Tag Archives: Soccer

Ross McCormack, Marriage and Leeds United

As someone in my late teens, I cannot claim to have undergone the rigors of marriage. The testing moment every morning when one wakes up, looks into the eyes of the person lying next to them and thinks, “what the fuck have I got myself into? They’re just going to get older and older and smell worse and then, eventually, one of us will die and the other will feel sad because there’s some lingering passion and a sense of ongoing commitment”. You may ask why this is important to Spoughts, especially as it does not seem to contain any thoughts about sports. That is, after all, our modus operandi on this site. I’ve often had to stop myself posting videos of laughing primates. They’re funny and I imagine they’d be a big deal on the internet, but dammit, that is nothing to do with sports or having thoughts about them.

Of course, here comes the moment of linkage. Why does the marriage thought link to what I’ve been thinking about sports today? I’ll tell you why, Mr. Questioning Reader, who, presumably, by this point, has completely given up on this rambling article and instead chosen to read competent thoughts about sport from these competent people, or these. Anyway, Mr. QR, the issue at hand is that not only have I never experienced marriage in real life, but in supporting my football team, I’ve never experienced a marriage to a player in the way that generations before have.

If you’ve got the sort of busy schedule that I, a student, have, you will often find the need to fill almost an entire day with entertaining distractions. If you’ve decided to while away some hours by listening to The Square Ball podcast, for example, you may have heard my dulcet tones express a love of two players this season. Adam Clayton, transfer listed on the day of that podcast, and Ross McCormack, who today looked set to turn down a contract extension at Elland Road. Adam Clayton, admittedly, I wasn’t too cut up about. He played a good pass, scored a reasonable number of goals, was a shining light in the first part of the season when the entire team was dog shite, but dammit, he just couldn’t kick people as effectively as Michael Brown towards the end of the season. All too regularly, Neil Warnock would view Clayton in the middle of the park, an opposition player in his vicinity, and time after time, those shins would remain un-kicked. He’d call him over, whisper sweet nothings in his ear, ask him if he could please, at the very least, show the minimum amount of commitment. Pick up at least one red card. Just the one Adam. Please. Yet Clayton, showing none of The Edge expected of a man of his name, only picking up a suspension for repeated yellow cards. The gall of the man! The gall!

Okay, so maybe I’m not over the idea of Clayton being sold. Yet even more so, the apparent imminent departure of McCormack (because, let’s be honest, we all know exactly how this will go by now) is of great disappointment. This was a man who scored 19 goals in a team that ended the season languishing in 14th place. A man who played 3 positions in some matches, impressing in all of them. A man who continued to score under Warnock, even when it seemed the entire team was set up to avoid the potential of that occurring. He’d come out of the famed Simon Grayson Ignoring Cave of Doom (previously known as the ‘Reserve squad’, then known as ‘League One Clubs on Loan’ before being cast aside for Warnock’s preferred banishment zone, the ‘Lack of Passion Boulevard’) and made himself an integral part of the first team.

He turned up when no one else did. Chased, harried. Yes, he was occasionally a luxury player, but more than ever, do we not need those? Next year when the ball is pumped long to Becchio, who will, invariably, fall to the ground, would it not instead be nice to have a striker who could pick the ball out of the air, control it and play it into an actual corner of the net? Someone with a bit of…ability. Technical aptitude. Not being…crap-ness?

Why does this lead to the marriage thoughts? McCormack is just another in the chain of players who will leave the club, despite showing ability and skill, with the manager forced to defend Bates’s ridiculous thrift. I’ve spent years developing relationships with players, only to have them dragged away from me far too soon. I admit I watched both Clayton and McCormack in the reserves last year. I remember telling my brother as certain players departed the club last summer that it didn’t matter. Clayton had bulked up. He looked like he was as good as both Johnson and Kilkenny. McCormack could score with ease. Why was Paynter getting into the side or, at least, onto the bench ahead of him?

So, admittedly, more than most Leeds fans, I’ve spent an additional year in these players’s company. Even so, the bond that I’ve formed with them isn’t the same as players at other clubs. Wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to see a player degrade in ability before our eyes? To see Ross McCormack age and lose his ability to play slowly, rather than him being snatched away from us immediately. It’d be lovely to be able to stand on the Kop and complain as McCormack harries and chases, but simply can’t do it. “His legs have gone”, I’d say to my brother in the future, “Remember when he was good?”. At this point, my brother would remove his robo-claw and press his government enforced button, as the bipedal dog squad descend upon me and tear me limb from limb for subversive thought. Admittedly, I don’t have a very positive view of the future.

One day, players will stay at the club for the long run. We won’t have to give players chants on their debut, lest they never be sung about in their time at the club. I’m already trying to think up things about El-Hadji Diouf. Given our current track record, he’ll be gone before he arrives. His wikipedia article will list Leeds as a club he played for in the future-past, with an appearances tally of (-1) and the note that his head exploded when asked to recount memories of his time at Leeds.

The long and the short of it? Please don’t let Ross go. Please don’t let Snodgrass go. I know you will, but I can hope. Then I’ll convince myself that Paynter is an ideal, ready-made, replacement.

Do you want to read more depressed predictions of our inevitable canine overlords? Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

The English Game: Conservatism, Rigidity and Failure

After every international failure, the media in England hold an inquest as to what went wrong. Last Thursday night, on Channel 5, there was a moment that I felt summed up a significant segment of the issues with the country’s footballing psyche. As Aurtenetxe, ostensibly Athletic Club’s right-back, jinxed his way through the Manchester United defence, eventually crafting a goal scoring opportunity for himself, Stan Collymore questioned why a player in his position should find himself in that part of the pitch. Collymore was, sadly, an unwitting participant in an incredibly salient moment in English football. One in which an analyst, supposedly an expert at football, revealed beliefs that had been eradicated almost a generation earlier on the continent.

When Michels introduced totaalvoetbal through his Ajax side in the early part of the 1970s, people heralded a revolution in football thinking. For the two seasons running between 1971 and 1973, Michels’ Ajax did not only not lose a single home game, but achieved total domination, with a record of 46 victories. They were also clearly the best side on a european stage, clinching three European Cups in a row. This innovation, centered around Cruyff’s ability and willingness to move around the pitch, playmaking on behalf of the team, despite his supposed role as a center forward, would eventually become the foundation in ideology for the 1974 Dutch national side, arguably one of the better sides not to have won the World Cup at a given tournament. Coasting past teams such as Argentina and Brazil with great ease, the Dutch were eventually defeated by a West German side who stifled Cruyff’s creativity enough to snatch victory.

What, you may ask, does totaalvoetbal have to do with Athletic Club, English football and Stan Collymore? The answer lies in the very question. Would Bielsa look at the Dutch national side of 1974 and see them as intrinsically linked with his Bilbao side? Probably not. He would see them as an influence on football on the continent, but be well aware of the differences between how his side play football and that of Michels. He would, however, understand why the generation of footballers he manages have amongst their ranks right-backs who break forward and threaten the goal. He would understand the innovations of Michels’ team and the segments of the game which directly derive from their tactics. He would not, as Collymore did, question why a right back would be so close to the goal, in the center of the pitch.

Collymore is, in essence, symptomatic of the issues with English football. This is not to say that he alone is at fault in the world of English punditry. One merely has to look at the manner in which David Luiz has been treated since his arrival on the island. Oft derided for his ability to run with the ball and pose a direct threat to the opposition net, as it does not agree with the stereotype of the center back, Luiz will often find himself blamed for mistakes other defensive team mates have made. When Luiz goes forward, is he not simply attempting to have a hand to play in football’s ultimate aim, which is the scoring of goals to win matches? If he feels confident enough to contribute in this regard, Michels would encourage him to attack. The onus should fall on team mates to cover where gaps have arisen. This positional interchange is one of the key tenets of the totaalvoetbal that arose almost forty years ago. The level of success Luiz often has in these advanced positions should be evidence enough of the reasonability of this sort of play. Yet debate still arises over whether Luiz is not a midfielder, or if he’s a bad defender. The answer is neither, his attacking abilities do not render his defensive abilities null and void. The debate does nothing but symbolise English football’s unwillingness to accept tactical and footballing realities that are simply part of the game elsewhere in the world.

This positional simplicity is compounded by the debate that operates on the other end of the scale. Wayne Rooney is the prime example of this. The number of times commentators have questioned what Wayne Rooney’s ‘best position’ is number in the hundreds by this point, when, to any observer not blinded by the rigid roles ascribed to players in the country, it is quite clear that Rooney’s best position is simply on the pitch. He operates wherever he chooses to down the spine of the team, and that is partly why he is the best player in the country. He is simultaneously creator and goalscorer, operating effectively in both midfield and attack. To do what most pundits seem to desire, and tether him to a rope that allows him to operate within 18 yards of the goalmouth, would be to neuter the nation’s most exciting talent.

As if to symbolize the immense success of innovation, Javi Martinez, ostensibly a central midfielder, has been deployed at the center of defence for Athletic Club this season. This allows play to be built from the back. Another debatably successful side, Barcelona, have done the same, fielding Mascherano in a frequently used three-man defence, providing an immensely deep-lying playmaker. Any attempt to institute this in England would, you feel, be derided. Manchester City’s attempts to play three men in defence earlier this season, without a playmaker, were seen as some sort of tactical deviancy. Over from Italy comes this man, wearing scarves and trying ridiculous things. Three men at the back? Alf Ramsey would not stand for this.

English football, is, to a large degree, suffering from this rigid sense of positional play that the rest of the world has long forgotten. It does not even just apply to the obvious, however. Mancini’s attempts to have Manchester City’s defenders zonal mark from corners were oft derided by commentary teams. This despite the level of success the team would achieve from this ploy. City would, by February of this year, only have conceded two goals from corners this season, and beyond this, they had a positive aggregate goals from corner count of +10. Scoring 12, they are clearly aware of frailties to exploit in other team’s corner defending, even when the success of their defence is discounted.

Where does this English deference to rigid positional understandings come from? Jonathan Wilson, in Inverting the Pyramid, clearly reveals a history to a lack of English tactical innovation that belies trends around the world. Long after other nations had begun to abandon the W-M, England rigidly stuck to this formation. This would, of course, lead to the loss against Hungary that revealed England’s no longer dominant position in the footballing world. The man marking used in this game simply did not work, as the center-half had no idea how to deal with a deep-lying Hidegkuti.

Maybe it is a series of failed attempts to depart from this tradition that causes English football to remain so rigid. Admittedly, steps have been taken and a fluid front four is becoming more commonplace in the English game. The conservative nature of the media that surrounds the game, however, does not inspire confidence in this regard. One feels as though the generation of players commenting on the game will be nothing but a hindrance to the innovation necessary for English success on a European and international scale. Criticism comes for anyone attempting anything truly new. Flexibility and fluidity are probably footballing buzz-words on the continent. It is time for English football to accept, adapt and take charge.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

What baffled us about the Superbowl

There was a point, in the early hours of Monday morning, sometime after my last wing and just before the broadcast finished, that I began laughing. I began to imagine the next ridiculous moment that could occur, completely contrary to my previous experiences of sporting events, and lo and behold, the television would provide. From ridiculous endorsements to the unbelievable manner in which the trophy was handed over, the Superbowl was a series of baffling experiences. Sharing my thoughts with fellow writer Philip Buckingham, it soon became clear as the match progressed that watching this match was akin to watching a Martian broadcast for the two of us. Comparisons with the FA Cup final became prevalent. Two young men talking about our fears for the future of football. What follows is a comprehensive list of the more ridiculous features of the Superbowl.

The Constant Endorsements and Advertising

You’re watching the half-time show sponsored by Bridgestone tires. You’re watching the punditry sponsored by the Whopper. Finally, the match ends, and you’re watching the MVP presentation, sponsored, endorsed and with prize provided by Chevrolet. Already following the first fit of laughter, the manner in which the camera panned slowly to the Chevrolet as Eli Manning was announced as Most Valuable Player was shocking enough. I then made a mocking comment as to how they could announce the Chevrolet sponsored MVP award, but what occurred was even better. Without missing a beat, the interviewer told Manning that despite the fact he had flown to the game, he was going home in a brand-new Chevy, provided kindly by ‘The Chevrolet Corporation’. It was not enough to feature the logo of this brand in one of the closing shots of the presentation, but also to point out that, intrinsically, the game’s best player is Chevrolet related. This is worthy of mockery, but there are clearly reasonable fears that the same issues can occur in football. Simply looking at a website like The State of the Game can reveal the ridiculous endorsements that have cropped up in the ‘beautiful game’. In the realm of cars alone, Alex Ferguson, staunch socialist, and his ringing endorsement of Audi is a sign of things to come.

The Trophy Presentation

“They’re not going to hand the trophy over to the old woman”. But they did. Then they asked the owners gathered on the platform how they managed to achieve this victory. All the while, the players who had just performed in the match and won the trophy got a fleeting glimpse and touch as it passed them by. To top the entire incident off, they asked the ownership group how they achieved the spectacular victory, and they had the gall to respond in any manner other than “we sat and watched the people we appointed”.

This is akin to Manchester United winning the FA Cup, and the trophy bypassing the entire team, including the winning goalscorer, in order to be handed to the Glazer family. Gabriel Clarke then saunters over to them, and asks them how they achieved this victory.

“Well, what we did is took one of the world’s most profitable football clubs, and plunged them into hundreds of millions of pounds of debt,” reply the Glazers, beaming all the while, “and following this, we signed endorsement deals with all and sundry, allowing us to turn a profit whilst simultaneously servicing the mountain of interest that needs to be dealt with annually. Then, incidentally, we had a decent manager and some players, but they aren’t important.”

The day when a chairman gets handed the League Cup after a their team’s victory, rather than just placing a medal around the manager’s neck, is the day that football dies.

American Football is a series of set-pieces

People often mock Stoke City by saying they play a particularly attractive brand of rugby. The reality is they do not, but parachute that team out to America, double it, and they may just be able to play the national sport. It is odd to have that much downtime in a sporting event, and you come to realise, when watching it, that the entire matter is built around well-practiced runs and plays that involve little or no personal ingenuity. That is not to say that these men should not be considered impressive athletes, but it does explain why the sport is impenetrable for many in the UK. If a player does not follow the paths laid out for him, he will find himself unreachable by the Quarterback. It is hard to imagine all of Gareth Bale’s runs being plotted by Redknapp in advance and it may just be this contrast we find most baffling of all.

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