Archive | September 2013

Mourinho: Not Such a Special One

Just to let you know- I’m now writing for another football blog (Tiktaka); I’ll still be writing for this one too, but I’ll link all my stuff from Tiktaka on here as well in case you want to read that (which of course I hope you do)! Well, here you go: http://www.tiktaka.com/another-thing/mourinho-not-such-a-special-one/

Stevie G: A Break-Up Letter

I'm just out of picture here.

I’m just out of picture here.

Oh, Stevie. That it’s come to this.

No break-up is easy, and this one is no exception. You’ve been…well, amazing, these past few years, ever since I first saw you as a fresh-faced teenager against Blackburn. We were both so young then, so naive… And the good times just kept rolling in. I remember that first goal, which will always be accompanied in my head by slightly tinny-sounding music; and I remember that goal in the UEFA Cup final, when you raced on to that Michael Owen through ball and slid it home. Ah, those were the days, weren’t they?

Don’t think I’ve forgotten the good times, Stevie. I won’t ever forget them. I recall you sharing that goal against Olympiakos with me; it sent shivers down my spine, Stevie, it really did, even if it was a bit awkward that Neil Mellor and Sinama-Pongolle had both tagged along in that amazing Greek restaurant. That was the first time I told you I loved you… do you remember that, Stevie? And I did love you, even when you were doing all that flirting with Chelsea; I loved you when you scored that goal against Milan in Istanbul, and I loved you even more when you scored those volleys against West Ham the year after, or that goal against Marseille, or those goals against Real Madrid and Manchester United and Everton… And I stuck with you through the bad times too, through red cards and own goals and Phil Collins and even through Roy Hodgson and those dark, dark times of flat 4-4-2 and lumping it up to Torres and Ngog. Ours was a love that I thought would never end.

Shut up, Thomas, You aren't making this any easier.

Shut up, Thomas, You aren’t making this any easier.

But then… then you got old, Stevie. Your legs started getting tired, your face started looking like a kind of grumpy scrotal sack, and you stopped being able to influence games like you used to. You haven’t scored a proper long-range belter for…so, so long, I can barely remember the last one. And what’s worse, you’ve started becoming a liability for the team. I can only blame Danny Sturridge for so long, but we both know, Stevie, that the fact you can’t run after an hour and have to resort to hopeful long balls that more often than not fly out of the stadium is a big, big problem. I just can’t bear to see that scowl you get whenever a full-back cuts out a pass any longer, Stevie. I can’t bear to see you doing this to your legacy when you used to be so, so good, maybe even the best. But football’s moved on, Stevie, it’s so quick and powerful and technical now and you…well, you need to stop listening to that prick Dylan Thomas, and just go gentle into that good night and the subs’ bench. I think it’s best for the both of us if you just…go now.

Look, I hope we can still be friends. I still care about you, and I know you can still put in a mean free kick or long-distance pass; but I just don’t think I can stay committed to you anymore. Stevie… Look, I’m going to be honest with you. There’s another man who’s replacing you, another man who I’m willing to give my heart and soul to, another man who can play in your position in my heart. I’m talking, of course, about the Welsh Xavi, Joe Allen.

…Wait, Joe Allen?

Oh, shit.

Stevie, Stevie, please don’t go!

Why I love Vincent Kompany

Ahhh, that's much better...

Ahhh, that’s much better…

Defenders tend to get bypassed a lot when people name the players they love. Almost everyone names a striker, or a winger; someone who gets the glory, someone who’s exciting and dynamic, happy to beat a man, someone who sticks the ball in the back of the net from ten or twenty or thirty yards. Even in today’s hipster climate, it’s usually a number 10 or a metronomic central midfielder who gets named, someone with incredible technique, appreciation of space and masterful vision. I’m actually no different; most of my favourite players are of the hipster variety, as you may have noticed.

But I have been known to make exceptions. In the same way that sometimes you fall in love with someone who you’d never have imagined was your type, sometimes I find myself looking at a football pitch and marvelling not at a silky speedster or a dangerous dribbler, but instead a bruising battler, a player who uses their physique to the utmost, who doesn’t try and trick his way out of trouble but simply barges his way through like a tank through a field of geraniums. Sometimes, I see a player who is simply brilliant at using his body, whose strength is allied to skill, power to pace, aggression to awareness, and I can’t help but fall in love.

The player I’m thinking of as I write this, as you may have guessed from the title, is Vincent Kompany. Forget Silva or Aguero or Toure; Kompany is Man City’s best player, and I’m not just saying that because I watched him dominate man-potato hybrid Wayne Rooney more completely than any granny in the Manchester derby on Sunday. He is power and finesse, skill and style, strength and speed and positional awareness and leadership embodied, a leader in a team of internationals, a defender who is by far the best in the Premier League and is making a claim to being one of the best in the world. He’s like a lion that moves like a panther, stealthy but with an unstoppable controlled ferocity; the art of defending may be starting to decline, but if Kompany has anything to do with it it’s going down fighting. Like a lot of defenders, he’s incredibly committed, but more than that, he has the talent to back it up; he’s great in the air, great on the ball, and arguably his best quality is the ability to step out of defence and rob a striker of the ball with strength and aggression and not a little skill, stopping attacks in their tracks.

I’m thinking of one incident in particular that shows this, City’s second goal against Newcastle. I’d probably say it was the moment I fell in love with the Belgian. Kompany strode out from the back, brushed aside Papiss Cisse and intercepted the ball, striding forward to release Dzeko who fed Aguero… brilliant. The awareness he shows, the reading of the game, the sheer brute strength and skill to knock Cisse away but not foul him… it’s as close to perfect defending as you could ever hope to see, the kind of moment that makes you stop and think “Wow, this guy is special.” Maybe, maybe, I could be persuaded to drop the tag of “best player” to “most important player”; after all, if anyone else, even the goalkeeper, can’t play, the team manages to cope pretty well (if Aguero is out, for example, Dzeko, Negredo and Jovetic can probably just about manage); but when Kompany is out, Man City’s defence is leakier than a wetsuit made out of colanders. He is a snarling, unruly beast of a defender, and a smooth and silky operator, all rolled into one, the perfect blend of physique and technique; even though he doesn’t play for Liverpool, I’m not ashamed to say I love Vincent Kompany.

Dave’s right, for once; Spurs fans rejoice

Ooh, they aren't gonna like this...

Ooh, they aren’t gonna like this…

Whew, OK. Let’s all calm down and take a step back for a minute. The thing I’m going to talk about today is, I’m ready to admit, an immensely touchy issue; so touchy that I’m pretty much going to use this first paragraph as an apology and a disclaimer. It’s about the fans of Tottenham Hotspur and their use of the word “yid”, an issue discussed by no less important figures than the poor man’s champion David Cameron (for once, not just a puerile joke there; a demonstration of the argument I’m going to make later, as well as a puerile joke). I’m going to say right now that I have no problem with any person of Jewish ethnicity or the Jewish faith, and I am not promoting hate speech in any form. What I am arguing is that a word, by itself, is not necessarily hate speech, because that’s not how language works. I think Spurs fans should be allowed to chant “Yid army” and use the word “Yid” on the terraces, because in this circumstance (and despite what David Baddiel and Clark Carlisle say) it is not a hate word. Before you all start shouting, here is why.

Let’s first take a second to think about language; or, more specifically, about how meaning is created from the interplay between the words used and the context they appear, and are used, in. The key point here is that language is dependent on both the words and the context in order for us to glean some meaning; the word itself is not enough. If I say to you the word “bark”, that in itself isn’t enough to know, for certain, what I mean; I could be talking about the noise a dog makes (“a bark”), the substance on the outside of a tree (“the bark”), or the verb that describes the noise a dog makes (“to bark”). Notice how in the parentheses I’ve added a word in front of “bark” to distinguish one of the word’s multiple meanings from the others; in other words, I’ve added (through grammar) a context for those words to be in. I could, of course, add more context; “the dog’s bark”, for example, or “dogs (in general) bark”, or “the tree has bark”; each additional word gives added clarity to what I mean, in this specific instance, by the word “bark”, because each additional word creates context and allows the context and the words more chance to interplay.

And context does not just have to come from the words used and the way they are used together (ie the grammar and composition of the sentence); it can also come from external sources, from the particular place a word is uttered or the person it is uttered from, judged from data separate from what has actually been said. So, for example, if a random person in the street came up to me and said “Give me your fucking money”, I would take that as both meant to be a statement of fact, and as a threat; for all I know, judging by the data I have about this situation and the person uttering these words, this is a statement that is seriously meant and has to be taken seriously. If my friend, who I know to be a very nice, upstanding guy, if a bit foul-mouthed, comes up to me in the street and says “Give me your fucking money”, I would know, from the data I previously have and quite possibly from the inflection of his voice, that he was almost certainly not being serious and was having a joke with me (not a good joke, but then I do need to get more friends).

But then, new friends don't always work out either...

But then, new friends don’t always work out either…

If I knew that we had a history of saying such things to each other jokingly, this would add weight to my decision, and would alter the meaning of his words further; he would not be threatening me but would be strengthening our particular friendship by making an in-joke that we could both share. In other words, though the actual words used in both situations were identical, the meaning I got from them would be different, because of the context in which they were used.

All of this is fairly basic stuff, and the reason I’m being so careful about saying it is that it’s important for me to establish the context of what I’m going to argue by clearly stating how I think language works, and because a good number of people seem to forget these simple rules when talking about this issue. Anyway, I’ll continue. The implications of context being necessary to define meaning are these: words used alone and in isolation do not have the capacity to elicit meaning, but require a context in order to assume some form of meaning, which means that words themselves cannot, by themselves and without context, be moral or immoral, hateful or lovely; they gain those attributes through the context they are used. I’ll use another example: “love”. You’d think that this word, of all words, should be a moral one; but if I say “I love to kill kittens and use their still-warm blood as lubricant for my auto-erotic asphyxiation sessions” the word becomes a lot more sinister, doesn’t it?

What I’m basically saying, with tiny teeny baby-steps through fear of my point being misinterpreted as me being a prejudiced asshole, is this: no word, BY ITSELF, can be a hate word. No word. It becomes a hate word when used in particular (and obvious) contexts; some words, indeed, start to gain some implied context through the frequency of use in particular contexts, a kind of context-by-proxy, but if the explicit context established when these words are used is strong enough this can be counteracted; it’s why Reginald D Hunter, for example, can use the word “nigger” in his stage shows without it automatically meaning he hates black people, why we can read the word “nigger” in Huckleberry Fin without automatically putting Twain’s masterpiece down and pressing charges against it for using offensive language, or why a gay man (as made famous by the incredibly clever satire of South Park) can use the word “fag” without it being hate speech (or indeed, how I can use these words in this particular context without having any intent of inciting hatred or stereotyping any particular group). The above people create a different context for the word to be in and so alter its meaning.

And so-this is the hard part, because even as I’m typing these words my throat is becoming constricted and I’m pretty sure my testicles are shrivelling up in shame- and so, I have to say that, for what my opinion is worth (close to nothing, probably), David Cameron is right. Spurs fans-and only Spurs fans, not opposition fans who are using the word as hate speech, applying that particular context to it- Spurs fans should indeed be able to use the word “yid” without it being offensive, because they are definitely and certainly not using it in an offensive way. They are not using it as a hate word, but as an inclusive (for their own supporters) and positively-connotated word; and after all, to quote JK Rowling, “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself”. “Yid” has been used as a hate word before, and unfortunately it probably will be used as so again; but in this case, it is not being used as a hate word, but the opposite, and banning it will not just be a mistake but will perpetuate the harmful stereotype that something as simple as a mere collection of sounds can grant idiots and bigots power over good, honest people.

(Oh, and, because the word “football” wasn’t mentioned once in this article, here’s a video of Matt Le Tissier being a genius, set to Mozart. Enjoy!)

Top of the Table- It’s only down from here

One day, my precious, one day...

One day, my precious, one day…

1-0. 1-0. 1-0. 2-2. Pretty decent results by any standards, and ones which have Liverpool sitting at the top of the Premier League table as they approach game number 5 of the season. So why do I feel so pessimistic about the rest of the season?

Well, let’s examine those results a little more closely. In the first game, Liverpool were brilliant in the first half, dominating the game against Stoke and creating a whole host of chances, before fading badly in the second half and requiring the Mig (as in, Simon Mignolet, not a specific Cold-War era Russian fighter plane) to make a penalty save from John “how do I keep getting picked” Walters in the dying minutes. In the second game, they were brilliant in the first half, pressing Aston Villa relentlessly, dominating the possession and creating chances, before fading badly in the second half and requiring a great Mig save in the dying minutes. In the (incredibly satisfying) game against Man Utd, game number 3, they were dominant in the first half, out-passing and out-classing the champions, before fading badly in the second half (although admittedly defending pretty solidly, aided by the fact that Moyes decided creativity was for chumps and didn’t play Kagawa). In the third game, which shall be known forevermore as the Jonjo Shelvey Show, hopefully one that will be commissioned and air on ITV as a replacement for the utter shite that is the Jeremy Kyle Show, they were brilliant in the first half, dominating possession against a side noted for their ball retention and making chances, then faded badly in the second half; and this time even Mignolet couldn’t prevent a Swansea equaliser. Seeing the pattern here?

So why are Liverpool basically only playing football in the first half? The answer’s simple, and given that he is the scorer of four of their five goals this season maybe a bit surprising; but the problem is Daniel Sturridge.

Before you lynch me (figuratively, obviously), let me justify myself. I really like Danny, so much so that I’m comfortable using his first names despite having never met him and being unlikely ever to do so; he’s incredibly talented, and it’s not his really fault that he’s causing a problem. But a problem he is causing (to channel Yoda), and here’s why. The two things that have differed between Liverpool’s first and second halves this season have been the levels of pressing and the levels of possession, which of course are themselves interlinked, and the dip in both that they’ve experienced in the second 45 of every Premier League game this season can be traced, in the main, back to Sturridge.

First off, pressing. Given Liverpool’s style of play-attempting to press high, get the ball in dangerous areas and play swift transitions, only dropping off if the first press is bypassed, a la hipsters’ favourite Borussia Dortmund- it’s important that this pressing starts from the front, with the three players furthest up, plus whoever is playing the Number 10 role, pushing forward quickly to prevent the opponent having easy possession at the back and letting Liverpool’s own midfield and defence push up and compress the playing area. When it works, the opponent is forced either to play long balls that are fairly easily dealt with by an experienced defence (plus, apparently, Andre Wisdom), or lose the ball in dangerous areas and give Liverpool the chance of either a quick attack or the ability to play it around while the opponent rushes back into position and so conserve a bit of energy. Perfectly simple, and pretty damn effective.

Danny Boy

Speak up, I can’t hear you over the THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE CHEERING MY NAME

Except when your centre-forward is injured, so he can’t press from the front for more than the first half. This isn’t Sturridge’s fault, really, because after all he didn’t ask to be injured and he has to play as his only replacement in the squad is suspended for his impromptu homage to “Jaws” last season; and he’s not the only one who seems to tire in the second half, although again this is partially attributable to Sturridge, because the other players are having to essentially play with ten men after half-time. But what his inability to start off the pressing means is that either the Red’s pressing is disjointed, easy to bypass and therefore energy-sapping and pointless, or just simply non-existent, which is really the better of two options because it means that at least the team can keep its defensive shape even though its attacking potential is essentially blunted. They have been forced to defend deeper and deeper in each second half, ceding more and more possession, because our front-pressing has had to disappear, and so the opposition has been able to push up further and further and so push Liverpool’s players back. It isn’t helped by the fact that Lucas looks a bit unfit, Gerrard already looks pretty tired, and Henderson is being asked to essentially play two positions at once (right midfield and centre midfield to cover Gerrard and Lucas when they drop deep), so that the press right behind Sturridge loses effectiveness in the second half naturally with or without the striker; but the main problem is being created by the goalscorer, and it’s totally not his fault.

Now on to the second problem: possession. It’s linked to the first, obviously; because there is less pressing in the second half, it’s harder for Liverpool to get the ball back, easier for the opposition to keep it, and easier for the opposition to push up and press Liverpool themselves. But there’s another factor in Liverpool’s dramatic fall in possession stats in every second half, and that is the fact that their injured centre-forward is unable to provide an out-ball.

Usually, Sturridge would actually be the perfect centre-forward to have when your side is sitting deep and the opposition is pushing up high; he’s really quick and really clever with his movement, and when you have deep-lying passers of the quality of Gerrard and schemers as good as the beautiful bouncy-haired Coutinho (for whom I have a massive man-crush), he’s perfect for running the channels, relieving pressure and quite probably scoring a few goals in the process (I give you Fulham last season as an example). But, currently, he’s injured, and can’t run properly; in other words, Liverpool essentially don’t have a centre-forward on the pitch in the second half of games, and so the opposition can push up as high as they like in the knowledge that even if they do lose the ball they’ll be getting it straight back. And because they can push up as high as they like, the Reds can’t even keep possession in their own half because there’s no space and they aren’t Barcelona; they are forced, again, to just sit back and defend waves of attack.

Granted, once Moses has gained a bit of fitness this problem might be alleviated a little (I can’t wait for the first “Parting of the Red Sea” headline; I was gutted that Moses’ thunder was stolen by a Lord Voldemort lookalike at the Liberty, however entertaining it was); and I’ll grant also that Iago Aspas, who has featured in every game so far, should be helping Sturridge a bit in this regard but is way too lightweight to keep the ball. But at the moment Sturridge’s lack of mobility is a massive hindrance; it’s even stifling our attacking play in the first half at times, with Sturridge unable to keep making his usual clever runs and so making Coutinho’s usually chameleon-like vision (look it up) look more like David Blunkett’s. I’m not blaming him for every shortcoming Liverpool has at the moment; as I’ve said above, a few of their players look a bit unfit, Aspas is just not ready for the Premier League yet and it doesn’t help that Mignolet couldn’t pass a parcel let alone a football, but right now Liverpool desperately need Suarez back. Let’s just hope he doesn’t fancy another mid-game snack…

Footy Fortune-Telling: Mystic Matt’s European Predictions

I see...an attractive blonde women rejecting your advances. Again.

I see…an attractive blonde women rejecting your advances. Again.

After the early promise of these psychic musings, in which Mystic Matt managed to get every single prediction about the second weekend of the Premier League absolutely wrong, he was chased out of town by a group of very angry bald men who, despite all warnings to the contrary, had put their life savings on his spiritually guided assertions. His dreams of winning £250,000 on Sky Sports Super Six and saying goodbye to all you suckers in tatters, he spent the next few weeks selling lucky charms to gullible people from the back of a caravan; but now, free of all the tar and feathers, he’s back, and ready to have a crack at a few of the upcoming Champions League ties.

Manchester United vs Bayer Leverkusen: 2-1 (Van Persie (2); Kiessling)

Moyes’ first game in the Champions’ League won’t be a stroll in the park for the Red Devils, especially given they’ve played like a team infected with the zombie virus for the past few games. Leverkusen, on the other hand, are flying in the Bundesliga, with Sidney Sam and Stefen Kiessling inspiring Sami Hyypia’s to four wins from five games. That said, United do have Marouane Fellaini ready and raring to shore up their piss-poor midfield, and if Moyes decides his team do actually have to attack properly at some point this could be a pretty good game. If we’re quiet and keep still we might even see the Lesser-Spotted Kagawa make an appearance…

Viktoria Plzen vs Manchester City: 0-2 (Aguero, Fernandinho)

After tipping Man City to be a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League this season, they’ve struggling in the last couple of games, with Vincent Kompany’s injury making their back line look more porous than a sponge with big holes cut into it. Having said that, the big Belgian might be back for this tie; and though David Silva is out, City should surely beat a little-known Czech side whose best player, Pavel Horvath, is almost as old as monogamy’s Ryan Giggs.

And your bonus extra foreign team prediction (ie the game you should actually watch because the above will be boring as hell)

Galatasaray vs Real Madrid: 3-3 (Drogba, Altintop, Schneider; Ronaldo (2), Isco)

This should be a cracker. Real Madrid were absolutely battered by Villareal in their last game, relying on goalkeeping heroics to keep themselves in the match as wave upon wave of bright yellow attacks tore through them; and though they should shore things up by playing a proper left back instead of a Mexican snack item, Didier Drogba should have a field day against them tonight. Galatasaray have quietly assembled a pretty brilliant team, with Felipe Melo joining such talents as Schneider, Altintop, Drogba and Albert Riera. Having said that, Madrid are still incredible going forward, even if worlds-most-expensive-player-Gareth Bale ™ is only on the bench; with Ronaldo up against Emmanuel Eboue, expect many, many goals in this game.*

*Disclaimer: Mystic Matt is not responsible for the dour 0-0 draw that is sure to follow this prediction.

Shut up, Dyke: A Long Rant

Greg Dyke

Finish him, Maximus!

I realise it’s been a while (lost my password, aren’t I a butter-fingers), but I’m back for a good, old-fashioned rant. What’s pissed me off this time is the argument that keeps being spouted, by figures as influential as Greg Dyke, that England are crap because there aren’t enough English players in the premier league, or there aren’t enough English youngsters being given a chance to play. This, frankly, is bollocks; and here is why. Have a look at the players who played for the top 7 last season (I know this number is slightly arbitrary, but I want to include Liverpool because I love them; the argument works just as well without them but I want Gerrard in my dream England team, which you will see later).

Let’s start with this idea that young English players don’t get a chance. They do, they really, really do. If we say a player is “young” until they reach 25, when they should really have learnt enough to be considered experienced, we can see that young English players do get a chance-if they’re good enough, or apparently if they’re Scott Sinclair. Let’s have a look at the top 7 clubs of last year, and the players under 24 that got at least 10 games, either for them or on loan at another Premier League club. Why ten games? Well, because 10 games is enough for them to have a chance to impress and show what they can do, which is the point of this particular exercise. Whilst Chelsea didn’t actually blood any youngsters, the club aren’t exactly famed for bringing youth through, English or otherwise; and whilst Everton under David Moyes (who, for me, is a massively overrated, overly cautious manager) didn’t really bring anyone through either, under Martinez it’s looking increasingly likely that Ross Barkley will be getting a lot of games this season, and he obviously rates John Stones as well. The other 5 of the top 7, however, gave plenty of chances to young English players:

Manchester United: Jones, Smalling, Cleverley, Welbeck.

Manchester City: Rodwell, Sinclair (11 games-look it up, because I was surprised too)

Arsenal: Gibbs, Wilshere, Jenkinson, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain

Tottenham: Walker, Livermore, Rose (on loan at Sunderland), Naughton, Townsend (on loan at QPR)

Liverpool: Wisdom, Shelvey, Sturridge, Henderson, Sterling.

Scotty Sinclair, the man with the hair

Seriously, did he have photos of Mancini doing heinous things to animals or what?

So that’s a total of 21 English players from 5 clubs given every opportunity to impress (and this isn’t taking into account Martin Kelly or Micah Richards, injured last year, either, or Ben Amos who played 17 times for then-Championship club Hull City, or Jay Spearing who also played a lot on loan but is too crap for me to admit he was ever a Liverpool player). I’m not saying all of them are good enough to actually play for England, now or in the future; but the point is, enough were given a chance to produce a pretty damn good under-21 team (the vast majority of the above could have played in last season’s tournament), with the only weak link being goalkeepers, which is hardly surprising. Look, it doesn’t make any sense for clubs not to play English youth over foreign players, as long as they are good enough; it doesn’t cost them any more and it increases support from media and fans who love seeing local/ English lads doing well. If an English player is decent enough he will play; it’s as simple as that. It’s just that most of them aren’t good enough; not because of foreigners in the premier league, but because of deeper social and personal issues.

As to the argument that the national team suffers from not having enough Englishmen in the Premier League, well, that doesn’t stand up either. Back to the top 7 of last season, and let’s add the English players who featured; this time, we’ll up it to 20 games, because they are more experienced and so can be expected to have played more even in this crazy rotational era:

Manchester United: Carrick, Cleverley, Rooney, Ferdinand.

Manchester City: Lescott, Barry, Hart, Milner

Chelsea: Cahill, Cole, Terry, Lampard

Arsenal: No-one over 25 (but look back at the English youngsters list!)

Tottenham: Defoe, Dawson, Lennon

Everton: Osman, Baines, Jagielka

Liverpool: Gerrard, Johnson, Downing.

So, that’s 3-4 experienced English players at every top 7 club save Arsenal who played a good number of games last season. I haven’t even counted players like Tom Huddlestone, who was injured a lot, and has big weaknesses to his game, hence his replacement by Paulinho in the Spurs squad; what I can say, however, is that we do have enough English players to make a very good England team, and if we can sort out some decent goalkeepers (oh, Joe…) a very good squad.

Put my money where my mouth is? OK, then; from these players, young or experienced, who played for the 7 best teams in the country last season, which I think is a fair sample for a decent international team, here’s an England team to be feared by most countries who aren’t Brazil, Spain, Germany or Argentina, because come on, I’m not a miracle worker…

Jesus!!!!

Guys, I would help, but I need a haircut right away

GK: Joe Hart

Defence: Kelly; Cahill, Rio Ferdinand; Cole

Midfield: Gerrard; Wilshere, Rodwell.

Forwards: Welbeck, Rooney, Walcott.

Little bit of explanation: Kelly is amazing, far better than the other right-back options (but hey, put Richards there if you want, I like him too); Ferdinand is still class, even if Clark Carlisle thinks he’s a shithouse; Rodwell is there to provide some energy because Lampard is too slow and works better as an impact sub; and no Sturridge because Rooney is still pretty damn good and I want to see if Sturridge can keep his form going for a whole season. And there you are. Even Belgium would have trouble with this blend of youth, experience, power, pace and technical ability (apart from Cahill). The only weakness in the squad would be in goal; and whilst still hopeful for Jack Butland, I’ll grant this as an area that needs to be improved if England are going to do well.

Look, the bottom line is that blaming England’s lack of success on the international stage on the lack of English players in the Premier League just doesn’t make sense. We have enough good English players to make a good team; why they aren’t a good team is that since Sven left the only decent manager we’ve employed has been Capello (by the way, remember the record qualifying campaign he oversaw? Because I do; beating Croatia 5-1 in Zagreb was a particular highlight). Actually, let’s go with that Capello thing, because I know people are going to disagree; but we were brilliant in qualifying, absolutely brilliant, before we had a terrible world cup because Heskey’s legs went and so Capello pretty much had to change the swashbuckling counter-attacking style he’d implemented because he no longer had a striker mobile enough to hold and keep the ball. Even then, we drew against the USA because of poor finishing and Robert Green; drew against Algeria because Rooney took the day off and was replaced by his identical twin Dwayne “Concrete-Feet” Rooney; and we lost to Germany because of dodgy refereeing and Gareth Barry’s overly British refusal to foul Ozil, opting instead to politely offer him tea and crumpets on his way towards the England net.

It isn’t because we don’t have talented English players, many of them, or because the foreigners are ruining the league (as an aside, why don’t a few English youngsters who feel they aren’t getting a chance at their clubs go and play for some European clubs?); it’s because the FA can’t distinguish its arse from its elbow that we have been underperforming in this qualifying campaign, and why we were so poor in the Euros; it’s because they appointed Roy Hodgson, the most negative, reactive manager I know of, to manage us, to waste all the talents of England’s players in a bid to make us “solid” and eke out 0-0 draws against average teams, to stifle all the player’s natural creativity and movement in the name of “structure” when football is increasingly becoming fluid and, at least attacking-wise, structureless.

Don’t listen to Dyke, because he’s a Dyke-head (I’m here all week, folks); England are good enough, and forcing clubs to play sub-standard English players in a big to placate the mob isn’t going to magically make us better than Spain.

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