failed to change things decisively against Algeria, resulting in a surge in pressure for the Slovenia game and ultimately a second place group finish that may lead to the tough task of Germany on Sunday.

Capello’s biggest failing at this World Cup has been the personnel of his midfield, just as it was for those who preceded him. Having settled on 4-4-2 the Italian has not been bold enough, despite a media image of him being above the celebrity status of footballers, to axe one of his better players. This is not, as may have been the case with Eriksson and Beckham, because the manager is blinded by a player’s fame but from a genuine desire to select the best eleven players available. However an England midfield given more balance by the exclusion of Gerrard or Lampard from the starting line-up would surely lead to more of the football seen in the better spells against Slovenia. Joe Cole on the left and Milner on the right seems to be the way forward against better teams, as a wandering Gerrard would leave Ashley Cole exposed. Capello has left it too late to try a five man attacking midfield in support of Rooney properly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Cole or Gerrard unleashed as effectively a second striker or fifth midfielder, depending on who has the ball, should England go far in the knockout stages.

For the next game I can’t see Capello changing things and I hope England can replicate their best moves against Slovenia with more end product. Rooney’s brief rest at the end of this match will have him rested and hungry for goals and I still can’t help but think any real England hopes rest on whether or not he can find form. Our opponents in the next round should be fearful if he can, with 60 million souls greedy for glory getting behind him, as well as a manager who might’ve wasted opportunities in preparation but still holds the keys to success. Come on England!

Things can only get better…


Am I the only one that’s disappointed? Now I know everyone would have been gutted with England’s opening result but the tournament itself has yet to ignite into the vivid festival of football, of entertainment, that we have been promised. I write following Germany’s demolition of Australia, the only game with goals galore so far. I am yet to see an entertaining contest that gripped me for ninety minutes.

It is not only disappointment either; some aspects of this World Cup are simply irritating. The opening match was no classic but I forced myself to sit through out of a sense of occasion, only to be repulsed by that blaring soundtrack of horns that has accompanied every game since. The only game in which the ceaseless drone has not spoiled my viewing pleasure was England vs. USA, which I watched at a skewed angle in a bar with the only audible noise from the stadium being the rhythm of England fans’ drums. For all I know though the horns may have persisted in the comfort of homes across the nation, without the accompanying chorus of drunken chanting to beat them into submission.

 I also pity those who watched it at home and therefore may have actually heard the banal bleating of Adrian Chiles in the ITV studio. Why such a man was fought over and subsequently acquired for ludicrous amounts of money is beyond me. I could just about tolerate his autocue, everyman style on Match of the Day 2. This after all was a highlights show and unless you enter isolation to avoid hearing the scores at the weekend you are aware of the results when you tune in. His dull delivery seemed to matter less then. Live coverage however could do with an injection of occasion and excitement now and again, something Chiles does with all the effectiveness of a damp cloth. I imagine any genuine football fan could do a better job of presenting than him, as he seems to have entered some sort of depression in the absence of One Show co-presenter Christine Bleakely. Someone ought to remind him he’s getting paid to watch football at the World Cup! If he’s this bleak in South Africa I fear for GMTV when he returns to front their new look breakfast hello.

Other aspects of the broadcasting spoil the purity of the football. For example ITV in particular have a fetish for slow motion, showing not just glorious goals again but the gesticulations of a manager, the expressionless face of a manager or the brandishing of a yellow card again and again and again. Such clips are used not just in-play but again at half-time, eating into the precious seconds of “analysis” squeezed between commercial breaks and Chiles drearily informing us of upcoming unmissable fixtures. The “analysis” is conducted by the likes of Gareth Southgate, another boring character, and Marcel Desailly, whose comments are far from boring but not usually correct; “the midfield needs to sit down on the defence more”.

Then there was England’s opening performance and the shambles of Clint Dempsey’s goal. I have previously defended Capello’s handling of the Terry scandal but serious issues remain that should have been ironed out long ago and were not examined in the warm up matches. It is unacceptable that we do not know who our first choice goalkeeper is, our best midfield, our best formation or who will partner Terry out of uncapped Dawson and recently un-retired Jamie Carragher. One of these issues could seriously undermine a team’s chances of tournament glory, let alone all of them.

However on the upside things can only improve from here and England’s performance was their best in a while, despite the result. The coming days should see better football and better news for England, with Gareth Barry set to return, perhaps freeing up Gerrard to connect with Rooney and lead us to glory? Well, maybe.

Why Capello Had to Sack Terry and Pick Rio


The endless revelations regarding the private life of a certain Chelsea defender have dominated the front and back pages of both the tabloids and supposedly respected news publications in recent weeks. However most of us are simply concerned that such trivial drama about the sordid and inevitable escapades of the Premiership footballer will harm England’s chances at another World Cup. In 2010 even I, a sceptic when it comes to England’s chances of actually achieving when it counts, have been persuaded by factors such as a favourable climate despite the far flung locale of South Africa, Capello’s simple organisation, Rooney’s growing brilliance, a gentle qualification campaign and an easy group on paper, that we may actually get somewhere. For sports writers and celeb gossip columnists alike then John Terry’s foolish, failed attempts to suppress details of his adultery are nothing less than a wet dream with ongoing opportunities to prophesise doom in place of success and ask how Capello shall choose to react to such a colossal crisis.

I’ve heard several people comment jokingly that Capello is presumably bemused by the fuss surrounding Terry’s macho behaviour, given his Italian nationality. Before he gave way to media pressure and gave Terry the boot as skipper, these jokers suggested Capello would simply rise above the tidal wave of publicity and leave the only leader in the team in place, armband secure. Critics pointed to the example a national captain must set not only for young fans but for the rest of the team. Capello couldn’t simply ignore the allegations with their mounting evidence and thus condone Terry’s actions.

I would argue that ideally this is what would have happened. Had there been no spotlight of media scrutiny, had Terry not aggravated matters by trying to silence the papers and effectively screaming his deception from the rooftops, the purely football decision would’ve been to leave Terry as captain, despite his behaviour. Let’s not kid ourselves; every member of the national side probably has an equally scandalous skeleton in their closet. Sadly though not every member of the England squad is blessed with the natural characteristics of leadership that John Terry has, in fact none of them are. That fact is made evident by Capello’s choice to succeed the disgraced Terry.

Rio Ferdinand! The news that a crock, himself with a tarnished track record following a missed drugs test, was to replace his centre-back partner as captain, made me scoff at Capello’s supposed genius. After ten minutes brooding over the alternatives though I changed my mind. Who else is there other than Ferdinand? Ordinarily the equally safe but wiser option would be too appoint the first choice goalkeeper to act as an experienced, calm, urging presence from the back. However England has no obvious choice between the sticks. Robert Green and Ben Foster are questionable as squad members and David James would be a step backward.

Strong voices have called for Rooney to be made skipper, a move that would complete his maturing process from raging bull to clinical cheetah in front of goal. However Capello no doubt agreed with the chorus denouncing that option as the death of England’s chances. Rooney still isn’t primarily a goal-scorer and he needs to retain a degree of savagery to be England’s world class talisman. Making him captain would have burdened Rooney with one responsibility too many and would have seen a return to sights like Rooney valiantly tracking back only to give away a penalty to Russia in the left-back position, costing England their best player and the match. Steven Gerrard then? He too is far from free from scandal and is another player Capello will be praying can recapture his best this summer, another match winner who could do without the extra weight on his shoulders.

And so whilst Ferdinand is clearly not the perfect choice as captain Capello has logically chosen him to maximise England’s chances and minimise the impact of the whole incident on the team’s preparations. Up till now Capello has got things right and the team had been in buoyant mood. Whilst Ferdinand may not be a guaranteed starter due to his own fitness problems, ideally Ferdinand will partner Terry come the summer. He is also a proven winner with Manchester United. Capello will no doubt hope that little will change with Ferdinand wearing the armband and his big players, including John Terry, will feel liberated to produce their best football. I understand those looking at Capello’s handling of this whole affair and likening it to the safe, failure inducing calls made by past England managers. However if those critics take a moment to think they might realise that Capello is rising above the media bubble, (whilst not ignoring it) and is pursuing the same pragmatic, hard-line tactics that so far have only brought him praise and England consistent success.