Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

He does. I'm telling
you, he really does
look like a pterodactyl

Poor old Andy Murray. To add insult to injury, after losing his second successive Grand Slam final, he wept like a small child in front of millions. An uncontrollable overflow of emotion, you might say. Or was it? Seemed to me like Mr Murray has been taking acting lessons, performing with a the lump in the throat and a moist eye the fist-to-mouth, turn-from-the-mic-in-grief-stricken-humility move with decidedly more precision than any one of his many unforced errors this morning, or evening depending on your hemisphere. ‘I can cry like Roger, I just wish I could play like him.’ Oh come on, surely that was scripted, considering the most you normally get from the moody Scot is an eyes-to-the-floor monosyllabic grumble.

I felt most sorry for Sue Barker, who, with a beaming smile at the beginning of the coverage, looked every inch like she had been finally provided with her raison d’etre. Henman seemed pleased to be out of the house too, providing the kind of nuggets of wisdom we have become accustomed to from the most easily caricatured man in tennis. Apart from perhaps Boris Becker who, occupying the same sofa (incidentally in the MOTD studio hastily prepared with different coloured mood lighting) looks more and more like a pimp every time I see him.

I don’t want to take anything away from Federer, he was, is and always will be in a class above Murray. I was surprised to read that going into the match, Murray was ahead in their head to head standings, but when it mattered, Federer was sublime. The perfect sportsman? As good a candidate as I can think of, especially as it’s highly unlikely it will ever emerge that Roger has been knocking off his training partner’s wife, unlike some model sportsmen we could, and now can, name.

That brings me nicely onto the sorry case of JT. There’s a bizarre financial element to all this, to do with his extra-curricular sponsorship deals that plunges the whole affair (excuse the pun) deeper into ignominy. To conduct an affair with the wife of your friend and team mate is one thing, but to insist on its cover up primarily to protect your extra-curricular income, on top of the £150 odd thousand per week from Chelsea, is pretty rotten indeed. Strip him of the England armband? I don’t think so; most of the reprobates lining up to snatch it from him are hardly model citizens themselves. Rooney would rather pay to use other, more elderly armbands, while Ashley Cole would leave his armband at home while he took another one to a hotel for the night. Joe Cole would leave his at the bar whilst he went into the toilet to have a fight, and Gerrard would shove it down the DJ’s throat after his second successive song request had been ignored.

No, I would allow Terry to keep the captaincy and just let them all get on with it. As penance, a televised bare-knuckle cage fight between him and Wayne Bridge might suffice, though with sanctions on the sponsorship. We as a nation should rise above all this nonsense and do what the English are famous for, and what makes us proud of our great nation. At this Summer’s World Cup, we should all get behind him and the team, giving them our unwavering support. We can then quite justifiably lynch him when we crash out to Portugal in the quarter finals.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Managing. Just.

The Manchester City player in question
knew he was in trouble with the
manager after passing out in the
gutter and allowing the line painter
to run over his pristine new
away shirt

I heard Steve Bruce say a little while ago that no manager is truly safe in his job and is only ever six games away from an ignominious sacking, facing the frightening prospect of being left with only a multi million pound pay off for comfort. A nice little earner actually, and a tactic that Bryan Robson has been using for years.

Yes, the Premier League managerial merry go round does not stop to let anybody off. Gary Megson was the latest to be bundled off leaving him bruised and bloodied, the wary eyes of Rafa Benitez following his crumpled form as he continues to whirl at breakneck speed.

I do feel a little sorry for Megson, though none could defend his woeful season, leaving Bolton dangling precariously over the relegation precipice having failed to keep a clean sheet all season. I feel for him because he just looks so damn depressed all the time, and this push over the edge might just leave him on suicide watch. It’s hard to describe his character satisfactorily, but if he were a colour, he would most certainly be grey.

Robert Mancini on the other hand is certainly not grey. In fact, he is positively blue and white, judging from the scarf he so conspicuously insists on wearing. His tailor must despair. City could use their manager’s sartorial stylings on the pitch; their away shirt is frankly ridiculous and looks like a reject from Roy of the Rovers. Mancini’s blue and white may just carry a slosh of Chianti, having revealed that he takes a fairly liberal attitude to his players dining habits before a game. Pizza and wine; revealing that the Italians are still the easiest nation in the world to stereotype. So much so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride onto the Eastlands pitch on a Vespa when they face United tomorrow night. It will be interesting to observe the erosion of his impeccable appearance that life in Manchester will inevitably cause; hopefully by April he will have switched to a trenchcoat, wear his hair plastered down round his face and develop a Gallagherian swagger.

Rafa Benitez has less of a swagger these days; his is more of a defiant meander. It’s hard to believe that only 12 months ago, Liverpool had one eye on the Premier League title. It was suggested to me, when Gerrard failed to show for the second half of last week’s disastrous FA cup tie with Reading, that he probably joined Torres in the media suite to check for a one way ticket to Madrid. It was a proposal that made me smile considering every fourth advertising billboard flashing around the ground was for

What is most perplexing about Liverpool is just where all the good players are. Despite Benitez’s 180m odd expenditure in his 5 year history at Liverpool, even a cursory glance at the squad roster reveals that only a handful are much use. It’s far more fun to name the bad ones; so Lucas, El Zhar, Babel, N’Gog and Insua, please stand up. Or just do something, rather than passing the ball to the opposition continually as Liverpool are wont to do of late.

Manchester United have had a blip recently too. The cup exit to Leeds was a shock, and though they fielded a depleted side, not even Rooney and Berbatov could make any difference for home side. Credit to the Leeds players though, who deserve to be playing at a much higher level and can hopefully piece together a decent cup run this year. Alex Ferguson gave an excuse I’m sure, though it seems, from the last press conference I saw, that his famous Scottish droll has finally become totally intelligible.

For me, Arsenal are the dark horses this year. If Fabregas can stay fit, there’s no reason they can’t mount a serious title challenge. As for the fourth spot, if Liverpool can take the gun from their head they may, just may be able to prize the final Champions' League spot if Spurs and Man City fall away towards the end of the season as I suspect they might, and if Villa don’t fold like origami in March like last year.

Elsewhere, Adrian Chiles of MOTD2 is beginning to look like Ray Mears after a week in the woods, though admittedly without any shortage of food. And forget the title race; the receding hair lines between pundits Lee Dixon and Alan Shearer is a far more gripping competition, with only a few follicles separating both as the season passes the halfway mark…