England 3 – 2 Scotland: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #3

Rickie Lambert, pictured here with giant tracksuited owl behind him. (Photo: Telegraph)

Rickie Lambert, pictured here with giant tracksuited owl behind him. (Photo: Telegraph)

Alan Partridge would describe this as a ruddy good football match. Thankfully for both you (the reader) and I (me), I’m not Alan Partridge, so I will have to spend the next 5 paragraphs describing this match without recourse to the word ‘ruddy’. Partridge aside, this was a bloody good football match and arguably the most entertaining friendly England have played in a long time. Much of the match was defined less by England than by their Scottish opponents who gave a seriously pugilistic account of themselves here at Wembley. In fact, I’d written a long and elegiac match report about just how great Scotland were.

Then Rickie Lambert went all Roy of the Rovers on me.

Rickie Lambert scored his first goal, a powerfully directed header, for England yesterday with his first touch after coming on as a second half-substitute for Wayne Rooney. Rickie Lambert is 31 and not long ago had a job screwing lids on the top of jars of beetroot.

“I couldn’t get a club anywhere, I was training at Macclesfield without a contract and I didn’t have any money so I had to had to earn some by (working in) a factory. It was a beetroot factory. I don’t even like beetroot!” – Lambert

Now he is winning matches for England. Stories like Lambert’s are why football is the most popular sport in the world. Now before I get even more sentimental lets talk about Scotland, a country which is pretty difficult to get sentimental about unless you are noted ham actor and fascist, Mel ‘FREEEEEDOM’ Gibson.

International friendlies are usually an exercise in pointless corporate bullshit and incredibly boring football. The clear animosity felt by Scotland and their fans towards the English lifted this encounter into a far less dismal realm.

Manager Gordon Strachan who on the night looked like a cross between Boris Becker’s nan, a glazed ham and a giant walking wasp sting, has reinvigorated Scotland since he took the team over in January and this progression was clearly shown against England. Captain Scott Brown was a study in ferocity, bald and snapping like a turbo-charged turtle alongside his more cultured midfield partner James Morrison. Both were particularly dynamic and assertive in the opening half-hour, when Scotland had their best period in the game.

Joe Hart, clad in an embarrassing kit that made him look like an irradiated banana, was almost entirely at fault for Scotland’s first goal. It has to be worrying for both England and Manchester City that high-profile mistakes are becoming increasingly common for Hart. The aforementioned Morrison received a clearance from a Scottish corner and with Theo Walcott failing to even flail in the way of him, took a fairly straightforward shot from the edge of the box, straight in the direction of Hart who had to fuck up spectacularly in order to allow the ball past him and into the net. Which is exactly what he did.

The 20,000 Scots in Wembley duly went completely batshit, fuelled not only by the joy of taking the lead against the hated English but by an afternoon well spent doing this to Trafalgar Square:

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Furthermore those 20,000 Jocks present yesterday managed to unequivocally shut that shite brass band up for most of the match – I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of all right thinking English football fans everywhere for this unassuming service.

England started poorly and looked toothless, unable to make use of some intelligent running from Theo Walcott or Jack Wilshere’s ability to turn and beat players in tight spaces. Instead they relied on the rapidly calcifying Steven Gerrard to spray and wedge pointless sideways passes to Kyle Walker or Leighton Baines in areas where neither was able to threaten Scotland.

Gerrard might have his uses as a leader and a deliverer of lavish set-pieces but the fact he was made to look so unauthoritative by Scotland’s midfield may give Roy Hodgson doubts about whether Gerrard ought to automatically start for England should they qualify for next year’s World Cup.

England’s Lazarus act began in the 26th minute when a neat exchange between Rooney and Tom Cleverley fashioned a first proper chance for the home side. Moments later it was Cleverley’s supple pass that put Walcott in behind Steven Whittaker and despite a dodgy succession of touches, the Arsenal forward was able to finish smartly past McGregor.

England’s leveler was an injunction that ignited Rooney’s interest in the game, after he spent most of the opening half hour looking as angry as an old man who’s golfing holiday had been interrupted by his teenage daughter’s unplanned pregnancy. A clever interchange with Welbeck led to a shot that almost crept past McGregor, and a dubious offside decision late in the first half prevented him from scoring his 9th goal in his last 10 England appearances.

Kenny Miller’s turn and surging dispatchment gave Scotland the lead and hope of a profound victory in the second half; a goal notable for the dummy Miller sold Gary Cahill, a dummy that the Chelsea centre-half bought so thoroughly that he probably didn’t even ask for a receipt.

England were roused by this affront, like some great cantankerous sea beast brushed by a school of fish. The response was swift – Welbeck heading a classy Gerrard free kick into the net within five minutes of Miller scoring. England continued to clank through the gears, threatened occasionally by the running of Naismith and Miller, until Lambert got his improbable debut goal twenty minutes before the end to give England a tenuous win.

Promising for the Gordon Stachan’s men; Roy Hodgson will be hoping that his side can improve before the crucial World Cup qualifiers they face before the end of the year.

Manchester United 2 – 0 Wigan Athletic: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #2

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There are very few photos in existence that show the new chairman of The Football Association, Greg Dyke, looking this happy.

 

These big showpiece FA events are about as much fun as watching a ‘classic’ (e.g. a repeat) edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and generally about as memorable as the last thing Justin Bieber tweeted (incidentally his last tweet was this: “WE ON A BREAK!! #restandrelaxation – #unlessIhitthestudio” – I’m sure historians everywhere will be scrabbling to note that down for posterity). 

Today’s Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium wasn’t much of an exception. A few old guys (who on this occasion looked a bit like the Chuckle Brothers) shuffle past the players offering weak handshakes, presumably just before being ushered to a euthanasia booth somewhere. Then the national anthem (that po-faced hymnal to our pointless monarchy) is sung, not by the fans, but by some opera singer who thinks she’s at the Super Bowl. If you happen to be on Twitter when one of these things starts brace yourself for the only actual legacy of the Olympics: a barrage of somnolent “jokes” about when Emeli Sandé will turn up to belt out that bloody Professor Green song

The actual match was decided by two goals from Robin Van Persie, underlining just how important he will be to ‘Man Yoo’ as they get ready for a post-Rooney future. The first, a languid header sent past Scott Carson just inside the right-hand post, was a typical example of his superb technical ability and his ghostly accuracy. The second which came just before the hour, was a scrappier affair. After some neat build-up play from United, Van Persie received the ball on the edge of the Wigan area, dropped a shoulder and shrugged the ball past Carson with the help of a deflection off James Perch. 

Looking at the starting teams I had a masochists excitement when I saw that Phil Jones and Grant Holt would be having what can be described as a fugly-off with each other. Such a clash would not be out of place on a mud-sodden battlefield during the Wars of The Roses, given the mutual, lumbering Englishness of their styles. Alas the promised confrontation never really arrived, principally because Wigan (unlike Holt’s former team Norwich) have not yet adjusted their game to get the best out of the big lad. 

New look Wigan are a very different prospect from the silkily doomed side managed by Roberto Martinez last term. Owen Coyle is building a side as British as getting savagely glassed on a freezing August evening in Leeds City Centre after a big night of binge drinking. His approach is typified by summer signings like Holt, Crainey, Perch, Carson and Barnett. Pick of the bunch is young James McClean, freshly arrived from Sunderland,  an Irish pugilist who specializes in running in straight lines and pushing people, qualities which ought to lead to great success for him in English football’s second tier. 

In fact, Wigan’s best chance of the game was created by McClean, who fired the ball dangerously across the six yard box after Smalling misjudged a long pass from Crainey. The cross/shot couldn’t be met by Holt, when only a touch would have plundered a cheap goal for the Latics. Set-pieces, long balls and looping crosses, nothing too fancy for Coyle and Wigan. 

United’s win was merely whelming. 39-year-old Ryan Giggs started here, still astonishingly pert and wiry, still urbane in his passing and movement, still inevitably amongst the best players on the pitch almost every time he plays. Ostensibly this is good for United, but it is also symptomatic of their weaknesses in midfield that their best player in that area (beige pass-o-meter Michael Carrick aside) will be 40 in November. It is actually difficult to imagine United not having a crap midfield, and even more difficult to imagine a player as accomplished as Cesc Fabregas taking touchline orders from new assistant coach Phil Neville. 

These pronounced weaknesses in midfield are a gnawing problem that David Moyes will have thought about long before the short period on either side of half-time when Wigan’s tinpot midfield was on top of United’s.

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David Moyes and Malcolm Tucker (above) have never been pictured together. Coincidence?

 

 

With the amount of opprobrium and obloquy that surely lies in wait for Moyes this season I almost expected his shirt to be blood red, prepared for all the knives and arrows that will be aimed at him, waiting for the first inevitable slip-up. As soon as that first fuck up comes I fully expect some clichéd American army guy (played by Stephan Lang) to appear at any moment just to fatuously utter in Moyes’ ear: “Davey, you ain’t in Kansas anymore.”  

Right now he is the mini-Ferg, the diet-Ferg – same stripey tie, same gum but will there be the same results, the same relentless ability to win that characterized real-Ferg? A look of distinct discomfort was briefly visible on Moyes’ face as he lifted his first trophy, before he returned to looking like a slightly healthier Malcolm Tucker. 

 

QPR 2 – 1 Sheffield Wednesday: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #1

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Is it possible to make a triumphant return to the Championship? Surely such wordplay is an oxymoron, particularly given the circumstances in which QPR sunk to English football’s second tier last season. This quibble about words is nothing more than a thought experiment anyway, as QPR’s win yesterday was not particularly triumphal. A performance marked by some promise and a little awkwardness is unlikely to have the likes of Wigan and Watford running scared just yet.

In a packed and surprisingly jovial Loftus Road there was initially little sign of the trepidation that might be expected given that on the last two opening days Rangers managed to concede an impressive 9 goals without reply. The faithful even managed to loudly cheer the odious Joey Barton’s name from the outset. Nobody even having the temerity to abuse Joey for the rather Tevez-ish alice band he was sporting (clearly he feels entitled to such a dismal accessory after spending some time as a ‘continental’). They were rewarded with a reserved sort of sub-Beckham display from his position tucked in on the right wing, where he delivered a succession of ruminative passes and crosses until he was substituted in the second half. There was even the bizarre sight of Barton and the man he once described as a ‘pub player’, new signing Karl Henry, chatting happily with each other during a break in play. A forgiving mood was indeed abroad.

A mood punctured when Wednesday’s large and menacing striker Atdhe Nuhiu opened the scoring in the 19th minute. I feel a great deal of responsibility for the goal itself, due to a perverse, reverse curse of the casual commentator. As Nuhiu picked up the ball on the edge of the box I noted what an impressive start to the game he had made, he then of course spiralled the ball past Rob Green’s paw. Oh dear Will. There followed a pregnant twenty minutes that seemed to promise the rebirth of all the ugly feeling that had festered at QPR in previous months. As Barton and Alejandro Faurlin sent overly lavish passes into the stands one could sense the pressure of the previous season on all involved at QPR. ‘Arry Redknapp’s face was the colour of a slowly setting Hawaiian sunset and this condition was not just down to the heat of such a fine summer’s day.

Thankfully Rangers picked up and scored two quick goals to take the lead, first was Nedum Onuoha’s tap-in, celebrated with all the panache of a man wandering to the fridge to see if there is any milk left, and followed by a neat strike from the lesser-spotted Andy Johnson. The latter looked sharp throughout the match giving his best impression of an angry gnome chasing confused mammalian intruders from his favourite garden patch. Johnson, with his tendency to make Louis Saha look like the patron saint of physical fitness, will be an important asset to QPR if he manages to stay on the pitch and out of the physio’s room.

I’m required in the interests of fairness to say something about Sheffield Wednesday. Their wonderfully priggish and priapic away support was certainly refreshing after two seasons of mostly crap fans from The Best League In The World™ – good effort gentlemen. What was less refreshing was the return of the lamentable former Cardiff boss Dave Jones to Loftus Road. Jones, his fat face now resembling a cross between the owl that adorns Wednesday’s crest and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, used his post match comments to make dubious remarks concerning two “penalties” he felt should have been awarded to his side during the game.

“It’s an embarrassment for the officials to miss two clear-cut penalties” blathered Jones. “We’ve been told by the League Managers Association and the Referee’s Society not to talk about it but something has to be done. How does he miss it?”

It’s safe to say Jones is one of those perennial Championship annoyances that I have not missed. A decent if unspectacular start for QPR though, although far better teams than Jones’ tinpot outfit lie in wait.

Star Man: Chris Kirkland really stood out. I read before the game that Wednesday’s keeper had almost single handedly kept them in the division last season and on the basis of this display it was easy to see why. Junior Hoilett impressed for QPR, looking particularly spritely in the first half.

Papiss Cissé and The Hypocritical World of Buffet Religion

Papiss has been rolling the dice with his Newcastle future during the off-season. (Photo: Guardian.)

Papiss has been rolling the dice with his Newcastle future during the off-season. (Photo: Guardian.)

Papiss Cissé is a striker for Newcastle United and he is a muslim. He could also probably apply for an honorary doctorate in hypocrisy if such things existed. Newcastle’s new shirt sponsorship by the pay day loan firm Wonga has conflicted with Cissé’s belief, common under some interpretations of Sharia law, that Muslims must not benefit from lending money. The row has reached a stage where the player left the club’s pre-season tour of Portugal as he continued his anti-Wonga stance, although he’s clearly not anti-wonga per se as he earns a not undismal £40,000 a week.

Cissé has already been accused in some quarters of a cynical attempt to force a move from Newcastle for two reasons: Firstly he had no problem abnegating his religious beliefs before when the club strip was branded with financial services like Northern Rock and Virgin Money (he wore both kits). Secondly all the other muslim players at Newcastle of which there are quite a few, like Hatem Ben Arfa, have no problem wearing the new kit.

Then it was revealed that old Papiss enjoyed doing stuff like this in his spare time:

Papiss, pictured here in the fetching black gilet, fingering some chips.

Papiss, pictured here in the fetching black gilet, fingering some chips.

 

A spokesperson for Aspers Casino described Cisse as “an occasional visitor” who was “very well behaved and very welcome”, but would not confirm whether or not he placed any bets.

In Islam gambling is an even more grievous sin (or so I’ve been told anyway) than money lending. In the Holy Qur’an it is labelled as “Ithm al-kabir”  or “a very great sin”, a description incidentally only used elsewhere for the practice of drinking (not rape or slavery or murder eh?) It is probably for the best that Cissé hasn’t been papped sporting a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale in the city centre somewhere.

The player’s actions have of course been granted with all the usual vehemence you’d expect. Newcastle city councillor Dipu Ahad had this nugget of wisdom to share with us:

“People will say, ‘look, this is Islam they can pick and choose whatever they want’, and Islam isn’t about picking and choosing”

Ahad is of course utterly wrong. Life and by extension, religion is about picking and choosing things, and the process easily makes hypocrites and liars of us all.  A short quote from Dostoyevsky ought to be sufficient to cool the councillor’s umbrage:

But,  finally, there are things that man is afraid of divulging even to himself and every decent man has quite an accumulation of them.

I’d love to find someone who could honestly say they were not the same as the above. We all do things we shouldn’t sometimes and often these are not things we want to share with anyone else. It is easy (and will no doubt be commonplace) to argue that Newcastle deserve better than such duplicitous treatment from one of their star players. The football cliché of choice would be that he has ‘sullied the shirt’ or whatever. Personally I’d argue that Cissé’s objection to Wonga is not entirely without justification as by all accounts they are a horrid company. Yet it is Cissé who has been damaged most in this affair, simply because he now appears a hypocrite to all the world, however noble his original intentions.

Papiss is no different to the vast majority of religious believers on earth. Only by being a product of Catholic education was I able to spend a great deal of time observing this ‘pick and choose’ phenomenon first hand, and in my time at school contradictions such as the one so aptly displayed by Newcastle’s want-away striker were as common as rain in Wales.

I’ve met many inspirational and intelligent Catholics and to a man and to a woman they were just as flawed as me, except that the flaw was dug even deeper into them by their poisonous subscription to a pointless faith. Some of these people, who professed to love everybody equally, would happily envisage condemning homosexuals to fiery torture sub specie aeternitatis. Religion makes it easy to believe and espouse two completely contradictory notions at the same time. Confront any believer with whatever obvious discrepancy of their faith you can find (there are thousands in Christianity alone) and you will be confronted with some wretched theodicy or breezily unsatisfying explanation. They may as well be as mute as a stone.

This kind of thing is not a good symptom for us humans. Samuel Butler claimed that life is a bit like playing the violin in public and learning the instrument as you go on. If we attempt to be the best we can be without recourse to the blood-flecked codicies and manuals of laughably primitive tribes, hypocrisy won’t disappear, but it will certainly be less pervasive as it is now amongst the parties of God. If Cissé had the good fortune to be an atheist he wouldn’t have been able to undermine his own cause quite so easily.

Everything Must Go: The People who Relegated QPR

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It’s not Arry’s fault. Honest guv.

Incompetence. Greed. Laziness. PR disasters. And thats just Jose Bosingwa. In a mere two seasons, QPR have stunk the Premier League out good and proper. Tony Fernandes has been left hanging from a branch like a bloated, beaten piñata, gleefully smashed by agents, managers and players. Today, Frankly Vulgar delivers it’s damning personal judgment on some of the people have contributed to this sorry, sorry mess. 

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These two are probably less full of mirth right now.

Park Ji-sung

Park is what I imagine Europe’s capital cities were like in April 1945 – a fucking wreck. He isn’t so much a footballer as he is the remains of one. Gone is the big game gyro, Fergie’s go-to-hustler, his oxymoronically offensive shield. I remember watching Manchester United rout AC Milan 4-0 at Old Trafford. Park was the best player on the pitch. He smothered Andrea Pirlo, suffocated him, running him down into the pitch to the point where the Italian was entirely anonymous. It was a masterclass.

Watching Ji trot hopelessly around Loftus Road, misplacing five yard passes, having to make every second touch a tackle because he can no longer trap a ball, well, it would be sad – if he hadn’t cost the best part of £5 million. The only optimism to be found in watching Park these days is that he actually proves the existence of the afterlife – he has become a ghost.

Verdict: Due a trip to the glue factory.

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As Esteban looked into Mark’s eyes, he realised he had only one question: What the fuck am I doing here.

Esteban Granero

Since Euro 2008 football has had a distinctly Spanish flavour. Tiki-taka has become a layman’s term. Fat, balding men with wheezy voices across Britain have had arguments in pubs about whether the Spanish style, the Barcelona piquancy of pressing and passing, is ‘boring’ or not. Well, regardless of its robotic bloodlessness, its a style that has until very recently been dominant.

I imagine Mark Hughes thought Esteban Granero would bring some of this confidence, this metronomic ability to terminate the opposition through a sheer tonnage of sideways passing, to QPR. In defeat against Manchester City and a draw to Chelsea, Granero made a positive impression: here was a player with pedigree, technique and awareness; an aristocratic footballer. Unfortunately what Granero lacked was balls. The man is a eunuch. As soon as things went sour at QPR this season Granero downed his tools. He started to mope around the pitch, unable to pass the ball without a sort of restless, tempo-sapping vacillation about the way he did it. He’s a wallflower.

Verdict: If Blanche DuBois was a Spanish footballer.

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I’m actually amazed the good people at Soccer Starz thought Hoilett was good enough to justify being turned into one of these.

Junior Hoilett

David ‘Junior’ Hoilett is what some of my friends would refer to as a ‘sideman’. A wasteman. A dick. Last summer most QPR fans would have had young Junior at the apex of their transfer wish lists. We were giddy when he actually did sign – pacy, tricky , a provider of goals with an eye for the spectacular and he was young. Under 30. Not a big name but with the right management he could be.

We should have been questioning why he came to QPR when he could have played in front of 50,000 at St. James’ or played Champions League football in Germany with Monchengladbach. The player who turned up at QPR was pathetic – fat, slow, lazy and uninterested. Another player treating the club as a kind of money teat to suck on. You can see it on the pitch. It means fuck all to him. The biggest insult I can pay him is that Shaun Wright-Philips is a better footballer than him.

Verdict: Chubby Little Loser.

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The Loftus Road turf wasn’t very receptive to Rob Green’s overtures.

Rob Green

Temporary unconsciousness, extreme agitation, lethargy, functional blindness or paralysis, completely unrealistic responses to the challenge of events, strange reversals of life-long patterns of behaviour – these are the symptoms of Rob Green Syndrome (RGS). Those who suffer with RGS should avoid situations that involve high stress or pressure. If you think you are suffering from RGS call 999 without hesitation. Even if the symptoms of RGS disappear whilst you are waiting for an ambulance, medical professionals advise that you should still go to hospital for treatment.

A friend of mine supports West Ham and insists that ‘Greeno’ is a very capable keeper. Well if thats the case I would like to know where on earth he has been hiding for the last 9 months.

Verdict: Shell Shocked.

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Chris tries to work out what the biggest animal he could kill without a weapon is. Experts at Frankly Vulgar have calculated that it could be as large as a Polar Bear.

Chris Samba

Chris Samba has all the attributes of a player that an idiot (Robbie Savage) thinks would make a good centre back. He’s just a pretty big guy. He’s also pretty slow, pretty cumbersome and pretty mediocre. Journalists still attribute ridiculous adjectives to Samba – I’ve seen him described this season as monstrous, commanding and imperious. The only thing ‘monstrous’ about Samba is his weekly wage – the joke doing the rounds on Sunday was the he missed that days dire derby suicide pact game against Reading because he dropped his wallet on his foot.

Verdict: Big Man Big Money Big Mistakes

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Stéphane Mbia

Awwwwhh! Bless Stéphane Mbia! Look at him giving his shirt away after the game! To a little kid as well! Look how cute he is on Twitter!

Call me a cynic but if Mbia was anywhere near as good as his tooth-achingly saccharine PR then QPR wouldn’t be looking forward to trips to Bournemouth, Barnsley and Burnley next season. Mbia was an excellent (if Wikipedia is to be believed) defender at Marseille. He has been a palpably below average midfielder for QPR. When Mbia signed from Marseille, Joey Barton was packed off the other way on loan. If you’d told me at the time that Marseille would get the better end of the deal I would have ridiculed you. Shows how much I know.

Verdict: His head is the same shape as a  really big baked potato. Creepy.

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The Samba philosophy.

Samba Diakité

Samba is that kid in your class at school. The quiet one who head-butted the door when he got angry. The one who stuck pencils in his nose until it bled and he started crying. Ralph Wiggum with a dash of the old ultra-violence. That kid.

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Samba terminates another opposition midfielder. With EXTREME prejudice.

Samba Diakité’s QPR debut against Fulham last season was utterly extraordinary. He was on the pitch for about 30 minutes and in that time he made thirteen fouls. You could have made a case for each one of them being a red card. Samba has rarely featured this season and when he has he is just as inanely violent as he always is. Most of his time has been spent taking a few sabbaticals in a attempt to make peace with his (incredibly destructive) inner-self.

Verdict: A Chickenless Head

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Bobby’s one man remake of ‘The Karate Kid’ wasn’t universally popular at Loftus Road.

Bobby Zamora

QPR got seriously fleeced when they paid £6 million for this wanker. Bobby is better at moaning about shit than he is at playing football. He makes fancy dress enthusiast Julio Cesar look like a good PR guru.

QPR faced Reading at Loftus Road in November for what was already a relegation six-pointer. This is what Bobby had to say before the game. How clueless can you get? Also for most of the season Bobby has had a very sore hip. He shows this during games by puffing his cheeks out and rubbing it – just in case we didn’t realise. It was impossible not to know about Bobby’s mythical hip this season – Harry Redknapp never stopped going on about the bloody thing. ‘If only’ Bobby could be fit alongside Remy, then we would have a chance said ‘Arry. No. ‘If only’ we had a manager sensible enough not to rely on a hypochondriac like Bobby. ‘If only’ we hadn’t packed off the superb Heidar Helguson to Cardiff for a pittance. Bobby is half the man.

Verdict: The Walking Dead.

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Jose was delighted to hear from his agent about the contract offer QPR made him.

Jose Bosingwa

Some questions:

1. You’re a multi-millionaire. You have a mono-brow. Why persist with it? Why?

2. How did a player this useless win the Champions League twice?

3. Why did Harry Redknapp keep playing him in the second half of the season? Nedum Onuoha and Fabio are better players and are also, importantly, not Jose Bosingwa.

4. Dear Jose why do you move like a really awkward crab when you shuffle up the touchline?

Verdict: BOOOO-singwa

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Phil Beard in a situation that would make David Brent proud.

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This is exactly how I imagine Tony Fernandes sits in the boardroom.

The Board

It is very fashionable to blame QPR’s predicament on Mark Hughes. He signed the players. He failed to motivate and prepare them properly. He was an awful manager. Nobody seems to blame Harry Redknapp. He ought to get some of the blame as well. With more games and as much money as Hughes he ended up presiding over just as much of a shambles. What both men have in common is the ability to blame anyone, anything, other than themselves. That and not being as good as their buddies in the media make them out to be.

I would call both of them incompetent. Then again, I would say that the board is incompetent for appointing them. Tony Fernandes is an embarrassment, his tweeting is an embarrassment  his comparison of QPR to his shit Formula1 team was an embarrassment and his damaging, destabilising little meltdown was an embarrassment. He might actually be a decent man, a good bloke and all the other things his sycophantic legions of followers say he is. That wouldn’t change the fact that his near two years in charge of QPR have resembled a forced death march towards the Football League.

Verdict: Fresh Meat in a Piranha Tank.

Losing Suarez Would Gnaw at Liverpool’s Ambitions

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“Thats the only taste of the champions league he’s had this season” – HAHA STOP IT YOU’RE KILLING ME.

Luis Suarez bit somebody yesterday. Whilst playing in a football match. Unfortunately for him this time there is no Uruguayan cultural precedent he can fall back on, no ancient tradition of biting opponents forearms that goes back four generations that he can use to shield himself from the shrill and hysterical opprobrium of the football classes. Racism is one thing apparently. But biting somebody, going full on fucking Dracula? Woah. Thats a whole other case entirely.

Reading online forums and listening to phone-in shows yesterday you’d think that Suarez had ripped Ivanovic’s arm off and beaten the poor bloke into chunks of bloody Serbian meat in front of the Kop, such was the level of anger, the simmering rage that was out there last night. The calls were like this: ‘Suarez should be banned for six months.’ ‘Suarez should never play for Liverpool or in this country again.’ ‘Listen Alan, I’m as nice a guy as any of your callers, but I want to see Suarez’ head on a pike somewhere prominent on the Anfield Road, so we set an example to all the young kids out there.’ The level of hysteria was somewhere between the arrival of bubonic plague in Western Europe in the fourteenth century and that time when everybody saw Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Super Bowl half-time show.

Imagine if Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick happened in this environment. There would be an emergency session of Parliament. Spontaneous rioting would break out. In scenes akin to the final act of The Wicker Man, poor Eric would be dragged by his heels by a braying pagan mob to a giant effigy of Sir Alex Ferguson in the middle of the Old Trafford pitch and burnt alive. Only then would our public bloodlust be satiated.

Away from my sarcasm for a moment and it is possible to see why Suarez’ bite has made such a mark. England is a country of meadows, lanes, sloping green hills and cricket squares. It’s the county of Milton, Orwell and Auden. Notions of fair play, of sportsmanship are ingrained into us from an early age. One sportsman biting another one on the field of play is completely at odds with these ideals.

I’ve been told by Liverpool fans that Suarez fits into another bracket, another part of our sporting culture, apparently he is a ‘maverick entertainer’. Personally I never conflated ‘maverick entertainer’ with being a racist, biting, diving scumbag. It is very hard to feel sympathy for those Liverpool fans who are only now angered and offended by Suarez. Anybody with an internet connection could see that he was hardly the sharpest crayon in the box, that he wasn’t so much a loose cannon but one that is hurtling down a steep hill at an alarming velocity.

This is even before he moved to Liverpool. In the years since Suarez has played some sublime football, racially abused a fellow professional and spent as much time rolling around on the floor looking for a penalty as he has slaloming through opposition defences with his trademark dribble. The only people who should really panic about this incident are the management of Liverpool FC. Suarez has only been there for two full seasons and he is not only the best player at Liverpool, but on the evidence of this season, the best player in the league. He will find another club. When Liverpool have to sink their teeth in to the transfer market to replace him they will do well to find a player with footballing skills as delicious as the ones Suarez has.

Adel Taarabt (A love letter to)

 

“Nutmegs… I prefer.”

Words can make a man. In the case of Adel Taarabt the three words above and the aphorism they form embedded him, and his unique brand of football even deeper into the folklore of Queens Park Rangers. Maybe its the way he says them, a  little smile as he talks, the pause and then “prefer” – words to accompany his deeds. These words aren’t idle, they aren’t empty: Adel means it when he says he prefers nutmegs. From Joe Allen to Joe Cole, ‘Fat’ Frank Lampard to occasional “Splash” contestant Ashley Young, there aren’t many players left in the top two divisions of English league football who haven’t endured this Moroccan’s particular brand of footballing humiliation. His skills have become something ritualistic, a sacrifice Adel makes to appease the crowd, and to satiate his own artistic lust.

A winger and a prayer.

A winger and a prayer.

Life always throws up mavericks, originals in the truest sense of the word. These people tend to end up in one of two places; under the Westway, living in a cardboard box surviving off chewing gum spat out of the windows of passing cars or they become outrageous success’. Taarabt is heading for the latter. Why is he an original? For a start he doesn’t look like a footballer, in the same way that Andres Iniesta looks like a concierge or the bloke who sorts letters in the post office, and Michu looks as if he should be a roadie for Nickelback, Taarabt simply doesn’t have the svelte, streamlined body of today’s standard professional footballer. He is stocky, squat and boxy, his arms are unhinged and move as if they constantly caught in a strong breeze. There is a nonchalance to Taarabt, a swagger not seen at QPR since the days of Stan Bowles. 

Unhappy bedfellows: Taarabt and the Tottenham shirt.

Unhappy bedfellows: Taarabt and the Tottenham shirt.

“We used to play in the French national team and he was just nutmegging the same guy for maybe four or five times, the manager used to tell him, ‘If you don’t give the ball, you come off.’ And he didn’t care. He was bringing us penalties, scoring goals.” – Armand Traoré

“I arrived to find that, at three o’clock in the afternoon, it was already night. I played for the Tottenham reserves against Chelsea and I could not understand how the English played. Somebody put me on the floor but there were no free-kicks, nothing. The referee just played on. When you play in France it’s quiet, the players do not talk. In England I hear players saying, ‘F**k off. Man on. Come on’. Players in my team, they are shouting at me. I think they’re insulting me.” – Adel Taarabt

Becoming a success wasn’t easy; Taarabt’s natural game as a teenager, his desire to play unencumbered by little things like positioning and tactical discipline, his bad attitude and his inability to speak the language made him the latest in a long line of enfant terrible’s to arrive in England, at Tottenham in this case, in January 2007. After two weeks in England he wanted to leave and by his last season at Spurs Juande Ramos refused to even give him a shirt number (the same fate befell Kevin Prince-Boateng who is now a superstar at AC Milan).Taarabt’s time at Tottenham, with its fall outs and frustrations, damaged his reputation amongst the mainstream media and football fans in general in a way in which it has yet to recover. Having arrived at Tottenham in 2007 hailed as the next Zidane, Taarabt wound up at Queens Park Rangers, a player with a reputation for being a ‘fruitcake’ found himself at a club run by fruitcakes.

It worked though. The things Taarabt did in the Championship for QPR between 2008 and 2011 won’t be repeated soon by any player in the division. Take the goal against Preston above. Taking the ball down from a goal kick inside his own half, Taarabt turns, brushing aside two challenges, rinses a third Preston player with a nutmeg, pushes the ball a few yards further and then nonchalantly swerves the ball into the top corner from 25 yards outside the goal. C’est magnifique. Watch it again. Few players at any level score goals as good as that. Few players are capable of that at any level.

He promised so much in his early loan spells at QPR. Neil Warnock took Adel under his wing once he became manager in 2009. For both it was a revelatory experience:

“Warnock’s wife [Sharon] has looked after me and his kids have been like family to me. I cannot describe our relationship. Sometimes I think God has brought this guy to me, I am very difficult guy to control but Neil does it.It is special between me and him, he changed my life. He tells me to just go out onto the pitch and enjoy it. After all that he has given me I try and repay him.

“When a manager tells you, ‘I want to play the team around you,’ then you think, ‘This manager loves me’. At half-time against Preston [in November], I wasn’t playing so well. Neil knows I don’t like it when the other players shout at me. So he took me to the showers and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And in the second half I scored two goals.” – Adel Taarabt on his relationship with Neil Warnock.

Thanks to Warnock’s shrewd management, 2010/11 was the most entertaining season of Taarabt’s career to date. It encompassed a sensational series of displays – his movement, his strength, ability to keep the ball in seemingly impossible spaces, his link-up play, his willingness to shoot (rewarded with a plethora of outrageous goals such as the one against Swansea above) all made him a worthy player of the year that season. With Wilfred Zaha moving to Manchester United for a fee that could rise to £15 million pounds, it is worth bearing in mind that the former has done nothing in the Championship consistently comparable to Taarabt – yes Zaha is a good dribbler, yes he is less ‘risky’ but he doesn’t have a talent anywhere near as off-the-wall, as enigmatic as Taarabt’s.

What was astonishing about that season was the ease with which Taarabt did extraordinary things. Here was a man who played like a boy; as if this was his own game, as if normal considerations didn’t apply. It was a destructive season – Taarabt destroyed teams and reputations, in a way that was as thrilling as it was unconventional. Having had the pleasure of witnessing it I would say it’s the finest individual season any player has had in the second division of English football in the last decade.

“Mark Hughes had a big impact on him, showed him how much of a good player he is and on the other hand he has to work hard. I think it was a really good step for Adel to have that manager.” – Armand Traoré

“He can be a top, top player. He’s like Di Canio, doing things nobody else can do. He nutmegs people, he goes past two or three and they’re hanging on to him, but they can’t get the ball off him.” – Harry Redknapp 

If Mark Hughes has any legacy at QPR other than potential ruination in the years to come, it is his impact on Taarabt. Hughes turned him into a professional footballer again after a poor start to the 2011/12 season when injury, wasteful immaturity and the arrival of Joey Barton at the club derailed his progress. Taarabt in 2013 is a different proposition to the player of years past. He is more mature, more of a leader and far harder working than ever before. In a QPR team riddled with rank inadequacies this season he has stood out like a particularly obese man in a crowd full of flesh-eating cadavers.

“There were, inevitably, times when he overcomplicated things and lost the ball in unnecessary situations, but his skill and imagination when playing the false nine role was marvellous. Taarabt saw little of the ball in dangerous positions, yet managed to manufacture genuine goalscoring opportunities” – Michael Cox on Taarabt’s performance against Tottenham

Harry Redknapp quickly realised that Taarabt is the only player at QPR good enough to drag them out of the mire they are in, even playing him as a lone striker in impressive performances against Chelsea and Tottenham. Playing as a ‘false nine’ Taarabt dispelled the stereotypes that have followed him around since his teenage years. He has come of age. People who sit in their armchairs tweeting about Taarabt being “lazy” and “arrogant”, are lamentably lazy and arrogant themselves.

Redknapp indicating the length of a certain part of Stephane M'bia's anatomy.

Redknapp indicating the length of a certain part of Stephane M’bia’s anatomy.

Personally I feel great affection for Adel Taarabt. He is symbolic of certain qualities – a triumph of imagination and talent over the mechanical, statistical side of modern football. In England we don’t appreciate this. Especially if the player is a foreigner. I get the impression that metaphorically, most people would rather watch James Milner slowly peel an orange instead of seeing Taarabt juggle five of them in the room next door. They want order, not chaos. Yet if QPR are to stay up this season it will be by playing to Taarabt’s strengths not ostracising him for his occasional bouts of carelessness. After two years of transfer business at QPR that has seen millions of pounds wasted, it remains a fact that it will be by embracing Taarabt’s chaotic talent that the club remains in the Premiership.