Archive for May, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-05-30

  • How many ways can Engerland conjour up to lose possession? #
  • So far so poor quality from Engerland. Glen Johnson's nice strike aside. Very much like Inter without the skills. #

Archive for May, 2010

Aunt Julia and the Surreal Nature of The West Wing

There’s a moment in Mario Vargas Llosa’s excellent Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter where your whole notion of the boundaries between the world, the book and its various fictional realities starts to go to pieces. Where the Scriptwriter’s various soap operas, which interspersed the main story of the novel, start to intertwine and characters start appearing, albeit peripherally, in the wrong stories. It’s as if the cement certainties you had when you started reading have been dissolved and are rotting away, leaving bits and pieces of the various spaces the characters (and you) occupy to bleed into one another.

Terrifyingly, these are the people who you want to run the government rather than the people who do

I mention this only because I’ve been getting into The West Wing – all seven series of it – and it’s been an interesting ride. It seems to start off almost as if the original pitch meeting was “it’s like Friends, but in the White House and with fewer laughs” only for it to develop into a Runyonesque political commentary. So there’s the spunky, irritating John Hughes chick who’s a little bit kooky, but somehow endearing and lovable (not lovable or interesting enough to make it to Season 2 though); the President who initially comes off like a cartoon Dubya Bush, but ends up redefining American politics, getting things done and achieving stellar approval points; the various policy makers who amazingly also manage to get things done and who seem to shed their initial personality quirks (like inadvertently sleeping with hookers for instance) as the seasons progress and somehow manage to make the country better; the ‘comedy couple’ who initially start as a parody of husband and wife and end up representing the humanity of the series; and the Press Secretary, who starts off all spin and flippancy, but ends up Chief of Staff, thereby defining the show’s move from spin parody to political seriousness.  By the end of Series 7 you’re left with a profound sense of the importance and gravitas of American politics. So much so that the entire final season, way the best of the bunch, is devoted to the campaign to replace the President. And it’s so enthralling, that you’re happy that one entire episode is a televised debate between the two candidates and that two are devoted to the election day itself.

But the moment that cracked it for me, the moment I saw through the glass and into the disturbing, reality blurring space beyond, was when characters from The Wire began to bleed through into individual or multiple episodes. Cedric Daniels, in a moment of pre-Wire policing, is a detective who is supervising a death scene. His wife (or possibly ex-wife by then) Marla is apparently moonlighting as the principal of an elementary school (could this explain her frigid relationship with Cedric during the early series of The Wire?). Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Pearlman obviously cut her teeth working for the Republicans up on the Hill, doing deals to secure appropriate legislation and judicial appointments prior to banging McNulty and then Cedric Daniels. Maurice Levy puts in a pre-corrupt lawyer appearance as a harassed White House adviser (obviously showing that eventually the profits of crime do entice individuals away from the honest legal system). Not even the Barksdales are immune from a little moonlighting from the running of their drugs empire. In case anyone was concerned about Brianna’s exact role in the Barksdale’s ever-expanding criminal empire and what she spent her time doing, it’s clear that she spends most of her non-crime minutes organising secret polling for political parties – the political equivalent of  highly deniable black ops missions.  I was relieved that the likes of McNulty, Bunk, Snoop and Omar didn’t make appearances otherwise I really would have been confused (or the plot of The West Wing would have taken a seriously violent turn).

It’s not that the appearance of characters from one series in another is that disturbing, after all Marcie from Alias and Commander Adama from Battlestar Galactica also make appearances (and we don’t really think it is Commander Adama), it’s just that you could believe that the rarefied world of Washingtonian politics and the crack-fuelled underbelly of Balitmorian law enforcement could collide in just such a surreal way. After all, if Major ‘Bunny’ Colvin can almost get a job running the security at Johns Hopkins (before incinerating his career prospects by attempting to legalise drugs) and President Bartlett’s daughter Ellie can study there, it’s not a great leap of faith to imagine that the two narratives could somehow link and intertwine.

Archive for May, 2010

What We Learned From Engerland v Mexico…

Winning Is, Presumeably, Everything

A win is a win and all that, but that’s about it. Mainly because, with a shocking lack of skills, midfield influence, possession and tactical nous, it’s all that Engerland can realistically take away from this game.  A 3 – 1 win against another Top 20 FIFA World Rankings team and one that’s also going to the World Cup can’t be sniffed at, but performance-wise Engerland were stunningly poor. Two staggeringly badly defended set-piece corners and one, admittedly useful, bit of skill from Glen Johnson did more to expose Mexico’s defensive failings than to establish Engerland as anything other than bantamweights. If I was the USA, who beat Spain in last year’s Confederations Cup, I’d be really looking forward to meeting Engerland on the 12 June.

No One Played Themselves Into The Team

With Fabio having to cull another 7 inadequates from a squad already stuffed full of them, this wasn’t a good game to be playing in. Midfield wannabes Milner and Carrick did themselves no favours by consistently losing possession, failing to defend in any practical way and generally managing to cede the entire midfield area to the Mexicans with the result that Rooney and his strike partner were isolated for the entirity of the game. Never has the regularly misfiring and universally derided combination of Lampard and Gerrard looked so appealling. It was a great game for the likes of the Coles, Lampard, Terry and particularly Heskey to miss and, of the players on the pitch only goalkeepers Green and Hart along with Glen Johnson really did anything to improve their reputations.

Are Engerland Setting Up To Play Like Inter?

It seemed that the team and Fabio have become enamoured of Inter’s recent Champions League performances, where possession and control of the game are sacrified in favour of highly regulated defensive pressing and swift counterattack. But while Inter seem to know what they’re doing, Engerland looked like they only understood  half the game plan – being excellent at giving the ball away without ever looking secure at the back. You’d have to say that a plan that gives the visitors significantly more possession than the national team at home can’t be a positive thing even if you win the game and it’s symptomatic both of the lack of basic skills within the Engerland camp and of a larger footballing conflict. There does seem to be something of a philosopical clash going on within the game between the ‘Beautiful Game’ espoused by Gardiola, Wenger and Van Gaal and typified by Barcelona, Arsenal and Spain, and the ‘Defensive Counter’ pioneered by Sacchi and now realised by Mourinho and his Inter team. The latter have realised that the tippy-tappy, through the keyhole passing game starts to falter when faced with a well-managed 9 or ten man defensive thicket placed just outside the box, leaving the opposition vulnerable to a lightning-quick counterattack as demonstrated by Inter’s second goal in the Champions League final. This cerebral confrontation of styles is excellently dissected in this article by the Graun’s Jonathan Wilson. Engerland would do well to read it all the way to the end, because it became apparent that they’ve either only read the first half of the plan, or they embarked on the game in the spirit of Sacchi’s practice matches, immediately returning the ball to the Mexicans on the halfway line whenever they inconveniently managed to gain possession. Such was the regularity with which Engerland gave away the ball that you felt it had to be part of their game plan as they surely couldn’t be as routinely shit as this without trying. All of which raises the bizarre thought that Engerland were actually using the match as a training session to see how well they would cope with having to constantly defend for 9o minutes – a thought that requires so much faith in Fabio’s management and the team’s ability to work to a plan as to be frankly self-delusional.  Meanwhile, this is a battle of footballing philosophies that will be played out throughout the World Cup, the best team being the one that can combine the two near-contradictory impulses with real skill.

Archive for May, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-05-23

  • That's more like it. First bit of class in the match. Inter 2 – 0 Bayern. #
  • So far so tedious. Inter 1 Bayern 0. Not much real skill on show. The goal was full on Route 1. #

Archive for May, 2010

What We Learned From Football This Season

Man City's jolly wheeze at Man U's expense

Man City show the other cheek to Man U

Less Quality Means More Competition

It was no surprise given the perfect storm of increasing higher rate tax and the demise of the pound that the 2009 – 10 close season saw an exodus of quality players from the Prem. And with the loss of Ronaldo, Alonso and all manner of players whose names ended in ‘o’, including Jermaine Pennant-o, it was no surprise that pretty much all the top teams were weakened. And standards have slipped pretty dramatically. The result was the most competitive Prem for a while, in particular the ‘Race for Fourth’ and England’s poorest performance in the Champions League for years. Aside from Fulham, Man City and Tottingham, I can’t think of any teams who were even noticably better than last year and many, many who were clearly worse. Match of the Day has never been so boring, even with Chelsea’s 5, 7 and 8 nil thrashings of the crap teams.

Arsenal Wenger Needs To Be More Like Bruce Lee, Less Like Chairman Mao

Possibly the most predictable (and depressing) moment in the season was Arsenal’s now-traditional Spring Slump. Having yet again been muscled out of contention in the Prem by a combination of the powerplay of Drogba and the crude assault-tackling of the low grade teams, Arsenal were also comprehensively ‘taught’ a lesson in Wenger’s chosen ‘possession play football’ by Barcelona. Next season Wenger has to show that he can develop a truly multi-faceted approach to football beyond what one might call his ‘touchy feely pretty passing’ game. In this, he needs to adopt a little more of Bruce Lee’s ‘Be Adaptable’ philosophy (as espoused in Enter The Dragon) and a little less of Chairman Mao’s ‘Be Pragmatic in Everything Except Politics’ doctrine. Wenger’s challenge for next year is to move beyond his Maoist midfield jiggery pokery and develop a range of strategies for both beating high class physical teams like Chelsea (suggestion – get a defender who can deal with Drogba) and outplaying the pitter patter of quality ‘press and possess’ teams like Barcelona (suggestion – take a leaf out of Inter’s book). If he can add flexibility to the Arsenal game then we could really see something next year. Otherwise they risk becoming the Holland of club football, the greatest team that never won anything.

Money Can’t Buy You Love (or Anything More Than The Europa League)

Despite spending Lotto Millions of cash on what ultimately seemed like little more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, Man City found that paying over the odds for all the not-quite top quality players from the teams in and around them (hello Adabeyor, Toure, Santa Cruz and especially Lescott) and tolerating the lackadasical attitude of useless Brazillian refugee Robinho, neither builds squad cohesion nor actually gets you to the Big Cup. Admittedly, they got it right with the feisty front end of Tevez and Bellamy, who were occasionally simply unplayable, but that wasn’t quite enough. Neither was replacing the relentlessly mid table Hughes with scarf-fetishist Mancini. The latter may have ensured the absolute minimum of European football next season, but clearly bottled it when he played for safe draws at the hard end of the season to ensure the Europa League when he should have gone all out for the Big Cup. Looking long term, this might be a great stepping stone for Man City, and the Europa League is the new Carling Cup after all, but you can’t help thinking that this was the season to leap into the New Big Four rather than stumble along into the European places. As a result, we predict another dose of shopping for stars at Safeways and competing in the Stuggle For Fouth next season rather than moving to the high price deli counter at Waitrose.

Un-Money Can’t Buy You Love (or Even The Europa League)

Football finance is a bit like some bastard form of maths that only the truly mad geniuses among us  (or possibly the criminally stupid) can get their heads around. Despite earning more money than ever from TV rights and ticket sales and merchandise, almost no football clubs actually break even, let alone make profits and there seems to be some kind of mental mathematical block that affects supporters who seem to believe that owners will continue to bankrupt themselves by ‘spashing the cash’ on new players, while reducing season ticket prices. Top of the League in terms of financial fuck-upery and bottom of the League in terms of anything actually important, like points for instance, are plucky in-penury Portsmouth. 58 new owners, none of whom actually seem to have had anything useful to contribute to the club (like, say, money), a squad that has been slowly gutted over time by club gutter ‘appy ‘Arry Redknapp, and a top gate of around 20,000 has seen Pompey amass nearly a trillion pounds of debt (oh OK, more like £100+ million but hey, what’s the difference?), lose the FA Cup Final through a truly pathetic penalty, go into administration and come bottom of the Prem even without the points deduction. Oh and because they couldn’t get it together to fill in the forms correctly, they won’t even be in the Europa League next season. And our money’s on Liverpool following their lead next season.

Can We Cut Out The Crap Tackling

Along with the general deterioration of quality in the Prem, we’ve seen an increase in what you might call agricultural tackling. This stems from a deliberate strategy adopted by less skilled teams to bully skillful players off their game and it’s clear that low grade teams like Stoke, Birmingham, Wolves, Blackburn, Portsmouth are instructed to ‘get stuck in’ and go for hard tackles whether they’re fair or not in an attempt to intimidate and injure quality players. It’s no coincidence that Arsenal have had two players ‘taken out of the game’ for seasons at a time through deliberately crude and brutal tackling (and you could argue that Eduado still hasn’t got back to anything near his true form), or that Ballack will be out of the World Cup thanks to a nice ‘banned for the last decade at least’ tackle from behind. Nor is it a surprise that the players doing this swiftly fade from the Prem to find their proper level lower down the divisions. Maybe the only way to stop this is to ban the tackler for the duration the injured player is ‘taken out’ of the game.

Archive for May, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-05-09