Tag Archives: steven gerrard

And Suddenly

mata-herrera

Well who would have thunked that then, eh? The blinding first half hour of the Spurs game, when United emerged with their most memorable passage of play in I dunno how long, followed by an equally impressive opening salvo against Liverpool. Same team, same formation, same level of performance. It’s probably 15 years or more since we went to Anfield and controlled the game, but we actually did it. Turned up, dominated possession, created chances, took a couple and won the match. At one point during that 2nd half, when we were 2-0 up and the sun was shining, I’m sure I was actually, ever so briefly, enjoying myself. It soon evaporated when Sturridge scored and we faced a nervy last 20 minutes, but that’s not the point. For a few precious moments, I had the distinct feeling that United were back.

It’s taken until March for Van Gaal to stumble on his preferred line up and it’s one that even the sagiest of sages couldn’t have predicted back in August – Falcao and Di Maria on the bench with Young and Fellaini full of confidence and justifying their continued selection. Personally speaking, I gave up on the pair of them months ago and was somewhat aghast at the fact Van Gaal was still persevering. Fair’s fair though – they’re worth their place at present. Fellaini is still one of the most ungainly players I’ve ever seen – a professional nuisance who looks alright apart from when he has to use his feet. As we saw when he was at Everton, though – when he’s on form and firing he can be unplayable. The footballing aesthete in me still finds him grossly offensive, but there’s no denying that he’s brutally effective at what he does best.

To counter the presence of Fellaini and Phil Jones (another who seems to spend much of his time on the pitch playing a different sport to everyone else), Van Gaal has finally seen fit to unleash Mata and Herrera in tandem and thus bring about this unexpected outbreak of shekshy football. Juan Mata is ace. He’s just bloody lovely isn’t he? He writes a blog every week in which he signs off with hugs, he explores the Peak District on his days off, he tweets monochrome pictures of Manchester’s architecture and he probably likes kittens too. I mean, if you were, you definitely would, wouldn’t you?

Herrera too is the sort of lad who’s more likely to be found wandering round the Whitworth rather than sparring with Phil Bardsley after too many Smirnoff Ices. Like Mata, he looks a smashing player who’s too often been overlooked this season despite impressing when called upon. Since Van Gaal maintains that players are picked on merit, then surely the last two games have shown that the pair deserve to stay in the side for the remainder of the season? Give them a run, see if the team continues to thrive… and if Fellaini’s elbows are required as a counterweight to their lightweight presence, then so be it. I can live with that – at least we’ve got midfielders playing in midfield now.

The victory at Anfield was topped off, of course, with a wonderful cameo by Steven Gerrard who managed less time on the pitch than he did giving his leaden-faced, post-match apology… in which he apologised to pretty much everyone in existence barring the bloke he actually stamped on. The anguish in Martin Tyler’s voice as Martin Atkinson produced the red card was fantastic. Having spent the proceeding 2 minutes furiously spouting every last cliche he could muster, Tyler could barely conceal his disappointment as his planned narrative for the remainder of the match vanished within 40 seconds of Slippy’s grand entrance.

gerrard

There’s no doubting that Gerrard has been a great servant for Liverpool over the years, but as a truly great player he falls somewhat short of the top tier. His career has coincided with both the era of the overhyped Premier League superstar and Liverpool’s decline from the game’s elite, so consequently he’s been lionised and feted by a generation of fans and ex-players desperate to see a return to their glory years. The Gerrard myth was finally exposed for all to see during last summer’s World Cup, when Hodgson made the glaring error of going with public opinion and making the bloke his captain and thus undroppable.

Contrary to Sky Sports’ legend, Gerrard is anything but a selfless leader of men who continues to inspire everyone around him just by frowning and looking serious. It’s a myth. Instead, I’d suggest that Steven Gerrard plays mainly for himself, and has done for years. He’s got a big heart, yes… but that’s part of the problem – all too often he’s relied on that rather than demonstrate a functioning football brain. The reality is that Gerrard is tactically ill-disciplined and fatally flawed as a genuine top-level player. Talented undoubtedly, but as far as Liverpool and England were concerned, too often a liability when the stakes were high and a cool head was required.

Talking of frowning and looking serious, Ryan Giggs has been doing an awful lot of that this last few months. Now I’m no expert on body language, but judging by Giggsy’s current demeanour, life as a key member of Louis Van Gaal’s backroom staff looks to be about as much fun as attending a child’s funeral. You dutifully sit there listening to the big feller muttering to himself, you watch as he makes notes on his big pad, you offer the odd opinion (which he probably ignores) and then when the clowns on the pitch somehow contrive to score a goal, you get rewarded with a slap across the chops for your troubles.

Now I’m not trying to shit-stir and this is based on nothing more than me speculating, but one is left wondering how long this current set-up is going to last. Despite Ryan never being the most expressive of personalities off the pitch (which I can personally attest to having been resoundingly blanked after letting on to him in the bogs at Cheerleaders in the mid-90s… not that I’m still bitter or anything), he just looks utterly fed up at the moment. Maybe it’s the comedown after playing for 20 years, maybe he was short of a better offer after not getting the manager gig himself, maybe it’s nothing of the sort… but something doesn’t look right.

hotel football

Whatever Giggs is thinking right now, his current job is surely still preferable to debating bed linen and shower fittings with Phillip Neville. Yes, the imaginatively named ‘Hotel Football‘ is now open for business and regardless of the fact you or I are unlikely to ever pay it a visit, it’s clearly going to make a shitload of money for the already minted class of ’92 proprietors. The incredible thing about this venture is that it actually exists. I mean, how on earth did they manage to get away with it? United employ departments full of staff tasked with exploiting the commercial potential of everything in the world yet they somehow miss the fact that a strip of land is ripe for development less than a minutes walk away. It’s absolutely absurd.

Every day as Arnold and Woodward drive to and from work, there it is just standing there…. reminding them, taunting them… it must be eating them up seeing all that money being poured into someone else’s pockets right on their doorstep. Next time Joel and Avi turn up you can bet they’ll be ushered in via Stretford Bridge so they don’t see it. Oh to be a fly on the wall at the next scheduled board meeting, “I don’t care about the fact you two idiots have found an official toothpaste partner in Zimbabwe, what the holy fuck is that thing doing over there?!”

Copyright Red News – April 2015

www.rednews.co.uk

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Walking On Sunshine

Big louis

Aaaaaaand we’re back! 14 weeks on from the season of Moyes-inspired decline and it’s all beginning to seem like a distant memory. New manager, new players, new kit, new shirt sponsors, new ‘official global food partners’… it’s all been happening. Apologies now readers, if this column seems less doom-laden than normal – I’m currently suffering from a mild case of pre-season optimism. The thought of rousing myself from my summer stupor for another 9 months of football and all the nonsense that comes with it actually feels quite appealing for once. I’m sure it will pass, but it’s gaylordery all the way at present.

The root cause of this affliction, I’m certain, is Louis Van Gaal. Whereas David Moyes put on his shiniest suit and shuffled apologetically into Carrington last July; LVG strode in sporting an eye catching socks n’ flip-flops combo whilst barking instructions and dishing out high fives to the laundry staff and tea lady. Straight away, he has the air of a man born for the United gig. He might have the look of a sex tourist, but he sounds like a man with a plan. I’m smitten already.

You only needed to take a cursory glance at any of the pre-season fixtures (which I did, sod staying up for the duration), to see the instant effect on the team. Without overstating things at this early stage, for a group that looked so completely devoid of ideas a few months ago, there now appears to be a renewed confidence and swagger in place. Whereas players appeared weighed down under the burden of Moyes’ stilted approach, Van Gaal has already roused those lesser-spotted tenets of expression and creativity. United (whisper it) are beginning to look like a football team again, and a pretty decent one too. Even Ashley Young is playing well.

The feelgood, sunshine vibes of present began even before Van Gaal’s appointment in fairness. I don’t want to spend any more time bitching about Moyes, but life genuinely did begin to get a whole lot better at the precise moment his departure was confirmed. Within days of his sacking, some marketing imbecile at Paddy Power came up with the banterrific idea of installing a mocking statue of him outside Anfield – affording all their OOT’ers a hilarious photo opportunity prior to their match v’s Chelsea. You remember that game, surely? It was the anointed day of usurpation. They had the t-shirts printed and everything, bless them.

Unfortunately for the scousers, the football gods took one look at this development and shockingly, unexpectedly… deliciously decided to cancel their coronation. 2013/14 was grim viewing for the most part, but that Steven Gerrard mis-controlled pass has to go down as one of the most satisfying conclusions to a season in the modern era. Within the space of 5 seconds, Gerrard handed United fans a tolerable summer and Demba Ba an honorary doctorship in scousebusting – his place at the top table alongside Michael Thomas and Norman Whiteside guaranteed for life. City won the league, granted – but most reds were too busy celebrating Liverpool’s (ahem) slip to notice. Schadenfreude – it’s not big and it’s not clever, but it’s an utterly wonderful thing.

Whilst the players and staff have been getting acquainted with Van Gaal and his methods, the man himself has been receiving a fast-tracked induction into how United operate too. This summer, as per usual, we’ve been doing an awful lot of looking at main transfer targets though actual completed business (scarf shots) remain very thin on the ground. Despite rolling with an apparently ‘unlimited’ budget, as of the 2nd week in August, United have recruited fewer players than any other Premier League club. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… as Eric might say.

In 2009 it was Benzema, 2010 was Ozil, 2011 Sneijder, 2012 Hazard, 2013 Thiago… no summer would be complete these days without a long, drawn out, ultimately unrequited transfer saga. In case you weren’t aware of it, 2014’s chief object of desire is Arturo Vidal, the Chilean playmaker who comes with suspect tattoos and an even more suspect knee – a snip at Juventus’ reported asking price of £47M.

Vidal

You might pay little attention to any of this of course, preferring instead to get on with your life, devoting time to friends, family and loved ones during the summer months. Well done, you. That doesn’t stop thousands of normally well adjusted, rational people checking twitter, speculating on forums, translating foreign language tabloids… generally working themselves into a frenzy of unhinged expectation, in a futile attempt to find anything concrete that confirms an actual real-life deal might be imminent. It’s utterly mental.

A mate of mine decided to bypass the Vidal rumour mill and instead took matters into his own hands by emailing Fernando Felicevich, the player’s agent…

Dear Sir,

My 27 year old son has asked for the new Manchester United shirt for his birthday (it’s next Thursday, 7th August). He is an XXXL size and wants Arturo Vidal on the back of the shirt (red one) so he can wear it when he goes to the contact centre to see his 15 year old son. Times are hard here in the UK at present so I cannot afford the full name, so I was thinking just ‘Vidal’ and number ‘7’. Could you tell me whether Arturo is going to sign for Manchester United and if so, will be be before or after 7th August?

I know you are busy so a simple reply such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will be enough.

Thank you for your help. If Arturo has a free shirt as well that would be awesome.

Yours, Mr S***** F****

Amazingly, this gibberish was actually read and replied to within a few hours.

Thanks for your time. Arturo is overwhelmed by the interest of Manchester but enjoying his time in Italy. Good evening.

So there you have it. World exclusive: Vidal’s not coming… either that or Felicevich is bluffing. Why on earth would a reputable agent (c/w hotmail account, no less) reveal the truth to some random crank via email, after all? You genuinely can’t believe a word that clubs, agents or the players themselves are saying in public because no party will ever risk revealing their hand until the very last moment. Routine denials are all part of the dance, which is why people end up giving credence to @agent69itk (a 15 year old kid from Milton Keynes, probably) or any other twitter-based oddball who’s on hand to provide a steady stream of inane ‘updates’ from their impeccably placed ‘sources’.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out more players will ultimately arrive this summer. This consequences of that not happening don’t really bear thinking about. Despite Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all being on their last legs, all three departing at once is a huge loss and we look desperately short of defensive cover – especially given the injury record of the first choice back 4 (or indeed 3) as things stand. Woodward will either have to sort it or face the consequences – I can’t see Big Louis being very understanding should there be any repeat of last year’s fiasco.

Vidal or no Vidal, it’s good to be back. Bring on United…

Copyright Red News – August 2014

www.rednews.co.uk

Corpses In Their Mouths

bbc commentary

By recent standards, the build up to this year’s World Cup was relatively low key. The national team’s abysmal showing at the last few tournaments, where the so-called golden generation were outplayed by the opposition and outshone by their own wives and girlfriends, resulted in a situation where both the media and the publics’ expectations were closely aligned to reality for once. The country at large seemed to accept the indisputable truth: England are a rubbish team and had absolutely no chance of winning the World Cup.

Which was fine, of course. Sanity looked like it might prevail and instead, we could all focus on enjoying the competition, spared of any national outpouring of jingoistic fervour and the self-indulgent cycle of chest beating, wailing and navel-gazing that greets every England tournament flop.

Unfortunately, the minute the squad touched down in Brazil, the old ‘World Cup fever’ quickly took hold and as a consequence, every good patriot felt obliged to re-assess the England team’s chances. The logic seemed to be that as England hadn’t done anything at previous tournaments as one of the favourites, perhaps they’d do better now they were relieved of that tag. A slightly flimsy pretence, perhaps – but one that many pundits and commentators were happy to run with. Sigh.

Cheerleader in chief was Adrian Chiles, doing his avuncular everyman schtick as ITV’s main anchor (yes, anchor). Chiles gets the gig, presumably, because focus groups and think tanks have reached the conclusion that of all potential candidates for the position, he’s the least likely to cause anyone great offence. He’s not posh enough to alienate the Sun readers and he’s not Northern enough to turn-off vast swathes of Middle England. Chiles is a human version of Marks and Spencer jeans. Completely non-threatening and minus controversy, he’s a Volvo estate driving at 69mph in the middle lane of the M6… tuned to Radio 2.

Alongside a revolving panel of 3 studio guests, Chiles’ main brief appeared to be ‘if in doubt, steer conversation back to England’. It didn’t matter what game was being previewed or what action we’d just witnessed, everything was geared towards shoehorning in references to ‘what Roy Hodgson might be thinking’ or ‘getting the latest from Gabriel Clarke at the England camp’ every 15 minutes.

To be fair to Chiles, he didn’t have an awful lot to work with. There must have been panic all-round when Roy Keane bailed from his duties on the eve of the tournament, leaving ITV woefully short in terms of actual personalities to pass comment on proceedings. Instead we were left with Glenn Hoddle, veering between complete nonsense and interminably dull recollections of France ’98, the ultra smug, charisma void that is Patrick Vieira and Fabio Cannavaro, on whom Chiles’ developed a painfully unfunny man crush that was duly referenced each time they appeared on screen together.

(Un)fortunately, Ian Wright had to return home after a week due to opportunist thieves/exasperated viewers breaking into his house and threatening his wife and children. I’m not condoning what was no doubt a horrific ordeal – although it did at least spare us a repeat of the lamentable spectacle of ‘Wrighty’ conducting live interviews with bemused, German surfers on Copacabana Beach…. “Yes! Copacabana Beach. This is hot! What’s your name, man?”

Listening to him amongst this bunch actually had the remarkable effect of making Lee Dixon seem both tolerable and knowledgable, though genuine salvation was to occur for ITV viewers during the second week of the tournament, following Martin O’Neill’s arrival. O’Neill is great – tetchy, inquisitive, and opinionated – it only took him about 5 minutes to upset the cosy bonhomie that was in place (even throughout an opening night bricking from Brazilian protesters). First O’Neill took offence to Chiles suggesting he might have cowered in defensive walls during his playing days, “I actually didn’t wear glasses when I played”, he explained – before reminding the sniggering Cannavaro and Vieira that he was the one on the panel with two European Cup winners’ medals. Have a look at his little outburst on YouTube, it was quality.

In Clarke Carlisle, ITV must have assumed they possessed the most boring co-commentator at the World Cup. That looked a shoe-in until the BBC, for England’s opening game versus Italy, decided to unleash Phil Neville on the viewing public. It was a mesmeric commentary debut from Neville, as his Bury monotone filled every millisecond of potential dead air with a non-stop stream of banalities. Actually, that’s a guess based on Phil’s twitter persona – because his voice was pitched at such a level, that it was difficult to make out any actual words. What was emitted wasn’t what could accurately be described as speech, it was more of a drone – reminiscent of a demoralised bumblebee, repeatedly crashing against the window pane of an otherwise silent, spare bedroom.

The BBC’s line-up is a mixture of familiar MOTD stalwarts (Lineker, Hansen, Lawrenson, Shearer) and a handful of newcomers (Lennon, Ferdinand, Henry, Seedorf and Juninho). Compared to the debacle of the last World Cup where the Beeb pundits seemed to revel in their collective cluelessness (“Seen much of Slovenia, Alan?”, “Haven’t a clue, Gary.”), they appeared to have arrived with a few pages of notes this time out, determined to at least give the impression of being well-informed.

Rio has given a decent account of himself so far, appearing genuinely enthused about the opportunity he’s been given and expertly straddling the fine line between capital bantz and serious analysis. Henry too is a natural at the punditry game – instead of guffawing at each cringeworthy Lineker pun, instead he’s taken to bowing his head – a gesture that manages to convey both his own embarrassment and a degree of pity for his colleague. Clarence Seedorf says very little and smiles a lot; Robbie Savage talks utter rubbish.

The biggest clown of the BBC crew has been Jonathan Pearce, who managed to make a complete tit of himself during France v Honduras. After Karim Benzema’s shot hit the post (wasn’t a goal) and was then spilled over the line by the goalkeeper (was a goal), Pearce was utterly befuddled by the resultant goal line technology replays. “THEY’VE CHANGED THEIR MIND!”, he bellowed, as the nation back home collectively began to wet themselves. “WHICH REPLAY ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE?!”, he then implored, as Martin Keown quietly tried explaining that as there were two replays shown in sequence, perhaps it might be an idea to believe both of them.

Oh and the football? Yeah, it’s been goals and entertainment all round so far – the best World Cup in years. Fair play to the England team as well, and Steven Gerrard in particular, for delivering in terms of all our pre-tournament expectations for once. It’s about time.

Copyright Red News – June 2014

www.rednews.co.uk