Monday, 23 April 2012

Weekend football and Sunday Brunch

It has been a fantastic weekend of football viewing and as the season is coming to climax I am looking forward to witnessing the sharp end of the season once again. I feel I am in a fortunate position as my wife is also a football fan and this allows me to indulge in hours of viewing football all over the world at any given time. I am sure she has her reasons for allowing me to lose myself in so many games, whatever they may be, I am grateful.

I watched Sunday Brunch on channel 4 on Sunday morning with Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer, they had Richard Bacon on as a guest amongst others. Richard Bacon declared that he hoped his son would not be a sports fan, primarily because it takes up so much time to be a sports fan. I feel he has a valid point, if I invested as much time into learning languages as I do watching football then surely I would be able to converse in a magnitude of different ways which I acknowledge would be wholly more impressive than discussing why the referee cost 'us' the points in an important home game.

My feeling is I am stuck this way now, it is now an obsession. Maybe I could get some help with it? See a professional? Go to meetings like alcoholic anonymous or narcotics anonymous. Coincidentally I learnt that there are many different support groups on offer to people, one is called CoDA for people who view themselves as co-dependent. Maybe I could go there for my football obsession?

I guess the problem is, a lack of a problem. I can easily spend 8 or 9 hours out of my day watching football but where is the harm in that? I am still functioning, I am happy and this leads me believe that co-dependency may not be such a bad thing in my case. If people like me did not exist then who would really care about football anyway? The players would not be paid so much, in fact probably not paid at all. No one would be in the stadiums, it would not be on television and it would be of little interest. People like keep the beautiful game alive and they know it. They do not know it? Surely...

This weekend I have watched the following games; Queens Park Rangers vs Tottenham, Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Manchester United vs Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Manchester City, Juventus vs Roma, Valencia vs Real Betis, Atletico Madrid vs Espanyol, Banfield vs San Lorenzo. I have also seen highlights of all the games in different countries, listened to the Arsenal vs Chelsea game on the radio as well watching some of the Sparta Prague game.

Tonight I intend to watch Leicester City vs West Ham and anything else that takes my fancy. I have a definite obsession and it is not going away, for better and for worse I am stuck with it.

Game of the weekend in my opinion was Juventus vs Roma. I hope more Italian clubs build modern stadiums as it truly has brought new life to the Old Lady.

Monday, 16 April 2012

An ode to the football maverick

The modern age of football has heralded an era of professional footballers being elite athletes, media savvy, and almost monosyllabic in all forms of output. Footballers are more machine like than they used to be with their lifestyles, diets, sleep and all manner of other exciting things carefully managed. Their performance is carefully monitored by the use opta statistics and other mathematical based systems and on the whole the beautiful game has become more clinical and would not look out of place on a deeply cleaned clinical ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Forget the question, 'is football dead', one should be examining if football has become boring.

To avoid getting into a long winded debate, for which I simply have no time for at the moment. I would rather celebrate my favourite football species, the magnificent 'maverick'.

Long has been the tradition in British football that the maverick is the most sought after footballer on the pitch. The rock star of the team, ordinarily given full licence to attack and have nothing to do with defending what so ever, mainly due to managers anxieties of a lack of responsibility and fear of the unexpected. When considering  the 'maverick', the players that immediately spring to mind are the likes of George Best, Stan Bowles, Tony Currie, Charlie George, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh, Peter Osgood, and Frank Worthington. Indeed, British football was blessed with 'mavericks' in the 1970's.

This small population characters are in danger of becoming extinct in the modern age of football. Managers have lost patience with those with raw ability without the application. Those who are blessed with ability for the sublime, but equally for the abhorrent. Those types of characters are few and far between in the robotic football we all watch now but those who have graced the pitches of these isles have been celebrated and treasured. Manchester United supporter's will forever chant for Eric Cantona and QPR supporters are currently enjoying the enigma that is Adel Taarabt. Mario Balotelli has already been discussed on this blog and is an example of the 'maverick' going through harsh times.

My modern favourite is undoubtedly Andrey Arshavin however. Beautiful, funny and frustrating to watch at Arsenal, being a 'maverick' was ultimately his downfall in a modern game where being clinical is paramount. Poor fitness, erratic displays where he would miss a 2 yard pass followed by scoring from 30 yards were accepted by the hierarchy and fans alike when he scored 12 goals and had 7 assists in 39 games during the 2009-10 season followed by 10 goals and 17 assists in 52 games the following season. The tide turned on the lovable Russian when his output became less, he became less clinical, he had less assists, less goals, and had not as much influence on the games he was involved with. His antics started being held with derision rather than being celebrated by supporters and it was inevitable that the 'meerkat' would leave England and return to Russia.

Having looked through the weekends football action I raised a smile however as it seems Mr. Arshavin has not lost the ability to do something completely different on the football pitch. During the Zenit St. Petersburg against CSKA Moscow tie on Saturday Andrey delivered something that was more attune to a sketch from Monty Python than that of a Russian football title decider. Rather than describe in words his actions, please watch for yourself and join me in celebrating the endangered world of the football 'maverick'.

For weekly updates on the world of Andrey Arshavin I thoroughly recommend visiting his website and in particular the 'ask Andrey' section.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Fish and Chip

Well it is Grand National day, a day when I traditionally put a lot of money on blind betting. I have no idea about horses, form etc. I generally pick those mid way down the order with juicy odds. When I look at the estimated winnings I get a bit carried away and put too much money on. However, if I win one of my bets then I will make a lot of money (well for me anyway!).

It's the weekend, I haven't shaved so I am sat here stroking a beard trawling through the internet looking at the latest football news. Some big games this weekend, notably in the FA Cup semi's. I predict Liverpool to beat the form guide to conquer Everton. I'm not sure why but they seem to have hoodoo over their neighbours. Chelsea vs Tottenham could go either way but I will go for Chelsea on that one.

Whilst looking at clips on the internet I discovered Andre Santos eating at my former local fish and chip shop. It is not the best fish and chip shop in the area, if Andre walked 5 minutes down the road to Finsbury Park then he could have got more for his money. The fish and chips are of a good standard however and staff are very friendly. Despite the coverage suggesting Andre is 'enjoying' English cuisine, I think it's clear for all to see that he won't be eating at this establishment again!

Andre Santos is now known as 'fish and chip' in my household.

Friday, 13 April 2012

A season of change and new hope

Mediocrity loomed. The devil was in the faces of the opposition as they pounced week in week out, focusing attention on the weak areas of a fragile team devoid of confidence, ashamed, embarrassed and lost. The fans, with their heads easily turned by delusions of grandeur, with their ego elevated by 15 years of high success, cast doubt over the role of the ailing stewardship of the football club.

Fingers were pointed in various areas; the ownership, or the unknown ownership in fact, the management, the backroom staff, the arrogance, laziness, incompetence of the players at all levels. Young players accused of not working hard enough as they have been rewarded too much too young.

A club in decline where the famous and medal clad former players discuss the reasons for the decline in the media on a weekly basis following yet another poor result; setting upon the club like wolves. Everyone believing they knew better than those who have been running the club for the last 15 years, everyone else had the answers. The cycle rolled on, more self examination followed by another poor result.

A manager who had built up the foundations for unprecedented success looked a shadowy figure prowling the touchline exasperated by poor form, bad luck and an increasing lack of love from supporters. The manager, aging before our eyes, became the focus of intense media scrutiny and many predicted it to be an un-dignified end to a gloriously successful and beautiful period of the football clubs life.

You will hear it muttered in football circles that 'form is temporary, class is permanent' and never has this clich├ęd saying found more substance than it has this season. The manager in question is Arsene Wenger.

As it stands, Arsenal are third in the Premier League 5 points clear of a failing Tottenham Hotspur, an inspiring Newcastle United and an incredible 7 points clear of Chelsea. If Arsenal beat Wigan on Monday evening then they will stretch the lead and a win against an inconsistent Chelsea at the Emirates on Saturday lunchtime will all but seal a champions league birth for next season. Arsenal could potentially be 11 points clear of their arch rivals in North London after the match against Chelsea signifying one of the most remarkable comebacks in Premier League history.

When looking at the football club, spending time in and around the Emirates stadium, one can note a real harmony at the club between fans and players and now management. Arsenal have been through turbulent year where two of the key players of the team decided to leave. One player, Cesc Fabregas, will be celebrated upon his return as he gave everything to Arsenal and it is common knowledge he still loves the club deeply, his head only being turned by boyhood dreams of representing the magnificent Barcelona.

The same can not be said for Samir Nasri who has followed Emmanuel Adebayor in chasing a bigger pay cheque. The loss of key players signified much unrest at the club with factions of supporters ready to protest about the lack of investment and decline in expectations. The lowest point of the season undoubtedly came at Old Trafford as a weak, out of form and injury hit Arsenal side were humiliated by losing 8-2.

Never have I witnessed a team gain so much togetherness throughout a season, the signings of Arteta, Benayoun, Mertesacker and Santos have gone a long way to creating a experienced calmness in the squad and this has been reflected on the pitch. Tomas Rosicky has been rejuvenated recreating the suberb form witnessed by supporters of Borussia Dortmund. Robin Van Persie has been at his determined, magnificent best fully justifying his selection as captain of the club.

There is something beautiful in football that when it is perceived as backs being against a wall, the supporters inevitably rally behind the cause. The atmosphere at the Emirates stadium has lifted and a togetherness has been created. One might put it down to supporters finally decreasing expectations and allowing a new team to develop. What ever the reason is, it has been felt by the players and management. Performances on the pitch have been excellent, professional, passionate and determined. Arsenal with a season goal of finishing above the rivals Tottenham Hotspur have taken to the challenge with magnificent grace.

There is a feeling that this has been a true season of transition at Arsenal and the club are ready to challenge right at the top again. Previous painful experiences will resonate with supporters as the foundations of success have been stripped away with key players being let go. Something feels different now however and this summer might well prove to be a very exciting time at Arsenal with more experienced players being added to key positions in the team. The imminent signing of Lukas Podolski represents huge promise and a club that has learnt from previous mistakes. There have been strong rumours that more experienced internationals are going to follow Podolski's lead and it is looking increasingly likely that exciting times lie ahead of Arsenal.

Full credit must go to Arsene Wenger who has done a superb job this season under very difficult circumstances. One can hope that this experience will only make him more resolute and determined to have a final successful swansong at Arsenal. Keep an eye on this football club as they could well be the team to watch next season.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Mario Mario Mario

Mario Balotelli delivered a somewhat bizarre performance at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon that only served to provide a minor distraction from a supurb Arsenal victory. Balotelli is a genuine enigma and can be sure to stay in the thoughts of British observers for many years to come. Sadly it seems clear that we will not see the best of super Mario on these shores, however no matter how good or bad his performances are, he is guaranteed box office.

So how good is Mario Balotelli? In recent days many observers have suggested that he has a detrimental effect on team mates and he is a clown on the pitch. It is worth noting that Balotelli has scored 17 goals in 31 games this season for Manchester City, if Jermain Defoe had the same output for Spurs then would he be received with such derision or be lauded for having an excellent season?

Short sighted pundits, media and the public are quick to dismiss Balotelli as a clown and useless, however there can be no doubt about his ability and potential. I believe it is foolish to judge any single person who is 21 years old, of course he is going to play more games and not only improve, but mature on and off the pitch as well. It is a game of expectations, those in football understand just how good Balotelli is and what he could achieve in the game, hence the disappointment when he is seen to not be interested when he was on the pitch at the Emirates Stadium. It would be wise to remember that the worst of Balotelli is still far greater than the vast majority who represent their respective clubs in the Premier League.

His performance on Sunday was odd and reminded me of when I played a game on a freezing, cold, wet Tuesday evening and I did not want to be on the pitch. I was not interested in the game and ended up feigning an injury so I could come off and get warm again. Balotelli is paid a fortune and the public will quite rightly demand he works very hard for all the money. However in the world of Balotelli where he has everything he has ever wanted, what more is there for him to do? I suspect he has already 'made it' in his eyes and whether he works hard on the pitch or not, it holds little consequence. Our attachments to our football teams and not always mirrored by those who represent them. Our love of football is not always shared by those who play the game.

I hope super Mario will fulfill his footballing potential, if he is does then we will all witness one of the very best players in the world. As it stands however Balotelli is an enigma and a beautiful one at that.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Is football dead?

I should hope not seeing as this is the first article on my new football blog. The question was originally posed on a message board I often access and at the time I believed it to be a fundamentally idiotic thing for someone to say. I admit my thoughts were somewhat biased due to an irrational hatred for one of the regular posters on the site and I dismissed it out of hand. I went to the length of replying to the gentleman named ‘jack is the truth’ snappily outlining the fact I thought it was a meaningless concept whilst also having a sly dig at him. Feedback from other members of the site outlined that they thought the subject had some merit and they engaged with the idea. It did not leave me cherry faced however as I am generally open minded and decided to think more deeply about the argument.

The point Jack was trying to establish was simply that there are no longer the strength of players who existed in Zidane’s era. The backdrop of his whole argument was to supply further evidence to his senseless claims that Lionel Messi is not the outstanding footballer who everyone can see play week in week out. Jack firmly believes that Messi is only made to look good by his team mates (who he also has suggested are not as good as everyone makes out in previous messages on the message board). The thing is with Jack, he loves Mourinho, therefore he now loves Real Madrid, he therefore hates Barcelona and all who represent them. Jack then takes to the internet to spout his views much to the annoyance of people like me. I am the man who sits down in front of his laptop in his free time, reading football message boards, football blogs, sport sections of national newspapers seeking opinions of people who I agree with, and people who I disagree with, people like Jack. I focus my time on arguing my points as if it is my moment in the sun, as if I am definitively correct in my opinion. I know what you are thinking, Jack and I are not so different and this is true. This brings me back to the original title of this entry however, is football dead? Certainly not.

It does not matter if the players are not as good as a generation ago, if they ran faster, were stronger, or they were more technical. It does not make any difference as football, like any sport, it is the game of the people. Someone like Jack can not understand this as he views something like football only to suit his personality and his opinion, he does not see the people in the stands, generations of families supporting a team with gloriously limited success in its history, for example; Scunthorpe, Leyton Orient, Barnsley, he does not see the pitch side announcer proclaiming words of passion, he does not see the chefs, the waitresses, the police on horses, he does not see the curiously odd moments like a squirrel running on the pitch in a Champions League Semi Final at Highbury Stadium. He does not see the passion of the people, the anticipation for the big game, the collective hurt, upset, despair, joy and he does not see the connection with something you really shouldn’t have any connection with at all. Jack views football as players on the pitch and if the best of which are not as good as what they were before then football is rubbish, abhorrent and indeed dead.

My thoughts are football will never die as it lives in the hearts of men, women and children. Football represents escapism from everyday life, football represents hope and brings the world closer together through a collective spirit. Football is a language spoken by millions upon millions. Football is more than just the players on the pitch and how good they are. Football is about community.