Archive for January, 2011

Andy Gray and Richard Keys Smothered by Own Comfort Blanket

January 26, 2011 1 comment

“Tis the only comfort of the miserable to have partners in their woes”

There are many gripes that people have with modern-day football. Ticket prices, wages, inflated egos. But the upside of the Premier League boom has been the inclusion of a far reaching audience. Different nationalities, different cultures, all age groups and both males and females have an avid interest in English football. They were not excluded before but Sky Sports’ much broader coverage enticed even more fans.

Andy Gray and Richard Keys have helped promote the top flight to the masses ever since the Premier League’s inception. So it was rather ironic yet sadly not surprising when the two men who helped front the game’s transformation into the all-encompassing behemoth it is today should continue to pedal such obsolete views.

It is not unexpected because the two have been cooped up in their snug Sky cocoon for way too long. They’ve forgotten that as huge TV personalities they are, whether we like to accept it or not, ambassadors for the game and ambassadors for the league.

Gray and Keys were the faces of Sky's coverage

Three leaked videos resulted in Gray’s sacking and two videos and a car-crash interview with talkSPORT may end Keys’ tenure too.

For all the criticism Gray got he did combine, for the most part, the rare talent of combining passion with knowledge. Unlike many of his peers his research was excellent and he understood the game’s various nuances. Of course he had his detractors. Anyone who is afforded that much air time to talk about such an opinionated sport will enjoy their fair share of enemies.

But the views Gray expressed in the leaked videos are akin to something from a bygone era. Presumably years of testerone and ambling on golf courses have rendered his views archaic. Strip away the I-Pad and the high-tech pens and you can see a man still championing the old-pros “back in my day” way of life.

Keys belongs to an altogether different school. He has always come across as the smarmy, pompous schmoozer all too eager to pal up with the ex-players that sit alongside him each week. Sexism isn’t an inherent problem in football and Keys wouldn’t know because he is a broadcaster, not a former manager, not a former player. He has little idea of the internal chit-chat in the Old Trafford dressing room so to claim he does is rather foolish.

His actions on yesterday’s leaked tape say it all. With his feet perched carelessly on the table in front of him, he assumes he’s at home, free to say and do as he pleases, free from repercussions. What he said in that tape probably won’t be construed as sexist but it only further exacerbates him as the misinformed simpleton who craves recognition.

Even now, with the axe poised, Keys continues to pass the buck rather than wriggling free from the block. When the apology finally came it was more of an attack than an admission of guilt. Without a PR guru, the spin was stripped away and his true character was allowed to shine through, clearly to his own detriment.

It is rather ironic that the downfall of the duo has been instigated from inside in the form of the leaked videos. As the faces of the Premier League’s television coverage they seemed untouchable. Yet it is ultimately this comfort blanket which has eventually smothered them.


Ryan Babel’s Howard Webb Tweet Nothing but Innocent Banter

January 10, 2011 3 comments

“And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke”

It had a certain sense of inevitability. Here we had competitive players suddenly equipped with an addictive toy which they could utilise with emotions still running high.

As cricket players and American footballers already know to their cost, the forum of Twitter can easily land you in trouble. It was only a matter of time before one of the growing football contingent found the hot water. Step forward Liverpool’s Ryan Babel. The Dutchman was the first recipient of an F.A. charge after posting a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt.

The picture of Webb which featured on Babel's page

In today’s society, where humour and fun are often suppressed, Babel’s tweet was seen as out of line. The F.A. no doubt believed his artistic licence made a mockery of their much vaunted Respect campaign. But does a tongue-in-cheek picture really cause more damage to that campaign than the vile abuse referees suffer every weekend?

Are this country’s kids more likely to respond to a controversial decision on a Sunday morning with a barrage of swear words or are they more likely to go home and put their Photoshop skills to the test?

Twitter is a fantastic tool and we should enjoy the fact sportsmen have embraced it. Not only does it (sometimes) provide an excellent insight into footballer’s lives and day-to-day musings, it also allows fans to interact with their heroes. The days of footballers mingling with supporters are way behind us and if Twitter bridges the gap, surely this can only be a good thing?

My fear is that Babel’s charge will now kick-start a precedence which could see many others reprimanded for their views. In recent weeks Rio Ferdinand, Jack Wilshire and Wojciech Sczcesny have all tweeted varying degrees of outrage at referee’s decisions. If opinions aren’t tolerated then the players won’t see the purpose of Twitter and managers and owners will simply enforce social networking bans.

Without it, we will rely on the all too cushy press officer-controlled environments which we feed off now. Where footballers transform into monotonous drones and glide through interviews armed with press-bites and suitable clichés. It makes footballers appear stupid and it weakens post-match analysis to a mind-numbingly boring level.

Twitter can be dangerous but it also offers footballers a chance to be more expressive. Babel’s picture was merely a playful jibe and I sincerely hope it does not fuel the end of footballers on Twitter.

Premier League New Year’s Resolutions

“A New Years resolution goes in one year and out the other”

Many New Year’s resolutions may already be broken but it’s a bit different when it comes to Premier League footballers. They don’t need to hit the gym to bulk up or (Benni McCarthy aside) get on a diet. So what should some of the Premier League’s men be looking to learn in 2011?

Rory Delap – Learn…a new trick

As all the girls will tell you Rory, long throws are so 2010.

Nobody is talking about “The Delapinator” anymore because his long throws have lost a lot of their potency. For everyone has wised up to Stoke’s fabled gadget and without it, Delap has faded from the spotlight. `

Delap: A one-trick pony?

When a dog rolls over for the first time, it’s impressive but he needs an array of trickery to stay ahead of the pack. Does Delap have a fetch? Can he pull out a bark if the long throw is bombing? I have my doubts.

It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant like a step over or a dummy. This is stereotypically English central midfielder Rory Delap we are talking about. So I suggest he works on a way to develop his long throw. Perhaps doing it backwards or blindfolded? Just a thought Rory, just a thought.

Owen Cole – Learn…where the nearest JJB is and find some tracksuit bottoms!

I like Owen Coyle and lately it appears so does the majority of the country. I just have one major quam with the Bolton boss. His insistence on continuing to wear shorts even in sub zero conditions.

Everyone’s complaining about snoods and gloves but Coyle’s short shorts are even more worrying. Allow me to elaborate. Coyle may be a “tracksuit” manager and that’s fine. If he wants to keep his Sunday best for well, Sundays, so be it.

But what happens when a bigger job opportunity comes alone? Let’s say for arguments sake, at Chelsea.

It’s a Champions League night at The Bridge and José or Pep roll up in their suave, sophisticated suits which perfectly reflect their marvellous tactics.

Then out comes Coyle dressed like an overly enthusiastic substitute to greet them with a handshake. It just doesn’t work. Bigger things may await Mr Coyle in 2011 so let’s hope he dresses accordingly.

Bolo Zenden – Learn…how to dance

The day Asamoah Gyan rocked up in Wearside a warning should have been sounded out to all in the near vicinity. Prepare to party like it’s 1999.

The burning question was who would be the first to join Gyan on the dance floor, Anton Ferdinand? Danny Welbeck? Jordan Henderson? Yet it was 34-year-old Bolo Zenden who joined the Ghanaian in celebration when he scored against Chelsea.

Zenden: Down with the kids

The Dutchman fell into that awkward trap dads do when trying to act “cool” in front of their kids’ friends. Gyan’s moves looked all the more slick when accompanied by his fellow Ghanaians but Zenden’s “booty wiggle” left a lot to be desired.

Still when it comes to Zenden, the will is certainly there and where there’s a will, there’s a way.

With the wide variety of reality based dance shows on television at the moment, Bolo has no excuse. If Vince Cable can master the Foxtrot I see no reason why Zenden can’t bust out the sprinkler or a dice roll for all those at the Stadium of Light. Stay strong Asamoah, we’ll get you some backing dancers yet.

Gary Neville – Learn…how to say “retire”

It’s not as if Father Time has just called for Neville. He’s been waiting outside the door with lager, some chicken and a fishing rod for quite a while.

Last year didn’t end well for the Manchester United right back. He was taken off at half-time after being abused by Matthew Etherington against Stoke and then should have been sent off after he felled Graham Dorrans at West Brom.

A magnificent long-term servant for both club and country, it is sad to see Neville withering away like he has been. The passion is undoubtedly still there in one of the most ardent footballers the league has ever seen but the legs clearly don’t correspond with the brain anymore.

Sir Alex Ferguson is too proud and has too much respect to sit Neville in that rocking chair so it has to be down to the man himself to call it a day.

If I was Phil, Tracey or Neville I think I’d have worked hard to drop a few hints in my Christmas presents. I imagine him now owning a pipe, slippers and a commemorative engraved watch with “thank you for your services”.

David Beckham Will Be More ‘Mentor’ than ‘Tormentor’ for Spurs

January 5, 2011 1 comment

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others”

So far this season, Tottenham are enjoying somewhat of a reputation as the darlings of English football.

The nation seems to have united behind their swashbuckling attacking style. The love-in began when they gate-crashed the Big Four’s Champions League soirée back in May and barred the rather flashy Manchester City in the meantime. Then it was Spurs’ guarantee of goals (at both ends), particularly after the turgid World Cup, which ignited such unity in the most partisan of all sports.

Now Spurs look set to add the golden boy of English football, David Beckham. It’s enough to make any Arsenal fan violently queasy.

Beckham still hopes to play for England

But Beckham’s arrival may have more of an impact away from the pitch. For starters, he doesn’t really fit the Spurs blueprint.

This season, they have been lauded for their quick, incisive counter attacking football with Gareth Bale at the heart of almost everything. Rafael van der Vaart’s breakaway goal at Aston Villa recently was a perfect example of this. Aaron Lennon looks well equipped to provide a similar injection of pace on the opposing flank from Bale since his return from injury. Beckham is certainly a different type of winger to both Bale and Lennon. His strengths lie elsewhere. It is his range of passing, his whipped crosses and his work rate which have defined him. Indeed as his career has progressed, Beckham has been stationed in more central berths. But creativity from the middle of midfield has not been a problem for Spurs either. In van der Vaart and Luka Modrić they have two of the best technicians in the league.

Then there is the issue of Beckham’s advancing years. Age may just be a number, particularly for a player with such vintage qualities as Beckham has, but he is coming off another full season with LA Galaxy. He’s spent the past two MLS off-seasons with AC Milan and his globe trotting canoodling with FIFA’s top delegates whilst ultimately fruitless will also have had an effect on the 35-year-old’s body.

The frantic speed of the Premier League offers a different proposition to the pedestrian pace Beckham and the rest of his mature AC Milan teammates enjoyed in Serie A too.

Beckham could mentor the talented Lennon

But Beckham’s influence extends far beyond the white lines at the Lane and perhaps this is more important. A player with his experience, stature and his status alone can only benefit a young, hungry Spurs side hoping to progress.

Spurs are in unknown territory in the latter stages of the Champions League and few can match Beckham’s experience when it comes to European club football’s grandest stage. Beckham has appeared in over 100 Champions League games and along with other more experienced statesmen like van der Vaart and William Gallas, Beckham’s nous could prove pivotal.

Beckham is also highly respected among his fellow professionals. The passion, drive and hunger which epitomised his Manchester United days are still vividly evident now. To many at Spurs he will be seen as an idol. They will be keen to listen and keen to learn, something which doesn’t always come easy for modern day footballers.

His arrival could be most influential for Lennon and Bale. Both are young, raw wingers with a blooming enthusiasm in need of a further guidance. Theo Walcott, who also matches that description, had nothing but praise for Beckham when he trained with Arsenal.

So in a PR sense, something Beckham knows all too well, the move adds up as his mentoring abilities will be a vital tool in nurturing Tottenham’s bright talents.

But on the field, Beckham has very little to offer Spurs. There is a chance that LA Galaxy will refuse the loan and Beckham will only train with Tottenham. Some may see this as a pointless exercise but ultimately it may prove just as productive for the club.