Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TOURÉ DE FORCE

December confirmed to me what I have been thinking for a long time. I'm not a fan of the African Nations Cup.

Yaya will of course, be off in January, departing the fair shores of Albion to take part in the afore-mentioned tournament, a competition blissfully oblivious to the needs of Manchester City and its followers. Who can do the job that Yaya Touré performs week in week out? the answer to that is simple.


What will City's midfield look like without Yaya Touré? A veritable road block in the centre of midfield, it is about time somebody put in a good word for this man-mountain amongst the landslide of poetry written in the name of Señor Silva, the press pack attached to Mario Balotelli and the seething mass of hysteria that follows Kun Aguero's every broad-thighed shimmy. Yaya bestrides the midfield like a mammoth. The giant frame belies a graceful, almost twinkle-toed mastery of his art. Not the cleaver-in-hand butcher, nor the scavenging assistant. Yaya is the Delivery Man. He quite clearly does exactly what it says on the oversized packet. He delivers. All over the pitch. All night long. In all directions. In all weather and all competitions. he is always there, passing, moving, receiving, going again.

Dean Whitehead's view

These last few days, admittedly, he has been faced by a Stoke side so timid, they might have been carrying pepper spray in their inside pockets. That there was little change to their ultra-functional approach, despite a succession of goals going in, speaks volumes about the philosophy rugged Tony Pulis had imbued in his storm-troopers: right lads, go in, sneak the medium-sized defeat and retreat immediately. No harm done. The glory of ninth place will be ours, oh yes.

The came West Brom, a team happy to get nought on their own patch. A team, according to manager Roy Hodgson, who don't often defend well, but did so on this occasion. In fairness they had a couple of attacks too. City's possession in both these games was extremely high at various points, touching an incredible 95% at one point against Stoke and 82% in the first half against West Brom. What must Stoke supporters have thought when watching later on television, as the little top of the screen caption bellowed "Stoke City 5% possession"? Time to go behind the sofa.

As Yaya could have told you, it was just like Barcelona, only better. That this overpowering delivery of ball to feet to feet to feet only brought three goals against the Potters and one point against the Baggies might be cause for concern to some. That horrendous stampeding noise behind us is being made by United and Tottenham re-enacting the Charge of the Light Brigade, but let's ease up on the nerves a little. It is the Christmas break we have reached, not Easter, not Spring Bank Holiday and we are top for the first time in 82 years. Eighty-two years! That is something to roll around in and rub yourself all over with, not shred and discard.

For those out there with fire licking at their backsides and a raging torment tickling their brains, take a look at these statistics, pour yourself a big glass of cognac and raise it in the name of Yaya.

versus Stoke. Players over 100 passes: Barry: 92 successful /of 102 attempted, Kompany: 100/107 | Nasri: 132/138 | Toure: 158/169 

Yaya passing: overall 158/169 (93%), own half 51/54 (94%), attacking half 107/115 (93%), final third 42/50 (98%)

City's total of 924 passes v Stoke is the highest recorded by any team in any PL game since 2003-04.

City's pass total v Stoke was higher than all but one of Barcelona's league games this season

CITY only the 2nd team EVER to remain UNBEATEN at home in any competition throughout a whole calendar year. Last time this happened was in 1920s

City's home results 2011: WWWWWWDWWWWWWWWWWDWWWWWWWWWW

City -"The League Leaders" -  have now scored three or more times in 12 of their 17 fixtures. Sadly, for the first time this season, nil was the score last time out.

City have already won more games this season, than they did in the entirety of 8 of their last 14 Premier League seasons.

I will miss the big man's nimble progress in midfield, his pirouettes, his beguiling bursts of speed, his tank-like posterior casting a shadow the size of a Hummer over the ball, the languid shake of the head, a wistful flap of the arm as some less tuned in team-mate completes a savage burst of acceleration into the wrong channel, at the wrong moment.

Hurry back, Big Man, we're going to miss you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

FROTH AND BLUSTER ON THE BIG DIPPER

And so it came to pass, the Big test arrived (the latest Big Test), another moment for everyone to cry "they've got no balls!", a giant thermometre ritually inserted where there is little light but much air, to see if the volcanic temperatures prove that Manchester City are boiling over. They just can't hack it, you see, those mercenaries that play for themselves instead of the team, break curfews and shoot fireworks through their shower curtains.

Barry: critics running for cover
That incredible unbeaten league run, which lasted until Stamford Bridge last Monday (12th December. Does anybody remember the last time City went unbeaten until ten days before Christmas? I can't even remember City being unbeaten during the ten days before Christmas....) had come to an end in a hail of flashing legs and a shower of biblical rain. Having run the dark blues ragged for twenty minutes, the Weather Gods had teamed up with the Football Gods and decreed that enough was enough. And quite right too. This sudden imperiousness will bring on a coronary otherwise amongst those of us more used to wiping the shame and embarrassment from our brows.

For people with large football brains (LFB) this meant a juicy moment of truth against Arsenal, the form team, carrying with them in to a cold barren Manchester afternoon the form player in Robin van Persie. The obituaries were already being written. Ian Wright fizzed electrically about balls and asses, mental strength and baby orangutan. The Nevilles prepared themselves for lift-off. Piers Morgan called City fans "oil-suckers". It was all going to go off big time. The nation held its breath long and hard, daring that harrumphing sound to come out right on time.

Millwall, Cardiff, Bury. Jamie Pollock´s greasy forehead.

And when the game of football started, what did the people with LFB witness? A rip-roaring match in which Arsenal did indeed bring their crisp confident form to town. And were beaten. Beaten by a powerful, willful, committed and elegant Manchester City side playing the open, one-touch slide rule football that has had many sky blue devotees rubbing their eyes in disbelief for most of the season so far. Chicken tikka-taka writ large, served with raita and popadoms, chappatis and chutney. Let us not forget (how the hell could we) that if this season's lights went out now, immediately, irredeemably, 2011 would be remembered for the rest of our lives as the year that contained not a single home defeat, an FA Cup win, entry into the Champions League, a 5-1 win at Spurs, a 6-1 win at Old Trafford and a cup win at Arsenal. If they carted us all off to the Maine Road in the sky now, there would be no kicking and screaming. If they put me back on the Brian Horton Elephant Pills tomorrow, I wouldn't squeal for a single second.


Macclesfield, Stockport, Northampton, Lincoln. Walking aggressively at Walsall. Feeling ill at York. Etcetera.

Telegraph readers stunned by marks out of ten
Arsenal at least did themselves justice, playing with a verve and vigour that many visitors to the Etihad these days seem too feeble or frightened to attempt. Hats and beret's off to them for that, despite the wall of bleating and neighing from the ranks of their supporters. "Cash v Class" being one of the more oft-repeated ineptitudes. They contributed fully to a vibrant, swashbuckling spectacle, which will have had many more than just the committed watching agog for the entire pulsating ninety-four minutes. The match hardly stopped for breath, yet, within this typical British breathlessness, were alarmingly few of the skewed passes, hurried clearances into Row J, Keystone cops defending, rugby stadium finishing. Only when the lumbering Mertesacker hove into view (curiously, he is a German) did the ball hit buttocks and head for the cameras. This was a high tempo match full of neat intricate passing, razor sharp through balls, excellent goalkeeping and high endeavour. Silva, Nasri, Arteta and even big Yaya stood out for their ability to thread, prod and link. Gareth Barry, that poor man's implement, did yet again what he has done all season: plugging gaps, linking team-mates, spreading play, carving routes through to Aguero and Balotelli further forward. Pace of a tugboat maybe, but just feel the quality of the work he puts in in that unnoticed zone: the clear-up patch.

It will no doubt have disappointed a few to witness certain solid pillars of truth and reason that are handy to grab onto in a pub argument had just vanished into thin air: Here are the things that will not have made it within 40 miles of Mark Ogden's Telegraph piece today:

  • Balotelli can be relied upon. He can contribute a hard shift of running and chasing without tangible reward; he doesn't always rush down the tunnel in a huff because he has been subbed against his will; 
  • Zabaleta is more than capable of putting an international speed merchant like Theo Walcott in a small box marked "done and dusted" and clasping it shut with masking tape; 
  • Gareth Barry can bestride a midfield containing Silva; Nasri and Yaya and still show up as peerless; 
  • Superstars like Aguero can put in a blood and thunder performance despite squandering their side's best two chances and still have his head clear enough to place it (his head) alongside Vermaelen's swinging boot and set up the winning goal with bravery and elan; 
  • Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany can stand up and accept the loud applause for being best of breed in their positions this season; 
  • Kolo Touré can still hack it with the best when he diverts his thoughts from "does my bum look big in this home kit?".

Nevertheless and these wonderful discoveries notwithstanding, we can still find in a national daily newspaper of all places the following:

Vincent Kompany: 6 - Not the usual assured performance from the City captain, perhaps a side-effect of the unexpected change of defensive partner, with Joleon Lescott making way for Kolo Toure. 
Pablo Zabaleta: 6 - Not a natural left-back, but the Argentine rarely lets City down and he did well in place of the suspended Gael Clichy and injured Aleksandar Kolarov. Hit the post with a second-half strike.
Yaya Toure: 6 - Never as effective in a defensive midfield role as he is when playing in a more advanced position, but the Ivorian anchored well in tandem with Gareth Barry, despite his inclination to break forward.
Gareth Barry: 6 - Rightfully booked for a dangerous first-half challenge on Mikel Arteta, but the England midfielder otherwise did his usual steady job in front of the back four for City.
Per Mertesacker: 7 - When the German’s lack of pace is not exposed, he marshals the Arsenal defence well. Commanding in the air and his presence appears to be calming one for Szczesny.
Andrei Arshavin: On for Walcott, 69, 6/10, Marouane Chamakh: On for Mertesacker, 82, 6/10

Crack journalist begins another City match report
It is a particularly fruitless experience reading any match report involving Manchester City that is written by the Telegraph's Northern football correspondent, but this effort surely deserves highlighting. Whilst Touré and Barry conducted a spirited and eye-catching midfield battle against Arteta and Song, plugging gaps, delivering passes, squeezing and tackling like there was no tomorrow, Kompany and Zabaleta not only employed the powers of a titan to keep Gervinho, Walcott and Van Persie out, but also found the time and energy to take full part in various forays upfield, one of which culminated in the excellent Zabaleta rattling a post from way outside the box. For this 90-minute long display of guts and guile, they are awarded the same mark as Arsenal's two subs, Abbott and Costello, who provided the best display of ineptitude since the piano on the stairs gig back in 1947. Quite what has gone into Arshavin's tea since Euro 2008 is unclear, but, whatever it was, it would have put a shire horse to sleep for an entire winter.

To top the lot off, Mertesacker, a stumbling flour-sack of a defender, is awarded a higher score than any of them. The mind truly tingles with the expert opinions of the great and good. Maybe it was a Christmas joke, sent by the well-meaning to warm us all up on these cold pre-festive days. If so, it certainly got my blood circulating speedily, but not nearly as quickly and fluently as the sight of six-out-of-ten Vincent Kompany, the best central defender in the Premier League, striding out from the City area and charging past opponent after opponent on his way upfield. What a grand sight that was. What a grand old game it was too. What a shame some people cannot see the quality for wool before their eyes.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DESERT DISPATCH - DECEMBER

Those avoiding the new wave of modernism will have had the opportunity to read this in the latest star-spangled issue of King of the Kippax, the best read this side of heaven


"Riding the warm winds of change"

NICE HOUSES GOES UP IN SMOKE
The Chelsea manager, Andrew Nice Houses, suddenly exploded last night in a large shower of ashes and dust. It is not thought anybody was hurt during the incident but a large part of the press room was shrouded in thick purple smoke for twenty minutes or so. It is believed that the fire may have been started inside a deep complex about Smouldering Buggery Manchester City, as is quite usual in these circumstances. “We have been severely victimised,” he squeaked in a wretched tiny voice, which sounded like it was coming from the end of a very long dusty corridor late at night.

Mr. LEWIS HARRIS: A STUDY IN SPORTSMANSHIP
Harris appeals politely
Liverpool’s Corinthian attacker Lewis Feltham Harris, the son of an aristocratic Uruguayan horse breeder and an elegant polo playing countess from Abyssinia, has been in sparkling form so far this season. For a man of such slight frame and delicate disposition to stay so steadfastly on his feet throughout the terrible thumpings aimed at him on the fields of Albion is a testament to his brick-solid thoroughbred attitude to sports and games. Brought up to take a good bashing and turn the other cheek, young Lewis soon learned that skulduggery and foul play, bleating and arm-waving were not the only ways to win at soccer. One didn’t have to cheat to prevail. In his cosy, well-looked after upbringing Lewis learned that Corinthian spirit and a love of one’s fellow man brings the kind of deep respect that everybody is now showing towards him. “To all those snivelling, arm-waving, little jerkers that perennially fall over then bleat to the referee,” he said last week, “I laugh and say, Do it the Lewis Way. Stay on your feet, play to the whistle and never look at the referee with big baby eyes”.

THEY LEFT TOO SOON
One is inclined in these days of spit and feather, bluster and blunder to forget that – amongst all the terrific nonsensical hyperbole – footballers are just flesh and bones, very much like the rest of us in fact. This era, let us not forget, where we worship the likes of Kevin Prince Boating–Accident with his 550 leather jackets and his toe to cranium body art, and Steven Daddy Dick Ireland with his pink furnished Humdinger Chevrolet Space Buggy, plus any number of vacuous television accidents, who judge themselves personalities on the grounds that they have broken wind on camera. Amongst the many others, who left the football fraternity way before we were ready for them to depart. Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira and Gary Speed, we salute your efforts and feel deeply glum that you have gone to join the likes of Neil Young, Mike Doyle, Emlyn Hughes, Alan Ball, Jimmy Neighbour, Bobby Stokes, Alan Davies, George Armstrong, Brian Clough, George Heslop, Derek Dougan, Peter Osgood, Brian Labone in God’s celestial five-a-side tournament. You will both. at least, shore up the midfield very nicely indeed.


FA CUP: THE MANCHESTER DERBY IS BACK
By Shaun Custard still in the Fox and Firkin
With a blink of an eye and a quick exhalation of stale air, it was done. The Dirty Deed. The Revenge Derby is on. Sir Fergus will bring his vengeful but nevertheless world-beating troops to the Elaborately-Sponsored Etihad Stadium to face up to Moneybags Bastard Manchester City for the third time this season and the world can only hope that the old maestro can cook up a more appealing broth than the toad soup and evans dumplings that we were force fed at Old Trafford last month. For Fergus’s side still has merit, oh yes. The thunderous thighs of goal man Rooney and the delicate agility of Donny Wellbred do not suddenly count for nothing, you know. The two little hobbits, Pippy and Prawny, do not suddenly become bad players overnight. Johnny SixesandEvans cannot surely be any worse than last time? Berbatov can still recite poetry like no other Vulgarian I know. These are all reasons for the massive red majority in Manchester to be positive. The Men In Black can sleep easily alongside their teddies tonight. Silly City, as many people like to call them, are foolish in the extreme to underestimate them. Their fans, full of cockiness and Boddingtons, delivered a clear message to the roving Sky cameras yesterday, brimming with froth and frothing with brim, little snot-nosed kiddies trying to get six fingers counted for the cameras. It is this bravado and self-centred behaviour that makes these people so ugly to look at, so painful to listen to, with their prawn kebabs and their Balotelli hats shaped like a waving hand. For, sure enough, class still counts and history is not counted on the fingers of one hand. It takes time to tip a tea pot and class doesn’t just pop out of the other end. With the derby scores absolutely level so far this season, one win each, by the narrowest of margins, City and their unwashed hordes are about to find this out the hard way come derby day in the Cup.
Mark Organ is on holiday in Salford all this week. Brian Granville was unavailable to comment owing to his putty pen melting and Bob Rodent of The Star was too busy looking up womens’ dresses. 

THAT EURO 2012 DRAW IN FULL
Group of Absynthe: Poland (host nation, go easy on them), Chicken Republic, Guatemala and Crete
Grupo da Morte: Germans, Danes, Dutch, Portuguese all at it, all at the same time. Furious, eye-scratchingly horrendous, cards flying, people getting the full hump with each other, wide starey eyes and finger pointing and and and that’s just the Portuguese).
Group of Meth: Pope, Gaudi, Archbishop of Cork and Monseignor Dubrovnik
Group of Meh: Ukraine (home nation, go easy), Svennis, Ingles, The other Ones

NOMINATIONS CLOSE TODAY
By Jamie Redknapp (no relation honest) Best buy of the season: Scot(tie) Parker, hands down. Id the lad Silva could do half the things our Scot(tie) can do, he’d be half the player Sco(tie) is today. A full on Lionel Messi of the Tottenham High Road. Manager of the season so far: Harry Redcap. Don’t Write Him Off yet Award: Frank Lampard (go, cuz!). League Champions come May? Difficult one with all the talent around, but I’m going for…erm… Tottenham.

VESUVIUS ERUPTS, SPEWING PHLEGM AND SPITTLE IN ALL DIRECTIONS 
Side profile, high profile
Aurelio de Laurentiis: here is a man with very attractive slick hair, a way with melancholic drama and very definitely something of the night, it has to be said. The great man of the people, orator profundo, shake-a-leg-Sandy and Billy Big Noise  hath spoken: “The kind Sheik will tire of his toy. He will see football is not only about money, but also glory and oil, funny faces and wolf masks. It is about the sunrise over Vesuvius, the leopard print panties that my girlfriends wear. It is smoke and laughter, laughter and smoke, painting your name on fountains and reducing the toilet block to rubble. All of these things are the football that the Sheik does not get. It is Polly Pocket and Thomas the Tank engine, Brian Deane and Emily Heskey. It is flares, rockets and guns, it is giant heaps of refuse in all directions, steaming grouplets of hooligans on scooters, knife wielding charlatans and pickpockets. It is the glory of Naples, a city drowning in its own detritus. This all is football, this all is what we are, what makes us, what defines us. Tell that to your little Sheik with big pockets.” Afterwards he needed to lie down.  

COLIN GETS AN EIFFEL
Ivorian powerhouse and Bastard Manchester City dietician Colin Tory has complained BITTERLY about his lack of opportunities in the first team. Team Manager Bob Mancini has also explained the reasons behind his frequent exclusion: “Eeer, these ees becoz ee eez not so very good” explained the erudite and confused-looking manager, sweeping an errant lock of grey hair back behind his well-sculpted ear. “Eee theenks ee eez good but in fact, Kompany ees better, Lescott ee eez better, even Steve Savage ee eez better. How can I tell eem these, he will keel over.”
Tory meanwhile has stated that Savage is, in fact, not better, but quite a lot worse than himself. He said: “In fact the new fellow is rubbish isn’t he? I mean look at him! I watch him in training and think to myself “big bugger, he’s so useless this is a deathly insult to Colin Tory.”

PINGPONG
Look at me
Emmanuel Frimpong. Even the name itself shouts “look at  me!”. The hair bellows “I am a peacock”. The demeanour says, “look at all I am become, swanky and so sure”. Here is a young footballer just making his way, learning his trade, picking up juicy titbits here and there to make him a better player, perhaps even a better person. It appears, however, that some lessons have already arrived bang on time at Platform One of Mr Frimpong’s well organised Central Cortex: a) take off your shirt whilst still leaving the pitch to allow full air time for the company slogan (your company slogan!) to your adoring public. b) act the big wedge with other professionals such as Samir Nasri, to show them, even though you are still only thirteen years old, “you don’t take grief from no one”. Here, quite literally, quite splendidly, is a footballer of our times, for our times. I am sure we all deserve him.

MONSIEUR PLATINI: A PROPER GENTILLEHOMME
Michel Platini was a graceful artist in his playing days for Nancy (stop that), St Etienne and Juventus, where he is still treated as a deity to this day. It is fascinating to see that he has brought all of this grace and balance, pomp and circumstance to his current role as Prince of Football, High Chancellor of UEFA, Cadillac Cruiser and The Knowledge of Switzerland. Having quite rightly LAMBASTED Big Bugger Manchester City for their THOUGHTLESS DESTRUCTION OF OUR BELOVED WORLD GAME, he rightly praised Paris St Germain for bringing some colour, verve, competition and MONEY to the dowdy and down-at-heel French league scene. This, you see, is where PROPER SIZED BRAINS make the difference between a Platini and a mere mortal, who perhaps is concerning himself with the whereabouts of his car keys or whether it might just be Miniature Chicken Kievs again for tea. Platini is not concerned with Chicken Kiev, miniature or otherwise. He is rebuilding the CITY OF KIEV, although there might not be too many hotels, or in fact trains or planes. “It will be a complicated success” he regaled. How jolly marvelous. How complicated exactly will it be to be a football follower in these places, Monsieur Platini? Very complicated, extremely complicated, really bloody complicated, or sod it I’m off to Marbella complicated? We love a challenge, so we must thank you for this one. Merci!
But that is to digress and to deflect attention away from this GREAT MAN’S grand oeuvres and manoeuvres. Just this week, he asked the oh-so-pertinent question “How shall we play a world cup in Qatar?” These truly are questions on every poor man’s wet and quivering LIPS. Lips that will be so dry and parched in the 50 degree heat of Doha, they might just as well be removed and used as espadrilles. Luckily there is a font of information, a source of wisdom that will help us garner the correct answer to this latest conundrum: MICHEL PLATINI himself, for it is he who voted for the wretched place in the first place.

TEVEZ MOVE CLOSER TO HOME AT LAST GETTING CLOSER
Charles Tevez’s burning wish to leave Buggery Battery Brutally Manchester City to be closer to his beloved family, half family, inlaws, outlaws, inbreds, invertebrates and assorted ex’s has moved a tiny little bit closer with the news that he may, might, could, should, would if he could, is set to sign for Milan in the window.  This knocks an INCREDIBLE one mile off the journey home and should make just about everybody weep tears of joy, including Kia Joorabchian, who lives next door to wherever Tevez is. Those figures in greater detail: Manchester-Buenos Aires - 6935 miles. Milan-Buenos Aires - 6934 miles.

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Imbiber of Amantis 2005, cold water, black coffee. Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; hapless dreamer, willing accomplice and crafty left sided midfielder.

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