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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

"Diving Is Something English Players Don't Do".... Very Well!

Hi folks,

I read the contribution from my Scouse colleague at the Irish Examiner (I'd love to include a link but apparently the paper is having some teething troubles with their new web site) and the following missive seemed so tame and drab by comparison, that I was tempted to start again from scratch. Perhaps I'll find the necessary motivation later in the week, but I thought I might as well post the following, in case there are any of you with nothing better to do :-) and in the likelihood that I don't get around to improving on it.

It's far from my most entertaining work, but then I invariably struggle for the necessary inspiration during these International interludes

Big Love

Just as I’m getting back into the swing of things, we’re lumbered with another International interruption. Considering the Arsenal’s entertaining early season displays, I would’ve much preferred to have got the Old Trafford disappointment out of our system, by getting straight back on the horse against Man City. Whereas with a fortnight to dwell on our first defeat, the pleasing performance becomes increasingly overshadowed, by the frustration of having gifted Man Utd all 3 points.

Every genuine fan of the beautiful game will have been eagerly anticipating last weekend’s clash of the South American titans. Argentina v Brazil is invariably a mouth-watering prospect, but there was added spice to Saturday’s late-night encounter, with Brazil playing to guarantee their ticket to South Africa. While Maradonna’s side look like they are going to need the aid of all G-d’s limbs if they are going to get there! It will indeed be a much poorer World Cup without the presence of Lionel Messi. Although I was praying for the Argies to score, if only to put a sock in the mouth of Gary Birtles and his inane punditry.

It was not hard for Brazil to better the deplorably naïve defending of Diego’s team, but Birtles wouldn’t stop singing the praises of the Brazil backline and their superior positional sense. The ex-Forest journeyman appears to have forgotten that up until a few years back, the word “defence” did not exist in the Brazilian dictionary. Moreover it was patently obvious that it was the protection afforded by the likes of Gilberto and Melo in midfield, which was principally responsible for snuffing out the Argie threat.

I can’t watch Dunga’s Brazil without cursing the Gunners ineptitude and the flagrant false economy of our inflexible wage policy towards players over 30. William Gallas aside, our current squad is almost totally devoid of characters of Gilberto’s “been there, done that” pedigree, who have the experience and the stature to provide our young side with more authority, merely by their presence alone.

With only a one-year contract extension on offer to the over 30s at the Arsenal and with the Brazilian having spent a frustrating season confined to the bench by Flamini’s fine form, you can’t blame Gilberto for accepting the guarantee of three more years of financial security, playing in sunny Greece. However I don’t imagine it would have taken too much to persuade him to stay and I’m certain it would’ve worked out a lot cheaper than the cost of trying to replace him.

I suppose at the time, the club didn’t expect to lose Flamini. Yet ultimately, until such time as the Arsenal adopt a less rigid approach to the over 30s and are prepared to reward our senior statesman, by at least matching the sort of offer they can achieve elsewhere, the club will continue to struggle to cling on to our most experienced players and we are destined to remain a relatively inexperienced side.

By contrast, I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for England’s utterly pointless outing at Wembley on Saturday. A mate who returned from his hols on Sunday enquired if they’d played Slovenia, or Slovakia? I informed him that the visitors team included West Brom’s Robert Koren and that I remembered hearing they played their home games in Maribor, but this was little help and the two of us remained none the wiser. I can’t imagine Capello was particularly keen to risk his players, four days before England’s crunch encounter with Croatia and it would appear that this fixture’s sole raison d’etre was the revenue.

After John Terry’s injudicious contribution to the diving debate, the other almost inevitable outcome was that one of Terry’s team-mates would be guaranteed to leave the England captain with both feet stuck in his big gob. Needless to say, Wayne Rooney duly obliged. While it might have been true in the more virtuous days of yore that the brand of football played on these shores was not quite so focused on conning the referee, as an acceptable facet of the game, there can be no denying the fact that footballers have been going down in the penalty box since time immemorial. With the only difference being that there was a time when English players weren’t nearly so adept at the dark arts, as their Continental cousins.

However they’ve had plenty of opportunity to learn off the masters, in football’s modern, more cosmopolitan era, as the national traits (stereotypes!) of yesteryear have largely evolved into a far more homogenous game, where unfortunately the propensity for players to dive is likely to continue to increase, in proportion to the increasingly high-stakes that they are playing for. By banning Eduardo, UEFA have only achieved in setting a troublesome precedent (and thereby guaranteeing that poor Eddie gets the bird at Wembley!).

Meanwhile Cyprus v Ireland was hardly more compelling fare. But results are the be all and end all for Trappattoni and should he manage to work the oracle to achieve the miraculous feat of qualification, with such a relatively mediocre squad, I’m sure I won’t be alone in taking my hat off to him.

With Arsenal players disappearing off to all four corners of the planet, just as one was beginning to sense a burgeoning team spirit, I can’t help but fret about the potentially disruptive consequences. For example is Vermaelen going to suffer a hangover, when he comes up against any of the Spanish stars who battered his Belgian team 5-0? Will Van Persie perhaps benefit from finally finding the back of the net for Holland? Or will Fabregas return from the Spanish camp, having had his ears bent and his head turned, by tales of greener grass, more moolah and a much easier life on home soil?

Hopefully we’ll start where we left off, in Saturday’s ‘must win’ game against Man City, with the sort of commanding performance at Eastlands, which might just demonstrate to some that the love of money won’t always suffice!

After several seasons where all my Spurs mates have been up for Chelsea, relying on the Blues to be able to get one over on the Gunners, it’s most amusing that the shoe is temporarily on the other foot. Myself I envisage Abramovich’s legal dogs demolishing any legitimate grounds for enforcing Chelsea’s punishment, quicker than a can of Pedigree Chum. Nevertheless, based on Chelsea's impressive form to date, whether or not it’s well-founded, this sort of handicap could be the best means of ensuring there’s still something to play for come Xmas.

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