Archive for the ‘English Football’ Category

Beware of the experts

Posted: June 4, 2011 in English Football
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The sports media may be useful for getting up to the minute news, but they’re useless at pretty much everything else.

There can hardly be anything more satisfying in life for highly successful individuals than proving to young upstarts, that after years of dominating their field, they still have what it takes to be a winner. I think that’s the general feeling among the Liverpool faithful this summer. Just six months ago sensationalist sports writers were saying that Liverpool was a club in terminal decline, and that a Leeds-style implosion was a very real possibility. Apparently we were going to be relegated from the Premiership, lose all of our A-list players, and spend the next few years in the wilderness. Even the normally stoic Arsene Wenger warned when asked about Liverpool, that a good team takes many years to build, but a fall from the top can happen almost overnight.

But then came the second half of the season in which Liverpool beat Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and earned a remarkable draw away at Arsenal. We finished second in the form table just behind Chelsea. And along the way played some of the most attractive football the Premier League had seen this past season. Every journalist commented how “remarkable” the turn around was. But it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. If it were not for the laziness of most sports writers they would have seen that at the beginning of the season Liverpool had a core of players who could give any team in the league a run for their money. The spine of the team, with Reina, Carragher, Lucas, Gerrard, and Torres, was as good as any other in England. All LIverpool needed was the ownership issue to fade into the background, and a manager fit to lead one of the world’s most famous clubs. With John Henry taking over from Hicks and Gillet, stability and security returned to the club. Kenny Dalglish shooing that Cockney who will not be named, out the door, meant that a manager with tactical understanding beyond ‘kick and run’ would be in charge of the first team. And in swapping Fernando Torres for Luis Saurez the spine of the team was made even stronger. That these few changes would make Liverpool into one of the most formidable teams in England once again was something that I, or any close observer, would have easily predicted when the team was sitting in the bottom half of the table. After a disappointing draw against Wigan in Novemember, I commented that watching Liverpool was like one of the rare bad films Steven Spielberg makes. It seemed like everything needed for a hit was there, but somehow it didn’t come together. All that was needed was a few minor tweaks to the script, a better soundtrack…and voila! A winner.

Now as always, whether next season will see Liverpool pushing for the title depends very much upon transfer decisions over the summer. The policy which the club has publicly stated that it will pursue makes me confident next season will be an enjoyable one for Liverpool supporters. Gone is the policy of spending four to seven million pounds on mere squad players. Instead, expect just three new players of a very high calibre, thus avoiding the usual mercenaries who crowd out any opportunities for academy youngsters to progress into the first team. Couple that with the return of our world-class play-maker Alberto Aquilani ( again, a terrific player written off as a “flop” by newspaper hacks), means that Liverpool has every chance of reclaiming it’s rightful place at the summit of the British game.

The most inspiring men are not those who excel at what they do.  The ones who inspire me at least are the ones who somehow have slipped through the cracks and bungled their way to wealth and fame.  Men who are inexplicably paid high wages in a field which they clearly have zero aptitude.  That moment when you’re watching a schmuk  on tv and you think to yourself ‘I could do X better than that guy’ is a sorely underrated boost for ones self esteem.  For me that moment usually comes when I’m watching the news and some wooden generic news anchor drones along in a colourless monotone and over-enunciates every foreign name.  I think at least half a billion people had the ‘I could do a better job’ moment throughout G W Bush’s  two terms in office.   And depending on which football team you support, you probably have that moment on a weekly basis.  Daily if you support Newcastle, and maybe monthly or bi-monthly if you support Chelsea.  If you support Barcelona, the feeling I’m talking about has probably never overcome you while watching football.

Since the introduction of modern sports coverage and the increased amount of monies involved, people easily forget that football is a game, and the object of a game is to have fun.  And,  unless you are a sociopath with no sense of humour,  winning is not the only fun part of sports.  Drama and hi-jinks add to the soap opera nature of football, and is one crucial element which helps make it so addictive.  It is for this reason that Liverpool FC supporters are truly the luckiest fans in the world.  We get to experience the full spectrum of what it is to be a football supporter.  We can match Real Madrid in terms of how famous we are.  Inter Milan  for the amount of silver ware we’ve won.  We also have more stories of  nail biting moments of glory and failure than a team like West Brom who are continuously in relegation and promotion battles.   It is not just the fact that we have more trophies than any other club in Britain which makes us the greatest, it’s how we won those trophies. Five years ago we were crowned European champions after the greatest comeback in history, and now we are sitting in the relegation zone.  You need a sense of humour to support this club, one thing scousers are legendary for.

Which brings me back to the original reason I started this article. Bad players.  Winning the European Cup in 2005 still makes me go all misty eyed when I think about it.  When the expert pundits run down a list of the ‘greatest’ teams in football history, none of them will mention Liverpool of 2005.  But for me and every other Liverpool supporter,  that lineup which orchestrated the Miracle of Istanbul will always be the one in our hearts because they embodied the best aspects of the game.  That was a team which had Sami Hypia, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Dietmar Hamann – ALL brilliant players who were arguably some the best players in their particular positions.  But rounding out the team were guys who were continuously derided by the press, their own supporters, and all the other so called experts.  Jerzey Dudek, Igor Biscan, Djimi Traore, Josemi, Antonio Nunez….

I’m about as a loyal a Liverpool supporter there is, but I will admit that Djimi Traore was not very good, and Josemi was downright bad.  The number of times anyone watching Josemi stumble around the pitch thought ‘I can play football better than that’ , would have left you convinced you actually had what it takes to be a pro footballer- no matter how fat you are, or how bad at hitting a cross field pass you happen to be.  But all these players had some part in Liverpool hoisting the trophy against the much more talented  AC Milan team.

Ultimately, all those George Bush moments we had to endure throughout that long season made us feel closer to the players on the pitch, and more united as a sports family.  Perhaps we broke through the glossy veneer television producers try to attach to professional players.  In hindsight I look at George W as an ordinary man who somehow ended up with the worst job in the world.  W was a mere human burdened with unrealistic expectations.  For us Liverpool supporters, the players became human too.  We identified with them, largely because they had some clear and obvious short-comings to go along with their brilliant gifts.  But through good old fashioned pluck, determination and grit they kept on running as hard they could til they got to the finish line.  And they beat the bookies favourite to do it in the process.

The moral of the story is to never say die when pursuing your goals, and never be distracted or intimidated because your opponent has a flash car or is married to a lingerie model.  Let people misunderestimate you, and when you win it will feel all that much better.

On a final note, just think about the fact that Pascal Cygan made 51 appearances for Arsenal the season that they went undefeated.

Professional sports reveals an incredible amount about the culture and age it is the product of. The values, prejudices, and vices of a particular era are shown thus. Pro sports is a scholar’s dream. Spend a day at Anfield or any sports arena on match day and you will learn about economics, history, sociology and pyschology. The ultimate snap shot of what it is to be alive in the 2010 could probably best be told by the results of the World Cup in South Africa. History is just that – a story, and that’s something that all sports fans love.

‘Bigger than Jesus’

And what would a good story be without its characters? Want to write a story about post-war America? The characters you’ll need to know about are Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Cassius Clay. To understand the world today, specifically the western world, look at the big names in the ‘world’s game’.  To explore my theory of football as a microcosm of the real world, consider the result of the housing bubble in America.  We have all been consumed by the financial disaster and global credit crunch which has since ensued. The number one cause of the economic meltdown was of course greed.

How better to illustrate the waywardness of the West than looking at the shocking scale of greed in topflight football? Every story needs a good guy and a bad guy. The bad guy is Wayne Rooney. The ultimate embodiment of a 21st century athlete. The archetypal footballer and celebrity of the most materialistic society in modern history. 40 foot tall bill boards with his face. Very expensive and over-produced Nike commercials. Tabloids writing up front page headlines every time he farts.  Rooney this and Rooney that is nothing unusual, but I believe this is the week that will be the crescendo in the tabloid  area of his career.  Public fall outs with our protagonist, Sir Alex Ferguson, seem to have that effect. David Beckham has spent his entire life trying to make headlines, but the most publicized incident of his life, other than his affair with Rebecca Loos, was when Fergie kicked a boot into his face (which is only one of the reasons that Ferguson is the good guy) . Despite  all the efforts of Manchester United’s many primadonnas and publicity whores to be ‘bigger than Jesus’, no one in modern football has ingrained their image into the collective conscious of football fans more than Ferguson.  Anyone who tries to take him on ends up looking like a fly buzzing around the tail of a giant elephant. The reasons why Sir Alex is so respected are simple; he is the antithesis of what our shallow pop culture says men should be like. Humble and loyal, Ferguson embodies old fashioned virtues that everyone, deep down inside their gut, knows to be the correct way for a man to carry himself.

This is the week that Rooneygate has sent the newspapers and everyone involved in the premier league into a kind of frenzy that I’ve never seen in English football.  It all started months ago before the world cup, simmering, out of public view.  Now everything has been laid bare.  Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career is more or less over- a result of  greed, immorality, prostitutes, disloyalty, a ridiculously over inflated ego, and fans who are sick and tired of highly paid professionals behaving with the same level of integrity of a common pick-pocket.

Unhappy with the 90 000 pounds sterling paid to him by his employers every week, Rooney has shown more gall than I’ve ever seen- demanding that Man U pay him in excess of 200 000 a week! Never living up to his potential- he’s made a career out of goals that like look great on a highlight reel, but in reality he goes missing or lets down his team when they need him most. He’s an overrated and overpaid player. But what makes him even more unlikeable, and an outright bad human being is the way that he treats his family.  He has publicly cheated on his wife with prostitutes on two separate occasions, the last one being when she was heavily pregnant.  The man is truly shameless.

Who is to blame for this? You might expect me to say that society, or Hollywood, or some other part of the media is at fault.  But the television shows, movies and rap videos that glamorize crass hedonistic materialism are merely indicative of wider trends.  Wayne Rooney is the way that he is because of weak parenting and a lack of scruples.  The contempt he has shown for his wife and the lack of respect for the authority of his manager can all be traced to the values (or lack there of) instilled by his family. This can be said for all humans.  The childish behavior of misters Rooney,Franc Ribery, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre  etc., are I believe related to the break down of family values.  That’s not to say that the parents of all these athletes were necessarily the most guilty party in every case, but something, whatever it is,  allowed their own vanity to take precedence over their family.

The backlash against Rooney from fans, his teammates, and other managers is refreshing in a way.  Too often the bad behaviour of a player is shrugged off as long as he scores goals, or brings in more money to the club. Some Man U supporters took such offence to this whole debacle that they picketed his house.   Although, like all tabloid wars, this story will fade away and be replaced by the next player behaving badly, there is something to gleaned from it.  Nearly everyone is backing up Sir Alex Ferguson. To me that says people don’t really want what the Rooneys, Beckhams, and Ronaldos of this world represent.  We don’t want gold coloured football boots, annoying ring tones, gelled hair and pointless twitters. We want back the world as it’s supposed to be, the one we learnt about in the stories told to us during childhood.  A world that puts honour and loyalty ahead of frivolities. We want decency back.