It seems to grow harder than ever to understand the anomalies of football for the moment I am not talking about that sink of iniquity which is FIFA, where at long last the ineffable Sepp Blatter, forever promising to solve the problem of which he is such a central part, has at long last agreed to release the Swiss court papers which detail how two senior FIFA executives – plainly Joao Havelange himself and Ricardo Texeira – received a huge pay off from the now defunct ISLCompany in exchange for valuable rights.
Ask me not how Swiss law works, since after that immense sum was duly repaid – the cat was put among the pigeons when an ISL payment arrived with delicious embarrassment at FIFA, in the name of the payee, to be quickly shuffled aside – Swiss curious law permitting the details of the case and the crucial names to be kept secret. Why, indeed?
No; I am referring to the recent spate of strangely contradictory results, which confirm my view that no one understands this game. What, for example, are little Levante doing so bravely at the top of the Spanish La Liga, ahead even of mighty Barcelona – who last weekend could only draw with modest once mighty Seville 0-0 at Nou Camp.
While Levante were cruising past Villarreal 3-0 away from home. The very Villarreal, well down the Liga, who had just given Manchester City such a hard run for their money, away.
Manchester City’s astonishing demolition at Old Trafford of Manchester United surpassed even their earlier 5-1 win at Tottenham, but what is the truth about City? Bayern Munich, in the European Cup, played them off the park in Germany, yet Bayern themselves, after a triumphant run in the Bundesliga, last Saturday went down 2-1 at Hanover. As for City, they were held comfortably enough to a European draw at home to Napoli, whom they still to visit.
Perhaps we should be asking not how strong are Manchester City with their infinite riches and their panoply of stars, but how basically weak are Manchester United. At Old Trafford they had no answer to City’s dashing overlapping full backs while their central defence crazily without Vidic was a disaster.
Rio Ferdinand seems to be in deep decline, and you do wonder what possessed Alex Ferguson to prefer the Ulsterman Evans at centre back to the resourceful Jones, who is now, after all, an England international. Evans of course, was sent off, for a foul committed after a blunder by Ferdinand. Jones and the dynamic little Mexican Chicharito were not brought on till after the hour.
In the European Cup, United’s defence had been a dog’s dinner against a Basel team which was leading them 3-2 before that last ditch equaliser by Ashley Young. And it is all too plain that United have no valid successor in central midfield to Paul Scholes, though versatile Ryan Giggs, absent last Sunday is probably the closest there is to fill such a role.
For me, Manchester City, like Chelsea, to a lesser degree, are a scourge even on the Greed Is Good League, with unlimited millions to buy pretty well whom they please. Against United, Silva was quite irresistible, yet in the previous game against Villarreal, he contributed very little. At least it seems that Roberto Mancini has finally domesticated Mario Balotelli whose supreme gifts have long been compromised by his ultra volatile temperament. Suspension kept him out of the Villarreal game but he excelled against United.
Meanwhile Stuart Pearce, designated British Olympic manager, continues to bemoan the fact that only English players have been committed to his Olympic team. Pearce was born in Shepherds Bush and I don’t suppose he realised that when the Olympics were staged in London in 1908, an all English United Kingdom team consisting of amateurs playing for lower Division clubs, won the tournament at White City; located in Shepherds Bush itself!
From the 1920s onwards, Olympic soccer has been a topsy-turvy affair of manifest shamateurism. The dazzling Uruguayan team won the title in 1924 and 1928, promptly gave up pretending to be amateurs, and proceeded to win the first ever World Cup, at home in Montevideo.
We did have an all British team in 1960’s tournament when, in Rome, I watched them gallantly draw 2-2 with a full professional Italy Under-21 side including the precocious Gianni Rivers and Gianni Trapattoni, now manager of Ireland.
Reportedly, there is scant spectator interest in the coming tournament whereas, in the past, it was said that football made the most money of any Olympic event, including its centrepiece, the athletics. Farcically a match is fixed for Hampden Park; how many Scots would want to watch a team without Scotsmen?
By Brian Glanville