Cantona Stuns God With Prescient Wisdom

We’ve not heard from Cantona for a while so what better way to reintroduce himself than with the sort of bollocks he spouted when avoiding jail time for karate kicking his studded boots into that Crystal Palace yob in January 1995.

Sure the yob was a nasty, loud mouth but sticks and stones!

It’s always been my opinion that Eric, having been stolen from Leeds for a paltry £900K, was jealous of losing his Old Trafford adulation to Manchester United’s subsequent, then British record, signing, just 2 weeks before, of Andy Cole (who would surely have been as big a Man U legend if he hadn’t had both legs broken in a reserve game at Liverpool in ’96) for £7m, & King Eric decided to do something to make the Man U fans regret their disloyalty to him.

If that was his desire (and only he knows), some bollocks about Trawlers and Fish and sure enough, on October 1st 1995, just 9 months after his now celebrated Kung Fu kick, Eric was welcomed back onto the Old Trafford field with the joy and enthusiasm of the Second Coming.

Given that result, today’s little speech, almost certainly with UEFA’s approval, elevating guys who kick a bit of plastic around for obscene amounts of money, to saviours of mankind, was not just a slap in the face for UEFA & Eric’s shared nemesis, Michel Platini, but must surely herald Eric’s return, in some form or other, to football’s halls of power.

Personally, I’m predicting UEFA will give Eric a sort of Official Match Philosopher role, so rather than wonder why the game has been stopped, yet again, for some microscopic VAR infringement, we’ll get Eric’s “cryptic wisdom” and we’ll be too busy wondering what the Kung is on about now than to think about how the beautiful game is being destroyed by paper-shufflers.

World Awaits 2018 World Cup Kick off.

With the friendlies already YouTube fodder and only hours to go before hosts Russia kicks off the 2018 World Cup finals, no clear favourite has emerged.

There are however the usual suspects.

Brazil are the bookies favourite at 4-1 and following exciting performances against Croatia & Austria, most notably from Neymar whose brilliant goals in both games suggest not only that his ankle injury has healed but he is going into this tournament with a belief this is his chance to seize the golden ball from its MessTiano grip.

Brazil though have yet to remedy the defensive vulnerabilities which were exploited to such devastating effect in 2014 by Germany.  Whilst those vulnerabilities weren’t similarly exposed in qualification, the cracks were evident against Croatia and will be a real concern should that attack stumble.

Germany, at 9-2, are second favourites, despite Joachim Love’s head-scratching decision to leave Leroy Sane at home, who otherwise was surely set to become the break-out player of 2018.  Whilst Germany failed to impress in either of their two tournament friendlies, including a 2-1 loss to neighbours Austria, the strenght of their squad is undeniable whilst the awe that 7-1 humiliation of Brazil will carry into every game, guarantees at least a semi final berth. Probably.

Spain are third favourites at 6-1. Their managerial shenanigans have been well documented but won’t affect their chances – it will be the disgraceful antics of captain Ramos in the European Champions final, making him football’s public enemy no. 1 that will be too heavy a weight for their increasingly tiki-takked-out style to bear – even if the pressure on UEFA to actually punish Ramos now seems to have passed..

The following pack of France (13-2), Argentina (9-1) and Belgium (11-1) to me, seem better poised to leave Moskva with the trophy.

With a starting 11, on paper, as strong as any in the tournament, an impressive bench and the disappointments of Brazil & France as motivation, Belgium should waltz into the semi-finals.  From that point, their success will depend on how well Romelu, Michy and to a lesser degree Dries Mertens can convert the chances Eden and Kevin will continually supply.  This is a chance Belgium will kick themselves for missing, unless they don’t miss it.

Argentina, for the prospect of seeing Messi finally lift a trophy his country, is the team most neutrals will cheering for.

Unfortunately, the squad is so far below Leo’s level that the often Messi-free Argentina only just scraped through qualification leaving their chances of success in this tournament dependent on the rest of the footballing world, falling for Sampaoli’s bluff that his squad is good enough to leave out Internationale captain Mauro Icardi.

Sorry Leo but no one’s buying it.

France surely have the most gifted squad of players.  Such is the strength of their squad that coach DesChamps’ main problem has been fielding a side sufficiently grown up to play nicely together when star buddies are left on the bench.

With the 3-1 demolition of first-time-unfinalists-in60-years, Italy, it seemed DesChamp’s had finally solved that riddle only to then leap backwards with, excepting Mbappe, a wholly uninspired run (barely) out against USA.

That said, if sheer talent is to have its day in the Russian sun, France remain are my favourite to lift the trophy suggesting French composers can get busy penning a 2018 overture to match the one they following their last successful foray into Russia.

As for the outsiders, let’s go group by group for the first round.

Group A – Hosts Russia will qualify along with Egypt but neither will progress beyond quarters.

Group B – Going for an upset with Portugal & Morocco to qualify from the group at Spain’s expense.

Group C – This is a harder group than it looks. France should win but second place will be a squeaker with Denmark my top to squeak it, providing Eriksen can stay fit.

Group D – Supposedly the group of death but Argentina will ease through if Messi gets going leaving Croatia to edge second place from Nigeria. (No apologies Iceland. I’m still smarting over the humiliation you gave England in the Euros)

Group E – H to come !

England Equal U-20 Un-winner Record!

By recording a 0-0 tie against Mexico last Friday, their lucky 13th game without a win, England have equalled Mexico for the dubious title of “team-playing-most-games-without-a-win-in-the-U-20-tournament- finals”!

Moreover, England’s progression into the final 16 knock-out stage despite the complete absence of anything so unsightly as a goal, for or against, in any of their three games so far this tournament(thanks in no small part to a fantastic penalty save by keeper, Butland against Mexico), brings England’s hitherto secret aim, of becoming the first side ever to win any football tournament not only without winning a game but without scoring or conceding a goal, amazingly, that much closer.

England’s steely resolve to win the tournament with a blemish free goal stats sheet will  be severely tested when they face high-scoring, maximum-point Nigeria in the first knock-out round this Wednesday.

However, as a loss, or even a win on penalties, would see England claim the “Most Unwinnerish” team title all for themselves, Wednesday’s game is a win-win for England, providing, of course, the unthinkable doesn’t happen and they actually win against Nigeria*!

So let’s raise an Aguadiente toast (Colombia’s national liquor) to England’s perfect 10-0-0 winning formation!

Altogether now, “Nil-nil to the England!  Nil-nil to the England! Nil-nil to the England! Nil-nil to the England!”.

* A win on penalties isn’t really a win, just as losing on penalties is never actually a loss, especially against Germany.

England in U-20 Battle of Un-winners!

England go into their third U-20 Group F game in Colombia tomorrow having failed to win in any of their 12 games since their last win at the 1997 Malaysia U-20 tournament.

Failure to win their game tomorrow against Mexico will see them equal the tournament’s “most games played without a win” record of 13 games, a record currently, presumably unhappily, held by, of all teams, Mexico!

Still goalless after their first two games, England need the win to be certain of progressing to the knock-out rounds whilst Mexico needs only the draw.

Should make for quite the game, even if, probably, not a goal-fest!

Roast Turkey

Associated Press reports that following a probe into match fixing in Turkey which has seen over 30 people, including Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim, charged and Emre Belozoglu, the Turkish national captain, questioned by Turkish prosecutors, the Turkish Football Federation has pushed the start of the season back by over a month until September 9th.

Meanwhile the Preliminary Draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil has been made with Turkey being drawn in European Group D along with Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra.

Belize, which had been in danger of missing the draw, finds itself with Grenada, Guatemala and St Vincent in North & Central America Group E after FIFA temporarily lifted, from July 7 till August 15, its 17th June suspension of the Belize Football Federation (FFB) on account of “severe governmental interference”.

Having renounced the FFB’s right to represent Belize, after its alleged failure to properly register as the “National body for the administration of football in Belize”, the Belize government threatened to withdraw police services for the home second leg of Belize’s tie with Trinidad and Tobago resulting in FIFA’s suspension of the FFB and the postponement of the game.

Good to know where FIFA stands on compliance issues.

United Play Halle Berry?

Rumours are flooding the internet that Manchester United’s poor performance in the Champion’s League final against Barca Saturday was in part due to a last-minute injury to talented Ecuadorian striker Valencia who saw his place in the team taken by Valencia look-alike and former Bond girl, Halle Berry who was at Wembley hoping to reignite her film career with the aid of twittered rumours.

As much as this would explain Valencia’s woeful performance, Fixball has it on excellent authority (having initiated this rumour in the first place) that there is absolutely no truth whatsoever to the rumour and the reason for Valencia’s terrible performance is  that he isn’t as good at football as Halle Berry is at coming out of the sea in a tiny bikini.

To be clear, this is an entirely fabricated story except of course for the bit about Halle Berry’s talent for emerging from water wearing small bikinis, a talent which, hopefully, will again be on display for all to enjoy later this year when she stars in “Dark Tide”,  “a thriller centred on a diving instructor who returns to deep waters after a near-fatal encounter with a Great White shark”.  (Thanks IMDB.com)  Lucky shark!  Ding dong!

Barca Destroys United 3 -1 ! What was Sir Alex thinking?

Who could have predicted that! For a clearer picture of just what a humiliation it was for both United and the Premier league, check out the BBC’s match statistics.

Barca had 68% possession against United’s 32% !!  The only time you expect to see possession stats like that is when a Premier league takes on a non-league team in the third round of the FA cup!  No offence to non-league sides intended.

I’d love to say nice try United but, except for the Rooney goal, as the stats imply, with Nani and Anderson on the bench. Berbatov not even getting into kit and Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand not much closer to Messi when he scored, I’m not sure United tried their best (not that I think it would have affected much other than the possession stats if they had).

One interesting observation arising from the Canadian coverage I saw was that although Sir Alex’s touchline dressing-down of Rooney took place a minute and a half before half-time, well after Rooney’s 34th minute equalizing strike, Rogers Sportsnet slipped it into their game highlight reel immediately after Pedro’s opener so to anyone who missed the incident, it looked for all the world as if Rooney’s strike was due to some incredibly inspirational, even if critical, words from mercurial manager, Sir Alex; as opposed to the actual order of events which possibly explains United’s incredibly lacklustre second half performance since what player is likely to be inspired by the sight of their manager desperately bollocking their best performing player in front of 87,000 fans and probably, the largest global tv audience since the wedding.

Just think.  Would Wills have been quite such a happy chappy and the wedding so globally well-received if Kate, right after that kiss, had been caught on camera wiping her face and spitting into a hanky saying, “Onions, Will!  Yeugh!”?  I too think not.

Then again, United were being outclassed well before Sir Alex began moaning so, perhaps, without it, they might have peformed even worse.

Sir Alex’ has been a fantastic career without compare in British football but now, having taken United to a record 19 championships, maybe this time it really is time to call it a day and take a chance on someone younger, like Giggs or Scholes, just like Barcelona did a few years ago with Pep Guardiola.

Barca v United – lambs to the slaughter ?

Possibly the greatest club side of all-time versus probably Fergie’s weakest United.

Even if Nani and Chico play the games of their lives and Rooney remembers he is the best footballer qualified to play for England since Ryan Giggs, there is simply no way the current United team should win this game.

The thought of Vidic and Ferdinand conspiring to stop Messi is either far-fetched or unpleasant and only invites premonitions of Villa, Iniesta and Xavi rampaging through in the spaces left everywhere else.

In fact, if Barca don’t win – and by a hatful – questions  – the sort that weren’t asked when England lost to Ireland in the cricket world cup – should, perhaps, be asked.

Yes I’m a Leeds fan (sort of) and yes, Leeds fans have a history of glorying in the Red’s failures but I’ve rarely laughed as long as when Solskjaer potted the 1999 winner against Bayern or had my jaw drop as far as it did when Hughes drilled that 1991 “up-yours” against his then-unappreciative former employer, Barca, so when I say this United do not have a chance, I’m pretty sure it’s not because of Champions league envy!

In my humble opinion, the only hope Manchester has of lifting the cup is if the Barcelona machine can be defeated from within by the same sort of off-field tactics Lord Triesman is accusing certain FIFA officials of having succumbed to in the recent world cup elections!

Unfortunately for United, despite Barca’s willingness to embellish fouls to the point of gamesmanship, if not actual simulation, I believe the thought of throwing a game is as far beneath Barcelona as it is beneath United even if the same has not always been true of every side in Europe.

United finds itself in the final thanks in part to almost unbelievable fluctuations in Schalke’s performances, a side which was capable of defeating Inter in both legs of the quarters (including scoring an amazing “5” at the San Siro) yet which rolled over in both legs of the semi against United (apparently forgetting, for most of the first leg in Schalke, that attack was even an option).

The result of those Jekyl and Hyde-esque performances is a showcase champions league final between the recently crowned champions of the English Premier League, supposedly, the most prestigious league in the game and the champion’s of Spain’s competing La Liga, a clash which will draw a massive global audience.

On paper it really is a genuine Champions’ final but in practice we are more likely to witness a lambs to the slaughter bloodbath with United playing the following day’s Sunday roast.

As downhearted as United and their fans are almost certain to be after their wake-up call, I predict the real losers will be the English premier league and all those who have come to rely on its worldwide tv revenues (ironically, something which I believe would only benefit English football!) whilst the winners will be the La Liga shareholders who will be hoisting Messi et al all the way to the bank.

United’s (and the premiership’s) one on-field hope?

That Barca will engage in the sort of conduct that had UEFA mount an investigation in the wake of their Real semi-final.  Should Barca try anything like a repeat performance of that on Saturday, the Wembely crowd, many of whom will be there for the chance to celebrate Messi, as the best player of his generation, will turn against the Catalan giants like pee on an electric fence and if that happens its an entirely different ball game.

In short.  If Barca play football as they can, they will win and win comfortably.  If Barca start play-acting, even if in response to physical intimidation, we might see a match, albeit an ugly one.   Given what’s at stake, both for Barca and La Liga, I would be very surprised (not to mention disappointed) if Barca are not on their very best behaviour Saturday night.

Football, though, is a funny game and so, as an incorrigible optimist, it will be the memory of goals like Solskjaer’s and Hughes’ which will ensure I’m glued to the tv Saturday, hoping for goals of the quality of Messi’s magic second against Real or as unrealistic as it is, a repeat of Rooney’s incredible Manchester-derby deciding overhead!

Here’s hoping!  After all miracles do happen, even if not often at Wembley.

The Cricket World Cup

With all the allegations of Pakistani match fixing in Cricket in the press over the past year, it would be interesting to know what the odds on Nederlands scoring over 290 in their World Cup match opener against England was, despite England’s scrambled 49th over win.

Nederlands, the lowest-but-one ranked team in the tournament, managed to set England, a team whose Swann, Broad and Anderson all feature in the top 12 of the current Reliance ICC One Day International bowlers rankings, “the third highest run chase in World Cup history”, according to the BBC website.

Of course, we are talking about England, so nothing of eyebrow-raising worthiness there at all.

England’s Disgrace – What the FA were they thinking?

England went out to Germany, again.

We’re now so used to that outcome that most football pundits will have been preparing their explanation for England’s failure as soon as Germany was confirmed as our knock out round opponents.  That said, England’s failure this time was more comprehensive than most would have predicted (excepting Fabio himself perhaps!) with the side doing little more than going through the motions from the moment the Germans fourth went in, not that they did much more at any stage before that.

Of course the pundits have been quick to point the finger of blame but as usual they are failing to point to the one influence which more than any other is responsible for the lamentable state of English football -that being the media itself (excepting, of course, me).

Not only does the media ignore the extent to which its role in generating a frenzy of unrealistic hope amongst the England supporting public puts impossible expectations on the backs of every England player (only to denounce the team as rubbish when performances fall below those unrealistic expectations), even more crucially, the media has failed to address, at least so far, the extent to which the premier league and the media’s unrelenting support of it has all but destroyed any hope an aspiring English footballer might have of a regular first team place in the top flight division and with it the hope of the English national team for the foreseeable future.

Case in point; Theo Walcott who just 4 years ago was England’s golden boy etc

Sure the premier league generates a huge amount of revenue but the majority of that money goes to support the foreign talent which now accounts for a massive percentage of first team premiership players and coaching staff.  Sure the premier league is home to some of the finest talent in the game but it is increasingly a global league and not a league that supports English football as it was intended to do.  Even more embarrassingly, with Spain’s success in South Africa and Inter’s success in the European Champions League, even with its huge proportion of imported talent, the English Premier league may no longer be football’s premier league.

How can the England national team possibly hope to compete on a world stage when effectively it no longer has a top class domestic league from which to draw it’s talent.  Of course that might seem an unfair dismissal of the English “Championship” as it calls itself, but given the amount of money going to the premiership as against that to the  Championship, much of which comes from the media companies currently laying blame for England’s dismal performance, the evidence is there for all, who want to see it, to see.

So what can be done to change matters?

Grass roots change is required.  Whilst extreme measures could involve turning off the tv, to discourage our tv companies funding our competitors through the premier league and a boycott of products from companies sponsoring the premier league, the easiest most enjoyable way we can really get behind England would be to get out on a weekend and actually kick a ball around; whether that’s with a local team or with family and friends is not important just as long as the English public starts playing the game again.

If that sounds too much like hard work, go watch your local team  (whether it be a championship team, a kids team or (even) a woman’s team) and spend the money you save, not subsidising millionaire footballers, in the pub afterwards, discussing the state of the game with people who are at least as expert on the game as the premier league supporting media who are prepared to blame anyone but themselves.

No one can expect to excel at anything they no longer participate in – and that applies as much to manufacturing, agriculture and enjoying a pint in a decent pub as much as it does to producing a decent football team.

As for Fabio, he must be extremely grateful that whoever it was that chose to review his contract just prior to the start of tournament removed the performance clause from his contract which would have seen him somewhat less well provided for had he been sacked by the FA, as I believe he should have been, immediately after England’s ignominious exit.

Just why the FA thought removing that particular clause, just when England most needed to be certain Fabio was doing his utmost to get his team to perform, was a good idea, is anyone’s guess.  But, having done it, with the FA being obliged to pay Fabio a further £12 million over the next two years, regardless of whether or not Fabio remains in the job, it’s easy to see why the FA are so keen to keep on the manager who oversaw England’s worst performance in a World Cup in years, if not ever.

So as badly as the England team played on the pitch, my blame for England’s abysmal performance goes not to Fabio or the team players but to whichever idiot it was at the FA (assuming they work for the FA) who made the decision to remove that performance clause from Fabio’s contract.

Unfortunately, unlike the England players whose failures on the pitch are permanently recorded for pundits to salivate over, whenever the opportunity is presented and whose shortcomings off it are the subject of doorstep journalism and often truly offensive conjecture, sadly most of us will never even know the name of that idiot, let alone get to ask them what the FA were they thinking?!

Shame, as I think the idiot’s explanation could be very interesting.  Then again, for the money it cost (not to mention the national humiliation) it really should be.