"I was asking YOU if you thought I'D said merry Christmas to YOU!"
With (probably) our last post of 2012, we couldn't help but get in the festive spirit so in time-honoured Spongers fashion, we start off with a rant. Here's our now semi-regular (and brilliant) contributor Dan Forman with his take on 'Twelve Days of Christmas'.
Truly it's been what a Viz version of the Queen's speech might call an anus horribilis for the Premier League. In no particular order other than it features Chelsea quite a lot (which kind of tells its own story) we have had:
- John Terry abusing Anton Ferdinand (and Chelsea's handling thereof);
- Luis Suarez refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand a few months after allegedly abusing him (and Liverpool's handling thereof);
- The Mark Clattenberg affair (and Chelsea's handling thereof);
- Roberto Mancini having to back down and pick a player who refused to warm up;
- John Terry lifting the European Cup;
- Newcastle's sponsorship deal with Wonga;
- Ashley Cole defending John Terry in court;
- Arsenal putting their ticket prices up to the highest in the world, only to then not sign one of the best players in the world, but actually sell one;
- Roman Abramovich stripping out the last remaining layer of Chelsea's soul with the sacking of Roberto di Matteo;
But, it's nearly Christmas, and, while it was nigh-on impossible to think of 24 good things to fill an advent calendar, I did manage to come up with 12 days’ worth, if said days are granted a very generous amount of seasonal goodwill.
1. Jesus/Jack Wilshere. A son sent by his footballing and spiritual father to save our souls and redeem our national game. An English midfielder as comfortable on the ball as all but the very best of his Spanish counterparts. The first of a new generation to have been schooled since the age of 10 in the Wenger philosophy, within him lies the possibility that England may one day be able to retain possession in a major tournament for more than eight seconds. Worryingly, he is already onto his second coming. May the Lord and Ryan Shawcross take care of his ligaments.
2. Paul Scholes. If Wilshere is the future, then Scholes is the ghost of England past. Who knows what might have been if any England manager had truly recognised his talent? But let’s give thanks for the fact that Alex Ferguson did. It's slightly shameful that a club of United's resources had to resort to bringing him back from retirement, but what a gift it was that they did. Still, ridiculously, good.
3. Fine number 10s. Chelsea may be the epitome of all that is wrong with English football. In fact, they are the epitome of all that is wrong with English football. But has any English team ever played three such talented No10s in the same side? If you're going to run a club as the personal fiefdom of a billionaire megalomaniac and play real-life fantasy football, picking three outrageously gifted playmakers together behind a striker that cost FIFTY MILLION ENGLISH POUNDS (although it helps if he scores goals, like) is exactly the way to do it. Mata, Oscar and Hazard may not yet be among the very best players to have graced our league but all three have the potential. Playing all three together is just a joy when it works. Enjoy them while you can as Benitez will probably have them tracking back to protect the full backs by January.
4. The Disciples. The thing is, just possibly, it's not just Wilshere and Scholes anymore. It might actually be happening. Or at least, some encouraging signs are there. St George's Park is finally open. England has a manager who seems to at least understand our place in the footballing world. And a trickle, if not a flood, of technically talented young players are emerging, some of whom, although quite obviously not all, also seem to have a modicum of humility about their character. Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs at Arsenal; Sterling at Liverpool; Welbeck (who comes complete with his own dance, for goodness sake), Jones, Cleverly and Smalling at United; could all join each other and the still-young Joe Hart and still-good-when-he-wants-to-be Wayne Rooney in a team that doesn't think it will win a major tournament, but might actually do something in one. No? Okay, fair enough, but at least we are seeing the:
5. (death of the) Golden Generation and their bling. The damage this group and their poisonous stain have left on our national game will take many years to recover from, but this year we may have at least witnessed the first beginnings of their exit from the stage. Terry and Ashley Cole were exposed in court as the vile, self-serving individuals we always knew they were. In fact the only good thing about Chelsea winning the Champions League was that 'JT - captain, leader, bell-end' managed to make himself a national laughing stock at the same time. Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham are winding down their careers; Steven Gerrard is finally being forced to adapt to a system rather than insist on having one constructed around him; and Michael Owen now sits on the subs bench at Stoke, counting his money like Scrooge McDuck and tending his moustache. Let's hope we never see their like again.
6. Miracle on 94th Minute Street. Who would have thought that a team based only on the proceeds of billions of dollars of our over-priced petrol could do it eh? Truly the most remarkable thing to come from somewhere near the holy lands for 2,000 years. You may sense that I'm not quite Poznan-ing with the excitement of a Sky Sports News presenter on transfer deadline day. But it was quite funny. And if any set of football fans can be group-categorised as a decent and deserving bunch it's possibly Man City's.
7. Swans a swimming. Just fundamentally a good thing. Swansea are well-run, with a long-term strategy that doesn't depend on one manager, but nevertheless make inspired managerial appointments. They also make great, cheap, unheralded signings and play football the way it was meant to be played. The only downside being that the one unquestioned success story of English football is in fact Welsh.
8. The Martinez miracle. I've no particular love for Wigan, its chairman or half-empty stadium. In fact I've had a bit of a grudge against the whole town ever since I got stranded there after a Verve gig in 1998 (notwithstanding the fact that none of us had bothered to check the time of the last train back to Manchester). But it is hard not to smile when Roberto Martinez performs his annual miracle in the last few weeks of the season and his shoddy, oniony water is suddenly turned into delicious appley wine. This year they finish at home to Tottenham, away to West Brom and Arsenal and then at home to Villa who could all conceivably have something still to play for. It may be a miracle too far. So let's look back on 2012 as possibly the last time this annual feat of escapology was performed with such style and charm.
9. Alan Carr's dad. Connections between comedy and football tend to more figurative than literal. But, wait for it, Alan Carr's dad seems to have some very good specs indeed. Credit to Alan Pardew where it's due – and through gritted teeth and despite everything that's awful about him, Mike Ashley for appointing him – but Newcastle's chief scout is the only reason neutral fans now have any occasional warm feelings towards the club. Cabaye, Ba, Cisse, Tiote, Ben Arfa and others have shown that better bargains than Stewart Downing are still there to be had. The fact that top clubs don't spend more time competing for talent like his rather than wasting fans' money on extortionate agents' fees goes a long way to explaining what's wrong with our league.
10. Good King Wengerceslas. Just because it made a good headline and the last one was a bit crap. And he's still a good thing, despite what everyone apart from Gary Neville and I now think. So stick all your Scrooge jokes up Theo Walcott's backside, at least someone has some principles around here. And he signed Santi Cazorla. Who else signed Santi Cazorla? No one, that's who, which brings me nicely on to:
11. Santi Carzors. (It's a play on words around Santi Cazorla and Santa Claus by the way, not sure if it's that obvious. Number 3 was also a Three French Hens thing too in case you were wondering). How is this guy not playing for Barcelona? The midget with the magic touch who never, literally never (not really literally), gives the ball away. It is literally like having a player from the all-conquering Spanish midfield in our league though. For neutrals too, he is surely the best import since David Ginola, just a joy to watch every week. And, unlike Messi, he has shown he can do it on a (not so cold because it was in August, but still windy) Sunday afternoon in Stoke.
12. The Drumbeat of Financial Fair Play Drumming? Okay, I'm struggling now. West Brom? Harry Redknapp not getting the England job? Jack Wilshere again? The thing about financial fair play is it's not going to make the blindest bit of difference is it? The rich are going to get richer, more small clubs will go bust, the fans will still get fleeced. But I suppose it does give us hope that maybe things will get a little bit better, maybe the next oligarch or US tycoon will at least be put off from investing in the first place even if all the existing ones will just employ accountants and tax lawyers to find ways to bend the rules. Which I suppose is at least something to cling to at Christmas time. Isn't it? No? Oh well. At least Harry Redknapp didn't get the England job. * NB: This blog is absolutely not famous for its tolerance.