Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Great Expectations By Charles Dickheads
Some of you may be thinking I’m angling myself towards a rant here. Well you’re right. And it centres on the short-termism, the sensationalism and the lack of any sense of perspective that I find staggering in swathes of the English football media (just wait til I get my hands on Ian Wright’s latest piece of garbage for the Sun in but a few paragraph’s time).
What annoyed me first and foremost was the fact that Williams knows better. He knows better because he is an intelligent man and a good writer. He knows better than to trot out this, for instance: “Sutton, too, made his first appearance in the blue shirt at Stamford Bridge, after his £10m transfer from Blackburn Rovers, and early in that match he made such a mess of a straightforward one-on-one with the opposing goalkeeper that his career in England never recovered.” Not only is it disingenous to say that any player’s career degeneration can be pinpointed to a single one-on-one miss, it is downright idiotic to suggest this fate awaits Torres – boasting the phenomenal record of 65 Premier League goals in 102 games and still aged just 26.
Williams’ allusion to Sutton rests on an incident that occurred just 90 seconds into Sunday’s match: “With the ball at his feet, and Liverpool's back three spread across the field, Torres had only Martin Skrtel, 10 yards away, blocking his path as he started for goal. And then, unmistakably, he bottled it. He was still five yards from Skrtel and 25 yards from goal when he let fly with his right foot, unleashing a shot that sheared off his boot and flew high and wide of Pepe Reina's goal. Not even close.”
Ifs and buts are obviously a journalist’s bread and butter. IF Torres had scored said one-one-one (it wasn’t even a one-on-one because Martin Skrtel was in the way in any case) then this is obviously a mute point. It is £50m well spent. It is Chelsea for the title. The perspective here is that Torres was in all probability affected by his having to play against the team he had just left after three-and-a-half years. The perspective is that he was subbed off after 66 minutes. Since when did 66 minutes make or break a career? Maybe, just maybe, Torres was pandering to the old football adage of catching the goalkeeper cold, or shooting early, or that he’d seen Reina off his line, and not psychoanalysing him 90 seconds into a match when hardly anyone is ice-cool.
Williams denounces Torres for being “opaque, listless, peripheral”, but Liverpool fans will tell you that these characteristics were seen from time to time long before his South African summer, only he was more often than not able to arrest any slump with a goal or two. I’m going to stick my neck out now and say that Torres will score more than once in his first 29 games for Chelsea. In fact, I’ll go the whole hog and say he’ll score more than once this season. There I’ve said it. Brave as John Terry.
Moving on, the eagle-eyed of you lot will have noticed I mentioned something about Wrighty earlier in this article. Now, I do not in any way, shape or form wish to tar Richard Williams with the Ian Wright brush. The Guardian man has a fully functioning brain for a start. But on the theme of knee-jerk football journalism at the other end of the intellectual spectrum, I came across this lovely little nugget on the Sun website today. “We’ll never learn from cup agony” screams the headline. Oh goody. My interest is immediately piqued. What can Ian Wright teach me today, I pondered.
True to form, the reader is treated to a cock-eyed, moronic diatribe, I presume with the sole intention of reinforcing the ‘fact’ that foreigners (see Fabio Capello in the role of Machievelli) don’t ‘get’ the English and set out to ensure that the ingrained English sense of entitlement becomes no more than that.
Does Wright honestly think that Premier League sides wilfully go out and buy the Chris Sambas and Herita Llungas of this world instead of nurturing English talent? If the talent was there, then it would be in the first team, of that I have no doubt. Wright uses Jack Wilshire and Josh McEachran as examples of good English youngsters. Well, of course, I agree. And Wilshire is now an Arsenal regular set to make his first England start, while McEachran is still only 17. Exactly how many 17-year olds expect to be regulars at Chelsea? The best English talent obviously gets through. It always has and always will.
The thing is, I can see Wrighty’s point. But it is just the massive distortion of the point that rankles. He isn’t saying that all foreign players are bad for the game. But does he honestly believe you can have a world where you have, say, one or two genuinely world class foreign talents per team and the other 95% of the squad is English? Wrighty strikes me as the kind of man who would boycott an apple fair – and not just any apple fair, but a magnificent international apple fair showcasing the very best apples from around the globe – in favour of a smelly old onion buffet just because the onions were grown in England. He would cut off his onions just to spite his apples, it seems.
Like his good mate Mark Bright, Wrighty orbits a bizarre hinterland where attacking talents such as Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler are actively prevented from getting anywhere near a Premier League first team by evil chairmen favouring the likes of Marco Boogers and Bosko Balaban.
Another thing is that Wright seems personally affronted that England can’t win Euro 2012. He whiffles: “All the calls for drastic surgery [following South Africa], for making sure the next time we went into a major tournament our expectations would be genuine rather than blind faith? Well, if you asked me are we going to win Euro 2012 as things stand, I'd have to say 'No'.
It is so blinkered and so reassuringly English to think of everything in relation to England. I think the Spanish would possibly have something to say about England’s chances in 2012. Or the French who so comfortably won at Wembley last year. Or the Germans who dismantled England last summer. Or the Dutch. Or… you see what I mean? The mantra ‘Once a World Cup winning side, always delusions of grandeur’ seems particularly apt for England. Most England fans would take a guarantee of competitiveness. Wright only seems to be interested in guaranteed victory. Of course you can’t guarantee either of those things, especially when a lot of other teams are better than you.
“One solution could be if young players are not getting a chance - and clearly aren't going to get one - then what about some sort of law whereby they must be loaned out if they want to be?” Oh Wrighty. I don’t know where to start. Let’s not get into an employment law debate please.
Wright goes on to wheeze: “These days a kid having four or five decent games is suddenly going from youth-team money to earning 10 times what their old man gets. Instead of giving them all the big money now, put a large chunk of it in a trust until they're, say, 25.” I think I got a bit lost at this point. I thought we were talking about the amount of dirty foreigners taking all our jobs?
But hang on, Wrighty seems to have the answer. Let’s get Gary Neville – that’s hated everywhere outside Old Trafford Gary Neville – to go around youth teams explaining to kids “what it takes”. I tell you what, sod root and branch inquiries when you have insight like that. That’s the straw and clutch approach I do believe.
If Gary Neville had come to my youth team and told me what to do in order to be just like him, I’d have immediately wanted shave my top lip every day and do the exact opposite of whatever it was he said. This sort of continual, colonial drum-beating is not the answer; forcing ‘English’ values (hard work, physicality, commitment) on young English players only entrenches the divine right attitude. England were never going to be a new, capable team just two years after the World Cup. But the short-termism of which we speak fosters expectations based around exactly that and this has to stop.