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England 4-0 Slovakia: On-Pitch Fluffiness, Off-Pitch Soap Opera

A virulent strain of man-flu left me stuck in AANP Towers, and unable to venture out in search of the curious GCSE Media project that is Setanta. 5Live and ITV highlights for me – the extended exposure to 5Live’s Alan Green robbing me of much of the will to live – so my take on the game, tactically wanting at the best of times, is about as meaty as a vegan’s lunch-box today.I had hoped for the challenge of a decent period of parity, to give England a bit of a test of patience and creativity. The early goal duly robbed the game of much purpose, although it’s one for the Wembley crowd to tell disbelieving grandchildren several decades hence, having been netted by Heskey. The eventual 4-0 scoreline suggests that the Slovaks obediently fulfilled their roles of sacrificial lambs without demur.

Some fluffy and inane thoughts to pass the time, based purely on the noises that came from my radio:

 

·         There is a concern that the Upson-Terry central defensive pairing has a lack of pace that would be punished by better teams (a penny for Ledley’s thoughts).

·         A bizarre, Darren Anderton-themed game of musical chairs amongst the strikers saw about twenty of them trot on, get injured and trot straight off. I’m cleaning my boots in anticipation of a call-up to the squad for Wednesday. As is Kevin Davies, according to the good folk of the BBC. Distressingly, only one of these statements is made in jest. (Hot off the press –  well, luke-warm – is the news that big bad Dazza Bent is to transfer that hurt, confused, hands-half-raised-to-head look from club to country, having been summoned by the Don. Cripes. Another penny please, this time for Michael Owen’s thoughts.)

·         The question of whether to build the team around Gerrard or Rooney seems to have replaced the question of whether to pick Gerrard or Lampard.

·         Lennon, apparently, was ok (and, mercifully, withdrawn without injury). However, there was something approaching consensus on the view that Beckham’s crossing gives him the edge, even if Lennon gets the nod on Wednesday.

Fairly bland, satisfactory and meaningless then, as anticipated by all and sundry. More entertainingly, away from the lumpy Wembley turf there had been an increasingly farcical air about the England soap opera over the last day or two, conjuring up images of poorly-scripted day-time TV soap operas.

·         Bewilderingly, both the mother and mother-in-law of John Terry found themselves in trouble with Her Majesty’s finest, for shop-lifting. The mind boggles. It’s like a caption competition without a picture.

·         After much fanfare the new, £50(!) England shirt was unveiled. Presumably intended to hark back to the days of Lofthouse et al, it looks rather like the design brief was assigned to an eight year-old, who quickly became distracted and forgot to complete it. It certainly evokes memories of Tottenham – both Spurs’ plain white shirt of last season, and the PE uniform I wore as a nipper in the playground on the High Road, just opposite White Hart Lane. Neither here nor there I guess, but it does aggrieve me to think that someone somewhere is minted on the back of designing that.

·         The tête-a-tête between Fabio and ‘Arry simmers on, although now less Rocky vs Apollo Creed, and more schoolgirls spreading gossip about each other. Fabio raised the point that there was no objection to the call-up of Alan Hutton to the Scotland squad, after several months out, as there had reportedly been to Ledley’s selection. Possibly a mistake on the Italian’s part, as the circumstances are different. The Ledley objection revolves around his recovery time, as a strictly once-a-week player; Hutton is more straightforwardly just back from a one-off, non-recurrent injury.


So all a bit surreal, but pleasing enough. Things should at least pick up as the more serious business of the qualifier vs Ukraine approaches, followed by the Premiership programme next weekend. Bon weekend, one and all.

England – Slovakia Preview: Pleat on The European Parliament, Gerrard on The Left

A friendly against some generic Eastern European country will make for a pretty underwhelming Saturday evening. Slovakia, as with Slovenia, Estonia, Belarus and the rest of them, never has contributed anything to football, and probably never will. No-one can name a famous Slovakian player, they will all have rubbish haircuts and are basically the international equivalent of Bolton or someone. It’s likely to be tedious and eminently forgettable – yet is probably a smart choice on the part of the FA bigwigs, given that next week the players all have to make diplomatic noises about the qualifier against Ukraine.Actually, Slovakia might be half-decent, having once been part of a country with healthy footballing pedigree – Czechoslovakia (still part of them in fact, within the strange alternate universe that is David Pleat’s head, where there exists “the republic of Czechoslovakia”. Get that man his own seat in the European Parliament, and watch as history is rewritten.) However, it’s a long-shot. Slovakia might be have some talent, but the likelihood is that this will quickly descend into the archetypal big-boys-vs-lower-league fare.

Personally I quite hope that the game remains nil-nil well after the first half hour, and into the second half. If Slovakia stick eleven men behind the ball, and play the role of untalented spoilers an Rooney-baiters, they will provide a useful test of England’s patience and creativity. By contrast a couple of early goals would draw out the Slovaks, create space and lead to a rout – we would learn nothing. A long barren stalemate will at least give England the experience of breaking down stubborn opponents. With England cruising atop the group, the only potential obstacle to World Cup qualification is likely to be rubbish Eastern Europeans slamming the ball to halfway and inviting us to go again.

Mind you, failure to score an early goal against Absurdistan would probably have the Wembley crowd laying eggs and bottling one another. It’s probably just a minority, but I can honesty say I’ve never heard such a shamefully abusive and impatient bunch. Nevertheless, at the risk of enraging the Neanderthalic Massive, I’m hoping for a dour, goalless start to the game.

Gerrard On The Left 

Injury to the fantastic Joe Cole has again provided a handy escape route from the Lampard-Gerrard problem. Gerrard is fist-clenchingly annoying, but I can’t deny that he’s been awesome in that role behind the striker(s) this season. It seems a right waste to shunt him out left, even though our own wonderful Luka has demonstrated that this need not be a hindrance to a creative genius.

I hope that once Cole is fit again he assumes the left-hand berth, and Gerrard replaces Lamps as the attacking central midfielder. Cole has consistently been excellent for England on the left, provides balance and width, despite being right-footed, and is the only player capable of dribbling past his man.

Lampard is no mug, but just is not as good as Gerrard. If it comes to a straight choice between the two, I hope Capello opts for the scouser (as he think he has previously done on occasion). Lampard would certainly be an excellent player to have coming off the bench.

As mentioned, I’m hardly pushing to be secretary of the Steve Gerrard Fan Cub. Top player, but like that other squeaking irritant, Jamie Carragher, he seems far more concerned about his club than country. Like Carragher, I imagine he would have little hesitation in chucking in the international game if it dawned on him that he did not have a divine right to a place in the starting XI. Presumably he changes light-bulbs by holding them and waiting for the world to revolve around him. And, on top of everything else, he always bangs home the pressure pens for his club (vs Man Utd and Real) but messed up in the quarter-final shoot-out at the World Cup. Still haven’t forgiven him for that.

So hopefully we’ll learn a few things before the glut of second-half substitutions. Great opportunity for Lennon to stake his claim. One-Trick Downing will presumably continue the crime of the century by adding a further England cap to his collection in the second half. Yet another pretender will try on the gloves. Win, lose or draw, no-one will remember this once we’re at South Africa next year.

King and Country

Sunday: Ledley gets called up to the England squad.M

onday: Arrys twitches go into overdrive Madness, he rages, The boy cant train all week! His knee swells up the size of Croydon! We only had two points…Tuesday: Ledley gets sent back home by England. (Perhaps for maximal effect this should be read whilst listening to the Benny Hill theme tune)

It seems that Fabio

Einstein Capello and his crack team of monkeys have concluded that Ledleys knee, currently stuck together with sellotape and string, will not stand up to the rigours of twice-daily international training sessions and two international matches per week. In the same press release Capello also revealed that some bears prefer to defecate in woodland areas, and that Pope Benedict is a Catholic. 

As it’s a quiet week for football news the media have gone to town with tales of how the relationship between Fabio and ‘Arry has descended to the level of to-the-death physical combat. Not there are too many direct quotes to substantiate the claims that the pair are not getting along, but the line we’re being fed is that they are not about to skip around hand-in-hand in congenial agreement on what to do with Ledley, who is being tossed around like a lump of meat while the two camps bicker away.Kind of England, King of The Lane 

It seems equally reasonable of ‘Arry to have objected to the prospect of Ledley being asked to train, or play twice in a week, given that he’s physically incapable of either. So far, so good. Despite the exhalation of some hot air, both have got their way.

The more pressing issue was whether Ledley would play for England next Wednesday, as that would have ruled him out of Spurs’ game the following weekend. Club trumped country on that one, and Ledley was sent back to Spurs Lodge, for some hardcore watching from the sidelines as others train.

Lescott and Upson vs Torres and Villa: Scary 

In theory it’s a cracking idea. Ledley’s pockets are bulging, full of all the strikers he’s kept there over the years, for club and country. He would certainly provide excellent cover for Rio as the ball-playing centre-back, and not too many eyebrows would raised if he were considered for the starting XI. In practice, however, the guy is a cripple six days out of seven. His inability to play more than once a week renders him an unaffordable luxury in a World Cup, where games come around every four days or so.

Some have argued that Ledley would be worth a place in a World Cup squad, even though unable to play twice in a week, because, as a stand-by defender, he is better than all the alternatives. Understandable point, when one thinks of, for example, a quarter-final against Torres and Villa, with England boasting Upson or Lescott at the back. A one-legged Ledley would probably instil more confidence than those two.

The Verdict Is… 

Just this once, my argument is not borne of a pro-Spurs bias, for those at All Action No Plot Towers wave their England scarves as enthusiastically as their Tottenham ones. If anything, having a foot in both camps, and with impeccable balance, I am unusually well-placed to offer an objective opinion, in contrast to my usual, excessively blinkered rants.

On a personal level it’s desperately unlucky, for one of the most gifted defenders of his generation. I like to think that I am uniquely positioned to feel Ledley

s pain, given that I too have an unfortunate congenital condition known in medical circles as a twinge which prevents me from training midweek in between Monday night 5-a-side games. Neither Ledley nor I, kindred spirits, are likely ever to represent our country in a World Cup, and purely because of our wretched medical predicaments, callously thrust upon us by a cruel and vengeful Lady Luck. (You see? Its all a womans fault.)So what conclusions to draw from this sorry tale, aside from desperately sympathetic pats of consolation for the blighter? Unfortunately, there is not much left to do but, rather guiltily, wait for Ledley to get back to business in the lilywhite of Tottenham, rather than England. Despite this, I can’t help feeling that the matter is far from closed. There’s a year until the World Cup, and while we should probably just be grateful to see Ledley on the pitch at all, it seems certain that as long as he is playing for Tottenham he will be courted by Fabio’s mafia.

Cry God for Harry, England and St George

Our glorious leader has been quoted as saying that he’d rather fancy a crack at that England malarkey once he’s finished his business with Spurs. He sees Fabio as upping and leaving “sooner rather than later” – which presumably means that he’d be happy to exit N17 along a similar time-frame.

 

Some quotes, for your delectation: 

For sure I would love to be England manager one day. It depends if I’m doing a good enough job at Spurs and I plan to do a good job here.
I didn’t really see myself getting that job anyway. I thought that after what happened to Steve McClaren the FA would go for a big-name foreign manager. It was inevitable.
They hired Fabio Capello and that was the right choice. Everyone can see that he has done a fantastic job.
There is no doubt Capello will move on, probably sooner rather than later. I don’t see him here forever. But I am 61 and once my job is done here I would have time left to be England manager.
If that opportunity should ever arrive – fantastic. It would mean I had taken this club forward. 

First thing to point out is that this is probably just another sensationalist product of the 24-7 media machine, which is now obliged to over-analyse every throwaway comment, and dedicate time to turning molehills into steaming great big mountains. It strikes me as a bit of a non-story.  I don’t know the context of ‘Arry’s words, but I presume he was given a few dozen questions after last night’s Shakhtar game, and one way or another the topic wound round to the England team. “Would you still fancy the England job?” “Does the Pope sh*t in the woods? By heck I would, you betcha.” And bingo, we have a back-page exclusive.Presumably this will incur the wrath of the more hot-blooded down at the Lane, chuntering about “loyalty” and “contracts” and other such phrases completely alien to footballers. Personally I can do little more than raise an amused eyebrow. It’s a cynical sport, in which the only obvious loyalty is to number one. Having merrily urinated over Southampton and Pompey a couple of times, it would be no major shock if ‘Arry dumped our lot at the prospect of a bigger gig. And really, could any football fan begrudge any football manager a crack at the England job?

The only surprising element of this is the mild lack of tact. I would imagine the PR suits generally instruct football folk not to make the sort of comments that could be interpreted by the crazed masses as disloyalty to the team. Somehow, Salomon Kalou has been quoted this week as saying that it’s his dream to end up at l’Arse. No idea what he actually said, or even what language he was speaking when he said it, but it’s presumably been tweaked a little and another back-page exclusive is born.

So it’s no big shock to learn that ‘Arry still covets the England job, but he might do his prospects a world of good by knuckling down with his present employers. Before I even finish typing that sentence I can hear him bleating in my ear “We only had two points when I took over…” Yes ‘Arry, bravo. Now get us playing some snappy one-touch stuff, get us winning games against the likes of Sunderland and ‘Boro – traits we proudly exhibited just a couple of years ago – and then maybe the England job will be a bit more than fanciful paper-talk on a quiet Friday morning.

Joe Cole – An Unlikely Tribute

Headgear readjustments this week, as I donned my England hat, carefully placing it alongside the Tottenham version. Although the defeat to Spain didn’t feature any Spurs players, the naming of One-Trick Downing on the left had me sharpening knives, practising my most caustic put-downs, and preparing once again to do battle with those who claim that he’d be a worthy addition to the lilywhite ranks.However, a couple of spanners appeared in the works. For a start, this is hardly new ground. Whether they agree or not, seasoned all-action-no-plotters can virtually lip-synch with me as I trot out my usual lines of argument (decent player but not £14 mil of special; and not exactly a little bundle of unpredictability either), and the responses are themselves fairly predictable too (a natural left-footer provides balance to the midfield; and early crosses for our often ball-starved forwards).

The other problem with revisiting the Downing debate was more practical in nature. If watching “soccer” while holidaying in Oz was pretty darned tricky, then catching a game in New Zealand was nigh on impossible. Just the goals for me then, and the case against One-Trick can be adjourned with no further questions from this particular prosecution.

However, the debate will rage on, particularly in the summer. Rather than just moan about what I consider to be the problem, I shall take the novel and proactive step of suggesting a solution. One other name very briefly linked with Spurs, probably by a gossip-mongerer with a penchant for the particularly tenuous, was that of Joe Cole.

Until around 2004 – 05 the left-wing had been a major headache for the national team, with the list of earnest but inappropriate players shunted into the round hole including Heskey, Gerrard, Barmby, Bridge, Scholes, McManaman and Alan Thompson. Enter Joe Cole, stage left, and the problem ceased to be. Despite being right-footed he seemed to balance the midfield by maintaining positional discipline; he crossed well with both feet; was willing to cut infield (admittedly perhaps a little too willing at times); chipped in with goals; and was (is) pretty much the only player in the national squad with the natural ability to dribble past opponents. He is also one of the few flair players I can think of who is willing to devote as much energy to the hard work of scrapping and harrying as to his dribbling.

And the counter arguments? He can frustrate by failing to impact upon games as much as he ought to; he sometimes dribbles when a pass is on; and he regularly exhibits that most obnoxious of traits – the dive. An undoubted further source of irritation is that he has a voice so high that wild dogs run for cover when a microphone is thrust towards his visage, but the impact of this upon his performances appears minimal.

Not perfect then, but if being compared with One-Trick Downing, “perfection” is a criterion that can be safely tucked away in a drawer and forgotten about until we reach a completely different topic of discussion.

So I’m firmly in the tongue-twisting pro-Joe-Cole camp. Although now out for the season with an injury, there were murmurs to the effect that Cole was not entirely enamoured with life at Stamford Bridge this season. Apparently he was substituted in a dozen consecutive games by Scolari, up until his injury a few weeks ago. With bids of £14 mil bewilderingly being faxed off to Middlesborough there would have been a strong case for redirecting those funds towards Stamford Bridge. It’s all a little academic now, for numerous reasons (transfer window closed, Cole out until the summer, managerial shenanigans at Chelski). However, with our left wing unlikely to solve itself before May, and presuming we don’t continue our buy-back policy and re-sign Steed, I’ll happily design, print out and publicise the bring Joe-Cole-to-the-Lane petition.

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