Thursday, 19 February 2015

So Called Fans

The images from the Paris Metro where Chelsea fans are seen to continually push a black man backwards (so he couldn't get on the train) are sickening. As is their chanting of ''We're racist (and that's the way we like it)''.

Plenty of scribblers will scribble plenty of drivel on this. All I will say is can we please stop this ''so called fans'' business. These people are travelling across the continent to watch their team play football. They are, by any definition, a fan. It doesn't matter that they are Chelsea fans, really. These cretins could have been the fan of any club - it is just that in the minds of many Chelsea will be forever linked with various hooligan firms. Sure, Chelsea have problems but show me a club who doesn't. I'm no fan of Chelsea (far from it) but the glee that many commentators have had in pointing out that this was Chelsea shows one of the issues with the discussion. Can anyone, actually, fault the club's response so far?

Let's also can the ''there's no room for it in football''. There is room for it in football. Too much room for it but room nonetheless. In the last few years (off the top of my head) we've seen a Liverpool fan doing a monkey impression of Patrice Evra, Luis Suarez banned for racism, John Terry banned for racism, Chelsea fans racially abusing a black man in Paris, numerous sets of fans hissing Spurs, a banana was tossed at Dani Alves, Lord knows how many Eastern European and Spanish crowds booing or making monkey noises at black players, and a Celtic player banned for racist abuse. It might be the case ''there ought to be no room for it in football'' but those of us who studied Hume know the problems about getting an is from an ought. Right now racism does exist in football as it does elsewhere in society.

And that's before we get to the more sinister point. The drunken, racist bellowing at a black man is sickening. The Liverpool fan doing the monkey impression is repugnant and stupid. But, at least, you know where you are with these morons (and you know where they are). There are, no doubt, plenty of racists lurking in football grounds who don't think to throw bananas at players or shout abuse at black players. There are plenty of racists in pubs watching the game quietly. There are plenty of people who support your club and mine who say ''I'm not racist but...'.


That's before we even get on to the subtle racism that John Barnes has previously alluded to when he said ''In this society when tens of thousands of black people die, there is not the same collective outrage if hundreds of white people die'. Think of the laughably soft punishments that UEFA hand out to racist fan groups (and compare to Nicklas Bendtner's ban for wearing PaddyPower pants). Think of how few black managers there are. Think of how few players there are from South Asian communities in the English leagues. Think of how black players are described by pundits. Think of the way teams from Africa at the World Cup are spoken of when they are playing European powerhouses. Think of the differential bans for Suarez and Terry. Think of the way hooliganism is often glorified on film (and think of the views of many hooligans). Think of Gordon Taylor describing racism as ''a hidden problem''. Think of how many times you have heard racist abuse on the terraces, from your own fans, and said nothing.

Racism isn't a hidden problem. It is a problem. It is pervasive in society and we shouldn't be surprised that it is pervasive in football. Trying to discuss racism in football usually comes down to a discussion about club bias ''but when (insert your own team player) said X he wasn't being racist' or ''but what about when your fans did Y?'. It is easy to condemn racism. It is harder to admit how widespread the problem is.

And one way we mask that is by saying the fans who are explicitly racist are ''so called fans''. We try to say they aren't part of football. It makes us feel better. If only it were that easy. They are fans. That's the problem. That's the fucking point.

RCM

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Lost Boys

Am seriously considering writing a book on 'the lost boys of British football'. You know the types I mean - those who were hyped up and who, for whatever reason, didn't make it to the big time.

So far I'm considering focusing on:

John Bostock, Sonny Pike, Owen Price, Billy Kenny, Cherno Samba, Dean Parrett, Richard Irving, Michael Johnson, Paul Lake, John Welch, John Curtice, David Raven, Michael Woods, Kiyan Prince, Mark Kennedy, Jermaine Pennant, Francis Jeffers, David Hirst, Danny Cadamarteri, Terry Cooke, Alex Watson, Michael Branch, James Vaughan, Graham Barrett, Liam Miller, Matt Jansen, Stewart Robson, Jon Harley, Michael Bridges, Stefan Moore, Neil Mellor, Martin Philips, Jody Morris. You could add the likes of Norman Whiteside, Stan Collymoore, Jack Rodwell, and, even, Joe Cole.

From Scotland: John Fleck, Mark Kerr, Lee Wallace, Duncan Ferguson, Peter Marinello, Simon Donnelly, Mark Burchill, Eoin Jess, Peter Cormack, George Connelly, Callum Elliott, Derek Riordan, the U17 World Cup Final squad, David Templeton, David Goodwillie, Danny Wilson, Brian Carrigan, Paul Slane, Stephen Pearson.

Any suggestions would be most useful.

RCM

Thursday, 8 January 2015

On Gerrard


At Yom Kippur and at Passover, Jews around the world say 'Next year in Jerusalem'. It is an expression of spiritual hope. The closest I come to a faith - Liverpool FC - has its own expression of eternal hope 'Next year is our year'. Both are based around the idea that better times lie ahead and that there is some level of destiny in our otherwise humdrum lives.

For 24 years, Liverpudlians have uttered the words ''Next year is our year''. Sometimes in hope, sometimes in expectation, sometimes because we have to do so. We believed it even if others laughed and even when it seemed far away the hope was necessary. At the end of the storm, after all, is a golden sky.

Of course, the nature of the club, the nature of the city, is that each year - rather than diminishing - the hope and expectation merely adds pressure to the men wearing red.


Why does all this matter? Because in assessing Steven Gerrard, and understanding him, you have to understand Liverpool - the city and the club. The three are intertwined and enmeshed.

Like other cities obsessed with football, Liverpool is a goldfish bowl for its players - particularly the biggest stars and particularly for Liverpool FC players. Players are mobbed in the street, in restaurants, in parks, in pubs. They aren't left alone. This happens too, yes, in Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow but it does seem particularly vociferous on Merseyside.

Steven Gerrard has, for a decade, been the biggest star at Liverpool. A home-grown star in a city obsessed with football and the captain of a club whose fans, at their best and worst, can be obsessive. That's a combustible mix.


It is difficult to imagine what life in that goldfish bowl is like for him - and given his personality that is important. The only analogous example I can think of is Alan Shearer at Newcastle - but Shearer didn't have that burden from a very young age and had already won the league before joining the club. Moreover, big as Newcastle are the level of expectation was different. Shearer was the returning hero, the saviour. Gerrard was seen by many as the saviour the moment he pulled on the shirt.



As the title-less years have gone on and on, the anxiety amongst supporters has grown. The mocking ''Come back when you've won 18' banner doesn't seem so funny now. It seems like we cursed ourselves. Too cocky. Too arrogant. Liverpool used to assume that the title would return. Now there is a worry that it will not. Every near miss hurts more than ever. Every near miss makes it feel further away.

Knowing Gerrard is the biggest star at the club, understanding the city as a goldfish bowl, and understanding the club as a pressure cooker, helps explain Gerrard. Add to that how the club has operated during his time - poor signings, sometimes poor managers, and an inability to keep hold of star players (bar Gerrard) - he has often been the sole source of inspiration. He has been the man everyone in a city has looked to for salvation. That must affect a man.

And it did affect this one.

Think how often he looks worried on the pitch? How often does he look pained? He knows the level of expectation from the terraces. He knows what they want. He knows they haven't tasted the success they want. He knows how badly they want it. He knows that each year the pressure grows. He doesn't want to let anyone down.

What that pressure does defines Gerrard - on the one hand, it has meant him hauling mediocre teams to greatness. On the other hand, it has led to him imploding or trying to win things single-handedly. You can't have the best of Gerrard without his flaws.

It is useful to consider him against the other great players of the last 20 years. You rarely saw Cantona, Keane, Henry, Lampard or Giggs look worried. Gerrard though looks as though something awful has just happened or something is about to. He often looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

In footballing terms, he often has had.

For most of his career, he has been the focal point of a generally sub-standard Liverpool team. The reason they've remained competitive is in a large part down to his ability. Without him, it is likely that Liverpool's descent into being Aston Villa or Everton would have started a decade ago and accelerated. That, for much of his time, they've been regulars in the top four and regulars in the Champions League is in a large part down to Gerrard.

Whereas the other great English midfielders of the last decade have often been surrounded by jewels, Gerrard has often been surrounded by mediocrity - both on the pitch and in the dugout. Great managers coax greatness from mediocre players. Gerrard has often had to inspire greatness on the pitch. That is quite something. When he couldn't inspire his troops he just had to do it himself.

Reading his autobiography it seems he is a born worrier and someone who doubts himself. He constantly needs reassurance that things are going well. He is terrified of letting people down. Remember the city, remember the club. The story of him asking - upon the signing of Adam and Henderson - ''where am I going to play?' is telling. Some put that down to Stevie Me egotism. Perhaps. My reading is that here is a superbly gifted footballer who doesn't quite believe it. Look, for instance, at his comments yesterday that he would have signed a contract last summer. Doubt is Gerrard's constant companion in the city of anxiety. Reassurance is the one thing to ward it off. Gerrard was Liverpool's captain because his innate ability would inspire the team, inspire the fans. It might have been better if someone else had worn the armband, bawl out the troops, and Gerrard had just been left to destroy the other teams.

His desire not to let folk down and the pressure and anxiety around the club can inspire him to cartoonish levels of improbability - the man of the match performance against West Ham in 'The Gerrard Final' including that goal; the screamer against Olympiakos; the second half hat-trick against Napoli; Istanbul and so forth. Lots of focus is put on those moments to the extent that we forget games and seasons he has dominated.

But for those moments of improbability, the pressure and anxiety can cause implosions - losing his head against Everton (subbed, to derision but rightly, for Lucas by Benitez); the slip against Chelsea; the fight in a nightclub after Liverpool beat Newcastle to go to the top of the league. Many - including myself - criticised him for shooting on sight against Chelsea. He clearly felt he needed to atone for his mistake but, also, felt that no one else was going to do it. Throughout his career - the other night against Wimbledon being the latest example after the free-kick against Basel a few weeks ago to almost save a doomed CL campaign - he has generally been the one to pull Liverpool out of the fire. If he doesn't do it no one else will.

Scholes had any number of world-class players behind him, alongside him and in front of him throughout his career. Lampard and Fabregas too. All three had superb managers in the dugout for much of their career. Gerrard had those luxuries rarely and rarely at the same time. When he did have them, he almost achieved the title. Almost. Almost. But never quite. He knew, we all knew, that Liverpool were never quite good enough. It seems odd, therefore, to hold the club's failings against him when he almost made those failings redundant.

In 2002, Liverpool were 7 points behind Arsenal. In 2009, it was 4 points behind Manchester United. In 2014, it was 2 points behind Manchester City. Close but no cigar. If he'd had Suarez for one more season? Perhaps. If the club hadn't imploded to the point of near administration under Hicks and Gillet? Perhaps. All ifs, buts and maybes.

And for many that is what defines Gerrard: by what he didn't achieve. No league title, no dice. This is a fair enough world-view but a basic one. The same kind of argument that claims 'Ferguson wasn't as good a manager as Paisley because he didn't win the third European Cup'. Fine as far as the argument goes - but hardly particularly nuanced or understanding.

The odd thing about assessing footballers is that we often evaluate them as individuals by their medal haul. Of course, a player cannot win things on his own. So it seems odd to assess a player on his medals without assessing who he was playing with and, indeed, who he was playing against. Would Gerrard have won a title with Mourinho? Or Ferguson? Gerrard played in some fine Liverpool teams but rarely for a number of consecutive seasons.

But, there we are, all footballers retire with regrets and many with a millstone around their neck. Gerrard's is the lack of a league title. Cantona's? The lack of a Champions League win. Cruyff's? That World Cup Final.

Knowing Gerrard, and knowing the club, he'll dwell on it. It is an obsession for them and for him. He will think long into the night: What if Macheda's goal had been disallowed for handball? Why did Arshavin have to score four? Why did Kolo have to pass that pass against West Brom? Why that slip? Why me?.

There are various types of sporting genius. Cantona was a genius of self-belief. Lampard and Beckham are geniuses of work-rate. Zidane a genius of skill. Gerrard a genius of anxiety. A very English genius.

And what a genius.

Liverpool cannot replace Gerrard because he is a one-off. A colossus at the club, who cares for the club, who understands the club. That all matters. The next guy might be brilliant but he won't be Gerrard so let's not burden the poor bugger. Before it even starts leave poor Rossiter alone.

 
I can't think of a better all-round footballer from the British Isles since Dave Mackay. I can think of better defensive midfielders (Keane and Viera), better passers (Scholes), better crossers (Beckham), better dribblers (Giggs), men better at bombing into the box (Lampard) but none of those matched Gerrard's all round abilities.

And that all-round athletic ability is his curse as much as his strength. He often had to do everything for Liverpool because he could do everything. From the young box-to-box midfielder (considered - at the time - by Ferguson as equivalent to Keane), to the right-back in the 2005 Champions League Final, to the man who played on the right-hand-side in 2005/6 (scoring 23 goals), to playing as a second striker to Torres in 2008/9, to playing left-wing for England in the 2010 World Cup, to last season's majesty as a deeper lying midfielder - Gerrard, unlike Lampard and Scholes, has always had to use his abilities across the pitch. If he'd just been a box-to-box midfielder it all might have been easier. His ability, however, meant for Liverpool and England we spent much of his career deciding where he'd play best. Never mind his impact off the pitch, never mind his ability to pull something out of the hat in a big game - he's irreplaceable because he is a one-off.

As Ken Earlys put it, Gerrard was a hurricane of a player and he was best when he was allowed to be that destructive - with a genius like Alonso, or an older head like Hamann or McAllister, running the show. Would England have got the best from him if they'd realised that? Almost certainly.

But all that is by the by.

Football becomes boring, less fun as you get older. The heroes aren't heroes in the same way as they were when you were young. There is something unseemly about hero-worshipping someone the same age as you or, God help us all, younger. Gerrard made a generation of Liverpool fans feel young again. That shouldn't be sniffed at. To younger generations? He must seem like a permanent colossus at the club.

He was a hurricane. A force of nature. He was ours. And he was fucking magnificent. From that glorious first goal all those years ago to the free kick the other night he has been a constant gem in an otherwise often stodgy team. There are too many moments to savour, too many to list.

Is he our greatest ever? Some will maintain Dalglish. There's a case for that. There's a case for Gerrard too. When I was growing up the idea that anyone would get within sniffing distance of Dalglish was heresy. That shows, if nothing else, what a player Steven Gerrard was.

RCM

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Left Back Christmas Quiz

So there we are! Another year over and another LBITCR Christmas Quiz done and dusted. 

The winner this year was Jonathan Askew (@askewjt) with 57. Second place was The Football Pink (@thefootballpink) and third place was Kenny Fleming (@kennyf1283). Well done all and thanks to all who took part!

Happy New Year!

RCM

Name that man


1. One of Denmark's finest: Preben Elkjær Larsen

2. Josef Masopust

 
3. Ernst Happel



4. Vikash Dhorasoo
 
  
5. Nuno Gomes


Random trivia

6. Which Greek demi-god gives his name to teams in Spain, the Netherlands and Greece? Hercules (or Heracles)

7. Which football club takes its name from a Princess of Denmark? Crewe Alexandra

8. Oxford and Dublin have done it but London, Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh haven't. What have they done? Their Universities have won their respective cups (Oxford University and UCD)


9. What have Real Madrid done five times, AC Milan done four times, Sunderland three times, Newcastle United twice, Falkirk once but Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have never done? Held the World Transfer Record

10.
Sergei Kiriakov is the all-time top scorer for which nation? Commonwealth of Independent States

11. When did Stanley Matthews play in Scotland colours? In the Match of the Century in 1947. Great Britain played the game at Hampden and played in Scotland colours. (A similar game in Northern Ireland in 1955 saw Great Britain play in Green).

12. Who is the only person to have played for Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal? William Gallas (Clive Allen was on the books at all three but never played for Arsenal - anyone who said him got half a mark)

13. What did Charlton do in 1970, Sunderland do in 1979 and Chester in 2014? Scored in an FA Cup Final. (A twist on the old classic 'If Sunderland did it in 79 and Villa in 81 who did it in 80?'

14. Which is the only English city to have staged top-flight football in every league season since 1888? Liverpool (Know thy quizmaster!)

15. What unwanted honour does Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hold? The only man to have been World Cup losing captain twice (1982 and 1986).

16. Which two English league teams are not named after places? Arsenal and Port Vale

17. Which team has lost the FA Cup Final the most times without winning the trophy? Leicester City (Four times)

18. Who were Gre-No-Li? The Swedish attacking trio of the 1950s: Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm.

19. Who comes next in this sequence: Dunga, Kahn, Zidane, van Bronckhorst? Messi (World Cup losing captains)

20. Three British regiments have won major British footballing trophies. Name them. Third Lanark (Scottish Cup), Gordon Highlanders (Northern Irish Cup), Royal Engineers (FA Cup)

21. Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo held it once, Cruyff once also, Suarez once but Maradona twice. What is it? And, for an extra point, who is the current holder? The World Transfer Record (the other Luis Suarez held it in the 1960s). The current holder is Gareth Bale.


22. Four men have scored a goal and an own goal in a World Cup. A point for each. Ruud Krol, Ernie Brandts, Gustavo Pena, Sinisa Mihajlovic

Grounds

23. Who used to play at the Olive Grove? Sheffield Wednesday

24. Who used to play at Fellows Park? Walsall

25. Who used to play at Muirton Park? St Johnstone

26. Which international team plays their home games at Estadio Algarve? Gibraltar (Yes, Portugal have played games there but it couldn't reasonably be considered their home ground)

27. What is the Signal Iduna Park better known as? The WestfalenStadion

Quotes
28. Who was Bill Shankly talking about when he said ''He belongs to the company of the supremely great like Beethoven, Shakespeare and Rembrandt'? Dixie Dean

29. Who said 'I don't believe in God. In Spain all 22 players cross themselves. If it works the game is always going to be a tie'  Johann Cruyff

30. Who said 'It was like seducing the most beautiful woman in the world. And then failing on the moment for which you did it all'? And what was he talking about? Socrates commenting on losing the World Cup Semi-Final to Italy.

31. Who was right when he said: 'The bacillus of efficiency has also attacked football, and some dare to ask what’s the point in playing well. I feel tempted to tell about the time they dared to ask Borges what is poetry for, to which he answered: ‘What is a sunrise for? What are caresses for? What is the smell of coffee for?'”  Jorge Valdano - would that many managers today could quote Borges! 

32. Who said ''Ninety-five percent of my language problems are the fault of that stupid little midget'? And who was he talking about? Gianfranco Zola about Denis Wise

Nicknames

33. Who are 'The Little Donkeys'? Napoli (Chievo are The Flying Donkeys).

34. Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, Ferencvaros in Hungary, Benfica in Portugal, Besiktas in Turkey. Who in England? Crystal Palace (The Eagles)


35.
Which former England striker was nicknamed 'Atilla'? Mark Hateley

36. Who is 'The Eastern Wind'? Andriy Shevchenko

37. What nickname links Ruben Sosa and Alberto Aquilani? The Little Prince

38. Which three footballers were known as 'The Three Degrees' in the 1980s. A point for each Brendan Batson, Cyrille Regis, and Laurie Cunningham

39. Which England captain was nicknamed 'Crazy Horse'? Emlyn Hughes

What name links...

40 A Colombian forward, arguably the greatest Futsal player in the world, and one of the finest midfielders of the 1980s. Falcao - one of the greats of the Brazil team alluded to in question 30, Falcao is arguably the greatest Futsal player in the world, and Radamel Falcao is the Columbian forward (named in honour of the Brazilian)


41. A Japanese football team and arguably the finest Brazilian defensive midfielder of all time. Cerezo. (Cerezo Osaka and Toninho Cerezo)

42. A Spanish Ballon d'Or winner with a recent European Golden Shoe winner? Luis Suarez

43. One of England's finest ever uncapped players and one of England's most capped players? Bryan Robson (Bryan 'Pop' Robson was one of the most prolific scorers of the 1960s but was unlucky to play in the same era as Hunt, Greaves, Hurst amongst others. These days he'd have 50 or more caps).

44. A current Belgian international and a current France U19 star? Moussa Dembele

Achievers

45. Who is Sweden's all time top goalscorer? Zlatan Ibrahimovic

46. In 2004, each UEFA nation had to nominate their 'Golden Player' as part of UEFA's jubilee. Who was Germany's Golden Player? Fritz Walter

47. Frank Lampard is Chelsea's record goalscorer. Who held the record before him? Bobby Tambling

48. Nine men have won the First Division or Premier League as a player and a manager. A point for each. Sir Alf Ramsey, Bill Nicholson, Bob Paisley, Dave Mackay, George Graham, Howard Kendall, Kenny Dalglish, Ted Drake

49. Five teams have won the Turkish league title. One point for each. Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, Bursaspor, Trabzonspor.
 
50. Willie Angus, Donald Simpson Bell and Bernard Vann are three men to have all achieved which off-field honour? They all won the Victoria Cross

Monday, 22 December 2014

Twenty years of waste

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most money spent on football transfers is money wasted. With, perhaps, the notable exceptions of Spurs and Rangers, no British club has wasted more money more often these past twenty years than Liverpool. How many times has a new striker arrived only to be absolutely pony? How many times have jealous eyes looked along the East Lancs Road to think ''why didn't we sign him?'. How many times in the last twenty months - never mind twenty years - have Liverpool been beaten to the punch for a player (Willian, Sanchez, Konoplyanka, Mkhitaryan etc) only to end up signing an entirely different kind of player?

Sometimes good transfers just don't work out (Aquilani). Sometimes players just don't quite fit but may excel elsewhere (Mascherano at West Ham worked beautifully at Liverpool). Sometimes clubs just waste huge amounts of money on players who have just twinkled briefly elsewhere (Carroll, Downing, Riera, Diouf).

For Liverpool fans, it is too depressing to consider this on an annual basis. One could easily sit down and do a forensic analysis of the players that were available in a given summer and players that Liverpool chose instead. The road to madness is probably one where you compare what you could have bought with what you actually got.

That said, let's just look at the summer of 2014. Liverpool needed, in my view (at the very least), at least one new goalkeeper, at least one defensive midfielder, a left-back, a centre-back and at least one striker.

Some of that the club got (a left-back, a centre-back and three strikers) but some areas still need surgery - and that actually impacts on the rest of the team. Without a proper defensive midfielder, the defence will struggle. Without a decent goalkeeper, the team will struggle. Few of the summer signings have clicked. Markovic - who is so potentially good that even if Liverpool weren't crying out for him the investment made sense - is looking a little more promising, Lallana too (though his propensity to hold on to the ball too long is infuriating), Can and Moreno can be filled under ''probable hits'' too. Balotelli was a gamble that is increasingly looking an unwise one whilst Lovren is to a good defence what a grenade is to the effective manager of a china shop.

So: who could Liverpool have bought?

In goal: Liverpool brought in no one. Mignolet and Jones aren't Champions League goalkeepers but Liverpool  could have got Ochoa (free), Guiata (free), and Valdes (free). The decision to get rid of a fading Reina looks more criminal with every passing game. Is anyone seriously saying Reina wouldn't stroll into this team?


At left-back:
 The Reds brought in Moreno and could have got Cole (free). Both wouldn't have been too much of a problem. It might seem overkill to have four left-backs (Flanagan and Enrique) but Enrique could easily have been sold whilst Flanagan can cover both flanks.

At centre-back: Liverpool lost Agger and the under-rated Martin Kelly. Both are still needed. Wisdom, Ilori and Coates went on loan. Will any of them return to the squad? What is the pathway for young Reds to the first team under Rodgers?

Lovren was bought for a scarcely believable £20m. Amongst many others, Rose (£1.2m) or Ginter (£6m) could have been bought and would have been better than Lovren. One of the outright disgraces at Anfield is how far the club have fallen defensively since Rafael Benitez left. Remember those days when people debated whether zonal marking worked? In every single defensive position Liverpool have got worse over the last five years. Most obviously, of course, in defensive midfield. Perhaps the £20m spent on Lovren could have been spent on a gold-plated statue of Javier Mascherano. It would, I'd imagine, be the best defensive midfielder at the club.

In central midfield: Can looks decent enough and it is likely he will come good. He could have been assisted by Cristante (£4.7m) and Sebastian Rode (free). Defensively we could have looked at Krychowiak (£4.4m), Martins Indi (£6.1m) or Gary Medel (£10m). 

If we needed a forward thinking midfielder we could have gone for Hahn (£1.78m) rather than Lallana (£26m). If the club really needed to get rid of money in a Brewster's Millions type affair (which, to be fair, would explain a lot) of on an attacking midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu for far less than Lallana (around half the price). Çalhanoğlu is six years younger than Lallana, to boot. Markovic looked a supreme talent in Portugal and may come good. Sometimes it is worth lumping on talent even if it takes a while to bear fruit. Manchester United did so a few years ago with Nani and Anderson - one broadly worked, one, erm, was broad.

Up front: Origi's transfer makes sense, long-term, if there is a pathway for such players to the first team. This is a big 'if'. That said, it seems bonkers to spend £10m on a striker - when one is needed - and to send one out on loan. Lambert was bought as a bits and pieces player and is performing the role well enough.

Rather than Balotelli - who hasn't been anywhere near as bad as most make out and who, when he played with Sturridge, actually looked rather good - probably isn't what Liverpool needed. Rather than buy him, they could have gone for Menez (free), Drmic (£5.4m), Lasogga (£6.7m), Finnbogason (£6.3m) or Coman (free).  Hell, they could have got them all for the same price as Balotelli.

There were other more expensive options available (Sanchez, Griezmann, Mandzukic, Remy, Costa, Immobile etc). There were others who may have been available but didn't - for whatever reason - move (Lacazette, Bony ) but deals were available elsewhere - Balotelli may have been a last minute gamble that didn't need to be made.

In fact, for £53.78m we could have got all of those players. Or, in other words, the club could have got three goalkeepers, a left-back, two centre-backs, three DMs, two CMs, an AM, and five forwards for a little over what they shovelled into Southampton's pockets for Lallana, Lovren and Lambert.

Of course, that would never have happened in reality - wages matter, some might not have wanted to play for Liveprool and there is a premium that clubs like Liverpool pay for players.

RCM

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Left Back In The Changing Room Bumper Christmas Quiz 2014

It has arrived - the geekiest football quiz of the year, the moment I sit back and think 'hang on a second didn't he actually play for Marseille' and jump in amongst the Rothmans Football Year Books just to double check, the moment I know some swivel-eyed blogger who hasn't left his bedroom for six months will correct me. Yes, Lord Alive, it is the Left Back In The Changing Room Bumper Christmas Quiz 2014.

This is the seventh Christmas Quiz. Last year's answers can be found here (and all the previous iterations can be linked to from there). The answers were correct when they went to press. This year's prize is a bottle from the Left Back Cellars - the prize often takes years to arrive but I promise it will. A Marrs always pays his debts even if, sometimes, that requires legal enforcement.

I have barely written this year. That's partly because of the arrival of Charlotte Rose, my beautiful 20-week-old daughter. Ultimately, spending time with her is time better spent than writing love letters to Zvonomir Boban and when I'm not spending time with her I'm just trying to sleep. I'm not mothballing the blog and will return in earnest at some point. In the meantime, it will be the odd piece here and there.

As ever, I'd ask you not to Google the answers. There isn't really much point, some of the questions can't be answered that way and you'll waste your own time as well as mine.

Ultimately, if you are the sort of rogue who would do such a thing then, well, you shouldn't be able to look at yourself in the mirror. It is supposed to be a bit of fun. Your mother will be ashamed of you and you will likely die alone and unhappy.

I reserve the right, when marking, to (a) dock points for any QI style clangers (b) award additional points for points of interest. Drop me an email to lbinthechangingroom@yahoo.co.uk with your answers. Results will follow early in the New Year. Please do email in the answers rather than sticking them in the comments thread.

So best of luck to those of you who do read the blog and those who only pop on to do the quiz. It is an enormous privilege that anyone reads what I have written and the nice comments I occasionally get are always something to savour. I've had a fantastic 2014 - happier than I could ever have imagined. I hope that your 2015 betters that and wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Love, or what you will,

Rob


Name that man
1. Who is the dapper gent?


2. And who is this handsome devil?

 
3. And who is this legendary manager?



4. Name this stylish fellow.
 

 
 
5. And to finish this round... who do we have here?


Random trivia

6. Which Greek demi-god gives his name to teams in Spain, the Netherlands and Greece?

7. Which football club takes its name from a Princess of Denmark?

8. Oxford and Dublin have done it but London, Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh haven't. What have they done?


9. What have Real Madrid done five times, AC Milan done four times, Sunderland three times, Newcastle United twice, Falkirk once but Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have never done?

10.
Sergei Kiriakov is the all-time top scorer for which nation?

11. When did Stanley Matthews play in Scotland colours?

12. Who is the only person to have played for Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal?

13. What did Charlton do in 1970, Sunderland do in 1979 and Chester in 2014?

14. Which is the only English city to have staged top-flight football in every league season since 1888?

15. What unwanted honour does Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hold?

16. Which two English league teams are not named after places?

17. Which team has lost the FA Cup Final the most times without winning the trophy?

18. Who were Gre-No-Li?

19. Who comes next in this sequence: Dunga, Kahn, Zidane, van Bronckhorst?

20. Three British regiments have won major British footballing trophies. Name them.

21. Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo held it once, Cruyff once also, Suarez once but Maradona twice. What is it? And, for an extra point, who is the current holder?


22. Four men have scored a goal and an own goal in a World Cup. A point for each.

Grounds

23. Who used to play at the Olive Grove?

24. Who used to play at Fellows Park?

25. Who used to play at Muirton Park?

26. Which international team plays their home games at Estadio Algarve?

27. What is the Signal Iduna Park better known as?

Quotes
28. Who was Bill Shankly talking about when he said ''He belongs to the company of the supremely great like Beethoven, Shakespeare and Rembrandt'?

29. Who said 'I don't believe in God. In Spain all 22 players cross themselves. If it works the game is always going to be a tie'

30. Who said 'It was like seducing the most beautiful woman in the world. And then failing on the moment for which you did it all'? And what was he talking about?

31. Who was right when he said: 'The bacillus of efficiency has also attacked football, and some dare to ask what’s the point in playing well. I feel tempted to tell about the time they dared to ask Borges what is poetry for, to which he answered: ‘What is a sunrise for? What are caresses for? What is the smell of coffee for?'” 

32. Who said ''Ninety-five percent of my language problems are the fault of that stupid little midget'? And who was he talking about?
Nicknames

33. Who are 'The Little Donkeys'?

34. Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, Ferencvaros in Hungary, Benfica in Portugal, Besiktas in Turkey. Who in England?


35.
Which former England striker was nicknamed 'Atilla'?

36. Who is 'The Eastern Wind'?

37. What nickname links Ruben Sosa and Alberto Aquilani?

38. Which three footballers were known as 'The Three Degrees' in the 1980s. A point for each

39. Which England captain was nicknamed 'Crazy Horse'?

What name links...

40 A Colombian forward, arguably the greatest Futsal player in the world, and one of the finest midfielders of the 1980s.


41. A Japanese football team and arguably the finest Brazilian defensive midfielder of all time.

42. A Spanish Ballon d'Or winner with a recent European Golden Shoe winner?

43. One of England's finest ever uncapped players and one of England's most capped players?

44. A current Belgian international and a current France U19 star?

Achievers

45. Who is Sweden's all time top goalscorer?

46. In 2004, each UEFA nation had to nominate their 'Golden Player' as part of UEFA's jubilee. Who was Germany's Golden Player?

47. Frank Lampard is Chelsea's record goalscorer. Who held the record before him?

48. Nine men have won the First Division or Premier League as a player and a manager. A point for each

49. Five teams have won the Turkish league title. One point for each.


50. Willie Angus, Donald Simpson Bell and Bernard Vann are three men to have all achieved which off-field honour?

Friday, 24 October 2014

We boast then we cower

It is never particularly nice to dissect your own team's rancid form but sometimes one must. It makes one feel better, it is cathartic and good for the soul. The rancour is out and, all of a sudden, the world feels a better place.

At Anfield, on a European night, Liverpool were taught a footballing lesson by Real Madrid. It wasn't just that Real Madrid were better - they are European Champions, after all, and plenty of teams will be given beatings by them this season - but that they looked, at points, as if they were playing a different sport to the Reds. Moreover, Liverpool looked like a different team to the one that strutted last spring. There is a line in a Proclaimers song 'we boast then we cower'. The bespectacled twins were talking about Scotland but it might as easily apply to the Reds.

Worryingly, Paul Hayward was right when he said in the first half 'Liverpool are doing lots of things right'. They were. The problem was they weren't doing enough things right and they weren't doing the basics right. It is possible to get away with catastrophic errors against sub-standard teams but against a team containing the likes of Ronaldo, Kroos and Rodriguez? It was always unlikely to end well.

Much of the focus since the game has been on Mario Balotelli and his shirt-swapping antics. This is the worst sort of football fandom. It neglects to look at what is happening on the pitch and focuses on the usual bluster and bullshit - pride, heart, chest-thumping, badge-kissing and all the rest of it. If only he cared more. If only he cared as much as us. Well, maybe, but this is scapegoating and we aren't even finding the right scapegoat.

Balotelli is performing a useful function. Such is the media's obsession with Mario that he acts as a lightning rod for Rodgers. However, to focus on Balotelli is to grab the wrong end of the stick and the wrong end of the pitch. Yes, there are problems scoring goals at present but that simply isn't as important as what is happening at the back.


But before we leave Balotelli behind, let's put the forwards to bed. Yes, it is unfortunate that Sturridge is injured. Yes, Suarez left but we need to remember a number of things here.

First, Suarez would not have been able to play, or even train, with the squad had he stayed with Liverpool until recently.

Second, yes, Suarez did leave but Liverpool were paid an awful lot of money for him. If he was not adequately replaced then questions should be asked of the club.

Third, yes, it is unfortunate Sturridge is injured but every team must be aware that their players will be injured from time to time and cannot bank on star players being fit all season.

Given points two and three, it is negligent of Liverpool to have so few options up front and it is negligent of Rodgers to have two strikers in the squad who play so infrequently (Borini and Lambert) and one abroad (Origi). It was obvious to most observers that Liverpool needed to replace arguably the best striker in the world with at least one, possibly two, players who would score a decent number of goals. Balotelli might be that man but the burden on him now is vast. Lambert was only ever going to be a bits and pieces player. Given Liverpool signed Markovic for £20m and Lallana for £26m (both of whom may come good but who were not really priority positions) then some of the blame must be levelled at the manager and the club for poorly allocating funds. Balotelli was a last minute signing but Liverpool could have pursued any number of strikers and utilised some of the Markovic or Lallana money to secure a quality striker.

The biggest problem though is in defence.  Rodgers most recent argument is that due to the Champions League he doesn't have the same level of coaching time as he did last season. This would be fair enough if, last season, Liverpool had been parsimonious in defence. Of course, they were not. There hasn't been a downward spiral in defence this year but rather a continuation of a trend. We haven't been able to defend set pieces since Benitez left.

This was laughed off last year. 'They score three? We'll score five'. Now we are terrified they'll score three. Our poor defence was masked by the brilliance or Sturridge, Suarez and Sterling. In fact, they masked myriad failings.

Liverpool lost the league last season not because of Gerrard's slip or Kolo Toure's pass or Henderson's sending off but because they conceded too many goals. 101 were scored but 50 were shipped - 13 more than Manchester City and 23 more than Chelsea. 16th place Hull conceded only 3 more goals than the Reds.

Most fans agreed that a left-back was needed (and Moreno, to be fair to him, has been better than most of the other arrivals). Most agreed a centre-back was needed. Lovren, however, so far has been an abomination. He and Skrtel are often bullied by average strikers and seem to be on entirely different wavelengths. Sometimes one seems to be marking a zone and the other seems to be marking a man. Sometimes they are marking the same person. Sometimes they seem to be marking nothing at all. There is something rotten at the heart of Liverpool's defence and, indeed, it might actually be both of them. It beggars belief that Sakho sits on the bench (it is increasingly clear that when Rodgers doesn't rate a transfer committee signing that he just benches them). It beggars belief - even with the caveat that his body was creaking - that Agger was allowed to go. It beggars belief that Rodgers hasn't taken a grip of them. He said today 'it isn't rocket science'. Well, fix it.

At right-back, it is perhaps telling that someone with 16 career appearances upon arriving at Anfield (Manquillo) already looks stronger defensively than England's starting right-back. Seeing Andre Wisdom perform well against Manchester United should have made Reds fans wince because, at present, he would walk into the Liverpool team. 

Behind the defence is one of the league's best shot-stoppers but a goalkeeper but whose distribution is exceedingly poor and who is about as comfortable dealing with crosses as Nosferatu. He isn't helped by the two banks in front of him. 

Ahead of the centre-backs, there are problems too. Neither Gerrard nor Lucas, at present, are offering enough protection to the defence which only - in turn - puts greater pressure on them. Gerrard is becoming an issue and he can't play three games in seven days. The problem is he all bar unstoppable at present but he is not offering his back four protection and, to be blunt, they need it. Imagine the vitriol if he was dropped and Liverpool lost? Perhaps Can can play that role but Liverpool needed someone to perform that role and to assist Gerrard. Given we raided Southampton endlessly over the summer one would have hoped either Wanyama or Schneiderlin would have been bought over the odds.

And, finally on defence, what has happened to Liverpool's pressing game? Last year they swarmed all over opposing teams. Harrying them, hassling them, breaking up play and defending from the front. That Liverpool seem to have moved away from the pressing system is mysterious but it seems a retrograde step. That might be because Balotelli is lazy. It might be because Sturridge and Suarez worked exceedingly hard. The whole system has changed and puts yet more pressure on defence.

So how to fix it? Go all out for Valdes, call up Sakho for either Lovren or Skrtel, drop Johnson for Manquillo, use Gerrard more sparingly and consider playing Borini. And get Origi and Wisdom back to the club as soon as possible.

RCM

Monday, 20 October 2014

He'll never do enough



How time flies when you are watching football? Life is what happens to you when you are watching Ryan Giggs, agree all.

Twelve years ago yesterday Wayne Rooney became the youngest ever goalscorer in the Premier League. The hubbub around him was immense at the start of that season and by scoring that goal, against that Arsenal team, he showed the world what he thought of the hype: it didn't faze him at all.

12 years on it is inevitable that at some point soon Wayne Rooney will become England's all-time topscorer. Unless, he leaves Manchester United he will almost certainly break their scoring record too. Both of these are achievements worthy of praise and adulation. If you had said, in 2002, that he would be England's top scorer before his 30th birthday most would have agreed that his potential had been fulfilled. Alas that isn't how English football works, laddie. It isn't enough. Whatever you've done it isn't enough. 

Let's not underestimate these achievements. The England record is huge. Anyone under the age of 45 will not recall a time when Sir Bobby Charlton wasn't England's all time top-scorer. He has held the record since 1968. It is one of those grand old features of British footballing life that generations of schoolboys can recount at will - Arbroath's 36 goals againt Bon Accord, Ted Drake's seven goals against Aston Villa, Dixie Dean's 60 goals in a season. Monuments, and touchstones, that have stood for so long they seem part of footballing life itself.

Only Lineker has really got close to Charlton but he holed out one short. It seemed, for a time, inevitable he would break the record. Michael Owen too looked a racing certainty. He raced to 36 England goals by the age of 26 but finished his career with only four more. Shearer was hamstrung by injury, missed out on the World Cup 1994 due to non-qualification, and had no qualifying games for Euro 1996.

Yet there'll be plenty of sniffing about Rooney when he does break the record and some of it will be justified. Charlton won the World Cup. Lineker was the top scorer at one World Cup (with 6) and scored 4 at the next. At both World Cups, England could reasonably think of themselves as a touch unlucky - probably not good enough to win but at least good enough to make the fans dream. Shearer top-scored at Euro 1996 as England, again, got to the mountaintop but couldn't quite make it across the River Jordan.

But Rooney? He shone, briefly and brightly, at Euro 2004 and, since then, has helped drag England to tournaments before going missing in them. He isn't quite - at international level - in the same league as those he would like to be compared to (Suarez, Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Villa, Berbatov, Eto'o, Villa, Drogba et al) let alone Messi or Ronaldo. His England record will not, I fear, be viewed as a monument to excellence but, rather, to volume - give a striker enough caps and he'll score enough goals. Few take Ali Daei's 109 international goals seriously. It just isn't viewed like Puskas's 84 in 85, Pele's 77 in 92 or Klose's 71 in 137. I fear Rooney's achievement will be like that. There's a smidge of fairness about that but only a smidge.

Despite that, it isn't really fair on Rooney. He has been a magnificent player for Manchester United and, generally, a very good one for England - though his performances at tournaments are questionable. He will, forever, be haunted by the future we painted for him as a teenager. He was never going to live up to that however brilliant he became. The future we threw over him now hangs over him. It is time we forgave him for not becoming the player we thought he would become.

RCM

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ched Evans

This morning Ched Evans was released from prison and is now a free man. This has upset a number of commentators both within the football world and beyond. This is understandable and inevitable.

Quite a few footballers have been entertained at Her Majesty's Pleasure over the years and most return to the game with a stain on their character, a sheepish look on their face and chants designed around their moment of infamy ringing in their ears. Some - like Tony Adams - truly are rehabilitated and go on to show that to the world. Others live with their crime hanging over them forever. 

The difference with Evans - different even from Graham Rix who was sentenced to 12 months in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old girl and who, upon his release from prison, rejoined Chelsea as a coach - is that he committed rape. 

That is not to deny the seriousness of the crimes of footballers who have seen the inside of a cell for dangerous driving, or drink driving, or assault, or affray but to note that rape is different and is to many people, including myself, the most horrific of crimes

Evans maintains his innocence and there are a cohort of fans who believe that he is innocent. None of us who are commenting listened to all the evidence so we must go with what the court said. He was found guilty in a court of law and his conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal.  He was found guilty of a crime that is notoriously difficult to prosecute. Far too often men who are guilty of rape are not arrested, not prosecuted and not found guilty in a court of law. That Evans was found guilty matters.

Regardless of whether he accepts he committed a crime, he has been found guilty of committing that crime, he has subsequently served his time and has been released back into the community. There are lots of voices in the media, and elsewhere, saying that he should not be able to resume his career as a professional footballer. That is the big question: should he?

The reason for their objections seems to be three-fold.

Firstly, that professional footballers - even distinctly average ones like Evans - make exorbitant amounts of money. This sticks in the craw of many people. It feels intuitively wrong that a man who has committed such a heinous crime should be wealthy. 

Secondly, that given the status of footballers in this country that he will be viewed as a role model by lots of young football fans but, particularly, young male football fans. There are worries about the signals that will be sent to those fans. 


Thirdly, that his sentence wasn't long enough. That is a legitimate opinion but, ultimately, Evans had no say in his sentencing. Maybe he should have served longer. Maybe all rapists should. We are, however, where we are. 

These are understandable concerns and should be respected. Ultimately, though, they should be put to one side.

Taking each in turn:

When someone commits a criminal offence and they serve their time they are released back in amongst us. They have to reintegrate into society. They have to earn money. They have to pay bills, taxes and all the other humdrum things we all have to do. They are, we hope, rehabilitated. We hope that they do not reoffend and that they spend the rest of their lives contributing to the wider public good or, at the very least, not breaking the law again.

It seems perverse to say then that a person that we hope has been rehabilitated cannot undertake certain jobs because of the likely rewards of that job. This is like moaning when an ex-offender wins the lottery. Once they are outside, by and large, they have the rights and freedoms that we all have.

It might not seem fair that Evans will earn lots of money but 'it not seeming fair' isn't a good enough reason to stop it. What was the point of sending him to jail otherwise? Punishment alone? Disgust at what he had done? Yes, both fine reasons but we need more than that. If we believe in the rehabilitation for the offenders we believe in it for rich ones and talented ones too.We believe in it for the one who can kick a ball about. Our principles aren't really principles until they make us think about things or make us feel uncomfortable.

It is extremely unlikely he will be a role model for many people. We know from experience that players who have been found guilty of a crime will, for the rest of their days, get an extremely hard time from opposing fans and (in some instances) from home fans. Evans will be booed at every ground in the land. He may be booed by his own fans. He may have protests outside his ground. There may be shirts burnt, petitions lodged and fans refusing to watch them until Evans leaves. It is extremely unlikely he will play for his country again. It is extremely likely that many clubs will look at him and say ''not worth the bother''. That is their right - he should have the opportunity to make a living but, like everyone else, it is neither owed to him nor guaranteed.

When the young fan turns to their dad and says ''why are they booing him, dad?' there will have to be an answer. And that answer will likely be ''because he raped someone''. When the young fan turns to their mum and says ''why can't Ched play for Wales?'' there will have to be an answer. And that answer will likely be ''because he raped someone''. When the young fan says ''why can't I get Evans number 9 on my shirt'' it will be because their parents don't want their child walking around in a shirt with a convicted rapist's name on the back.

Saying that he should be allowed to play isn't to forgive Evans or forget what he has done. Nor does it condone his actions. It is to say that I believe that people deserve a second chance and deserve to be treated like others who are released from prison. It is the hard cases that matter. Nor does a belief in rehabilitation of the offender mean we shouldn't think about the victim.

We should always remember that a young woman's life was ruined and torn apart by Evans. For all the crying from some fans about Evans' life being ruined, he will likely be comfortable for the rest of his life even if he is haunted by prison. Any trauma he feels is of his own making.

That is the price he pays for his crime. For me, and I concede I am guilty of this in my post, too much time is given to Evans and not enough focus on his victim (I won't name her - it was despicable enough that a newspaper named her and I will not be part of that). Nor is enough thought given to what happens when we focus on ''how does this affect the rapist who has been released'' rather than ''how do we help his victim lead as normal a life as possible''. Evans will be booed up and down the land (if a club takes him on). This will affect and upset him but that is as nothing to the long-term psychological effects his victim will be facing - and that will, no doubt, have been brought into sharp focus seeing his name in the press endlessly this week. Rape - even more so than most crimes - does have severe long-term psychological impact but too much focus suggests that it was merely an event. Little focus is given to the aftermath. 

It is human to consider Evans' feelings - even if we are repulsed by his crime - when he is called every name under the sun yet too little thought is given to the feelings and life of his victim. It is difficult for anyone to imagine how hard her life has been in recent years. Just because it is difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to do so.

Too often when young athletes are found guilty of sexual crimes we hear tales of ''he was a young man with a promising future'. Well, yes, he was until he committed a vile and repulsive crime. The promising future was ruined but it was ruined by his own heinous behaviour. Sympathy should be low. We are asked by the media to mourn the loss of their futures but rarely are we asked to consider the future of his victim. It is a little like those cricket fans one meets from time to time who complain about the injustice that various South African superstars didn't play enough test cricket because of the boycott on apartheid South Africa. It is - as a sports lover - a shame we didn't see more of Pollock, Proctor and co at the highest level. It is, however, bizarre to focus on that injustice when, you know, we are considering apartheid!

All that said, I wouldn't want Evans playing for my club. I am sure many fans would feel similarly reluctant about seeing him in their shirt. It may be that clubs don't touch him. 

Ultimately, though, you either believe in rehabilitation or you don't. You either believe in giving offenders - however despicable their crime and however wealthy they are - a second chance of you don't. On both counts, I do. The Football Association, or the Football Association of Wales, could ban him, I suppose. They have decided not to. Unless and until they choose to do so he should be allowed to play.

If you want to make a difference why not  donate to Rape Crisis England and Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland, or Rape Crisus Northern Ireland.

RCM

Monday, 11 August 2014

Hiatus

I'll be taking a bit of a break from the blog. Two weeks ago I became a father and, as you will either know or can imagine, this has left me previous little blogging time.

I shall return.

RCM