Looking at the tables as the end of the season approaches, it might occur to you that, with very few exceptions, no one really knows anything. Passages of play in matches have been described as little more than a series of random events, their final outcome decided by whoever is able to impose a distinct pattern, which more often than not neither side manages to do. This season, the same sense of galumphing randomness has applied to the football predictions business. Never before have the forecasts for how the season will pan out come so badly unstuck – the confident assertions made in tabloid and broadsheet columns and TV discussions may as well be seen in same light as contributions to the astrology page.
Few recent moments in football have been more magnificent than Ronaldinho’s goal at Stamford Bridge last season. It’s a moment that bears repeating and its use in an advert for Sky is one of the few reasons to be grateful for the hype that the satellite broadcaster invests in the game. Given that Chelsea won that tie, even Blues fans can enjoy it, not least because they can hope that one day Ronaldinho will be playing for them. Petr Cech will know that there was nothing he could do about it. For Barcelona supporters, it is at least a bitter-sweet memory and (we go to press a few days before the second leg of this year’s rematch) one that may have some sort of delayed happy ending. There’s one man we can think of, though, for whom that should qualify as a nightmare moment: Florentino Pérez.
So, Sven’s off, to the undisguised delight of his media detractors, who want him replaced with a tracksuited fusion of Henry V, the Duke of Wellington and Bomber Harris, who will spur the team on by sheer force of bellowing, in the dressing room and on the touchline.
You’ll have seen or heard the exact same interview several times, unless you have become more adept than we are with the remote control. A scowling manager appears to be making a big effort to control his emotions while he is asked about the controversial decision that has “cost” his team a win, a suspension, or the chance to come back from 3-0 down. It happens, understandably, when people are upset. But the manager will then be invited to agree that we must consider using technology to help referees get offside/handball/goalline decisions right.
There is, as you may have gathered, quite a lot that leaves us concerned, unhappy or downright angry about the game today (as always). But, despite it all, there is so much that raises a smile, so many reasons why what’s wrong with football is worth caring about. In the spirit of the season, rather than the usual setting the world to rights, we’ve decided to remind ourselves of what is, already, right with the world.
The internet is a breeding ground for rumour. Just recently, for instance, a message has been going around about a proposed England song for the 2006 World Cup, not the official one but a celebrity singalong in the manner of 1998’s Vindaloo. It’s Who Do You Are Think You Are Kidding, Mr Klinsmann? sung to the tune of the Dad’s Army theme. Ant and Dec are said to have been approached to sing it with Peter Kay and Gazza among others being asked to participate in the video. It might not be true, but the fact that it sounds all too horribly plausible demonstrates how bad things may get between now and next June.
At any particular moment the state of mind of many football fans is a fusion of cynicism and stoic despair, an outlook (leavened, of course, with brief bouts of bonhomie and joie de vivre) that we try to reflect. It’s not always the dominant view in most sections of the media, concerned more with selling the game, and especially “the most exciting league in the world”, than with reporting on it. But every so often what might be seen as the WSC default position comes back into vogue.
If Chelsea were going to make Lyon an offer for Michael Essien they couldn’t refuse, you would think they could have hurried up about it a bit. Far too much newsprint was expended on a depressingly inevitable saga. Lyon’s point of view – that if they were going to lose their best player to a team with a bottomless pit of cash then they would take every rouble they could get – was understandable. Essien, too, cannot be blamed for wanting more money than he could dream of
Technology is moving on apace in all directions but not fast enough. Through the summer we scanned the science pages in the hope that during the six-week break between seasons someone might have invented a device that would be of immense value to football supporters everywhere. What is urgently required is a filter for TV sets that could be set up to give the sensitive viewer the option of bleeping out certain phrases when they crop up in a football broadcasts. (Of course there is always the option of watching TV with the sound off and the radio on, but that risks exposure to Alan Green.)
If Rio Ferdinand succeeds in getting his Manchester United salary increased to £120,000 a week, he will receive in a month what someone on the average wage would take 19 years to earn. In recent newspaper reports on his contract negotiations, Rio was depicted wearing a Che Guevara baseball cap, so he may have plans to redistribute his bloated income in a manner befitting someone who identifies with a Marxist revolutionary. But it is none the less fair to assume that he will receive advice to the contrary and that his wages will continue to be spent on fast cars, holidays in exclusive resorts and helping Jody Morris to release fire extinguishers in hotel corridors.