The Champions League Final (Which Was Crap).

So it was plainly sapping. The game was treacly and dysfunctional – almost shockingly so, certainly disappointingly so. And yet Liverpool, this Liverpool and this Tottingham, come to that, we know to be better than this.

Was it just me, or were Liverpool pret-ty close to outstanding away at Barcelona, recently? (Know they got beat 3-0 but stay with me). Didn’t that game signal a kind of triumphal comfort, for the most part, with the very highest echelon of the world game? Because Liverpool spent a good chunk of that game fearlessly passing around Barca, thumb-nosingly fluently. And doesn’t that mean that they’d – in their racy, exhilarating brilliance – gone past nerves?

Apparently not.

The Champions League Final was crap. They often are, of course but this was somehow different. It wasn’t due to cynicism or negativity from either party: it seemed more about a lack of ability to play (on the day) rather than some miserablist intention.

Klopp spoke immediately afterwards of his players ability to come through, when exhausted. His pride was more about that sense of something overwhelming having been ‘survived’ – something extra to the *actual footie*. He noted conditions and the long, cruel treading of water between the end of the domestic season and this most climactic of events. The challenges, in short, were not about football.

Nerves and what we might call loss-of-form in the moment strike brutally and often. Nearly every major sports event can be Exhibit A in this regard. Oftentimes, we can actually predict who might ‘disappear’ or ‘have a bit of a mare’ when the spotlight really glares. It’s part of the fun, for us breezy scribes and cod-psychologists – and for Yer Average Fan, too, surely?

In Madrid, it felt that there was a general washing away of the individual power to excel, rather than the utter exposure of Player A or B. Sure Kane was woefully uninvolved, and Alli again, after an encouraging start, seemed disturbingly unconcerned to actively intervene. And the erstwhile or early-season All-Court Genius that is Firmino again put the mute into muted, but the issue seemed like a broad, mid-range affliction rather than a personal, individualised trauma. Nearly everyone was a tad off.

You will find exceptions, perhaps. Perhaps Alisson, who was good. Perhaps Matip and Danny Rose. But most underachieved.

The penalty was maybe a factor – have heard this argument.

‘Liverpool didn’t need to blahdiblah cos of the early advantage. They know they’re the best defence in the league’.

But na. The pen was a) odd and b) always going to be given (in the Champions League this year) and c) inevitably some sort of factor but it actually precipitated a spell of countering from Tottenham which was medium-positive, as opposed to reckless or deathwishtastic. The temper of the game was never high enough for anything to be decisive.

So what was it, then? Occasion-related clamminess? Broiling Nerves Syndrome? Symptoms may include; eyes glazed over; dread-fulness.

Whatever, Some Inevitable Depressive Force was acting, here. Something which sapped 28 to 53% of the life and the talent from some brilliant footballers – some of whom you would say are outstanding, upstanding characters. Most of them could not pass and move and pass to save their lives, last night. Amazing; okay we know Liverpool play a pacy game but they can retain the ball; not last night.

Two further things: firstly I wish to out myself as someone who whilst absolutely rating Pochettino, finds the Poch love-in a little wearing. Excellent manager but look closely at last night’s unfolding (or lack of it) and maybe the first half, home to Ajax and then reflect.  Questionable approach, outcomes delivered more by The Fates than by The Poch, for me.

Secondly, it all feels okaaaay, because Liverpool have made such a powerful contribution to both Premier League and European Football this year that not many would argue against the notion that they deserve something. Cos high-level sport is all about merit, eh?

The Final was extraordinary, was it not? Only not in a good way, really. Ask your Scouse mates if that matters.

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Haggling unashamedly…

Transfer deadline day. It’s a squirmathon if you let it be. A kind of shockingly energetic fiscal barf into the sinew-stretching meadow ‘pon which us Michelin-starred culturosporty cud-chewers mindfully graze. Something pathetically, major-league big but also empty, in fact. Feeling to me more depressingly/divertingly anti-sport than ever. Is it simply the money, the obscene nature of half a billion blown on mere footie players? Must be partly. Is it the subliminal fraudulence (too?) A day, after all, of absolutely no reckoning but lotsa cheap haggling, where the whiff of the mad-bovine prevails over the desperate, illusory need to compete… for what? Cash-cows, or trophies? It’s a blur.

And it’s clearly right up there in the diabolical crassness stakes. Like shopping in Oxford Street; like something blocking or jarring or deeply reflective of our failure to evolve forwards.  And our need for the herd and the hero or the god, or… just another Stella. (I mean an Ar-tois.) Hour upon speculative hour of absurd, lonely black-wholeness, offending every sense but that one that twitches over yearnings, over transformational moments of triumph. Like when you actually sign somebody magbloodynificent – which nobody, to my mind, did, or looked like doing – unless we count in Real Madrid, which we won’t, as I’m concerning myself with our lot. The Prem.

So I studiously avoided most of the whole garish bundle, choosing to cast a superior and occasional glance at my twitterfeed and (okay then, I admit it) fire up 5Live for an occasional burst of the goss.  (They, like we did, had United and Arsenal neck and neck in the #racetolosethemostface, a staggering lack of planning having led to clumsy dabs or inelegant clawing at too few, too elusive a ‘target’.)

Arsenal’s failings in the transfer market have a Wagnerian scope, do they not, booming as they do around a certain, epic, poignantly-inevitable calamity or twelve? Yet – is it just pervy ole me? – there’s something remarkable and quasi-sexy in the sheer spermlessness of AFC policy over the years. Buy nobody or buy effectively the same player, endlessly. Fire blanks into the Real War going on around. Avoid what you really obviously need – striker/keeper/stopper. It’s been a sometimes expressive, sometimes jaw-droppingly inept performance , held together solely by the safety pin that is Wenger’s brilliance.

So if you’re NOT an Arsenal fan, there may be something faintly attractive about Arsene; the quiet French hawk, the one-eyed Prof. Denied the bare essentials (well, the dosh) but in any case psychotically unable to see past the need to arm himself with shortish, squattish midfield maestros who can Frenchly-beautifully out-doodle the natives. Suddenly, however, with the economic Goonscape transformed (that word, see!) what do we get but… a Turk-German uber-maestro to add to the collection. The boy Ozil being admittedly, clearly a talent of the elite variety but surely, even allowing for the increasing doubts re the longevity of the unfortunate Wilshere, Arsene needed a striker/defensive hulk or two more urgently than another impish genius?  Having said that, I do look forward to seeing the 42 million pound signing collect and pass and move and weave his characteristically sweet angles.

Arsenal did do other business, including bringing in another keeper, to be fair. But the suspicion remains that they ballsed the whole thing up by failing to garner a Huth-like monster or three for that perennially mincing defence of theirs, plus a Proper Striker. They may have been after Ozil for aeons but to belatedly pay over the top for a player they may not need (mainly) because the locals have been understandably restive/the situation demands a Big Name Signing is both dumb business and disproportionate footie-wise.

The fact that their much-loved neighbours Tottingham have been going through their little black book of dreams and making all manner of successful calls of course added to the pressure on the Emirates regime. Perhaps, incidentally, the Prem at large should be looking very closely at who did and how did Spurs do all this business? Tottenham are a fine club but they are not Manchester United (for example.) So how come they did all this stuff? Exercised this clout? Over at the Emirates, the feeling remains that yet again Arsenal FC will be carried by their manager’s ability to bully or blend together a competitive side from a squad overloaded with hare-like schoolboys and members of the Sub-Iniesta Society.

Arguably only one club has drawn more guffaws than the Gooners this last week – Manchester United. For a club with such resources and advantages as MU to have failed so pitifully to do any decent business in the transfer window is extraordinary. Sure certain clubs/players/agents are going to piss you around because you’re Manchester United; we know that. Everton are going to want to play hardball over both Fellaini and Baines, there’s gonna be an MU Premium added into most deals. But players are going to want to come. Given the status of the football club it’s plainly ludicrous that a shopping list complete with likelihoods and alternatives could not have been acted upon successfully, early enough. Even with Moyes as a latecomer; the procedure and the order of things – the momentum – should have been established.

None of us – not even journo’s allegedly ‘in the know’ – can be sure how much blame to attach to Moyes and how much to Woodward and others in the backroom staff for the widely acclaimed fiasco. Woodward is inevitably likely to be far more responsible for getting deals done than the day-to-day manager of the playing staff but perhaps there is also the feeling that Moyes as yet lacks the personality or stature to get on the blower and simply get things sorted. But that is more of a hunch than a statement of fact – of which we possess relatively few, other than the damning list of (allegedly) failed buy-ins.

Arguably more could have been done in the last ‘window’ to set the club further forward but certainly obvious and ‘essential’ moves – for me, this means Baines first and foremost, given the 18 months of drift from Evra – should have been driven through. The Spanish difficulties might have been overcome with a combination of better PR and sharper, earlier negotiation but in any case multiple alternatives should surely have been approached simultaneously? To be flailing about late on and then apparently only succeed with Fellaini due to him relinquishing a substantial wedge because he so wanted to join MU simply outgooners the Arsenal on the incompetence-in-the-market front. Fellaini, by the way, I do rate and expect his presence in both boxes to be a significant bonus for United. Whether the need to recharge creativity in midfield will be covered by his arrival is another matter. Fabregas might have been good.

I’ve got bogged down I see with the madness of the window and with United and Arsenal. Tottenham have clearly been the epicentre of most world news in the last period and yet (maybe this is a simple case of not seeing the wood f’ut trees?) I don’t yet see/feel how their team is going to act – not yet. Clearly they have Big New Signings and maybe in this age of the lurid and the loud that may be enough.

If I have obsessed on the appalling umbilical link between the Real Deal in footie and in the capital universe, I apologise – that’s politics, folks. I am hopeful of two things; that Gareth Bale will be a success in the purest(?) footballing terms and that maybe any power-shifts we may see post the window (and related to the influx of new managers here and there) might both lift and spread standards/opportunities/joy, even.

In Between Days?

Don’t know ‘bout you guys but despite the seasonal arrival of well… mainly socks to up the sartorial ante, I’m both looking and feeling a tad dishevelled; peeky; and a tad bloated.  The dog-walking has been an essential antidote to pies and puddings and the occasional pint but not, in truth, sufficient.  I’ve needed a dive in the ocean or a game of rugby or something to truly de-cobweb  or detox the overwhelmed pipework.  Haven’t had it though.

Following this week of lacklustre engagement with either/neither the coalface or the sporting widescreen j’accuse – I accuse myself actually – of a kind of proportionate indolence that prematurely factors in all the really active stuff I have lined up and thereby gets me off the hook.  (Pass that pie, please?)  I accuse moreover, the Mother-in-Law of baking far too much.  Generally, I accuse the calendar of being too Christmassy; but I need to move on.

To the sport.

Kauto Star may well be the real story over the Xmas period but he is an athlete I am barely familiar with.  I can more honestly comment therefore, on the gallop towards the Premiership title, now featuring just the two legitimate Mancunian thoroughbreds.  If that’s what they are?

Manchester United have eased into a position of some control, despite a brief period where they were utterly exposed  -chiefly by City but then in their poor European campaign – as only mediocre pretenders to the title.  Ferguson will know that his side have barely improved of late and will be conscious of the need to maximise psychological capital from criticism of  The Reds from perceived traitors (Roy Keane) and around issues both for and against the strength of his squad – now being tested to the limit by injuries.

United certainly do need players to compete with authority and confidence in the Champions League next year; some added brilliance in midfield and some fit defenders may help.  And yet, domestically, almost independent of any assets the team may have or lack, results come.   The defining quality, the defining force of the Premiership itself still being that fierce Scottish fire smouldering beneath this extraordinary club’s belief.

Mancini, on the other hand, enters a period where both he and the widely imagined disunity within his starry group will be tested.  Are they – in particular these disproportionately remunerated foreigners – able to show real Premiership grit when the squeeze is suddenly applied?  If fluky things suddenly start to go against them, will the likes of Balotelli and Aguerro rally round some newly pressurized core?  (Given that for me both are already showing if not outright selfish tendencies then certainly an awareness of a need to make a personal impact, I do wonder how emphatically City will respond as a team to an allegedly inevitable ‘bad patch’).  We may learn a great deal about the legitimacy of any sky-blue badge-kissers in the next period, methinks.

Crucially, perhaps, now that City have finally faltered – only drawing at West Brom, being held by Chelsea – allowing United to draw level on points, will Silva flow so freely and with such influence?

So results (or something) conspired almost miraculously in the last 48 hours or so to re-hoist United, whilst undermining the Chelseas and Liverpools of this world.  Arsenal too, despite playing consistently well are coming from too far back.  Tottenham – lovely, pacy, Redknappy Tottenham – are bursting brilliantly but likely to be less durable, I would argue, than the Northern Bootboys.  The sensational Bale is quite possibly the single most exciting footballer on the planet, currently; he is the antidote to Lucas and to Cattermole and to the often outstanding but unsprinting Barry.  By sweeping past people in a way that seemingly owes more to childish expressionistic glee than to any football coaching book, Gale is capable of bursting through cynical or disinterested hearts.  Even my marzipan bubble was disturbed by the flying Welshman.

But a passing and respectful nod to Kauto Star and at least a mention of the magnificent, record-breaking crowd of 82,000 for the recent Harlequins v Saracens match at Twickenham are in order.  As is a further airing for the name Farrell (junior), with which some time in February the sporting population may again become generally familiar.

Perhaps though not before your currently sedentary scribe has actually done a substantial amount of running, throwing, batting, bowling; developing his How To Coach as well as his What To Coach skills.  Is there I wonder a workshop out there on How To Shed That Seasonal Lethargy-Thing?  If so, put my name down… immediately.