Tag Archives: Manchester City

Soccering it to your rivals

I won’t pretend otherwise: when I saw that Sergio Aguero had pinched the English Premier League title from under Manchester United’s nose on Sunday I went slightly potty. I’m certain that in the depths of his heart (or what passes for one) Alex Ferguson was convinced that City would blow it. I present as evidence for this assertion his decision to raid Michael Owen’s grave and wheel his corpse out at the Stadium of Light. There was simply no rationale to giving a run-out to a player who hadn’t kicked a single ball in the league all season except as an exercise in gloating. It was hubris that came perilously close to coming off. In the end though, nemesis struck and the attempt to antagonise Liverpool fans by having Owen prancing around with the trophy was only noticed by those of us always on the look out for evidence of Ferguson’s obsession with Liverpool. You read it here first.

The core event of the weekend certainly dominated the headlines, leading to a thread on the GAA Discussion Board bemoaning the saturation of soccer threads on the board. It might have seemed to an outsider that the sheer drama at Eastlands would justify the hoopla that followed from the weekend’s results, but the truth is people on the board would probably only have been marginally less exercised had Manchester City won 8-0 like Chelsea did on the last day two years ago. Much duller stuff came out of Liverpool and Everton’s respective games and that didn’t stop those thread from being near the top of the board.

Soccer obsession is all too real, and it was another event last weekend that emphasised to me what sustains this obsession. It isn’t teams scoring two goals in injury time to win the title, that kind of thing happens once in a generation. While at a friend’s wedding in Munich on Friday, I found myself in the company of a friend of his from Denmark called Allan. Having laboriously established that this was how his name was spelt, I was able to ask him whether he was named after Allan Simonsen. Cue several minutes of mutual congratulations on how much we knew about soccer. Borussia Mönchengladbach . . . Daniel Agger . . . Aarhus . . . 1977 . . . touts prices for next week’s Champions League final . . . Simonsen boots . . . conversation was effortless, even it were only making jokey apologies to the ladies around us (NB the notoriously soccer-loving Mrs d, who will hate me referring to it as ‘soccer’, was nowhere to be seen).

Is there anything else in life that provides people from around the globe with such a shared experience? Maybe unemployment, and no-one wants to talk about that. Allan did ask what we did in Ireland when we weren’t following English soccer teams but the mention of hurling brought a blank look, which goes to prove the game pre-dated the arrival of the Vikings. A day will surely arrive when hurling crushes all sports in its path. Until then though, soccer is the only game in the global village.

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That Was The Season That Was 2009/10 – Chutzpah Defined

I hate Israel.
I don’t blame Gillett and Hicks.

There, that should get a few hits. Probably not of the type you’d want, but we’ll cross that particular petrol-soaked bridge when we get to it. To begin with, hating Israel. This has nothing to do with alleged apartheid policies or human rights abuses in the Gaza strip. No, it is because the creators of the state of Israel decided that Hebrew would be the language that would unite the nation. This was at the expense of the spoken language of the Jewish diaspora, Yiddish.

Yiddish is ace, full of all manner of tremendous words laden with onomatopoeia. Words like schlep, klutz, schlemiel, kosher, dreck and putz are far more meaningful than their English equivalents. And probably the best of these words is ‘chutzpah’. The word means to be outrageously cheeky, but the definition from the book The Joys of Yiddish captures the true flavour of the word best: chutzpah is “a person who kills his parents and pleads for the court’s mercy on the ground of being an orphan”.

And it’s the word captures the incredulity that should have greeted Rafa Benitez’s recent lament that the “conditions had changed” at Anfield and that he needed five players to bring Liverpool up to Chelsea’s level. The sheer cheek of a manager who has had tens of millions of pounds and six years to get things right blithely behaving as if it were all a mess that he has inherited reeks of, well, chutzpah. It has uncanny echoes with the way in which New Labour in general, and Gordon Brown in particular, would always behave as if any problems were the product of the Tories. The passage of Time will inevitably render such statements as not only wrong but downright damaging in themselves.

Conditions have changed, it’s fair to say. But the conditions have changed for everyone, with the galling exception of Manchester City. 2009/10 was the first time in at least five seasons that Alex Ferguson didn’t have £30 million to splash out on one player. In fact the Mancs were worse off than Liverpool in the transfer market as they had to flog a 40+ goal player and scrabble around for the likes of Michael Owen to replace him – how’s that League Cup medal feel, Michael? Hope it made it worth your while leaving Anfield just before we won the Champions League and arriving at the Big Top just before the league title train left the station. Liverpool did lose Alonso but were able to buy a like-for-like replacement in Aquilani and get Glen Johnson into the bargain. Yet they only dropped five points, ended up with a better goal difference, came within a whisker of reaching the European Cup semi-final and, while I may chuckle at Michael Owen’s misfortune, managed to win something. Liverpool? We dropped 23 points and a net loss of 24 goals from 2009, flopped out of the Champions League with a round to spare and won nothing for the fourth year on the bounce.

The effrontery, aided by a compliant media that are cowed by fear of being denied access to their regular supply of boy-done-good quotes, knows no bounds. There was much mirth at Rafa’s guarantee of fourth place, yet no one saw fit to ask why he was making that out to be an achievement worth celebrating when we finished second last year. Then we had youth coach Rodolfo Borrell saying how standards at the Academy were unacceptable. It’s getting a bit old at this stage – it was old several paragraphs ago – but how cheeky is this? The reason Rafa came to Liverpool when he was so successful at Valencia was he couldn’t be the caudillo at a Spanish club where you have presidents, chairmen, directors of football and a multitude of coaches vying for supremacy. Rafa has complete control at Anfield, a situation unique to British clubs. It’s probably the main reason he hasn’t jumped ship to somewhere like Juventus. So for Rafa and his team to be reacting with horror at the shambles at the Academy smacks of you-know-what.

It is reasonable at this point to ask to what extent the owners are to blame. As stated at the beginning, I don’t blame Gillett and Hicks. This isn’t to say they are blameless, a shameless pair of robber barons who bought the club on the assumption that they could borrow the 500 million quid necessary to fund the purchase only to sell it on for £600 million a few years later. But they weren’t the only ones operating according to that model of acquisition, one that operated in so many parts of business and has now fallen apart with a vengeance. What does Rafa want them to do, spend money they don’t have? Look at how that worked out for Leeds United. There has to be a realisation that every club could spend £100 million on players and someone would still have to finish 20th in the league table. Unless the likes of Carlos Slim or the Sultan of Brunei develop a love for football, we’re going to have to accept that Gillett and Hicks’ millions are the only game in town.

Through all of this, it may seem like I think Rafael Benitez is a complete footballing dope. I don’t. We’ve had mostly good times with Rafa and some really great times. He’ll do a great job for someone like Juventus just as Gerard Houllier kept Lyon bobbing along at the top of the French league with ease. But as with Houllier before him, things have gone stale. The same football theorising, that of the crushing machine, that swept us so close to the title last season have left us in seventh this season. We’ll always have Istanbul, Rafa. Get on that plane before something happens to make us forget. Ya big schlemiel.

Never gonna give you up

owenmancity

Michael Owen’s later-than-late winner against City in yesterday’s Manchester derby was a blow on so many levels to Liverpool fans. I’m firmly convinced Alex Ferguson would never have signed Owen had he started his career out with Everton, and delight at the dismay felt by Reds, while secondary to that he would have felt on snatching the three points, would have vindicated the signing in Ferguson’s mind.

So while it’s stating the obvious, it bears repetition: we don’t have to put up with this kind of trauma in the GAA. Sure, there have been a handful of players like Larry Tompkins and Shay Fahy who have gone on to success that must have galled the supporters of their original counties. Indeed, I’ve seen it suggested that no less a person than the legendary Mick Roche is from Waterford. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Imagine John Mullane donning the black-and-amber. Then, once you’ve mopped up the puke, be grateful for the amateur ethos of the GAA.

Power to the People

Shankly Gates

Football fans are completely powerless to influence results, an observation whose most glaring exception – the Reds beating Chelsea in the 2005 European Cup; and will I ever get tired of referencing that night? I think not – only goes to prove the rule. We react to what we see on the pitch, not the other way round. The performances shape our hopes, fears and expectations. You only have to look at the way the ambitions of Newcastle United fans have crushed successive teams of managers and players, not lifted them up where eagles fly as the orthodoxy would have us believe happens, to see the truth of that.

So if you are looking for evidence that Liverpool are moving in the right direction, you could have done worse than observe my demeanour at half-time of the match against Manchester City at Eastlands. Anyone who read my pessimistic screed a few weeks back after beating Manchester United would have been forgiven for thinking I would have being slitting my wrists when Garrido rattled in that free kick. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t perturbed at the prospect of our decent start to the season coming to a crashing halt against the Premier League’s latest moneybags club. But mixed in with the despair was hope.

The hope didn’t spring from some nonsense about the spirit of Istanbul – only three of the players who started that day lined up against Citeh, a remarkable enough stat in and of itself. It was simply that this team has shown themselves to be made of stern stuff in recent weeks. After the frustration of being denied repeatedly by a small club like Stoke they would have been forgiven at half time in the derby for thinking ‘oh no, not again’. But they seemed confident that if they kept chipping away that their superior football skills would be decisive, and so it proved as Fernando ‘doesn’t score much away from home’ Torres came up trumps. For all of my previous talk of reverting to the mean, it didn’t seem outrageous that we could come out in the second half and do a number on the Mancs.

Think of it this way. At 2-0, I was confident we’d get one back. At 2-1, that we’d equalise. When they had a man sent off, I was eagerly anticipating the Reds going for the jugular which they did in most impressive fashion. When we had won, it was heartening to think that we battered a team when we had the man advantage, not an accusation you could level against us in recent times. Then I found out that the third goal had come 10 v 10, which just made it better. Heck, nothing short of a long term injury could ruin this buzz!

Darn.

I’ve always been a fatalist, preparing for the worst and therefore being ready for it if it happens. On the other hand, I’ve always been determined to extract the best out of any situation. So you might be 2-0 down against Man City, but they’re probably better under Mark Hughes than most of us expect and losing there is no shame. Compare that to the legions of online Reds who went into complete meltdown when staring defeat in the face. People were already talking about defeat before it happened, oblivious to recent robustness, the harshness of the deficit in the context of the match or trivial things like, you know, every game lasting 90 minutes.

Those people will claim that they’ve seen decent starts to the season before only to have the Reds hit the wall in true marathon fashion. This is fair enough, and I’ve been saying to my wife (to the point where she has stopped listening to me) that we seem to be only one bad result from complete implosion. But that result hadn’t happened by half time against City and – get this! – it still hasn’t happened. To make matters worse, most of the Cassandras behaved post-match as if the result were a blip and that their half time prognostications were a more reasoned analysis of what had just happened.

There is a world of difference between sounding a note of caution after a great result, whether it be beating Man Utd or coming from 2-0 down away to beat any team you can think of, and braying that the world is coming to an end because you happen to be losing at half time. Who knows, if people could learn to appreciate the distinction they might enjoy following their team a little bit more.