December 13, 2015

The League bows out… (And sort of stumbles and falls off stage)

I think this was a suitably poor episode to end a sub par season. The show went out with some nice, quiet, very understated warmth, but to say it has jumped shark by this point, is perhaps a little misguided. It quite simply fell to pieces in the past two years, and was being propped up by caricatures of what has gone before, and the acting ability of the cast.

The product placement was absolutely vile. This show didn’t need an extra $10,000 to hollow out its soul like this. The whole group should have been against it and Draft Kings and such could easily have been the butt of jokes on the show.

The Kevin Jenny story is faintly ridiculous, and the pay-off wasn’t funny enough, like so many story-lines in an increasingly surrealist turn. But the worst is saved for the Meeghan and Andre/Pete baby story. This didn’t need to happen.

If there was one character that should have received a kind of solution or peace then it was Andre, and if there’s one whose selfishness never really had any redemptive supplementing quality, then it was Pete. Surely there could have been a better conclusion than Pete being the father to Andre’s baby.

Ruxin and Jenny’s decision not to tell Andre was equally disappointing. This moment was a real sigh for me, and speaks of a lack of genuine closeness that had never before been truly tested. As it turns out, we were wrong to assume that deep down it was there.

That all said, the writers were so determined not to go out with a whimper, that I do retain some minimal respect for this. Their experimentation with animation, killing off a minor character completely unnecessarily and in such seemingly ill-conceived timing does show some defiance to the usual trundle out of the limelight that great shows opt for (US Office springs to mind). This show walked a tightrope between happy and despicable and they finally came down hard on one side here. Perhaps, in a better executed way, and with a little more craft, this last season could have been incredible, but to say that bad structure and chaotic design were its highlights speaks volumes.

The affinity towards organic free flow of not just dialogue, but structure too, has been a philosophy that made this series as funny as anything in it’s formative and middle years. But they lived by the sword, and suitably have died by it in this bitter end, and we all should have been prepared for that, if not for Andre’s cuckold by his best friend.

A truly great series is rest, and hopefully it is remembered for it’s vibrant youth and dynamic middle years rather than it’s lackluster and scattered later years.

 

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October 31, 2015

When football becomes really good theater. Timbers v SKC

Timbers Fell KC

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Saad Abdul-Salaam is about to take the 18th penalty of a night where a shoot out was the inevitable dramatic conclusion to a game that rode on energy, drama, desperation and funny feeling of fate. Abdul-Salaam marches up to the spot with a swagger of youth but with a wholly understandable hint of uncertainty. This has been a night where the actors have been majestic, the sound from the Timbers Army hammering – giving shape and vibrancy to the stage, complete with two directors on either side who have been influential with their plotting and alterations. But the standout component of this Providence Park thriller is the script.

The full spectrum of emotion has been felt by spectators tonight. Timbers fans might be accustomed to some travesty and disbelief to supplement their moments of joy, but nothing could have prepared them for this. And as central defender Abdul-Salaam prepares for his starring moment, his backstory is befitting. The 24 year old is a former college player for Univeristy of Akron, where he was managed by current Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. Akron Zips embarked upon a phenomenal rise to win the national championship, which followed for Abdul-Salaam with a stint with Portland Timbers U23s. He is every inch (6 feet and 4 to be exact) the appropriate villain. Salaam stands 5 yards and mere moments from striking the ball that eliminates his former team and coach, and having seemingly thrown the game away again, Timbers are trying to shake that ‘here we go again’ feeling.

Salaam strikes it firm and hard with the inside of his foot. He drags it a little to the left, a late adjustment in his body that succeeded in sending Kwarasey the wrong way and it is almost the perfect penalty. Almost. The ball zips off the inside of the left post and continues its seemingly inbound trajectory. Timbers goalkeeper Kwarasey is recovering from his save now. The ignominy of diving the wrong way for the decisive penalty is largely inconsequential for the spectator, but excruciating for a goalkeeper. But the crowd still holds it breath and time stands still. Kwarasey spins around to see the ball rebound off the inside of the second post and veer away from his goal.

It made sense that Salaam missed. Not the boring old formulaic kind of sense. No, this was that ethereal intangible ‘I’ve got a feeling it’s a girl’ kind of knowledge. Off the back of a game where KC tied the game with 3 minutes of the regulation 90 left on the clock, then score an improbable other to take the lead in extra time, before throwing it all away once more to a tie seconds from a KC victory, it was sense as clear as mud.

And alas it made further sense that the game should be settled then in turn by Kwarasey. He was the blue eyed boy of the narrative we over looked at the start, dismissed as a good but inconsequential support actor. We were swamped by the technical sublime of Nagbe and Zusi, convinced they would steal the acclaim. A belief challenged only by the decisive attacking light of Nemeth and then Urruti who looked certain to have tipped the contest and thieve the narrative. But as we rattled through 20 penalties, all outfielders having taken their shot (and many missed) we stood tête-à-tête with the life-or-death but always faintly farcical prospect that both goalkeepers now had to take one.

Kwarasey’s opposite number, KC’s Kempin is a good goalkeeper. A good shot stopper and a player whose personality you felt interacting with his team. All without mentioning how the 22 year old is actually the back-up. Kemplin had been looking for the edge (the advantage, not the U2 guitarist) in this shootout by the darker arts. Rattling the crossbar with the palms of his hands as his opposite numbers stepped up, and patting his palms together threateningly were two choice behaviours that would not look out of place in a David Attenborough documentary.

Goallkeeper shooting past goalkeeper jars the aesthetic of the conventional penalty shootout. There is no long walk from the half way line. No well wishes or words of encouragement from team mates. And no never-ending teeming of thoughts over and over as the crowd groans with anxiety and hope. Just a lonesome but swift, so swift, spin around having just faced a penalty, to now step up and take one.

Kemplin stepped forward to Kwarasey to extend his sequence of gamesmanship and stall a player unfamiliar to the situation – the goalkeeper’s union feeling a small dent in the process. When it came to the kick, Kwarasey blasted his shot before Kemplin could react. Match point Timbers. Faced with a do-or-die moment in which Kemplin had to score to keep KC in the game, Kwarasey punched the penalty away from the goal and rapture ensued in Providence Park. The customary conciliatory gesture from the winning goalkeeper was shelved – albeit momentarily – and the end credits rolled with Kwarasey punching the air and screaming. Was Kwarasey asserting his power and jubilance with this thump, or merely enacting a repetitive motion that had now become involuntary – it was not clear.

But in this mess of uncertainty, emotion and a plot that twisted inside out and then back again, Timbers are certainly the winners. And they certainly advance. And they play again in 3 days.

PT SKC

August 9, 2012

Buying Success

Stoke City have spent more than Man Utd in the last five years.

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£10m for the 31 year old.

 

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August 9, 2012

Ferguson once made it his…

Ferguson once made it his business to identify with the club’s hardcore supporters, attending fans’ meetings, campaigning on their behalf about ticket prices and even wearing a Manchester United ring to reveal himself as one of them. A quarter of a century on, it is alarming to see how out of touch he has become with many of the same people.

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian on Ferguson’s immoral siding with the Glazers.

July 24, 2012

£423m debt

£423m debt

July 14, 2012

Remember there was only o…

Remember there was only one red card on Saturday and the last time I watched the game it certainly was not a Stoke City player who received it.

Tony Pulis in response to Wenger saying his side are overly aggressive and dangerous, in a match RVP was sent off in, with the help of some elaborate feigning from Sorensen. For a man so accustomed to pushing the laws and principals of football to it’s limits frequently in a match, he is remarkably good at being on the right side morally when it matters.

July 14, 2012

Media often incorrect in identifying mistakes

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Rafa Benitez’s failings came, according to our incisive media, as a result of his squad rotation. Yet that is ignorant of the fact that Ferguson chops and changes his side unpredictably every single game. Ferguson’s command, management and understanding of his squad is so immense in fact, that it is almost impossible to 100% guess the line up he will select for any given game.

Much more so than Benitez, who was essentially rotating full backs or swapping a midfielder or two. Ferguson is the Godfather of picking a team for battle for each individual game. Yet the media lazily and stupidly pointed to Rafa’s rotation as a reason for his side failing, when United last season, where they lost the league on goal difference alone, had no true or ultimate line up at any point.

Likewise, Rafa’s goals conceded were attributed, largely by Alan Hansen (once a defender apparently) to the application of zonal marking, presented by the media as if it were a bizzarre voodoo mysterious way of doing things, unfamilliar and utterly doomed to failure as a result. The fact was however, zonal marking is largely employed as the basis for defending, particularly outside of the Premier League. However, much more Liverpool’s conceded goals were a case of poor execution of zonal marking, individual mistakes, or just bad defending.

Another supposed failing of Wenger is that he never splashes out on peaking powers, or players that are established. Yet the truth is, Ferguson doesn’t do this either. The policy cited already on here ensures that Utd are also builders of talent rather than procurers of it. United’s best players of recent times, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nemanja Vidic, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, David Beckham and Paul Scholes, were all acquired at young ages. So too have Arsenal’s; Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera. The difference is that Wenger is being forced to operate firmly in the black as costs of The Emirates stadium inhibit the club still, meaning that he is sometimes forced to sell when he does not want to. Whereas Ferguson retains the power to firmly say no to Madrid if they want Vidic, despite this ultimately losing money, or telling Madrid ‘one more year’ til they can buy Ronaldo, Wenger is not being allowed this priviledge, meaning he is forced to sell players when he doesn’t want to, unlike Ferguson who sells as and when he sees fit.

Perhaps though, the pervading feeling is that if you are winning and competing at the very top, see United getting to the 2011 Champions’ League Final, then everything is forgiven, forgotten and viewed as a success, whereas if you haven’t won anything for 7 years and there’s a dedicated site counting this (http://www.sincearsenallastwonatrophy.co.uk/), then media will go looking through your drawers and asking questions. These questions are often misplaced and off target but nevertheless confirm that winning writes history. And also that Ferguson is incomparable in management ability.

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July 14, 2012

15 Years

Berbatov is the only player over 26 to have been signed for a fee by Ferguson in 15 years. Leighton Baines could soon be the second.

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July 2, 2012

Euro 2012 Best XI

Coach – Slaven Billic, Croatia – Was a poor header away from beating, and knocking out Spain, before they hit on the counter and scored. Pushed Spain closer than any other side and would have gone much further but for being in a group with the two finalists.

Gk – Iker Casillas, Spain – Never really looked like conceding. Dominated crosses into the box throughout (the only consistent threat), and his distribution improved as the tournament went on which helped Spain retain the ball.

Fb – Fabio Coentrao, Portugal – Defensively sound and decisive and technically assured when Portugal broke.

Cb – Gerard Pique, Spain – Not a gargantuan display but looked his old self with good reading of the game, tackling and passing.

Cb – Mats Hummels, Germany – Reads the game extremely well and is very comfortable on the ball. Cassano spinning him was a significant, sole mistake in an otherwise utterly convincing tournament from him, but the goal was due to good Italian play at their left wing back spot too.

Fb – Jordi Alba, Spain – So natural and technical on the ball he could really play anywhere as a forward, and with Spain dominating possession that’s essentially what he could be; a later-arriving attacking option. Spain could play with no wingers and dominate the ball because of this man’s direct, linear qualities on the left. Vital.

Mf – Andrea Pirlo, Italy – Pirlo dominated games when consecutive teams failed to press him. Instrumental against England and Germany in particular, making ball retention and switching the ball look effortless. Altered the tempo of games to suit him, before meeting his match against Spain.

Mf – Xavi, Spain – Xavi was just the catalyst for how Spain were approaching games. Always the middle pass in build up play, he played much higher up in the final and pushed Pirlo so deep he was ineffectual. Provided key passes throughout the tournament and just seems to be playing football with an understanding above everyone else.

Mf – Mesut Ozil, Germany – The one attacking player in the German team that was undroppable. His movement and positioning made him impossible to track and provided a fantastic, creative link that makes him suitable for possession play or counter attacking. Finishing is the only thing his game lacks.

Fw – Andres Iniesta, Spain – Iniesta was just consistently brilliant. From the first game v Italy to the final v Italy, Iniesta was the same; creative, inventive, skilful and impossible to get the ball off. He’s perfect at keeping possession and always presses without it.

Fw – Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal – Lived up to expectation and his physical and technical prowess was matched with excellent awareness and positioning. If Bruno Alves’ penalty falls a few inches lower Ronaldo might have carried Portugal to winning the competition.

Fw – Cesc Fabregas, Spain – Fabregas was outstanding in the final, providing forward runs that defenders couldn’t cope with as well as helping maintain possession deeper. His position, a play maker who makes forward over-lapping runs, makes him unique to watch as he is as likely to play a key pass as get on the end of one.

Subs:

Gk -Buffon, Italy – brief moments against Germany were the only times Buffon didn’t look solid and dominating.

Df – Papadopoulos, Greece – Powerful and aggressive, and capable on the ball too.

Mf – Khedira, Germany – his running up and down the pitch was really good to watch. Played well.

Mf – Montolivo, Italy – Really inventive and imaginative. Got tired trying to press Spain in final.

Fw –David Silva, Spain – was reliable and consistent for Spain with being given a lot of responsibility in attack.

Fw – Balotelli, Italy – His second goal against Germany was brilliant, and his performances in general were incredible for a guy only 21.

Fw – Gomez, Germany – Despite being too static and seeing little of the ball against Italy, his three goals were all skilful ones.

July 2, 2012

Euro 2012 Worst XI

Coach – Bert van Marwijk, Holland – No coach was terrible but van Marwijk made some bad errors of judgement, and the 4-2-4 shape Holland finished with against Portugal showed either the manager was ignorant of cohesive shape, or the players were just ignoring him.

Gk – Chalkias, Greece – A barrelling sprint out in the opening game started a collection of terrible moments for him, capped off with a pass smashed into touch as he exited with a mysterious injury. Positionally shocking, poor with decisions and bad at handling.

Rb – Glen Johnson, England – Johnson’s forward runs, his best asset, were mediocre but much worse was his defensive display. A series of strange decisions and terrible positioning really hindered England and made the defensive two banks of four set up vulnerable.

Cb – Richard Dunne, Ireland – Ireland were always going to invite pressure and be on the back foot, and this really brought out the worst in Dunne who was slow, too aggressive, technically incompetent and utterly lacking in ideas.

Cb – Jerome Boateng, Germany – Looked poor on the ball and was bad positionally too. Not terrible but unconvincing.

Lb – Jetro Willems, Holland – You can’t be too hard on a player playing at a major tournament who is born in 1994, but Willems inexperience showed, and was a bit all over the place.

Mf – Glenn Whelan, Ireland – Whelan’s only really competence is in ball retention and possession, so to say he was bad at it pretty much sums up a dire display from him, as he was wasteful the rare occasions his team had the ball, and too static without it.

Mf – Van der Vaart, Holland – His weaknesses were clear as day against Portugal, where in a midfield role the team carried him defensively and in attack he was often too far ahead of the play which cost Holland dearly when they lost the ball.

Mf – Florent Malouda, France – His role was shuttling the ball between midfield and attack, an important link up, but was rubbish defensively and wasn’t creative or imaginative in possession either. Hard to justify his selection.

Fw – Arjen Robben, Holland – It’s not unreasonable to expect a lot from Robben and he really didn’t deliver. Has had a terrible season in the big games and, along with his other high profile team mates, put in average performances at best.

Fw – Robin Van Persie, Holland – RVP is at the peak of his powers, and as a more dynamic striker, should have contributed more in terms of build up and link up play. Rare poor finishing from him too which cost Holland.

Fw – Wayne Rooney, England – His re-introduction shipped Young to Left midfield where he was ineffectual in attack, whilst Rooney himself was sub par in attack and defensively cost England the game against Italy by failing to track Pirlo at all. For a guy who has long been seen as a hard worker and a selfless player, he was extremely selfish and didn’t work hard off the ball. Ss a result, Italy, through Pirlo, kept the ball for long periods and dominated possession, meaning England didn’t compete as closesly as they should have.

Subs:

Gk – Sifakis, Greece – It suddenly became clear how Chalkias was first choice. Cost Greece a goal or two v Germany.

Df – St Ledger, Ireland – Not as bad as Dunne but still poor.

Df – Terry, England – Was constantly caught out with balls over the top, which cost a dissallowed goal against Ukraine and was exposed by Italy several times.

Fw – Podolski, Germany – £10m move to Arsenal doesn’t look such a bargain after a memorably bad 45 minutes against Italy.

Fw – Nani, Portugal – It’s getting to the point where it’s foolish to expect Nani to be relied on in big games. A skilful and gifted player who isn’t living up to potential.

Fw – Kerzhakov, Russia – 15 shots, none on target.

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