Musings on Real Madrid vs Manchester United

Is it just us? It’s a question never far from the forefront of our minds here at The Mambo and one often inevitably answered with a resounding ‘yes’ yet there remain circumstances and scenarios thrown up where such a conclusion is just too surreal, too absurd to reconcile. Naturally, given our unshakable devotion to reason and neglect for the obtuse and wilfully contrary, when opinion wavers so dramatically the general consensus must be denounced for the drivel it represents. One such instance is the reaction to last night’s soporific spectacle between Real Madrid and Manchester United. Understandably the tie was greeted with frenzied excitement given the storied histories of its participants whilst the actual game itself proved an emphatic damp squib; suffering an almost total privation of fluency, fantasy and for large swathes football. Not that those fortunate enough to have missed the match would know.

Celebrated with an aftermath befitting its expectant preview, many observers were quick to praise the tension, drama and quality endemic, with several central figures attracting widespread acclaim. For United, the hitherto unfairly-maligned David De Gea’s reflexes were greeted with understandable awe, although less warranted accolades awaited the more prosaic offerings of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. Bizarrely, the latter was singled-out for his selflessness and willingness to affect an alien role in order to serve the team rather than for the merit of his actual performance. Of course, this is nothing new for Rooney, who for considerable periods of his career has been absent from his favoured position, which may play to his laudable enthusiasm but has largely dimmed the inherent excitement of his game, as artistry has gradually and lamentably been devoured by efficiency.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Alex Ferguson will leave the Spanish capital pleased with his charges’ efforts. Despite occasional defensive naivety enveloping their domestic displays, Ferguson’s latter-career continental caution underpinned a showing founded far more upon fortitude rather than flamboyance. True, his team ostensibly lined-up with 3 forwards but Rooney and Welbeck were employed primarily for their energy and endeavour rather than any great intent in supporting the often-isolated Robin van Persie. The success of the ploy however remained evident in the fact that had the Dutchman not fell foul of uncharacteristic profligacy, then his team could approach the return fixture from a winning position.

Still, as it stands Ferguson should still enter that fixture at greater ease than his counterpart, José Mourinho. With typical bravado, the Portuguese has insisted that the tie remains in the balance with the first leg draw favouring neither side. In spite of such conceit, in reality he surely appreciates his adversary’s advantage, even if such acceptance would signify acknowledgement of his own failures and moments of self-effacing grace and candour are an utterly foreign concept to Mourinho. Although in the midst of a league campaign mired in mutiny and mediocrity, Madrid’s opulent squad ensured their status as most neutral’s favourites to progress. Predictably, they dominated both territory and possession yet their lack of comfort in breaching deep defences was gauchely prominent, a typical Mourinho deficiency, with this Madrid set-up to play counter-attacking football, which when allowed space is frequently devastating but against massed defences, their lack of comfort can be alarming, even negligent considering the lavish gifts of those at the coach’s disposal.

Given the technical class of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and particularly the gloriously inventive Mesut Ozil, Madrid’s unease in creating was startling, with a graphic appearing around the 70 minute mark illustrating that neither side, for all their talent, could boast a pass completion rate of above 65%. Consequently, the home team were frequently forced into resorting to speculative long-range efforts with the ever-eager, impatient Cristiano Ronaldo forever happy to be indulged, as their lack of passing fluency bordered on the embarrassing. Still, Ronaldo’s lust for recognition was satisfied by his thunderous header which would level the scores on the night. Whilst his leap was impressive, such a finish is the sort that has habitually led excitable cretins to label the forward the game’s most ‘complete’ player, as though jumping and heading in conjunction with running and shooting are the only attributes required of an elite footballer. That aside however, Ronaldo’s performace was standard fare with flashy tricks interspersed with the usual frustrations from a player who although not anonymous was far from ominous. Oddly, the usually-excellent Sid Lowe of The Guardian saw such a fitful threat as sufficient to post a piece praising the Portuguese’s big game prominence, even in failing to facilitate a home victory for the favourites.

Ultimately, as the inferior set of individuals, Utd’s pragmatism was perhaps as necessary as it was probable, which was likely to prevent Wednesday’s match from entering the pantheon of iconic encounters between 2 of Europe’s most illustrious clubs. Still, few would have predicted the ensuing skull-creaking tedium to rank closer to the infamous entertainment-vacuum of the Liverpool vs Chelsea ‘shit on a stick’ games of a few years previous (little surprise that Mourinho was then Chelsea’s manager) and offer such an insipid, uninspiring advert for the upper-echelons of European competition, even if it did provide an excellent advert for the concurrent Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund fixture.


Diminishing returns for Argentina?

‘Aesthetics are no longer a priority…Teams are becoming more defensive, players are focused purely on fitness…Teams are playing worse than 10 years ago.’ So went Maxi Rodríguez’s assessment of the current state of Argentina’s Primera Division, a competition native to a land where the game’s higher arts have long been revered and one where the number 10; the enganche, has assumed an almost mythic reverence. However, upon returning from a decade in Europe, Rodríguez discerns a decline in standards. A member of his nation’s last victorious side at South America’s biennial under 20 championships, Rodríguez will have watched on as Argentina were subject to a limp, ignominious first round exit as hosts at this year’s competition. Indeed, a gloomy narrative of faltering youth development would appear fulfilled by the country’s recent failings at a level where they once enjoyed peerless success under the title-laden 13 year reign of José Pekerman and his successor Hugo Tocalli.

Despite local optimism hailing a return to the success of the Pekerman era and excited talk of a potentially explosive front 5 numbering Juan ‘Guarani Messi’ Iturbe, Alan Ruiz, Manuel Lanzini and the Racing Club pairing of left winger Ricky Centurión and striker Luciano Vietto, Argentina cut a disjointed, defensive inept team sadly lacking the craft and cohesion of old. Iturbe, highly-skilled but individualistic to a fault brought his frustrations since his much-vaunted but ill-feted switch to Porto with him whilst Ruiz, the incumbent of the fabled number 10 shirt, although a fine prospect is unlikely to trouble the pantheon of his truly distinguished predecessors. Likewise Lanzini, nimble and bright but perhaps destined to fall short of delivering upon the promise his River Plate pedigree would predict, with Centurión remaining raw yet with flashes of talent that invite the comparisons made with compatriot Ángel Di María, an u-20 world champion in 2007. Only Vietto, sharp and lithe came anywhere close to delivering upon his billing as Argentina failed to qualify for the summer’s u-20 World Cup, to be held in Turkey. Discomfortingly for the competition’s record winners, a run which included 5 triumphs in 12 years under Pekerman and Tocalli, their absence will be their 2nd in the last 3 attempts as an undistinguished crop spearheaded by Benfica winger Eduardo Salvio fell short in 2009.

In truth, Argentina’s pedigree at South American level has long been less impressive than their performances on the world stage, with both Brazil and Uruguay boasting superior records. Certainly, the presence of Diego Maradona in 1979 and Lionel Messi in 2005 could not ensure regional supremacy, even if both would go on to inspire victory on the global stage in the same years. Maxi Rodríguez’s team-mates in the class of 2003, the last Argentine side to the claim South American title, included Javier Mascherano and the forwards of Fernando Cavenaghi and Carlos Tevez’s calibre, just as 1997’s champions bristled with sublime talent in the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Walter Samuel, Pablo Aimar and Esteban Cambiasso, with the latter returning to defend the crown in 1999, propelled by the goals of Luciano Galletti. Perceptively, 2013’s individuals aren’t quite as thoroughbred.

Instead, this year’s standout performers have been from outside the less heralded nations, as Brazil and their highly-rated playmakers Adryan and Felipe Anderson were also victim of an early exit. Ecuador’s precocious teeanger José Francisco Cevallos, whose namesake father is perhaps his country’s finest-ever goalkeeper, impressed sufficiently scheming from midfield to earn a move to Juventus whilst deep-lying Uruguayan striker Diego Rolán’s form attracted Bordeaux and European scouts will surely have been impressed by Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna but disappointed to find Paraguay’s Derlis González has already snared by Benfica’s excellent scouting network. The real standouts however, have been the classy Nico López, who looks set to follow Daniel Fonseca and Luis Suárez as Uruguay’s buck-toothed spearhead and most conspicuously, the glorious, left-footed creativity of Pescara’s Juan Fernando Quintero. Ironically, the mature Quintero could be of huge benefit to Pekerman, now in charge of Colombia’s senior international side and quietly cultivating an excellent team that may prove dangerous dark horses at next year’s senior World Cup.

Inevitably, with Argentina’s youth World Cup triumphs of 2001, 2005 and 2007 being built upon the goals and general brilliance of Javier Saviola, Messi and Sergio Agüero, the lack of a genuine star turn will provide cause for concern. Nevertheless, hope resides in the enforced absence of several eligible candidates. Paulo Dybala, likened to a left-footed Aguero and Mauro Icardi, a graduate of Barcelona’s academy and scorer of 8 Serie A goals from 18 appearances for Sampdoria (including a recent 4 goal haul against Pescara) are amongst the Italian game’s brightest prospects whilst 20 year-old Erik Lamela’s form this season has marked him out alongside Europe’s elite burgeoning talents. Although currently featuring only in France’s 2nd tier, 18 year-old Lucas Ocampos cost Monaco €15m and has drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo (presumably intended as a compliment). Boca Juniors’ latest prodigy, Leandro Paredes, long touted as Riquelme’s heir, has shown remarkable promise since inheriting his idol’s iconic number 10. Equally encouraging are full-backs Gino Peruzzi and Juan Sánchez Miño (well full-back-cum-midfielder in the latter case), potentially the first genuinely international-class Argentine players to emerge in their positions since Javier Zanetti and Juan Pablo Sorín, River Plate midfielder Ezequiel Cirigliano (although burdened by the unobtainable label of a Xavi/Mascherano hybrid), free-scoring finisher and top scorer in the inaugural Inicial, Facundo Ferreyra and perhaps most reassuringly, Lucas Mugni. Developing at Colon, Mugni’s unhurried probing has elicited excitable claims that he represents the latest flowering of that most anachronistic, artistic and endangered species: the classic Argentine number 10.

Of course, Rodríguez may quite justifiably point to a general malaise weakening the standards of Argentine football. River Plate’s relegation, Boca Juniors’ relative slump and title tilts from hitherto unheralded sides such as Banfield, Arsenal and Tigre although ushering in a certain unpredictability would seem to signal the waning powers of the traditional big 5. Such decline would appear echoed by limp campaigns at youth international level. However, it is worth noting that Pekerman’s 1st World Cup-winning squad at that level contained only Sorin who would go on to become a key senior international. Furthermore, the career of Hugo Rodallega, whose 11 goals in 2005’s continental competition remain a South American record (and regrettably would incite the player to announce himself ‘better than Messi’) would illustrate, youthful promise does not always translate into senior success. Indeed, none of Pekerman’s protégés fell short of emulating Maradona’s class of 1979 in lifting the game’s highest prize, a fete that currently unites them with Tocalli’s champions of 2005 and 2007. However, from those squads, Messi, Agüero and Di María have both time on their side and established themselves as consistent, elite performers (The Mambo still has faith that the sublime yet temperamental Éver Banega will join them) forging a fearsome forward line for the full national side.

Despite the forlorn showings of 2013’s crop (a failure that surely reflects at least as badly on coach Marcelo Trobbiani), the quality of eligible absentees would suggest that Argentina remains a rich resource for refined talent. Indeed, despite economic realities enforcing an earlier exodus to Europe and subsequently partially explaining the diminishing standard of the local league, there remains plenty of proud footballing nations who would enthusiastically anoint the dawning of a ‘Golden Generation’ should they be blessed with the flourishing talent at Argentina’s disposal.


The squalid parochialism of Adrian Durham

Face for radio: Adrian Durham

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This time, the chance would be taken to pen a serious ‘journalistic’ piece, something bristling with erudite observations and enlightening analysis delivered in classy, concise text, as has surely now become a trademark . Sadly, it is here that The Mambo chanced upon The Adrian Durham Column on the suitably tawdry Mail Online. Of course, entering such a lurid, morally vacuous space was always likely to prompt the departure of all joy and hope from a hitherto contented heart yet Durham’s repellent rantings soiled the soul to an unforeseen extent.

Happily, this was The Mambo’s opening encounter with Durham. Apparently, he’s quite the radio ‘personality,’ (naturally, that is to say ‘dickhead’) hosting a prime slot on the ghastly Talksport, where his most high-profile incident revolved around labelling Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher a ‘bottler.’ The Mail’s archives show that only a few weeks ago, that same charge was levelled at Lionel Messi, as his loyalty to the club which has nurtured his genius has consequently saw him shun the ‘challenge’ of transferring his peerless gifts to the Premier League. So that’s the level of wanker we’re dealing with; parochial, ignorant, crass, charmless, thoughtless and above all, skull-creakingly tedious. As such, it’s no surprise to find Durham writing for The Mail, it is surely the natural habitat for such myopic drivel as he seems perfectly tailored for their backward demographic in much the same way that Jeremy Clarkson is for supporters of the British National Party. Or indeed, for Daily Mail readers. Such certainty is strewn loudly on the article’s accompanying mug shot which somehow manages to further besmirch Durham’s witless words. Here we are presented with a face free from doubt, certain of his opinions yet, simultaneously, it’s a misanthropic expression free from any warmth or humanity. Perceptively, it’s the kind of face that even if present on a newborn would see the mother glance in terror at it’s demonic, dead-eyed stare before screaming frantically at her midwife to just toss the child mercifully into the bin.

Beneath such an unwelcoming gaze comes a splurge of sub-pub nonsense. All optimism evaporated as early as the opening sentence, as we’re told of ‘Jamie’s Redknapp’s excellent piece,’ which for all its waywardness, did at least set the tone for the quality of judgement therein. Despite such professed excellence, Redknapp’s piece was however far too negative regarding English football than Durham and his boorish ilk could ever contemplate. Where the former Liverpool man expressed his concern in light of FIFA’s recent World XI containing not a single English-based player, his legitimate anxieties were here uncouthly crushed with the flimsiest of considerations. Redknapp pondered where the next Wayne Rooney would emerge from, Durham dismissed the forward’s achievements, drawing attention to the likes of Peterborough teenager Jaanai Gordon and bizarrely, Danny Crowley, a player he reveals was only a substitute at youth cup level, before demanding that they ‘aim higher’ than Rooney and urging each to ‘do something for your country.’

The implication therefore, must be that Rooney, with 32 international goals to his name has performed with disinterested disdain throughout his international career. Such sentiment is farcical, with his superlative showings as an 18 year-old at Euro 2004 perhaps the most notable individual contribution from an Englishman at a major finals since 1990. True, the suspicion that such promise has not fully flowered remains and Rooney will likely never develop into the player it was hoped but he will nonetheless look back on a distinguished career. Inconsistently, Liverpool youngsters Conor Coady and Jordan Rositter are hailed as potential heirs to Steven Gerrard, proclamations seemingly ignorant of the fact that Gerrard, to a greater extent than Rooney, has largely failed as England player. Still, in Durham’s surreal interpretation of reality, such shortcomings were merely down to ‘mismanagement’ from a series of England coaches and in no way due to the fact that players profiled patriotically as greats were merely very good.

Further layers of nationalist, flag-waving ecstasy reside in the burgeoning talents of Jack Butland, Andre Wisdom and George Thorne, who may well all develop into reliable internationals but as goalkeeper, right-back and defensive midfielder respectively, none is likely to ignite the imagination. Slightly more convincing are the cases made for Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling, something  Durham clearly feels ill-placed pride towards, as manifest through the arrogantly asserted and grammatically suspect rhetorical question, ‘You telling me they’re not technically gifted?’ Well in the case of the latter, yes pal, we are. Fear not however, as any doubt can be safely swatted away by following Durham’s plea to ‘go and watch them,’ (advice the author may wish to take, as Rositter’s recommendation rests only on the strength of a Robbie Fowler tweet) as though their prodigious gifts will be self-evident and all will thereafter become devout disciples of The Church of Adrian, dogmatically blind to the twin truths that vast swathes of precocious teenagers fail to match expectation and most obviously, that other countries are producing talented footballers too. And more of them.

Unsurprisingly, the concept of overseas leagues producing gifted footballers is not one recognised by Durham. With characteristic poetry, FIFA’s all-La Liga World XI is denounced as a ‘total joke,’ before progressing to speculate that the result is the work of those who ‘don’t bother watching football,’ which given his own ideological attachment to a kind of Premier League Splendid Isolation displays quite astonishing levels of hypocrisy and a contemptible poverty of self-awareness. It also displays a shameful lack of understanding regarding the voting procedure, as the team was composed of votes cast by professional players, not FIFA bureaucrats. Undeterred by fact, Durham turns to the footballing Little Englander’s most treasured contention, that of rapacious philander Ashley Cole being the game’s pre-eminent left-back, a state of affairs branded (again with Wildean flourish) ‘frankly laughable.’ Uniquely, he may actually have a point in as far as the inclusion of Marcelo (and equally, Dani Alves as the other full-back) is somewhat questionable but Phillip Lahm’s claim for that berth is surely more credible whilst Juventus and Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini or PSG’s Thiago Silva may also feel their strong claims for defensive places were unfairly subdued by Spanish glamour.

Further forward, we’re told that David Silva’s absence is ‘stunning’ and that Juan Mata’s exclusion is only explained by the possibility that voters were unaware that he started his career with Real Madrid. Of course, the obvious counter to the claim is that Mata, fine player that he undoubtedly is, wasn’t deemed of requisite standard for the Bernabeu and in all likelihood, few in the Spanish capital would prize him over Mesut Ozil, who although riding the apparently fashionable waves of Castilian bias, was also overlooked. Mata’s inability to feature regularly for Spain inevitably also counts against his favour, as does his disappointing displays for his country’s Olympic side as they were so listlessly eliminated at the tournament’s opening stage. Still, the clearest, most insurmountable obstacles facing of both Silva and Mata are the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrés Iniesta and most glaringly, Lionel Messi, named as the game’s top 3 footballers the same night the World Team was announced. In order to make the XI, it is one of these who must be supplanted, which even in the mind of a chest-beating fantasist of Durham’s calibre is beyond argument.

The very fact that this has supposedly washed over Durham’s stilted comprehension is a as damning an indictment of his piece as the banner it was published under and effectively discredits his every utterance.  His argument for Chelsea’s Ramires to be recognised was so fanciful that even Mail readers realised the folly, opting alternatively for a midfield pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Yaya Touré in their ideal Premier League XI, which obligingly, did much to highlight the superiority of Spain’s selection and settle the paper’s own spurious debate. In the minds of Durham however, such selections have less to do with genuine merit and more to do with puerile playground cock-measuring over which nation has the greatest this, the strongest that or the most entertaining other. Well congratulations Adrian, on this occasion and doubtlessly many, many more, you are indeed the biggest cock.


The Guardian’s ‘100 best footballers in the world’



The Mambo is pretty partial to a list. Indeed, a recent post discussed In Bed With Maradona’s ‘The 100’ project and now, with the faintest whiff of flogging a dead horse, our attention  has been alerted to The Guardian’s run-down of the game’s Top 100 footballers. In such a climate, fully expect a stinging riposte to all those album-of-the-year countdowns that neglected to recognise the brilliance of Hatcham Social and Shrag’s latest records next week. Still, for now please try to contain any excitement for that enthralling prospect as focus falls upon The Guardian’s run-down. Now, naturally this type of thing is inherently subjective (with the debate of what constitutes ‘the best’ particularly difficult to define) yet whilst the IBWM selection encouraged intelligent debate, there is perhaps a detectable trace of cynicism in the newspaper’s selection designed to provoke comment and tempt tribal rage. Nonetheless, drawing from an 8-strong panel of respected international journalists (as well as Paul Doyle, Daniel Taylor and the shamelessly pro-Brazil Fernando Duarte) leant the concept certain credibility even if the underlying motivation may have been to attract cheap traffic with pretty minimal effort.

Teasingly revealed through a series of instalments, the opening offering provided ample insight into the horrors that would await. Collated from each correspondent’s voting for their personal top 30, the lower-rankings would present that there is at least 1 paid, professional sports writer insistent that Southampton substitute Emmanuel Mayuka; disgraced, declining John Terry and Victor Wanyama, Celtic’s powerful yet prosaic destroyer inhabit a plane reserved for the global game’s foremost figures. Of course, the caveat for Mayuka’s presence is surely that he spearheaded the attack for a Zambia side that triumphed at last winter’s African Cup of Nations but in reality, the standard of that tournament has been receding in recent editions as the all-conquering Egyptian team are undone by advancing years and traditional powers such as Cameroon and Nigeria continue to struggle in producing noteworthy creative talent.  At club level, Mayuka’s goalscoring record with Swiss side Young Boys was prolific enough to pique interest from Premiership newcomers without ever really promising the burgeoning of top-tier talent. The overwhelming memory of Terry’s 2012 is his classless exuberance in celebrating a triumph his senseless sending-off threatened, committed under the toxic shadow of a criminal trial for racist abuse. Wanyama’s flimsy credentials were cast during an evening in which he completed a meagre 16 passes against Barcelona during an admittedly famous upset.

Quite what criteria saw Mayuka ranked at the expense of Antonio Di Natale or Roberto Soldado remains mystifying; there are facts, there are opinions and there is drivel. The latter camp is further filled by Wanyama’s listing despite oversights for outstanding midfielders such as Claudio Marchisio, Ilkay Gundogan and Jérémy Toulalan whereas Terry appears to only be there in a crass, puerile attempt to spark vitriolic bile from Liverpool and Manchester United supporters perturbed by his presence and the omission of their iconic veterans. Instead however, it is followers of AS Roma who should feel most aggrieved at the disregard for their iconic, veteran captain with Francesco Totti’s enduring genius making his marginalisation misguided. Still, in the context of a selection that hasn’t been especially kind to Serie A (notwithstanding Edinson Cavani’s hugely generous top 10 ranking), Totti’s expulsion is perhaps unsurprising.

The upper echelons were predictably less contentious; Lionel Messi’s self-evident singularity guaranteeing his justified billing as the world’s universally-agreed top talent with Cristiano Ronaldo’s profile and fevered lust for recognition cementing his status as (distant) runner-up. The composed, cerebral chemistry of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández was always likely to secure top 5 finishes for both, whilst Radamel Falcao’s unparalleled poaching and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s destruction of England have made their always -evident abilities fashionable enough for such exalted placing. More dubious however, were the heights afforded to Cavani and Yaya Touré. The former’s prolific goalscoring and eternal transfer window speculation mask a game based largely on sheer will and boundless stamina, with his often ungainly international showings seeing that few of his countrymen would rate him higher than strike partner Luis Suárez, who ranked only 21st. Touré’s rare marriage of rugged physicality and finesse marks him as the embodiment of all the British often mistakenly associate with footballing excellence but his class and especially his consistency is continually over-played.  Although clearly not to the extent of Mayuka’s indefensible inclusion, there is perhaps a hint of tokenism in Touré’s elevated standing, as though Africa must be represented in the list’s top 10 despite the fact that such things often go in cycles and the continent is not currently producing players worthy of such status. Perhaps  5 years ago Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien would have held legitimate cases for being in such company, just as 20 years ago ‘Golden Generations’ from Romania and Bulgaria could have expected a presence in the top 100 but both nations are entirely absent from the contemporary countdown.

Similar frustration presents itself in reluctance to rate burgeoning talent. Places for Didier Drogba, Diego Forlán and Javier Zanetti can largely be viewed as ‘life-time achievement’ nominations, with the former a scorer of a paltry 5 league goals last season before opting for the opulent riches of Chinese semi-retirement whilst the latter, although relentlessly dependable, probably owes his selection to a dearth of credible full-back contenders and past glories, yet those with opposing career trajectories are shunned.  Stephan El Shaarawy, perhaps the Italian game’s outstanding performer this season, languishes in 59th place, just as James Rodríguez, in spite of being perhaps propelled by rumours of an imminent lucrative move, comes in at 59 whilst at 13, Neymar is the only member of the top 20 aged under 24. Serie A starlets Erik Lamela and Stevan Jovetic miss out, as do young Spaniards Iker Muniain and most notably, the gloriously gifted Isco; a star of the present Champions’ League campaign to a far greater extent than Wanyama. Technically, all 4 are elite players whose market value would surely far exceed that of many drafted into The Guardian list whilst Fernando Llorente, Muniain’s team-mate last season’s wonderfully fluent and inventive Athletic Bilbao side, is also neglected. Admittedly, the Spanish striker’s suffered from the contract dispute which has effectively confined him to 6 months of inactivity, yet although available Mario Balotelli has made a comparably limp contribution but nonetheless figures at a ludicrously lofty 67.

Arguably, little weight should be afforded to such a list; as stated it was in all likelihood intended to do little more than encourage hits and end-of-year debate. Nevertheless, the flawed manner in which rankings were determined has created a list awash with absurdities. Can a convincing argument genuinely be made for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being a finer forward than Robert Lewandowski? One failed at Milan whilst the other is one of Europe’s most widely-coveted attackers and as such Aubameyang’s promotion can only be explained as another legacy of the vastly over-stated importance of the Nations Cup, where he impressed for unfancied Gabon. Naturally, a certain bias towards the Premier League is also detectable. Although both impressive performers, it is by means certain that Marouane Fellaini or Moussa Dembelé would have featured had the list been complied overseas. Similar sentiment applies to Paulinho’s position at the foot of the feature; would he have figured without compatriot Duarte’s presence on the panel? The issue surrounding interpretation of ‘the best’ provides further ambiguity. Inevitably, the higher reaches will feature a preponderence of offensive players as understandably, flair and creativity are generally favoured over more subdued attributes but maybe at 16, Thiago Silva’s position as the leading placed defender is indication of a skewed understanding of definition of the criteria. Still, for all the myriad flaws, it was heartening to see heady rankings for widely-vilified Mambo favourites Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez. Of course, we’d have rated both higher but confirmation that their talent is eclipsing their (largely unfair) notoriety is forever welcome.


Found this when reading today that Chris Hughton, former Birmingham City manager, wrote a column for the Workers Revolutionary Party. Some interesting and at times controversial names included. Definitely worth a look.

X-Ray Spectator

I had been thinking of compiling a team of past and present footballers who happened to have interesting or even extreme politics. Of course, problems arose. Would a fascist winger track back to help out a commie fullback? Would that fullback overlap for the winger? The answer is: probably. Nevertheless I decided to make two teams – one with vaguely right-wing sensibilities, from Thatcherites to full-blown Nazis; and the other made up of old-school socialists, squatters and even a Situationist prankster (kind of).

View original post 2,367 more words

The staggering stupidity of Lee Clark


I have to confess that Lee Clark’s position at BCFC is becoming a bit of an obsession of mine. I’m getting increasingly angry that he is still in a job, and it is solely down to the fact that the club is such a mess that it appears that they literally cannot afford to dismiss him. Even though the club is dropping down the table like a stone and is in serious danger of relegation to League One next year.

He really is a clown and his latest comments only serve to highlight this.

I was astonished to read in a discussion forum that the accusation that he had publicly criticised one of his young strikers, Jake Jervis. I checked the article referred to and found he had done just that:

 “People talk about Jake Jervis being a striker but these are the facts: Jake has been to League One or League Two clubs seven times and those clubs haven’t decided to keep him.”

For non Blues fans a bit of context might help here. We have no recognized strikers either fit or not suspended. Jervis has been recalled from a loan spell at Portsmouth for precisely that reason. He is 21 years old and I would tentatively suggest that it is a little premature to completely write him off, especially as Blues have literally no alternatives right now. He has had his contract extended on a couple of occasions so obviously someone sees some potential in him. He deserves a) a chance and b) his manager’s public backing when he is trying his best in difficult circumstances.  

On a human level it is abysmal man-management and just downright spiteful to slaughter your own (young) player like that to journalists, and gives a revealing and depressing glimpse of the MO of Lee Clark; flailing out and attacking everyone but himself. Interestingly he isn’t so forthright in berating the abysmal efforts of some of the players he signed for Blues, for example the hopeless Hayden Mullins.  

A contemptible act by a contemptible, useless man who is putting the tin hat on a pretty horrific situation right now at BCFC. The sooner we are shot of the tosser the better.

The implausible resurrection of Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish

If you spend a significant amount of time looking at the world and reflecting on its absurdities, as I do when I go through one of my periodic philosophical phases, you begin to reach a few broad conclusions about how the world works. Beneath the veneer of sophistication and rationality that appears to govern the behaviour of those with power and money, when you look a little closer there is actually profound irrationality and much in life can depend on simple good luck.

What I’m saying I suppose is that the dismissal of Sean O’Driscoll at Nottingham Forest, and the appointment of Alex McLeish in his stead, is ludicrous.

Nottingham Forest’s ‘ambitious’ Kuwaiti owners made a great decision when they appointed O’Driscoll in the summer and as a Birmingham City fan I was insanely jealous that we hadn’t been able to appoint someone like him. O’Driscoll is a practitioner of progressive, tactically aware and attacking football. His record at his previous club, Doncaster Rovers (they were relegated the season he was dismissed……), was extremely impressive on a very tight budget. He isn’t an overnight miracle worker and by no means a household name, but to my eyes he seemed a great fit for a re-building project at Forest, who had finished the previous season in 19th. O’Driscoll left the club in 8th place and clearly on an upward trajectory.

So the decision to dispense with him is bizarre indeed. The club’s owners have now stated they want immediate promotion (don’t we all, chaps…..) rather than the sensible ‘3-5 year plan’ they announced upon their arrival, and ‘someone with Premier League experience’ (why? Do they play with a different shaped ball in the Premier League? Is it really so utterly different to the Championship?) and so they have turned to McLeish, who has plenty of top-flight experience.

Yes indeed. He has loads of that.

Two Premier League relegations with a team averaging about a goal a game.

Taking another Premier League Club, Aston Villa, to within a whisker of relegation. If one measures the performance of a manager by win percentage, statistically he is the worst the Villa have ever had.

And meanwhile playing some of the most insipid, soulless football imaginable.

Notwithstanding a flukey 9th place finish with Birmingham in 2009-10, and the Carling Cup victory in 2011, the man’s career in the English top flight can only be realistically judged a failure, and the idea that he is a better bet than Sean O’Driscoll is patently absurd.

It also appears that the Al Hasawi family have learnt nothing from the people they succeeded at Forest, who foolishly appointed former England manager Steve McClaren at the start of the 2011-12 season. He lasted ten games………

Something happens to rich, successful people when they take over football clubs. They take leave of their senses and their judgment (normally selfish and often brutish but invariably rational on its own terms) appears to desert them. They resort to cliché, banality and notions that when closely examined for just a moment fall apart in front of your very eyes.

A concept as amorphous and essentially meaningless as ‘Premier League experience’ would be treated with derision and contempt in most other walks of life. And yet in football, it takes on a significance that means purveyors of listless dross like McLeish can walk into jobs on the strength of having failed with, but still actually managed, clubs at the highest level.

(It’s also telling that the hopeless Roy Keane appears to have been under consideration for the Forest job. Yet another example of one who has ‘top flight experience’ but only in so far as he presided over a complete and obscenely wasteful trainwreck at Sunderland, a job he secured purely on the strength of his playing career.)

The decision to sack Sean O’Driscoll is a disgraceful, but more importantly stupid one. I have a funny feeling that it is one that the Al Hasawi family and Nottingham Forest fans will come to regret. As a Birmingham City fan and one well acquainted with the situation at Aston Villa, I know what they are getting.

Previous Older Entries