Gary Cahill, after suffering the worst fate possible on a football pitch, his right shin still ringing from its connection with the ball, is lying on the ground. He hopes, as all players do after scoring an own goal, that it consumes him, welcomes him into its dark and earthy depths for he, the OG, deserves it. As Sergio Aguero runs towards Jesus Navas in the corner of the pitch, he stoops to ruffle Cahill’s head as he passes. This, no-one deserves.
Ninety-sixth minute. The ball has been overrun; Luiz, the hero, comes across to cover. Aguero dives forth, legs first, wrapping his armoury around the Brazilian’s knees. This, this ‘tackle’, no player deserves.
A long ball is played by Kevin de Bruyne, which Aguero is battling with Cesar Azpilecueta to get there. Azpi, attempting something between control and backpass, knees it backwards into space, beyond his comrade in arms David Luiz and far too far away from Thibaut Courtois for him to collect. Luiz, the hero, takes one step forward and one to his left, the City striker tumbling. Cloaked in darkness, the referee makes no call. This, Aguero deserves. Continue reading
Smoke and mirrors might be the physical manifestation of 2016. Deception and deceit is the order of the day, false equivalences and reflections stretch from one political issue to another and Truly Repulsive and Utterly Manipulative Politicians deny having said things that are then quoted, verbatim, straight back to them.
But sometimes there is light. And hope.
Hull City came to face Watford at Vicarage Road in a light purple kit and a 3-5-2 like some Bizarro version of their opponents. Immediately, I can tell something. I sense it. You’re wondering where this so-called ‘light’ and ‘hope’ are going to come into play when Hull are involved, and I’m here to tell you that it’s always been there, hidden. Or, rather, obscured.
It comes in the form of Jake Livermore. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering their almost complete lack of activity in the transfer window in the summer, Hull are not blessed with elite playing talent. They are, as we in the North like to say, bad. Almost, if not as, bad as the clash between the purple of their shirts and the orange of their badge. Continue reading
From a distance, it looks like a green light. It represents… Well, what does it represent. It could represent money, obviously. Greed. Envy. Jealousy. Lust. But for what? Power, success, love? The green light has all of these meanings, but at its most basic level it is simply the Rasen (or, pitch) on which RB Leipzig play their Ballsport.
When you see the inside plasterings of Leipzig’s stadium, it makes a mockery of the Bundesliga rules that mean the RB stands for RasenBallsport instead of Red Bull. The Red Bull arena is in Red Bull colours with pictures of Red Bulls and Red Bull heads and Red Bull players around the walls below the first tier of fans, and below that are ad boards on which every now and then are adverts for Red Bull. It is loud, it is brash, it is unashamed, it is the new money of German football which is disrupting the ‘natural order of things’. It is Gatsby. Continue reading
Love. Love is back at Bayern. Pep, lovely Pep, was a good man, a clever man but… Well, he was cold. He said ‘I love you’ but he didn’t mean it. He just felt he should say it. He suits the icy blue of Manchester City. But Carlo. When Carlo says ‘I love you’ you know that he means it, and he doesn’t even need to say it, his eyebrow says all you need to know.
But love can be disappointing. Pep’s Bayern was far from perfect but Carlo’s, in this opening Bundesliga tie away to Schalke, lightly punctured the balloon of excitement. Or, maybe, at first it did, but by the time the game was over the puncture was mended, the familiarity of an eventually comfortable victory a warm embrace for the fans of the Munich club.
To begin with, a statement. This is not like the old one. This one is new. A starting 4-3-3 of dignified rigidity to cast away memories of left-backs, right-backs, fans, moose, and personifications of the theory of football playing at centre-back. Renato Sanches as part of the central midfield three was the only flash of flair amongst this. Continue reading
Tears (to rhyme with airs). Tears (to rhyme with fears). Both words so alike and yet just a little different. It was the same with the French line-up against Switzerland. So alike – the same structure, the same back-line – and yet with Payet, Giroud and Kante a notable trio of absentees.
There was also much that was torn. Five, by my count, Swiss shirts (Mehmedi, Dzemaili, Xhaka, Embolo, and Xhaka again), Puma clearly accidentally showcasing their shirts-for-strippers version of the kit. You Can Leave Your Xhak On, if you will. Continue reading
It’s a hard thing to motivate yourself to write about a match which finished with 3 shots on target. It’s harder still when your aim is not to write some stifled piece of reportage (say it as if the word is French, to add some exciting Romance European exoticism to it) or tactical analysis, but a match story, transcending the fact to reach a higher, more powerful level. Fiction.
We don’t like the truth, we can’t (to quote the ancient wisdom of Sorkìn, circa 1990) handle it. Truth is normality, truth is dullness. Truth is necessary.
Football is not necessary. So we can be permitted to write about football as fiction. Continue reading
This was no Xhaka-on-Xhaka Battle for the House Keys, nor, probably, was it ever really going to be. It was, as it turned out, possibly a Battle for the Second Spot in Group A. Most people though were probably expecting a much more one-sided affair than they got.
There was a lot made before the match of the amount of players in the two squads who could have represented the other side. The Xhaka brothers – far less exciting in reality on the pitch than their names are to English ears – made history by being the first brothers to face each other on the pitch in the European Championships. This was not the story of this game. Continue reading