December 23 – Paul Hayward makes sense and other holiday miracles

Paul Hayward is usually a target for his saccharine tooth-sucking foppery but he makes an astute point about the changed culture on the pitch reflected in the FA’s Suarez verdict and the criminal charge against John Terry.

Speaking of the West End Rent Boys captain, his performance in the 1-1 draw drew all sorts of predictable and slightly nauseating praise from the usual suspects and the usually sensible Amy Lawrence. Yeah, outside of losing Adebayor for the opener, JT had a strong game despite the jeers and abuse. Talking of that game, Michael Cox analyzes the tactics in the 1-1 between the wheeler dealer and the Portugese elf.

Turning to Suarez, Liverpool supporter Paul Little sees the ban as an opportunity for Dalglish FC to find a Plan B. I’d note that TH14 took a prolonged period to bed into Holloway Road Properties. Perhaps Suarez’s enforced absence will allow Randy Andy  a long run in the side and a chance for KK to experiment with the best side to build around his burly, ponytailed front man.

Bobby McMahon examines how three clubs bounced back from the brink of non-league football to excite England’s top flight in varying degrees.

Let’s do one final pre-Christmas check of the rumour mills to find out which clubs and players are on each other’s lists.

Transfer tattle

Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill is ready to offer £8m for Fulham’s unsettled, 30-year-old striker Bobby Zamora – but faces a fight to get him to move from London. Daily Mirror

He’s British, battle-tested and would fit O’Neill’s system perfectly. Plus he’s apparently willing to badly overpay. Book it.

Real Madrid star Kaka is considering his future once again in a move that will reignite interest from Arsenal and Chelsea. talkSPORT

Hahaha. No chance he goes to Holloway Road — we’re getting Jack Wilshere back in January. Well, allegedly. As far as the West End Rent Boys go, who knows?

Arsenal will offload Marouane Chamakh back to France next month and may make a shock swoop for Wigan forward Hugo Rodallega. Metro

This would be addition by subtraction and Rodallega would be welcomed in north London if the price is right.

Fulham are leading the chase to sign Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic, who has struggled to command a regular first-team place with the German side. talkSPORT

Olic should get plenty of interest for clubs who need strength in depth (COUGH-WENGER LOOK HERE-COUGH).

Liverpool will reportedly look to lure Koln attacker Lukas Podolski to Anfield as the Merseyside club look to beef up their attacking options following Luis Suarez’s ban. CaughtOffside

Hmmm, Wenger has already Scrooged his interest in Poldi but the erstwhile forward is encouraging offers from outside the Bundesliga. Liverpool could be an interesting option.

Tottenham insist that Luka Modric will not reignite his desire to join Chelsea in January, and that any potential move across London is ‘dead’. Metro

Which has been their position since, oh, July. How this qualifies as “news” is the bigger mystery. Metro is banned for January.

The agent of Anderlecht midfielder Lucas Biglia has confirmed that Arsenal and Manchester United are amongst the sides keen to sign his client. Inside Futbol

Agent alert! Whenever two or more clubs are listed as mooted suitors, it usually means the agent is floating a trial balloon. One for Santa’s naughty list.

Thursday

It’s usually as reliable as snow in January but there’s still no signs of Spurs collapsing faster than Lindsay Lohan’s reputation following a tequila-fuelled night out. North London’s lesser lights continue to look a good deal sturdy in the past thanks to the deepest squad in the top flight, something on display in their 1-1 draw with West End Rent Boys. While the Portugese elf was forced to push Jose Bosingwa inside after Branislav Ivanovic did his hamstring (thanks in part to transfer-listing Alex, a move that continues to mystify), the wheeler dealer was able to chop n’ change to ‘is ‘eart’s content.

Gareth Bale set up Adebayor for the opener thanks to some atrocious defending from Bosingwa and Ivanovic, both of whom allowed the Welsh winger to run past them and deliver a pinpiont cross that Emmanuel Adebayor turned in. Spurs applied severe pressure and Chelski buckled but held before Danny Sturridge knotted the score by turning into Cashley’s devilish cross with some fine buildup play from Didier Drogba. Truthfully, the west enders could and should have won the match by creating and spurning more chances after knotting the match but the result does speak to Spurs newfound steel. I’ve sort of been expecting a collapse for the past month but I guess we need to start treating them as a serious threat for the top four, if not for the league title.

John Terry was featured prominently in the match commentary for his bravery in shutting out the allegations blah, blah, blah. I expect we’ll hear this narrative often in the coming weeks, particularly as the FA has brought down the hammer on Luis Suarez. David Bond outlines the size of the dilemma facing the FA over their captain.

In the meantime, West End Rent Boys have vowed to vigourously back their captain as much as Dalglish FC have supported Luis Suarez. The response of the clubs have probably created even more problems, something noted by Phillip Cornwall and Ian Prior, who both suggest tribalism isn’t particularly helpful on this issue. I still can’t get over Liverpool’s initial response to the FA ruling, which was probably worse than what Suarez said to Evra.

Speaking of appalling and unhelpful, Alan Hansen has apologized for his remarks about “coloured” footballers. There’s a part of Hansen that has never left the 1970s so it didn’t really surprise me.

Wednesday

Yeesh. Dalglish FC stated they didn’t want to drag out the circus surrounding Luis Suarez’s verbals with Patrice Evra but the club’s statement responding by the FA’s decision to ban the striker for eight matches and 40k for deeming the word negrito as racial abuse managed to pour more gas on the fire between the famously friendly rivals in the northwest with a cringeworthy and shrill defence that erroneously suggested Evra has a history of playing the race card (he doesn’t) and the rather slapheaded statement that some of Suarez’s best friends and relatives are black. In truth, it was pretty easy to see this coming. Suarez’s “cultural differences” defence was always going to be viewed with a jaundiced eye given that he’s played in Europe for four years and really should know better. The suggestion that the term is a friendly one really doesn’t wash. Nor does the fact he waited more than a week to explain himself with a carefully lawyered statement after being charged rather than seek to reconcile himself with Evra after the French defender went public with his allegations.

This has, of course, set conspiracy theorists on Merseyside scrambling through the grassy knolls of alleged FA biogtry towards their club (it’s not)or positing it’s another sign that Sir Alex Ferguson is pulling the strings (he doesn’t). The severity of the penalty might, though, be sending a very strong message. Richard Williams suggested Dalglish FC should accept the punishment while Henry Winter, a northwest provincialist, waffles his way on the fence, afraid to piss off Beetface or King Kenny.

One final comment. It will be really, really interesting to see how the FA handles Aryan John Terry after Her Majesty’s legalists decided to pursue criminal charges against him. A precedent has been set.

On the blue side of Merseyside, Landon Donovan returns on a two-month loan spell. Avi Creditor says the Toffees are getting a more polished player.

Monday

The last time Arsene Wenger brought his recently weaned whelps to greater Salford in late August, the lack of defensive cover was brutally exposed in an 8-2 hammering. Four months later, they returned to the noiser side of the GMA and discovered a dearth of creative options. It speaks volumes that the two best opportunities to score came from long-range thunderbolts from the Verminator, who had pretty much played across the back four before raiding forward in the final moments of the game against Stockport Massive to try to gain a deserved point from the match with the league leaders. Even with a spatchcocked back four featuring four centre halves, Holloway Road looked reasonably solid although Abu Dhabi started as the stronger side. By the end of the first half, though, the visitors had found their sea legs and were looking dangerous on the break. Towards the end of the first half, Johan Djourou began feeling his crotch and hobbling around so I was shocked he reappeared for the second half. Wenger then was forced to take him off after a couple of minutes and reshuffle the back line. A couple minutes later, they were ahead. The songbirds of woe will bitch about a lack of resources but we’re now playing with our sixth and seventh choice fullbacks and the injury crisis has taken on comedic proportions. Sanga, Santos, Gibbs, Jenkinson and Djourou. It’s hard to put that one on the Holloway Road HMO.

There’s some gooners who might bitch about the non-call on the ball hitting Richards’ arm but Phil Dowd also could have sent off Song and Arteta, too, so the decisions were a bit of a wash.

The flaccid performances from the substitutes underscored why Wenger is being linked with the likes of Hazard and Goetzke. Arshavin’s confidence looks shot and, you know what? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wenger shop him in January and go with Benayoun or the Ox. Chamakh has also been linked with a move away and, again, it would not surprise me if the right offer came along.

I also caught Swansea’s visit to the Geordie Shore and they continue to impress me and will make me look like an idiot for including them as relegation bait. They are committed to playing the ball out of the back and they have players who can knock the ball around and play with poise. Really hope they can stay up and keep ahold of some of their key performers (Vorm, Ashley Williams, Dyer) because they will attract interest from some of the bigger boys. The Geordies probably will view it as two points dropped and Demba Ba was a little unfortunate not to score. Still, they must be enjoying the fact they sold Carroll for 35m and snapped up the Senegalese hitman, who has bettered the ponytailed felon’s gaudy goal totals from last season.

I wasn’t surprised to see the West End Rent Boys draw with Wigan. The hosts looked very comfortable and James McCarthy and Mohamed Diame were pretty effective in the middle of the park. How far has Petr Cech fallen in recent years? He was once in the conversation as one of the best keepers in the world. Not only are those days long gone, having his initials on that helmet-mask get-up that he wears makes him look like a short-bus student with severe cognitive issues. One of his teammates — not Aryan John Terry — needs to have a quiet word in his ear so he doesn’t embarrass himself.

Speaking of retarded muppets, wasn’t Alex McLeish supposed to be a defensive master  builder? It was interesting, then, to see the dog’s breakfast of set-piece defending that allowed Dalglish FC to score two goals from corners. I guess all those big, battle-hardened British-born defenders don’t necessarily guarantee success in that regard, eh? Villa look like a real mess, even worse than the Houllier era. My son went back to bed after the second goal and it appears a fair few in the XI decided to go with him. No fight, no spirit, no spark. Hopefully they’ll roll over when Holloway Road comes to town.

To a lengthy number of links and Nick Govier examines how the Massive stifled Holloway Road’s build-up play by forcing Szczesny to distribute the ball from the back. It was an excellent point. The young Pole is a great shot-stopper and commands his area very well but his distribution is a little wonky and needs to improve. Michael Cox chips in with his chalkboard analysis. For a slightly more fatuous postmortem, Paul Hayward – toothsucker in chief at the Daily Telegraph — praises the fight from the plucky little Londoners, woof, woof, woof.

Bobby McMahon sums up Sunday’s action while Paul Doyle lifts the curtain behind the Scottish-born pundit and the rest of the Fox Soccer crew in exotic Winnipeg.

To west London, where Georgina Turner sees subplots surrounding Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres and other disaffected rent boys swirling around Stamford Bridge. Michael Cox, meanwhile, sees Andres Villas-Boas reconstructed side getting outpassed with increasing frequency.

Speaking of greybeards seeking a contract extension, Raphael Honigstein sees Raul make a far more compelling case at Gelsenkirken than either Lampard or Torres.

Take care, fellows, and I’ll try to check in occasionally between amusement park rides and sunning my pale bones on the beach.

Friday

Ah, Milan, home of La Scala, Versace and a shitload of stylish footballers wearing both blue/black and red/black combinations. And if the doleful Eeyores on Fleet Street are to be believed, it will serve as the backdrop of the latest European disappointment for Arsene Wenger’s tots from the Holloway Road nursery as the Heinkenen/Ford/Sony PS3/Vagasil UEFA Champions League pitted football’s most successful property developers against one of Europe’s most decorated clubs. Unlike some of his colleagues, Arsene Wenger declined to wander through the grassy knolls about getting a slightly unlucky pull. Perhaps this is because things worked out sort of OK the last couple of times his sides have visited the San Siro. The doom merchants and the Chicken Little set usually have short memories but it’s not like Milan will be celebrating  given they could have drawn APOEL. It’s a great tie and I’m looking forward to it. I don’t think it’s the worst pull for finishing first. Napoli could really unsettle West End Rent Boys. I’m sure Edison Cavani is looking at Aryan John Terry and that high line and licking his lips in the same way you’d see a cheetah sizing up a lame warthog. Whether Fernando Torres gets a chance to test Napoli’s back line is another question. Telegraph toothsucker Paul Hayward says the Spanish striker must prove himself in January or risk being benched. And sold for a lot less than 50m quid.

In the Europa League, both sides from Greater Salford also earned glamour ties with Beetface’s forces drawing Ajax while the noisy neigbhours pulled holders Porto. We’ll find out how Valencia will handle a cold, wet night at the Britannia as those poor bastards were drawn against Air Marshall Pulis’ hoofball merchants.

To the police blotter, where Sunderland players Lee Cattermole and Nicklas Bendtner were doing their bit for community relations by getting arrested in the early morning hours in Newcastle and charged with smashing the windows of parked cars. I’m assuming Bendtner will claim he was actually aiming for the doors and missed.

Talking of exciting the legal system, the wheeler dealer appears to be channeling his inner Grinch in wake of Spurs’ crashing out of the Europa League by cancelling the club’s annual Christmas piss-up. What a Scrooge! In the meantime, Michael Cox tackles ‘arry’s biggest non-legal dilemma by deciding whether to sign Emmanuel Adebayor.

Let’s end the week at the rumour mill.

Transfer gossip

Chelsea are considering making a move for Napoli and Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani, 24, who is also a reported target of Manchester City. talkSPORT

That would be one way to negate his threat to AVB’s high back line! lol Seriously, don’t see it happening. He’s cup-tied and Napoli would be crazy to sell. His value will remain strong in the summer and the club will have an ability to drum up an auction.

He could be a replacement for striker Didier Drogba – who is determined to quit Chelsea in January, with Frank Lampard to follow. The Sun

Why would Drogba leave in January? First, he’s off to the African Cup of Nations and I suspect the Ivory Coast will be bothering the finals in that tournament. Second, he can pick his offer in the summer. As far as Lampard goes, he is a 33-year-old midfielder with plenty of miles on his odometer and a relatively limited skill set. He’s moaning about not being an automatic starter so this is just paper speculation.

Serie A leaders Juventus are eager to buy Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia in January but the Red Devils are not interested in selling. Full story: Daily Mirror

I really can’t see Beetface selling him. His form might be off but he was one of United’s best players during last spring’s title run in. Plus he can drop back and play fullback in a pinch. It’s easy to see why clubs might want him, though.

United team-mate Federico Macheda will leave the club for a team on the continent in January, according to his agent. Daily Mirror

Really unsurprising as he’s failed to fire at Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, United are set to offer £25m for Benfica midfielder Nicolas Gaitan, 23, who helped knock them out of the Champions League. Olé

This one is making the rounds for obvious reasons. One, he’s a good player of the right vintage and skill set to interest Beetface. The quoted price, though, appears prohibitive and he doesn’t really seem to fit an existing need. He does, however, in Jose Iribarren possess excellent people skills with certain clubs, some of which can be traced to (DELETED BY SOFABALL LEGAL DEPARTMENT). Paris Saint-Germain are another mooted destination for the Argentine.

Returning loanee Landon Donovan insists a two-month reunion with Everton was too good an opportunity to miss. The Daily Telegraph

Not really surprised about Donovan’s return — it’s really another example of David Moyes wringing the best out of severely limited resources.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has admitted he may lose Cheick Tiote in the January transfer window with Chelsea and Arsenal believed to be interested. Daily Mail

Lessee — Holloway Road already has Alex Song in that position plus they are now looking to loan Emmanuel Frimpong with Francis Coquelin already proving adequate cover. So it’s highly unlikely that Wenger – famous for his generous valuations of players — is going to go after Tiote, now valued at 15m and rising. This seems like a pretty lame attempt by the barcodes or Tiote’s agent to smoke out interest from other managers who might need a midfield enforcer and have demonstrated an appetite for overpaying in the transfer market. A foul-mouthed knight of the realm, say.

But Pardew has revealed that Mike Ashley has given him the green light to bring in a new centre-back in the transfer window. Newcastle Chronicle

Given that Pardew fielded two fullbacks as central defenders with hilarious consequences in exotic East Anglia, this really doesn’t qualify as “news” per se but rather “stating the bleeding obvious.” Next up, links to all sorts of French or African central defenders plying their trade in France/Benelux.

Arsenal will watch Germany striker Lukas Podolski, 26, as Arsene Wenger weighs up a £15m January move. Daily Mail

And I call B.S. on this one as Wenger has already publicly denied interest in the Koln striker.

Tottenham have beaten Manchester United to the £6.5m signing of AZ Alkmaar’s Swedish midfielder Rasmus Elm. Expressen (in Swedish)

Mildly surprised about this as the wheeler dealer already has (deep breath) Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker, David Bentley, Sandro, Tom Huddlestone, Niko Krancjar, Aaron Lennon, Jake Livermore, Steven Pienaar, Danny Rose, Gio dos Santos and Rafael Van der Vaart. Jermaine Jenas is still on the books even after being loaned to Aston Villa. So you’d wonder about the need to bring in another midfielder as ‘arry has already expressly stated he ain’t selling in January, guv. Unless that was some kind of Cockney about a plea agreement. In any case, Elm has been linked to the likes of Michael Jackson FC in the past but I can’t see Spurs beating out Salford LBO for a player that would be wanted by Beetface.

Thursday

Whew, it’s the final day of work before a lengthy Christmas vacation, which will include a trip to Disneyland with the family and then a week to recover from that certain-to-be-scarring experience in Mexico. Which is sort of a warning that the blogging may be a little more infrequent over the next couple of weeks. And so it’s a bit of a pity to end it with a bit of a damp squib in terms of links. Jonathan Wilson gets interviewed by Football365 and it is a fairly interesting read, particularly his insights on the approach of Andres Villas-Boas in renovating West End Rent Boys.

Daniel Storey, meanwhile, bemoans the insularity of England’s footballers in choosing to stay close to home and wonders whether it has retarded the current generation of Three Lions.

And finally, as a preview to the World Club Cup Final, James Horncastle suggests Santos’ Neymar might prove to be a better rival for Lionel Messi than Cronaldo. I’d suggest if Arsene Wenger says he’s the one player that he’d buy if money weren’t an object (just a second — trying to stifle the laughter), then it’s worthwhile asking the question because there really hasn’t been a rivalry since Cronaldo pranced over to Franco FC. Because both sides have to win in order for it to be a rivalry and that has happened.

Wednesday

There are 18 shopping days until the transfer window creaks open for business and everybody is getting into the spirit of things — chairmen, players, agents, managers, agents, beat writers, agents, the FA, the wheeler dealer — so it’s no surprise that we should read the Guardian’s illustrated menu of midfield selections for Beetface, currently looking a little threadbare in the middle of the park with Darren Fletcher’s tummy troubles. There are many problems on the list, compiled by the finest guesses and speculation from the sports desk. Or something.

If Lord Ferg is looking for a midfielder, one that missed the Guardian’s cut is Frank Lampard, currently disaffected and curious about why he’s not starting every single game. Sarah Winterburn tries to patiently explain this to him, although it’s unlikely he’ll read it.

Alternatively, he could go around to those noisy neighbours and inquire about Samir Nasri, an ambitious footballer who is not about the money. So Sami sitting on the bench against West End Rent Boys could not have been satisfying to anyone. Well, outside of Holloway Road Properties and their many customers. Ben Lyttleton looks at how France Football’s 2010 Footballer of the Year will try to work his way into Roberto Mancini’s good graces. And respond to the good-natured jibes of Ashley Cole, who remains a class act in victory or defeat.

And when the conversation steers towards class acts, it’s hard to ignore the wheeler dealer’s north London lesser lights. The Swiss Ramble looks at their business case and sees challenges ahead. Which saddens me. Deeply.

To the continent, where Raphael Honigstein explains the revival of FC Hollywood’s Mario Gomez into one of the most feared strikers in Europe. Michael Cox, meanwhile, assesses the progress of Luis Enrique’s attempt to transplant Barca’s tika-taka to Rome. The conclusion is he’s got some distance to go. Although it would help if he could bring one of Messi, Xavi or Iniesta to the Eternal City, eh?

Let’s return to those dark, Satanic mills written about by William Blake. OK, not those ones. It’s Fleet Street rumour time!

Transfer gossip

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is plotting a £20m offer for Manchester City forward Carlos Tevez. (the Sun)

Wow, it’s an almost perfect match. The wheeler dealer and the Kia pet really do deserve each other and it would keep the lads and lasses at Inland Revenue busy through the post-Christmas season. Except that Spurs’ wage structure — as outlined by the Swiss Ramble in the links above — cannot even accomodate the demands of Emmanuel Adebayor. Unless the Massive are prepared to shift Carlitos at a deep discount, this isn’t on.  

Chelsea are ready to cut their losses on out-of-form striker Fernando Torres and will accept an offer of £20m for the 27-year-old Spaniard in January. Their valuation represents a loss of £30m on the fee they paid Liverpool in January of this year. (Daily Mail)

So Drogba and Kalou are away at the African Cup of Nations for all of January while Nic Anelka is jetting off to Shanghai permanently. So where does that leave the West End Rent Boys for strikers. Lessee. OK we have Romelu Lukaku and ????? Besides, I’m not sure Dalglish FC would want Nando back, even at that price.

QPR manager Neil Warnock has launched a bid to sign Manchester City outcast Nigel de Jong, 27, on loan for the rest of the season. (Daily Star)

Hahahahaha . . . wait, are they being serious? Not. Going. To. Happen. He’s made 13 appearance so far with the club and somebody’s going to have to play in Europa and when Yaya Toure is away on African Cup of Nations duty. Still props to Warnock for spreading some FUD.

Juventus are ready to loan 27-year-old Serbia winger Milos Krasic to injury-hit Manchester United until the end of the season. (Daily Mirror)

Of course they might want to unload a square peg who cannot find a spot in Conte’s new system in Turin. The only problem with this rumour is Beetface didn’t fall off a turnip truck and he already has filled his boots with attacking wide players (Ashley Young, Nani, Valencia). Props to Krasic’s agent for having an “in” with the Mirror, though.

Atletico Madrid are keen on bringing in out-of-favour Chelsea winger Florent Malouda, 31, once they have offloaded former Arsenal forward Jose Antonio Reyes to Turkish side Galatasaray. (Inside Futbol)

Rumors are swirling about a squad cull in west London and Malouda would certainly fit the profile of a player out of favour with AVB, aging, expensive and bought by a predecessor. I’d say something about Reyes career arc since leaving north London, but why bother? One of Wenger’s biggest miscalculations. 

AC Milan’s Taye Taiwo, 26, has emerged as the potential answer to Arsenal’s full-back shortage. (Metro)

Metro uses up its one reprieve here. Wenger has already stated he won’t buy fullbacks. And as he’s likely seen film of Taiwo jockeying wingers, Arsene is more likely to draft in Pat Rice before opening the wallet for a wingback who can take a decent free kick but with the defensive nous of a training cone. 

Juventus are keen to sell reserve striker Amauri to Tottenham in January. The 31-year-old can leave on a free transfer in the summer. (Daily Mirror)

No kidding, but Tottenham would need to be, ahem, incentivized in order to channel their beachcomber and remove the deadwood from the Old Lady’s payroll. And that would never, ever happen on the wheeler dealer’s watch.

Spurs midfielder Sandro, 22, could be on his way out of White Hart Lane, with his agent refusing to rule out the possibility of one of “many” expressions of interest in his client turning into a move to Italy. (talkSPORT)

I’ve also heard tattle that Beetface might be interested. He certainly has looked good in the snippets I’ve seen of him.

Bolton are already preparing for life after 25-year-old Gary Cahill with New York Red Bulls’ American international Tim Ream, 24, lined up as a replacement for their much-coveted centre-back. (Daily Mail)

I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this one given the success that Bolton has experienced with USA imports (that would be Stuart Holden — you don’t see Buicks in Lancashire) as well as Ream’s name bothering the gossip merchants at bigger clubs (notably Holloway Road Properties). Plus Cahill has been utter cack so this would be addition by subtraction.

West Ham are eyeing £5m-rated Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, 19, after Matt Taylor and Sam Baldock picked up injuries. (the Sun)

The new Victor Moses, apparently, and the talent was obvious to anybody who watched him against United in the Carling Cup. He’ll definitely be on the radar of bigger clubs than the east-end porn merchants.

Tuesday

For those of you old enough to have experienced the joys of a high school reunion, I need to ask you if you ran into a stunning looking woman and wondering who was the lucky sod to have walked in with her. And she comes up to you and starts talking. And you realize she went to school with you, but had the braces removed, saw her acne clear up and began working out hard enough that you could bounce a quarter off her rear end.  And you are mentally slapping yourself on the forehead for not seeing the diamond in the rough potential there a decade earlier.

I’m not writing about this to underscore my dumbassery with the fairer sex but rather to illustrate how my views have changed on Darren Fletcher. And I’m not alone. After all, Beetface peeled off the better part of 55 million quid to bring in Anderson, Shoeface Carrick and Englishman of Convenience Hargreaves and it’s fair to say football’s gentlest knight would probably concede — well, after a few glasses of grog — that the Scot probably had a more influential role in United’s recent success than all three of those players, even taking their contributions together. So today’s news that Fletcher is sidelined indefnitely with bowel troubles is not good and should provide all the incentive that Beetface needs to either blood Paul Pogba or buy Chiek Tiote, Daniele de Rossi, Yann M’Vila or any one of a number of replacements.

On the noisy side of Manchester, midfield colossus Yaya Toure won’t face an FA charge for his kick at Juan Mata or for slapping him. I’m sure Gervinho will congratulate him and ask him for his secret to avoiding suspensions when they link up for the African Cup of Nations. It’s probably agent-related or a haircut thing.

In any event, the media are not picking up on that thread from Monday’s match. Deprived of providing some comeuppance to Andres Villas-Boas, scribes are casting the Oil Firm derby as redemption for Frank Lampard with Richard Williams providing the conventional wisdom on this. I had figured this narrative would figure strongly but — penalty apart — did Lampard actually do anything on the pitch to suggest he should be starting ahead of Mata, Ramires or Raul Meireles? Check out some of the comments on this piece — simply hilarious.

Michael Cox provides analysis on the tactics of the match. For me, the MOTM was Romeu. In fact, his ability to find space began to frustrate the Massive midfield, which was underscored when the Massive went down to 10 man after Clichy’s brainless challenge. Toure was unable to get tight to him and Mancini appeared to have Balotelli attempt to mark him, which didn’t work out very well. Still, but for Lescott’s decision to flap his arms in the area, the West End Rent Boys didn’t look like inventing the winner by themselves. AVB seemed to set up his side as the away squad and I wonder how that will go down with Mr. Moneybags.

As we are on tactics, Jonathan Wilson looks at whether the 3-1-4-2 is the new 4-2-3-1 in wake of Pep’s rejiggering in El Classico and other examples in world football. His point about Busquets serving as Barca’s metronome is a good one. While I cannot stand some of his antics and cheating, he is a fantastic player and key to Barca’s hopes of retaining their titles. Although obviously, the return of Alex Hleb is sure to provide a boost, too. Right? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Staying on the Continent, Raphael Honigstein looks at Koln’s boy-king and rumoured Holloway Road Properties target Lukas Podolski. He certainly appears to be playing for a contract, something that a fellow coach (and Dutchman) has suggested is behind RvP raising his game.

Ernest Bouwes profiles another Dutch striker, the wonderfully named Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who is attracting interest from the usual suspects in England.

Ian Plenderleith suggests income disparity is a contributing factor in last year’s Gold Cup match fixing scandal.

Monday afternoon

#mutingtheTV was trending on Twitter this afternoon, which meant ESPN was the broadcaster du jour for EL Cashico. And score one for old new money as the mercenaries bought by Russian petroroubles defeated the massed mercenaries purchased by a month of spot crude production from Abu Dhabi. With the victory, they passed along the Chalice of Crisis to Stockport Massive and their dapper manager, who had the look of a cat taking a flea bath at the end of the match.

So now with the noisy neighbours just two points up on their bitter rivals, they get to return to the Middleastlands to face Holloway Road Properties. Pucker, pucker, pucker.

In a stroke of good luck for Abu Dhabi FC, they will not have to worry about Gael Clichy reprising his Bambi on ice jockeying, which allowed former Massive youth product Daniel Sturridge to walk around him and cross to Raul Meireles to belt in the equalizer. That’s because Clichy was sent off for a late challenge from behind in what some coaches refer to as the trail position, a familiar stance for Holloway Road supporters who remember his time at the club.

Due credit but West End Rent Boys really laboured to open up 10-man Massive and it took an incredibly bit of brainless defending from Joleon Lescott, throwing up his arms in the area to block a shot/cross/shank from Sturridge. Frank Lampard lumbered to the spot and smashed home the penalty, presumably over some screaming from the commentators about how he had “redeemed” himself (I had already muted the volume at this point).

It had started so well for City as Sergio Aguero exposed John Terry with a quick turn and fed Mario Balotelli – who didn’t appear to be suffering from any ill effects from his late-night hijinx at a fashionable Manchester curry house (yeah, I know how that sounds but apparently it is true). Balotelli ran off the back of Branislav Ivanovic and Aguero’s inch-perfect through ball allowed him to waltz past a prostrate Petr Cech and slot home before adopting his “angry” face goal celebration.

A couple of observations. Yaya Toure, thankfully, looked laboured, lumbering around like a constipated moose. He could have been shown a red card (along with Kompany) and normally, my fingers would be crossed for a FA charge. At this point of the season, though, he looks gassed and it will be interesting to see who Mancini picks for his midfield against football’s most successful property developers as Song’s dumbassed suspension at the start of the year has kept the odometer reasonable low on his legs. Not that I’m totally confident as I’m sure the Massive will note Johan Djourou at right back with no small delight.

As for West End Rent Boys, Meireles’ tackle on Zabaleta looked an awful lot like the challenge that saw Jay Spearing get sent off so the Massive can feel a little hard done by. But after jumping on top, they never really pressed their advantage. The new Barca boy Romeu looks like a very nice player as the holder. Both he and Ramires kept David Silva reasonably subdued. They play Spurs next so this weekend will provide an opportunity for United and Dalglish FC to potentially make up some ground with easier fixtures (away to QPR and at Villa respectively).

Monday morning

In the early 1980s, there were no high crimes in football in England. Everybody pretty much looked, talked and tackled like John Terry, except for the tight, high-cut shorts and really tragic haircuts. And porn-star moustaches.

With the influx of money into the game, the list of game’s felonies has started to grow. No studs-up challenges, no spitting, no asking Beetface pointed questions about the performance of his new signings,  no saluting the opposition fans with a finger after having verbal abuse hurled at you for 90 minutes. And now we can add visiting a curry house to this list of trangressions. As the media have breathlessly reported with all the gravitas of a fifth grade hall monitor,  Mario Balotelli was at a curry house on early Sunday morning. As he is an Italian of Ghanian extraction, he was not drinking or brawling or tongue wrestling with a Page Three Girl before vomiting on the floor and setting fire to the foyer. Instead, he was, by all accounts, charming and signed a few photographs before engaging in a playful swordfight with the pepper mills with one of his posse. And then departing. This “story” is the line item on pretty much every football website of every serious national daily in England. Really. Apparently he broke a club rule, though, so that’s front-page news. Is it any wonder people are starting to tune out mainstream media when this is what passes for news.

Speaking of media criticism, I do owe an apology to Alan Hansen, whom I’ve largely barracked for producing cookie-cutter, back-slapping analysis, such as this turd filed on the curative effects of Martin O’Neill. It was refreshing — and more than a little astonishing — to hear Hansen sing the praises of Alex Song on MOTD, specifically his spot and pass that RvP lashed home. While I’m tempted to say every blind squirrel finds the odd acorn, credit where it’s due.

Unlike Hansen, Michael Cox never hews to conventional wisdom and his piece on Nemanja Vidic’s injury being a good thing for Salford LBO will raise eyebrows. While I’m not sure I agree and United’s winning percentage with Vidic in the side (it’s around 80 per cent with him and 60 per cent without him) speaks to his galvanizing effect on the side. That said, Cox makes a thoroughly, well researched argument. Well worth a read for United supporters and neutrals alike.

Gabriele Marcotti sees the problems at United in the centre of the park and wonders why Beetface signed Anderson and Michael Carrick to extensions rather than looking at other options. A valid question and his dilemma seems similar to what Wenger faced with the departure of Vieira and the rest of the Invincibles. He’s trying to manage a transition to the next generation with more limited resources than his rivals. He needs those players to serve as a bridge to Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Larnell Cole (who, if Paul Scholes is to be believed, is the best of the bunch), emerging from Carrington and pushing for first-team opportunities. It will be fascinating to see what he does in January with Pogba interesting several big hitters on the Continent as well as Holloway Road Properties. With De Gea, Smalling, Jones, the rabid hobbits, Welbeck, Hernandez and Rooney, he’s got the back end and front end addressed for the next decade barring any injuries. If SAF does buy, does he go for a short-term graybeard to help bridge the gap or does he buy a youngster, unworried about what message that sends to his tyros?

Since we’re mulling January moves, let’s have a look at what Fleet Street’s Serena van der Woodsens have to say.

RUMOUR MILL

Jose Mourinho wants to take Frank Lampard to Real Madrid in a swap deal for Spanish Under-21 midfielder Esteban Granero. (The Sun)

Because the omelet maker has a fondness for geriatric midfielders? I guess it was a slow news day for Merseyside’s journal of record. I’m surprised the assignment editor didn’t spike this one.

Everton boss David Moyes has admitted making an approach to New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry, who is currently training with Arsenal during the MLS off-season, in an attempt to sign the Frenchman on loan in January. (Daily Mirror)

I’m tempted to suggest Moyes was being kind but, you know what? This has all the hallmarks of a shrewd bit of business on the cheap from a manager who doesn’t have a budget. While Henry has lost a couple yards of pace, his nous, technique and reputation could probably help give him the same sort of impact that Henrik Larsson provided to United. I also think Moyes would see him as exactly the kind of  role model on the training ground to show the way for Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley.

Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh has conceded he may have to leave the club to revive his career and has hinted he could be set for a return to his former team Bordeaux. (Daily Mail)

If you listen closely around the club, Holloway Road Properties January lot includes Chamakh, Bendtner, Denilson and Arshavin. It’s hard to see Chamakh leaving in January given that he’ll be on African Cup of Nations duty but it’s clear it’s not working out in Islington for him. That means Wenger almost will certainly look at a striker and, given Joel Campbell’s progress at Lorient, I would have thought he’d look at an experienced stopgap. Unfortunately, West End Rent Boys have sold Nic Anelka to a Chinese side and Didier Drogba will likely follow him to the Far East. Which is unfortunate although it’s more likely they would have sold their left testicle to us before one of their strikers so I guess he’ll be looking elsewhere. Arshavin’s departure depends on Wenger buying Mario Goetzke or Eden Hazard. Apparently unpleasant negotiations have commenced between Dick Law and Borussia Dortmund. Lille are still choked about Wenger gazzumping them for Park so nothing to report, really.

Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish is ready to offer Bobby Zamora a move away from Fulham. (Daily Mirror)

Hoof ball is returning to the Midlands along with 4-4-2. The depressing thing is I can totally see McLeish thinking, “Perfect signing. Yeah, having Dunnie or Collins knock it long to Bobby. He can hold it up to link play with Zoggie or Albrighton or flick it on to Sarah Redknapp.”  So when I was speaking to my son about Martin O’Neill returning to management, he said the only manager that he hated more than him was Alex McLeish. Out of the mouths of babes etc. It really is sad to see what he is doing to that club.

QPR boss Neil Warnock is also eyeing up Zamora who is unhappy at being left out of the Fulham side at Swansea. (Daily Express)

A full-of-himself, injury-prone 30-something. Yeah, he’ll fit in great at Loftus Road. Wankers.

Manchester United are chasing 17-year-old Dutch left-back Jetro Willems, who plays for PSV Eindhoven, as manager Sir Alex Ferguson looks for the next Patrice Evra. (Daily Mirror)

As well he should. Evra has fallen off the precipe this year but aren’t the rabid hobbits supposed to be the long-term answers at fullback? I’m a little surprised Beetface isn’t looking at a more seasoned option in January. He’s been a liability since the start of the season.

Sunday

What a glorious weekend of football and let’s start with the clash of the titans, the teams who divide opinion facing each other in the most testing atmosphere in world football. Yes, it’s Stoke-Spurs and the battle of wits between the wheeler dealer and Air Marshall Pulis. And . . . what? You say the Classico was played this weekend? Really? And the omelet maker’s lot was in front after 20 seconds? And Cronaldo gassed an open header to put the pressure on the Catalan midgets after Club Aesthes went ahead. Before Cesc headed in the clincher? And there was no reax shots of a smouldering omelet maker on the bench?

OK, truthfully I watched the match, although I wound up muting the volume after about two minutes. Rather than pointless bitch about how Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen could ruin a game, let’s go through my notes.

1. After parking the bus in the past few encounters, it was refreshing to see the omelet maker grow a pair and decide to play for the win in front of the home crowd. The choice to play Mesut Ozil rather than Sami Khedira didn’t really work. The German playmaker was largely ineffective before being subbed after less than one hour of work.

2. It was nice to see an absence of diving, simulations and finger jabs. There were a couple of nasty challenges but no incident spilled over into turning the match into a ridiculous sideshow unworthy of the beautiful game.

3. Guardiola’s decision to re-jigger his 4-3-3 — as outlined by Michael CoxJonathan Wilson and Gabriele Marcotti — helped turned the match. Having the ability to see and make that adjustment is great stuff. Having the players who have the willingness and skill sets to make the switches pay off explains why Barca is, well, Barca. Had this been an English club, how many commentators would question why the manager might play a player out of his preferred position. Or the player might complain about being misused. Not so at the Camp Nou. That’s why they win trophies.

The other match of the weekend will actually take place on Monday as new money clashes with newer money. Or Middle Eastern petrodollars versus Russian ones. It’s sort of like Stoke-Spurs in that it is going to be really, really tough to decide which club I actually hate more.

Fleet Streeters, however, have already made their views known in that particular fight. They’ve now decided they don’t like cocky, young Portugese managers. Unless, of course, they can provide pithy money quotes for the early editions. And Andres Villas-Boas has not measured up.

One of the greybeards in the gallery, Henry Winter, provides a little Dutch uncle advice in his latest column, urgeing Villas-Boas to stifle his journey through the grassy knolls in his press conference and follow the example of (cough) “master motivator” Martin O’Neill. Which presumably means buying Curtis Davies for eight million pounds and signing him to a bargain 40k week to fill Winston Bogarde’s role on the bench, forswearing the pressing 4-3-3 for the 4-4-2 and long ball. Oh and flouncing off in a snit just before the start of the season when Roman Abramovitch, unimpressed with Stephen Warnock’s ability to trap a ball, decides to zip up the wallet.

Hank is right about one thing. Stories like this amusing tale from the favourite red top on Merseyside suggest the working hacks have the young Portugeser high on their “liste du merde” as they might say in trendier parts of Earl’s Court. Whether that’s because some of his criticisms have hit home or they’ve passed the Chalice of Crisis back down to west London in anticipation of a thorough tonking by Stockport Massive on Monday is unclear.

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  1. AG:

    Thanks for the Vidic link. Cox is obviously spot on in his assessment and its been infuriating for me to watch Jones, who came in as a center half, be deployed into a midfield role that he’s not ready for and isn’t effective in as well. I’ve always doubted a player like Vermaalen who gets caught up the pitch too often, but he’s started to find a better balance between helping in attack and defending and Arsenal have become much more complete because of his insight. Jones is capable of something similar going forward and fortunately Fergie will be forced to play him in his more natural role which will only help him and United.

  2. What is the deal with the
    Reports that AVB wants his players to celebrate goals with the
    Dug-out, is this crap or true?

  3. @ewtt

    Cox perfectly casts Jones as a potential sweeper. In Smalling and Jones, United’s central defence is settled for the next decade barring injury or off-the-pitch issues. Both look outstanding and Vidic’s injury may hasten the changing of the guard that was inevitable with Rio’s clear slippage and Evans’ general overall shiteness.

    Vermaelen’s thrusts forward are fine as long as you have a defensive midfielder who is — in the parlance of one of my old gnarl-faced gaffers — a member of the “wide-awake club.” A lot of people kid me about my effusive praise for Alex Song but he’s done an outstanding job of dropping back and plugging gaps whenever the Verminator or the fullbacks raid forward. To me, it’s more impressive than his goals or the deep-lying playmaking.

    In my opinion, that’s what United miss even more than a midfield playmaker. Rooney can serve as the organizer as a second striker playing in the hole behind Hernandez/Welbeck, in much the same way Bergkamp did for the Invincibles era Gunners. United need somebody who can sweep up in front of the back four with Fletcher being hurt/off form and Carrick, well, being Carrick. Pogba may be that guy and he certainly is getting a lot of rave reviews. But just like young defenders, you’ll have to live with mistakes at that position from an inexperienced player learning his way. Makelele wasn’t even playing the Makelele role as a youngster.

  4. @CIAO

    “Inside sources” are being quoted so it’s likely a squad player who’s feeling marginalized or an invention of the media or a former pro at the club greasing a reporter as a payoff for a favour/future considerations.

  5. http://www.football365.com/news/21554/7378491/-Suarez-Will-Admit-To-Saying-Negro-Once-

    I would hope that this story isn’t true given how far football has come in regards to blatant racism. It would be setting a dangerous precedent.

  6. @ewtt

    Apparently the FA is getting to rule on Suarez tomorrow and there’s been some chatter about “new evidence” surfacing in Terry’s racism case. It will be very interesting to see the ruling and the reasons given for it.

  7. A little disappointed about the result but not the performance at the Middleastlands. I’ll probably have a blog post up to discuss the weekend’s matches later — plenty of errands on today’s to-do list.

  8. I would say there were a lot more positives to take away from that loss than negatives. Man City is a good team and Arsenal had their chances. It could have gone either way and I think they can hold their heads up high with how they played today. Especially if you compare today with August and September completely different team.

  9. Suarez 8 match ban. If there is really no evidence I can’t wait for the Terry verdict.

  10. In the real world people get fired for herassment of any sort. To stamp out racism from football they need to give out longer bans. Also 40k fine for top earners is not a big impact to their pocket.

  11. Loved Liverpool’s classic racist excuse to the ban…”Suarez cannot be racist, he has black friends and family.”

    They would do well to shut up. The charge, as clearly laid out by the FA, was never a question of whether Suarez is a racist, but if he used racist and offensive language. Anything else uttered in his pathetic defense is thankfully irrelevant.

  12. Luis Suarez’s grandfather is black. So that means Luis Suarez is partly black. How the fuck can he be racist?

    Now I will admit that I don’t know exactly how it happened but my guess is this…Suarez said the term Negrito or something similar. It was a term that is used by minorities on each other everywhere especially in the Spanish speaking part of the America’s. I would bet my bottom dollar he was trying to relate to Evra, not be a racist twat meaning he wasn’t being malicious, and Evra being the pussy that he is decided to take it a step further.

    I would guarantee that Evra’s teammates that are black, especially Rio, call him nigger as it is a term often used in the music world(even english rap) and the sports world. It is the same thing, as is my guess, that Suarez was doing. In fact I can relate to the fact that I’ve been called nigger about a million times anytime I play basketball. I have in fact even used the word as I play ball as I relate to those on the court with me. Perhaps no one takes offense because I can ball but there is no maliciousness intended. And for those on facebook they can attest how pasty white I am.

    Again, I will say that this is not actual fact that that is what Suarez did. But its a guess and a highly educated guess. This isn’t like what John Terry did. This is why I can’t stand the hypocrisy of the English. Listen to the English chants at Bulgaria, listen to the Chelsea supporters chants against Anton and nothing will be done. But a foreigner comes in and says something that is probably said on the pitch a million times, not maliciousness but its how they speak to each other, and Suarez gets 8 games.

    What a load of fucking shit. (Now just to clarify, if he did speak like this maliciously then he should’ve gotten 10 games and about 500k quid fine. No room for that non-sense.)

  13. Again, its not a question if Suarez is a racist. Did he use language that can be deemed racist? That’s the question and those ruling determined he did. There is a clear distinction that people can’t seem to get their heads around and I’m not really sure why. It’s pretty definitive.

    Dist, if you ever met my father who is black and decided to call him a nigger as a term of endearment in any context, I can assure you he would be offended. There are many others who would feel the same way and justifiably so. I would sincerely hope that you stop and do your best empathize with those who have experienced the use of the word negatively and don’t want it uttered from anyone black or white. Please don’t use a few ignorant “niggas” allowing you use of the word to mean that it is ok to utter in any form. It is unequivocally not ok.

    Evra is not a pussy for saying he doesn’t want to be racially abused. I would invite you to ask a few black friends of this incident and see if they would feel the same way. Don’t distort the facts…just ask them. See what they say.

    As far as Terry is concerned, you are correct. I heard the chants from Chelsea fans and I have less respect for them now than when they were a right-wing hooligan outfit. If the facts prove that Terry did racially abuse Anton and he gets a slap on the wrist, there is an obvious prejudice against foreigners which undermines the case against Suarez.

  14. @LGB,

    I don’t think Suarez is a racist. I do think he used the term negrito in a non-affectionate way and it is a racially charged word. I also think he should have known it might have created a problem because he’s lived in Europe for four years so the whole cultural differences defence rings a little hollow for me. There’s stuff you can get away saying to your teammates that you would never, ever say to an opponent.

    It could have been cleared up by having the two players meet following the Canal Plus interview. Instead, the clubs got engaged — along with their legal teams — and it was only going to get more heated rather than less. Had it been any club other than Liverpool or Stockport Massive, I suspect the issue could have been resolved with a chat and an apology.

    The FA seemed to have plucked a number out of the air in punishing Suarez but they’ve now set the standard and I suspect JT will get at least eight games if he’s found guilty. And there certain

    FWIW, I find Evra to be one of the most disagreeable little twats in English football and a very unsympathetic victim. However, there needs to be zero tolerance for racial abuse on the pitch. I do remember hearing monkey chants and we don’t want to go back to those bad old days. I think that’s part of the rationale behind the FA’s decision. They need to maintain their consistency in the Terry case.

  15. Ewtt-The context in which it is said is very, very important. Thats what I was trying to say with my little rant above.

    First off, I would never say that to your dad. Its something I’ve only said on the court and would only ever say it there. In fact, I don’t say it anymore(it was something I did when I was younger but I was trying to make a point).

    Second, no Evra isn’t a pussy for not wanting to be racially abused. But he is if the context in which it was said was what I said. The thing about this is that no one knows or will say, what the context was. Its very important. If it was racially charged then I’m 100% with the ban.

    I can use an example. The term “Yank” has a pejorative meaning to it. Now if its said in jest or just to relate when on the pitch or in the bar watching a game, I don’t mind. But when its said as a condescending term to say that I suck at playing or that I know nothing, I take exception(because I am a competitor and I usually feel I know more about football than most Englishman). Now obviously Yank and Nigger are not necessarily the same but I think you get my point…

    Finally, Terry did racially abuse Anton. Its on camera. There is no question.

    AG-As I just stated above, I think its important to know in what context this was said. The difference could mean the world.

    In fact, the FA won’t even go over tackles that aren’t red-carded. The fact that they are trying to determine intent with what is said when they didn’t and no one else heard it either, is very dangerous. They won’t even try to determine intent with what they have clear video evidence of.

    The other thing I will throw in there is that there have been clear acts of violence that have gotten less games than this. Roy Keane and Ben Thatcher come to mind. You add it all together and its very, very frustrating.

    But like I said in my original post, if Suarez did do this maliciously then he should’ve gotten 10 games and fined 500k quid.

    I just know how important little Luis is to our campaign and want there to be clear facts for this suspension, not just what people think happened.

  16. Btw if I have offended anyone, I apologize. Not my intent at all.

    Oh and I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanakah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Holidays(or whatever your beliefs maybe) and a Happy New Year!!! Lets hope for more great football in 2012…and if you’re feeling nice pray that Liverpool return to the top of the heap ;)

  17. @disturbance

    You raise a couple of excellent points. First, I agree the severity of Suarez’s sentence seems disproportionate with FA punishments for violent conduct. Second, they’ve set a precedent with this sentence so it will be interesting to see how they adjudicate Terry. I do not understand why they would wait for the criminal case to go forward and not strike their own panel to render a verdict. The case against JT “appears” to be a lot more clear than the one against Suarez.

    All in all, this seems jarringly out of step with what we’ve come to see and expect from the FA. They followed a clearly defined process and delivered a verdict. They actually looked competent and displayed leadership, which is more than a little surprising. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the future.

  18. Fucking Charlie Adam….

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