Thursday, August 16, 2012

Carlos Tevez for Manchester City (v Chelsea), 12 August 2012

So, the Olympics was great.  We got to cheer a wide range of people we'd never heard of in sports that we could barely identify.  From loudly encouraging a Welsh teenager to kick someone hard in the head to praying that a small Chinese man would hit his noggin on a diving platform, it was a fortnight of memorable sporting moments.

I idly flicked through the channels last Sunday as the Olympic events were drawing to a close and happened upon ITV's coverage of the Community Shield.  And, my heart sank.  Here we go again.  Ten months of whingeing idiots whose ability to kick a ball about is the only thing keeping most of them for a stretch in a young offender's institute.

Next time you see a footballer (Nani, I am looking at you), go down after a tackle like he has been smashed around the head with a high quality frying pan, it may be worth remembering Chris Hoy's Olympic training regime.

“Some sessions deal with technical details and are not so hard but after others you are curled up on the ground, vomiting. It’s grim but you have to do it."

Hearing the stories of world athletes who earn threepence ha'penny, eat nothing but celery and train for 22 hours a day in order to perform for about 5 minutes every four years rather puts the trials and tribulations of footballers to shame.

I don't want to carry on the Daily Mail 'athletes are great, footballers are imbeciles' argument and I acknowledge that it's not a straight comparison.  When realising that the football season was upon us again, though, I just couldn't get excited.  Who really gives a **** if Sunderland pay £15 million for Steven Fletcher?  Who cares about the second round draw of the Capital One Cup?  And who can get excited about a brave new era for English football which sees Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard paired in central midfield (combined age: 65).

Clearly, that won't stop some of the football being interesting and it won't stop us writing about it.  Still.  A mixture of it and modern pentathlon would be great, wouldn't it?

I've mentioned this clip a gazillion times before, but at the start of a new season, never has it been more relevant.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Darren Pratley (for Tottenham Hotspur) v Bolton Wanderers, 17 March 2012

The football world continues to hold its breath for the well being of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba who collapsed during the first half of his team's FA Cup quarter final against Spurs on Saturday.

The medical staff on hand have been credited with saving the life of the 23 year old. Considering the superb facilities that are now available in football, you would perhaps think that the number of player fatalities during matches would have plummeted compared with bygone years.

Sadly, the statistics tell a very different story. Since 2000, 41 players have died on the field of play (or from injury or illness sustained on the field of play) compared to 43 in the entire history of football going back to William Cropper who died of a ruptured bowel in a match between Staveley and Grimsby Town in 1889.

Deaths on the field of play have historically been an odd mixture of illness and bad luck. Until the late 1990s many deaths were caused by head injuries or being struck by lightning, although many others were simply caused by misdiagnosis of injury/illness or complications arising from a collision on the field of play.

Since 2000, however, the majority of fatalities have been caused by heart problems. So why the stark increase in the deaths of young, athletic footballers in the last decade, especially considering the advances in medical treatment and the improved facilities at stadia?

Well, one answer could simply be that there is more football these days. While there have been tragic high profile cases - Marc Vivien-Foe, Phil O'Donnell etc - the sheer volume of matches being played now across the world compared to the early 1900s makes it far more statistically likely that deaths will occur. And, with improved media, these deaths are far more likely to be reported.

Saying that, don't assume that these deaths are taking place in the Third World. Many of the fatalities have been in high profile leagues. Since 2000, players from CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Bucharest, Benfica, Sao Caetano, Sevilla, Motherwell and Espanyol have died, and of course Foe was on international duty with Cameroon when he passed away.

Perhaps also that it's the speed and athleticism needed for modern football puts additional pressure on the bodies of young people. Or, it could simply be statistics. Twelve young people under the age of 30 die from heart conditions every week in the UK, and so it stands to reason that sooner or later one of these will be a sportsperson. For every Fabrice Muamba, there's my mate Jonny's brother who died of a similar condition whilst apparently fit and healthy on a holiday in Croatia back in 2008.

Recent figures from the hospitals in my home town of Nottingham showed that while the number of heart disease patients treated rose in the last decade, the number of deaths fell by 60%. So, there's clearly much more that can be done to save the lives of heart disease victims these days, which makes these figures appear even worse.

It seems counterintuitive that as many footballers have died on the field in the last 12 years than in the previous 112. However, they are the sad facts, and so let's all hope that Muamba - a 23 year old with a fiance and young son - doesn't become the latest addition to these sobering statistics.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Toby Alderweireld for Ajax (v Manchester United), 23 February 2012

Footballers Names Mrs LB Has Misheard During Commentary: Part 9

"Surely his name can't be Celine Dion?"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Peter Odemwingie for West Bromwich Albion (vs Wolves), 12th February 2012

It's over: after 5 years and 207 days, Mick McCarthy is no longer the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

I watched the game on Sunday and we were abject.  We were fortunate to get into the changing rooms at half time with the score at 1-1, but it's hard to deny that we didn't deserve the spanking that West Brom eventually handed us.... A few weeks ago, I chuckled at some Nottingham Forest highlights from a hiding that Leicester gave them at the City Ground.  I laughed because the defending was so appalling, with Forest players failing to chase after balls and just allowing their opponents to walk all over them.  It was like watching a side that wanted to be beaten and got everything they deserved.  Yesterday, watching Wolves was much the same thing.

It's hard to argue that you couldn't see this sacking coming: 14 points from our last 22 games; 21 points from 25 games in all; one home win in our last 13 games in all competitions; 18th in the Premier League with 13 games left to play.... If the club was going to make a change, then it's probably better that they acted now rather than wait any longer (although January would have been even better).  The chairman wading into the dressing room to bollock the players after our defeat to Liverpool at Molineux at the end of January was probably the beginning of the end for McCarthy.  Some fans have been calling for his head for some time, and maybe it's my imagination, but he seemed a little more beaten down after that.  It's one thing losing to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea (all sides we beat last year, as it happens), but losing to your fierce local rivals in such a supine way is something else entirely.

Were the club right to sack him?  Well, I would have kept him on, but ultimately only time will tell... although it is instructive that we were bottom of the Premier League this time last season and we still managed to escape, albeit by the skin of our teeth.  If we end up with someone like Steve Bruce or Neil Warnock in charge, then I'll find it hard to believe that we've really moved forwards as a club.  Plenty of other clubs have run aground seeking to take things to 'the next level'.....Changing manager and ending up with Martin O'Neill is one thing, ending up with Colin Wanker is a different kettle of fish entirely.

McCarthy is often described as being one of those managers who just isn't good enough at the highest level, and you could point at Big Mick's overall Premier League record, and it does look pretty bad....

Played 138
Won 27
Drew 28
Lost 83
Goals for 127
Goals against 241

That equates to an average of something like 30 points a season

.....but the plain fact is that he leaves Wolves in a better state than he found us: he got us to the top division where numerous others - including two former England managers -  had failed; he kept us in the division for two seasons running and we're not dead yet this season either.  Maybe his teams didn't ever really play scintillating, attacking football (nor, come to that, did they ever really keep clean sheets), and he always had a marked preference for hard workers over flair players, but it really isn't that long ago that we were languishing in the old Fourth Division on the verge of going out of the league and out of business.  Hell, when McCarthy joined us, Glenn Hoddle hadn't even left the club with a full complement of players! As a club since then, we've spent within our means and have kept salaries under control whilst generally performing well enough on the pitch.  If the worst thing happens and we do go down this year, at least we won't be looking at going out of business altogether.

It's a shame it had to end like this, but I'll always be grateful to Mick for what he did for Wolves - he's the best manager that we've had in the last 25 years and I think he can leave with his head held high.  Apart from anything else, his press conferences were always brilliant: there's enough bullshit about football and there was certainly none around Big Mick.   He always said that the MM on his tracksuit didn't stand for Merlin the Magician, too.  He was always very clear about that.

Good luck Mick and thanks for everything.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Heidur Helguson for QPR (v Chelsea), 23 October 2011

English football in 'shambles' shocker. With a major tournament around the corner, the FA intervene and strip John Terry of the England captain without consulting the manager. The manager resigns. England have no captain, no manager and naff all chance of winning Euro 2012.

In many ways, I don't blame Fabio Capello for leaving. His heart doesn't appear to have been in the job for some time, and the FA's decision to step in clearly undermined the manager who, frankly, should be the one to pick his own captain.

Saying all that, quite why you'd leave a £6 million job over John bloody Terry, heaven only knows. Remember that Capello was the man who stripped Terry of the England captain's job in 2010 after reports he had an affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. Considering Capello made that decision based on a load of tabloid tittle-tattle, it seems odd that he'd dig his heels in now over a far more serious issue - namely Terry being accused of a criminal offence while performing his job as a central defender for Chelsea.

Personally, I'd not have John Terry anywhere near my England squad anyway. The defender has been dogged by controversy his whole career (although on that basis you'd struggle to get an England team together in this day and age) from assault charges to allegations that he misused his position at Chelsea to 'sell' tours of the club's training facilities.

Plus, the 31 year old is clearly not the player he once was, and there are a handful of better, younger defenders that deserve their chance.

Stuart Pearce will take charge of England for their next match, before Harry Redknapp is likely to take over (although why he'd leave a very successful Spurs team for us all to call him an incompetent nincompoop when England get knocked out of Euro 2012 in the quarter finals, Lord only knows).

Considering all that's happened in recent weeks, we might as well appoint Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra as the next England managers. Nonsense.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Benoit Assou-Ekotto for Tottenham Hotspur (v Everton), 11 January 2012

We're delighted to welcome lovely fella, stand-up comedian and Spurs fan Carl Jones to Cheer Up Alan Shearer. With Spurs second in the table, here's Carl's first guest post about whether his side can actually win the league...


It’s mid-January. Tottenham Hotspur sit three points adrift of leaders Manchester City and level on points with Manchester United. The media is abuzz with title talk and Ladbrokes have cut the odds to as short as 6/1. It’s a situation that seemed entirely unthinkable following heavy defeats to United and City in our opening two games.

The fixture list didn’t look too kind when it was released last summer. An opening home game against Everton certainly looked like the best opportunity to get off the mark in August. The riots in London deemed the game unsafe to go ahead and Tottenham finished the month bottom of the Premier League. It looked like it could be a long season.

Harry Redknapp added dynamism to the midfield in Scott Parker and talismanic presence up front with Emmanuel Adebayor and since then, Tottenham have barely stuttered.

With the exception of a tepid display against Stoke, Tottenham have brushed aside Norwich, West Brom, Fulham, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves away from home and beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home. December’s draw with Chelsea extends an unbeaten home record against their London rivals to six seasons at a ground their fans used to call ‘Three Points Lane’.

On Wednesday night we beat Everton to claim three points that have long been won in the minds of every Tottenham fan. We’ve looked at the table for months thinking “If we can beat Everton…”, adding the three points to our tally in our heads. Now that we have, we actually look like we’re in with a shot at the title. Just don’t tell anyone I said that. I’d hate to be the one that jinxed it.

As a Tottenham fan since the mid-Nineties, I’ve seen some truly horrendous lows. A 7-1 defeat at St James’ Park, two points from eight games a few seasons ago, a wretched decade and a half of results against the artists formerly known as ‘the big four’ and signing Grzegorz Rasiak on transfer deadline day. I even took my fiancĂ©e for a romantic evening in Grimsby for her first ever Tottenham match in 2005. We lost 1-0.

There have been a few highs, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to witness Gareth Bale’s stunning hat-trick in the San Siro, Peter Crouch’s Champions League qualifying goal at the City of Eastlands Etihad Stadium and I nearly broke my foot celebrating Allan Nielsen’s header in the 1999 Worthington Cup Final in a pub I wasn’t old enough to be in.

Massive credit must go to Harry Redknapp for bringing the good times back to White Hart Lane. Aside from rebuilding relegation fodder and turning them into Champions League quarter finalists, he’s now taken them one step further. Tough decisions were made in the summer, trimming a bulging squad by shipping out Woodgate, Crouch, Palacios, Bentley, Hutton and Jenas. The decision to replace Gomes with Friedel would have been a difficult one but has proved to be masterstroke.

Emerging talent such as Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore have revitalised the side, improving players like Younes Kaboul have added depth and exciting youngsters gaining valuable playing time elsewhere such as Townsend, Caulker and Naughton plus several others breaking through in the Europa League suggest the future is bright. The team spirit is better than ever with the reaction to Assou-Ekotto’s screamer last night testament to that.

The steely resolve to keep Luka Modric should also be admired. There might have been a better pay packet waiting for him in West London but the benefit of hindsight would suggest he’s just as likely to win major honours wearing white as he would have been in blue this season.

Redknapp has been adamant that he won’t spend big during the transfer window and will only bring in players who can add quality. With the likes of Pienaar, Kranjcar, Dos Santos and Pavlyuchenko kicking their heels on the bench, Huddlestone to come back from injury and Dawson returning to captain the side last night in the absence of Ledley King and William Gallas, it’s hard to identify positions that require strengthening.

Chris Samba, Loic Remy, Junior Hoilett and even Rio Ferdinand have all been touted as possible signings but Redknapp continues to play his cards close to his chest. It’s hard to imagine a transfer deadline day passing without him giving an interview out of the window of a stationary BMW though.

Whether we strengthen or not, psychologically, these three points against Everton are our most important of the season, and not just because they’ve moved us within touching distance of the top of the league. The gap we now hold over our faltering rivals for automatic qualification to the Champions League could prove crucial.

Liverpool are bereft of their best player for weeks. Chelsea are in a transitional period with an ageing backbone and might well settle for continued progress in the Champions League and qualification for next season as priorities now. Arsenal are awaiting positive news in the loan market with Gilles Grimandi and Christopher Wreh hoping to join Thierry Henry on 6-week loan deals.

Above us, Manchester City’s wobble has shown a chink in the armour and United have continued to grind results out in between spectacular defeats like the ones against Blackburn and City themselves. Games against both Manchester sides in the coming weeks will truly test our ability to win the title.

There’s unlikely to be a better chance to truly establish ourselves as a Champions League team and attract the world’s best players to the Lane. Once the Premier League’s joke club, we now play some of the most attractive football in the country and have a squad of players who genuinely look ready to push for the title.

With the England job available soon, Adebayor only on loan until the end of the season, some of the world’s top clubs coveting our very best players and Friedel defying the natural ageing process, now is the time to fulfil our potential or risk the break-up of our most talented side for decades.

Can Tottenham actually win the title? Yes. Just don’t tell anyone I told you so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Zinedine Zindane for France (vs Brazil), 12 July 1998

I spent much of the Christmas period in France, and I was delighted to see that there is plenty of TV coverage of the English Premier League. Not only was I able to watch more a less the full round of fixtures on Boxing Day, but also the rescheduled Arsenal v Wolves game the following day. Coverage was pretty good too. Canal+ has this thing they call a “multiplex”, where they show you live coverage from a game, and then if something starts to happen elsewhere, they flick their coverage to one of the other games. On Boxing Day, with a pretty full fixture list all kicking off at the same time, this worked pretty well.

I suppose it’s a little annoying when they flick games just as you’re getting your bearings or if you are interested in one game in particular, but given that we spend our time in England on days like this watching a TV programme that consists entirely of Jeff Stelling flicking between coverage of a bunch of blokes watching the games, whilst we get no live footage of matches at all, it’s a relatively good way to absorb the afternoon’s drama.

Canal+’s studio coverage is actually fronted by an Englishman; he speaks impeccable French, of course, but his accent is clearly English and he also – unusually for French TV – pronounces all of the English club names correctly and could actually tell you what Wigan or Norwich are like. Darren Tulett has apparently been working in the media in France since 1998 (when he asked Bloomburg, his employers at the time, to transfer him to Paris so he could catch some of the World Cup) and has ended up anchoring TV coverage of the football almost by accident… and he’s clearly a bit of a character. For the Boxing Day coverage, he was dressed up in black tie (the concept of Boxing Day is alien to your average Frenchman and in 2011 was a normal working day), but for the Arsenal v Wolves game he was wearing what looked like a velvet smoking jacket in burgundy. Apparently he’s always a snappy dresser, my father-in-law tells me, and has been called “the Austin Powers of French television". His studio guests for the afternoon’s coverage were the distinctly unpromising Gerrard Houllier and Jean Alain Boumsong.  Actually, from what I could gather, Boumsong is an excellent pundit and Tulett is a good enough presenter to know not to let Gerrard Houllier speak too often....

He was funny too: often, at the end of a game, we would get a pitchside interview with one of the French-speaking players – Florent Malouda at the Chelsea game, for instance – but Canal+ also took the live feeds of interviews with some of the managers. When Alex Ferguson came on, Tullet informed the viewers that he would do his best to do an off-the-cuff translation as Ferguson spoke, but did warn us that he was Scottish so….. Sure enough, although the translation initially went well, before long, as Sir Alex became more and more impenetrable, so Tullet’s translation became a bit slower until he eventually started laughing (well, chuckling... he is a pro, after all).

I thought he was great fun. He’s got a really light touch and he knew how to bring the best out of his pundits and the coverage that was flicking around games. Apparently he’s known as Darren d’Angleterre and presents other football programmes on French tv that are inspired by the likes of Fantasy Football – one is even called “Match of ze Day”. He once (so I read) persuaded David Ginola to re-live the error that cost France World Cup qualification in 1993. In the sketch, Ginola ends up trying to hitch a ride out of the stadium with his France shirt over his shoulder to the "Lonely Man" theme tune from the Incredible Hulk. Brilliant.

Until I saw him on Boxing Day, I'd never even heard of him and he could probably walk unrecognised through the Sky Sports studios.  When you think of some of the idiots we have presenting football coverage in this country, that seems remarkable.

 Darren Tulett might not have scored 48 goals for England or anything like that, but he is possessed of charm, wit, a lightness of touch and the ability to competently present coverage of the English Premier League.... all of which is more than can be said for some people we might mention.

Can we send Gary Lineker to France on an exchange deal in the January transfer window?  Please?

Although, to be fair, why would Tulett want to come back?

He's a legend, and you can follow him on Twitter too - @DarrenCanalPlus

Our loss is French television's gain.

France 1 - 0 England.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Demba Ba for Newcastle (vs Manchester Utd), 4th January 2012

On Tuesday night, a Liverpool side minus Luis Suarez and with Andy Carroll playing up front got spanked 3-0 by Manchester City.

On Wednesday night, a sparkling Newcastle side spanked Manchester Utd 3-0, with Demba Ba, their Senegalese striker, scoring an absolutely splendid goal.

With every game that goes by, Andy Carroll (£35m, 4 goals in 23 appearances) looks more and more like a white elephant and his replacement in the Newcastle number 19 shirt (£0, 15 goals in 19 appearances) looks increasingly like the steal of this or many another season.

Before we get too carried away though, let’s just wait and see if Mike Ashley lets Alan Pardew build on Newcastle’s season so far by resisting any offers he might receive for Ba or Tiote during the transfer window, eh?

It's been a funny old season, eh?  As a Wolves fan, I felt like I couldn't wholeheartedly celebrate Blackburn's win at Old Trafford as I need at least three other teams in the division to remain below us, thank you very much.

This one I'm a little more comfortable with.