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Wednesday

The Crystal Ceefax Ball

Steve Sidwell's move to Chelsea on a Bosman was seen by many as a money-grabbing move by a player who will spend most of next season warming the bench. They may well be right...

No. 2: May 2008 - Steve Sidwell ends his Chelsea nightmare by moving to footballer scrapyard Middlesbrough, who are inevitably under new stewardship.



Adam.

Monday

Tomorrow's Inevitable News....Today!

If only the footballing world had a fast-forward button. The appointment of Bryan Robson as the new Sheffield United manager brought a collective sigh of despair from the Blades faithful, and led the The Angle... to once again question the sanity of football club chairmen.

To save everyone the bother of waiting for the next few months, The Angle... brings you the first in a series of Ceefax stories from the future. Bask in the inevitability of it all!

No.1 - January 2008 - Bryan Robson's spell at Sheffield United reaches its natural end:



Adam.

Friday

The FA Cup Final

No occasion in football is better positioned to cling on to clichés of decades past, as well as developing the clichés of the future, than than the FA Cup Final.

Saturday, 3pm, is the kick-off for the game, but the tried and tested formula of FA Cup Final coverage has begun way, way before then.

The Angle... may not be able to predict the first goalscorer, correct score or even the result. However, there are a whole raft of incidents that are absolutely guaranteed to occur on the big day itself. Fortunately, The Angle... is far better placed to comment on this, as we bring you:

The Ultimate Guide To The Magic of The Cup, Cup Final Stuff That's Definitely Gonna Happen Because It Always Does, and Stuff That Will Happen Because It's The New Wembley.


The Stadium

A good proportion of the coverage will be devoted to the fact that this is the "New Wembley", and that we are to witness the first final there since it was redeveloped - which seems like 400 years ago.

Prepare to see footage of a lone policeman on the white horse controlling the crowd at the first Wembley final in 1923 between West Ham and Bolton. There will be a talking head interview with a very old man who was at that first final as a boy, describing pretty much what we all know - that a policeman on a white horse controlled the crowd and the game went ahead. Of course, there will be no proof that this man was at the game - it could quite easily be the cameraman's grandfather. Alternatively, perhaps the interviewee has to pass a standard BBC Authentication Test:

  1. Are you over 90 years old?
  2. Have you ever worn a flat cap to a football match?
  3. Do you know what a horse looks like?

The fawning over the stadium (I anticipate the word "magnificent" will be used approxinmately 750 times over the course of the day). If you cast your mind back to the beginning of the season, a time, incredible as it may seem, when there was no such thing as The Angle of Post and Bar, Arsenal's Emirates Stadium opened. Few will forget the over-the-top praise this shiny new stadium received. Into September, and they were still at it - Jamie Redknapp arriving especially early so he could do his Goals on Sunday link, live from the stadium, a good five hours before kick off.

If you cringed at that, then I suggest you prepare for that level of praise multiplied by one thousand, bearing the following in mind:

1. The stadium is 50% bigger than The Emirates

2. It's the National Stadium so any pundit's reservations about Arsenal can be truly put to one side.

3. It's Cup Final Day.

I am also predicting the most patronising "thankyou" imaginable towards Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. I am especially thinking of Richard Keys asking one of his special brand of platitude-filled-cringe-inducing questions, along the lines of "No disrespect to Cardiff, who put a magnificent show on by the way - we're thankful for you putting us up for seven long years - but aren't we all glad it's back here, Jamie?"

The first pre-match question to every single person interviewed will be "What do you think of the stadium?". Every reply will be:

"Magnificent."

The Build-Up

Strangely, this year the BBC and Sky have swapped roles, with the BBC's coverage starting 3 hours and 10 minutes before kick off. Sky, unusually, have decided to start the build up from 2pm - despite what they say, Blackpool v Oldham Athletic in the League One Play-off semi-final does not constitute a Cup Final build-up!

Neither will the BBC have the luxury of adverts to help them out, so they will be really stringing out the features in their pre-game fare, which may include conveniently bumping into two television personalites who happen to support either side (We at the The Angle... bet a fiver that James Nesbitt will get his mug on the box at some point.), and asking them if they've ever "played a bit".

Lineker and Hansen will have little digs at each other about what happened in the 1986 final and Shearer will self-indulgently reveal (almost word for word) "By rights I should hate this competition, having lost two finals, but there's something special about it and I still love it."

Following this will be a recollection of when the two teams met each other in the 1994 final, in which Gavin Peacock and Gary Pallister will be on hand to talk us through what happened.

There will be an interview with a foreign player from each side where they will be duty-bound to say that they "grew up watching this game" and that they "always dreamed of playing at Wembley in the FA Cup Final", as if the failure to say this means that stupid Johnny Foreigner fails to understand the concept of a Cup Final and won't try as hard, and defeat will be their own, silly-foreigner-don't-you-understand-the-magic-of-the-cup, fault.

No FA Cup Final build-up will be complete without following the teams from their hotels to the ground. I doubt whether Wimbledon's journey will ever be beaten - with the BBC actually on the coach playing the tape of when Dennis Wise was 11, appearing on Record Breakers, telling Roy Castle he wanted to win the FA Cup.

I must warn you that, on Sky, when Manchester United arrive, Richard Keys will look up, possibly interrupting one of Jamie Redknapp's monologues about Frank Lampard doing it "week in, week out" and say "Sorry, Jamie - The Champions are here..." Please try not to smash your television into smithereens.

The newspapers have had an easy time of it from The Angle... since its inception in January (don’t worry, we have the whole summer to cover that particular shower). However, come cup final week, and with hardly anything else to write about, they focus entirely on the two teams – even if this does include a fourteen-page special on the registration of Mourinho’s dog.

As a final throw of the dice, the sports sections will try to predict the outcome of the game by assuming the probable line-ups of the teams, marking each player out of ten and then adding the scores up to see which team is stronger (and therefore will obviously win). Not a method favoured by bookmakers, but there you are. There are a number of flaws with this approach. The media want to build this up as a close game, rather than the walkover it has been it recent years, and so contrive to make the scores as close as possible, without arousing the suspicion of the readership that this is what they are doing.

You can easily spot where this has been applied, as the odd player will be given a half-mark up or down to keep it tight overall. For example, Cech will be given 9/10 and Van Der Sar will receive 8.5/10. All innocent to the lay person, but to the trained eye that extra half-mark for Van Der Sar is clear evidence of a newspaper man artificially massaging the scores to ensure a close finish. It's massively infuriating, and surely defeats the whole point of the feature in the first place.

The Game

For those of us with digital TV, the dilemma arises of which channel to watch it on. Is it the Super Sunday pairing of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray or the more traditional duo of John Motson and professional irritant Mark Lawrenson?

I will personally go for the Tyler/Gray match day commentary team, but with half time analysis from the BBC.

Andy Gray’s co-commentary in the cup final is preferable to Lawrenson’s cynical and embarrassingly poor quips. As someone puts it over from 8 yards, the Gray reflexes kick in as he says “What a chance, Martin. You won’t get a better chance than that to be a hero in the Cup Final, son”. This, of course, in addition to his usual glee when a striker “gambles”.

At half time, a 15-minute treatise on how brilliant Michael Carrick is, and how Drogba is the complete player because he’s able to head a corner away at the near post. Half-time analysis on the BBC can be reduced to a simple theory:

Exciting 1st half: They will talk about goals and chances

Tight, Intriguing (e.g. Boring) 1st Half: They will talk about "half-chances" and "openings". Lineker, for example will half-heartedly attempt to stoke the analytical fire with "So....Drogba had a chance right at the end of that first half, didn't he? Well, more of a half-chance, really."

Back to the game and the neutral will be hoping for a one-goal deficit as the final minutes approach, just so we can see a goalkeeper in his opponent’s penalty area. This wreaks havoc at the best of times, so who knows what panic will be induced if this occurs on Saturday?

Once the trophy has been won, the losers will walk up the 107 steps (used to be 39, of course, but someone will fill you in on this on Saturday) walk past the trophy and down again whilst the players are interviewed on the pitch with Geoff Shreeves, hoping that Wayne Rooney doesn’t swear. On average, Geoff Shreeves manages to fit in about 3 questions before he moves on to his next victim. Working valiantly within such limitations, Shreeves covers all bases with his incisive interrogations:

Question 1: How does it feel to have the FA Cup?

Question 2: Can you describe how it feels to have that medal around your neck?

Question 3: Can you put into words how it feels to have won today?

In the near future, footballers will realise they can apply their standard three superlatives ("unbelievable", "amazing" and "fantastic") to each of these questions, helping Shreeves fool the (actually rather uninterested) nation that he has actually asked three different questions.

The winning captain finally lifts the trophy, hopefully wearing a hat given to him by a fan and the swearathon can begin. My favourite example being in 1988, with Dennis Wise swearing his head off in front of a slightly embarrassed Princess Diana.

Eventually, after the third-choice goalkeeper has spent a disproportionate amount of time parading the trophy by himself, comes the most crushing inevitability of them all - who will be the first to put the lid on their head?

After this, the Wembley PA guy will interfere, playing Rockin’ All Over the World by Status Quo at 4000 decibels, as if celebrating winning the FA Cup needs a helping hand.

Hopefully we will be spared the lap of honour with the kids.

Coxie.

Monday

The Managerial Merry-Go-Round: Summer 2007 Edition

Back in January of this year, The Angle... detailed the concept of the Managerial Merry-Go-Round (the MMGR). A constantly rotating showcase of the game's most talented and enduring bosses, the MMGR serves the game (and, indeed, the media) with a reliable gauge of the available and unemployed, who proclaim themselves as "itching to get back into the game".

As the chairmen of the clubs in the lower reaches of the Premiership begin to wield their axes, a flurry of sackings, resignations and departures by mutual consent has ensued. The Angle... presents an updated MMGR:

  • David O'Leary: Remains a significant figure on the MMGR, after a near-apocalyptic end to his Leeds reign and an underwhelming spell at the talent black hole that is Villa Park. Concerns are growing, however, that Premiership chairmen may regard him as damaged goods.
  • George Graham: His future is now unclear. Setanta's capture of pay-per-view rights from next season means Graham's stint alongside Marcus Buckland on Premiership Plus is over. With the trend of Directors of Football now thankfully a distant memory, Graham faces a conundrum. Will we see the Godfather of the MMGR make a dramatic return, to show the new boys how it's done?
  • Glenn Roeder: The Angle's rather smug complacency regarding the modern game led us to include Roeder on the MMGR in January, even though he was then still Newcastle manager. Of course, he resigned at the beginning of this month and takes his place back on the MMGR. Arguably now the most prominent "active" manager on the MMGR, Roeder is preparing to look all serious, determined and rodent-like at another mediocre Premiership outfit in the near future.
  • Micky Adams: His desire to "get back into the game as soon as possible", after his sacking from Coventry in January, has proved fruitless. Earmarked as a possible long-term (and distinctly low-profile) rider of the MMGR, before he realises that he has to drop down the divisions to resurrect his career.
  • Claudio Ranieri: The most linked foreign manager on the MMGR - speculation around a possible future in England for the Italian is likely to be stirred again this summer. Until then, he will continue to lend a Continental flavour to the MMGR. Given the trigger-happy nature of Serie A club supremos, the fact that Ranieri is currently in employment (at Parma) actually means very little here.
  • Walter Smith: Seems settled at Rangers, but will inevitably be linked with the Scotland job before long. Yet again.
  • Stuart Pearce: Sacked by Manchester City yesterday, Pearce will now be forced to take his not-so-unique brand of technical area pantomime somewhere else. Despite being utterly found out at City, Pearce's stock remains unfathomably high, and he should only require the briefest of rides upon the MMGR before being unveiled by his next unfortunate employers.
  • Paul Jewell: Picked up his River Island leather jacket and left the JJB Stadium yesterday. May possibly only give the MMGR the merest glance on his way to be all small-time at his new club. But, still, save a space for him, would you?
  • Sam Allardyce: While his move to Newcastle seems done and dusted, no manager can be too comfortable with Freddy Shepherd's poisoned chalice. May require the service of the MMGR in the future.
  • Mark Wright: Simultaneously flying the flag for the lower leagues on the MMGR, whilst further proving the rule that former England internationals are well equipped to become spectacularly unsuccessful journeymanagers.
  • Chris Coleman: Will inevitably be involved in the summer speculation shake-up. Until then, Coleman will be busy practicing his trademark post-game march towards whichever referee he feels has cost his side three points.
  • Sven-Goran Eriksson: While Claudio Ranieri provides the exotic option for any vacancies at clubs in the midriff of the Premiership, Eriksson will be reported to be carrying his considerable media baggage to any number of top-half sides over the next year or so. To the backdrop of a collective and nationwide sigh of boredom.
Since January, several old-timers have begun to question the excitement of spending nigh-on a decade on the MMGR, and have clambered off in search of the candy-floss of a media career, the coconut shy of assistant management or the Big Dipper that is retirement:

Peter Reid - Now committing full-time to the only role in which an incoherent neanderthal can take the game less than seriously, and get paid for it - Gillette Soccer Saturday.

Les Reed -
Has effectively run and hid behind Lawrie Sanchez at Fulham, after a pathetically brief tenure as Charlton manager - which bestowed upon Reed the unenviable title of 2006/07 Comedy Caretaker.

Joe Royle -
Has found his niche alongside new wife John Helm on Five's football coverage.

Kenny Dalglish/Kevin Keegan/Jean Tigana/Dr Jozef Venglos -
all missing in (in)action.

A visit to the League Manager's Association website reveals a sort of transfer list for managers. This mammoth list of names who, once upon a time, managed a club for at least 24 hours and are now classed as "available managers", cannot be regarded as an equivalent of the MMGR. However, it does warrant some scrutiny. The following is a cross-section of the sort of aimlessly wandering ex-footballers and managers who are still purported to be jobhunting by their faithful union:

John Aldridge - No matter what he does in the future, Aldridge will still be known not for his admirable career goal haul, but for his 1994 World Cup sideline fit at a bemused official.

Alan Ball - Perhaps time for the LMA website to be given a spring clean...

Dave Bassett - Was always going to struggle to regain employment after the UEFA Pro Licence exam began to require a manager to be able to construct a complete sentence when on camera.

Tony Cottee -
For some reason or another, the only job Cottee looks suited for is as the manager of West Ham United Ladies.

Keith Curle - Will perhaps continue to rub chairmen up the wrong way at humble lower-league clubs, in a way only fellow ex-England international and hopeless manager Mark Wright could hope to emulate.

Glenn Hoddle - Should now accept that a media career, where he is still held up as some sort of "expert", is the most sensible option.

John Gorman - After a successful operation to remove himself from Hoddle's right-hand side, Gorman attempted to go it alone. May reappear in League One at some point, but no-one's bothered. May possibly be sat at home fuming at becoming increasingly referred to as "Glenn Hoddle's right-hand man, Dave Gorman".

Joe Kinnear - Your correspondent actually had to check whether or not Kinnear was still alive. Has seemingly retired from being linked strongly to any vacancy that arises at unfashionable clubs where the budget is, of course, a shoestring one.

Long live the Managerial Merry-Go-Round. Roll up, roll up...


Adam.

Wednesday

"He'll miss one."


Penalty shoot-outs, we are told, are a cruel way of deciding a contest. In the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, the goalkeeper has nothing to lose in his quest to become a hero - unlike the unfortunate fools who fail to score from 12 yards, often because their shot is at a good height for the goalkeeper. The drama of penalties is based on its unpredictability, the fact that it can go either way. Well, The Angle... can conclusively address this unpredictability, and argues that it's actually rather predictable after all...

Defensive midfielders
Very high-risk penalty takers - defensive midfielders invariably cause supporter's heads to sink into their hands as they step up for a penalty. This doubt is so strong, and so widespread, that the defensive midfielder himself probably knows it too. And it certainly hits home on the long, lonely walk back to the centre-circle.

Right-backs
Rivals the defensive midfielder as someone you really don't want taking a penalty for your side in a shoot-out. Right-backs tend to be solid and dependable in open play, but lack the finesse and cultured delivery of their left-sided counterparts, which is why a left-back taking a penalty is far more acceptable.

Old-Fashioned English Centre-Halves
Unlikely to score for two reasons. Firstly, the old-fashioned English centre-half may attempt the no-nonsense smash down the middle. This often results in the penalty being blazed over the bar, or crashing against it. Alternatively, they may try a more conventional penalty. This weak effort is comfortably saved by the goalkeeper, who will know that such a routine save will still be hailed as heroics.

Short Run-Ups
A cardinal sin. Unless the penalty taker really, really knows what he's doing, a short run-up is almost guaranteed to fail. The sight of any player putting the ball down confidently, only to take a couple of steps back from it, is beyond nerve-jangling. In an era where minimal backlift is rife, many players feel they are capable of propelling the ball into the net with only a short run-up. Many, many fail.

Overlong Run-Ups
Yes, run-ups can also be too lengthy. The reason for this is less clear-cut than the short run-up, but one explanation is that the player concerned attempts to overcompensate for his nerves by trying to appear confident. By striding purposefully from the ball, they find themselves beyond the 18-yard line. This is too far.

Turning Quickly
The act of spinning 180 degrees, after placing the ball down and walking back, in order to try and catch the goalkeeper by surprise. The method of choice for rotund 80's striker Micky Quinn, who was fat, round and scored at every ground. Otherwise, any other player attempting this has clearly let the nerves get to him, and will probably miss.

Penalty shoot-outs are one set of circumstances in which hindsight is an acceptable source of wisdom for supporters. Claiming that "I knew he was going to miss" is very rarely challenged by your peers. Similarly, announcing that a player will miss before he has even reached the penalty area, possibly in some desperate attempt to cast some sort of reverse jinx, is just about tolerated.

So, have this guide handy when your team are next involved in a penalty shoot-out. It will still rip your heart out when they lose, but at least you can say you saw it coming.

Adam
(who may just have got it out of his system now...)