Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Qatar's out of the bag now

A terrible pun, whatever will I write next? Bad jokes and little asides in brackets?

I digress. Gather round everyone, I was going to talk about the Manchester Derby and spurt about two thousands words of nonsense in your direction, but I won't. Why?

Because the World Cup in 2022 is going to be held in Qatar. That's why.

The above sentence makes me think three things:
1. That's bloody ridiculous
2. Why aren't more people satirising this?
3. I must satirise this!

Of course, this Qatar thing has been known for about three years now, but today it appears that Europe's top leagues and clubs have consented to allow the world's biggest summer competition to be held in winter.

Before - like a fat kid rolling down a hill - I start this post/rant and then find it difficult to stop, I will acknowledge a few mitigating factors:

Yes, to hold the World Cup in the same two continents over and over again is detrimental to the world game, and new countries in less 'traditional' football continents should be allowed to host this most prestigious competition. This hasn't happened enough in recent years, except when USA hosted the competition in 1994...and Japan and Korea did in 2002...and South Africa did in 2010. To give the competition to an entirely new country is an idea to be commended, but what was wrong with Australia's bid?

OK, so there's only one mitigating factor.

Without sounding like a right-wing leaning, tabloid-consuming, prejudice-spurting idiot, there is no way a country like Qatar should be hosting this tournament.

Even if you forget the political tension in the Middle-East at the moment, forget the country's views on alcohol consumption and homosexual relations, and the billion degree heat, there are still more holes in the organisation of this tournament than a paper condom, with half the effectiveness.

And do you know what? It's not even Qatar's fault.

Qatar invested a lot of time and money into this bid and are currently embarking on a very ambitious project to 'get their country on the map' through bids for major sporting events, including a (failed) bid for the 2020 Olympics. It's a bit like Manchester City trying to buy the Premier League, only with greater implications. They are well within their rights to do whatever they want. Which is where FIFA come in.

Now, this is not typically English whinging because we didn't get the 2018 World Cup. This isn't being wise after the event with Captain Hindsight levels of "I told you so". Besides, I'm mostly Scottish. Now, while that technically doesn't mean I am qualified to talk about football, it does mean that I'm not being...well, English.

Forgive my suspicion, but isn't it strange that a very ambitious bid from a group of men with a lot of money and influence won the right to host this tournament? Particularly when said country has very little football pedigree (go on, name one Qatari footballer), has a climate which makes summer football impossible and a current lack of top-class football stadia. It's almost like FIFA were persuaded by another factor. Almost.

Unfortunately, money does play a big role in modern football. Look at the Premier League's wealth and it's arguably detrimental effect on English football. Look at Portsmouth and Rangers, who spent so much money just to compete and ended up like the sporting equivalent of Kerry Katona. It's not really about the game anymore, it's about business now. It's not just the clubs who are now concerned with the 'bottom-line' either, it appears the organisations are too.

Why men who are supposedly much smarter than you and I couldn't predict this scenario is staggering. I remember the day that it was announced Qatar would host the World Cup. I actually forgot Qatar were bidding for the tournament. I thought they were the token rubbish attempt to make up the numbers, a bit like Great Britain at the European Song Contest or Lukasz Fabianski. When I found out they had won, I walked slowly upstairs and punched my pillow for about three days. That anger then turned to incredulity and then curiosity as to how this would all work. The truth is, nobody even knows now, in spite of the apparently inevitable conclusion.

So, it appears that the World Cup will be moved to the northern hemisphere's winter. In the simplest terms, that is not a problem. Indeed, why should Europe dictate the state of the world game? Why should smaller countries not be given the chance to represent themselves on the world stage?

But then, why did Australia not propose a winter World Cup? Why do we have a summer World Cup in the first place? Why should the five or six most powerful leagues in the world now have to radically overhaul their schedule to accommodate one tournament, then radically overhaul them again when it is over? Doesn't make sense does it?

The whole episode feels like a teenager who has not done his coursework despite having had months to do so. It's a bit like said teenager realised his work was flimsy, so added a load of pretty fonts and pictures to distract attention from the utter shambles which has been submitted. Luckily, like that teenager, there is time to turn this around, but it looks like it will take the mother of all all-nighters and waffling conclusions to make it work.

Anyway, that is my rant over. The bad thing is, this a giant mess caused by a giant organisation. The good thing is, we have a giant organisation trying to sort it out.

Good luck with that.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Premier League 2013/14 - What we've learnt so far

As the football world hurtles head-on toward the tedium of an international break, it has given us poor Premier League fans the opportunity to take stock of the opening fixtures of a season which has already provided a number of surprises and talking-points.

With that in mind, here is my ten-point analysis of the season so far. This analysis may stretch to twelve points if something comes to me midway through, or I may struggle to get past eight points if I get hungry and leave it. (Edit this paragraph - it's a little crap)

1. Manchester United have no midfield

OK, that may be a little misleading...many of us have known this for a little while. So far, I have had the pleasure of watching United's thrilling 0-0 draw with Chelsea and a rollercoaster 1-0 loss to Liverpool this season and each match led to the above conclusion.

For vast swathes (yes, swathes) of each match, the United midfield was about as populated as a comedy night in Berlin. Other than the excellent Michael Carrick, there is not much else. Tom Cleverley is willing but limited, yet remains the second best central midfielder available. Ryan Giggs is 39, Anderson has got really fat, really fast and Darren Fletcher is feeling a little poorly. A friend of mine recently said that in many ways, the fate of a billion pound company rests upon the bowel movements of a Scotsman, which is precarious at best.

Why this midfield malaise remains untreated, I have no idea. I can only assume that either United are insisting upon a tactical revolution - the 4-1-5 formation - or David Moyes was once both attacked by a malevolent, evil playmaker, leading him to vow never to play one for United.

Either that, or Shinji Kagawa has slept with his wife.

2. Jose Mourinho is still Jose Mourinho

Upon his return to England, Jose Mourinho - he of the self-appointed nickname - gave himself the moniker  'The Happy One', citing a change in his outlook on football, causing every journalist in England to moan in orgasmic delight. Would this mean a change in Mourinho's tactical view of the game?

No. Even three years managing Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso have not altered the attention-seeking one's approach. Chelsea's game against United went some way to proving this, with Mourinho insisting upon a formation with neither a striker nor Juan Mata. He also arrived in West London not satisfied with the number of attacking midfielders at his disposal, so he bought a few more...and there is still no flair in that side.

Not that I'm being 'the moany one', give me a 1-0 win over a 4-4 draw any day...but while you're at it Jose, perhaps you could spot us one of your 7 playmakers?

3. Arsenal went from being the worst team in England to the best in two weeks.

It's been quite a transformation for Arsenal since that dire 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa on the opening day. They have gone on to record a staggering four wins in a row since that match, which had prompted many an Arsenal fan to react in typically level-headed, balanced fashion.

The signing of Mesut Ozil and a win over Tottenham has seen them confident of this at last being their year to win a trophy. Ozil in particular looks like a great signing. If there was one thing Arsenal needed, it was a midfielder who could pick a pass, keep possession and not track back.

Again, please do not read too much into my sarcasm Arsenal fans. Ultimately, your team are placed higher than mine in the table, and you bought Mesut Ozil, a player I would consider getting a proper job for.


Well, kinda. They sit top of the Premier League after three games and look set to go on a rampaging march to the Premier League title, inspired solely by Daniel Sturridge winners in 1-0 victories.

The absence of Luis Suarez has not hindered Liverpool one bit, and in some ways, it is not difficult to see why. Suarez, for all his abundant quality, became a big fish in a small pond at Liverpool and actually ended up diluting the qualities of Lucas and Henderson, which is unthinkable.

Add into the mix the Uruguayan's fondness for controversy and the taste of human flesh, and the team have actually seemed more focused in his absence. Coutinho and 'Renault' Aspas have been outstanding behind Sturridge and although their luck is bound to run out at some point, Liverpool could be contenders to go all the way to the final of the Top Four Cup.

5. Tottenham without Gareth Bale are...

Other than really, really rich? A little dull to be honest. I do not doubt the assertion of many Spurs fans that the team may actually benefit without Bale, but they are certainly less fun to watch. One could argue that Tottenham are not only a better XI without the Welshman, but an actual XI, given Bale Hostpur's performances last year.This is likely to be a good thing...eleven players are usually better than one.

The signings of Soldado, Paulinho and Eriksen in particular look like brilliant buys, and don't be surprised to see Spurs challenge for the title. Until about February. When it all falls apart. And Arsenal pip them at the end. Again.

6. Manchester City are still hopeless away from home

When I was about six years old, I asked my Dad why Man United had beaten Southampton so easily at home but been beaten at The Dell.

He went on to explain that, quite simply, away games are harder than home games, for a number of reasons too dull to write down but too important to totally overlook. In spite of this, City still don't seem to have learnt this lesson. Their title 'defence' - for want of a better word - last season was undermined by shocking away form, and they have already lost to newly-promoted Cardiff in Wales. It's all well and good panelling teams at home, but victories only ever get you three points, no matter where or how comfortably they are obtained.

That's my advice City, you can thank me later

7. Paolo Di Canio is actually pretty useless
Of course, if this particular blog goes viral, Di Canio is likely to hunt me down and murder me, the bloody psycho. But not racist psycho. Fascist psycho. There's a difference apparently.

It goes to show that yelling at your players and scaring the shit out of them is a pretty good tactic in League One and for over-zealous parents in Little League, but at the top level, some tactical nous is required. Example: England at Euro 2012. Example: England at World Cup 2010. Example: England not at Euro 2008.

Di Canio just about managed to frighten his players to safety last season, but they look in trouble already this year, in spite of the 39 players the Italian brought in, possibly to compensate for the fines, bans and beatings he is likely to impose over the next nine months.

8. Joe Kinnear is more useless

Seriously, what is the point of him? Is he part of some plan between the North East clubs to see who can humiliate themselves more?

The guy who was brought in to aid transfer business...didn't. That's basically it. He had ONE job and has gone about pursuing an obviously unknown remit, which I suspect is seeing how many Geordies he can wind up before he is booted out of the city for good.

9. Premier League teams are really rich

Premier League teams spent £630m this summer, which is enough to give everyone in England a tenner, or £200m more than the GDP of Tonga.

How did they get so much money? Well, firstly through TV deals and secondly through their ability to milk fans dry. Nothing will be done about either of these while the marketing is so good - it is the best league in the world after all - and the football is so frustratingly and compellingly average. There will come a time when the bubble bursts but, like my attitude towards toasters and knives, until something catastrophic happens, no action will be taken.

10. The Premier League is still pretty exciting

As the most nervous football fan in the world, I spent most of the summer actually enjoying the Premier League's absence. Why? Not because I find the league dull, but because I find it gut-wrenchingly (apparently that isn't a word) gripping. The drama, the twists and - in the nicest way - the gradually declining quality makes for unpredictable, enchanting viewing, which I can do without most of the time, both for the sake of my health and my relationships with the people who I care about. After all, nobody wants to see a loved one crying their eyes out or with fingernails sharp enough to cut steak.

But, I'm afraid it's going to be this way until May, so we may as well enjoy it for what it is.

Premier League, welcome back.