Mourinho Misery

The story of Man Utd’s season is of a yesterday’s man of a coach throwing a prolonged tantrum as he didn’t get to throw good money after bad in the transfer window.

Again he couldn’t resist getting in a dig at his central defenders in the Champions’ League group stage post-match interview last night by comparing them unfavourably with Juventus’s. He bought Lindelof and Bailly (who was on the bench).

Mourinho cannot even be in the top 100 coaches when he apparently can’t get a performance out of players he’s spent a third of a billion pounds on. His criticism of players is also entirely driven by his own ego. The two biggest underperformers of the season have been Lukaku and Matic — both players he coached at Chelsea. Matic’s performances have been pretty appalling of late. His strength is meant to be shielding the central defence and playing the ball forward from midfield and these have been Man Utd’s main deficiencies this season. Yet he never gets criticised by his manager.

It seems that commercial considerations overruled ability to manage in the modern game in terms of Man Utd’s choice of coach two years ago. After his murky exit from Chelsea where, amongst other things, he managed to alienate the dressing room, no club with serious footballing ambitions should have touched the egotistical one with a bargepole.

Maybe he’s right in that the club management place success on the field second to social media buzz. However, if they were to change this headline-grabbing attitude the first place to start would be Mourinho’s dismissal.

That’s how it will end sooner or later, why prolong the agony?

Infant Land

England is like a country of five year olds screaming ‘I want, I want’.

Witness the transformation of the football team from a middling outfit who would make the quarter finals at best to a team now so expected to win the whole thing that it’s taken for granted that a small, apparently insignificant country like Croatia will be easily beaten.

It’s the familiar mentality of another instance of public mass hysteria of: “I want it, I think I’m entitled to it and think that if I believe in it hard enough then I’ll get it, no matter the practicalities and realities” (in the case of England that they’re indulging players who aren’t performing).

It’s also getting like Brexit in the way that anyone who presents a rational view based on the evidence (England have played some mediocre, cautious football, have had an exceptionally favourable draw and have been saved from elimination by the goalkeeper in at least one match, if not two) that it won’t be all straightforward is viewed as a heretic whose views will in some bizarre way undermine the team’s performance in Moscow.

I certainly want England to win — I’ve been to Wembley to watch them enough times (I think I saw Lingard’s debut) — but if they do I’m going to despair of the amateur part-time fan bullshit merchants in the media and elsewhere churning out unrealistic ra-ra hype for the next four days.

Pickford and Trippier Carry England

There’s a desperate need for a view on England v Sweden that’s less influenced by the colossal pile of BS spouted on the BBC yesterday by the overexcitable commentator and the ra-ra pundits (surely Klinsmann was whipped up by the mass hysteria?).

However, the facts are that Pickford made three outstanding saves and England never made the Swedish goalkeeper make a single one. Without Pickford England would have been 2-1 down immediately after scoring the second and could quite conceivably have lost.

Had Sweden levelled then surely Southgate would have had to end his indulgence of playing a striker who can’t score and bring on one that can (Rashford). Actually, I thought Sterling had a better game than his previous efforts – he made a few runs forward without losing the ball – but his hopeless hesitation when given several opportunities at the end of the first half was just embarrassing.

As for Henderson being the most indispensable player after Pickford, this is just Liverpool-loving bullshit. He’s a liability. There are three or four players in the England team who are being carried by the rest – Walker, Sterling, Henderson, Alli (for most of the time). Kane, Pickford, Trippier, Lingard and Maguire are the only ones who’ve played well. Young and Stones have been OK. (Without Trippier and Young’s excellent set-piece delivery England would have been out before now — and the pair make the 3-5-2 system work.)

That said, I’d rather England are facing Croatia than Russia. Like England, Croatia are a team that over-thinks, whereas Russia went fast and direct. I doubt our defence could cope with that.

England’s Penalty Neurosis

All credit to the players who put away the penalties (including Rashford who probably had most pressure as he’d been brought on specifically to score one) and to Pickford for a stunning save (and the one just at the end of normal time which was probably the save of the tournament but never got a replay).

However, all the reaction shows the collective neurosis and sense of paranoid victim hood that probably fuelled Brexit (i.e. the foreigners have always won because somehow it’s their fault for England’s own failings).

Like Murray winning Wimbledon, this penalty shootout will hopefully end the middle-class sense of injustice. In fact, you expect a certain element would have been happier to have been eliminated so they could pin the blame on the dirty, cheating foreigners, as has been the narrative for at least the last 45 years.

England were pretty dier (get it?) throughout most of the match. Kane was so deep he could have been Matic for Man Utd. Sterling was the only forward for much of the time and he was useless as ever (except for one run). Henderson was anonymous. Walker made the expected howling mistake. Alli was obviously injured (as he was during most of the Tunisia match). Is he such an egotist that he’s pushing himself forward to play?

About the only player who exceeded expectations, apart from Pickford, was Maguire.

The level of creativity in the team was also dire.

That said, if this bunch don’t beat Sweden, who are probably on a level with Watford in terms of individual players, then they’re a disgrace.

The point that’s so obvious about this World Cup that none of the pundits have realised it, is that with so many Premier League and Championship players in the other teams then England know all their opponents so much better than all other teams (apart from possibly Belgium) so they know how they match up against them. Stones, Walker and Sterling know they’ve played in a team on a level with supposed gods of football like Jesus (get it?) and Fernandinho and they know that Willian and Firmino play for teams who finished well below them in the league.

Neanderthal Man Spotted At Hotel Near Watford

Tweeted by Twop Tips yesterday a thoughtful and intelligent comment on the England captaincy farce: ‘JOHN TERRY. Don’t be so modest. You don’t divide opinion – everyone thinks you’re a c*nt. /via @EatMyStoke

As has been said by various commentators with apparently far more upstairs than the man himself, if the England captaincy means so much to someone then, almost by definition, that person is psychologically unsuitable for the job. Captain of a football team is a fairly ceremonial and symbolic function in any case — it’s not like cricket or even rugby. The captain gets to toss up and, sometimes, gets an extra word from the referee and, er, that’s about it in terms of the game.
Outside the actual game it’s all about ego — leading the team out of the tunnel and lifting any trophy first. This seems to be what Terry wants and, despite his denials in the press conference yesterday, the image rights associated with photos of lifting a big trophy must not be sneezed at. Even so, Rio Ferdinand probably has more chance of lifting silverware this season than Terry — despite his long-term injury.
It’s a classic case of putting the cart before the horse — fantasising about holding up the World Cup like an eight-year-old might while not appreciating the talent and work required to achieve that goal. It’s extremely debatable whether Terry will continue to be an effective selection for England up to the next European championship. He’s ageing and slow and needs a mobile partner at club level (fortunately for him Chelsea have found Luiz) to compensate for his inadequacies. Like previous ego-merchant, Beckham, before him Terry’s best chance of keeping his place in the squad is holding the captaincy — not that he appears to have the humility to realise this.
His comments at the press conference yesterday seem to have been exaggerated a little on the back pages but they still reek of bone-headed, arrogant bullying  — something which seems to complement Capello’s management style. According to Henry Winter in today’s Daily Telegraph:

Having gathered his players far from the TV cameras, Capello announced: “John will be permanentnt captain again. He’s done well on and off the field over the last year. Anyone got any questions or things to say?” Silence. Terry said. “Anyone… who [has] something to say, I’d feel they should have the confidence to say what they feel. I would respect people if they came to me and we dealt with it one on one.”’

So Terry expects players to come up to him one-on-one and tell him he shouldn’t be captain? What is that going to achieve for anyone? This pathetic example of ‘open’ management is typical of weak-minded, cowardly inadequate middle-managers in all kinds of jobs — make a decision without any consultation, present it as a fait-accompli and then challenge anyone to complain about it, knowing full well that since the decision won’t be changed then all that will be achieved is isolating any dissenters. Why not consult in the process of making a decision?

José Mourinho, with typical mischief, has apparently suggested England are blessed with many potential captains — Rio Ferdinand and, er, others. Look at some of the other potential candidates — Rooney (who has just as much commitment and courage as Terry and an infinitesimally better player but who’d be slaughtered by the media), Cashley Cole (the most hated man in the tabloid press), Glen ‘Toilet Seat’ Johnson, Wickle Feo Walcott?

I didn’t see the point in removing the captaincy from Terry in the first place unless there was something more to the story of him shagging a player’s ex-girlfriend than was commonly reported — as far as I’m aware she (who can remember the woman’s name now?) had finished her relationship with Wayne Bridge before taking up with Terry. Of course Terry was exposed as an adulterer, which would seem to undermine all his claim to the supposed heroic qualities of an England captain even though his wife ‘forgave him’ but it was the connection with the team-mate which seemed to cause the furore that led to his loss of the armband.

At least Rio Ferdinand, a prolific Tweeter, has had the dignity not to whinge about Capello’s disrespectful behaviour in public, although he can hardly be surprised that someone else is going to get the captaincy in the interim due to his appalling injury record. He may well get the last laugh anyway as Terry has to become the face of the players sitting in press conferences like a nodding dog to justify more of this joke of a manager’s terrible decisions in the future.

A Modern Caravaggio?

I found this amazing photo on the MSNBC photoblog site (the image is a link through to the site) of last night’s brawl in the San Siro started by AC Milan’s Rino Gattuso. It looks like a modern day Caravaggio painting that you could imagine hanging in the National Gallery.

Gattuso vs Joe Jordan
Gattuso vs Joe Jordan -- via MSNBC

There was something quite remarkable about the incident, mainly because it involved Joe Jordan. Ironically Jordan played himself for AC Milan for two years in the early 80s after he’d left Man Utd. Before which he’d been a member of the notorious Leeds United side of the 1970s and, as expected for that team, was the sort of Scottish centre-forward who looked as if he’d been carved out of granite. But the most notorious thing about Joe Jordan — that anyone who followed football in the seventies would remember was his missing front teeth (knocked out in an early Leeds United match) which made him look like the most intimidating player ever seen on a football pitch — looking less like a human in the photo below than some sort of werewolf from hell.

Joe Jordan minus teeth
Joe Jordan minus teeth (via Telegraph website)

This is the sort of collective memory from an era well over 30 years ago that seems (to paraphrase Laurie Lee) to be almost from another country — the sort of childhood recollection that makes a TV series like ‘Life on Mars’  so popular. Joe Jordan, or at least his image, is forever a peculiar sort of icon for a huge portion of the population — an icon of looking hard — and now he’s sixty and wears glasses (although he took them off ready at the end) we all feel outraged that a mouthy, theatrical primadonna like Gattuso dares to assault that memory.

Ray Wilkins, who will have played with Jordan at Man Utd, was outraged during the commentary and in the post-match discussion Graeme Souness, a player himself with a reputation for being one of the ‘hardest’ midfield players and a Scotland contemporary of Jordan, looked as if he wanted to get into the Milan dressing room to sort Gatusso out himself, although he speculated that Jordan would have been able to so that on his own in five minutes.

The whole Sky end-of-match summary had something of generational respect to it as Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, surely the least cosmopolitan of Premiership managers, turned up on the panel with his son Jamie and they looked at the replays of the shocking Flamini (given almost surreal spice due to his Arsenal past) tackle as well as Gattuso’s raging bull act — it was almost like being in their living room as they bridled against a family insult. (Click here quickly to read a less-than-flattering Wikipedia summary of Flamini’s career before it is changed.)

Even eighteen hours after the game, Gattuso and Jordan are still trending on Twitter in the UK, such is the amazing interest in the incident, which perhaps shows underlying codes of human behaviour that are still almost primeval. Looking at some of the tweets randomly after the game there were probably more women than men who wanted Jordan to have nutted Gattuso back. Hayley McQueen (who, despite looking very much her part as a Sky Sports News female presenter is a good source of sports news on Twitter) mentioned about how her dad (Gordon McQueen — also ex-Leeds, Man Utd and Scotland) and her ‘Uncle Joe’ used to scare the living daylights out of her prospective boyfriends and posted this amazing retro photograph of the two ‘out on the pull’. That wallpaper alone should have been enough to floor Gattuso.

The Nihilism of ABUs

One troubling facet of this country is represented by the legions of ABUs (Anything But United) whose motivation seems to be purely pessimistic, destructive and nihilistic. I can understand why supporters of another football club may dislike Manchester United but they seem absolutely the wrong club to be the recipients of blind, unquestioning, hateful negativity — although Alex Ferguson’s defensive truculence could invite dislike on a personal level.

Take the last two Premier League games — both have been described by commentators as classics (at least the second half of the Liverpool game). Against Everton both Fletcher and Berbatov scored goals that, as examples of fast-paced, one-touch football, were beautiful. Berbatov’s second goal against Liverpool was absolutely extraordinary. Most overhead kicks are opportunist attempts when a player can’t connect with the ball any other way but Berbatov’s was absolutely deliberate — he started with a perfect first touch, knocked the ball to the perfect height and dispatched it with incredible accuracy. Reina was rooted to the spot as he didn’t expect any sort of shot from a player with his back turned but the kick was so well placed he wouldn’t have saved it in any case.

I like Berbatov as, like Cantona, he gives the impression he isn’t really that interested in conforming to the expectations placed on footballers. He doesn’t run around like a screaming and putting in obvious displays of headless chicken shirt-kissing loyalty for ‘the fans’ — one pundit said he had invented football as a walking game and you imagine he might have a cigarette in his hand as he plays. As with Scholes, he doesn’t need the artifice — they produce a pieces of skill and vision that are at another level compared with everyone else and they shrug their shoulders and say ‘that’s what I do’.

Berbatov has a way to go before he can compare with Scholes who, sadly after he was scandalously wasted by England, is now becoming acknowledged as the best midfield player this country has produced. Some of the football that comes from the Ginger Prince’s boots is as awe inspiring as a great work of art — the 25 yard bullet against Fulham being one example. And all this is from a quiet, small, red-haired bloke who you’d hardly notice in the local pub.

I suppose the casual way that some United players produce flashes of genius might irritate some but that must be offset against the team’s astonishing capability to self-destruct — losing two farcical goals in injury time at Everton being one example. Almost as bad was gifting Liverpool a penalty and free-kick with two challenges that were almost comical in their clumsiness. United don’t need ABUs to detract from them — they’re very capable of doing it themselves.

Fortunately, against Liverpool United had enough time to show the quality which probably infuriates ABUs the most — their determination to keep going (something that is so ingrained that it’s shocking to watch performances when it has been lacking — such as the Champions League final in 2009 and the capitulation to Bayern Munich last season, although that was a great game). As Steve MacLaren once said, United never lose, they just run out of time.

This may also be a point that grates on the ABUs — an unwaveringly optimistic psychology. Alex Ferguson used to always maintain that United played better after Christmas. It’s beside the point whether this was actually true or not (it often wasn’t) but it maintained the belief that things would get better if you carried on trying.

It’s the kind of advice that’s often given to anyone aspiring to do something difficult — keep trying, perseverance is all. This advice is very difficult to disprove — if someone gives up they won’t achieve anything and a lack of success might be explained by the need to persevere more. For most football teams and people trying to demonstrate talent, an infinite amount of perseverance still probably won’t compensate for an innate lack of ability but it’s easier to attribute a lack of success to a failure of determination. Perhaps this is what’s at the root of ABUism — the frustration and emptiness that comes from a defeated realisation that they — or their team — will never achieve their dreams no matter how hard they try.

Is It All A Big Lie?

The controversy surrounding the allegations of match-fixing (well, not actually match fixing, more like no-ball fixing) in the test match between England and Pakistan strikes me as potentially more hypocritical and deceitful towards the sports spectating public than the alleged offences themselves.

The partisan nature of sport makes it ripe for corruption. Supporters are so desperate to will on their teams that they will celebrate the most unlikely and implausible of circumstances as elements of drama — the missed penalties, the ‘inexplicable’ refereeing decisions (which are very explicable if looked at from a more cynical perspective), peculiar substitutions and so on.

Commentators and pundits almost make their living by walking the line between applying the language and analysis of fiction to events and emphasising that these events are opposite of fiction — where you must NOT suspend your disbelief. For watching sport to make any sense you must believe it is true. How often do they say ‘That’s unbelievable’ or ‘I can’t believe he did that’ or ‘miraculous recovery’.

This is why the indignant self-righteousness of the sporting establishment towards any suspicion of lack of integrity in sport — match fixing, positive drugs tests and so on — is so nauseating in that it primarily serves to protect the sporting establishment’s self-interest. As I wrote in a piece after a diabolical refereeing display in the last world cup: ‘almost all football journalists [could be viewed as] part of a self-preserving conspiracy to maintain the illusion at all costs of results being determined solely by honest endeavour on the pitch.’

Their reaction is hysterically two-fold: firstly demand the most draconian treatment for those suddenly-discovered rotten apples who besmirch the reputation of the great game; secondly, deny that the corruption goes any deeper than the individuals whose misdeeds the newspapers are confident enough to report publicly. Basically it’s a case of hang those out to dry who got caught and pretend nothing else has happened.

A scenario that suggested that certain sports were riddled with corruption and cheating would not be welcomed by anyone who makes their living from sport and their reactions to such allegations need to be judged in this context.

In this case, it’s quite curious that it was the News of the World that broke the Pakistan cricketing story — as Sky Sports have paid a lot of money to broadcast the test that the NOTW brought into question. In a world where people cast aside their bigoted prejudices and self-interests one might expect journalists from the BBC or Guardian to be praising this piece of investigative journalism. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

World Cup Predictions

Two and a half months after the end of the most forgettable football World Cup — only memorable points for me were really the Dutch violence in the final and Lampard’s goal-that-wasn’t — I looked up Charlie’s prediction for the draw against the final results.

I think I did as well as most pundits. I got Spain as finalists and I got five of the eight quarter finalists — and two exact matches. Bear in mind this was probably the most unusual World Cup to predict with not only England playing calamitously but also France and Italy and the performances of Uraguay, Germany and Paraguay also were unexpected.

I expected both Brazil are Argentina to progress to the semis (but not the finals) so I think that gives me one over on many of the pundits who, Spain apart, always bowed to the big two Latin American sides. So that explains why I had Holland and Germany falling at the quarters.

I still think that had the Lampard goal gone in then England would have won that game and the Argentinian side were poor (even with the much over-hyped Messi) so I think England would have gone out at the semis against Spain. So one adjust for my hopeful bias towards an England win then I effectively picked the winners. I reckon I did as well as most of the ex-pros and anticipated more of the shock results than they did.

Know-Nothing Idiots

This could be applied to the England players as well but is more appropriate to all the idiotic pundits whose collective self-loathing of themselves and the country immediately emerges after the sort of disaster that England suffered yesterday.

People are queuing up on phone-ins and message boards to come out with garbage along the lines of England produces inherently technically poor players who are only motivated by money. Total bollocks. Admittedly, Capello committed professional suicide by selecting some poor (Johnson, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Milner, Upson), underconfident (Green, Carrick, Heskey) and unfit (Rooney, King) players — and in the case of Barry a combination of all of those. Capello also made some idiotic team selections and substitutions.

Nevertheless, players like Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Cashley Cole, Lennon and Terry (and perhaps some others) are the among the best players in teams that include players who have shone in the World Cup. Brazil and Argentina contain players who are good but not head and shoulders above those they have played with in the Premier League — Heinze, Tevez, Gilberto Silva — and some who weren’t even good enough for Man City — Elano, Ronaldinho.

To say England as a whole lack technical ability is rubbish. Everything about the performance was psychological. The players were mentally weak — capitulating easily because, for some reason, they lacked any confidence. The defence was nervous and panicky, sat way too deep and the midfield dropped back accordingly — leaving the two up front isolated. There was no organisation or leadership on the field and certain players have to be held personally responsible — Gerrard’s performance looked like panic personified — he hit about three shots from long range in total alarm at having the ball anywhere near the goal.

And anyone who thinks the appointment of that referee — who has past form for exactly the same ‘errors’ — was just unfortunate chance is either totally naive or, like almost all football journalists, part of a self-preserving conspiracy to maintain the illusion at all costs of results being determined solely by honest endeavour on the pitch.

England v Germany

Under an hour and a half away from England against Germany — yet again.

I watched the Slovenia match in the place where the rules of association football were drawn up — the Freemason’s Arms in Long Acre, Covent Garden. It seems a bit of a football venue anyway — about half a dozen screens all around the walls — sensibly high up to ensure everyone has a good view.

The place was heaving to the rafters with ‘laads’ — as packed as terracing used to be at real matches and the floor was like a beer lake by the end of the match.

I patriotically consumed Shepherd Neame Spitfire throughout the game — that would be rather appropriate for this afternoon’s fixture given the opposition.

I shall have to watch today’s match virtually sober as I need to drive into London to see who, IMHO, is the greatest cultural figure of the 20th century — bar no-one: Paul McCartney. Ordinarily this would be the highlight of the day — or week — and it’s been expensive enough to get the tickets. It’s in Hyde Park so I guess by turning up late and, unfortunately, missing Elvis Costello and Crowded House, I’ll see a tiny little figure several hundred yards away and I’ll no doubt be too far away to see the screens properly. Nevertheless, he’s 68 now and how long is he going to be able to keep this up for? Even if his voice isn’t what it was, it’s going to be a very rare experience to hear some of the greatest pieces of music ever written performed live by their composer.

But to the match — I’m rather annoyed with the USA that they scored in the last minute to prevent us from playing last night. Anyway, I thought England were pretty useless in the closing stages of the Slovenia match — once Rooney had gone off. However, they’ve defended pretty well. The only goal conceded has been the error from Green. I think the Germans will find it hard to score against us. We can’t play badly indefinitely and I think the occasion will bring the best out of Rooney (if fit), Gerrard, Terry and, who knows, perhaps even Fat Frank?

I’m going for 1-0 to England — scored in the first half by Rooney — and then a second half of the Dunkirk spirit. If it gets to penalties I’ll be listening in the car so that will be agony.

Rabbits in the Headlights

Even the day afterwards, I’m stunned by the level of incompetence shown by England against Algeria. I’d watched the USA comeback against Slovenia and was encouraged that a win against Algeria and just a draw with Slovenia would ensure qualification provided Algeria could be beaten by two clear goals (more than they’d lost by to Slovenia).

I’d also thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the Hop Pole on Thursday night and watching the imploding France side being dismantled by Mexico. But England were even worse…

It’s difficult to think of a worse performance that I’ve seen by any team ever — even when non-league teams play Premiership teams in cup games or the champions of Andorra or Lichtenstein play in the qualifying stages of the Champions League.

For most of the match England could neither pass the ball nor retain it — countless times the Algerian players stepped in and dispossessed the likes of Heskey, Lennon, Lampard, Johnson and, worst of all, Rooney. There were also staggering displays of cowardice and loss of nerve — most particularly from Gerrard who a few times had the sort of opportunity that he regularly buries for Liverpool. Three of the team came from Liverpool — who’ve had their worst season in many years and lost a shocking number of matches. Surprisingly the right hand side of the defence was from Liverpool who conceded the third lowest number of goals last season and the left was from Chelsea, who shipped second least — Man Utd let in the lowest number which makes one wonder why Wes Brown was left behind. He couldn’t have been any worse than Carragher. Neither Carragher or Terry have any pace so they committed the classic England mistake of defending too deep and stretching the team. (How many offsides were there? Not many.) This leads to all sorts of sins, particularly defenders aimlessly hoofing the ball forward.

Barry played so deep as to be a sweeper so with Gerrard supposedly out left and Lennon isolated on the right we were left to Fat Frank to be the midfield — something that would be a challenge for him even in his Chelsea form. As it was, the game totally passed him by. He’s got to be dropped for the next match — accommodating this perpetual international level underachieved totally disrupts the team.

Rooney even said on television that he’d rather play as the only true forward and here was the proof he was right — Heskey was clueless — even popping up on the right wing at one point. Why? It’s typical of the media to try and build up Rooney as the villain of the piece for mouthing off about the fans. I tend to think fans should boo more, especially at England. They’re paying (a lot) to be entertained and the players should be reminded who pays for their over-lavish lifestyles — but at least Rooney was showing some frustration and anger. The likes of Fat Frank were just rabbits in the headlights. At least Gerrard admitted that England were crap.

Useless England Needed a Ginger Prince Not A Cauliflower King

So much for Capello instilling some purpose into England. After a qualifying campaign that saw them largely confident and purposeful they regressed into massive underachievement and paranoid nervousness last night.

I still can’t believe how bad some players were. The midfield was dreadful — Henry Winter has written in The Telegraph singing Gerrard’s praises but he must have filed his report after four minutes. Perhaps Gerrard was the best of a bad bunch and scored a good goal but hardly a hero. We also found again that Fat Frank Lampard seems to shrink to a point of insignificance when he put on an England shirt. It seemed like he was kicking that cauliflower around from the Tesco advert — or just maybe thinking he was in Tesco’s choosing a menu for Christine Bleakley. With two attacking wingers we needed two central midfield players who were both interested in the match and could be bothered to try and play together.

If there’s one sight that seems to suggest we’ll be lucky to even get to the quarter finals, it’s Jamie Carragher coming on to play in central defence, particularly as Johnson (the toilet seat hero) had such a brainless match — hoofing the ball aimlessly upfield in the second half. Seeing as Carragher was mainly cover for Johnson, we have the prospect of being stuck with both these lumps from a club whose defence was so poor they finished seventh in the league. Why didn’t Dawson or Upson come on instead? And Gary Neville or Wes Brown should have been in the squad. And Milner was a poor choice — you can’t haul every player off after they get booked so Capello must have realised he made a mistake. At least SWP had a go but if your midfield can’t supply the ball to the two wingers then it’s like playing with nine men.

At least Capello realised before the tournament that his midfield was lacking and it’s a shame he didn’t turn earlier to the best English midfield player of the last twenty five years — the Ginger Prince himself. At least he can pass the ball better than a cauliflower.

Official National Drinking Day?

If the police had been involved in scheduling the World Cup draw there’s no way they would have allowed England’s game on a Saturday to kick off at 7.30pm. They would have preferred it to be 7.30am (as would be the case with a World Cup in the Far East).

The next game is a Friday evening so most people won’t have been able to drink all day and the next one is 3pm on a Wednesday.

Should England win the group, we’ll have another all day drinking marathon as it will be 7.30pm on a Saturday again. Should they come second then it’s a 3pm Sunday kick off.

If we get to the quarter finals then drinking opportunities are lowered with either Friday evening or Saturday afternoon the options. The semis are mid-week evening kick offs so not much chance there.

Of course, should we get to the final — at 7.30pm on Sunday 11th July — that would be the cue for an Official National Drinking Weekend — the like of which has never been seen before.

Even if we don’t win the football World Cup this country is a world-beater in the drinking one.

Charlie’s World Cup Predictions

I was looking for a World Cup interactive fixture diagram (one that calculates the tables and predicts the next round) but couldn’t find one on the BBC or a newspaper website. I eventually found this one on a betting website. It downloads a template into Word.

I hope it works ok up to the quarter finals then I think it goes wrong. I’ve had to modify my draw below. I’ve entered some predictive scores based on my best guesses with a bit of randomness thrown in. These are the teams I had going through from the groups.

Winners: France, Argentina, England, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, Spain (no real surprises there)

Runners Up: South Africa, Nigeria, USA, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia, Portugal, Switzerland

This leads to the following second round matches: France v Nigeria; England v Serbia; Germany v USA; Argentina v South Africa; Netherlands v Slovakia; Brazil v Switzerland; Italy v Denmark; Spain v Portugal.

I then predicted the quarter finals: Argentina v Germany; Netherlands v Brazil; England v France; Italy v Spain. Some corkers there.

Being patriotic I backed England all the way so ended up with semis of : Brazil v Spain; Argentina v England.

This led to a final of England v Spain.

So before a goal has been scored that’s the way I’m calling it. I predicted the opening match 0-0 by the way.