It’s an unlikely feat, but the youngster seems to have pulled it off. Even in a summer when words such as “Office of Fair Trading” and “minister for sport” have been grappling for our attention, nothing has hit the high notes on the Yawnometer quite like a mention of Nicolas Anelka.
God knows we’ve seen some nightmarish ideas over the course of the first 150 issues of WSC, but this one is in a class of its own. Of course matches will still be played in something that calls itself the FA Cup, but the Cup as we have known it is surely dead – killed by its own creators.
No one remembers the losing semi-finalists, so they say. UEFA, however, remember everyone, not only the unlucky losers in the semis, but even the hapless minnows from Azerbaijan, whose representatives bowed out of all three European club competitions in the first round in 1997-98 without so much as mustering a goal between them.
The strangest publication to arrive at WSC for a long time was a glossy brochure called, with no apparent sense of irony, UEFA Champions League: A solidarity system for European football. Published in February this year, it appears to form part of UEFA’s campaign to head off any attempt to challenge the central marketing of TV rights to the Champions League.
Such is the intense spotlight trained on Premiership football these days, we are told, that nothing escapes the attention of the action replay cameras and the press provocateurs who feed on their evidence. In a limited way, the theory is perfectly true. Yet for all the microscopic detail now available to the media and the authorities alike, football still has blind spots about certain subjects, which go unmentioned even when they are shouting to be heard. One such came up, but only very slowly, after the Chelsea v Liverpool match on February 27th. The repeated clashes between Robbie Fowler and Graeme Le Saux were highlighted on Match of the Day and splashed all over the Monday papers, but the issue at the heart of the matter was not made plain until the Tuesday.
So, off he goes to no one's surprise. Some of the most successful managers in British football, including Bill Shankly, Don Revie and Brian Clough, might be politely described as eccentrics, so the fact that the man who picked the England team holds opinions seemingly derived from the witchhunts of the middle ages need not necessarily have made his position untenable.
Elswhere in this issue, WSC contributors offer their impressions of their favourite and least favourite moments of the year just past, with the 1998 World Cup featuring prominently among the positive memories. However much like a corporate jamboree it has become, it is still a momentous occasion enjoyed by millions of football fans around the world and there is absolutely no good reason to change it. Or so you might think.
Do football clubs know what they’re doing? Put like that, the question seems ludicrous. Of course they don’t. They blunder from manager to manager, most are clueless about public relations and their management style is archaic. That much we know. But there’s a more particular question. Do clubs know what they’re doing now, given football’s current financial state?
It doesn’t look like Gareth Barry will ever get the chance to measure his skills against Brian Laudrup. The rain that washed out Chelsea’s game against Aston Villa on October 31st, and Laudrup’s decision to quit Chelsea just two months into a three-year contract, meant the 17-year-old was spared that particular examination. But nevertheless the recent histories of the two players are linked. Their respective transfers, both in the news this month but at opposite ends of the price range, offer hints about the way teams may have to be built in the future.
There is a certain inevitability about the way cup competitions acquire the smell of death. Clubs start putting out weakened teams, fans stop turning up to watch the early rounds, discouraging statements begin to seep from official sources and Chelsea end up with the trophy. We have seen it with the League Cup, which Liverpool lusted after so much that they won it four times in a row in the 1980s. Now the bookmakers are offering shorter odds on Manchester United and Arsenal winning the Champions League than the Worthington, because they know the top clubs see it as an inconvenience rather than a serious goal.