Tuesday, July 14, 2020

SOS FFP



City are now preparing to pass through the "entrada principal" not the "salida" in UEFA's flagship tournament


"Governments crack and systems fall
....

Lights go out - walls come tumbling down!"

****


The decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland to overthrow the prior UEFA ruling against Manchester City has tossed the football world a story to chew on through the remainder of this sweaty, uncertain summer. 

It has also opened a can of worms that the sports governing body in Europe would do well to attempt to keep a lid on in the coming months.

To City the spoils of victory. The besuited legal teams, briefed up to their eyeballs and frothing with righteous indignation, have sent UEFA's cronies and their lop-sided legislations scurrying for the green bedecked Swiss hinterlands. 

Insufficient Conclusive Evidence

That CAS dismissed many of the supposed wrongs on a time detail shows UEFA to be inept in its basic manoeuvring. These are the simplest of details, to which the most rudimentally briefed legal teams would and should fix their expert attention.

UEFA have rapidly fallen silent. Others not so coy have alighted on the phrase "insufficient conclusive evidence" to suggest City are still rotten, despite the findings. Well, there is no smoke without fire, that is certain. But smoke also prevents any of us from seeing anything as clearly as we would like, so perhaps those that have taken the case apart line by line should be trusted in their judgement. They are, after all, the independent experts brought in to arbitrate, where all else failed. 


In essence City's vindication in maintaining an aggressive stance against this attack has been borne out. UEFA's clumsy hand has cuffed the club many times before, producing an uneasy relationship long before Aleksander Ceferin and his cronies turned up the thermostat over FFP. 

Wonky Thinking

The infamous game in Porto in the Europa League 2011-12, when City were fined more by UEFA for turning out two minutes late for the second half than the home side was for its Super DragĂ”es hurling monkey chants at Mario Balotelli, for example. People don't forget these slights, they don't forget the wonky thinking that has bad time-keeping above racism on a list of misfeasance.

City continued their attempts to join the shiny elite in the Champions League, spending heavily to force a minor break-in on the lower rungs of the gold-crusted ladder occupied exclusively by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. The same United with David Gill on UEFA's Executive Committee since 2013. The same Bayern who weep and simmer every time another club outbids them in the transfer market despite their yearly pillage of their closest German rivals' best players. The same Real who started the whole charabanc rolling with their occupation of the European Cup's early years, turning it into what some people these days call their trophy. The same Real Madrid backed by the ineffable Javier Tebas of the Spanish FA, whose reaction to the CAS decision was to wonder if it wasn't time to do away with CAS. 


European away days like this one in Porto in 2012 are back on the menu. Ironically it was this trip that saw UEFA levy City for a late arrival to the 2nd half against FC Porto, while fining the home side a smaller amount for racist chanting.

Then City's fans were slighted with the grisly episode in Moscow, when - travelling to play CSKA, who had also been reprimanded for their fans' ugly behaviour towards black players - UEFA made the game behind closed doors but refused to countenance compensation to supporters already booked on trips. Lo and behold the noisy CSKA fans who managed to get into the game on the night too, cementing a relationship between City, City's fans and the governing body that has been at best frosty ever since.

Eager Noses

Michel Platini, that most graceful of midfield playmakers, but an execrable football administrator, devised FFP, perhaps with good intention, but brought it to the table as a muddled mess that ended up serving the elite more cleanly than it served the clubs it was designed to assist. Platini, a dinner partner of the eager-nosed French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, had also sniffed out opportunities. Paris St Germain would fall into Qatari hands and the World Cup would follow, with these unusual bedfellows carving football up without the slightest squeak from UEFA.

That one of City's "saviours" should be a Portuguese, sitting on the three-man panel at CAS to judge UEFA's punishment is ironic, as it was a countryman of Rui Botica Santos, Rui Pinto, who was responsible for the hacked documentation reaching the gleaming glass offices of Der Spiegel in Hamburg. That the giant glass and steel atrium overlooking the Ericusgraben in Hamburg harbour resembles a huge shining open goal is purely coincidental, but Der Spiegel are certainly reporting on a very different story today to the five day bonanza they had at City's expense two years ago.

The story spread, the punishment was meted out and City's reputation was thrown to the four winds. Journalists with axes to grind and others with a living to earn joined the throng to prejudge City on UEFA's terms, but something was changing, an undercurrent was moving, a counterflow was beginning to wind its way down the slopes. 

City had already been punished for overspending in the early days after the take-over in 2008. Football's impossibly greased pyramid for those scrabbling to join in the fun at the top of the sport had successfully repelled all invaders. The barons in Paris had a foothold admittedly, but their bling bling approach with Neymar and the young Mbappe wreaked of classless bauble-chasing. City may have splurged poorly judged cash on Eliaquim Mangala and Jack Rodwell, but theirs was a strategy built to be inclusive, built to last, built to find partners in the local community.  

A whole mini city was rising out of the besmirched dust of East Manchester. Regeneration was the name of the game. Community inclusion. Long term thinking. Like it or not, the empire was being built brick by solid brick by people who have watched, learned and listened.

And now the irony is almost complete. With FFP suspended this summer, City can build further with Champions League participation ensured. The piffling fine that remains will trouble no one in their sleep. Even that is for non cooperation with a process that has been proved to be flawed. Whether FFP survives longer than this season or not is also open to question. Its supposedly good intentions, ill conceived and ill deployed, have been shown up for what they are. The irony will be complete and UEFA's embarrassment too, if City hoist the trophy, UEFA's trophy, for the first time ever in Lisbon at the end of August. The gnashing of teeth that will follow if that transpires will be heard from UEFA's furthest outpost in the east to its westernmost cliff edges.













Thursday, June 18, 2020

PULLING DOWN STATUES




Dark foreboding clouds. The smell of danger, if not wet onions.

The reintroduction to the Premier League in its new guise as backdrop for stretched fabric containing heart-warming messages from our sponsors took place with some trepidation yesterday.

Having watched the first game be completely enveloped in a farce of embarrassing proportions when a perfectly good – if odd – goal was not given by the misted-aubergine binocular-wearing Michael Oliver, we were promised Manchester City versus Arsenal straight afterwards. To be frank, I was still digesting the event at Villa Park, when the sheeting rain told me Manchester’s turn had arrived.

As an image of dank, dark reality for football, there is nothing quite like the Etihad as afternoon turns to evening and a lusty northern cloudburst issues forth. Within seconds Mikel Arteta’s puffa jacket looked like he was wearing the latest in wetlook pinniped fashion and Pep Guardiola took shelter under a hoodie that he appeared to be trying to employ as a bivouac. All wore the expressions of people who would rather be drinking Muga Gran Reserva and chomping on fried eels on a sunlit Malaga terrace.

Where Villa had allowed fans to drape their banners and flags from the ramparts, the Etihad was a picture of corporate messaging. Everywhere you looked there was taught sky blue matte vinyl. Aware as our marketing whizzkids are of the dangers of using materials that are not non-glare, non-reflective, every eventuality bar Michael Oliver had been second guessed. There was even one fitted with wind slits by the cunning people of Etihad Airways, knowing how fond we are of rugged gales to go with our horizontal sleet.

When the kneeling and gesticulating and forearm-greeting was over, an actual match of sorts could start. Piped crowd noise, set at Constant Semi-Positive Drone level, which we all know fades away by minute 4 of most people’s actual matches to be replaced by the sound of burping, the mass opening of crisp packets and the first bits of flying banter, proved less disconcerting than expected, even if it did have the feel of being at Bayern or Basel, where the baffling sight of the local ultras continuing their flag and trumpet routines as their team concedes goals is common.

Whether it is better than hearing Catalan expletives in the quickening dusk is up for discussion. We had been promised full and unfettered audio access to the coin toss, which had brought me to a particular state of pre-match arousal, but that seemed to pass me by, perhaps because I was desperately looking for a bottle opener at the time.

The sight of emptiness of this magnitude was already driving me (back) to drink.

It was like the plains of the Serengeti or that lovely elephant park in Rwanda that Arsenal’s sponsors, the decent upstanding folk of the ex-genocide-riddled African state’s publicity department, wanted us to consider visiting. It made me wonder whether there might be a team in the Rwandan Premier League, perhaps Mukura Victory or even Heroes FC, proudly wearing “Visit Stockport Hat Works” arm stickers.

While mulling over these strange entries into our football universe, it became evident that City had forgotten to furlough the stadium announcer. He had evidently turned up, eased past security, donned his blue mac and was parping out the usual inanities to the empty ground. It was becoming more and more surreal as the seconds ticked soundlessly past.  

Once you had disposed of the visual furniture, the match itself, which had started unfurling at a gentle pace, demanded watching. Only it seemed to be operating, like everything else, at a velocity and intensity some digits below the full one hundred. Some things were recognizable of course. Arsenal’s defence rapidly disintegrated, this time almost literally, as substitutes entered very early on. That one of these happened to be the swallow-diving, ineffectual Dani Ceballos augured well, but the introduction of David Luiz, the semi mobile totem pole, was City’s saving grace.

Going somewhat through the motions, City did not even need to be galvanized by Luiz’s shimmering presence, all wet-look curls and no-look defending. The ball kicked up off the Brazilian’s sashaying hips and Sterling was through to score, blissfully, without need to pause and think, which often brings down the curtain on Raheem’s best efforts. The shot was pure instinct and flew past Leno with the vivacity of a prime minister in sight of a walk-in fridge.  

Having rivalled new stopper Pablo Mari in the impersonate a Bristolian slave trader stakes, Luiz managed to shake himself from the statues game just long enough to be well beaten by Riyad Mahrez on the edge of the box. The distraught Brazilian briefly pulled a Phil Jones face. Then he puffed and he panted and he blew the whole house down. Penalty. Red card. Sad to see him go, but new penalty hero De Bruyne put it where so many other have not been able and City had a lead that this feeble Arsenal would not be arguing with.

Luiz had been part of the entertainment for just 25 comedy minutes in total.  

To complete the unusual feel, we were able to watch the ticker click past 100 minutes, thanks to Ederson’s flooring of Eric Garcia, who remained prone long enough for Martin Tyler to make a fool of himself. It gave us all a bit of extra time to admire and read the rest of the banners at least. For Arsenal, the relief must have been that, by the time Phil Foden had smashed in a third, the stadium announcer was in no position to pipe out some virtual booing to shepherd their bedraggled ranks from the pitch. 

Every dark Manchester cloud has something of a silver lining.


◧◧◧◧



💧




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

DANCING WITH YOUR SISTER




Ready or not, the big day has dawned.

Aptly enough we start with a no-holds-barred, no-noise-whatsoever Derby between the Highbury Library dwellers and the denizens of the Emptihad. The profundity and intense heat of the banter chambers will surely be stoked beyond volcanic as this one kicks us all off into a brave new world of live feeds from the pre-match referee huddle and substitute on and off music (no jokes here, please, about what to put on when Ilkay is removed).

Whilst our minds have been quietly boggling, the big bad bods at the FA have been busy with their ideas.

Like Pep Guardiola, seemingly a little anxious to see if the FA's all-encompassing restriction code will allow him and Mikel Arteta to share a bottle of Muga Gran Reserva together after the match, we too must work out how best to cope with its strangeness. 

Will the players run obediently to the designated goal celebration camera if they score? (this has been worrying me far more than it should. I dream of Kevin de Bruyne shaking his hips to a camera that has been turned off and it brings me out in a cold sweat). What if they don’t bother preening to the audience at all? What if they touch each other by mistake?

For City, as for many, the resumption of league battles means little beyond getting the thing over the line. Liverpool will be silent champions within three or so games and the troubled clubs at the bottom will have to sweat and spit at a safe distance, but for the rest it is an exercise in keeping fit and avoiding intimate tackle contact.

Where City’s story hots up is in the cups. There is after all an FA Cup to defend. The infamously wretched slaughter of Watford, when some of our country’s finest writers downed tools and refused to record the day’s business, means the holders’ trip to Newcastle will carry a certain amount of interest.

Cup football was always decried as a lottery. Now that everything is, we can all relax. The grandest lottery of them all is our beloved Champions League, the apple of our eye, the grit in our belly buttons, the jam on the kitchen floor.

This, of course, is really where City’s owners’ ears prick up. For years the holy grail, glory in Europe at this stage might just be too typically City for some of us to cope with. After a 50-year hiatus, an appearance in what would be a second European final for the club, on the very occasion when nobody can be there would for many be the pinnacle of Cityitis.

The litany of daft episodes in the club’s mottled history have been trotted out enough times not to be repeated here. Suffice to say, the idea of City managing to hoist the flag in such circumstances, with a two-year ban still standing to be confirmed, is a true tickler. A club built on contrariness and self-inflicted hardship deserves its time in the sun. When the sun is Portuguese and the stadium is empty, however, you begin to ask yourself where this satire can all end.

In 1970, City carried off the Cup Winners Cup, a defunct and much maligned contest for oddball clubs from far flung places, with barely 10,000 souls watching. Other finals in the tournament rendered even smaller crowds. It was the nature of the beast. Even then the FA forbade the BBC from televising the game live from Vienna. City fans (unless you were one of the 4,000 dripping wet adventurers who travelled across Europe that night) had to wait until the following evening just to see the BBC highlights.

Ironically, the final had clashed with the replay of the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leeds United. While ITV screened that live, nobody saw the final of the tournament that the FA Cup was a feeder for. Work that one out. Chelsea edged out Leeds and, while everyone was watching David Webb head the winner at Old Trafford, a soaking wet Tony Book hoisted the elegant Cup Winners Cup in washed out Vienna.

Bring a brolly and sensible shoes

A repeat of that in sunny Lisbon with a backing of 60,000 red bucket seats at the Estadio da Luz would knock Vienna into a cocked hat, simultaneously providing the banter brigade with a decade’s worth of oxygen. Not only is it the only trophy the club now really craves to complete the set, it is possibly the only ridiculous scenario that hasn’t already been played out before us down the long and bristly years.

But there is a serious side to all this. Thousands are dead from a virus without a cure and we are shuffling, albeit virtually, back down to the football. How we are meant to feel about this is still unclear. Guilty, elated, non-plussed. Angry, bewildered, ill-prepared. Or just grateful and expectant?

Perplexed, perhaps.

Perhaps the best state of mind to be in is neutral. It is a rare position in these days of tribal frothing, but maybe we should give it a try. We should perhaps wait and see what sort of effect it has on us. Football, as Marcus Rashford has ably demonstrated, can be a superbly galvanizing vehicle for good. It can lift us out of the gloom and carry us away from our troubles, if only for 90 dreamy minutes. It can also dump you right back down in the quagmire quickly enough. City are by no means unique in wielding these dual powers. However, a silent journey to European football’s highest mountain would simultaneously answer many critics but also blow more giant bubbles into the history of a club that has never been able to do normal for longer than a couple of months. 

We can’t stop the juggernaut, so step aside, flatten that fluffy hair a little and let the whole multi-coloured charabanc through.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

SELECTION BIAS

In 1975 Football Magazine and its star writer John Ross in particular, had a singular bee in its bonnet. The buzzing noise has followed us resolutely into the 21st century until it sounds like the shelling of Hiroshima. 

The John Ross column, Football Monthly Magazine, Volume 2 Number 1, 1975

Watching football on the television in 2020 has become such a sophisticated process that the army of pundits and presenters, pitch-side mic-wielders, pre-match interviewers and voxpop crews needed to keep the whole thing afloat could successfully crew an aircraft carrier across the Atlantic. 

The simple idea of the co-commentator first seems to have been mooted at the 1970 World Cup and, by the time the show came around again four years later, was already truly entrenched. Sir Alf Ramsey could be heard alongside ITV’s Hugh Johns chuntering things like “Tha Polish chaps really don’t seem to have the slightest idea of what they are doing” in a quavery voice pitched just south of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The expert panel wheeled out for half time frivolity and full time analysis was also a thing of beauty, a kind of full page ad for Man at C&A and an opportunity to marvel at precisely where Derek Dougan's hair started and finished.

By the time the likes of Jack Charlton and David Pleat had joined the ranks in the 80s, as live tv football exploded onto our screens on a weekly rather than once in a lonely while basis, we had strange Geordie slang and first name cosiness to add to the growing problems. The men with voices now joined in at an alarming rate and with a grand variety of skills to bring to the job. When Andy Townsend starting personalizing everything he saw in football by commencing every comment with the honey-soaked words “For me, Clive”, football on tv had grown its first adolescent moustache. Unfortunately, the pimple went unpopped and has been allowed to grow to the size of Richard Dunne’s behind.  

Soft spot, impartiality, bias: from Football Monthly, Meet the Press, Vol 2 no.4, 1975
These days, of course, one cannot move for the detritus of Punditry. The facial hair has become positively Darwinesque, so far have we travelled from the early Townsend bumfluff. The industry has grown up, embraced sophistry and welcomed in a whole new troop of co-workers. This genre, the ex-player, can be found everywhere. In fact, if your station begins a football broadcast of any sort without one sitting plum next to the commentator, ready to offer pearls of ex-footballer wisdom on what is unfolding before us, there is something wrong. Or he missed the connection in Northenden.

With this army of ex-players, of course, comes the past lives they represent.

Ex-Liverpool, and there are admittedly one or two of those striding around in the media, means a red leaning. Ex-Newcastle would suggest a timeworn fondness for the Magpies and ex-Swansea would suggest the same for the South Wales outfit. Only there are no ex-Newcastle and ex-Swansea men on offer. They are all ex-Liverpool, ex-United or ex-Arsenal. Battalions of them, all carrying the gentle biases and partialities you’d expect from wearing those red jerseys on their shoulders for so many years

This reached an interesting peak with Manchester City’s final pre-covid game of any significance, away at Real Madrid. Expert analysis came that night from Steve McManaman, a man whose name is synonymous with Liverpool as much as it is with the idle overuse of the letter A.

Steve, of course, also turned out for Real Madrid and Manchester City, where his arm-waving became so over-indulgent as to look pathetic in the extreme.

"Over there, Paul, ffs. Do I have to do everything myself?"
Perhaps as a result of the Stadium of Manchester’s reaction to his comic gesticulating episodes in sky blue, which mainly featured the brittle-looking Steve trotting or walking in the centre circle, brushing his foppish locks out of his eyes and pointing like someone who had just witnessed an armed robbery, Steve probably doesn’t harbour a massive amount of goodwill towards City. Steve’s frantic motioning towards an inert Paul Bosvelt might have had its aesthetic justification, but it was ultimately useless. At the time he played in sky blue, he didn’t care. We could tell from an early stage and the arm-waving only made it worse on the grounds that frantically telling everyone else where to position themselves whilst being forever in the wrong place yourself smacks of a degree of nonchalant laziness that will never win you new pals and admirers.

Steve now hauls his haircut into the BT studios for our benefit and on this occasion, as both an ex-City player and an ex-Real player, BT bosses must have thought they had finally cracked the conundrum. There would finally be no reason for the great unwashed hordes of “City Twitter” to mount the keyboards and fire off expletives afterwards. That was until Steve could be heard howling the plaintive “nooooooo” in the background as Danny Carvajal brought down Raheem Sterling for a late penalty to City. In that swift unguarded moment Steve revealed his old biases and we absolutely hated him for it. Why was an Englishman who had played for City howling his barely disguised disappointment at a setback for Real Madrid? Surely, nationality would trump everything even if he couldn’t shake off a deep dislike of all things City?

Bias is an odd beast that lurks in all of us and to expect football pundits to be clear of it is plainly delusional. What might, could and surely is possible, however, is the simple solution of employing less (please, God, less) and employing objective individuals on a case by case nature. If football ever returns to our screens, then we should begin the new dawn with some stock-taking and some spring-cleaning. First to go should be 70% of the talking heads that plainly exist with the sole intention of warming up the atmosphere. If Football Magazine could get up tight about the use of an ex-Leeds manager during coverage of that club’s historical pinnacle in 1975, then I’m pretty sure being force-fed Danny Murphy and Michael Owen’s views on just how brilliant Liverpool are in the present day could qualify as a crime against humanity. 


"Definitely Klopp's fault, don't you think, Michael?"










Monday, April 6, 2020

HEAD TO HEAD


Number two in a series comparing the best players in the history of Manchester City:


Joe Corrigan v. Ederson Moraes


Joe Corrigan hit the depths before he reached the heights, eventually becoming an England squad regular, restricted only by the phenomenal presence of Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton from gaining more than his 9 England caps. The goalkeeping art has perhaps changed more than any other facet of the game in modern times and certain skills are much more prevalent now than in Corrigan’s day, especially in the systems and game plans run by the likes of Pep Guardiola. Here we compare the two great ‘keepers and judge them on their different attributes. With Graham Ward.


Presence in the box


JC: Joe was a huge man, and unusually tall for his era. He did suffer from a weight problem when he first made his mark, but once this was under control following his return after MacRae’s injury at Leicester, he never looked back, and was a commanding figure, covering the whole of his penalty area superbly. 8

EM: Ederson and his ilk are no longer really required to be a “presence in the box” in the old way of things. The goalkeeping art has changed more than any other position on the field. Often it is not even “the box” where Ederson and his peers have to carry out their work, as noted below against Wolves. 7







Communication

JC: An area where Corrigan improved with age, as he built up his relationship with his central defenders like Booth, Doyle, and Watson, which was an important factor during the ‘what if’ 1976/77 season, as City missed out on the league title by a point, although Liverpool could afford to lose their last game. City conceded 34 goals (one more than the champions) in a 42 game season. 7.5

EM: In this era of multinational squads, communication has, as a must, become short and simple. Perhaps it always was. “Out!”, “Back post” and the like still suffice and even Ederson’s scratchy command of English can see him through this. Not the shoutiest of keepers, however. 7

1976-77: Joe Corrigan races back towards his goal as Dave Watson's back pass heads into the net v. Liverpool at Maine Road.  29th December 1976.


Crosses


JC: Again, an unsteady start for Corrigan, who was at fault for the WBA goal in the 1970 League Cup final, by being caught a little flat-footed under a looping cross. Once he slimmed down, his agility improved, and it was then rare to see him beaten in the air by an opposition centre-forward and there were several around who were useful in that respect. 7.5

EM: Ederson often has so little to do that his decision-making can be called into question. He can hardly be blamed for lapses when he touches the ball so infrequently. Having said that, this is not one of the areas of his game where he looks most accomplished. 7

Shot-stopping


JC: This was an issue for him at the start and during the early development of his career. However, I can say that I saw the greatest save I’ve ever seen live, when he sprang from a standing start to his left to keep out a point blank range Allan Clarke header in an FA Cup tie at Leeds, and was still agile enough to then pick up the pieces. 8.5

EM: Much more of an athlete than his predecessors in the City goal, his agility is second to none. Able to get down quickly to low shots and to fly high to tip others over. He is built to fly and he takes full advantage of his attributes in this respect. 8.5


Positioning


JC: Corrigan’s positioning was usually excellent and he was very rarely caught out, but he would look back, I’m sure, at one of his England appearances, against Brazil, when he was beaten at his near post. 7.5

EM: Can be caught out, as seen this season when being beaten by shots that might not have gone in, had he been positioned better. Generally aware of his angles and quick enough to right any positional wrongs that can occur. Has been rash on occasion coming out to meet forwards, ending in serious injury against Sadio Mane and a red card for interfering with Diogo Jota in the calamatous defeat at Wolves this season. Also beaten badly at his near post by Anthony Martial in the Derby. 7

Distribution


JC: An area where Corrigan was initially suspect, but, again, a caveat about the laws in place for the majority of his career. Usually a goalkeeper cleared the ball down the field as far as he could, both from a place kick, and out of hand. I’m afraid Joe will always be remembered for ‘that’ Ronnie Boyce goal, and a howler against Sunderland in the FA Cup when he wasn’t wearing a cap in the unseasonably strong sunlight. I saw both! 

6.5



EM: Throws almost as far as he kicks and kicks like a quarterback. If there is one aspect of this goalkeeper’s armoury that puts him in a different class to his peers, it his distribution. Fast, technically adept, with a clear vision of what he is trying to activate, his pinged diagonal slices have opened up many a defence and produced a direct assist for Sergio Aguero against Huddersfield in 2018-19. Let himself down badly in the Derby when setting up Scott McTominay for United’s 96th minute clincher this season, though. 8.5

Temperament


JC: Overall, I would rate this his greatest asset. The way he overcame the early setbacks, and accusation that he was a manufactured goalkeeper, speaks volumes for the man. As I indicated earlier, following his chance return, after 12 months or so he was winning his second League Cup, and his first England cap. Don’t forget this was in the era of Shilton and Clemence, plus other very fine keepers like Phil Parkes (QPR/West Ham). He was rightfully declared man of the match following the FA Cup final and replay against Spurs in 1981, when it seemed the only way Spurs would score in the first game was via a fluke - which is what happened, and, if you’re of a certain age, still gives you nightmares, or has caused a life long dislike of the north London club. 9

EM: A steady Eddie for a Brazilian, who you might be tempted to stereotype as hot headed and prone to tantrums. That would be unfair to Brazilians and to Ederson, who has seldom lost his control while at City, despite taking some stick from on-running forwards. Extremely coolness in tapping the ball nonchalantly about his area with forwards getting closer and closer is sometimes taken for granted. Not immune to the odd rumble, though.  7.5


Concentration


JC: This, too, was a problem to start off with, but again improved with age. As he reached maturity in his career. City had another outstanding side that usually scored more than they conceded, meaning Corrigan had to guard against lapses, as it was rare that City had to defend. Following Malcolm Allison’s dismantling of that side, Joe was the bulwark needed to prevent more heavy beatings for a young and callow team. 8

EM: Along with his distribution, this is Ederson’s greatest attribute, although this season has seen a few lapses, which had not been on display up to now. While Corrigan had an increasingly heavy workload as the City side he played for diminished in capability, Ederson has only known great periods of non-activity during his time at the Etihad. To remain vigilant in the teeth of incessant attacking away from your area of the pitch and overwhelming possession stats in favour of your team mates takes something special. 8.5

Handling


JC: Corrigan’s handling could be called poor during the first stages of his City career, and improved immeasurably as he gained experience. I should add a caveat about general ground conditions, and the fact that the gloves of today were at the prototype stage, by comparison, at the end of his career. If you look at early videos, you will see Joe wearing plain white woollen gloves. The first great goalkeeper to use the type of glove that is common today was the great Gordon Banks. 8

EM: Gloves, balls, pitches, preparation. All these items have improved beyond recognition in the time between the end of Big Joe’s career and the beginning of Ederson’s. The Brazilian’s handling has generally been of the highest order, but, again, this season has seen one or two shots spilled in a range of slightly below-par performances  8

Penalties


JC: I think I can honestly say I only saw Corrigan save one penalty in a 90 minute game - at Maine Road against Newcastle. The Scoreboard (soon to be North stand) end was boarded up, and the penalty was a poor one, and Joe managed to shovel the ball away before he dived under it. I should add I was there for the epic League Cup penalty shoot out at Stoke, and how can you forget the comedy value of a booking at Derby for pacing 12 steps to the missing spot? 6.5

EM: While Ederson has missed out on the possibility of being a penalty shoot-out hero like Willy Caballero and Claudio Bravo in recent years at Wembley and on the road to Wembley (even Aro Muric has emerged triumphant from one shoot-out - v. Leicester - during Ederson’s time at the club), he does have a critical penalty save to his name in the Premier League, salvaging a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park with a stoppage time save from Luka Milivojevic’s weak effort  Also saved from Aubameyang at the Emirates and Dries Mertens of Napoli in the Champions League. 7.5


TOTAL



JOE CORRIGAN 77 - 76.5 EDERSON MORAES













Saturday, April 4, 2020

A LITTLE TOO LATE AND QUITE A LOT TOO LITTLE


Albert Camus, who everyone is reading this spring, don’t you know, once stated that Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.” 

Well, not many of us can say that anymore. 


In his epic novel La Peste (The Plague), Camus depicts Raymond Rambert, a journalist who is visiting Oran to research a story on living conditions in the Arab quarter of the town, as a character trapped in a city with which he feels he has no connection. The week’s machinations in the Premier League gas bubble have left many of us with similar sentiments. 


Do we belong here? Does any relevant connection remain?


In the existential waiting room that we all inhabit right now, it is perhaps restorative to ponder a while how we might all change as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis and, in particular, as this is what draws us to this particular forum, what football might do to right some of its evident wrongs in any future world we are granted clean breathing air in.

So far, it has been something of a mixed bag, and scrutinising individual cases (Jesus Christ, Tottenham; for God’s sake, Richard Branson, oh no, Liverpool) doesn’t really solve anything. We all know who are doing their stuff and who aren’t. We certainly don’t need Sky News, Matt Hancock and the crack team from the Sunday Times to single out particular clubs, who don’t fit their agenda, to help us form our opinions. I hope.

On a more general note, however, we might want to ask ourselves where we go from here, presuming there will be a place to launch ourselves from once this purge has had its way with us. 

The opinions fly thick and fast. There are those who think this is God’s work, or the devil’s, or that it is Mother Earth scolding us for blatantly ignoring all of her beseeching messages to calm down a bit in our rape and pillage of the planet’s resources. Is it a punishment for those who believe these things are sent as a punishment? That would be neat. For all of us then whatever we might believe, the current state of affairs has delivered a pregnant moment to pause and think.



Like Camus on contemplating absurdism and what our response to it might be, a deeper reflection on ourselves and our way of life is likely to end in heavy existential angst. Most of what we do is worthless, trivial and selfish, we will probably decide. Bordering on the absurd, our habits and routines are not much more sophisticated than the hamster running around his wheel thinking he might be on the way to the peanut kiosk on the beachfront at Fleetwood. 

Being forced to self-isolate tends to sharpen the senses, allow us to prioritise anew. Do we have enough to eat? Do I feel ok? Are my close ones safe? How can I participate meaningfully in keeping communities going and boosting the flagging fortunes of those less well-placed? How can I show my appreciation for those people I always presume are just there but never really value properly? All these thoughts now reach us before "who wrote this latest baseless attack on my football club?" and "Is Kevin de Bruyne fit?"


The cleaners, the doctors, the nurses, the drivers, the refuse collectors, the delivery folk, the support staff, those bringing us reliable news and information, those transporting us to and fro, in and out, those keeping us fed, those keeping us safe, those keeping us informed, those keeping supply chains running, the chap that put the Dalek on the street the other day.



Who would have thought we would one day rue the passing of the milk delivery?

Into none of these categories falls Daniel Levy. I begin with the Tottenham chairman solely on the grounds that his acts are the latest to appear before our eyes from the Planet Altruism that is football. There are plenty of others and you can consider them too if you have the energy. 


On Tuesday, Tottenham Hotspur announced, via chairman Levy, sitting freshly atop his self-awarded £3m bonus for the (albeit tardy) completion of the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, that "people need to wake up to the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic”. It is not clear whether he was nibbling on one of the 234 different kinds of cheese to be found in the new stadium’s Cheese Foyer at the time or not and, if so, whether it was one of the particularly malodourous French ones that can cause hallucination, but what is clear is that Levy’s pint is filling from the bottom up. Football’s pint is also filling from the bottom up. Despite technology at Spurs, this has almost always been the case.


By now, the details of the situation are well known: in order to make sure everyone at the club was fully awake, Levy announced that 550 non-playing staff would take a 20% pay cut. Levy himself will be involved in this scheme, meaning some of the £7m he earned in the last calendar year will be taken back.

No biological honey on his toast this week then.


It is not known whether Tottenham’s owner, Joe Lewis -apparently worth roughly (it is sometimes a little tricky to get to the final, precise figure when there are so many noughts making your eyes blur) £4.35bn (this from the Sunday Times Rich List, who rejoice in this kind of vulgarity)- will be hit by the same in-house procedure. Levy’s Trumpist addendum that even his Tottenham “the 8
th richest club in the world according to Deloittes rich list” have been hit hard holds little sway. We really don’t care about the state of your media partners, Daniel, or whether the club’s cheese is going off or even that Tottenham lie 8th in the grossest of league tables. And whilst we are looking at you and your ideas in these crisis times, dipping into the government’s emergency furlough scheme when you are running a multi-million pound business is in all probability not the kind of struggling business Boris Johnson and the guys and girls at HM Treasury had in mind, when they announced the emergency aid package. 

They probably won't have been expecting to pay 80% of Liverpool's non-playing staff's salaries either. You really just can't find a good news story around when you need one, although some will work harder than others to put a positive gloss on things, just to keep the nation's morale high. 


You can polish a turd as long as you don't mind getting stuff under your finger nails. (always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, singing, well, you know the drill by now).

What about those on salaries so high they could each forgo a camouflage Hummer to arrange some shopping deliveries for the elderly community of the Tottenham High Road. Before we explode with indignation, it might be worth remembering that Spain, where Barcelona's squad have agreed to take a huge pay cut, are much further along this crisis line than the UK is. People have had longer to come to terms and to rationalise their own response, although there is clearly no point taking your time to rationalise your response and then responding as Tottenham and Liverpool have... 


Gordon Taylor, for decades a barometer of how football folk approach life’s great causes, has already said his members will block any multilateral deferral of wages. Not the least of Mr Taylor’s shortcomings has been the inability to judge when was an opportune moment to retire from his post.

There will be plenty of players embarrassed by Taylor's response and they will determine their own response in the next few days if their union cannot do that for them. 

Meanwhile our own Premier League bigwigs have been busy conference-calling each other through the night to come up with hair-brained schemes to “get the Premier League done” in any form necessary, including the frankly hideous prospect of a massive wave of football matches being played in concertinaed form, players staying en masse in lock-down viral free Premier Inns and a raft of behind closed doors matches being put on simultaneously in London and the South Midlands. The thought of medics being dragged away from hospitals that are so overworked they are spilling patients out into tents on their front concourses in order to watch over Dejan Lovren for 90 minutes in case he pulls a hamstring is frankly hideous. 



Trying one’s utmost to put on what is evidently not a show for public morale but a dogged attempt to save having to repay tv cash for not fully delivering the product as the contract stated is not the best look at the moment. Self-interest and greed is not a new theme in football, however. What on earth would make humble Burnley club together with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal to deliver a plea to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to keep City out of Europe? 

Football has been busy eating itself for several decades. Covid-19 has done us all the favour of hurrying up the process whereby we see it for what it is. In the great scheme of things, we can actually do without the white noise of the football press, the endless fabricated transfer speculation, the moral-lite world of agents and advisers, the haggling for million dollar cuts and the gasping and the whooping that accompanies every fart and every burp in our national sport.


The £25m play-off final, the £70m goalkeeper, the £5 pie, the £12 souvenir match programme. The record profit announcement that then follows. 



The last seismic sock in the teeth of this proportion fell upon our heads in 1939. Hitler’s whim that Poland might look nice on his mantlepiece reduced the new football season to dust. Large gatherings were banned, as they are now. The war footing meant that players not only had to curtail their athletic pursuits but were conscripted into the army instead. Imagine that, Corporal Harry Winks and Not Quite Private Enough Jack Grealish. Gas masks were carried by spectators at all times and the employment of officials to disperse larger crowds was also deemed fruitful.

History goes around in tight little circles. 



One wonders, when serious things befall us (and by this, I mean things more serious than losing in the last minute at West Brom or shipping your star forward to Juventus), how some will manage to relativize. The Daily Express, in particular, must be in something of a lather, having succumbed to literally hundreds of front pages down the years saying killer storms would be the end of us and, more recently, that an early judicial block on Brexit was “the day democracy died”. It is quite possible that organs such as the Express have already obliterated their stockpile of hyperbole to such an extent that they are now left to wipe their leaky bottoms on their own discarded back issues.



We have travelled a long way since powdered eggs, however. Our new creature comforts come at a massive cost to the planet. Passion fruit and mangos fly in from deepest Peru. mobile phones drop in from China, cars slide off the ramps from Korea and footballers wing in from Argentina; golf trips are to Dubai instead of the pitch and putt at Timperley. The world is suddenly a small place, but we have also undermined it, made it fragile.

Perhaps now things might change and, just for a while, they may stay changed. For the good of everyone, we must all alter our ways. This has not just been the deprivation of our rights to party and a chance to make ourselves look ridiculous pushing shopping trollies filled to the brim with toilet paper. It is not just an unforeseen but temporary curtailment of our narcissistic lives of puff pastry and caramel frappuccinos. The self-indulgent shallowness of what we have created should be reconsidered. The hollow drum that is modern football must follow suit. It has gone deeper now than paying €175 for a match ticket in the Champions League only to be treated like a two-bit nobody when you try to enter the ground. The time has come to stop milking and start reallocating.  


“A little too late and quite a lot too little …” does not have to be the phrase to mark 2020.


Extract from cover illustration of La Peste by Albert Camus. 



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