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February 07, 2010

The Fat Lady Has Not Sung Yet

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Arsenal versus Manchester United has always been a big match for me during the season whether at Old Trafford or the E******s. Chelsea versus Arsenal and Liverpool versus Arsenal are a must watch for me. Aston Villa versus Arsenal has had some moments too down the years. You can imagine that I am on cloud nine for the next couple of weeks. However, this holy trinity of Premiership games did not start in the best fashion when I caught the recent Arsenal versus Manchester United game.

October 23, 2009

So What Is So Wrong With Rio Ferdinand

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Does football need Rio Ferdinand? For some fans, I sense that they would not be particularly concerned if he shuffled off the international stage and Old Trafford down the lower leagues, to Notts County and finish his career with a little bit of ITV punditry. I had never realised that Rio Ferdinand could provoke the same level of passionate hatred that I had always believed was exclusively reserved for a certain set of players including Frank Lampard. 

July 17, 2009

Michael Owen and THAT Transfer

Michael Owen and THAT Transfer

I have always felt a mixture of gentle envy and sorrow for Michael Owen. The gentle envy is based on the fact that I am the same age as him, and looked a bit like him if I decided to smother my hair with wet hair gel. I also talked a bit like him, seemed to think like him, and I wish that I had played football like him for the top teams in the UK and Europe. My sadness is based on recognising that it did not seem that long ago that he was being lauded as the next great thing in British football.

In true British style, we dumped our expectations on his young shoulders and expected that his eye-catching goals would take Liverpool back to their domineering best in English football, and guarantee a trophy to the national team that would end that wait since 1966. Michael Owen was the next big thing in English football in 1999

We are now in 2009, and it seems that Owen is regarded as damaged goods. It is as if Newcastle were flogging a 1998 TV in the football marketplace, with the promise that this chunky TV had ‘ground breaking’ ‘Nicam Digital Stereo’ whilst the rest of us were caring about today’s ‘High Definition’ screens.

The great footballing public seems to be divided in their predictions that Michael Owen will have an Indian summer or a bleak winter at Old Trafford. Having become a Manchester United player, Owen would be back in the eye of a daily media storm that swirls around Old Trafford. If there ever could be a hint that Owen was back into his injury nightmare, the knives would be sharpened for Owen, Alex Ferguson, as well as the whole Old Trafford dynasty.

It was also interesting to read that Michael Owen would be playing at a club, whose manager apparently admitted that he was a second choice in the transfer market bartering. It is difficult to tell whether this remark was another example of Ferguson’s mind games and deft knack at reverse psychology. However the whole story could be easily turned into a 9pm drama on ITV1 because it contains everything including happiness, rejection as well as the possibility of ultimate redemption against all odds. A lot of viewers would be crying in their armchairs at ‘The Owen Story,’ or would they?

From my perspective, there has not been much a reaction. There has been some anger amongst the fans on Merseyside that one of their former stars has landed with their hated rivals at the other end of the East Lancs Road. Owen allegedly did not know what the fuss was about in the red half of Liverpool, which is always a good line to stir up the message boards but some fans seemed nonplussed. They wondered whether Owen had ever actually been a Liverpool fan, and previous speculation has linked Owen’s football interest at a variety of clubs around the north west of England including Everton, Tranmere and Chester City.

Following Newcastle’s relegation in May, the Michael Owen package came with a lot of baggage that we mostly linked to the decline of one of the most iconic clubs that used to grace the Premier League. His bemused expression at Villa Park on the last day of last season demonstrated that relegation was a new emotion for him. As of mid July, the transfer of Owen to Manchester United ranks as the most surprising of the summer. For most of the summer, Michael Owen was being marketed like a club 18-30 holiday with Hull and Stoke lined up to be his next destination, before punditry, management or ultimate obscurity.

Regardless whether he has an executive pad in Cheshire, knew how to drive a helicopter, appeared in a brochure for executive penthouses in Dubai and liked a flutter on the horses, you sensed that Owen still had to have his daily football fix. Why else would he still want to play, despite having amassed a small financial fortune? Having gained a transfer to one of the world’s biggest football clubs, my reaction was supportive. From the jaws of oblivion, Michael Owen has snatched a potentially career-saving victory. I would never want to see a footballing professional (or any other worker) end his career in a miserable decline and frequent hospital treatment.

This transfer is a gamble for Manchester United, but despite assurances from Old Trafford, more questions are proposed than are answered. This situation will be welcoming for the newspaper column writers, the phoneins and the pub bores, but where does the transfer leave Manchester United and Michael Owen? How is the front line going to line up? Should we expect a United side to line up with Rooney in a slightly withdrawn role in front of Berbatov and Owen?

The questions do not end there. Will Manchester United play with two strikers who have shown to be generally anonymous if they do not get the pinpointed service from the midfield? Will Owen slip back into a never-ending injury nightmare? Will Michael Owen ever play for England again? Will Manchester United be pilloried for gambling on this former England great? Will earnest discussions be undertaken about whether Ferguson has ‘lost it’ and the great days at Old Trafford are coming to an end?

For the sake of a football professional, who would have played in my school football team, if he had grown up in deepest Essex, I wish the best of luck for Michael Owen at Manchester United. I hope that his career gets the jump-start that it needs, but a lot of questions will need to be answered during the season.

July 12, 2009

A Question of Loyalty

A Question of Loyalty

While most of you were getting stuck into your Sunday roast last weekend, I found myself in a national sport store within Leeds city centre. A Liverpool-supporting friend wanted to buy the new Liverpool away shirt for the coming season, complete with his name and number. I had seen this shirt on other friends and my pre-shopping hype had convinced him that this shirt was a must-want purchase. We flew up the escalator, and passed the endless carousels of reduced clothing that remained unwanted from the previous seasons. We bore down on the shirts that hung from the wall like suits of armour for medieval knights.

The wanted shirt was grabbed from the hanger, and my friend rushed to the MDF-lined box which was called the changing room. Within about thirty-seconds, Asif made his mind up that this was the shirt for him, and made a direct line to the checkouts for the all-important additions. While the shop assistant was carefully placing the required letters and numbers on the back of the shirt like a doctor about to perform open heart surgery, my friend set about trying to persuade me to part with thirty quid for the Liverpool home shirt.

It is well known amongst my social circle that I have a soft spot for the reds, and Asif tried his best to convince me that this shirt was essential for my wardrobe. We had a passionate conversation about the pros and cons of buying this shirt beside a series of suggestive mannequins showcasing this season’s tennis kit. You could never believe that two educated blokes could be found in the middle of Leeds arguing over a 100% polyester shirt. I even went into the changing room to try on the shirt. Asif must have felt that he had achieved his wish but I could not quite bring myself to buy the garment.

I know that my loyalty is in Suffolk, at Ipswich Town Football Club, and at Portman Road, and I felt disloyal if I started wearing a shirt for a team that had no genetic link to my background. However, I felt immediately guilty for my failure to buy this shirt. The guilt turned into a full blown migraine whilst stuck in the never-ending M1 roadworks near Nottingham. I knew that I should have brought that shirt. Most friends were surprised that I did not buy this shirt, because they have always believed that I am a ‘closet’ red, but I felt that it was a question of loyalty.

Most of us know that loyalty makes a football fan. Life as a fan cannot be an effortless series of European nights, cup wins, comprehensive demolitions of the hated local rivals, and the crème de la crème of British and European talent playing in the club shirt. There are the 0-0 bore draws on a wet Tuesday night in February, the questionable talent that has failed to produce anything other than a few dodgy tackles on the pitch, as well as those managerial press conferences when it is obviously that the manger has lost the dressing room as well as his senses.

We can buy the shirts, and the plastic merchandise, but being a fan demands something more. Most non-football fans think that the loyalty is dangerously delusional and something close to one of those religious cults in mid-America, but loyal support makes football what it is.

Most of us know that loyalty left player’s minds somewhere around the birth of ITV during 1955. There are a few Steve Bulls and Steven Gerrards left in the game, but money talks at ever increasing volumes. We have become too used to players wheeling away from the goal with exuberant kissing of badges and pledges of total loyalty to the cause. We lap it up from the stands, and feel totally cheated when the same player has signed for another club within weeks for another multi-million pound fee. .

In this era when Manchester City are desperately trying to suggest that they can eat at world football’s top table with the signing of Gareth Barry (sic,) and multi-million pound transfer deals are taking place at Real Madrid for sums of money that many of us can not remotely visualise, the leading clubs (or the media) are a little bit shaken up by this suggested movement of football’s plate tectonics.

Benitez talks about loyalty in football with particular reference to Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and half of us believe that these words need to ring true, but some of us believe that the sentences come from another age of football. I personally hope that Benitez is correct and that certain players at Anfield recognise the debt that they have to Liverpool Football Club. Before his move to Anfield, Mascherano’s English football career was going nowhere in the chaos of Upton Park during the dying month’s of Alan Pardew’s regime. Only devoted students of Spanish football would have known about Xabi Alonso before he came to Anfield. You would hope that both players would recognise the loyalty that they have to Anfield.

Will loyalty become a bargaining chip as English football becomes a bargaining chip for megalomaniacs? I like to think that the chequebook can only buy so much in football, and there needs to be something else at a football club to guarantee true success. There is that ‘something else’ at Liverpool Football Club and it is probable that most players recognise that. If they don’t, Liverpool fans should not be concerned if Jermaine Pennant decides that Real Zaragoza will be the next big thing in football, and that Gareth Barry went to a club that seems to be trying to build their future on a sandbank of cheques. It is all about that question of loyalty.

June 17, 2009

£80 million: Absolutely Priceless

Writing about web page

I am not sure why, but I seem to be the person that is dragged off the street by market researchers to seek my views on a key issue. I seem to wear a face, which says ‘please survey me. I am doing nothing all afternoon, and I am dying to voice my views for one of your surveys.’ Despite my best efforts to be assertive, it does not take much for me to be dragged off the street to fill in another long questionnaire, for the ‘prize’ of a cheap biro.

March 26, 2009

Didier and Wayne

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I am thinking about Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney. I would love to be in a room for a chat with these two iconic players from today’s Premiership. I am struggling to think of two footballers that have dominated the headlines and forums over the last five years. These players divide opinion amongst the great footballing public.

December 13, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo

Writing about web page Reassessing the Manchester United Midfielder

You will always remember the moments during a dreary match, when you catch the first sight of a player that has something special about him. Can you always describe it? It may be the shots, the goals, the saves, or the bone-crunching tackle, but this starlet captivates you.

We all want to show ourselves as the football sage that knowingly announces that “we saw player X playing for the reserves against Exeter City,” before player X scores the winning goal in the Champions’ League. I like to think that I am that wise old football head when it comes to talking about Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was Saturday 16th August 2003. It was a muggy August afternoon, and after spending time in Manchester’s Dallas in Salford Quays, I enjoyed the captivating skills of Ronaldo for the first time. Manchester United were playing Bolton Wanderers, and the sight of this young and innocent Portuguese sensation dancing his way through the mesmerised Bolton defence has remained in my consciousness for over five years.

For someone like me who believes that football is more than uncompromising tackles and punts up the pitch, Ronaldo was a breath of fresh air. I also had the privilege of catching Ronaldo for the Portuguese Under 21s versus England. I spent most of the time in the roof of Everton’s main stand, watching him rather than the game. I wondered why I had been floored by my own stopovers during those few months when I could play football. Ronaldo was what I thought that I could have been if I had been born again.

I was the family member that defended Ronaldo when his Euro 2004 campaign collapsed into floods of tears. Most of my family and mates were outraged by this public display of emotion. They felt that Ronaldo should have been a bit more stoical about losing the Euro final. I was a little bit more sympathetic. Portugal had lost the final of their home tournament against a Greece side that had as much fizz as flat champagne. I would have been inconsolable too.

The football fan in me enjoyed the sight of Ronaldo’s career reached new and exciting heights. His play was more than fancy stopovers and little dinky shots to the wings. There was the diving and the irritating innocent expressions but I was sympathetic. Everyone has his or her failings on the park. I could never stop myself body- checking opponents, but Ronaldo’s ability to play around the park showed a refreshing versatility. Contrast that to certain English players who whinge to the press when they are asked to play away from their normal ‘comfort’ positions.

It was not long after that Bolton victory in 2003 that Cristiano Ronaldo became public enemy number one across the nation. Some people point to the 2006 World Cup, when they fell of love with Cristiano Ronaldo. There was the infamous wink to the Portugal bench after Rooney was sent packing to the dressing room. There seemed to be a wish to treat Ronaldo as a football pariah on the same level as the post- Beckham hysteria following the 1998 World Cup.

It never quite happened because most of us realised that England had never been good enough to win that particular World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo was not the main reason why England went home early and if anyone feels differently, read Ashley Cole’s humble tone My Defence. Thirty minutes of your life will allow you to ‘enjoy’ why English football circa 2006 was full of warped expectations, self-indulgence and the dreariness of a Britain’s Got Talent audition.

Cristiano Ronaldo still possesses the football genius, which make us want to engage in the national game. You like to hope that his talent has not dimmed because of a dreary on-off summer transfer saga with Real Madrid, and the fortnightly barracking from away grounds. Instead of fantastic goals and penetrating wing play, Ronaldo seems to been recently defined by those pictures of excess tanning in the sun, greed, excess and whinging.

Some fans believe that Ronaldo has lost a little bit on the pitch. They argue that the sharpness is not there and Ronaldo seems to be settling the scores with the baying of opposition fans rather than letting his football do the talking.

I also sense that various sections of the Manchester United support seem to have given up on that star that had captivated Old Trafford on that tropical Saturday in August 2003. Watching Ronaldo for these Manchester United fans is a case of ticking off the matches till the inevitable transfer to another European giant. It is like opening doors of an advert calendar and eating the little chocolate squares that gradually turn sour.

I hope we are not in the dying throws of Cristiano Ronaldo’s career in England. His days in Manchester may be numbered and there is little chance of the wider football public appreciating his skills, but it will be a sad day for the English Premiership and Manchester United when he departs the Old Trafford stage.

May 30, 2008

Chelsea or Man Utd: An Outsider's Point of View

Writing about web page

Article for Chelsea Fanzine 10th May 2008 "The final whistle blew at the end of the Champions League Semi Final between Chelsea and Liverpool. My friend turned to me and wanted to be assured that I would support Manchester United in the Final. It was a strange statement to make....."

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