All Change

Benjamin Franklin didn’t have any concept of off-shore holdings, hedge funds or corporate tax evasion. His certainty about death and taxes is less of a lock these days, mainly due to the aforementioned financial fugivity, although it’s probably just a matter of time until we sync our souls into iConsciousness and live forever in a borg-esque electronic collective. On iCloud.

A one-off certainty was that the man taking up the reins at Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson was going to have a difficult time of things. Also certain is that David Moyes will not be afforded the same amount of time that Alex Ferguson had starting out in 1986. Whether or not he’s the right man for the job, there is major reconstruction ahead, and his predecessor must take some of the blame.

Man Utd’s transition from title winners to early season mediocrity can’t be seen as too much of a surprise. The cracks in the United side had been there for a while, gradually deepening, but constantly and cleverly papered over by Ferguson, who became something of the master plasterer in that regard towards the end of his reign. The groomed successors to the once great centre back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand: Smalling, Evans, Jones, none of them have shown consistent quality needed to become a fixture in a top side. Last season’s finale, a 5-5 draw with West Brom where Jones and Evans started at centre back, was, in the words of the great Kent Brockman, a chilling vision of things to come for Man Utd fans.

For so long reliant on Scholes and Giggs to fill in in central midfield, now only new signing Fellaini brings any real impetus amongst a sea of drifters: Carrick, Anderson, Cleverley, an ailing Fletcher – there’s no real backbone, there. Not for a side with title winning aspirations. Elsewhere, Ashley Young continues to offer very little, Nani flatters to deceive while the hungry and hugely talented Wilfried Zaha gets no look in. No long term successor to Patrice Evra has been locked in, though that may change with a silly money move for Leighton Baines in January.

Keeping Wayne Rooney and keeping him motivated becomes an increasingly difficult task as each year passes. Van Persie has only 2 or 3 more years before his powers will start to wane. Hernandez is a good poacher, but doesn’t have the all round game that would make him a starter on a regular basis. Welbeck is by no means a proven striker.

None of this is really new. There is a distinct lack of quality in the United squad, and it has been that way for a while. Ferguson was able to hide the problems for so long because he was a great motivator and a great tactician. He made a fairly good side into title winners. But now with a more limited manager in charge, these problems have come to the fore. Today’s defeat to West Brom was no smash and grab fluke. The baggies were able to expose United’s weaknesses and fully deserved their win. The fluid movement and slick passing that led to the winning goal was a move of greater quality that anything the home side produced over the 90 minutes. There was no inevitability during injury time that Man Utd would equalise – not like in times past – West Brom stood firm all too easily.

Ferguson had to have been aware of the lack of true quality in his squad – why else would he have chosen Moyes to replace him, a man whose trademark has been getting the best out of less than stellar quality players? There isn’t much else on his CV that can have got him the job.

Man Utd have the financial clout to bring in better players, and there will surely be 2 or 3 fairly expensive signings in January. But whether the board of this multinational corporation will have the patience to stick with Moyes remains in some doubt. But the architect of all his problems was the man who chose him for the job. It will be of little consolation when he’s out the door.

New Perspective

Being abroad for a while certainly gives one a different perspective on the Premier League. There’s no blanket coverage. It’s not in all the newspapers. It’s not talked about often in the workplace. Would you believe there’s actually a world outside the Barclays Premier League?

Well, it turns out there is. Last year I was lucky enough to watch a lot of Fox Soccer’s coverage of the Premier League here in the USA. Despite the bombastic musical overture and flashy graphical presentation, it had a far more relaxed and laid-back presentation and attitude towards the English game than I’d been used to.

First off, the host, Rob Stone, enthusiastic without being grating, was excellent. He let the ex-pros have their say but wasn’t afraid to chip in an opinion or two, and could often be found smoothly dropping in references to professional wrestling and guns n’roses (amongst others things) during his segues.

His main sidekick ad infinitum was Warren Barton, former Premier League mainstay, never shy of putting forth his point of view. He was always something of a figurehead. In the studio, there was an air that suggested, “you may not agree with this man, but he’s played 3,623 games in the Premier League. And he used to play for Maidstone United, so you have to respect him.” Prone to using big hand gestures and wearing nice waistcoats, those two things along already make him a better analyst than Mark Lawrenson and Alan Shearer. Essentially though, he was an engaging and interesting pundit.

Then we have the Robin to Barton’s Batman: Eric Wynalda. Even at 7am PST, this man was a bubbling ball of enthusiasm and excitment. He was so clearly passionate about the game, you could see he genuinely loved being able to sit there and watch these games and then get to talk about them after. I always felt there was something more about him, something existentially uplifting. He loves football, but not only that, he believes in football, he believes that it is a force for good, and he makes you want to believe in it too.

And the three of them had a great chemistry. Sometimes the discussion would get quite heated over a controversial point, but it was never antagonistic. More often than not, there was a warm, convivial feeling to proceedings and it pulled you right into it. They were often funny, quick to praise good football but not afraid to be damning of dull matches or poor sportsmanship.

It’s these qualities of honesty and conviviality that NBC’s coverage (the new rights holders to Premier League matches) sorely lack. Everything is taken very seriously. Rebecca Lowe looks constantly like she is about to deliver bad news to someone. Robbie Earle is there, hunched forward and eyebrows raised, but unable to shift out of second gear. Robbie Mustoe is also there, clearly still thinking that he’s on some kind of massive wind up and Jeremy Beadle is going to appear in a gorilla suit at any moment.

It’s all very dry and drab, and for a show going out on the flagship channel of one of America’s biggest networks, you wonder if it’s doing more harm than good it when it comes Americans’ preconceptions of soccer being boring and the English being stuffy. Fox’s coverage never came close that, but NBC seem to be playing up to it. They’re trying so hard to impress New Viewers, they’ve completely lost sight of what was good about what came before it. They’d do well to remember that you can’t polish a turd, and Monday’s 0-0 game between Man Utd and Chelsea was an enormous floating example of that.

There’s still the issue of the commentary to be discussed, but that’s for another time. The good news is that Rob, Warren & co. can still be found presenting Champions League matches. I’ll leave you with a clip of the live coverage from the game between Palace and Sunderland. Please note this was the live coverage, while the game was going on and things were happening on the pitch. Thumbs up all round.

Crystal Palace Vs Sunderland

Red Lenses

It’s somewhat unlikely that Sunday’s match between Liverpool at Manchester United will live long in the memory. Liverpool fans sang, “We won’t do that chant.” Luis Suarez buzzed around a lot and showed glimpses of the behaviour that has endeared him to football fans the world over. Man Utd were the beneficiaries of ludicrously weak refereeing. Just another weekend in the mighty, mighty Premier League.

I actually thought Mark Halsey started the game pretty well. It’s easy for these hotly-contested games to spiral into bitty yellow card bonanzas, but he was lenient on a couple of challenges, one from either side, that would have ordinarily brought a yellow card. Then in the 39th minute, Jonjo Shelvey went into a challenge with one foot, and Jonny Evans went into the same challenge with two feet. Shelvey, after some helpful advice from the ever considerate opposition players – no referee should ever make a big decision in a Man Utd game without first consulting Rio Ferdinand – was shown a red card.

Whichever way you look at this, it’s a poor decision. If he was in the right position to see Shelvey’s studs were raised, then he would also have been in the right position to see that Evans’s studs were also raised. If he was in the wrong position, then a) it’s poor refereeing, and b) he’s making a game-changing decision without being 100% certain that he’s correct. And given his earlier leniency (presumably) in the hope of letting the game flow better, why stymie what was, up to that point, an excellent contest?

Man Utd had been given a stern examination in the first half, conceding over 60% of possession to their North West rivals. Van Persie looked isolated, the midfield was disjointed, and young Raheem Sterling was causing no end of grief to Patrice Evra down United’s left. A side with greater conviction and cutting edge would have been 2 or 3 goals to the good before half time, before the red card, even.

So despite Gerrard’s well taken goal, it always felt like United would come back into it, and so they did a mere five minutes later, Rafael’s excellent curling finish levelling things up. And with 15 minutes to go, Antonio Valencia’s jelly legs took a tumble under the weight of expectation – I presume it was that, seeing as there was eff all other contact – and RVP shrugged off a five minute injury delay to squeeze in the spot kick past Reina. Credit Ferguson’s reverse psychology in his throwaway comment before the match – “We never get penalties there” – but a plague on Halsey’s house for facilitating such an atrocious decision and handing Man Utd a victory they did very little to deserve.

The Man Utd fans sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning” to Brendan Rogers, who must be feeling a little down on his luck. He’ll wait a long time to see his team play as well as that again and lose, and a narrow defeat to Mark Halsey will not give John W. Henry a reason to wield the axe just yet.

Over in the Fox Soccer studio, it down to Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda (who looks like a taller, less menacing version of Dennis Wise) to argue about the sending off. Barton – whose tan makes Gary Lineker look genuinely pasty – maintained it was a sending off. Wynalda disagreed, desperately trying to find a way of saying, “But it’s a derby game!” in a less colloquial manner, and giving it all the hand gesturing he could muster. Finally, he grabbed Barton’s arm and stared him the eyes before making one final impassioned plea that it wasn’t a red card. Barton didn’t respond. Pools panel result: Away win. (Barton is always away because he’s English).

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35 miles back up the M62, Financial Extravagance’s City laboured to a 1-1 draw with Financial Prudence’s Arsenal. Craig Burley may not be on Sky, but there was an altogether familiar feel to the Scotsman’s haranguing of Arsenal’s zonal marking system. “Statistically, they say that teams using Zonal Marking concede fewer goals,” he said. “But every time I’ve seen it, it never works!” I like to think a part of Andy Gray’s soul was filled with joy at that moment. Burley is the living embodiment of the phrase, “Because fact into doubt…won’t go.” Anyway, it was more to do with playing a keeper that hasn’t got a bloody clue at corners than it was about the relative merit of different marking systems.

Arsenal probably should have been ahead before that, but when put through one-one-one with Joe Hart, Gervinho’s first touch not only deserted him, but seemed to have left planet earth entirely. My nightmares are filled with alarmingly similar situations leading to alarmingly similar outcomes. That and spiders.

And I leave you with news that the UN’s race relations ambassador John Terry has retired from international football, making England a 372% more likeable team.

Thousand yard stare

There are many reasons to reminisce about home when you’re a few thousand miles away from it. Often, it’s not what you might have expected before you left. A chill wind. Peering out at the pissing rain during an English summer. Less flagrant use of car horns at junctions. And of course, for those of us afflicted by an obsession with a particular game involving a spherical ball, the UK’s coverage of professional football.

Now, while the UK is somewhat of a cultural sponge in regard of the US, you’re hopeful it’s still some way away from introducing any sort of “banter zone” into it’s football programming. 606, You’re on Sky Sports, TalkSport and others may have allowed some more of the more “choice” football opinions a platform to be heard on a national basis, but you feel a certain nadir, some sort of terminal cultural Shark Jumping will have happened once any sort of “Banter Zone” washes up on Britain’s fair shores.

Fortunately, the Fox Soccer Channel compensates for its slightly over-bombastic presentation of the sport by adding a hint of Dour Scotsman to it’s football round-up program; while Bobby McMahon is erudite and highly knowledgeable about world football, the sunny Texan skies have made him a little too optimistic than can be normal for any still-native Dundonian.  And as a man who considers himself a quarter Scots, I feel I can legitimately make a sweeping generalisation about 25% of my heritage, hopefully without being more than 75% hypocritical.

One program my nostalgia wore out pretty quickly for was Match of the Day. Some aspects of the “sameyness” of home are comforting, but the droll semi-interested chat of Gary, Alan & Lawro (as the show should be called) is not one of them. FSC’s Banter Zone may be the most ridiculous title for a segment of a TV show ever, but at least you can tell it’s not taking itself as seriously as you might think. By contrast, Gary Lineker has almost reached a sneering pomposity in the way he way presents MOTD, vaguely complimentary towards the Big 2 while snarkily dismissive of most of the other 18 teams in the league. The self-importance on display has you actively searching for the last known location of Andy Townsend’s tactics truck, before you realise it belongs to Andy Townsend and report it to the police for being double parked.

The BBC’s coverage has such a high opinion of itself that it doesn’t realise how much of an irrelevance it is danger of becoming. Zero innovation in its presentation. The same old faces spouting the same old cliches year after year, while some bright spark at BBC Sport thinks that adding Mick McCarthy and Harry bloody Redknapp to the panel line up is in some way going to freshen things up. Motson-lite stats-obsessed commentators, most of whom deliver with that dash of social judgement on proceedings that is so unnecessary. It’s just not very good. Sky Sports may be the devil incarnate, but at least they don’t treat their viewership like a bunch of total dipshits.

America will never care about soccer in the same way that Britain does, but at least it doesn’t treat it with the same complacency as MOTD. So with that in mind, I’m off to get involved in the Banter Zone on twitter.

European Dreams

Quite a lot has been made of the decision to change the European Championships to a 24-team competition at its next incarnation in 2016, in that, on the whole, there has been quite a negative reaction. The perception is that increasing the number of teams will lead to a dilution in the quality. And after a pretty damn good summer of tournament football, it’s hard to disagree.

We had the situation where two arguably “weaker” teams hosted the tournament, thereby taking up two of the four available slots in the pool for top seeds, and thus skewing the difficulty of the group stages somewhat. Anyone trying to justify that the group of Czech Republic, Russia, Greece and Poland was similar in class to that of Germany, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands is unfortunately suffering from some kind of football-based political correctness addiction. A fairer system would be to seed host countries based on their FIFA ranking [before you say it - I know. Ed] along with everybody else; this would stop more higher ranked teams from being drawn as second seeds than seems reasonable.

Having said all that, the group stages were hugely entertaining. With most teams still having something to play for going into their final match, and no danger of a penalty shootout, hope sprung eternal (except in Ireland) and there was far less cagey doggedness than we’ve seen in recent summer football fests.

Leave it to England, of course, to supply the first 0-0 of the tournament.  Some blame has to be laid at the feet of the horribly profligate Italians (in that game), though, who really should have been home and hosed long before England bottled yet another penalty competition.

As an England fan, it is always the hope that kills you. You spend the weeks, months, even years going into an international tournament playing down your chances, saying you’re overrated, bemoaning the ridiculous nationalistic fervour driven by the tabloid media, and yet after riding your luck against the Italians, you think “maybe it’s meant to be. Maybe this is our time.” And you’re still thinking that even after the shootout begins, then boom. That’s why you’re pessimistic about England.

Spain won the thing, of course, but that there has been any debate about the merits of their playing style at all, let alone the scathing accusations of snobbery and reverse snobbery between the relevant parties is evidence enough that Spain 2008-2012 do not possess the mercurial artistry to be considered a truly timeless football team. They are a machine, a process. A particular science can only be beautiful to those who subscribe to the environs of that specific branch. For where is the artistry in a high defensive line and pressing all the way up the pitch? Where is the soul in endless unnecessary two yard passes?

Chinua Achebe observed in Morning Yet on Creation Day that “art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorised dog shit”, and though while I wouldn’t extend this harsh a criticism onto the current Spanish side, I am nonetheless forced to wonder at the circumspection of those who innately believe them to the bestest footballing side ever in the world ever ever. They’re good, yeah. But so what? Football shouldn’t be about the pursuit of scientific perfection. It’s about that feeling in your soul that you don’t get from watching other sports, even when you’re not that bothered about the participants.

Euro 2012 Pundit Rundown: ITV

For so long, ITV has been the poor relation of football coverage. Cutting to adverts during crucial moments of matches; complete and comical graphics failure during a Champions League final; the continual employment of Clive Tyldesley. There may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, however, even if it is just that Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira might vent their opprobrium for one another in the form of a few punches of Adrian Chiles’ face.

Adrian Chiles: ITV’s search for a winning anchorman for their football coverage has been long and chequered. Jim Athletics Rosenthal has sort of been around forever. Elton Welsby came, then went to Busman’s Holiday. Sir Matthew Of Orange [Lorenzo] followed. Then we we had some agressive host poaching from the BBC: first Bob Wilson, who turned out to be a bit dull. Soon after, Des Lynam, forever smeared with the tyre marks from the Tactics Truck. Even Steve “Chill” Rider couldn’t quite make it work; there was something about his easy manner that always seemed more at home on Grandstand.

Finally, apparently miffed at being given Fridays off from The One Show, Adrian Chiles left behind the comfort of the BBC sofa for the choppy waters of their commercial rivals. And it’s been downhill all the way since he arrived.

His everyman, matey style and staunch face worked well on MOTD2; tucked away on Sunday evenings, it didn’t feel like it needed to compete with the flagship Saturday night show. He brought a faux-gallows humour, derived from decades of following the Baggies in the lower divisions. On ITV though, he just sounds like a smug tosser. Hair-tearingly jingoistic during European club football and Internationals (i.e. the sum total of all ITV’s football output), he even thinks to speak on behalf of the nation when criticising former England managers for being foreign. Foreign!

The problem is, all the things that made him good on the BBC make him really bad on ITV, and being constantly interrupted by ad breaks means he can’t get a decent flow going or any worthwhile dialogue from his guests. The cycle continues. He joins the long list of BBC presenters who just couldn’t make it work on ITV.

FifPro Pundit Rating: 2/10
Most likely to advertise: The Big Issue

Gareth Southgate: A worthy centre-back. A poor manager. His punditry lies somewhere in the middle. He always has the awkward air of a GCSE Business Studies teacher being interviewed on Parkinson. Benefits from being able to at least form coherent sentences and likes to have a stab at the tactical stuff. One feels there’s a good sense of humour buried somewhere in there, but it doesn’t sit well with Chiles’s obvious gags and droll observations of odd looking people in the crowd, so he becomes entrenched in a form analytical limbo. Could benefit from getting a bit lagered up before each game.

FifPro Pundit rating: 4/10
Most likely to advertise: Bull Boys Shoes

Photo: sportige.com & books4u.in

Patrick Vieira: His history with Roy Keane should lead to a few awkward moments of silence if they disagree about something, and though he lacks the charisma of BBC’s imported talent, hopefully his prescence will intimidate Chiles into being less of a douche. He will bring a Gallic Shrug to the studio, hindering ITV’s attempts to wake us from the simultaneous coma and fit of rage their coverage induces.

FifPro Pundit rating: TBA (Provisional: 5/10)
Most likely to advertise: [shrug]

Roy Keane: His intimidating stare and aura of genuinely not enjoying being on the TV make him a welcome addition to any football panel, though it’s important not to forget he was probably the nastiest player of the last 30 years. Just as he’s made a salient point, I sometimes catch myself thinking, “This guy deliberately ended someone’s career. How can I agree with him about anything?” He’s got a load of those witty fridge magnets at home that say: “You don’t have to be a callous bastard to be an effective midfield enforcer…but it helps!!” Lord Ferg bought him one every year for Christmas. Also, I heard a rumour that he wanks his dogs, but it’s probably not true.

FifPro Pundit rating: 6/10
Most likely to advertise: Ronseal quick drying woodstain

Jamie Carragher: Very much the wildcard option, ITV’s studio is really going for that “hard bastard” feel this year. I’ve heard his punditry in the past, and it was as you’d expect, really: quite difficult to understand, but fettered with cliches about “spirit” and so on. However I’m slightly worried that he might try to kill me, so I’ve a feeling he’s going to surprise everyone and be the best pundit in the world ever.

FifPro Pundit rating: 11/10
Most likely to advertise: Shin pads. For his opponents.

Gordon Strachan: Wee Gordo is the figurative “safe pair of hands”. Adrian Chiles actually owes a lot to WGS, their formative bantering on early MOTD2 forming the the bedrock on which Chiles built his, er…empire? Well. Brings a different kind of Scottishness than Hansen on the other side, he is pithy and brisk, and more importantly, red-haired (just about), flying the flag for the most oppressed section of modern society. Can be a little over-cynical at times, but at least it opposes Chiles’s “Why can’t we all just get along?” lovey-ness.

FifPro Pundit rating: 8/10
Most likely to advertise: Just for men (Grampian region only)

Roberto Martinez: Always sounds like a man who has just emerged from a 6-hour interrogation with the CIA, you feel he’s using the time watching games to scout for potential recruits rather than anything else. His habit of looking into the middle distance during sentences, pausing briefly, then staring into the eyes of the host whilst finishing each sentence like a question is an interesting quirk. Someone needs to tell him there isn’t anyone behind him holding a gun to his head so he can relax a bit.

FifPro Pundit rating: 6.5/10
Most likely to advertise: Regaine

ITV’s Qommentating Quadrumvirate of Clive Tyldesley, Andy Townsend, Peter Drury and Jim Beglin:
It’s like watching Angela Lansbury walk on hot coals, times a million.

FifPro Commentator rating: 0/10
Most likely to advertise: How amazing the BBC is. Inadvertently.


Euro 2012 Pundit Rundown: BBC

With the start of Euro 2012 less than 24 hours away, it only seems right to evaluate the pundits who will be causing our ears to bleed with nauseatingly awful punditry over the next 3 weeks. Here’s what we’ve got to look forward to.

Gary Lineker: From poachy striker to televisual anchor man, it hasn’t been the happiest of position changes for England’s all time 2nd highest scorer. The sad truth is his autocue delivery still sounds like a tired adult delivering a bedtime story to a 4-year-old, though occasionally he comes across as intelligent and funny when engaging in ad-libbed conversation with his guests. Talks to Shearer too much, needs to stop encouraging him.

FifPro Pundit rating: 4/10
Most likely to advertise: Sunbeds’R'us

Alan Hansen: For almost 20 years, he has been obsessed with distance between centre-backs being the root cause of defensive calamity. He’s probably right. One of his generations finest defenders, clearly harbours excellent tactical nous, and it’s still fun watching him analyzing terrible defending. Suffers from BBC’s dumbed-down approach to football coverage, and from having sat next to Shearer for too many years.

FifPro Pundit rating: 7/10
Most likely to advertise: Defensive tape-measures

Harry Redknapp: Who needs Jamie and his tight trousers when the beeb have conscripted ‘Arry and his, er… face? Somehow overlooked as national team manager despite winning 1 FA cup, 1 Intertoto cup (the trophy real European powerhouses wanted to win – just ask Aston Villa), 1 Associate Members cup, 1 Third division title and 1 Second division title all in just under 30 years! How Europe would have quaked in their Adidas Predators before facing master tactician Redknapp Senior! Spends every other summer driving around Wapping looking for journalists to talk to with his window down. If he decides to join the BBC panel this year, look forward to D-grade punnery and wisecracks, all lapped up and lovingly embraced by his sofa buddies.

FifPro Pundit rating: 3/10
Most likely to advertise: Paul Stretford Agency Services

Jurgen Klinsmann: Germany’s finest, he’s now in charge of the US men’s football team (“Good hustle, ja!”) An unusally erudite and eloquent choice for the BBC, expect the producers to tell him “tone it down” if he starts getting too clever during matches. Watch Shearer pulse with rage as Jurgen’s Teutonic-American accent makes him look more stupid than normal.

FifPro Pundit rating: 9/10
Most likely to advertise: Holiday homes in the Florida Keys.


Alan Shearer: Famously does no research on any countries apart from England before a major tournament, because, well, those rounds of golf aren’t going to play themselves, are they? It’s not like the paying public care about them bloody foreigners anyway! Who’d have thought that Lewandowski fella was any good, playing for a no-mark team like Poland? Oh and while you’re there, what’s a “João Moutinho”? Oh, right.

FifPro Pundit rating: 10/10
Most likely to advertise: Hair implants

Clarence Seedorf: Not a man you’d want to be up against in a bar room brawl, he has literally (Jamie) been playing football forever. Literally. His deep, soothing voice is football’s answer to Michael Holding, and while his English is not quite up to Klinsmann’s, at least you’ll feel better about your dog being run over after listening to him talk.

FifPro Pundit rating: 8/10
Most likely to advertise: Life assurance

Lee Dixon: Easily the most understated of the BBC regulars, you can tell the rest of the “boys” look down on him because he was “only” a full-back for “Arsenal”. Gets credit for chancing his arm at some tactical analysis on MOTD2, though his incredulity at a ball “moving in three directions at once” shows a lack of basic understanding of the laws of motion. His overall former boyband look means he’s unlikely to be a regular at the top table.

FifPro Pundit rating: 7/10
Most likely to advertise: Backstreet Boys Greatest Hits

David James: That rarest of breeds, an intelligent and articulate footballer in an age of almost universal stupidity. He used to talk about “picturing [him]self saving the ball”, which is about as close as he would get when playing for England. Will bring back happy memories of unsighting himself behind his own bloody wall for France’s equaliser and conceding the penalty for their winner against England in Euro 2004.  Presumably has a lot of theoretical knowledge about being a goalie, but years of failing the practical examination mean his critique of other keepers should be taken with a pinch of salt.

FifPro Pundit rating: TBA
Most likely to advertise: H&M Clothing

Exiled in Polkraine: Jake Humphrey & Gabby Logan: Jake “The Snake” Humphrey will all be about asking David Coulthard if Arjen Robben activated his DRS when overtaking the defender. Gabby Logan brings a wealth of blonde-haired banality to proceedings. She is about as interesting as a seagull.

MIA: Mark Lawrenson: “It was his right foot… know what I mean?”

Alan Shearer

The surprising emergence of Gary Neville as an insightful and impartial football pundit has regrettably raised the bar for some of England’s rather more suspect football commentators. “Alan Shearer” has become the punchline to so many jokes about the dire standard of football punditry in this country that it almost seems unfair to pick on him for any misdemeanours.

One could argue that it’s not his fault he is so incapable of forming an independent thought about the game; after all, if someone waved a six-figure cheque in your face to offer your opinions on football, regardless of how inane, bland or simply incorrect they may be, I’m sure you’d snaffle it up like a Gosforth-born former Premier League striker scores from two yards into an empty net.

So mind-numbingly boring has his tenure as a regular Match of the day pundit become, that I can’t remember how long he has been doing the job. It must be at least over 4 years, as that was the first time I ever wrote about being dissatisfied with Shearer’s lack of insight. Though, I find it incredible that I haven’t smashed my head repeatedly into a brick wall after listening to his “thoughts”, so I’m thankful for that small mercy.

You may countenance that I’ve written over 200 words without levelling a single specific allegation of stupidity against Mr. Shearer. Ordinarily, I would argue that it was because he says absolutely nothing noteworthy during the course of a MOTD broadcast. But finally, on the evening of May 6th, 2012, he finally hammered the stupid nail into his moron coffin. He proclaimed that Alex McLeish was only booed and harangued by Aston Villa fans because he had formerly managed bitter rivals Birmingham City.

Now, to anyone that had zero knowledge of football and just a miniscule amount of knowledge about the rivalry between Aston Villa and Birmingham City, this may have seemed like a logical argument. But anyone that has seen more than 20 minutes of Aston Villa this season will tell you that Big ‘Eck’s managerial history has nothing to do with it. They are booing him because of the simple fact that Alex McLeish is a crap manager who has had Villa playing their most turgid football in almost 30 years.

For instance: Villa have won only 4 home games this season. This is their worst ever return from home games over a league season in over 100 years. They have been treated to a whopping 1.05 Villa goals per home game. Let me tell you, Villa fans would not have cared if McLeish had BCFC tattooed on his forehead if he had led Villa to the mid-table finish that their squad deserved this season. The reason that he has been getting jip from the home faithful is because HE IS RUBBISH. There is no other reason. To claim otherwise only highlights the spectacular lack of knowledge of Wor Alan.

And that was what finally sent me over the edge, as Shearer claimed McLeish’s Birmingham heritage as the sole cause of his trouble with the Villa fans. Had I been a man for whom money was no object, I would have undoubtedly smashed my television to smithereens in act of fruitless defiance.

And so high is Shearer’s level of General Ignorance that such wanton destruction could actually be considered justifiable in this case. Had he taken the time to talk to even just 3 or 4 Villa fans prior to tonight’s show, he would have found that his held opinion had absolutely zero basis in fact. Let’s do this in one sentence so The Talented Mr. Alan can understand:

VILLA FANS DISLIKE MCLEISH BECAUSE HE IS A SHIT MANAGER.

There are no ulterior motives. Get it into your thick skull and stop spreading your held opinions as fact on a national basis.

So if I may be so brazen as to say, “He should have done better with that.” Because Shearer hasn’t just missed an open goal, he has quite literally hit the crossbar from 6 yards out and the ball has rebounded into his face and knocked him out cold.

Shearer has been making money from saying nothing for well over four years now. Just because he’s been getting away with it for so long doesn’t mean we should forget he’s been getting with it at all. I’ll leave the final words to the brilliant Cameron Carter, who writes for When Saturday Comes:

“Alan Shearer. Ten years ago those two words meant a ball bursting the net. Nowadays they represent an interval between meaningful events. It’s not just that he sounds like a man sight-reading from the Bible, it’s the poverty of the content. On the same Match of the Day as Jacqui Oatley’s debut, Gary Lineker described Ben Foster’s mistake for Darius Vassell’s goal as summing-up Watford’s disappointing season. Over the replays of Foster’s miskick, Shearer indolently concluded “that goal really does sum up Watford’s season”, like a man in a circle who has been passed an idea and tried it without inhaling.”

Not Redknapp: Make your voice heard

Obviously, no-one really cares about online petitions. But over the last couple of days, I’ve found it very frustrating that Britain’s most popular national daily newspaper has been allowed to propagate its own myth regarding a supposed overwhelming national outcry that Harry Redknapp should have been appointed England manager.

Frankly, it is an abomination that a national newspaper should run a front page headline that is stupid, crass, and offensive in equal measure. Few people take note of the angry voices over in bloggers corner, of course, but that isn’t going to stop this particular one from at least attempting to start some sort of fire in protest.

So I implore you, citizens of the forgotten realm of Common Sense, to sign this petition aimed at the tabloids who claim to speak for us. Make it known that, actually, you weren’t that fussed about Harry Redknapp becoming England manager. Maybe Roy Hodgson was your preferred choice, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe you would have preferred The Greatest Manager In The World, Sam Allardyce. Or perhaps the former favourite son of the fourth estate, Terry Venables. The fact is, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the newspaper with the largest readership in the country has taken upon itself to declare its voice as that of the entire footballing nation. And as someone who didn’t think Liverpool fans urinated on members of the emergency services at the Hillsborough disaster, and as someone who doesn’t care either way that the new England manager struggles a bit with his pronunciation of the letter ‘R’, I’d very much like it to be known that The Sun does not speak for me.

Nor does it speak for many, I hope, like me, who object to their immediately antagonistic stance towards the new England manager, due to the overlooking of their chum Harry Redknapp. Sign up:

Let’s try and let football journalists at The Sun know that not everybody falls into line with their assumption that everybody wanted Harry Redknapp to be England manager.

New Man

After Fabio Capello’s departure, the preliminary assessment of (apparently) everyone in the country was that the man to take charge of England at the European Championships would be Harry Redknapp. All the pieces of the puzzle fit very nicely together; Tottenham were flying, so Redknapp could leave on good terms with Spurs having qualifed for the Champions League; the rabidly jingoistic media would not only satisfy their craving for an English manager, but also have someone to get chummy with at press conferences; and your “average football fan” would be happy that Harry, Man Of the People, “I don’t know nuffink about tax, me, but I have got an offshore bank account” Redknapp was in charge of the England team.

So with the news that Roy Hodgson will be interviewed for the England job today, where has it all gone wrong for ‘Arry? While it’s laudable that he’s spent the last two and a half months avoiding all questions about his future, the looming possibility of “the job” and all the media speculation surrounding it has clearly had an effect on his team. In the 11 league games since Capello resigned, Spurs have won just 3 times. In the same period, Hodgson’s West Brom have won 6.

It has at least been noted that Spurs’ business in the January transfer window has been a factor in their recent poor form, but the blame for the movement of underused and disgruntled players lies at the feet of their manager. For team to finish in the top 4, a manager has to be capable of effective squad management. That means even when things are rosy and you’re beating everyone in sight, you need to be able to rest players, keep things a little fresh, and to try and stave off burnout in the latter stages of the season. Spurs have a fantastic first XI, but they had several worthy squad players who could have played a vital part in the last couple of months when the chips were down somewhat. Look at how Steven Pienaar has driven Everton forward since rejoining in January. Harry must be cursing himself for letting him go as Tottenham allowed a double figure points lead over Arsenal turn into a deficit.

Was Harry’s ego the problem? Was he so convinced of his impending coronation as national boss that he thought he could wait the FA out, that they would silently hold the position open for him until the end of the domestic season? The FA had given him plenty of time. His trial had finished and he was acquitted on all counts. Why, then, was he still so reluctant to throw his name into the hat?

An experienced manager like Hodgson will be under no illusions of what to expect if he is to become England manager. The more recent history of his tenure in charge of Liverpool is the perfect example of what will happen if results and performances aren’t immediately up to the level expected – i.e. he will be hounded out within months if he isn’t able to acutely overperform with a distinctly average and overrated bunch of players.

But in this case, that may just work in his favour. With the FA dragging their feet over appointing Capello’s successor, Hodgson will have little time to prepare his charges and so even the notoriously unforgiving and rabble-rousing tabloid media should cut him some slack. Hodgson has shown that, given the willingness of the players and certain amount of luck, he can create a well-drilled and efficient unit.

What England lack is the genuine world-class flair player to complement any organisation that Hodgson is able to instil into the team. Gerrard’s star is fading. Lampard is a passenger and should be considered no more than an impact sub. Wilshere won’t be there due to injury. There is little to be excited about on either flank, unless you find Ashley Young’s QWOP impression titillating. Sturridge and Welbeck are good young players, but it’s easy to look good when carried by a decent club team; it remains to be seen how they will cope when the space and service dries up as it always does when England have the ball.

That leaves Rooney, the most unreliable outfield player in an England shirt in the last 20 years, who also happens to be suspended for the opening two games due to a spectacular moment of unreliability in the qualifiers. And who will not be afforded the leeway to scream, shout, kick and elbow his way to glory as he does in the Premier League. Which doesn’t fill one with the greatest amount of confidence.

Perhaps then, with expectations at an all-time low, a new manager, and a squad in a period of generational transition, England could finally, finally, make it beyond the quarter finals of a major tournament. At least (one would assume) Shaun Wright-Phillips won’t be there playing on the left wing, causing all manner of household accoutrements to be thrown in frustration at the TV. Or perhaps Hodgson will lead England to a “golden decade of quarter-final glory” (© Robin Hearn).

As far as England managers go, Hodgson will be the most likeable one since Bobby Robson, albeit without the rent-a-quote media savvy that would have kept the media onside a la Redknapp or Venables. He is somewhat understated, but has an unerring belief in his methods, which have served him pretty well over a 30 year managerial career. My nagging suspicion is that the ego-laden England squad won’t take well to Hodgson getting them to repeat defensive drills many times over, but there’s always a chance. There’s always hope. And that’s what kills you.

Good luck, Roy.