Tag Archives: Chelsea FC

Leeds, Liverpool Fans: Demand New Contract for Man Utd Hero van Gaal   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
Times are hard for Man United and their beleaguered Dutch genius of a manager Louis van Gaal. Following their latest defeat, at old rivals Liverpool, rumours persist that the axe is poised to terminate the former Holland coach’s tenure at Old Trafford. This would be a tragic turn of events for fans of some of England’s premier clubs, who are united in their conviction that Louis van Gaal is doing a fantastic job at Manchester United.

Fans of some of the country’s foremost clubs, as well as Newcastle United, West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur, have been invited to sign and share a petition calling upon Malcolm Glazer, the Man U CEO, to recognise the folly of a managerial change at this point, and immediately award van Gaal a new and improved five year contract, during in which he would hopefully be able to see through the job he’s started so promisingly to a conclusion that most football fans would wholeheartedly welcome. 

Fans of Liverpool, Manchester City, Leeds United and Arsenal, among others, are invited to sign and share the Change.org petition in support of van Gaal’s retention with the Premier League also-rans.

We at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything are so impressed with the job van Gaal is doing, that we have no hesitation in endorsing this petition. We would urge our readers to sign it at once and share it as widely as possible. 

For the good of the game and the contentment of millions of people outside of Devon, Cornwall and the Home Counties, the success of this campaign is vital. 

Louis van Gaal must stay at Man U!

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So Glad We Don’t Have a ‘Genius’ Like Mourinho at Leeds United  –   by Rob Atkinson

The not-so Special One

When you’ve seen your club at the very top of the game, as thousands of Leeds United fans (of a certain age) have – then you’re bound to aspire to regain those dizzy heights again. That’s only natural; but what would be the true cost to our club, in terms of its essential character and tradition? The answer to that might be fairly unpalatable. 

Everywhere you look in the Premier League, that rarefied sphere we yearn to inhabit, there are magicians, geniuses, world-class performers. That’s why it’s hyped as The Greatest Show On Earth. But the hype is just about the only thing that lives up to its billing as the biggest and the best. If hype alone could power a rocket, then the Premier League would be the first franchise on Mars. 

We have to ask ourselves at Leeds, where we have our own pride and our own fiercely partisan sense of identity – how many of these geniuses and magicians would we actually wish to see in a white shirt? Would we really want a Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance? Which Leeds fan would genuinely be happy to hear that that particular Ego Had Landed at Elland Road? Not me, that I do know.

If the price of Elite membership is to have to support players like Ronaldo, Yaya Toure (the crybaby birthday boy), Wayne Rooney and so on and so forth, then I’m by no means sure I’d wish to pay it. Give me a team of grafters with their feet on the ground, any day of the week. And who, pray, would we have to coach and manage such “stars”? If I may answer my own question with a negative once more, I’m dead certain that one person I wouldn’t want is the so-called Special One, Jose Mourinho himself.

Mourinho’s not had the best of weeks, losing a two goal lead at home to Swansea City and then getting hammered at Manchester City. In between times, he’s seen fit to treat club doctor Eva Carneiro most shabbily, as I’ve bemoaned here. So it’s been a bad few days for Jose, and he’s deserved every agonising second of it.

Here is a man, after all, who first came into the English game like a breath of fresh air, capturing the imaginations of fans throughout the game, endearing himself to those who, like me, enjoyed seeing Alex Ferguson taken down a peg or several. But, after a while, his arrogance began to grate more than a little. His self-awarded tag of ‘The Special One‘ lost its early appeal and took on a more ironically mocking aspect – not that Jose’s colossal ego was even slightly dented by that. Now, Mourinho appears to have become a distorted caricature of himself, a man more preoccupied with living up to his own self-image than by any need or desire to win admirers or friends along the way. His verdict on the second part of this week’s Tale of Two Cities? The 0-3 reverse in Manchester was “a fake result”. Honestly, I ask you. Here’s a man who has squandered his early impact on English football.

At one time, Mourinho might have been my ultimate dream as Boss at Elland Road. Now he’s one of those nightmares I know I could never countenance for the Leeds United I know and love. He’s put himself into a category of Untouchables, people I wouldn’t want my Whites to go anywhere near with the longest of barge poles. He’s right in the middle of that company of undesirables, along with the Rooneys and the Ronaldos, the Fergusons and the Sterlings. They’re the Too Big For Their Boots Brigade and they have no place at the kind of club I’d wish to support. 

It’s not that there haven’t been such undesirables in earlier eras – more that they seem so much thicker on the ground now than in days of yore. It’s the Premier League glitz and glamour, I suppose. This hollow arrogance, together with the sycophantic need on the media pack’s part to worship it, just sets my teeth on edge. Back in the day, I wouldn’t have wanted a George Best at Leeds, nor yet a Tommy Docherty. We mooted Maradona and we tried Cantona for size, but the former was just a Bill Fotherby pipe-dream and the latter didn’t really fit our club. We don’t really like massive egos at Elland Road – but show us a grounded grafter, and we’ll crawl over broken glass to follow him.

We’ve had our geniuses at Leeds, of course we have. But they’ve been a particular type of genius: John Charles, il Gigante Buono, Billy Bremner, side before self, Eddie the Last Waltz Gray, the incomparable Johnny Giles. And of course, the one and only, undisputed and undeniable Special One, Sir Don Revie. Modest geniuses, unassuming magicians. Special Ones in the Leeds United idiom. Give me a team and a manager like that to support, and I’d truly relish seeing my club back at the top again.

But, if modern day success means following the likes of Jose Mourinho or Cristiano Ronaldo – then I’d simply rather not bother, thanks all the same. 

Leeds Fan Opinion: Chelsea’s Slump Down To Fitness Problems   –   by Rob Atkinson

Mourinho: who’s a silly boy, then?

Chelsea, the runaway winners of the English Premier League just a few short months ago, have made an uncharacteristically poor start to the defence of their Title. Despite taking a two goal lead on the opening day against Swansea, the champions were pegged back and had to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw. Then, in the season’s first “Elite” game when they faced Manchester’s finest at the Etihad, the Blues really set in as Roman’s Pensioners subsided to a 0-3 hammering, putting them a sizeable five points behind the leaders with only two rounds of league competition played.

As a Leeds United fan, I could normally be expected to do no more than snigger quietly at the misfortunes of such an old rival. The enmity between the Whites and the Blues stretches clear back to the 60s, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were the very acme of gritty northern professionalism, whilst Chelsea represented the Soft South, all rag trade moguls and Z-list luvvies, a hymn to the effete spinelessness of the namby-pamby, over-pampered mummy’s boys of West London. Only the fearsome “Chopper” Harris and the skin-headed, thuggish primates of The Shed made Chelsea worth hating. For the rest, they were mainly there for the media to adore, and for us oop ‘ere in Yorkshire to have a good laugh at.

So why should I, a Leeds fan and proud of it, spend my valuable time pointing out the problems at Chelsea? And what makes me think that I can second-guess Jose Mourinho, coach extraordinaire, sex-symbol to the militant blue rinse brigade and a veritable legend in his own mind?

Well, silly as it might seem, Jose has been and gone and dropped the Portuguese equivalent of a right, proper clanger so far this season and, such being the nature of the man, he’s not going to see the error of his ways unless someone’s prepared to slap him (metaphorically) about the face with the irrefutable evidence of it. The mistake that Jose has made is fundamental, and it’s set fair to reduce the champions’ nascent season to rubble. Not that this would necessarily be a bad thing – but I would like to see the Blues back to something like their normal, imperious form by the time they’re called upon to demolish Manchester’s lesser club. So, there is method in my madness, as you can see. 

Mourinho’s tragic error is in the all-important area of fitness. If a football club is deficient in this respect, then all else falls into ruin. Fitness is to a football club what greed is to a bank or to a multinational corporation – neither entity can function without that one vital quality which is the mainspring of their entire operation.

Last season, fitness was not a problem for Chelsea FC. It was a quality clearly obvious even to the most unobservant eye; it leapt out of the TV screen every time a Chelsea player got a knock or went down injured. Fitness underpinned all of Chelsea’s endeavours, protecting them against injury and the effects of gruelling competition. Wherever the Blues played, there too was this unmistakable quality of fitness – as embodied by surely the fittest occupant of a Chelsea bench-coat it’s ever been my pleasure to behold.

Doctor, my heart...

Doctor, my heart…

Take a demure bow, Eva Carneiro, Chelsea club doctor and, beyond doubt, the most acceptable face of Chelsea there has ever, ever been. And yet the arrogant and deeply silly Jose (my wife will kill me for this) has found it necessary to remove her as a delectable match-day presence, thereby denying Chelsea’s valuable, thoroughbred playing staff the benefits of her inestimable professional expertise and – far more seriously – the rest of us the privilege of simpering helplessly over her international-class cuteness and beauty. It’s a sad loss to the game as a whole, to Chelsea in particular and to everyone out here in TV land who simply longs for a Blues player to get hurt, just for the chance of another glimpse of that exquisite pocket Venus of an MD.

In depriving Chelsea of any further manifestations of Eva, Jose Mourinho has reduced their overall fitness levels by at least 95% (on the empirical sexism scale) and – it seems clear – has demoralised and depressed, into the bargain, a playing staff that carried all before them only last season. And what clearer indication could there be that a clanger has indeed been dropped, than the occurrence of two simultaneous injuries during the City match – on Eva’s very first enforced night off? Honestly, I ask you. Those lads were clearly pining for her.

So if Mourinho wishes his club to emerge from this deep early slump, he should order forthwith a large slice of humble pie for himself, a large bouquet of flowers and a case of Adega de Borba Premium 2011 for the gorgeous Eva – and then he should do the only decent thing, admitting that even The Special One can get things spectacularly wrong, and humbly begging Dr. Carneiro to return, pretty please.

Jose - she's behind you...

Jose – she’s behind you…

And if, as I suspect, Mourinho finds it impossible to contemplate such an humiliating climbdown – even though he will know, deep down, that I am right – why, then, he should simply pack the good lady doctor off, with no hard feelings, to Elland Road – where she would be better appreciated by players, staff and especially by most of those fans possessing a Y chromosome. And most especially by this besotted fan, whose heart belongs to club and family, but who can yet raise considerably more than a cheer for the scrumptious Eva Carneiro.

Come to Leeds United, Eva, love. Sod Chelsea, they clearly don’t deserve you. Come to Elland Road, and make our injury stoppages a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Perhaps then I could go back to being utterly indifferent to the goings-on at Stamford Bridge – excepting always when I need the Blues to beat the even more loathsome reds, otherwise known in this parish as the Pride of Devon…

Leeds United to Miss Out as FA Introduce Selective New “Joker” Rule – by Rob Atkinson

I heff het...enOUGH of losink. I em playink - our JOKER in all games now.

I heff het…enOUGH of losink. I em playink…our JOKER in all games now

It hardly comes as news to the fans of Leeds United, long used to English football’s tiresome habit of “playing favourites”, that there is some perplexity in the corridors of power about the inability of the “most popular club” to win the league title. Since a certain choleric Glaswegian shuffled off into the sunset to brood over old feuds and current grievances, the supply of plastic EPL titles for Club Popular has dried up somewhat, much to the chagrin of the suits. Needless to say, that most popular club is not located in LS11 – the Whites of Elland Road occupy a ranking at the other end of the adulation scale, with the game’s administrators being accustomed to wrinkle their noses slightly if forced to acknowledge Leeds’ existence, affecting a rather pained expression, as if they were suffering patiently in the presence of some noxious odour.

No, the “most popular” – naturally – are the club I joshingly if not exactly fondly refer to as the Pride of Devon – due to their vast appeal to the more insecure type of West Country glory-hunter. But they’re all the rage in parts of London too, this lot – as well as Wales, Ireland, Milton Keynes, Barnsley, for God’s sake – and not to mention great chunks of the Far East and even isolated neighbourhoods in less salubrious areas of Manchester itself. 

The dilemma faced by the game’s rulers appears to be a matter of clear and present danger to those earnest men in their sober garb, as they brandish calculators and contemplate massive markets, domestic and foreign, previously of great productivity, with bale after bale of tatty replica Sharp, AIG or Chevrolet shirts being demanded every high day and holiday by precocious Man U-supporting spoilt brats. Having expressed concern over the poor form of the EPL Golden Boys, the Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore is now rumoured to have come up with a foolproof plan to redress the balance and get away from the current, annoyingly level playing field in English top flight football. The Chief’s idea is the product of much serious thought and an increasing awareness that the problem of Man U’s chronic lack of dominance is not going away anytime soon. Now, Scudamore has allegedly been inspired by the popular summer evening silly games contest of the mid 1970s, It’s A Knockout, to come up with a novel solution to a thorny problem.

Uncle Stuart - butter wouldn't melt

Uncle Stuart – butter wouldn’t melt

For those of us of a certain age, that evocative theme music is just so reminiscent of long summer evenings when we were young; coming home from playing football on the village green, hot and dusty and pleasantly tired, ready to sit down, relax – and enjoy some more seemingly innocent fun as good old “Uncle” Stuart Hall treated us to his dulcet tones, his manic laugh – but thankfully not the gift of his intimate acquaintance. Genial old rugby league fart Eddie Waring bumbled about in the background, sounding ever more like a Mike Yarwood impression of himself, joining in with Hall for the title of maddest chortler. It was quintessential family entertainment, or so it seemed in those pre-Operation Yewtree days.

Happy days, for some. But the appeal of It’s A Knockout was – thankfully – more down to the nuttiness of the games and the rules, than any peculiarities of the show’s host. The contests were between a number of teams representing various obscure towns around the UK. Massive costumes figured heavily, huge false heads on them which would put Joe Royle or even Wayne Rooney to shame, colourful, crazy, hilarious. There was water, there were custard pies, there were enough card-carrying prats to ensure pratfalls aplenty – it was hilarious, playful anarchy – and the presenters could be heard crying with mirth as the participants struggle gamely. Nobody was too bothered about the scoring system – and yet it was one bizarre element of this which may now restore Man U to what the suits see as that troubled franchise’s rightful place at the top of the English game.

The idea is that Man U – at their own discretion – will be able to “play their joker” whenever the need arises. It’s important to emphasise that this is not a reference to the team selection and the appearance in a Man U shirt of Angel di Maria or the latest “next George Best”. Rather, it is a maverick twist to the scoring system of any particular game – whereby the team playing its joker will have any subsequent score doubled.

Scudamore is believed to favour a refinement of this system, seeing the Man U joker double the value of any goal scored, rule out any goal against them, or produce a penalty on demand, regardless of where play happens to be on the field. It is envisaged that this would enable even a team managed by a total incompetent – or “onbekwaam” as Mijnheer van Gaal’s compatriots would say – to prevail in most games. Theoretically, at least, the return of the Pride of Devon to the summit of the game would be assured – and the Theatre of Hollow Myths would once again ring to the rafters with songs of West Country and cockney triumphalism.

One important feature of the new system is that – surprise, surprise, Leeds fans – it would not be open to all teams, as that would merely introduce an annoyingly random element whilst maintaining what is seen as an undesirable status quo. The conditions of entitlement so far envisaged are extremely stringent; only clubs who can demonstrate that every single one of their FA Cup ties since 2005 has been televised live on TV – even when they’ve played no-hopers at home (Exeter and Cambridge, for example. Or Leeds United…) – will have the option of “playing their Joker”. It has been concluded that only one club, based just outside Manchester, would fall within these parameters. Coincidentally, the identity of this randomly selected club would fit in precisely with Mr Scudamore’s idea for the future of the game.

Scudamore is said to be delighted with his plan. and hopes that its introduction will be a new start for English football, with better times ahead for all – unless you happen to be a fan of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City – or indeed any club that lacks the postcode M16 0RA.

Louis van Gaal, 83, is an extreme embarrassment.

How Premier League CEO Scudamore Blew the Gaff on Man Utd Bias – by Rob Atkinson

Pet lip:  Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

Pet lip: Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

As a Leeds United fanatic, a card-carrying cynic and someone with no faith in the football authorities these days to run a fair and disinterested league competition, I have written many times on this blog about my belief that the Man U domination of the game in this country after 1993 (the FA Premier League début season) was deeply suspicious. The last season or so’s steep decline, with a squad not at first markedly different to the one that romped home in Taggart’s final season, begs the question: what’s really different? It has appeared ever since The Demented One left that the change of stewardship is behind this relative failure. But was Alex Ferguson the sole factor in the unprecedented success enjoyed by the Pride of Devon over the last two decades?

These days, following a series of revealing comments over the past year or so from people who should know whereof they speak, it appears that at least a couple of other factors have been at play throughout that twenty year period. I have said over and over again in Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, that the Fergie years have been trophy-laden for three well-defined reasons, none of them all that adjacent to the quality of their playing squad. They may be summed up as: Ferguson, match officials and the rulers of the game itself. These three influences conspired over two decades to exaggerate the success of Man U out of all proportion to the abilities of their playing and coaching staff in that period, many of whom have gone on to enjoy sustained mediocrity elsewhere. Add into the mix the drip, drip, drip effect of blind, unquestioning media adulation, spearheaded by Murdoch’s Sky empire and endorsed by lapdog attitudes from the terrestrial broadcasters who know which side the commercial bread is buttered, and you have what is technically known as a “Scum-friendly environment”.

This may to the unwary sound like just another conspiracy theory.  But you only have to look at the unprecedented before and after picture of Man U’s record pre-Murdoch as compared to their success under Uncle Rupert. After all, we’re talking an almost total domination of the Premier League era here, by a club that – for the 26 years immediately preceding the league reorganisation – couldn’t buy a title. Seven times Champions in their whole history prior to 1993, and then thirteen Premier League titles in the first twenty years after Rupert Murdoch bought the game.

That’s such a sharp delineation between failure and success – it’s not coincidental that the demarcation line is the inception of the Premier League, the changing of football in this country from a sport to a brand – and the new understanding that the game was now about markets and money to a much greater extent than it had ever been before. Man U were the new brand leader, and they had better succeed – or the Premier League product might not fulfil its immense potential for dominating the world in terms of TV audiences, syndication and merchandising. And that would never do. So the game leant the way of the Man U scum – as we at Leeds United fondly refer to them – and the pressure applied by Ferguson to match officials was allowed to take effect. Professional sport is a matter of extremely fine margins; a slight bias over a long period will skew outcomes to a massive degree – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Naturally, none of this has ever been acknowledged. It’s been of paramount importance, after all, that the Premier League should at least retain the appearance of being a fair competition, on the proverbial level playing field. But now – Ferguson has gone, Man U are failing, the referees are not by any means as intimidated, opposing teams are not scared any more; not, as they used to be, beaten before they took the field. And now people are speaking out, very revealingly – and in some cases that is clearly intentional, in other cases less so. Ex-referee Graham Poll is one who has made his views known quite deliberately; he has spoken out about the feelings of a ref in the Fergie years, how the priority was to get off the field without having made any close calls against Man U – and, ideally, with them having won the game. What is the cumulative effect of that kind of insidious pressure over twenty years? Self-evidently, it’s significant; look at the trophy records, the penalty for and against statistics, the time added on if Man U weren’t winning – and so on and so forth.

Poll has also written about the unprecedented scenes when three penalties were given against Man U in a home game against old rivals Liverpool. Even though things have changed in terms of the favourable decisions enjoyed by Man U, these were the first penalties awarded against Man U as the home team since December 2011 – well over two years without conceding a home league penalty. Poll’s observations on that make for interesting reading for anyone who, as I do, strongly suspects that Man U had it easy from match officials in the Fergie years.

And then, to put the tin lid on it, we had Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore sounding off, in earnestly worried tones, about how the Premier League “brand” is being adversely affected by the difficulties Man U were having last season (happily, it’s carried on in pretty much the same vein this time around). It’s difficult to believe that he was quite aware of the import of what he was saying – this was a tacit admission, after all, that the supposedly disinterested rulers of the game actually have a vested interest – as I’ve been saying long and loud – in the regular success of Man U. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Scudamore, at the time. “When your most popular club isn’t doing as well, that costs you interest and audience in some places.” The hapless Peter doesn’t identify the other edge of that sword, but he’s clearly perturbed by the prospect of a future with Man U as the also-rans they’ve been this last two campaigns.

Speaking in greater depth about the ethos of the Premier League, as well as its duty to fans around the world, Scudamore went on: “There are lots of fans around the world who wish Manchester United were winning it again. But you have to balance that off against, generally, we’re in the business of putting on a competition and competition means people can compete.” The wistful tone of that last sentence was massively telling. Other clubs will insist on competing, particularly now that Ferguson is history. How very inconvenient and bad for business. What a deuced bore.

The FA Premier League mandarins at a high level clearly see even competition, where any old Tom, Dick or Manuel (or even Jose) can win the League, as their cross to bear, something that will inhibit their ability to market their “brand” around a global audience in thrall to Man U. But they have made a rod for their own back in allowing the creation of that trophy-winning monster, under the inimical sway of a tyrant from Govan, to become so all-consuming in the first place. Now they’re reaping what they have sown – in pumping up the bubble of unrealistic success for one favoured club, they have left themselves without a Plan B for when that bubble bursts – as bubbles inevitably will.

For real football people – the fans out here, the people who have always gone along to the match, with little if any thought of global markets and syndication deals – this new reality of genuine competition has come as a breath of fresh air. There’s a new top four out there, of varied make-up which usually excludes Man U, and they’ve all played wonderful football and succeeded on their own merits.

We’ve also seen less of the media-beloved “mind games” which are so tiresome to the fan in the street. We’ve not missed that old curmudgeon, railing at authority whenever he gets any less than his own way and intimidating anybody who gets in his way. Football seems fresh and new again; Man U were seventh last time – which is probably about where they should have finished the season before. The first twenty years of the Premier League can be seen as a statistical blip, the product of a tyrant dominating and bullying the people charged with the responsibility to see that the game is run fairly. The evidence is there; listen to Poll, listen to what Scudamore is actually saying. Look at the results and standings this season and last.

We’re so very sorry, Mr Scudamore, if your product and your brand are suffering from the failure of “your most popular club”. Perhaps you should take the view that popularity is there to be earned by whichever club can succeed on merit? That it’s not something to be inculcated by the favourable treatment of one chosen club, amounting to institutional bias over twenty long years. Perhaps you can learn that – and then all we will have to regret is the two decades when, aided by Ferguson and a terrified cadre of referees and officials, you – blatantly and with malice aforethought – sold the game down the river.

How Leeds Could Do With a Season or Two of Frank Lampard – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds? Up norf, innit??

Leeds? Up norf, innit??

Cast your mind back to the genesis of Leeds United’s last promotion charge out of the second tier and back into the Promised Land.  In Sergeant Wilko, we had the man to lay down the rules and ensure that the work ethic was in place. Howard Wilkinson had turned up at Elland Road to be interviewed for the vacant managerial post at Leeds – and had ended up turning the tables on the bemused board members when he started interviewing them. The upshot was that he not only got the job, but also a cast-iron commitment to doing that job the way he wanted to, as opposed to the shoestring budget poor Billy Bremner had been stuck with.  It’s safe to say that the Leeds bosses were impressed by their new man, and they supported him accordingly.

The master-stroke came early.  Wilkinson beat off interest from Ron Atkinson at his old club Sheffield Wednesday to sign Man U’s mercurial play-maker Gordon Strachan.  This was some coup; not only were the Wendies still in the top flight, but Big Ron had been Strachan’s mentor from their days at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  But Strachan was the right man at the right time in the right circumstances for Leeds; the battle ahead was tailor-made for his combative style and world-class ability, leadership and dedication.  The rest is history – we thought we might get a good year or two out of Strachan, yet we ended up with arguably the best eight years of his career, harvesting the Championships of the top two divisions in a three-season spell and establishing United as a top-flight power for fifteen years.

Wind forward over a quarter of a century from the capture of wee Gordon, and we find Leeds marooned once again in the shadowy hinterland of second-tier football. Morale is low, relegation to a humiliating second spell of League One football remains a faint but nightmarish possibility, the club has just been shaken up with yet another change of ownership and – just to put the tin lid on it – we have a sulky Football League, licking their QC-inflicted wounds and wondering how best to stitch us up in the weeks and months ahead.  What we need right now is inspiration on a par with that provided by our second-greatest ginger Scottish captain way back in the late 80’s.

This blog is open to suggestions here, but it’s difficult to think of a more likely candidate to play the elder statesman role so badly needed in an ineffective and inexperienced midfield than Frank Lampard of Chelsea. The man is a legend, but his ongoing career at Stamford Bridge must surely be in doubt as this season reaches a climax.  He might, of course, feel that he can stay on and fight for a continued place with Mourinho’s winning combination.  He may well end up with a double of League and Champions League this season, after all.  But if he were to decide that he wanted one last challenge – could his mind possibly be led in the same direction as Strachan’s was in 1989?  Could he decide that he wants to be instrumental in reviving the fortunes of a veritable sleeping giant?

Lampard would bring goals, class and composure to our midfield and – while he’d hardly cost the earth in a transfer fee – he would justify what would doubtless be high wages by forming a statement of intent as regards Leeds United’s transfer and team-building plans.  That was exactly the effect the Strachan coup had, back in the day.  Suddenly, Leeds was a possible destination for players of class and ambition.  That one signing made us high-profile again.  Lampard – or someone in his mould – would be the ideal “statement” signing for the summer of 2014.  If Frank doesn’t make the plane to Brazil, it’s more than likely that his England career would be over.  The legs aren’t quite what they used to be, but as part of a midfield which includes younger players to do his running for him, Lampard could be a major success in the Championship.

It remains to be seen, of course, what the summer will bring for Leeds – assuming that we do stay up.  There will be other issues to resolve – will Cellino still be in danger from the more detailed judgement in the Nélie case – or indeed from other cases yet pending?  Will the implications of Financial Fair Play on the back of a year or so’s mismanagement by GFH lead to a cautious transfer policy, despite the fact that Massimo is minted? It all remains to be seen.

For the time being, though – with the Football League temporarily at least chained up and impotent – we can indulge ourselves in a little daring to dream.  The next transfer window should be a lot more interesting than the last few, when the only real debating point was how many lies we were going to be told to flog a few more season tickets.  The signs are that Cellino will not be treading the path of deception, valuing the biggest asset of Leeds United as he does.  “Fans are not for sale, they have feeling and you don’t buy feeling,” he has said. “You can buy a bitch for one night, but you don’t buy the love my friend.”  The man has the soul and spirit of a poet, his fluency of expression promises to be a highlight of the Leeds United soap opera for as long as we’re allowed to keep him. Perhaps such a poet, someone who thinks so clearly and expresses himself so fluently, can look back at history for inspiration and then act on it to provide Elland Road with a new talisman.

If he does, he’s odds-on to have ideas of his own – and who knows, perhaps even Brian will get a say in the matter.  But just while we are daring to dream, my ideal situation would be for the name of Lampard to crop up, and then for Leeds to be audacious enough to ask the question.  Stranger things have happened – two months before Strachan arrived in LS11, any suggestion of that calibre of recruit for Leeds would have led you to a sojourn in a rubber room with the old back-to-front jacket on.  Wind back a further thirty years, and the signing of Bobby Collins from Everton would have appeared equally as outlandish a possibility.

Lampard for Leeds as the latest springboard to success and renaissance? Unlikely perhaps.  But, where Leeds United and Massimo Cellino are concerned, never say never.

Ex-Man U Boss Fergie Still Paranoid Over League Kings Liverpool – by Rob Atkinson

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S’ralex – the lunatic fringe view from the stands.

Alex Ferguson has been mercifully quiet since his retirement, contenting himself in the main with a seat in the stands from which to glare down balefully at the struggles of his hapless and helpless successor, David “Gollum” Moyes.  It’s been a quieter and more peaceful – even saner – game without the rantings of the whisky-nosed old curmudgeon.  Although Moyes’ plight has been pitiful to behold, at least some light has been shed on what was behind the success of virtually the same team last season, which looks so spectacularly inept this time around.  It’s been Fergie all the time it seems; terrifying opponents, refs and FA officials alike into granting his team every advantage they could wish for.  Now that he’s subsided into a brooding and impotent silence, away from the arena itself, the game seems a fairer and cleaner thing, with everyone a lot happier – fans all over Devon and Cornwall and in Milton Keynes who have Man U sympathies always excepted.

The old tyrant’s broken that silence this weekend though, deigning to pronounce upon the Premier League Title race, for which he sees a wider-than-usual field of maybe as many as six possible contenders.  Pushing the margins of credibility, he includes old charges Man U among these contenders, along with the Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and even Everton and Spurs.  Notable by their absence from this select group of “Fergie’s Favourites” is Liverpool FC, a name that the Govan Gob studiously avoided mentioning, wary perhaps of bringing on an attack of apoplexy.  Clearly, the purple-nosed Taggart clone still has a problem with a club he vowed to “knock off their perch” when he first slithered south all those years ago.  How he failed to do that, despite all those lies, damned lies and statistics, is detailed below.

Let’s face it – Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles, but the evidence to confound their plastic claims is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  Seven titles in their history before Uncle Rupert bought the game for them.  Thirteen in the twenty years after the game went mad for money when, aided by more riches than anyone else, combined with the threat of Fergie to cow refs and officials, the Pride of Devon all but cleaned up in what was no more or less than a game of craps played with the dice heavily loaded in their favour.  And it was all done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’ve been plodding through.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson himself and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have the champions we deserve – but not, it seems, for very much longer – despite the wishful thinking of a silly and deluded old man.

To apply a conversion rate which sums up the way our game has been degraded in the Fergie/Murdoch era – let’s say that each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship, won on a level playing field in the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.  At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which, on the basis of the history of English football as a whole, is precisely where they belong.

Ferguson might choose to ignore the challenge of a newly-invigorated Liverpool, but then again, football knowledge was never the strong point of the Demented One.  For bullying and intimidation, he wouldn’t have had much to learn from Torquemada, but his opinions on the game can safely be set aside in favour of those from saner minds – i.e. just about anyone else.  Meanwhile, it should be emphasised once and for all, for the avoidance of doubt and despite the latest nonsense from S’ralex – Liverpool are still very much The Greatest.

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Chelsea Defeat Best Proof That Man U Miss the Fergie Fear Factor – by Rob Atkinson

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S’ralex in happier times

This year, just as in the past two seasons – but for a vastly different reason – the Chelsea v Man U fixture has provided a litmus indication of the influence Alex Ferguson has held over the game of football in England since the inception of the FA Premier League in 1992.  In the previous two meetings between the two clubs at Stamford Bridge, Ferguson was still very much in charge of Man U – and it showed.  This season’s clash found the Pride of Devon under new management – and, boy, did that ever show too.

Two years ago, it may be recalled, the game followed a pattern very similar to Sunday’s clash – up to a point.  Chelsea established a three-goal lead by early in the second half on both occasions, but from then on the games followed very different paths.  Back in February 2012, the brooding presence of Ferguson in the Man U dugout, together with the co-operative Howard Webb on the field, saw two penalties awarded to the away side as they swiftly reduced the arrears to a single goal.  By that point, Chelsea were reeling, their confidence shot through, and it was clearly only a matter of time before an equalising goal.  When it came, in the 85th minute, the build-up told its own damning tale.  The sight of a demoralised Chelsea defender, attempting to close down a left-wing cross as he backed away, hands studiously behind his back, clearly convinced that a third penalty would be awarded if the ball could be struck against any part of his arms, was symptomatic of a refereeing culture dominated by fear of what Fergie might do or say if his side were defeated.  It was like watching a boxer trying to avoid a knockout blow with his guard held down, a pitiful sight.  In the event, two dropped points meant the title would end up with Manchester City – but Howard Webb had done his bit, as he did so often for the benefit of Man U.

Last year’s game between these two at Stamford Bridge was even more indicative of where the power really resided.  This time, Man U had raced to an early two-goal lead and it appeared that no undue interference with events would be needed.  But two goals from Chelsea in four minutes either side of the interval restored parity – and suddenly the establishment’s favoured team were in danger of losing a game they had looked to have comfortably under control – and what would S’ralex say then, pray?

That thought was plainly too horrible to contemplate for the referee, Mark Clattenburg on this occasion.  His sending-off of Ivanovic for a foul on Young was reasonably clear-cut – but then Clattenburg made two decisions which demonstrated the influence of the Ferguson Fear Factor.  Firstly, an already-booked Torres was clear and racing through on goal when he went down under challenge from Jonny Evans.  If the foul were to be given, then Evans would have to go for a professional foul, and it would be ten-a-side.  Clearly, that would not do – so Clattenburg brilliantly decided that Torres had dived, issued him a second yellow and made the contest 9 v 11.  To cap a tremendously influential performance, he then allowed the clearly offside winner for Hernandez after 75 minutes, and Man U saw the game out against their demoralised opponents to bank the three points.

Both of these games stand as damning evidence of what former referee Graham Poll admitted recently – that when officiating in a Man U game, it was always a relief to get the match over with, ideally with Man U winning – and certainly NOT having made any crucial calls against them, for fear of what Ferguson might say or do in retaliation.  But for this year’s game, there was no Ferguson in the dugout – and the performance of the referee seemed suddenly free of those perceived pressures of the Fergie years.

It’s not as though Man U didn’t try to apply such pressure.  There were concerted efforts by their bench, with Moyes to the fore in his Fergie-Lite guise, to get David Luiz sent off instead of merely booked – to no avail.  Penalty shouts – an ever-present feature of any Man U game – likewise went unheeded, despite the presence of the usual diving suspects.  Chelsea, having eased into a three-goal lead despite a well below-par performance, never looked seriously troubled.  In contrast to the two previous years, they never seemed to have the slightest fear that the game might suddenly turn against them.  The referee even went so far as to dismiss Vidic and book Rafael for ugly challenges – decisions he probably got the wrong way around.

The late-ish Man U goal might have heralded a late onslaught in previous years, with the winning side suddenly assailed by fear and insecurity – but that was when Fergie was on the bench.  Now, with the impotent tyrant up in the stands, shaking his head glumly, there was no sign that the consolation goal would be anything but exactly that.  Man U had been beaten, despite early dominance of possession, despite a lacklustre showing by Chelsea.  It was their seventh defeat of the season, leaving them 14 points behind the leaders – or, more relevantly, a possible 7 points off Champions League qualification.  Tellingly, people have even begun to speculate as to their main rivals for a Europa League place.

It’s a new and unwelcome landscape for the ailing champions, and a lot of people are beginning to wake up to what all of this says, not only about their immediate prospects, but also of their record over the past twenty years, and to what degree that has been skewed by the ever more apparently crucial Fergie Fear Factor.  Thirteen titles in twenty years – how many would they have won without the dubious methods employed by the Govan Gob?  A virtually identical squad to last season’s runaway winners is now being revealed as the ordinary group that it is.  The myth of Man U is being ruthlessly exposed – and while nobody could argue that this is good for them, or for their globally spread cadre of fans, including the tiny minority that actually attend matches – it surely has to be good for the game that such an evidently dominant force for the swaying of authority and the warping of results has now departed the scene.

It would seem likely that history may not take quite such a rosy view of the Ferguson legacy as he would perhaps like – and the ironic fact is that this could perhaps come about not because of results under his leadership, but in the light of the pallid performance of virtually the same team, newly deprived of the advantages bestowed by the malign influence of S’ralex.  If that turns out to be the case, then we may all be taking a somewhat more realistic view of those so-called Ferguson Glory Years.

Leeds United Legend Vinnie Jones in Skin Cancer Battle – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds hero Vinnie Jones

Former Leeds United star Vinnie Jones has revealed that he has had several small tumours removed since being diagnosed with melanoma – the most potentially serious form of skin cancer.  Jones, an integral part of Leeds’ 1990 promotion squad, initially discovered a small lump underneath his eye back in February, but had thought it was simply “a blackhead or a wart”.  However, a check-up revealed the seriousness of the situation.  Jones at first feared for his life, but swiftly resolved to fight “with everything I’ve got”.  Melanoma kills some 1,300 men and 900 women every year, but is treatable if caught early enough.

The Hollywood actor has blamed his outdoor lifestyle for a condition related to over-exposure to the sun.  Vinnie has always been an outdoorsman, and moved to Los Angeles after his football days ended, to pursue a film career.  He has had a lot of success and has worked with some high-profile stars in films like X-Men and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Now working for the Melanoma Research Foundation, Jones cites his own case in warning others to take precautions. “Footballers never put on sunblock and they should all be wearing it,” he said. “Kids should all be wearing it every time they play sport.” Vinnie’s wife Tanya has also fought the disease, which she developed a result of drugs she had been taking since having a heart transplant 26 years ago.

Leeds United fans and those who remember Vinnie’s playing days from other clubs he served – Chelsea, Sheffield United and Wimbledon – will join together in sending heart-felt good wishes to a legend of the game who now has a different sort of fight on his hands.  Get well soon, Vinnie.

Lethal Lampard Back Again to Hammer Upton Park Boo Boys – by Rob Atkinson

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Chelsea Pensioner Lampard: Hammers torturer-in-chief

After this stroll in Upton Park from an effortlessly superior Chelsea side, West Ham boss Sam Allardyce must be preoccupied by one burning question: are there three worse teams in the Premier League than his punchless, impotent Hammers?  Because, make no mistake, West Ham’s short term future revolves entirely around that one issue.  If three teams even less creative, even less error-prone and ineffective, can be found to occupy the dreaded drop zone – then the Hammers may survive another season.  If not, it’s back on the downward path for one of the classic yo-yo clubs.

Even at 3-0, this scoreline hardly flattered Chelsea.  Rather, it was an indictment of some profligate finishing on their part – they could and should have had at least a couple more, and Frank Lampard will consider himself rather let down, not having completed his hat-trick.  As for the Hammers – they’re as lightweight up front as the famously under-endowed Olive Oyl.  To their eternal credit, they did finally muster a shot on target – in the 94th minute.  If only that could have gone in, it would have made …. absolutely no difference at all. Meanwhile, at the other end, the poor old ‘Ammers goal was ready to collapse after a ninety minute shelling during which it had sustained enough enemy fire to scuttle a fleet.  Again, one wonders how it ended up at only three.  West Ham, for their part, were a bit lucky to get nil.

It’s the fashion in these tender-hearted and sentimental times for returning old-boys to show a bit of class and decorum, should they happen to have the bad taste and ill manners to score against the alma mater.  This is an admirable convention in many ways, and it’s probably saved a few hot-headed pitch invasions.  But really, it would be too much to expect of the Hammers fans’ least-favourite Lampard, the junior Frank of that ilk.  When he was a Hammer, he got hammered as a daddy’s boy.  When he left for Chelsea, he was castigated for greed and disloyalty.  On the numerous occasions since then, when he’s rippled the Barrow Boys’ net, he’s taken vile abuse and snarling hatred – simply for doing his job.  These ‘Appy ‘Ammers boys have a chirpy cockney reputation, but anyone who’s walked from the Boleyn back to the tube after a tidy little away win for their team might beg leave to doubt the sincerity of all this alleged good-natured bonhomie.  The truth is that are about as charming as a bucket of cold jellied eels, as friendly as Dirty Den in a taxi.  So when Frank Lampard pops another one in against the Iron, you can forgive the lad a bit of a celebration.  He looked nearly as happy as those who had backed him as an any time goalscorer at betting site bwin.com!

Lamps’ two displays of triumphant joy today, either side of a slide-rule finish from Brazilian Oscar, will not have gone down well with the Upton Park clientele.  But they had better brace themselves for more of the same, because although they won’t meet the class of Chelsea every week, there aren’t too many teams which will be troubled by an attack so lacking in penetration that a belting prescription of Viagra looks the least that will be needed to inject a bit more oomph.  This brings us back to the question of whether enough teams can reasonably be expected to finish below Sam’s droopy troops, to give them a fighting chance of securing another campaign.  On today’s evidence, that looks rather doubtful.