Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Arsenal v Celtic preview

Battle of Britain Part Deux tonight then. 2 away goals look a lot. Celtic need an early goal. Chasing an early goal will expose the defence. It's a Catch 22 for Mr Mowbray.

Anyway if you want a slightly more indepth preview then click here to be taken to ITV's big, shiny football site where they've been kind enough to let me witter away as a guest blogger.

And if you were to push me I'd say Celtic will score. But it won't be nearly enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August: A style guide for English football writers

Paper asks for predictions.

Remember how you liked Kenny Dalglish as a player and how Alan Hansen was a good lad in the pub at the Euros last year.

Remember how Rafa masterminded the most incredible European Cup comeback in the history of humanity. Ignore how Rafa Benitez has a questionable transfer record and can get his tactics completely wrong (and find himself three down in the most incredible European Cup night of drama in the memory of all the universe).

Ignore how thin skinned Rafa appears under pressure. Ignore the increasing distance between manager and those players he hasn’t yet forced out of the door.

Choose Liverpool as favourites. Display confidence in prediction by backing them to win easily.

Remember how Alex Ferguson gave an exclusive to Hugh Mcilvaney and some other Jock journo last year. Remember that Michael Owen is actually a really dull interviewee.

Add addendum to prediction making it quite clear that Manchester United will do well to finish in the top five. What with Everton building on last year, ‘Arry Redknapp waiting to prove once and for all that he’s twice the manager Ferguson will ever be and Carlos Tevez ready to continue the prolific form that saw him score almost six goals last season.

Liverpool lose first game

Survival at the top is all about drive and determination. Point out that this will be the kick in the complacent backsides that Rafa’s boys need. And, anyway, old Redknapp’s always going to do something like this on account of being the finest English born manager to ever grace the game.

Manchester United lose second game

Phew. Look out article written when United lost early game last season. Back to drawing board, too old, too much success, too stubborn. Time for a younger man. Compare Fergie’s rage at full time with Rafa’s reaction as Liverpool beat Stoke on the same night.

Surmise that the whole balance of power in the league is being rewritten before our very eyes.

Liverpool lose third game

Oh, bugger. Clearly Rafa Benitez is wrong headed and arrogant, his team don’t like him, his tactics are wrong, his transfer policy horribly skewed. Probably cause he’s Spanish.

Not like dear old Sir Alex. Look at Old Trafford - the great man’s even going to get little Michael scoring again in time for the World Cup.

And did you not always say that this year’s title would be between Manchester United and Chelsea? If Rafa’s still in the job by next May he’ll be taking his team to sixth or seventh. If he's lucky. And did you mention he's Spanish.

Ensure at all times that readers are reminded of the importance of these massive games. That way they might not question why you can confidently predict that the greatest league in world football is all but over before some teams have played three games.

Retain all articles written. They can easily be dusted down next season.

What a difference a summer makes (Or: Shut up Gary)

The fickle ways of football fans have always been a source of much amusement. Love him, hate him, love him. The average supporter has the same loyalty as a 13 year old girl swapping boybands.

Even with this background though the strange case of Gary Caldwell still astounds.

Much criticised for gaffes, unable to get a regular start in his favoured position. Pilloried by rival fans, barely tolerated by his own fans. That was then.

A turnaround last season saw him secure his place at the heart of the Celtic defence, cement his role in George Burley’s Scotland (mis?)adventure and, to top it all, win a player of the year award. Gary, Gary, where did it all go right?

This season has been a bit different. Sent of for Scotland – and in the process shouldering a lot of the blame for the shockingly inept display against Norway – he went back to Glasgow seeking home comforts. Instead he scored an own goal against Arsenal. And then was culpable for one of St Johnstone’s goals on Saturday.

One thing about Gary, he’s not fussy. He’s prepared to stand up and make a mistake against anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Now, of course, this is unfair. Last season we were talking about his major turnaround as a career finally maturing into the realisation of all that potential he had as a kid. Now after a few incidents in a few games Gary’s gone from hero to zero.

But there’s a funny ratio at work in football these days. The more money that’s poured into the game the less time people have. Liverpool lose two games in three matches and they’re told they can’t win the league. Tony Mowbray, George Burley, any manager knows this. They see a loose cannon, that most dangerous of things a centre half with a confidence crisis, and they have to react. Survival of the fittest and all that.

I’m not suggesting that Gary’s in a terminal decline. But he might need to be prepared for a few chastening experiences after last season’s plaudits.

And here’s how he should react.

Gary, please shut your mouth.

I’ve got a theory. I reckon a few years ago, maybe in the hope of shutting him up, somebody’s told Gary in the pub that’s he quite articulate for a footballer. He’s taken that as a sign to embark an almost unrivalled period of speaking.

Every week, every paper. It’s no coincidence that the writers voted him player of the year. He gave them most of their copy.

Now in some ways this is admirable. He’s shown a willingness to stick his head above the parapet. Even when stories of a Rangers cheerleader emerged he didn’t hide.

But sometimes you pick up the paper and think “dear God, man, give it a break.”

He had a bit of a reputation in Edinburgh for saying that Hibs were a stepping stone back to the Premiership. It became his mantra, apparently. The presumptiousness of that statement didn’t endear him to the Easter Road faithful. When he eventually joined Celtic they not only questioned his geographical acumen but also whether Gary Caldwell was all mouth and no trousers.

On his award winning season last year he said he’d worked hard on his concentration to eliminate errors. Apparently that didn’t last the summer.

He has an almost spooky ability to be hoist by his own petard. We’ll win this, they’ll lose that, me and my brother will do this. When it comes to predictions he’s like Nostradamus in reverse.

So Gary. For your own sake, go away and work on your game again. Don’t believe your hype. You need to work at it. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.

That guy in the pub was right. You are an articulate guy. But, you know what, Tony Blair and David Cameron are articulate guys as well but we don’t want hear them spouting claptrap constantly. The next time your writer mates call just say no comment.

When you’re falling over yourself to look stupid on the pitch the last thing you should be doing is giving the football hacks an opportunity to make you look stupid in the papers as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's talk about money

Money. Makes the world go round apparently. And makes footballers go weak at the knees. Not weak enough that they can’t run into the arms of whichever millionaire club owner has arrived at their door with a wheelbarrow full of used notes though.

But. Money’s not everything. I know it’s a short career. I know you could get injured tomorrow and never kick another ball. I know all that.

The thing very few footballers ever seem to grasp is that the grass is not always greener.

Money talks. And at the moment it seems to be calling a number of SPL players to the lower leagues in England.

Colin Nish from Hibs is the latest to be linked with a move, with talk of him linking up with his erstwhile captain Rob Jones in what’s looking like a Championship relegation scrap with Scunthorpe.

Now Colin Nish currently plays for the team he supported as a kid. We all had dreams on the playing fields of our childhoods. Colin Nish has worked hard, succeeded and his dreams have come true. What’s more he earns a decent wage and gets to live in Edinburgh, a city with a world wide reputation.

Is Scunthorpe really worth trading that in for?

Danny Cadamarteri, Nicky Weaver, Kevin Kyle, Anthony Stokes. Just a few of the players who’ve decided that life in the SPL is better than life in the lower reaches of English football. It’s not all glitter, wags and cash down south.

We’re down on Scottish football at the moment. Useless in Europe. Scotland struggling. The game run by numpties. There’s a lot to be down about.

But we’re also home to some decent coaches, passionate fans, improving facilities. Some of the football’s not great but some of it is genuinely exciting, honest, fast, furious. We’re not a nation of trumpet blowers but we should at least move away from the almost suicidal depression that’s been surrounding us.

Kevin Kyle is on the verge of a Scotland recall.

I can’t quite believe I’ve written that. But would he have been in that position if he’d stayed down south?

Is Colin Nish not guaranteed to begin a long descent into obscurity the minute he signs for Scunthorpe?

Go south. Go west. But remember for every Alan Hutton there’s a couple of Michael Stewarts. For every Scott Brown there’s a Derek Riordan or an Alan Gow.

I suppose players will always be blinded by money. There’s very little we can do about that.

But we can at least accentuate the positives. We’re not world beaters, our top flight is not a top league. But it’s not all bad. Some players are beginning to realise that, are beginning to base their transfer descisions on factors other than simple, hard cash.

Let’s hope that trend is here to stay.