Tag Archives: Chelsea

With Bielsa Joining Leeds, Legendary Striker Fernando Torres Cannot be Ruled Out – by Rob Atkinson


Fernando Torres – on his way back to Elland Road?

SkyBet have suspended betting now on the question of the next Leeds United manager – the last price available on Marcelo Bielsa was, reportedly, a not altogether generous 20-1 on. If the bookies expect you to invest £20 to gain a quid, then you can bet they’re fairly certain of the eventual outcome – and now, even that price is off the table. With other sources reporting that Bielsa has been granted a work permit, it seems nailed-on that “El Loco” will be installed in the Elland Road hotseat in the very near future.

To say that this represents a change in United’s recruitment policy is hopelessly inadequate. It’s like saying that Leicester City‘s 2015 title triumph was mildly surprising, or that Harry Kewell is perhaps lacking slightly in the nobler scruples. Bielsa to Leeds is a seismic event, something that shows the club are getting seriously serious in their approach to achieving promotion to the Promised Land. As the wise Yorkshireman observed when he sampled his neighbour’s parsnip wine, “Owt could ‘appen ‘ere”.

That being the case, other stories in circulation, yarns that would normally be dismissed as too outlandish and fanciful even for Coronation Street, must now be treated a little more respectfully. In layman’s terms: if Bielsa can agree to take over at Leeds, and especially if he’s managed to get the club to grant him a big say in all footballing matters including transfers, then pretty much anything can happen now. We’re entering an alternate reality here, one for which the last decade and a half has left us totally unprepared. It is indeed a whole new ball game.

So, when rumour has it that Leeds United, at Senor Bielsa’s behest, are showing an interest in former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, now 34 but eminently capable still of tearing the Championship division a new one, then my advice would have to be: Titter ye not. Put aside your initial impulse to scoff, carp and otherwise demonstrate your scorn. A new reality is upon us, and who can say with any certainty what’s possible or probable under these radically different circumstances? Not I, and, I’d respectfully suggest, not you either.

Even now, though, with an improbability field so vast drifting around Elland Road, that you’d be forgiven for demanding a refund on your Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, some possibilities must be counted as less likely than others. Bielsa? Almost certainly. Abel Hernandez? Where else is the lad going to go? Kyle Bartley? Agent Ayling is on the case. But Torres – a legend in the truest football sense of the world – that has to be a bit more of a stretch. SkyBet, supremely confident about Bielsa, regard Torres to Leeds rather more circumspectly at 33-1. They appear to see Japan as his likely destination, with Premier League minnows Newcastle also much more highly fancied than Yorkshire’s Number One, at 12-1.

Then again, it’s at Leeds United where the nigh-on impossible stuff appears to be happening right now. It should be remembered that Torres would be the third ex-Liverpool striker to join Leeds in the last couple of decades, following on from Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler. Could we really see Fernando Torres leading the line for the Whites at Millwall and Rotherham next season? The way things are around LS11 at the moment, you’d better think twice about betting against it.


32 Years Since Bates’ Vow: Has Leeds Utd Finally Been Destroyed?   –   by Rob Atkinson


Remember this quote from then Chelsea chairman Ken Bates in 1984, after Leeds United fans had damaged a scoreboard at Stamford Bridge? “I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the Football League. Their fans are the scum of the Earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make this happen”. 

These were unequivocal words and, we may now reflect, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that Bates was not perhaps the wisest choice to make when a vacancy arose for “Saviour of ailing West Yorkshire football club”. In the event, when Uncle Ken finally got his mitts on the club, he oversaw a historic plunge into the third tier, with the sideshows of various legal disputes involving the game’s authorities and others. When United, under Simon Grayson, finally hauled themselves back into the Championship and started to look like feasible contenders for the top flight again, the sales started; the club’s finest players were flogged off and inadequately replaced, most of the proceeds disappearing into a financial black hole, or going to fund vanity projects such as the East Stand refurbishment. Tellingly, the gleaming edifice is known by many Leeds fans to this day as “the Delph Shelf“.

When Ken found the heat in the kitchen too hot, he did not trouble himself overmuch with the need to secure ambitious, committed buyers who would take the club upwards towards its proper place among football’s elite. Instead, we got saddled with GFH, the poorest Middle East finance house in creation, and the unedifying spectacle ensued of more in-fighting, more egomaniac games, even less team investment, with criminal goings-on and jailbird revelations to follow. How glad we all were when they were marginalised and pushed into the background by the arrival of our very own King of Corn, il Duce Massimo Cellino himself. And how disastrously wrong we were to afford him any kind of welcome; we should have chased his taxi southwards out of the city and not stopped until it drove into the English Channel. If things were bad under Bates and worse under GFH, they have become positively farcical under Cellino.

There is no need to go into all the ins and outs of the Cellino regime so far, the broken promises, the lies, the false declarations of intent to sell up. We all know the sorry story all too miserably well. Suffice to say that we have now reached a situation where figures of no great stature in the game are being approached to take nominal charge of team affairs – and are saying “thanks, but no thanks”. And who can blame them? It would take a ridiculously self-confident man, one capable of the most exquisite degree of self-delusion, to willingly give himself up on the sacrificial altar of working for Cellino. The lessons of the last couple of years are starkly clear – taking the hot-seat at Elland Road is a shortcut to professional suicide. It’s a no-win situation that has left a trail of shattered reputations in its wake.

Meanwhile, the man who can accurately boast the best Leeds United managerial record since the heady days of Simon Grayson is being treated scandalously, with zero respect. Steve Evans has been left disgracefully unenlightened about his future, despite vague promises and inconclusive meetings, to watch the position he still currently occupies being hawked around any Tom, Dick or Harry who might yet be daft enough to be seduced by the name of Leeds United. Nobody of any common sense or professional pride will touch this job, though, surely. Nobody with his head screwed on properly wants to work with a lunatic.

The only real candidate is the man currently in possession, the man who knows the score, who is already committed to the task, who has done well and has won over many doubters, all while losing a medically worrying amount of weight. You couldn’t blame him for giving in to the hurt, salvaging his dignity and walking away. But Steve Evans wants to keep his job, he “gets” Leeds United and he has a burning desire to succeed, as he has undeniably done elsewhere. Yet the idiot in charge seems to have turned away from this man who has won the grudging respect of some of the most cynical of the fans – Cellino just lacks the guts, class and decency to come out and say so.

The football club’s dirty linen is being washed in public while the sporting world looks on and laughs. The manager of MK Dons turned us down. The Bristol Rovers manager is being courted, but Leeds United have not met that club’s conditions for talking to their employee, who has an improved three year contract on the table, waiting for him to show good sense and sign. It’s all going on, dreadfully humiliating and utterly cringeworthy, in the full glare of media and rival fan attention, while the long-suffering fans of Leeds United bow their heads, wondering how much worse things can get.

In 1984, Leeds United had good times ahead of them, they had chances even to establish a dynastic power at the top of the game – and they certainly put silverware on the table that we could never have imagined in that Orwellian, second division year of ill omen, when some freelance demolition contractors from West Yorkshire did a number on Ken’s scoreboard. But the Curse of Bates had been pronounced and, all this time later, you really do have to ask yourself: will he end up with his spiteful wish fulfilled? He paved the way towards the slippery slope we’re now descending like a greased pig. Rudderless, with no clear plan, with little if any communication between club and fans, miles behind other clubs already planning for next season – and with professional football men seemingly unwilling to touch us with a bargepole – we may well be about to plunge yet again into the abyss.

If that happens, we might despairingly look back to Bates’ words in 1984, we might ponder on his potless and clueless successors in the Elland Road boardroom since his own departure – and we might say to ourselves: well, he warned us, did Ken. And it looks as though he’s got his way after all. And what would Ken Bates say to that?

Perhaps: “Revenge is a dish best served cold”.

Are Chelsea Wreckers Bradford City Heading for Another Glorious Wembley Battering? – by Rob Atkinson

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido's funeral

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido’s funeral

It’s been a pretty good year so far in the domestic cups, for some of Yorkshire’s minnow teams. Sheffield United, the Brave Little Blunts of Bramall Lane, are in the League Cup semis (don’t ask me to remember the sponsors, for heavens’ sake). In the same competition, Bradford City enjoyed one of their finest hours in an earlier round, with an only slightly fortuitous win over our own beloved ten-man Leeds United, celestially anointed Kings of the Broad Acres. Even poor old Sheffield Wendies managed to keep the aggregate tally against them down to single figures in losing twice in two competitions at Manchester City.

In the FA Cup, even more than usually for such a notoriously minnow-friendly institution, this was a weekend of genuine shocks, all over the shop. Again, Yorkshire’s tiddler clubs were to the fore in the tragic but not unexpected absence of Super Leeds – who had reprised their 1973 defeat at the hands of the Dirty Mackems, first time of asking. So it was left to the little guys again, the Blunts for one; they will take Simon Grayson’s Preston to a replay in Sheffield (good luck, SG).

Without any doubt at all though, the star turns of this 4th round so far are those battling Bantams from Valley Parade. In a performance they must treasure nearly as much as beating Leeds for the first time since the end of rationing, they went down to London and bearded the English title favourites Chelsea in their own lair. Feinting craftily to go two behind and thus lull the Rentboys into a false sense of half-time security, they emerged from their interval cuppas to seize the game by the throat – and proceeded mercilessly to throttle Jose’s troops to death with a four goal salvo that quite simply took their beastly breath away.

Last year’s League Cup Final achievement ended amusingly in a highly creditable (if you listened to the media) 0-5 defeat for the ten-man Bantams at the hands of Swansea City – who spent most of their time that Wembley afternoon trying to look as if it wasn’t just too, too easy. After a result like their defeat of Chelsea, though – where they made a whole nation laugh themselves weak-bladdered by slaying a far better team – plucky Bratfud must fancy their chances of at least matching last season’s feat. Maybe they can even cherish hopes of improving on it, by holding out for a 0-3 Final defeat against a Liverpool or a Palace or similar. Less of a thrashing against more illustrious opponents – that’d be progress. And you never know – it could happen.

Watching the richly comic spectacle of Mourinho’s Millionaires buckle and collapse against a genuine two-bob West Yorkshire pub team, it was impossible – despite the vitriolic hatred all Bratfud fans nurse in their bosoms where Super Leeds are concerned – quite impossible not to share in the joy and the laughter. After all, this was Chelsea, worshippers at the Altar of Mammon, for whom no trophy is beyond their Mafia-funded purse, stumbling to utter, shambolic humiliation against the rankest of rank paupers – whose team cost precisely zilch. It was beyond funny and, in the midst of all that comedy and Schadenfreude, it’s really easy to forget such little local difficulties as Bratfud’s Leeds United complex.

Anyway, as any knowledgeable Leeds fan will confirm, and as those few Bratfud fans who don’t exist in a state of permanent denial will admit, the Bantams/Whites hate affair is strictly a one-way street. We’ve always been the chip on their bitterly resentful shoulder – but, historically, we’ve had bigger, uglier, much more intrinsically detestable fish to fry. Leeds have never really gone in for hating on spurious grounds of mere proximity – it’s a sterile waste of time and passion. So, from our point of view, we have no real local rivalry, whereas every little club in Yorkshire (and elsewhere, it should be said) cordially, rabidly detests Leeds United. ‘Twas ever thus and, doubtless, ’twill ever be.

The best we can really do for those Bratfud fans who so desperately wish us to reciprocate their passionate and unrequited hatred is – well, to condescend to be pleased for them for a time, when a day like this Chelsea tie rolls around. And – as good, God-fearing, Chelsea-hating Leeds United fans – we are pleased for them. Very pleased. Really we are. It stands to reason. And besides, the Bantams actually deserved their victory, certainly far more than the faintly lucky Middlesbrough side did at Man City. It has indeed been Cup Shock Saturday, with big, shiny bells on.

So – Bradford march proudly on, perhaps even unto another deeply gratifying Wembley humiliation. Good luck to them, and to all the other Yorkshire small fry as they progress, against all sense and logic, in the cups. It’s all good as far as this Leeds fan is concerned. Why, I’ll even be rooting for the Blunts against Spurs on Wednesday – but then I’ll be after another enjoyable dose of Capital punishment for fellow Tykes at that there Wembley, just to help them remember their lowly place in the scheme of things. It wouldn’t do otherwise, would it? It would reflect badly on the region’s only proper football club.

After all – charity begins at home. And, nice guy and warm-hearted softy though you may be; you can really only take your faintly patronising condescension towards scruffy, unappreciative neighbours so far…

EXCLUSIVE: Police Fears of Betting Fix Allayed by Spurs Result – by Rob Atkinson

Police alert!

Police alert!

Police in Manchester, as well as detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police, were all geared up for a full-scale investigation into a possible betting sting earlier today, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands. Concerns were raised as news came in of some “incredibly unlikely” scores in the 4th Round FA Cup games around the country, as well as in certain league games.

The matches under the spotlight were Chelsea versus non-league Bratfud City, Manchester City at home to smog-bound Middlesbrough Ironopolis and the Southampton v Crystal Pulis game at the St Mary’s Stadium. All three encounters ended in highly unlikely away wins, and alarm bells were ringing. Asked whether nefarious activity by a Far East betting syndicate was suspected, a Police spokesman confirmed “That was very much the case. We were looking at a branch of BetFred in Scarborough.”

The police were on high alert towards the end of the afternoon fixtures. “We were looking for a pattern and starting to see one,” said DCI Ivor Truncheon of the Yard. “One more dodgy scoreline, and the boys and I were going to swoop.”

The game that might have tipped the balance from what could just have been an unlikely sequence of results, into a full-scale betting scandal, took place at White Hart Lane. “At one point, Tottenham Hotspuds were actually winning,” we were told. “Yes, things were getting that bizarre. But then Leicester got the digit out, imposed their superiority – and in the end, they won. Thankfully, that was enough to convince us that everything was legit. But if Spuds had actually won – along with all those other frankly ridiculous results – well, you can well imagine that we’d have had to take it all very seriously indeed.”

Asked whether the Watford v Blackpool game (where the away team led 2-0 at the interval, only to lose 7-2) came under any scrutiny, our police source was dismissive. “Nah, that’s just Blackpool being crap, isn’t it. We understand the FL might look at the slope at Vicarage Road, but that’s not a criminal matter.”

The FA Cup is 143.

Norwich Live to Die Another Day – by Rob Atkinson

Recovery is unlikely

Recovery is unlikely

So, it didn’t quite happen yesterday. The outcome so many Leeds United fans have been craving, after so many annoyingly chirpy Canaries have taken so much mick over the past few seasons, failed – for the moment – to transpire.

Norwich City, though, remain doomed to the drop, and our two clubs will meet again in the Championship next season. All that remains to be confirmed is the arithmetic of it. Norwich produced a fine, stubborn defensive display at Stamford Bridge to deny Chelsea and achieve a stalemate which is of little use to either side.

Norwich showed almost no attacking ambition at all – curiously slapdash going forward for a team desperately in need of the full three points. Their hard-won but ultimately pointless point will serve only to delay the death notices. For make no mistake – this Premier League Canary is no more. It has ceased to be. This is an ex-Premier League Canary.

Norwich now find themselves in the hopeless position of wishing and trusting that Sunderland will gain not one single point more in their remaining two fixtures. This, let us not forget, is a reinvigorated Mackem force, inspired of late by former Leeds “winger” Connor Wickham – a player that Sunderland inexplicably insist on deploying in his natural position. Go figure.

Sunderland play West Brom in midweek, and a draw would put both clubs beyond poor Norwich City’s reach. I wonder if that might be just what happens? Only a West Brom win would gain the doomed Canaries a further mathematical reprieve – and even then they’d have to beat Arsenal and hope that Sunderland lose again on the final day. It’s an unlikely set of circumstances and, basically, it ain’t gonna happen.

So we Leeds fans will eventually get our vindictive wish – just not today. But we will see Norwich dragged down again, within our vengeful reach, after three years of cockiness from these Johnny-come-lately types from the back of beyond. Three years of transfer plunder, seemingly in an effort to prove that the midfield which hauled Leeds out of the third tier could actually prosper at the highest level. Would they, could they?? Erm, no – it would seem not.

The Norwich fans must expect little sympathy from their counterparts at Elland Road. They have lived by the sword of banter, snickering unmercifully at their club’s transfer depredations, growing happier and more unbearably bumptious bumpkins with each successive raid on LS11. Now they must be prepared to die by that same Schadenfreude sword, as their delusions of belonging in the Premier League come crashing down around their ears. It’s sweet – I have to admit it.

See you next season, Norwich. It’ll be a tasty atmosphere at Elland Road, I imagine. I wonder if any of our former heroes will remain in the Canaries shirt as you venture back to Leeds? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it’ll be a pleasure to meet, greet and – hopefully – beat you.

Will Everton Make a Title Gift to Liverpool? – by Rob Atkinson

Chelsea’s immaculate win at Anfield sees them hang on in the Premier League title race but, in truth, it’s of more real use to Manchester City than it is to themselves – despite another touchline scamper of triumph from The Poorly One, Jose Mourinho.

Though City won at Palace today, they will still need to get a result at Everton, who are themselves clinging on to receding hopes of Champions League qualification. This is assuming, of course, that Liverpool can now win their last two matches of the season.

It may very well be that, if Everton can deny City at Goodison, they will have gift-wrapped a 19th top division title for their deadly local rivals. How that would go down in the Blue half of Merseyside is anyone’s guess.

I’d still back Liverpool – and I’m sure that if they do need a massive favour from the Blues – then the Reds will be suitably grateful.

Gerrard Rallies Whole Country Behind Kop Title Assault – by Rob Atkinson

Steven Gerrard inspires the troops

Steven Gerrard inspires the troops

Most football clubs have those quirky, curious “Did you realise…?” facts to relate, things that make you go “Really? Well, I never!”, or words to that effect. Leeds United, in all probability, have just as many as any other club, if not more. For instance: Did you realise… that Leeds United have been Champions more recently than mighty Liverpool, the greatest Champions of them all?  The way things are looking, this is one particular fact whose days might well be numbered.  And, although as a Leeds fan I’m rightly proud of such a pleasing statistic. it’s not before time for it to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Liverpool were perennial champions for most of my teens and twenties, when my beloved Leeds were banished to the shadowy hinterland of the game, much as they are now.  It’s a sort of nostalgic feeling, then, to look at the top flight table and see them sat there again, on their accustomed perch, leading the way. A successful Liverpool is a reminder of happier days, when the game was not so estranged from the fans, when commercial interests still came second to battle and glory on the field.  Nowadays, the commercial tail wags the football dog quite mercilessly; everything is subordinate to the over-riding preoccupation with making more and more money – with the fans being fleeced left, right and centre.

If the real Reds of Anfield do go on to clinch a first title for twenty-four years, then a large chunk of the credit must go to their long-serving skipper and midfield driving force, Steven Gerrard.  He was to the fore again last weekend as Liverpool beat Manchester City in a pulsating game of quality and character from both sides.  Gerrard played a captain’s part throughout the match and – significantly – directly after the final whistle.  As he gathered the players into a post-match huddle, you could plainly see him ramming home the message: the job is not done, we need the same performance again in the remaining games.  His face, contorted with fatigue and determination, had resolve and desire writ large in every line, his commitment radiating from every fibre of his being and into the less experienced team-mates around him.  It was a battle-cry, a rallying call. Gerrard will not permit performances to wane, nor heads to drop.  He will lead those lads to ultimate success, if he possibly can.  It was an inspirational sight to see.

There are not that many Steven Gerrards left in the game today.  Not enough warriors faithful to a cause, thinking not of the footballers’ notorious “bottom line”, but of being written into history as The Best, on behalf of a club they count it a privilege to serve.  It’s far more common to see spoiled prima donnas like Wayne Rooney, sulking on 250 grand a week until he’s mollified by a wage rise of a mere £2.6 million.  Or indeed my comparatively humble lot at Leeds United, who had the immense “stress” of wages deferral just a few weeks back, when the takeover was in flux – and found they simply could not kick a ball straight or even try a leg, most of them, because of this financial issue.  In the modern game, money is King – to a far greater extent than it ever used to be.  So, the fans can go hang, professional pride can whistle.  All that matters is making sure that money – thousands a week, even at Championship level – keeps rolling into those fat bank accounts.  When that’s sorted out, why – the players are prepared to try again, Blackpool are beaten, and what would have been a shameful, disgraceful relegation struggle is warded off.

Gerrard, in common with most footballers in the top two divisions, has more money than he will ever know what to do with.  Money – you can tell – was the very last thing on his mind as he exhorted his team-mates to a replication of their fantastic performance against City – first when Liverpool face Norwich, and then after that, in all the rest of their remaining games.  If anyone can inspire those players to the heights they hit at Anfield, then Gerrard is that man. The successful team pattern at Liverpool FC has been laid down by manager Brendan Rodgers – and he’s done a brilliant job.  But without his trusty lieutenant on the field – without that 90 minute motivator demanding effort and commitment from all around him – things might not look as rosy as they now do for the league leaders.

The midweek games were kind to them, too.  City slipped up at home to Sunderland in an unlikely lapse.  They and Chelsea remain a threat, but both have trips to Merseyside to negotiate and neither will be taking it for granted that they will now find it easy to deny Liverpool a long-awaited first Premier League crown.

As a Leeds United fan, I have no particular Premier League axe to grind.  As long as Man U don’t win it, I’m happy – and from that point of view, it looks as though I’ll be happy for a good while to come.  Arsenal are my favourites, generally speaking, from the élite end of football.  Until my own United return to the big-time, my interest in who wins what in the shake-up at the end of each season is generally limited to seeing who’s best able to deny the Pride of Devon more tarnished silverware.  But I have to say I’d love to see Liverpool win the league, and for a few reasons.  For their fans, who have suffered over the past two decades while their glory faded behind them; for the family and friends of the 96 who died at Hillsborough a quarter of a century ago, and for the 96 themselves – and for Steven Gerrard and his free-flowing, attacking team.

Liverpool as champions would be a credit to the English game.  Up front and in terms of the supply to their attackers, they have all the attributes and talent of a top-class international side.  Further back, they are merely good or very good – but in the creative and finishing part of the game, they have the stuff of greatness.  And the thing is, they’ll only get better.  So I shall look forward to the climax of this Title race with plenty of interest and in the hope that – just as things used to be when I was but a lad – Liverpool wind up on top again.  And I don’t mind in the least that I’d no longer be able to boast about my beloved Leeds being Champions more recently than the Reds.  Because it’s time for a return to the game’s real values – values that Gerrard epitomises better than perhaps any other current player.

Seriously – if there’s anybody out there who would begrudge Steve Gerrard a league title winner’s medal – I doubt that they have any real appreciation of what this game is all about.  If ever a team deserve a Title, it’s Liverpool this season.  And if ever a skipper deserved his medal – it’s Steven George Gerrard.

England Internationals Should Play for Free – by Rob Atkinson


Three Lions – all the incentive needed and more.

After England’s successful World Cup qualifying campaign, the dust is now starting to settle, and thoughts are beginning to intrude along the lines of: Oh, Christ, spare us another World Cup finals performance like the last one.  It’s a memory just too depressing for words as highly-talented yet grossly over-paid young players sulked around the pitch as if they’d forgotten exactly how lucky they were to be there at all.

The fanatical travelling army which follows England everywhere were shocked into spells of stunned silence at the lassitude and sheer incompetence of some of their so-called heroes in an England team made up, as is usual in these money-mad times, of multi-millionaires, millionaires, and perhaps two or three of the merely very rich.  The fans turned to each other and asked, what the bleedin’ hell is going on?  Well, situation normal, isn’t it?  What a load of overpaid rubbish.  We’ll stay at home and watch it on the box another time. It goes without saying though, that the fans will always be there.

With the money in the game, the long-established infrastructure, and the size of our nation relative, say, to a country like Holland which produces excellence as a matter of course, we should be doing better in these massive pan-global tournaments.  But however easily, or even gloriously we manage to get there, it always seems to go wrong – at least it has so far this century.  The relative glory days of Mexico ’86, Italia ’90 or even England ’96 are a long time ago now.  Something is rotten in the state of England.  What are the missing ingredients?

Allow me to propose an old-fashioned answer: Pride and Passion.  Those two words sum up the edge that England teams, maybe lacking in the technical gifts of continental and latin american players, used to possess; attributes that used to see us through against higher levels of skill and flair. These are the qualities our national team has shown too little of over the years, qualities the fans still possess in abundance.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the players who represent England are lacking totally in either commodity, but I would venture the opinion that they is no longer the over-riding motivation.  Money – oodles of it – always looms far too large within the game.  To clear the players’ heads, to rid them of competing considerations and leave them focused on the job in hand, to nurture the mindset that they are representing their country, and carrying the hopes of millions, I would propose – quite seriously – that we abandon henceforth the practice of paying players to play for England.

This is not a new idea, not by any means.  Before World War Two, players selected for England were invited to choose a match fee OR a souvenir medal – not both.  They invariably opted for the medal – and this in an era when professional football wages were capped at a level not far above those of a skilled worker.  But pride and passion motivated them.

Nowadays of course, footballers earn a vast amount, and some would say good luck to them – but do they really need to be paid over and above their club contracts for what is still a signal honour?  The playing employees of Liverpool, Man U, Man City, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and the rest pull down many, many times the average wage and exist on an entirely different plane to those who shell out their hard-earned to watch them perform.  How does this affect the way we see them?

As things stand, the emotional distance between the crowd and the players is magnified by a patently enormous gulf in financial status, which breeds resentment among the fans when things aren’t going well on the field (look at him, fifty grand a week, and he couldn’t trap a bag of cement). Would the frequently toxic nature of that crowd/team relationship not be improved if the players were really playing for the shirt and the cap, and nothing else?

Removal of monetary rewards would not be universally popular among the players – but might this not help sort out the committed from the opportunist, and thus – to risk an archaic phrase – engender a more positive team spirit?

There would be no unpalatable need for the FA to profit by the players’ noble sacrifice.  The money that now goes on match fees and bonuses should instead be diverted to a charity of the players’ choice – and would this not only provide an additional incentive to win, but also enhance the team’s good-guy credentials?

They might feel, deep inside, that they’re a cut above the opposition – who are shamelessly, brazenly, doing it for the money.  It might even give them that crucial edge. Success is, after all, about the steady accumulation of marginal gains.

No match fees or any bonus, not a red cent – just an international cap.  No taint of lucre in the motivations of the players, who would in any case be set for life even if they never earned another penny.  No charge of “mercenary footballers” from a disgruntled crowd – rather it would be:  well done lads, you’re doing it for England and glory.  If you didn’t win – well, we know you were giving of your best, for love of the shirt and charitable causes.  Think of that.  Wouldn’t our England players rather be loved and admired, than just that tiny bit richer?

Can there really be a better incentive than national pride and sheer altruism, uncluttered by the financial bottom line?  Wouldn’t there just possibly be a whole new dynamic around the currently unfancied England setup that might even take us onwards and upwards? Am I being hopelessly idealistic or even naïve?

Well, perhaps I am – but I would humbly suggest that it’s got to be a better way, and is certainly worth a try.

Moyes Fluffing His Fergie-Lite Lines as the Mask Drops – by Rob Atkinson


It sounded odd at the time. Leading up to the start of his first season at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, David Moyes chose to abandon his previous upright, downright, straightforward no-nonsense Evertonian demeanour and go for a good old-fashioned Fergie whinge with the requisite helpings of paranoia and self-righteousness. “They’re conspiring against us,” he grizzled, bitterly. “Three tough games against title contenders in the first five league outings.  It’s no’ fair.”  It was straight out of the Taggart Manual, from Chapter One: “Build a Siege Mentality”.  The thing is, however tried and trusted the lines are, you need the right kind of actor to convey them. Now that the Old Ham had gone off, could the relatively green Moyes carry on with the same old act?  Was it even such a good idea to try?

Whatever the whys and wherefores, the gambit appears to have blown up in the fledgling Man U manager’s face.  Yesterday’s humbling against Mancunian giants City was not only a salutary lesson on the field.  It also raised serious questions about the new man’s deportment off it.  On the face of it, the Moyes Whinge, as it has come to be called, looks in retrospect like a timely warning.  Of the three fixtures he was complaining about, the Pride of Devon have lost both away matches, at Liverpool and City, and gained a somewhat lucky point in a dour home struggle against Chelsea.  But the fact is that the fixtures are simply that: fixtures.  There’s a clue in the name, and while Sky may tamper slightly for TV requirements, the basic framework for the season is carved in stone.  To complain about them at the time Moyes chose to complain, and in the terms, moreover, he chose to employ in making that complaint, showed more weakness than foresight, more lack of confidence in himself and his team than lack of faith in the authorities. What message was sent out by the manager to his troops as they prepared for combat? Would they have been inspired by their leader’s belief in them?  Or would they, instead, have had a subliminal fear implanted of facing three formidable teams early in the season?  Were they, in short, afraid?

A hindsight version of the Moyes Whinge emerged this morning on the radio.  He referred again to the perceived unfairness of the fixtures arrangement.  As an exponent of psyching his team up and psyching opponents out, Fergie was tiresome, he was tedious, he was annoying and detestable in the eyes of his enemies.  But it clearly worked more often than not in the bunker that was Man U’s dressing room.  Moyes, by contrast, seemed to have waved a white flag and called for stretcher-bearers before a shot had been fired. Certain of his players, van Persie for one, are already emitting rumbles of discontent. You can imagine them asking themselves: who would we rather have as our leader as we enter the trenches?  The margins between victory and defeat are incredibly fine, one iota of backsliding by the historically dominant force, one iota of improvement in the fortunes of his enemies (the football term for “iota”, interestingly, is “Özil”) – and the tables can be well and truly turned.

It may also be that Moyes’ emergence from the comfort zone of Goodison into the fishbowl glare of the Theatre of Hollow Myths has been particularly ill-timed.  The gene-pool at the top of the Premier League appears to have expanded dramatically over the summer.  Arsenal have improved by probably more than just one Özil.  Tottenham seem to have contrived to have lost a golden nugget and replaced it with the equivalent weight in gold-dust, and to have improved in the process.  Chelsea have wound the clock back to the reign of the Special One, and you just know he will weave his magic again whilst laughing sardonically at his carping critics in the media, embittered journalists all of whose significant others are unanimous in fancying Jose.  Liverpool have looked “at it” again, despite a dip in the last two games.  Everton are unbeaten, with a new style and belief under Martinez.  The whole landscape at the top of the game has a new and, from the Man U point of view, dangerously unfamiliar look about it.

Maybe one craggy and purple-faced individual in particular foresaw this sea-change, and perhaps this explains the abruptness of his departure from the hot-seat in Salford.  There must, after all, be a significant danger that the still debt-ridden Evil Empire will finish outside of the top six this season, favourable ref decisions notwithstanding; and on that subject – what on earth happened to Howard Webb in the Derby?  He failed utterly to live up to his Man U Player of the Season form, and must now be worried about his place in the team.  Moyes has a lot on his plate, and – sallow-faced and bug-eyed compared to the smug, well-fed, puce sleekness of his tyrannical predecessor – he frankly does not look as though he has the appetite for it.

The noisy neighbours across the border in Manchester will be well aware, as they leap and cavort in celebration in the sullen faces of Manchester’s Red minority, of the problems that are stacking up for the hapless current incumbent of Salford Towers. But those happy fans will care not one jot, as is the case with thousands of other equally happy fans the country over, outside of Devon and Cornwall.  They can see golden horizons ahead, and a game reinvigorated by true competition across a well-matched group of clubs vying for the ultimate prize.  If Man U do end up outside in the cold, there will be millions who feel it’s a reckoning that’s arrived not a minute too soon.