Saturday, 9 January 2010

Angola – Nothing To Do With Football

Yesterday, a bus carrying the Togolese squad for the African Cup of Nations through the northern Angolan province of Cabinda was machine-gunned, resulting in the death of the driver, and the wounding of several passengers. The footage of shaken survivors making their way to safety had echoes of the similar incident last March in Pakistan where the Sri Lanka cricket team were fired upon.

Because this act of terrorism coincides with the world of football, this morning’s television saw a bewildering array of underqualified retired sportsmen pontificating on the politics of southern Africa in a way that even Paul Merson recognised as laughable.

I watched Sky Sports Soccer Saturday earlier today and, much as I admire Jeff Stelling, I am not sure his bantering style is quite right for matters of African politics. His encyclopaedic knowledge of League Two centre-backs was not much use when he asked Charlie Nicholas’ opinion on the situation.

Champagne Charlie cleverly combined a breathtakingly cavalier lack of knowledge with a subtle piece of implicit racism by saying that “some of these countries are unstable. We know that.” Which countries, Charlie? Former Portuguese colonies? Countries with abundant natural resources? Oh, you can’t mean, oh dear this is awkward, black countries? Can you? Not sure what he meant, but anyway, they are unstable. And they all look the same to me.

Next to share his wisdom was Matthew Le Tissier who expressed concern for the upcoming World Cup. It took me a minute to figure out what he meant until he spelled it out – “that meant to be in Africa too.”

Surely not? Surely Matt Le Tissier wasn’t just comparing Angola to South Africa as surely as if they were the same country? Oh I’m afraid he was. This is laughable. The Cabinda region is to the North of Angola, and is thousands of miles from South Africa. The next time there is a bomb in Ingushetia, should we consider cancelling the London Olympics? The distances are roughly the same.

What Charlie and Le Tiss had done was to cleverly avoid any reference to the facts or the history of the situation before opening their stupid mouths.

As a counterpoint to the casual indifference you will be hearing from the media, why not learn a little about the fifty year long conflict that has led us to this point.

Angola was, until the second half of the twentieth century, a Portuguese colony. Alongside the other independence movements that flourished throughout Africa, Angola had several armed factions who tried to throw off the European yoke. Eventually, in 1975, after a coup led to the collapse of the fascist Portuguese regime, the new left-wing government conceded independence to Angola.

The main independence movements in Angola were the communist MPLA and the anti-communist UNITA. After their uneasy coalition had earned them the prize of independence, they immediately plunged their new country into a 27-year-long, draining and bloody civil war. During the Cold War, the Soviets and Cubans funded their ideological brethren the MPLA, whilst America and South Africa both provided support to UNITA.

The result was an ever-escalating, all consuming conflagration that rendered the entire country a generation-long war zone. In 2002, life expectancy in Angola was less than 40 years, and today there are still an estimated 15 million landmines planted around the country.

Cabinda is a small enclave separated from the rest of Angola by a thirty-mile stretch of coastline that gives the larger Democratic Republic of Congo access to the Atlantic Ocean.

When independence was granted, Cabinda became part of the Republic of Angola, although crucially, nobody from the Cabindan Independence movement was present at the signing of that agreement. In short, many felt that they had simply been transferred from one colonial overlord to another.

During the civil war, the MPLA held control of the region by force, with an independence movement – The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) – fighting a long guerrilla campaign, killing government troops and kidnapping foreign workers.

In 2002, when the civil war ended in the rest of Angola, it rumbled on here, with the government continuing to rule Cabinda with an iron fist. Human Rights Watch claim that there are still atrocities happening in the area, and FLEC’s campaign for independence has never gone away.

So far, so messy. But I haven’t told you the best part: Cabinda is swimming in oil, producing 700,000 barrels per day – 65% of Angola’s crude production comes from Cabinda’s “Block Zero” oil field. 90% of Angola’s state budget is provided by oil sales, and so it is no surprise that the government is keen to brutally suppress any idea of independence.

The largest player in Cabinda Oil is ChevronTexaco, who have a 39.2% share in production. Operating from behind barbed wire and armed guards in their Malongo Terminal base, it is unlikely that their American employees have any idea what is going on in Cabinda.

Rather than benefiting from this wealth though, the people of Cabinda continue to be oppressed. A 2006 report to the European Parliament spoke of “beatings, torture and disappearances,” whilst Human Rights Watch tell of military tribunals replacing civilian trials for any crimes considered to be related to state security.

And so, we arrive at the barbaric and indiscriminate shooting of machine gun fire into a bus filled with foreign footballers. This is absolutely indefensible, and an indication of how all-encompassing war can be.

What I will say, though, is that allowing Africans to benefit from the natural resources in their land would probably equate to less hostility. Rather than exploiting their mineral wealth and oppressing those who question the situation, local people and their representatives should be included in the decision-making processes of the oil industry.

If a fraction of the wealth being generated in Block Zero were filtered to the people of Cabinda, FLEC would simply disappear.

That’s probably what Alex Ferguson is thinking, anyway.

* Image from BBC Website.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Haye Rises To The Top

I managed to persuade Pam to part with £15 last night and we watched the World Heavyweight fight between brash cocky David Haye, and freakish ubermensch Nikolay Valuev.

The trade off was that I had to cook dinner – an immaculate stuffed mushroom in white wine sauce, thanks for asking – but the pressure was still on for Sky to deliver value for money on the arrangement.

As the show started, it seemed that most of the subscription money had gone into putting the crew into a series of ill-fitting dinner jackets. Uniformly dressed and adorned with ubiquitous poppies, the only hint of rebellion was commentator Ian Darke’s rakish red bow-tie, although the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact his chin was hanging preciptously across it.

After a bit of perfunctory hype, we went to the undercard.

First up was George Groves – a young man with the sort of old-fashioned name you'd expect to see on a cenotaph. This was clearly recorded earlier in the evening and both fans enjoyed watching the angry little ginger man knock a gormless Slav around the ring for eight rounds. He looked really fast, and could be an interesting one for the future.

We reverted to more pre-fight hype, and listened to Haye’s increasingly shrill protestations of superiority. He and his team all appearing on camera in Sky Box Office t-shirts and hats. Haye loves the game and is a promoter’s dream.

The voice of Valuev, although his words came through a translator, sounds like Slavic whalesong.
The pundits were split towards the big Russian. Nicky Piper, whose head is perfectly shperical – like a bewigged football – was convinced that Haye wouldn’t be able to get near Valuev. Glenn McCrory, whose Sunderland slur might be the result of a twenty year boxing career, or, you know, being from Sunderland, was equally sure that it would be a points voctory for the champion.

Only Johnny Nelson put his money on Haye. Nelson is surely the most earnest man in sport. He could read out his shopping list and you'd get your wallet out.

There is a pre-fight weight difference of seven stones between the two fighters – can that have ever happened before? The Nicaraguan World Minimumweight Champion, Roman Gonzalez only weighs seven and a half!

Next on the undercard was German Edmund Gerber vs New Yorker Shaun McClean. The commentary team struggled as they started. "They're both wearing black shorts. McClean has red trim and Gerber has silver." It would of course been a lot easier to say that the American was black, but apparently the shorts are the way to go.

When the main event was ready to go, they revealed the king of the ringmasters, Michael Buffer. Only the best for this show – if you don’t know boxing, you might not recognise Buffer’s name. But you would recognise his voice, particularly as he labours towards his catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!” I must admit this is getting a bit old now, but you can’t fight tradition.

Haye, with his freshly done corn rolls looking tight enough to slice baco, came out to, "Ain't no Stopping Us Now" and a cacophony of boos.

Next up was Valuev and, despite the fact I was expecting him to come out Darth Vader's theme, he actually had a live German metal band seranading him to the ring. With a normal human baseball cap perched on his gargantuan noggin, he led his oompa-lumpa trainer into the ring with some poor flunky holding up his belt, desparately trying to make himself seen.

Next were the respective National Anthems, and, although German fans wouldn't be so rude as to boo our anthem, our drunken fans managed to pay it ill respect by shouting it at the top of their voices. The Russian anthem seemed to bemuse everyone.

As we were watching this live, I had to suffer literally dozens of adverts. Since the advent of Sky Plus – a day we refer to in our house as “the arrival,” I don't normally watch adverts. In fact, this is probably the first thing I've watched live for three years.

The adverts were an object lesson into the demographic group into which I seemed to have been placed: poker websites, Carling, a ridiculous computer game that looked like a cross between Die Hard and Heartbreak Ridge with a hip hop soundtrack, and cars, and cars, and cars.

As they waited for the flunkeys to leave the ring, Haye pranced around the ring looking fabulous. Unusually for a Heavyweight, he looked cut with a scalpel – al muscle definition and casual physicality.

In contrast, Valuev stood motionless like a mountain of flesh. As the action started, I made notes at the end of each round and tried to call the round winner…

1. At the end of the first round, the oompa lumpa was eye to eye with Valuev on the stool. Very cagey. Too close to call.

2. This is not rivetting but Haye is being very disciplined. That's what's needed. Got gloves on the big man. Haye.

3. Chess in the ring. Caught him a couple of time. Haye.

4. Valuev is backing him into corners and cutitng him off. Haye's standoffish attitude won't impress the judges. Valuev.

5. Round to Valuev on account of a late combination that hurt Haye. Haye also landed a couple. He's done a lot more running around than Valuev. Valuev.

6. Haye caught him a canny left hook. It did nothing. Struggling to see how Haye can win this fight. KO seems unlikely and he's not done enough to win these rounds. Too close to call.

7. Valuev shook his head. Good sign. Can't see Haye winning this on pts. Needs a knockout. Rattled him for first time. Valuev.

8. Valuev is blowing and missing. Haye got a spring in his stride. Haye.

9. First clinch. Ref finally earned his money. Haye landed a couple. Valuev's face has marks. Haye's becoming more aggressive. Stamina's holding up. Haye.

10. More open. Haye dragging Valuev around. But as the fight opens up, Haye is opening himself up and getting caught. Valuev.

11. Coming together more but no-one is landing a good punch. Too close to call.

12. It all came alive in the last minute. Haye actually wobbled the big man. Why didn't he do that earlier? Haye.

I had Haye 5-4 with three rounds in the balance. I was not convinced he'd done enough, and Jim Watt in commentary was even more pessimistic. Haye, however, leapt onto the ropes, arms aloft and claiming the fight.

What the hell do we know, the judges gave a close majority verdict to Haye, with one judge calling it even, and the others scoring it 8-4 to Haye.

So he’s the World Heavyweight Champion and, in a world of massive Eastern Bloc stars, and no crdible American alternatives, he is going to be a massive star. The Americans will be all over him. He’s got the mouth and the personality to transform Heavyweight boxing and be the biggest name since Tyson. Until tonight there was still doubt over whether he had the talent to match the hype, but a disciplined performance showed he has more than one string to his bow.

Monday, 26 October 2009

What's Next For Blair?

The British political world is split down the middle as the rumours fly around Europe that former Prime Minister Tony Blair is to be nominated as the next Doctor Who.

The long-running family series has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years with Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant filling the title role.

Blair, 56, has struggled to find a role on the world stage since he left Downing Street in 2007. As Middle East envoy for the Quartet of America, Russia, the UN and the EU, he has struggled to make an impact on the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

It is thought that an announcement on any decision will be delayed until after the International Climate Conference in Copenhagen next month, although the other mooted candidates for the role, former French Presidential Candidate Segolene Royal, and former Full Monty star Mark Addy have privately distanced themselves. Friends of Addy last night told The Steam Engine, "Doctor Who is an institution for which Mark holds the utmost respect, but he doesn't feel the time is right for him to take on this responsibility at this time."

High on Blair's agenda will be the ongoing struggle to accommodate Billy Piper's increasingly tenuous character, whilst working to create stability after the Catherine Tate fiasco.

Tony Blair was today unavailable for comment.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Lovely Nando

What is going on with my mancrush on Fernando Torres? I did say I was taking a season away from football this year to focus on other projects, but he's like an addiction - a dirty, filthy, shameful addiction.

It doesn't help that the guy is just so damned good at playing football. Yesterday, he contributed a hat-trick to Liverpool's brutalising of Hull.

His first goal came from a sidestep that put two defenders on their bums, followed by a precise left-foot shot.

Next was a darting run onto a Benayoun through ball before taking the ball past Songko, cutting inside past keeper Myhill then resisting the close attention of two other defenders before calmly side-footing the ball home.

His third came from a powerful surging run into the box. Instead of slamming the ball at goal, he carefully took a moment to put Songko on his arse again before shooting through another defender's legs to complete his hat-trick.

Benitez took him off in short order to protect his star striker. Presumably the lovely Nando needs extra time in the changing room to administer his skin regime and wash his hair, so it was good of Benitez to accommodate him.

Liverpool ended up scoring three more so it's not true to say that they are a one man team - they have Steven Gerrard too. But I wouldn't touch him with yours.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Great Leveller

West Ham defender Calum Davenport this weekend released his first statement since the horrendous attack that left him in intensive care. His sister’s boyfriend stabbed him repeatedly in the legs leaving him bleeding and unconscious, with his football career in serious jeopardy.

After thanking fans for their messages of support, and then the medical staff who have helped his recovery, Davenport added, “I would also like to thank anyone who has ever donated blood, as you probably saved my life. I would like to encourage everyone to give blood.”

Davenport is a wealthy Premiership footballer with access to the best healthcare facilities money can buy. But all the money in the world is as nothing without blood.

Find out your nearest session at and give blood this week.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Belgian Grand Prix

After the streets of Valencia hosted their second Grand Prix, there was no time for respite before the gaggle moved up to a good old fashioned track with a great pedigree.

Spa-Francorchamps in the Ardennes Forest is a hilly and challenging course, with a deep ingrained sense of history. Many drivers past and present spent the weekend eulogising it as their favourite circuit, and the undulating Eau Rouge section taken at maximum speed was exciting enough to give the viewer an adrenalin rush, just from the on-board camera.

Former winner David Coulthard was wearing a very dapper jacket in the paddock whilst Jake indulged him, allowing him once again to reflect on past glories. The coverage was no more than four minutes old when Eddie Jordan was given his grumpy head to dismiss McLaren’s investment in computer strategy as a complete waste of time. “If you want to save money, get rid of them.”

Luca Badoer’s antics last week had led to a general feeling of pity from the rest of the Formula One world. In qualifying, he was ridiculed by the commentary team for taking his foot off the accelerator on his way up the Eau Rouge. He then secured what is becoming a customary twentieth spot on the grid before spinning off the track on his in-lap and smacking his rear end into the barriers.

The rumour is that Giancarlo Fisichella will be rescued from Force India and parachuted into the Ferrari team before the next race. If that’s true, then it’s a pretty strong indicator that Kimi Raikkonen is on his way out of the team at the end of this season, with Fisichella partnering the recovered Felipe Massa.

Fisichella was questioned before practice, but under lukewarm questioning from Jake and Eddie, he refused to confirm anything, although he was easily coaxed into saying that driving for Ferrari was a childhood dream.

As if to throw down the challenge to the Italian team, Fisichella finished top of the pile during qualifying. Force India have not threatened the front row all season but Fisi was inspired, and Ferrari will have taken note as they watched Badoer’s car being lifted from the track.

Like Valencia, the grid line-up was peculiar. Bearing very little resemblance to the World Championship standings, the first shock was the premature departure of both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. They qualified twelfth and fourteenth respectively. Spurning their opportunity to maximise, the Red Bull drivers also struggled, with Vettel and Webber qualifying eighth and ninth.

Behind Fisichella, the top slots were taken by other lesser lights of the paddock. Trulli’s Toyota was third, whilst BMW had a successful session with Heidfeld and Kubica finishing third and fifth. The only championship contender near the front was Rubens Barrichello who qualified fourth and would have slept well on Saturday night, confident that he would further eat into his team mate’s lead.

Since I rekindled my interest in F1 this year, I've remained puzzled about the various tyre choices available to the teams. It's evidently crucial to the relative performance of the cars, but my knowledge was poor.

As if directly addressing my confusion, David Coulthard voiced a charming little VT package underscored with some whimsical guitar music and punctuated by a sequence of computer generated tyres bouncing down the Spa track.
The relative merits were explained of the four different types of slicks, the intermediates and the wets. I now have a better knowledge, but am still mystified as to why it really needs to be so complex.

When we moved on to the grid walk, Martin Brundle seemed somehow subdued. Last week in Valencia, he had ostentatiously elbowed a female Australian journalist aside in his quest for an interview with Timo Glock. I suspect he had received a slapped wrist because he was much more restrained, although Trulli, Heidfeld and Barrichello all gave him some time. This despite the fact he was wearing a black leather jacket which I suspect he won during his time in sports cars in the early nineties.

As the race started, the first lap was a complete disaster for Brawn. Barrichello's anti-stall kicked in at the start line, with Raikkonen screaming past him. By the time they exited turn one, Barrichello was last, and Raikkonen was second, chasing Fisichella hard.

At turn four, with the traffic still very tight, Sebastian Grosjean bumped the back of Jenson Button, both spun off the track, and subsequently took out Lewis Hamilton and Jaime Alguersuari. With the World Champion and the Championship leader out of the race, the safety car came out and everyone took a breath.

As soon as the safety car pulled off, Raikkonen snatched the lead from Fisichella - his probable team mate in the next race – as Barrichello started a charge through the field, overtaking Raikkonen’s current team mate, the hapless Luca Badoer.

The pattern of the race at the front end remained fairly static with Raikkonen just ahead of Fisichella. The Force India gave the appearance of being faster than the Ferrari, but Raikkonen’s KERS meant that Fisi just couldn’t get past him. Eventually, the Finn won his first race since he last gave a damn, and Fisichella came in a couple of seconds behind him.

The smart money is on them being team mates by the time they line up for the next qualifying session at Monza in a fortnight.

Vettel managed to drag himself up to third place, but couldn’t overtake Rubens Barrichello for second place in the championship table. The Brazilian rescued seventh place and two valuable points from his disastrous start.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

European Grand Prix

One tiny muscle. The muscle that connects the skull to the top vertebra. Michael Schumacher damaged this muscle in February whilst testing a motorcycle. Although a relatively small component of his bionic body, this pull was enough to prevent him participating in Valencia.

In the press conference in which he announced his inability to take part, he was genuinely and visibly upset. “I am in one of my toughest moments I have faced in my career. For a moment, I felt like I was back alive. And now I have to cancel all this.” Heartbreaking really.

What’s more heartbreaking is that the poor sod had to go back to his day job, and spent the race showing Eric Clapton around the Ferrari garage.

Instead of Schumacher, Ferrari replaced the injured Felipe Massa with another old stager, Luca Badoer. He is a Ferrari test driver but actually retired from racing in 1999! He was obviously second choice, and he didn’t sound too optimistic about his prospects, making apologetic noises, and promising to do his best.

In the first qualifying session, Badoer finished twentieth, slower even than the Force India cars. There was some initial sympathy from Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle but no such kid gloves from David Coulthard, who described his performance as, “simply not good enough.”

After failing miserably, and finishing a second and a half behind Alguersuari in nineteenth, he seemed pretty resigned to his status as makeweight. He said that he was just aiming to finish the race.

On the track, the temperature was extremely high, with Eddie Jordan grumbling about it being hotter than Bahrain, but Jenson Button was dancing around in his ice vest. The Brawn problem had been all about grip, and we have been told for several races that hot temperatures are essential for the Brawn tyres to do a good job.

Sebastian Vettel had sustained an engine failure in Saturday morning practice, meaning that the Red Bull team were frantically replacing it as qualifying started. The rules say that a driver can only use eight engines throughout the season, and Vettel is now onto his sixth. I’m not entirely sure what happens if the eight engines are all used – I would imagine the young German has cut out the floor of the cockpit and run along in the manner of Fred Flintstone.

The qualification ended up as a triumph for McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton following up his win in Budapest with a pole position, and Heike Kovalainen joining him on the front row.

At the start of the race, the McLarens got away well and held the first two positions. Jenson Button had a disastrous first lap, dropping to eighth, whilst the best performer was Luca Badoer, who made up six places during lap one.

In the commentary box, there was a little revising of opinion on Badoer’s abilities, but he managed to spin off the track on lap three so Brundle could go back to canning him. In fairness to Badoer, he did manage to finish the Grand Prix, but not before he had a stop-start penalty for crossing the white line exiting the pits, overshot another corner, and being lapped.

At the front, Lewis Hamilton took off from the front of the grid, and Kovalainen managed to keep Barrichello at bay. At the first round of pit stops, Barrichello leapfrogged into second place, and attacked Hamilton hard. Getting to within four seconds before the second round of stops, the McLaren team virtually handed the race to Barrichello by fumbling the stop. As Hamilton came to a halt, the mechanics didn’t have the tyres ready. Scrambling them out of the garage and out of their covers, the mechanics slowly replaced the tyres as Hamilton sat watching the race disappear.

After his corresponding stop, Barrichello came out four seconds ahead of Hamilton, and didn’t look back. Having threatened all season to win a race, he finally claimed his first Grand Prix victory since China 2004.

Ross Brawn had repeatedly said that conditions would suit the Brawn cars, and that made it even more of a shame that Jenson Button did so badly. Having made a poor start, he spent most of the 57 laps staring at the back of Mark Webber’s car, unable to get past, and only got ahead after the second round of pit stops. By that time, he was way off the pace, and could only finish seventh.

Kimi Raikkonen, whose mid-season rallying adventure ended with his car rolling into a Finnish ditch, came in third, conspicuously ahead of his aged team mate Badoer.

Sebastian Vettel was seriously let down this weekend by his equipment. Having lost an engine in practice, he dropped out of contention when his first pit stop had to be repeated due to a faulty fuel nozzle. Racing outside the top ten as a result, his race finished in a puff of blue smoke as yet another engine failed.

With Webber finishing ninth, it was a puzzling day for all the top title contenders. Barrichello’s win, coupled with the abject failure of his team mate and their rivals, puts him right back into contention.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Have a Coke, Have a Smile

Tonight, I had to begin my acclimatisation. As the first league game of the season kicked off on Sky Sports, I had to finally accept the fact that I support a club that is in the Coca Cola Championship. I’m a Newcastle fan, and Pam is a Middlesbrough fan, so as you can imagine last May was a fun time in our household as we both had to come to terms with the fact our teams were hopeless.

The fact that I had put a fiver on Boro to go down at 16-1 at the start of the season was scant consolation as I watched the burning wreckage of Newcastle follow them down on the final day of the season.

The big Championship kick off is tomorrow afternoon but Sky never knowingly accept an existing schedule and have pulled the Middlesbrough – Sheffield United tie forward a day in order to boost their Friday evening ratings. It’s nothing new for Sky to be showing Friday evening Championship games, but it is new to me.

Having become used to, and comfortable with, the Sky Sports mega-hype that surrounds even the most meaningless Premiership tie, I was a bit disappointed that Andy Gray couldn’t even be bothered to turn up. Presumably he’s still on holiday with Richard Keys, topping up the tan and reading his Rothmans.

Instead, we were welcomed to the 2009-10 season by some anonymous Sky Sports Newsreader over the theme tune of “You’ve Got The Love” by Candi Staton. Tragically, he was joined on the gantry by Championship standard “experts” Neil Warnock, Kevin Phillips and Peter Beagrie. Peter Beagrie! Imagine being in a league so crap that Peter Beagrie is considered an adequate pundit.

Neil Warnock is a pleasingly objectionable presence on any panel, but Kevin Phillips (depressingly, once again a Premiership striker this season) is possibly the most boring man in football. His voice is very similar to that of David Beckham, but he makes Becks look more flamboyant than The Great Soprendo. There was a point at half time where he launched into a soliloquy about Leroy Lita’s pace, and I actually lapsed into a coma. I only came round when Pam tried to steal my beer. Beagrie is actually the definition of the perfect Sky pundit – he only talks in tabloid headlines, tonight for example he constantly referred to the away team as “Sheff Yoo”

A pre-recorded interview with Boro manager Gareth Southgate before the match was unnerving in its intensity. It was a couple of minutes before I realised why. He was talking direct to camera rather than to the usual off-camera interviewer. Have Sky cut back by getting rid of Geoff Shreeves and implementing a Diary Room style interview?

Perhaps Southgate insists on this as part of his contract with the club. He does have a big nose but it is a bit self-conscious of him demanding to be filmed exclusively from this head-on angle

As the game started, Southgate emerged pitchside in his Italian suit and club tie, but the Sheffield United manager, Kevin Blackwell, in his cheap nylon Blades training top, was almost taunting him. This is how we do it down here, Pinocchio.

As the action progressed, commentated on by some bloke called Bill Leslie, ably assisted by Don Goodman, the attention inevitably strayed to the Premiership. Cutting away to the lurking figure of Martin O’Neill in the stands, there was much speculation over which players he had come to see. With the transfer window still yawning, and any half-decent players still vulnerable to poaching, it is going to be a very long season.

Friday, 31 July 2009

The Return of The King

I’ve been blogging on Formula One throughout the season this year. Having come back to F1 after an absence of ten or fifteen years, I’ve enjoyed the racing a great deal. Although it’s fair to say I’ve probably enjoyed the BBC’s coverage just as much. I mock Jake, DC and Eddie, and I ridicule Brundle because I think it’s pretty funny. But secretly, I like what they do.

Mostly though, this year has been a voyage of discovery into the labyrinthine politics and behind-the-scenes shenanigans. It’s this that has kept me fascinated me throughout the last few months.

I had made a formatting decision early on that I would only blog on the subject during Grand Prix weekends, folding in any appropriate fun and games that had happened since the last race, and summarising them neatly before moving on to the day’s events. Unfortunately, it was getting to the point that I would take up my laptop to describe a qualifying session, and knock out a thousand words on Max Mosley and KERS before they’d even started their engines.

So this week I am faced with the problem that there is just so much going on in the world of Formula One, and there are three and a half weeks till the next race. With poor old Felipe Massa still in intensive care, and BMW on their bike, I was already making notes for the next race weekend.

This week though, I simply have to break with my self-imposed tradition and write about the news early. This week, Michael Schumacher came out of retirement.

Firstly, let’s talk about Felipe Massa. After his brush with Rubens Barrichello’s rear suspension last week, he is now out of intensive care and, in the long tradition of medical bulletins, he is reported to be “cracking jokes.” Despite his improving condition, he is to remain in Budapest for the time being. His Brazilian doctor Dino Altmann said that Massa “looks like a boxer,” but the fact the doctor is flying out of Hungary today indicates that Massa is out of danger.

So, with Massa in one piece but unlikely to make the grid for Valencia in three weeks’ time, Ferrari needed a short term replacement to drive their car. I imagine the board meeting where they discussed this was very interesting. Chief engineers and team managers all scratching their heads and tossing around the names of test drivers. In the corner is the glowering “technical adviser,” still very much on the payroll. He coughs gently and silence falls. All heads turn to him.

“Gentlemen. If I might make a suggestion…”

So Schumi is back behind the wheel. The world is sitting up and taking notice. Will he still have it? Will he be struggle with the technology which has advanced so much while he has been away? He probably doesn’t even know what KERS stands for. Actually, nobody else does either.

Is this a step too far for an old champion? He is almost universally acknowledged as the best driver to ever sit in a Formula One car, but I suppose four years in the paddock has to make even the best rusty.

It’s not as dangerous as in boxing – seeing Evander Holyfield coming out of retirement again to take on the enormous Nikolay Valuev was not just sad, but also dangerous. Fortunately, the seven foot monster is a hapless gorilla rather than a boxer, so Holyfield survived to start his latest retirement.

Although F1 is a lot safer these days, Massa’s accident, and Alonso’s flying tyre in Budapest have proved that it is still a contact sport. You have to feel that Schumacher will be okay though – he is so icy cool that he’ll probably end up winning the bloody race.

In the back of my mind, there is the concern that he is pretty much the reason I stopped watching F1 all those years ago. However, it was not him so much as his uncompromising domination of the sport. Even if he were to return to that metronomic form for the next couple of races, it can only ever be a temporary aberration to the status quo, and so I’ve got to appreciate the drama.

Whilst on the subject of Fernando Alonso’s missing wheel, the Renault team have been suspended from the European Grand Prix as a punishment for allowing him out of the pits without securing his the wheel-nut. They are appealing, and the likelihood is they’ll end up with a fine or a points deduction.

Still, a hefty Bridgestone bouncing down the track at 100mph is no laughing matter and there ought to be a significant punishment, although in my heart of hearts, I feel sorry for the poor mechanic who missed his mark and didn’t quite get his spanner in place.

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Felipe Massa’s Accident – The Hungarian Grand Prix, 26th July 2009

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Athletic Endeavour

In my recent fevered state, I’ve been doing a lot of laying on the sofa with a blanket pulled up to my nose. Barely able to move my calcified limbs, I have harnessed the power of Sky Plus, and spent most of the day watching sport.

I’ve been closely following the World Swimming Championships, and the heated debate over polyurethane outfits – good for breaking world records, bad for grumpy old former world record holders in the studio. So bored have I been, that I have sat through the interminable morning heats. In, say, the Men’s 200m Freestyle, there are thirteen heats, the last three of which are seeded, meaning that, in practical terms, the qualifiers will come exclusively from those heats. The ten previous heats, therefore, are almost laughable. Until you have seen the national champions of Mauritius and Burkina Faso go head to head, you have not know futility.

More interesting, though, was the athletics from Monaco on Eurosport last night. As with any sporting event in the principality, there were frequent shots of the royal family enjoying the action from their gilded box; and the more recent phenomenon of Jenson Button’s dad. The F1 driver lives in Monte Carlo so had turned up to watch a bit of real sport, and right beside him, there was his ubiquitous old man, revelling in the usual permatan and pink shirt – untucked and unbuttoned to the navel.

Eurosport’s coverage of just about anything is woefully amateurish when compared to that of the better-funded broadcasters, but they often cover events that even Sky wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. For example, they are the only place to go for swimming heats, any cycling event that is not the Olympics, or North American Timbersports (seriously, don’t knock it till you’ve seen it.) However, it was a surprise that they were the only network that could be bothered to cover a major Athletics Grand Prix meeting.

The Eurosport modus operandi is to carry live feed from a host broadcaster, and to grab two relatively sober and articulate people from each country, put them in a booth in their respective homeland, and ask them to commentate on what they are seeing. The result can sometimes be ham fisted when you realise that the commentators has no additional information to you the viewer, and is basically watching the same feed that you are.

Their amateurish state was best summed up during the Tour de France, when viewers were invited to email the commentary team. The email address given out was something like I can imagine one of the commentary lads getting on Yahoo and setting it up for themselves that morning, rather than having anything as professional as a domain name.

Back to athletics, and one of the advantages of Eurosport is that, because they don’t have any presenters on-site, they actually cover the field events. This may sound silly but think about the last BBC-covered athletics meeting you saw. After each race they cut back up to the stands to listen to what that grinning gobshite Colin Jackson has to say about it, then cut to a pre-recorded interview with yet another British contender. Only when the next race is about to go do they cut back to the action.

On Eurosport they don’t have that dubious luxury, and so the cameras stay on the field events. If you’ve ever attended an athletics meeting in the flesh, you’ll know that there is always something going on in the arena. I went to last year’s Olympic Trials and had a great time, even without Brendan Foster mispronouncing names and bemoaning the state of British men’s middle distance running.

So, from Monaco, I enjoyed the men’s Pole Vault and a spectacular women’s High Jump. Neither event would have been carried live by the BBC, because neither involved a British person. The High Jump in particular was a high quality head to head between Blanka Vlasic and Ariane Friedrich.

Vlasic is a kind of weird-looking Amazon of a woman, but really knows how to play a crowd, and can jump over a plastic bar better than anybody else. Believe it or not, I used to be quite the high jumper in my youth – I was a sixteen-year-old North of England Schools Champion as it happens.

I know you are probably thinking I’m a bit short and stocky (alright, fat) to be much of a high jumper, and you’d be right, if a little insensitive. But I reached the full majesty of my five foot nine at an early age and, for a few all too brief pubescent years, towered above my contemporaries. Also, my relationship with the pie and the pint were not as abusive back then, so my slender build remained.

Actually, what I am thinking right now, is that I can’t believe I’ve written over 160 blogs and not yet managed to brag about my schoolboy athletics medals.

I eventually gave up the High Jump as I found it to be too much of an existential challenge. After all, there may be something inspirational about continually raising the bar, challenging yourself even further with every leap. But even when I won competitions, the bar would be inexorably raised to a point beyond my ability. Every competition therefore ended in failure. Three times.

I started to lose interest in the element of competition, the other jumpers were of no consequence to me, only the inevitable failure that would signify the end of my event, and the limit of my endeavour. No matter how successful I was in the early rounds, the end loomed, hanging over me and weighing me down.

I don’t know. Maybe I was reading too much into it. But I was an odd kid.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Hapless Footballers Number 3 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

This week, Barcelona completed their protracted purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Internazionale. The extraordinary cost of getting their man was £40m cash, Samuel Eto’o, and a year’s loan of Alex Hleb, after which time they have an £8.6m purchase option.

This is an enormous amount to pay for a man who I have never ever seen have a good game. I should clarify here, I am not really arguing that Ibrahimovic is rubbish – he can’t be – but that in my admittedly limited experience, he is all mouth and no boots.

There is a serious point here because although I will freely admit I’m hardly a connoisseur of Serie A games, where Ibrahimovic appears to excel, I do watch a lot of Champions’ League football. In the last five or six years, I have not once seen him do anything of any note. Is it then appropriate to tar him with the same brush that so often used to stick to his new Barca teammate Thierry Henry? That he is not a “big game player.”

Ibrahimovic had been in Italy since 2004, when he moved to Juventus. He had two seasons there which, at least initially, brought two league titles. When the Calciopoli bribery scandal came to light, Juve were stripped of their last two titles and relegated to the second division. Zlatan jumped ship and moved to Internazionale, recently crowned champions by default.

In his three years at Inter, he has won three titles, was named Footballer of the Year in 2008, and he won the Italian Golden Loafer last season. So Ibrahimovic is clearly not complete knickers – Roberto Mancini, Jose Mourinho, and now Pep Guardiola have placed him at the spearhead of their attacks.

However, Eto’o was also top domestic scorer last year in a much better league, and has consistently been the most successful centre-forward in Spain for the last six or seven years. It is extraordinary that Barca not only rate Ibrahimovic as better than Eto’o, but £40m better.

Eto’o only had one year remaining on his contract, and has agitated for a move previously, so perhaps Barca were happy to cut their losses and move on to a new pivot for their incomparable attack. Not averse to the self-eulogy, Eto’o said, “I made history at Barcelona but that chapter is over.”

Ibrahimovic also has a legendary self-regard. This is no bad thing, as Eric Cantona proved. You have to admire a man who once said in a post-match interview, “there is only one Zlatan.”

He is very popular in Sweden, and well regarded in Italy, but his admirers appear to be restricted to these countries (and Barcelona). If he can prove his class in Spain, I’ll gladly eat my words, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s hapless.

Related Articles:
Hapless Footballers
2. Dimitar Berbatov. 28th May 2009
1. Nicklas Bendtner. 8th May 2009

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Hungarian Grand Prix

Twenty four hours after qualifying, the grid was a little preoccupied with Felipe Massa’s injury. As the session finished yesterday, I was under the impression he was just a little shaken, but in truth, the outcome was worse than first thought. It was, however, far far better than it could have been.

As the drivers assembled on the grid, Massa was still in Intensive Care at a local hospital. The spring which fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car had hit Massa’s helmet above the left eye at around 120mph. The helmet stayed intact but the visor crumbled and Massa had a cut above his left eye, “bone damage” to the skull, and “brain concussion.”

With that in mind, there was a slightly sober feel to the grid as the party started. For his grid walk, Martin Brundle had Eddie Jordan alongside him. The dynamic didn’t really work as Jordan was far too busy talking to ask any questions. Brundle eventually gave up being polite and walked off, microphone in hand, leaving Jordan trailing behind him, still talking.

At the end of yesterday’s qualifying session, Massa’s accident had distracted from the fact that the timing system had gone down leading to the drivers scratching their heads and exchanging times to establish the pecking order. By the time the official results were announced, Mark Webber had to be pulled out of the shower to attend a press conference.

Speaking of Webber, after his first Grand Prix victory in Germany last time, the BBC had pre-recorded a film which featured Jake Humphrey cycling in the woods with Mark Webber. Bearing in mind that this is how he smashed up his leg over the winter, the beeb were taking a bit of a risk. I had visions of Humphrey ploughing into Webber’s bike and taking them both over a precipice. If it happened, they cut it out.

With the grid having such a diverse range of cars at the front, the start was crucial, and Alonso followed up his victory in qualifying with a terrific start. Behind him, though, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton battled through the first two corners to take up the chase. Sebastian Vettel, sitting on the front row on the grid, was seventh after the first two turns – a poor start followed by a bump in the crowd from Raikkonen on the first corner.

After a very fast first few laps, the lighter Alonso started to lose pace. Lewis Hamilton, who had overtaken Webber to seize second, was scorching towards him. On a short strategy, Alonso came in before Hamilton could catch him. Unfortunately, replays showed that the hapless mechanic on the right front tyre had not properly tightened the wheelnut. As Alonso went out, his wheel already looked wobbly, and within a minute, his tyre was bouncing off down the track.

A few laps later, Vettel seemed to suffer a similar problem to Barrichello’s in qualifying, something in his rear suspension failing. Afterwards, he would blame it on the bump from Raikkonen at the start. Whatever caused it, a pit stop failed to put it right and, within twenty laps, the two front row starters were out of the race.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton had snatched the lead after Alonso’s retirement and held it firmly. His first grand prix win since last year demonstrated that the changes McLaren made to their car had been very effective. The near-hysterical clip of his reaction on the in-car radio said everything about how pleased he was.

It was unexpected but it was no fluke. He was consistently the fastest driver on the course, the pit-stops worked perfectly, and he was never under any pressure.

Likewise, Brawn’s deteriorating performance can no longer be put down to misfortune. He may be leading the Championship, but Jenson Button only finished seventh, and Rubens Barrichello scuttled in tenth. It worked in their favour today that Hamilton and Raikkonen as it kept Mark Webber in third. The threat from Red Bull is very real and, with seven races still to go, this championship is far from over.

Related Articles:
Qualifying – Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying, 25th July 2009.
Last Grand Prix – German Grand Prix, 12th July 2009.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying

There was a peculiar choice of features from the BBC before qualifying as they first devoted an extraordinary amount of airtime to Jarno Trulli’s charity, then showed us what looked like an expensively made film from Finland.

Trulli’s noble endeavour to raise money for the victims of the horrendous earthquake in his home region of Abruzzo is worthy of praise, and he has clearly been doing some great work to raise funds, and bring hope to the people still living in tented villages. However, the fifteen minute feature seemed a little excessive – I wonder how hard he had to lobby the BBC to get that sort of exposure.

Next up was a film showing Heike Kovalainen riding his skidoo across the snowy wastes of his native Finland. Then we cut to a Nordic log cabin and Jonathan Legard interviewing the driver around a wood fire. It all seemed a little over the top to discover that the young fella was committed to winning and focused on one race at a time.

As we returned to Hungary, where there’s a race happening this weekend, the team were in the Red Bull garage. David Coulthard has clearly been taking lessons from Martin Brundle, and took a microphone around the garage, poking it under the noses of the startled backroom team.

Of course, he was driving for that team less than a year ago, and he is still on the Red Bull payroll as a consultant – whatever that means – so he has amazing access. Still it was odd that, ten minutes before the first qualifying session started, the team were happy for him to wander around distracting him.

The Hungaroring near Budapest was described this week by Murray Walker as “Monaco without the houses.” This is an elegant way of saying it’s bloody impossible to overtake, thus making qualifying more crucial than usual.

In the first qualifying session, the cars danced around the track like Kovalainen skidoo on a frozen lake. Grip was clearly an issue and several drivers found themselves going wide on corners.

Since the last race, Torro Rosso carried through on their threat to sack Sebastian Bourdais, bringing in nineteen-year-old Jaime Alguersuari. Extraordinarily, due to the ban on in-season testing, he had never driven a Formula One car before today. The other drivers muttered that it was unsafe to have him thrown straight into a Grand Prix. I suspect they are just bitter at Alguersuari’s direct route to success – like veteran stand-up comics slogging off young comedians with a Channel 4 series because they haven’t “played the clubs.”

Torro Rosso get their new boy out early so he could drive himself into some kind of comfort. Unfortunately, he was tracking only eighteenth in qualifying when he went out for a second run. Moments later, the car was rolling to a halt with an apparent mechanical fault, bringing out the yellow flag, and condemning Alguersuari to the back row in his first Grand Prix – about the same as Bourdais. But I’m sure he’ll improve.

Incidentally, poor old Bourdais is taking legal action against the team for firing him. I don’t envy him a court case where his former employers try to legally prove he is incompetent. That’s not going to be a fun few days is it?

The whispers gathering around the Renault team was that Nelson Piquet could be next to get the boot. This weekend, he has been given all the upgrades that his teammate Fernando Alonso has had for several races, but the implied arrangement was that he needed to use them to perform or he would be out.

He came storming through the first session, out-qualifying Alonso and finishing fifth. However, in the second session, normal service was resumed, Piquet finishing fifteenth, where he will start the race. Flavio Briatore, his team boss, has previously fired drivers mid-season, and Piquet will need a great race tomorrow if he wants to avoid signing on next week.

With the last couple of races seeing Red Bull overhauling Brawn’s early-season supremacy, there was a school of thought before this weekend that the higher temperatures in Hungary would lead to Brawn restoring their dominance. However, the evidence of qualifying disproved that notion.

Neither Brawn driver looked particularly comfortable and Rubens Barrichello actually failed to make it into the final qualifying session.

It has been a difficult fortnight for Rubens. After a frustrating race in Germany, where team tactics arguably cost him several places, he reacted angrily (and very publicly) straight after the race. Still in his race gear, and with the anger evident on his face, he told reporters, “It was a good show from the team of how to lose a race. I did all I had to do, I was first to the first corner. They made me lose it.”

Since then, he has apologised to Ross Brawn and the rest of the team, but he is clearly not a man in the zone. As today’s qualifying showed, the difference between success and failure is measured in tenths of a second – if Barrichello is not 100% settled, then his performance will suffer.

There was an ominous period in between the second and third qualifying sessions, as the second had been effectively ended by the yellow flag which followed Felipe Massa driving his car directly into the tyre wall.

He appeared to have driven directly off the track and into the wall with no effort to turn his wheel. The speculation on potential car problems was wild, but the mystery began to unfold when Barrichello came out and explained his lack of performance in Q2 by saying that his rear suspension had felt odd and he had lost grip.

Replays showed that a small metal tube had fallen away from Barrichello’s car, thus slowing him down, but had then bounced up and struck Massa on the side of the helmet, knocking him senseless for a few moments, during which time he left the tarmac and came to an abrupt halt in the tyres.

Massa took no further part in qualifying but, by the end of the session, reports suggested he was nothing worse than shaken up. With him relegated to tenth, and Barrichello even further back, the results of qualifying gave us a diverse grid.

On the front row, Fernando Alonso put the boot into Piquet by winning his first pole since he was world champion. Red Bull maintained their presence at the front with Vettel in second, and Webber in third. Lewis Hamilton recorded his best qualifying position of the season with a fourth place start, and poor old Jenson Button was seventh.

Related Articles:
Last Race – German Grand Prix. 12th July 2009
Last Qualifying – German Grand Prix Qualifying. 11th July 2009

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Stubbs Out

The biggest transfer news of the Summer so far emerged this week when the BBC revealed that third string presenter Ray Stubbs would defect to ESPN Sports.

ESPN have taken over the games for which Setanta held the rights until they imploded last month, and, although they have decades of experience in broadcasting Baseball, American Football and Dodgeball, they are pretty new to Unamerican Football, and so will need to build a team from scratch. Who better to lead it than Stubbsy?

Stubbs has been at the BBC for as long as I can remember and has always filled the gaps left by the holidays and absences of more accomplished presenters. When Gary Lineker takes the week off to go to The Masters every year, Stubbsy gets the call, stepping effortlessly into the Lineker loafers and prompting the Alans to mouth their platitudes.

Being a scouser, he first came on the scene during the Lynam / Rider days when a regional accent invariably exiled a young reporter to Burnden Park or Gigg Lane. When Lineker stepped straight off the pitch and ahead of Stubbs in the pecking order, a lesser man would have walked away for the riches of Sky, but Stubbs persevered.

As the BBC has changed its attitude to those accents in their presenters, Stubbsy was once again bypassed as Brummie Adrian Chiles got the Sunday night MOTD2 gig.

Finally, the advent of the red button lent our man a regular gig in the shape of Score – the BBC’s woefully inferior comparison to Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday. Stubbsy does his best but to go up against the peerless Jeff Stelling is always going to be a thankless task. And the best broadcaster in the world would struggle to wring charismatic chat from Lee Dixon and Garth Crooks.

When Setanta launched its Premiership coverage two years ago, their dream team of Steve McManaman, Les Ferdinand and Tim Sherwood was the stuff of dreams – prompting literally hundreds of fans to sign up to their service.

ESPN have laid their cards firmly on the table with their choice of Stubbs as front man. As they assemble the rest of their team, expect fireworks – Chris Waddle as chief Alan? Graeme Le Saux as pitchside reporter? First division all the way, and not in a good way.

Related Articles:
Collapse of Setanta – Don’t Mess With Murdoch. 10th June 2009

In The City

After the Kaka shambles in January, you would think that Manchester City would have learned a lesson and been a little lower profile about their transfer activity this year. So far this Summer, however, City have spent several weeks making headlines by being linked with an increasingly preposterous roster of players from across Europe before settling for Premiership stars slightly below the top rank who have followed Robinho to Eastlands, universally claiming that they are excited by “the project.”

In all seriousness, if one of them was just honest with the fans, and said, “Bloody hell, they have offered me double salary, I’d be a fool not to go for it!” I’m sure they’d be respected for it.

To give City’s Arab overlords their due, they have been as good as their word and kept Mark Hughes in the manager’s job. Last season was not an overwhelming success and, despite their protestations that Hughes had not been given a specific target, the money spent last Summer would suggest they were expecting more than a tenth place finish.

Hughes it is, though, who has been given another Summer to spend reckless amounts of money in assembling a squad list to rival the top European clubs.

Last Summer, as Robinho joined Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Jo in Manchester, there were whispers that Hughes was not signing the players at all. The theory was that the owners had engaged agents to sweep up the available European talent, and that Hughes was largely unaware of the activity until he showed up to shake hands at the press conference.

I suspect this is a gross overstatement of the reality, and that Hughes was consulted before agents were employed. The idea that Hughes is some bumbling, old-fashioned sheepskin wearing boss, and simply could never have heard of a player like Jo is just insulting.

The January 2009 transfer window betrayed the grip that Mark Hughes had on transfer policy with the two biggest names – Craig Bellamy and Shay Given – indisputably Hughes purchases.

This Summer had started with a similar focus on workmanlike “Hughes players.” The first two signings were Stuart Taylor, signed from Villa as back up for Given, and Roque Santa Cruz – a long time Hughes favourite from his old club Blackburn. To be honest, Santa Cruz is one of those players that I’ve never really seen have a good game, but Hughes knows him better than I do, and has spent over a year trying to sign him, so he can’t be terrible.

Since then, there have been three big name signings, each of them poached from one of our four perennial Champions’ League contenders, and each of them a further statement of intent that, this year, City will be serious contenders.

Firstly was Gareth Barry, signed from Villa but taken from under the nose of Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez, who had been tracking Barry like a bloodhound for two years. Last Summer, Barry had been all but wearing the Liverpool kit until Villa manager Martin O’Neill persuaded him to give Villa another year.

Villa fans of my acquaintance were pleased to see him finally go after all the speculation, but Barry was almost universally condemned as a mercenary in the press.

Next signing through the door was the controversial Carlos Tevez. After his ill-fated spell at West Ham, where his goals kept them in the Premiership but condemned them to years of abuse and litigation after it emerged they had broken Premiership rules by illegally loaning him from Kia Joorabchian’s company, he moved to Manchester United where, in his first season he became a terrace hero, but was then edged out by Alex Ferguson’s inexplicable signing of the hapless Dimitar Berbatov.

This Summer, as Tevez and Manchester United’s complex financial arrangement came to a close, Ferguson was offered first refusal on signing him permanently for £25m. Unfortunately, bewitched by Berbatov’s Slavic eyes and lustrous hair, he refused, and Manchester City have stepped it to offer Tevez a club which will allow him to live in the same cloistered community of pampered footballers, keep his daughter at the same school, and probably give him a better run in the first team.

Finally this week, there was the somewhat surprising signing of Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor has scored a lot of goals for Arsenal, but the general feeling among their fans is that he has been lacking commitment since he was denied a move to Milan last Summer. Rather like Barry, he has left his old club under something of a cloud, and will be very curious to see whether he will recapture his form of 2007-08 for City.

Worryingly for Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger has made his usual complacent noises at losing one of his top players, saying, “Big clubs lose players. Arsenal have always lost players and continued at the top level.” His insistence that his squad could cope will be worrying for Arsenal fans, who would rather hear about a quality replacement to help them shore up their position in the big four. Of all the top clubs nervously looking over their shoulders at Mark Hughes’ new squad, Arsenal should be most anxious.

We will now see what happens next for City. Last Summer, Robinho was signed with approximately thirty seconds left of the transfer window so, with six weeks to go till the end of this Summer’s sales, don’t be surprised if they buy again.

The other interesting question will be how long Hughes is given if the new season doesn’t start as well as they hope. After last season, the owners really backed Hughes where many more jittery boards would have thrown him overboard for a bigger name. That is to their credit but, if Hughes can’t convert this investment into a consistently high league position, he may well be replaced.

Related Articles:
28th My 2009 – Hapless Footballers Number 2 – Dimitar Berbatov