Daily Archives: 26/03/2016

What Is Moneybags Football Doing to Save Gazza? – by Rob Atkinson

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Gazza in his heyday

Sometimes in your football-supporting life, you see a player in the opposition ranks who is simply different gravy. Partisanship or no, you just have to acknowledge genius when you see it and, if you’ve any appreciation at all for the Beautiful Game, you simply applaud talent and ability the like of which we see all too rarely.

As a Leeds United fan, I’ve had this bittersweet experience uncomfortably often. Bitter, because – let’s face it – you’re there above all to see the white shirts prevail, and some pesky genius in the other camp can be a big problem. But sweet, because we all know, deep down, that this is what football is all about; a talent that eclipses more mundane performers and makes your soul sing for what this game can be.

I’ve seen a few of these over the years at Elland Road. Johan Cruyff, so recently taken from us, lit up my first evening match at Elland Road in 1975, albeit in a losing cause. Sadly, I never saw George Best play (and he spent most games against Leeds in Paul Reaney‘s back pocket anyway) – but I did see a man who could match him for talent and for that mystical ability to take a game away from you. Sadly, he also matches the late George for the tendency to self destruct. And, if the current situation isn’t checked sooner rather than later, we shall tragically see Paul Gascoigne – Gazza of blessed daft-as-a-brush memory – follow Georgie Best into a needlessly early grave.

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Troubled Gazza now – road to disaster?

There isn’t much doubt that Gazza’s potentially fatal weakness for the booze makes him the lead author of his own misfortune. It’s also true to say that anyone in that downward spiral of addictive behaviour really needs to find, if possible, the willpower to break out of the prison they’re building for themselves. But that’s frequently easier said than done, and some of the brightest stars, the most transcendent genius performers, are eggshell personalities, lacking the intrinsic strength and resilience to fight the demons inside their own skulls. In that situation, outside care and intervention is needed; somebody needs to help. So who can, or should, help Gazza?

The former star is not without support. He has friends in the game, people who stay in touch with him and worry about him. But I can’t help feeling that the wider entity of football in this country could be seen to be doing more, for Gazza, and for less illustrious but comparable cases. The tragedy of Best is still clear in the memory, but there have been others who used to bask in the sunshine of fame and worship from the terraces who, once their star fell, found the world a bleak and friendless place they simply wanted to quit. Hughie Gallacher, like Gazza a former Newcastle star, was another who felt lonely and hopeless enough to walk, in a boozy stupor, in front of a train in 1957, rather than face what his life had become after football.

The thing about Gazza is that the current, wealth-laden state of the game he entered as a chubby lad in the early eighties owes much to the way he lit up the Italia ’90 World Cup. That tournament, with Gascoigne’s flashes of genius and iconic tears, did much to redeem the game of football from what had been a decade of disaster in the 1980s. Football, ably assisted by the Geordie genius, recovered from virtual social unacceptability to become once more the game everyone was talking about. Everyone wanted a piece of soccer, and its stars. And no star shone brighter in the football firmament than Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

Such was the new appeal and cachet of football that it was judged ripe for rebranding in this country. It became A Whole New Ball Game as Murdoch and Sky bought the TV rights to a massive chunk of it and, 25 years on, the money is still rolling in unabated. A lot of that is down to that period of Gazzamania in the early 90s, and that – as much as anything beyond common humanity – is the reason why football, and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Rangers and Everton in particular, must be seen to be doing more to help.

So money-stuffed is the game that was once a working-class opera, that ticket prices have become almost incidental to club income at the top level. And yet still, the matchgoing public pays through the nose. They, too, have a right to see some of their money devoted to former stars fallen on hard times or, indeed, in danger of complete dissolution. Surely any Spurs or Newcastle fan would feel it appropriate for their club, served so well back in the day by a man now in crisis, to step in and provide real help, a safe environment and a solid support network for somebody in such imminent danger of sinking out of sight.

Everyone knows that there’s only so much you can do for a person seemingly plummeting towards self-destruction. But the duty to try as hard as possible, to do as much as possible, remains, whatever the chances of success. Especially for someone like Gazza, who gave so much pleasure in his heyday, who made so many smile or laugh with his hare-brained nuttiness, who helped so much to enable the rude health of the game today by the display of his peerless genius for clubs and country.

It’s not too late to save Gazza, surely. But it may well soon be. Over to you, football.

Could Cannavaro be the Answer for Leeds?

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Fabio Cannavaro” (CC BY 2.0) by  Doha Stadium Plus 

The future of Leeds United is yet again uncertain under the ownership of Massimo Cellino.

Reports have suggested that the club are to part company with manager Steve Evans at the end of the season and just seven months into his reign at Elland Road.

Leeds are 13th in the Championship, sitting comfortably in mid-table and 10 points clear of the relegation zone. However, they are well out of contention for the playoffs.

The Italian has overseen six managers since his arrival at the club, with no man lasting a full season in charge.

Leeds are in dire need of stability on and off the pitch in a tumultuous campaign which has seen supporters revolt against Cellino’s ownership of the club.

The Whites are 12 years removed from their last season in the Premier League and seem a long way from even challenging to earn promotion back to the top flight.

Due to the club’s position in the Championship, Cellino has time to consider his options and allow Evans to see out the campaign before making a decision on the future of the team.

Controversial Italian, Cellino, has reportedly set his sights on replacing the 53-year-old Evans with World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro to improve the club’s fortunes.

Cannavaro was one of the finest defenders in the history of the game, with a distinguished career at clubs including Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Juventus. He earned greater plaudits for his performances at international level, making 136 appearances for the Azzurri in a 13-year career.

The 42-year-old’s finest hour came in the 2006 World Cup when he led his side to glory in Germany, starring in the heart of the defence which earned him the Silver Ball.

Cannavaro’s leadership was crucial in the tournament as he and his teammates held their nerve to stave off the host nation and then France in the final to clinch Italy’s fourth crown.

The defender captained Italy 79 times during his career and his side appeared to miss a reassuring presence on the pitch at Euro 2012 when they were beaten heavily by Spain.

The Azzurri have struggled to impose themselves in the tournaments since Cannavaro’s retirement, which is why they have odds of 16/1 in the Euro 2016 football betting as a rank outsider.

With manager Antonio Conte heavily linked with the Chelsea job, Cannavaro may consider re-entering the managerial world to enhance his credentials to manage the Azzurri in the future.

At the end of his playing career Cannavaro assumed a coaching role with Al-Ahli as the club won both the UAE Pro League and League Cup.

The success led him to taking the manager’s position with Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande, although his tenure there last just 23 games, yielding 11 victories before he was replaced by Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Cannavaro returned to the dugout last year with Saudi side Al-Nassr but again failed to make a lasting impact before he opted to leave the club.

The Italian is in an interesting position in his career after his two failures. Looking at his accomplishments in the game he should have all the attributes needed to succeed as a manager with his knowledge and inspirational leadership.

A move to the Championship would present a major challenge, although Cellino has never been afraid to make daring decisions.

Cannavaro’s passion and nous, along with the gravitas he would bring to the club, would make him an intriguing option and he could be the man to return Leeds to the Premier League.