The first two draws for the Carabao Cup (a.k.a The EFL Cup, the League Cup etc) were a shambles. Shown live on the Facebook page of the Thai energy drink company, it resulting in teams being picked twice, some teams being shown with the wrong opponents and a general train-wreck of a spectacle which gives one a warm feeling in the nether regions and a reassurance that the future of the game is indeed in safe hands.
Learning their lesson, the draw for round three will include the top Premier League clubs and will take place on August 24th at 11.15 am local time – in Beijing, China. That’s 4.15 in the morning in the UK. Now I can understand it if was the World Cup or some other international tournament, but this is the English League Cup. There are only English teams playing (sorry, and Welsh) - why, then, does the draw have to be in China at four in the morning?
The EFL were quick to explain themselves:
We understand that not everyone will agree on the timing of this week’s Round Three Draw...
....but in staging in this way it will give the competition both the maximum exposure in the UK, Chinese and South East Asian markets.
This is not only an important factor for the EFL but also our new sponsors Carabao, who, like ourselves, plan to use the growing global appeal of the competition to reach new audiences.
And I get that, I’m not a complete Philistine, but where do you draw the line? It’s one thing having the draw at four in the morning, but say it’s a Manchester United and Chelsea final and the sponsors want the match to be played at China’s prime TV time? Where do we stand then? Given the money involved and the potential of the Chinese and South East Asian markets, this could be a reality, and it could be just round the corner.
Chinese money is of course rife at club level, no more so than at Aston Villa, who have done much splashing of cash since their relegation in 2016 - though not to any great effect. Roberto Di Matteo brought in nine players last summer, before being sacked and replaced by Steve Bruce, who brought another eight in the January window and six more this summer – and he’s not finished yet if the rumour about signing Robert Snodgrass is true.
But it’s not done them much good. Before last week’s victory over Norwich they hadn’t won a league game since April - not that it dampens Bruce’s spirits:
It is a very, very difficult job. I am glad I have got the experience that I have because I am the right man for it. My record tells you that. I don’t become a bad manager in a week.
No, just an unsuccessful one. How many good, unsuccessful managers do you know?
But, he’s probably going to be in the promotion race right till the end because they have the money to spend. At what stage does a poor manager with a healthy budget get the drop on a good manager running things on a shoestring? Huddersfield and Brighton got out of the League last year without breaking the bank but they have exceptional managers, it has to be said.
Southampton are the latest club to fall under Chinese financial influence, probably just at the right time to fight off Liverpool’s amorous intentions for Dick Van Dyke, which is part of an interesting trend this summer of clubs not backing down over disputed transfer targets.
Dick hasn’t been seen for Southampton yet this season, is ‘training with the reserves’, and it’s a bit of a ‘who blinks first’ scenario. The team have a new manager who presumably doesn’t have much of a say in the situation, and if the owners can afford to let their prize asset rot on the vine, then Dick could be in for either an uncomfortable long season or an embarrassing climb-down.
Twitching in Brazil is everyone’s favourite pirate look-a-like, Diego Costa, who’s not happy with his situation. He wants Chelsea to drop their asking price as Athletico really don’t think he’s worth £50 million.
My agent said Chelsea want something that Atlético can’t get near. When we heard Conte didn’t want me any more, my agent went to find out if there was interest from Atlético for me coming back. Of course for the warmth and respect that I earned there, they showed interest. But they wouldn’t pay a fortune.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, Costa bet the farm on a pair of fours and is now in the wrong country, out of work and running out of time. No wonder Conte had hysterics when asked about the situation in his press conference.
The big move this summer was of course Neymar, moving to PSG for €45m a year, but he didn’t do it for the money:
My heart made this decision, and this is why I’m here.
I always ask my heart, and it told me to go to PSG.
Well that’s alright then – seems like a nice boy.
Which leaves about €200m burning a hole in Barcelona’s pockets, who are wistfully eyeing Philippe Coutinho. He only signed a five year contract last summer, is very happy at Liverpool and doesn’t want to just warm the bench at another club, and... oooh, look at all that money.... go on then.
Should Liverpool’s resolve hold out for another week, then Barcelona may well go for the Borussia Dortmund’s answer to a petulant ungrateful midfielder - Ousmane Dembélé. Now this was most apt, because for a long time now I’ve had an undercurrent of thought running in the back of my mind which could be called ‘The Dembélé Identity’.
I remember going to see the Lads play at Fulham and watching a new kid run the midfield for them called Dembélé. I then caught a snippet of news that he’d signed for Spurs, but the next thing I knew he was playing for Celtic, so I assumed he hadn’t made it and had taken the long road north. When this whole transfer kicked off with Barcelona involving a Dembélé playing for Borussia Dortmund, I became genuinely confused, especially as I then saw him play for Spurs against Chelsea at the weekend.
An investigation followed.
Mousa Dembélé is Belgian, played for Fulham and was signed by Spurs, where he still plays. Not to be confused with....
.....Moussa Dembélé, who is Malian/French. He also played for Fulham (see!) and was signed by Celtic, where he still plays. Not to be confused with...
...Ousmane Dembélé, who is Malian/Senegalese, and plays for Borussia Dortmund but who may well go to Barcelona, where he’ll spend his life being compared unfavourably to Neymar.
So that’s it then – you probably all knew that anyway, but it’s a weight off my mind.
The evil spectre of terrorism is now part of everyday life, and sports venues are a prime target, but there is one corner of England that is prepared to battle these fanatics and take them head on. Step forward – Stevenage.
At their home game against Grimsby on Saturday, it’s alleged that girls had to show their bras to stewards, that five year olds were subjected to full body searches and even a female steward was posted inside a male toilet.
And were there any acts of terrorism? Not one. Difficult to argue then isn’t it?
Grimsby supporters have written to Stevenage FC complaining of their treatment which they described as:
...amongst the worst our fans have experienced in decades of travelling across the world to watch football.
Presumably not Grimsby though...