As I started watching last week’s Liverpool-Arsenal match on TV, the commentator pointed out that Arsenal’s German defender Shkodran Mustafi was on the bench, as he’d ‘been linked with a move to Serie A’. Except the way he pronounced it, it sounded like ‘Syria’.
‘Blimey’ I thought, ‘that’s a bit of a tough gig after the Home Counties’.
And a break in domestic football means time for other interests – for instance over the weekend I learnt that Gwyneth Paltrow uses coconut oil both as a mouthwash and a sexual lubricant, although presumably not simultaneously. And it went on:
Gwyneth glows like a radioactive swan.
She emits light. She would be great in a power outage.
When faced with a weekend of England internationals it’s easy to see how the mind seeks escape.
Whilst picturing the difference Gwyneth could’ve made to the 3-day week, it was the legend that is Jermaine Defoe who really caught my ear when he announced at a press conference before the Malta game that there were:
...no easy games in international football.
And the sad thing is, in England’s case, he’s probably right – only poor performances. But Malta? I mean ‘come on’......Malta is the smaller than Tyneside and they don’t have the advantage that Newcastle used to have of being able to buy players. It’s like England lining up against Jack Colback, Michael Carrick, Steve Bruce and 8 out-of-work scaffolders and scraping a draw. Surely the bar hasn’t dropped so low that we couldn’t show up against a team like this?
What I know about football would fit into one of Donald Trump’s tweets but even I knew that Malta would line up with eleven men behind the ball. Donald Trump knew that Malta would line up with eleven men behind the ball. Why then, does the England team come out and look like they’re being confronted with Conan Doyle’s Lost World?
How difficult is it to train and prepare for such a game? I mean you know where everyone’s going to be – they’re always going to be in front of you! Surely we can practice a bit in the lead-up so that we don’t look like the walking dead when we get on the pitch?
So I watched the first half, filled four pages of a notebook with vitriolic rage and concluded that Wayne Rooney, having just been splashed across the tabloids again, was probably sitting at home right now thinking life wasn’t too bad after all.
The lure of Gwyneth and coconut oil meant I missed the second half, but apparently they got the hairbrush treatment from Gareth at half time, which is like the hairdryer treatment but more creative. I just can’t imagine Gareth losing it can you? He’s too measured, too reasonable.
Due to the excesses of the weekend, by Monday night I’m totally knackered, and so found myself perched in front of the crystal bucket awaiting the Slovakia game.
And it started off well enough, the French referee with his white collar and stick of paint for drawing lines on the pitch looked like a vicar with a light sabre, and was probably still reeling from their 0-0 draw with Luxembourg (‘feel our pain mes amis’).
Slovakia had a manager that came from the Ron Atkinson school of 1970’s fashion, a captain, Martin Skrtel, who looks more like a cyborg than a Skynet terminator, and a right back called Peter Pekarik, who I thought was an unmissable opportunity for the commentator to say ‘Peter Pekarik – who picked a peck of picked pepper’.
But he didn’t and then Slovakia scored after two minutes and spent the next twenty showing England how the game should be played. England responded by retaining the ball in their own half to confuse the opposition who started a small card game in their own penalty area. Glenn Hoddle responded by droning on endlessly about zonal bloody marking, and I started wondering if the supporters band were to release a Christmas album, did I actually hate anyone enough to give it as a present?
But then, and I really didn’t see this one coming, we got good. Not ‘good’ like most other teams ‘good’, but ‘good’ by our standards – good enough to watch without thinking you’re living through the torture scene from ‘A Clockwork Orange‘. Kane was able and Alli, whilst not the greatest, looked like he could be a real game changer on another day. And I came away with what was possibly a positive feeling for the first time in years. And I hate the b**tards for that, because you just know in the next game...
Those of us of a certain vintage will remember Elvis Costello singing ‘(I don’t want to go to) Chelsea’ back in 1978 (I was really young – honest), but it sprang to mind just listening to Antonio Conte’s potted history of his transfer window. First off he’s got Costa (there’s an awful lot of coffee) in Brazil. What’s all that about? Can a player just refuse to turn up for work without being sacked? Well, I guess he can if he’s worth £50 million to the club who’re not going to empty his desk into the car park and change the security codes are they? Still a very strange situation though.
Then they missed out on Lukaku, who despite their best efforts, told them to do one and went to Manchester United. And I can kind of understand that because he was on their books for ever and they kept pushing him away – they lent him out to West Brom for goodness sake, so you can’t blame him. Except it was probably Jose who actually did the loaning, but whatever... tough love.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was next, lined up to join Chelsea in what appeared to be a done deal. But then, no, all off, and he joins Liverpool within 24 hours. Informed opinion suggests he was unhappy with the position he was being asked to play. What’s the problem? Just tell him what he wants to hear and get it over the line. He’s a player who likes to charge up the middle of the pitch before falling over with absolutely no finish on him – which team doesn’t need a player like that?
And then Llorente from Swansea – smacked of desperation a little methinks, but Conte wanted to strengthen his squad and then ‘whoops’ he’s off to Spurs – how’d that happen? You did tell him you’re League Champions with your own ground didn’t you?
Ross Barkley – what can I say? A player who’s been told he’s not wanted by his current club, has been told he has no future where he is, offered a life-line by one of the biggest, most successful clubs in Europe, and turns them down to stay put. There’s either something seriously wrong with Ross Barkley or something seriously wrong with Chelsea.
So then they buy Danny Drinkwater for £35 million. Draw your own conclusions.
The one down side to England’s victory over Slovakia is the possible punishment Dele Alli might be subject to after being photographed ‘giving the finger’ to the referee behind his back. When asked to comment, Gareth Southgate replied:
“Kyle and Dele were mucking about, and Dele’s made a gesture towards Kyle. The pair of them have a strange way of communicating….”
And it may involve coconut oil.