All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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The Week’s Tottenham Transfer Murmurings

Ruud van Nistelrooy – While I’ve always been keen to hurl down some funky shapes on the boogie floors of London’s finer night-spots on a booze-fuelled Saturday night, I’ve been honest enough to admit that I’m not a natural on the dance-floor. No, really. But by golly if I were, I would have danced an impromptu jig of delight at the news that we’re sniffing at Ruud van Nistelrooy. And I would have added a most inappropriate Michael Jackson-esque whoop at the news that this thoroughbred could be acquired for the thrifty sum of £1.25 million.£1.25 milion! No footballer can be bought for that amount these days. It’s like the football equivalent of 10p. Once upon a time 10p would at least buy a packet of chewing-gum, and £1.25 million would pick up a young but decidedly average English centre-back. Now, however, both sums are worthless in isolation and Anton Ferdinand costs £8 million. We could probably fund the RvN purchase by selling Gilberto. (Although RvN’s wages would presumably be astronomical.)

After the lamentable, waking nightmares that have been the Cisse and Kenwyne Jones rumours, the van Nistelrooy whispers are sounds as sweet as a Julie London solo. It may only be a short-term solution, but that’s fine with me – long-term contracts mean precious little these days anyway, and besides, who amongst us mere mortals can predict who will still be at the Lane 12 months hence? No, short-term is fine. We certainly need a physical presence to coax the best out of Keane/Defoe, and someone who is a proven goalscorer at Premiership level is all the better. I would quite happily see RvN, Keane, Defoe and young Obika as our four of choice in attack next season.

Sulley Muntari – Inter have rejected an ‘Arry bid for him, so sayeth his agent. Should this be true, the custodians of AANP Towers would nod in approval at ‘Arry’s wise judgement, but Jermaine Jenas may well furrow his brow, while T. Huddlestone Esquire would probably choke on his burger and chips, and nuggets, and sausages and beans, and onion rings, and dessert, in disgust. ‘Arry has said he’s targeting probably three key players this summer, and if one is a central midfielder it spells curtains for the likes of JJ and the Hudd.

Incidentally, there was also an extremely enthusiastic response chez AANP to the rumours of Mikael Arteta being snooped after; but alas, this is probably my fabled naivety coming to the fore once more – for, as has been pointed out elsewhere, such a rumour is probably the work of a dastardly agent angling for his client to get a pay-rise. There’s little chance of Everton selling the blighter. Would love to see him alongside Palacios though, would be like an improved version of JJ.

Didier Zokora – The futures of Jenas and Hudd may be uncertain, but that of do-do-do Didier appears to be gaining clarity, with the phrases “Sevilla” and “£5 million” being bandied around with care-free liberality. This seems mutually beneficial. He’s done a decent job for us, but with Palacios doing the business there is little scope for Zokora at the Lane, and he’s thinking about his international career, with the World Cup less than a year away (less than a year – huzzah!). It’s a decent sum for us to pick up too. (Apologies, I ought to have sprinkled in there somewhere the phrase “loyal servant”. Most remiss of me.)

David Bentley – Elsewhere, the brain-hurting sum being used to take Little Miss Ronaldo to Madrid has livened up what has, in truth, been a rather moribund football week, and given everyone a chance to demonstrate their knowledge – or lack thereof – of European footballers, by trying to name possible Man Utd targets to replace the little princess. I won’t bother explosing my own ignorance, but it did occur to me that, had this happened last summer, one David Bentley might well have been a name on a few lips. It’s a long time in football, is a year.

Spurs’ Top Ten Mistakes of 2008-09

The real world has rather inconveniently got in the way of things at AANP Towers in the last week or so, but it’s proved fairly exquisite timing, as precious little has happened beyond some rather dubious rumour-mongering. Just to keep things ticking over here are a couple more lists, the last vestiges of 2008-09, beginning with Spurs’ 10 Worst Mistakes of 2008-09.10. Gilberto Clanger vs Spartak – Having dribbled into trouble just outside the area on his Spurs debut the previous season, Gilberto’s apparent unfamiliarity with the tactical basics were evident again this cold and crisp December evening, as he politely unfolded a napkin, blew off the steam and spoon-fed a goal to our Russian visitors. A second-half comeback rescued the tie, but only after the Brazilian had been withdrawn and effectively placed on the transfer list. 

9. Fraizer Campbell As Our Third Striker 9. Fraizer Campbell As Our Third Striker

8. Ledley’s Post-Match Pint

7. The Signing of David Bentley

6. Gomes v Udinese

5.

 

Spurs 1 – 1 Shakhtar: Still A Bitter Pill

Dammit.

One would think this sort of thing would become easier to swallow, after over two decades, but it’s just as bitter a bill as ever. This, presumably, is how a man feels when jilted on the altar. Or a four year-old receiving a fluffy, wide-eyed rabbit for his birthday, only to see it savaged by a Rottweiler as soon as the hutch is opened.I should be used to this. Should have known better than to dare to dream. For goodness sake, the very first time I ever watched Spurs, as a whippersnapper who still had his hair cut by his Dad, they lost a Cup final through an own-goal of all things. That should have taught me. It should have taught me that sport, football, Tottenham lifts you up, gives you a glimmer and then callously crushes you with four minutes remaining. And yet yesterday, just like everyone else, I let myself get far too carried away as Giovanni let rip, and the ball grew to love its new home in the Shakhtar net. For thirty minutes thereafter, as I became inappropriately excited at the possibility of what might unfold, I thought that maybe, just maybe…

As an aside, while there’s a certain amount of pride to be derived in glorious failure, it’s a dangerous sentiment to cultivate. No sportsman ought to settle for defeat, and console themselves that, given the circumstance, it is acceptable. The world’s best – Federer, Woods et al – certainly don’t subscribe to this mentality. As an England supporter I’ve spent too long revelling in our status as a nation that goes down in a blaze of glory (and woefully-directed penalty kicks), complete with unjust refereeing decisions and conveniently foreign pantomime villains at whom to whinge. Our boys then receive heroes’ welcomes on their return, and we all congratulate ourselves, and revel in glorious failure.

The notion that it’s the taking part that counts stopped holding water at AANP Towers shortly after my sixth birthday, when I realised that Mabbutt and co would not get to hold aloft the big shiny thing after that wretched ’87 cup final. Who the hell wants to be remembered as a glorious loser? Which aspiring sportsman grows up wanting that? Which schoolboy daydreams in his classroom, which distracted employee wastes company time sitting in front of a pc, thinking about watching his heroes climb the Wembley steps to collect their loser medals, all glum faces and insincere handshakes?

And despite it all, with the bitterest disappointment, I can’t help but feel proud of the team. They showed a bit of passion, pride in the badge – it was a glorious failure, complete with near misses and infuriating, crucial refereeing decisions. That Obika, though understandably rough around the edges, is a brick outhouse of potential (although I worry that, finding himself behind Keane, Defoe, Pav, Bent and Campbell his next professional appearance will be in something other than lilywhite). The much-maligned Gilberto turned in a performance which, although by no means flawless, few would have thought him capable of. Giovanni showed glimpses to suggest that he may be worth a run of games on the left. And so on.

In truth we did not get knocked out of the Uefa Cup last night. We were knocked out back in August when stumbling to defeats against Boro and Sunderland; and later when Gomes gifted points to Villa and Fulham; and when Jenas ducked out of a header to allow Wigan the late points in January. Tally up those points. They have been blithely haemorrhaged, leaving us scrambling for survival in late February. They’ve left us sacrificing a first-choice eleven, in a two-legged tie we could realistically have won. Moreover, with Milan and Villa tumbling out last night, the entire competition remains one at which we could have had a jolly good stab, had we been free from survival concerns and devoted all energies accordingly.

(There’s a strong argument to the effect that, whatever our league position, top-six chasing, mid-table or our current status bringing up the rear, ‘Arry would have dumped the Uefa cup firmly at the bottom of his priorities list, and fielded a weakened team anyway. C’est possible, but my word, had he sacrificed the Uefa Cup for anything but Premiership survival he’d have incited a riot amongst the better half of North London, with baseball bats and knuckle-dusters freely distributed at AANP Towers).

So no more Uefa cup – possibly for a while yet. It’s not just been fun this campaign, it’s been a three-year adventure. Beginning way back with Slavia Prague on Channel Five, and then, gloriously, back at the Lane and under the floodlights in September 2006; through the various, mental legions of foreign fans and their songs, to words I didn’t understand and tunes I didn’t recognise; via the emotionally draining exit at the hands of Sevilla, the memory of which still quickens my pulse even now; taking in Berba’s ridiculous impudence in front of goal; the Jenas penalty saved by some lanky ‘keeper called Gomes; a Bent hat-trick that still had us singing Defoe’s name; and finally the second-string last night, and that most horrendous but apt phrase, glorious failure.

Who knows how long it will be until we sip that continental elixir once more? With a bit of luck and a psyched-up, leash-straining performance at Wembley our passports could be sent for renewal as soon as Sunday. Or, if that all too familiar spirit of under-achievement seeps back into the club, it could be several years, and quite possibly as many managers. Dammit, I should be used to it by now, but it’s no easier to take.

 

Spurs – Shakhtar Second Leg Preview: What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

Given that this season I’ve needed so little encouragement to bow my head in despair and slip into a straitjacket of pessimism whenever the Tottenham circus rolls back into town, it is strange and vaguely ironic that today’s most hopeless of situations finds me at my most optimistic. A two-goal deficit would be tricky enough for us to negotiate at the best of times. Throw into that a polyglot mix of overweight (Hudd), comically inept (Jenas) and internally-loathed (Gilberto) reserves, alongside a bunch of kids so young that they need parental permission to stay up for kick-off, and the tricky task ought to become Herculean in its magnitude.And yet somehow, I genuinely do feel upbeat. With the tie just about over already, the burdensome dread that I normally carry on my shoulders as kick-off approaches is strangely absent today. We’re two down, and sending out our kids and deadbeats – what’s the worst that can happen?

Actually, that might be a rather dangerous rhetorical question to bandy around. I close my eyes and the worst-case scenario unfolds… Start listlessly, concede a couple of early goals and the floodgates open. The heaviest aggregate defeat in our European history, or some such statistic. If it really does all go spectacularly wrong it could have catastrophic effects upon the careers of Obika and Townsend and the rest of our “triffic” kids. ‘Arry, and any other watching scouts summarily pass judgement upon them and their one chance at the big-time dissipates in 90 minutes of ignominy. They’ll go back to their academies battered shells of their former selves, psychologically scarred for life, and without a cat in hell’s chance of making the grade at the Lane, destined instead for a lifetime of ignominy in the footballing no-man’s-land that is Leyton Orient. (Not that any of this will have the slightest impact upon Spurs’ long-term future, as we never ease home-grown talent into our first team if we have the option of splashing out £14 mil on someone from a struggling Premiership side instead).

However, I really do remain optimistic that no such nightmare will unfold, and that, instead, we’ll put on a ruddy good, fearless, attacking performance tonight. Admittedly I can’t really see us winning the tie, as concession of one goal would leave us needing to score four. Nevertheless, after a season in which our underachieving first-choice rabble have been epitomised by Darren Bent – plenty of huffing and puffing without ever displaying real class – it would just be a typically illogical Tottenham thing to see our second-string of wastrels and street urchins produce a dazzling, energetic, motivated performance tonight. Before disappearing back to the substitutes’ bench, reserve team and youth league, rarely to be seen again.

Moreover, the whole attitude of the camp is a little different. Last week the game was lost before a ball had been kicked, so belligerently did ‘Arry insist that the match did not matter. The actual starting eleven selected last week, while weaker than normal, really was not the selection of inbreds and pre-pubescents many had anticipated. Gomes, Dawson, Zokora, Hudd, Jenas, Bentley – there ought to have been enough there to keep the tie alive. Rather than the choice of personnel it seemed to be the defeatist attitude that cost us. This week, inevitably, soundbites have been trotted out by the likes of Gomes and Giovanni about how determined the players are to fight their way back into the tie and so on. Vacuous untruths for sure, but, if repeated sufficiently frequently, I faithfully believe that the players might just lack the intelligence to realise that it’s all a lie, and instead go out there all guns blazing tonight.

There is no pressure upon the team to deliver. Young Three-Touch O’ Hara is likely to return, which should inject a bit of life into proceedings. And should we grab the first goal, the atmosphere will bubble up, and pressure will most certainly mount upon our Ukrainian guests…

While tonight is a chance for the youngsters to shine – aside, annoyingly, from Taraabt, inexplicably omitted from the Uefa list by Wendy Ramos – spare a thought for any older heads called into action. With Carling Cup final just three days away, 90 minutes tonight would pretty much guarantee omission from the side that trots out at Wembley on Sunday.  Gunter, Jenas, Hudd and especially Dawson are amongst the likely candidates for selection tonight – and disappointment at the weekend.

So long, suckers… Who might ‘Arry offload in January?

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas – but thankfully a rubbish foreign left-back can be offloaded in the January sales. Having already cast a beady, all-action-no-plot eye over the possible arrivals at N17 next month, here’s a cursory glance at those who might have pulled on the famous lilywhite for the last time…

 

Gilberto – This Brazilian international (I jest ye not) was publicly sacked by ‘Arry after the egregiously bad error vs Spartak. Seemingly the latest in a growing line of mediocre foreign full-backs jettisoned by Spurs, he’ll no doubt be picked up by a half-decent European team (a la Lee Young Pyo, Erik Edman, Timothee Atouba, Paul Stalteri…). Woudln’t be surprised to see him end up in the Champions League next season, because football’s a funny old game. 

 

Jamie O’ Hara – Controversial one this. Young “Three Touch” O’Hara’s work-rate is appreciated down the Lane, but lack of first-team opportunities have prompted grumblings of discontent. While he’d be worth retaining for his fight (we’ll need it in the coming months) and just to keep squad numbers healthy as we compete on several fronts, I personally wouldn’t shed too many tears, if we sell him. Let’s face it, Three-Touch would attract the likes of Hull, Boro and Fulham, rather than Villa or the top four, so is he really good enough for us?

 

Kevin Prince-Boateng – Hard to believe this lad won German young player of the year a couple of seasons back. Given squad number 23 by ‘Arry, which is probably more than the minutes he’s played this season. It therefore seems certain he and his intriguing Mohawk and well-illustrated arms will be on show on someone else’s sub bench by February.

 

Ricardo Rocha – Is he injured? Is he in the reserves? Is he still alive? Will be sold to the first club that remembers he still exists. Unbelievably, he’s been capped by Portugal. Ricardo Carvalho he ain’t.

 

Adel Taarabt – Will be a shame to see young Tarbuck go, his cameos were always entertaining, and occasionally effective (eg West Ham away last year). Still only about 8 years old, it might pay to send him out on loan rather than sell him off. If he could cut out the excessive step-overs and work on the end-product, he’d step up from being the skilful kid in the playground to being an effective Premiership-level impact sub.

 

Hossam Ghaly – Not sure too many people have forgiven him for throwing away his shirt, the scoundrel. I certainly haven’t. How dare he. Good riddance in advance. (And more to the point, he didn’t set the world alight when on loan at Derby last year, so he can’t be that good).

 

Darren Bent – A Bentley-esque long-shot this, but there have been whispers that he’s on his way out. It wasn’t so long ago that he was knocking them in for fun at Charlton and other hopeless teams – personally I think that with some decent service and a strike partner to help him out he’d be more than adequate at Premiership level. However, he’s English which means that Aston Villa want him. Seven million is the number being bandied around, which wouldn’t be terrible business if we could bring in Defoe.

 

 

And some less likely movers and shakers…

Dider Zokora: Wanted by Real Madrid. Honest. I know this because a message announcing it was delivered to me by a flying pig.

 

Aaron Lennon: Another Real Madrid target according to some drunk, stoned tabloid writers with too much time on their hands. A few months ago he probably would have been on his way out, but several dips of the left shoulder and bursts towards the by-line later and he’s very much part of our plans. Not going anywhere in January.

 

 

 

Jermaine Jenas: Oh that someone would take him off our hands. I’d pay other teams to take him off our hands. Bless him he tries – he’s certainly trying – but the odd decent game in a dozen isn’t enough. Had a brief spell last year when he grew his hair and became amazing; but alas, like Samson, a haircut deprived him of his wondrous power, and he became rubbish again. Bizarrely rated by successive England and Spurs managers, surely there’s someone out there willing to stump up, say, £7 million for him?

 

Heurelho Gomes – A couple of months ago we couldn’t have bundled him out of the door fast enough, but since then he’s upped his game and been one of our most consistent performers – the team’s poor recent form has been despite rather than because of Gomes. They say form is temporary and class is permanent – and it’s still a bit early to discern the category under which Gomes’ good performances fall. However, he’s doing a sterling job at the moment, let’s not make him cry again.

 

Roman Pavluychenko and David Bentley – Alright, I’m being silly now, but neither of these guys have justified the inflated fees we shelled out last summer. We won’t sell them because we’ll make nowhere near the amount we paid for them, so like it or not, we’re stuck with both. Still, unlike Jenas, both have at least previously shown flashes of genuine quality – let’s hope 2009 sees them both rediscover such form.

Auf Wiedersehen Paul Stalteri, another useless Spurs full-back

An early Christmas present from ‘Arry Redknapp and Daniel Levy has seen Paul Stalteri’s contract terminated, by mutual consent. That angelic melody you hear emanating from north London isn’t some choir putting in last-minute preparations for a festive performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, oh no – ’tis the sound of an exuberant all-action-no-plotter toasting the demise (not literally) of another one of our seemingly infinite line of inept full-backs.
 

Paul Stalteri appeared to be a thoroughly decent chap – not prone to diving, whingeing or fussing generally. He scored three goals, each of which, strangely, I remember well – a blinder in the FA Cup, a tap-in vs Man City and, most memorably, the late winner at West Ham, to cap a hugely satisfying comeback win last year. He hasn’t moped or mouthed off this season about being on the fringes and beyond – as such I wish him well, at his delightfully-named new German club, Borussia Monchengladbach.

 

And with the formalities out of the way, can I reiterate how glad I am to see the back of the latest in a long line of, at best, distinctly average full-backs. While showing sufficient co-ordination to be a sportsman, and being full of willing, the guy was of limited ability going forward, and made far too many mistakes to be a defender. Off the top of my head I remember him faffing around in the last minute v Sunderland a few years ago, getting caught in possession in his own box and conceding a goal that saw us lose 1-0. Then, when we were winning 1-0 at l’arse with five mins to go I recall him being shrugged off possession by Henry who galloped away and scored, while Stalteri pleaded for a free-kick. Those are just the first two which spring to mind, but there were several more – indeed I recall that season looking back over my fixture list and racking up the number of points he alone cost us. No plot, for sure, but not much action to compensate either. And why on earth was he wearing the number 7 shirt? The shirt of Best, Dalglish, Beckham and Paul Walsh – which idiot thought it would make sense to give it to a mediocre Canadian right-back?

 

Using the flawless, scientifically proven “who-would-buy-him” gauge of a player’s quality, it was telling that last season he went on loan to a relegation-battling Fulham, and this season is as likely to end up in the Championship as in the Prem. I reiterate, he seems a nice chap, but as we’re trying to win football matches, not host garden fêtes, I don’t think his niceness is too relevant. The sooner ‘Arry can get rid of the other sub-standard players in our squad, the better. Half-decent players may be sufficient for the likes of Middlesborough or Bolton, or any other team aiming to avoid relegation, play depressing football and occasionally scrap a win against one of the top-four. At Spurs however we want to be pushing towards Europe and winning silverware. As such we ought to signal our ambition by bringing in players who will be tempted to head off to Old Trafford in a couple of years.

 

There have been some encouraging signs in the last few days, with Gilberto already on his way out (huzzah!). Personally I’d like to see Ricky Rocha, Hossam Ghaly and Assou-Ekotto follow suit. Jamie “Three-Touch” O’Hara gets a reprieve, as he’s young enough to push on, as, perhaps does Kevin Prince-Boateng, although neither have ever really blown up my skirt over the last two years. Stalteri certainly meets all relevant criteria for ejection. He may be Canada’s national captain – and quite possibly their greatest ever player – but at full-back, being an established international is hardly a guarantee of supreme quality (Erik Edman and even Vedran Corluka spring to mind).

 

Over the last week I’ve written in celebration of the fact that Gilberto will never play for us again, and bemoaning the fact that in physics-defying fashion Assou-Ekotto has managed to cement his place in the team as a regular. What is it with Spurs and rubbish full-backs? As far back as I can remember – that’s around late-80s – we’ve always had useless full-backs. A seminal period of my youth was Brian Moore commentating – badly – on the Big Match on ITV on a Sunday, with its funky electric guitar theme tune, and  Mitchell Thomas, back-pedalling as an opponent advanced, clumsily conceding possession and tripping over his own bootlaces. Fast forward twenty years, and where Mitchell once stumbled now we have Stalteri, Gilberto and BAE. We’ve always had flair midfielders, and we’ve always had sub-standard full-backs. It just seems to be a Tottenham thing. The likes of Carr were the exception rather than the rule. The rule was Austin and Edinburgh, Gilberto and Stalteri.

 

Some may argue that full-back is hardly the most important position, and there is something in that. If a good team is going to carry any mediocre player, full-back is probably the one (I should know, I was that mediocre full-back for a few years at school…). A full-back’s mistakes can be rectified in last-ditch fashion by the centre-backs and ‘keeper. However, a top-notch, defensively-sound, attackingly potent full-back can dictate the entire dynamic of the team. Whereas BAE does the bare minimum – and occasionally less – by paroling his touchline and not getting much further than the halfway line, the likes of Bosingwa and Cole bomb on, nullifying the oppo’s winger, creating width for his team-mates, whipping in inviting crosses and generally shoving the entire passage of play a good 20 yards up the pitch.

 

Such descriptions have rarely if ever been levelled at Stalteri, so I shed no tears as he wanders out of N17 for the final time. Frankly, I hope that we be the first of a number of departees, over the coming weeks.

Gilberto – so bad he got sacked… Spurs 2- 2 Spartak Moscow

Imagine playing so badly that immedidately after the game you get sacked by the manager. It’s got to be the game’s biggest indignity, even worse than being a substitute who gets substituted. Gilberto, take a bow. I think it happened to Dave Beasant once, back in the late 80s/early 90s, but last night in his first start under ‘Arry, Gilberto was hauled off at half-time and shown the door at full-time. How badly must he have played?

Not only that, it was the third time in his brief Spurs career that he’s started and been withdrawn at half-time, for performance rather than injury reasons. Now we’re not exactly a club famed for its amazing defenders, so to be taken off at half-time, and then told he’ll never play again – the guy must have been truly rubbish last night.

Bizarrely, Gilberto is Brazilian, which ought, according to the laws of physics, to make him one of the most talented footballers around. No doubt once we get rid of him he’ll be snapped up by some European team and end up with a Champions League winners medal. However, it’s saying something that at a time when ‘Arry is moaning about the size of our squad he’s willing to jettison a player after just 45 minutes…

Bless him, Gilberto’s debacle last night occurred about a year after his debut for Spurs, when he picked up the ball just outside his own area and decided to try and dribble past the entire opposition. He got tackled by the first guy, who promptly scored. At the time I figured that after such a nightmare start things could not get any worse for him. In a sense this was true – strictly speaking they haven’t got worse – but the assumption was that things would actually improve. They haven’t. They’ve remained at a cringe-worthy inept level and Gilberto is still rubbish. He’s only played a handful of times for us, but remains about eighteenth down the pecking order of full-backs, behind the likes of Assou-Ekotto, Gunter and the good ladies of the under-12s.

To be fair to the guy, playing in defence obviously means that bad form results in goals conceded; whereas a striker in bad form doesn’t actually cause a negative goal difference. So while Postiga scored about two goals in 20 or 30, and the clumsy beanpole Razsiak didn’t score once, neither actually caused us to concede goals. Gilberto, on the other hand, and indeed Gomes, can have solid games for 89 mins and still be remembered for making one howler, with little chance of redemption up the other end.

I can’t remember how much he cost, but we seem to have made a bit of a habit of paying well over the odds for defenders who are mediocre at best. Richards for £8 mil a few years back, a good £3 or £4 mil for Rocha, now £8 mil for Corluka – even in the modern age of inflated prices these are all ridiculous. I’d be quite content if Platini, Blatter and all the other crack-pots who run the game insititued a two-tiered payment system for defenders – £20 mil for the best ones, and £1 mil for all the rest. Rio? £20 mil. Cannavaro? £20 mil. Ledley? £20 mil. Assou–Ekotto? £1 mil, tops. Lescott, Carragher, Tal Ben Haim and Gilberto – £1 mil. This would avoid any confusion brought about, and remove the need to sack some foreign defender with a few international caps for whom we’ve paid a shedload but who is actually rubbish. It will never happen, but then once upon a time we thought the same about the back-pass rule…

I can’t make much informed comment about Gilberto’s performance as I had to be content with the radio last night. Even though there are about 200 hundred tv channels available in the UK at the moment, including half a dozen dedicated sports channels, not one was showing the game. Clearly there’s not enough football on telly at the moment. There’s a niche in the market there…

So I don’t really know how Gilberto played, other than that he messed up royally for Spartak’s opener, and got sacked as a result. It’s a form of management that would strike few into a few million of Britain’s laziest in other spheres of employment. Elsewhere on the pitch – well, I don’t know. I couldn’t watch it. Apparently though, the first half was awful, but in the second half the full-backs pushed up and we were much improved. Good to see (ie hear) that Modric has broken his duck for us. Generally relieved to hear that the patched up reserves made it through, particularly from a two-goal deficit. Bring on Shaktar Donetsk in the next round, minus the wretched Gilberto.

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