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Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays from the Hairdryer!

All the best wishes of the season to you, loyal readers! Thanks for making TDH's first couple of months a success. TDH will return with customary force after the holidays. In the meantime, whatever it was that Jose sent to Arsene, you can be sure the card was American Express....

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"We have top players and, sorry if I'm arrogant, we have a top manager."

With rumors that Feyenoord's Mark Wotte is on his way to Southampton, foreign coaches are making more inroads in the Championship as well as the Premier League. Perrin's brief stint should prevent any more clubs from seeing a foreign coach as a panacea, but the success of Mourinho, Wenger and especially Jol must give teams pause.

Widening the labor market can only help quality, as long as it's correctly assessed. There's a belief going around that foreign coaches have some sort of tactical genius, or at least the capacity to institute a training regimen that turns teams into lean, mean machines. There's no reason why English coaches couldn't do this... except that they've been notoriously slow at learning lessons from outside the Premiership.

Club management and training hasn't moved on much in the Premiership in the past 10 years, whereas in Italy, for example, it has been revolutionized. If anything, Premiership clubs should be more interested in how to maximize the efficiency of their players, because the league is so grinding.

But owners obsessed with transfer fees and high wages may be reluctant to shell out for better training room and physio technology. It may take a savvy, blue-collar team like Wigan - where the players' egos aren't yet big enough to reject such changes - to show the big boys how it could, and should, be done.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"The fans, and now most of the crowd, are interested in this event."

Ah, the Premier League. Just when you thought it was over - Chelsea champions forevermore, Arsenal and Manure with a lock on the other top places - it comes back with a vengeance.

Two matches before the midseason mark, the table is a joy for the impartial observer to behold. (Does such a person exist? Maybe this guy... Hot or not, anyone?) Six teams are within six points of reaching the Champions League places, and Manure are chasing Chelsea well enough to keep it interesting. Even with Roman's money, the Blues still need to win football games. Four teams are within six points of the drop zone, even if the Mackems already have a lock on one relegation place.

The league is not as wide-open as it looked just a couple of weeks ago. But credit must still be given to a resurgent Liverpool - with two games in hand, they could end up level with Manure. Even more plaudits must go to Spurs. Martin "Jaws" Jol's shrewd signings and shrewder squad selection is turning the club around. (Now you know why Jol never opens his mouth for a photo. And yes, TDH is pleased to see the Mido-Keane recommendation being followed, and reaping its rewards....) And Bolton - well, those old legs (except Nolan's) will probably be tired in a few months, so don't hold your breath, Mister Softee.


With the Gooners' hapless performance against Chelski, one has to wonder whether TH will make the big move south, where the Buck-Toothed Wizard waits with open arms (or jaws). Actually, TDH thinks he would find a better home, football-wise, at Madrid alongside Ronaldo. The world's best outside-the-box finisher and one of the world's most innately talented inside-the-box tanks? Scary.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Football. Bloody hell."

Same old Owen, always scoring? It doesn't have the same ring as the traditional chant, but we'll take the hatful all the same. Apart from the "Nobby giveth, and Nobby taketh away" fiasco, the Toon finally closed the book on a gutsy - if not completely convincing - performance on the road.

TDH then entered the peculiar state of hoping that the Brum Bums would somehow overturn Psycho's Psity, so that the Magpies would move one more place up the table. (Actually, it's not that hard to root against Vassell....) It felt very Fergie-like, let us say.

In the meantime, Manure have somehow moved within touching distance of the Billionaire Boys Club, which should put those "Sack Sir" agitations to rest for the time being. Who knows, they may even get a new shirt deal over the break.

In any case, Souey lives to die another day, and European places are beckoning once again. What a difference a couple of weeks make, eh? And that's why Sir's all-time greatest quote is today's headliner.

TDH has been writing from mainland China, where Blogger is available but, strangely, Blogspot and Google Images aren't - hence posts but no graphic links or comments. More later, once TDH is on home turf again.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"I never predict anything and I never will do."

TDH was looking over the Champions League draw and thinking, "Could we, in any of these matches, divine something useful about the even bigger competition to follow in June?" It's not such a far-fetched thought - the Trini-Tobagans, at least, must have had a bit of a shudder at seeing Crouch and Gerrard romp over Depo Sarsparilla.

And there are some match-ups that could be interesting. TDH doubts Mourinho will want to let Makelele take on L'il Ron the Cowboy alone, so we may just see what JT can do with him, with Carvalho doing his best to interfere with Eto'o, the keeper, or whoever else is around.

Milan v Munich will give us a chance to see Sheva up against Lucio, which, let's face it, is not exactly a fair fight. Madrid v Arsenal may feature Robinho versus big Sol, and Sven will find out if the man still has legs. Or it could be Ronaldo, which would also be informative, as Brazil may well meet England in the semifinals. At least, we can hope. If we're lucky, we'll see Essien take on Gattuso in a later round - that'll be a cracker in Germany, no matter what.

One of the other interesting questions that always bubbles up around this time is whether there are any national squads that play as well as the world's best club teams. It's a hard one, since only the club teams are together week-in, week-out (except if you're Argentina, where you all play at Villareal). And while the top club teams are strong everywhere, every national squad - even Brazil - has at least one weakness.

But think - who would do better against Milan, Bayern, and Barca: Brazil, or England? England's grittiness might just give them the edge, even with Brazil's bags of offensive talent. It's a comforting thought, no?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"He managed to make a good hash of it in the end."

So, Roy decided to find out just how much he was worth on the open market, and now the verdict is in. Just 18 months at Celtic, thank you very much.

TDH thinks this is just about the bare minimum that Captain Cork could have hoped for. (Or should we call him The Undertaker?) Obviously, the way he left the Theatre of Screams didn't help matters, but the deal must be disappointing. If it's his last contract, he'll be retired at 35. In the meantime, Teddy Sheringham will be 41 and probably gearing up for another season in the Premiership.

It wouldn't be like Roy to try and spin things out until he was crap. But perhaps he's not really committed to getting the most out of what's left of his career.


Liverpool had an easy time of it against Costa Rican giants - giants! - Deportivo Saprissa, but everyone will be talking about the two goals scored by the Empire State Building. For the first one, his body briefly looked like the propeller of a Sopwith Camel. (You really can find anything on the Internet....)

The brace could easily have been a hat-trick, or more. TDH is starting to see through the enigma of the tallest man on Merseyside. His height and his first touch buy him chances that simply wouldn't be there for most strikers. Yet his control and finishing remain middling. So perhaps, perhaps, he still gives you value for money - he just makes himself look bad in the process.


As the lads at point out, Scrappy Souey is going into his 50th match - an amazing feat, for him, in and of itself - with a Premiership record of 15-16-18 (W-D-L). His overall record looks better, thanks to last year's Cup runs. But it's useful to consider only the Premiership matches for the relatively consistent quality of opposition.

That record gives us 61 points from 49 matches, or an average of 1.24. Over a 38-match season, that average yields 47 points - enough to stay up, but nowhere close to a European place. Unless things improve dramatically, it's still time for a change.

(TDH can't even believe that "staying up" is now a worthy goal for the Toon. What's happened? Mummy, please make it stop....)


Finally, a short comment on this week's Goals Per 90 Minutes chart (at right). Some of the supporting cast are now making the running, with Zamora and Dickov in four-goal territory. These guys have a hard time getting a full 90, so it's not surprising that it's taken them a while to get their names in lights.

But statistically, their figures are likely to go down soon. Because they enter the chart as soon as they score the fourth goal, they probably receive a higher score than if the chart just looked at scoring over a fixed number of minutes. Okay, no more Dr. Science for today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"It's amazing what you can see through Sven's specs - I must get a pair."

ACTION - Sven says he's picked 20 of 23 spots on his World Cup squad.
REACTION - TDH puts on a deerstalker (no, not this, the hat!) to figure out who's in and who's still on the bubble.

Sven's XI: Rooney, Owen; J. Cole, Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham; A. Cole, Terry, Campbell, G. Neville; Robinson

[This assumes Sven really hasn't seen the light (like this guy) about the virtues of a holding midfielder. But if he has, TDH will be first with the hallelujahs.]

Most likely cover: Crouch; Wright-Phillips, Hargreaves (it hurts); Ferdinand, Carragher, Young; Kirkland

On the bubble for places 19 and 20, not mentioned: King, Carrick, Jenas

On the bubble for places 21 to 23, says Sven: Defoe, Bent, Reo-Coker, Richardson, Bridge, Woodgate, and a bunch of keepers.

Carrick and King are the most likely picks for 19 and 20. TDH loves King, especially after seeing photos like this one. (Where'd he get those anti-gravity boots?) But TDH also agrees with the completely unbiased peanut gallery in preferring Parker to Carrick. Too bad Scottie doesn't seem to be on Sven's radar screen.

TDH also has a soft spot for Downing (awwww...) but he hasn't had enough matches to impress Sven this year. Upson may also be in the mix somewhere, if a top-choice defender ends the season injured.

If it were up to TDH, a healthy Dyer might even take over for Wright-Phillips, who hasn't exactly romped in the England shirt. Dyer's a more reliable game-changer. But TDH suspects, deep down, that SWP is the man you'd prefer to have on the team bus. Call it disloyalty on TDH's part, but England expects harmony on that bus.


Recent rumors have Robbie Keane coming to Tyneside and Bowyer departing to Charlton. A worthwhile switch? Probably. Bowyer's got the guts, but Keane is finally starting to produce at a steady rate. TDH bets Souey will pull the trigger if he can, just to put a final stamp on that summer clear-out. And TDH wouldn't mind having a first-class striker on the bench. It's been years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"I'm going to whack you over the head with a big stick, down negative man, down."

Today TDH is all about the aristos.

Let's start with Sir Angry, who's, er, not too happy with the way the press have been treating the Red Mist. "They have a hatred of Manchester United," he told a news conference. "It's always been there. That goes with the territory, I suppose, of us being such a high profile club."

Well, maybe, but do you see the same knives out for Chelski or the Goon Show? Not quite. And let us check off the reasons why:

1. Mourinho is blunt but witty. Wenger is supercilious but genial. Ferguson is grumpy except when he wins, when he's insupportable. That toothy, gum-chewing grin. Oooh.

2. Chelski play with smiles on their faces. The Goon Show go for beauty. The Red Mist stomp around with perpetual frowns, yelling at officials and even at genuinely wounded adversaries.

3. Stamford Bridge is an air-tight ship. Highbury's biggest controversy consists of negotiations with stick-up artist Ashley "Pretty Boy" Cole. Old Trafford lies smack in the middle of a war zone of flying insults and flying boots.

4. Fat Frank does his daddy-baby thing when he scores. Va-Va-Voom let's you know it's all in a day's work. Horseface acts like he's just won the flipping World Cup. Which could never happen. Because he's Dutch. (Sorry, Ronald....)

5. Chelski got lucky with a rich owner who actually loves football. The Goon Show are betting big on a new stadium. The Red Mist grabbed the cash by becoming a plc, then they were bought by someone the fans didn't like, then the fans protested and started their own club, then the sponsors pulled out, then....

You get the idea. Too bad, Sir, it's not just us. It's you lot.


Sir Les made a good point today when he picked up his MBE from Chazza, who probably wouldn't be seen dead at anything less than a Cup final (oh no - common folk!). Thus spoke the man for whom a real knighthood would have been an afterthought: "When you see the other people here and when I have done something I've enjoyed for 20 years, sometimes you don't feel worthy."

Too true. Plenty of these honors go to people who achieved much, yes, but without making many sacrifices in the process. Wouldn't it be great if the less celebrated but more admirable honorees featured in as many headlines as the annual crop of athletes, entertainers and washed-up pols?

Monday, December 12, 2005

"The World Cup is a truly international event."

TDH is in a philosophical mood today, so, loyal readers, pull up an armchair and lend an eye or ear.

Yes, TDH has been musing about what the football transfer market will look like, roughly eight months from today, when the big clubs chase after the stars of Germany 2006. Without a doubt, there will be a few more Costa Ricans, Togolese or Iranians playing in Europe's top leagues in 2006-07 then there are in 2005-06 - just like the Koreans and Senegalese who migrated after the last tournament.

The World Cup serves as a fantastic disseminator of football information. Most clubs don't send scouts to Angola, or even Australia, because it's hard to justify the expense when the likely yield is fairly low. Indeed, incomplete information is a constant problem on both sides of the football transfer market. When a certain team in Hong Kong's Yau Yee League posted a message seeking new players on the amateur association's own website, resumes flooded in from professionals all over the developing world.

But when unknown talents parade their skills in front of a television audience of billions, it's a scout's dream. Of course, only a few dozen of the best undiscovered players make it to the big show. That's too bad, because many others could probably find high-paying jobs in Europe's lower leagues.

Don't mention those leagues to Sepp, though. For years, he's been ranting that the transfer market robs the unique character from the various national games.

As anyone who watches football - which apparently doesn't include Sepp - can attest, his worries are overblown. It's obvious that the English, Spanish, German, Italian, Brazilian and Argentine leagues are just as distinctive as they've always been. The institutional memory underpinned by coaches, commentators, players and fans is a powerful force; new players adapt, or they move on to leagues that better suit their styles.

Still, TDH wonders how Sepp will reconcile his views with the showcasing of so many far-flung stars. The World Cup gives us a wonderful opportunity to glory in the diversity of world football. Should we then say, when it's over, "Go back to where you came from"?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"He’s the headstone of English football.”

Let's hope Sven can finally inject some tactical wizardry into the England side for the next World Cup, because he certainly won't be adding much fighting spirit.

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it's already difficult to figure out how much value he adds to the team. (TDH could have said the same thing about Big Phil in the last tournament.) One could argue that a chimpanzee with a markerboard could have qualified from England's group in UEFA; "4-4-2, 4-5-1, whatever, just go out and make some pretty triangles, now watch me play with myself...." You can tell why the players like him, too - he's about as fiery and aggressive as a blancmange.

But when the turnip-headed Swede makes comments like these, from before the draw, TDH really has to wonder whether he'll ever understand English football:
"...there is a wider aspect to Australia. There is a sporting rivalry between the two countries. What I saw during the summer when England won the cricket was amazing. If I had known all about the rivalry, I would never have played that friendly against them. It was far from a friendly game. They wanted to beat us, and they did."

Is it such a shocker that a team would want to win a friendly match? Do the words "England versus Argentina" mean anything to you, Sven old boy? Is it just now dawning on you that your decision to play completely different XI's in each half might not, as a rule, be echoed by the opposing coach?

Maybe Sven spent too much time in Italy, where the last couple of games in each season tend to be a little bit too friendly. But there's no such thing as a meaningless game for the English national side, and hopefully Sven will realize this before the next few "friendlies" take place.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

One-nil to the New-cast-al!

What a game, what a game! TDH was exploding with pride as the 335th second of stoppage time ticked over and long-suffering Souey raised his arms in an exhausted gesture of triumph.

True grit was the only phrase to explain it. Ramage scooped the man-of-the-match gong with another great performance, his long legs keeping up with Va-Va-Voom's pistons. Parker gave everything in midfield, and even lost blood to Lehmann's sneaky elbow. Bramble and Boumsong for once earned the right to have their real surnames used in this blog. But it was Shearer, Shearer, Shearer who led from the front.

The guv'nor was everywhere, playing some of the most grinding football TDH has ever seen. How many 50-50 balls did he win? Impossible to count. How impassively did he suffer every knock? He never blinked. And how clever was he, carefully winding up the frustrated Gooners but never getting carried away by the emotion? A crafty old master he is, and still a tremendous asset to the team.

Sure, Dermot Gallagher gave one or two calls our way, but none of them were game-breakers. Gilberto was fairly sent off, even if Arsene Lupin claims that he's seen the incident and wants to file a report. The truth is, the Gooners are a bit dainty, and they were rumbled.

So Souey lives to fight another day. Will it last? Who knows. But this was a famous victory, long may it live in Tyneside memories.

"It's not necessarily the best team which wins. If it were, then Brazil would have won the World Cup 14 times."

Well, if TDH's groups for the World Cup represented the biggest revenue draw, then FIFA hasn't done so well - five of the seeds ended up with none of the teams from TDH's proposed groups. And if you're looking for competitive football - gasp! - things are also a bit uneven.

The main question is not who'll win the groups but who'll go through to the next round. With the two top places to choose from, Germany looks to have a walkover against Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador. Spain's chances of progressing versus Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia must be close to 100 percent. England hardly face a test with Paraguay, Trinidad and Sweden. Mexico may expect Portugal to qualify with them, but they shouldn't have much trouble with Angola and Iran. Brazil won't even break a sweat against Croatia, Australia and Japan. Even lowly France have it pretty easy with Switzerland, South Korea and Togo - in any case, don't expect high quality matches here.

Only two groups, C and E, are wide-open. Ivory Coast will probably go last in Group C, but where Argentina, Netherlands and Serbia & Montenegro finish is anyone's guess. Ghana may fancy its chances of upsetting the US, which doesn't have a good answer to Essien in midfield, but Italy and the Czech Republic are by no means unbeatable, either.

In the bigger picture, Brazil seem to have a clear path to the semi-finals. Assuming they win Group F, they'll play the second-place team out of Italy, Ghana, the US and the Czech Republic. That won't be a cakewalk, but it's unlikely to result in a Brazilian loss. In the quarter-finals, perversely, things may even get easier. It'll either be the winner of Group G (Spain or maybe Ukraine) or the runner-up in Group F (likely to be Switzerland or South Korea). In other words, the chance that Brazil will face another seed before the last four is relatively low. The chance that they'll face another form team - e.g. England, Argentina, Netherlands, Germany - is zero.

That's not to say TDH will dare to miss a single minute of the action. Without uneven match-ups, you can't have upsets - and upsets do happen, as the last tournament showed.

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Nothing that UEFA or FIFA do surprises me any more, and I'm very surprised this has not been sorted out long in advance."

As tonight's World Cup draw approaches, TDH would like to remind loyal readers that yes, football is a business. The graybeards and baldies in Leipzig will undoubtedly want to see some match-ups that'll create extra interest by drumming up the baser nationalist emotions.

So, in the completely tactless spirit of free enterprise, TDH presents FIFA's dream groups and games for Germany 2006:

"Test Series Group"
England, Australia, Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden
An Ashes rematch, a visit from the Windies, and, just for good measure, a chance for England to extract some revenge from those marauding Vikings

"Find-the-War-Criminal Group"
Argentina, Paraguay, Serbia & Montenegro, Croatia
With the Serbo-Croatian blood feud, and a Mercosur derby to boot

"Dutch Grudge Group"
Brazil, Netherlands, Angola, Iran
Featuring the Netherlands against two of its former colonies, plus a rematch of the fantastic game against Brazil in 1998.

"Unfriendly Neighbors Group"
Italy, Switzerland, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
The Battle of the Alps, The Battle of the Mediterranean Boat People, and a chance for Tunisia (home to Middle East peace talks) and Saudi Arabia (home to Middle East terrorists) to face off

"Spanish Grudge Group"
Spain, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Portugal
Two more colonies get their chance to hand their old ruler its come-uppance, and the Portuguese try to topple big brother

"Don't Mention the W*r Group"
Germany, Japan, Czech Republic, Togo
TDH won't mention the matches either, except to point out that Togo was once a German colony

"Immigrant Turncoats Group"
Mexico, US, Poland, Ghana
Thankfully there's no Tebbit Test in the US, but if there were, a lot of Mexican-Americans and Polish-Americans would probably lose their citizenships; TDH doesn't know about Ghanaian-Americans, but they had to go somewhere

"Leftovers Group"
France, Ivory Coast, Ukraine and South Korea
TDH is struggling here, it has to be said; Drogba may get a chance to face some former teammates, and then there's that thing about who makes the best ships and trains, but....

Okay, eat your heart out, Sepp! Even if the fix is in, you'll be lucky if the draw turns out so crassly.


So, Harried Harry has indeed made his way back to Pompey, and at the top of his shopping list is Desailly. TDH is watching the seconds tick away until, after a few decent matches at centreback, Marcel suggests that he should go to Germany. Anyone want to start a pool? Closest date without guessing too soon wins. TDH takes January 23, two days after a possible away win at Birmingham.

And speaking of betting, the FA have been talking to Betfair about the massive trading activity surrounding Redknapp's return. Now, there's a handy way to pay for the buy-out from Saints, eh Milan? Just kidding, please don't sue....

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Nowhere in Europe, especially the world..."

Who would have guessed that Manchester United would be bounced out of Europe before the middle of December - and not just out of the Champions League, but out of Europe completely? Sir must be hitting the roof, but there's really not much he can do... especially if he's still intent on saving the Glazers' money for the summertime.

How long will that money be at his disposal, though? Vodafone's exit as shirt sponsor cost the Glazers 18 million pounds. Some of that money - probably not all of it, given recent performance - could be recouped if another bidder steps in. But the exit from Europe could be more serious. By the reckoning of fellow guff supplier Bill Hutchison, the Red Mist have just lost $12 million that they'll never see again.

So let's say the team takes a 50 percent haircut on the shirt deal, too. That's a loss of about 16 million pounds in total. Pretty bad month, eh? It's not likely to get better soon. About the best Sir's boys can do this year is win the FA Cup, and that won't exactly set the world on fire for the prawn sandwich brigade (this link only for those with strong stomachs).

TDH can hear the telephone ringing at the home of one Martin O'Neill, and it's long distance from Florida....


TDH has been moved to mount a further defense of the US national team - if not its players, then at least its chances in the World Cup.

As TDH had the pleasure of demonstrating about a month ago, the US is now capable of fielding an XI made up entirely of regular players for top division teams in England, Germany and the Netherlands. How many of the other 31 qualifiers can say that, or something just as good?

By TDH's reckoning, Mexico is one seed that can't. Outside the seeds, the only countries that can are probably the Netherlands and Portugal, if you rate their own league as highly as the Bundesliga or the Eredivisie. So that puts the US in the top 10, with a good chance of repeating as quarter-finalists. And this is without considering the advantages from stability in coaching and the squad, as outlined in comments below.

Any arguments?


Finally, the Souness Death Watch has gone into full swing. Is there any point in waiting to see if the injuries abate and Souey can use a full squad (because they probably won't) or whether the Toon can beat the Goon (because they probably won't)?

Surely, there's no new information to be had here - better to make a fresh start as soon as possible. As Jet Li instructs us in The Tai-Chi Master, "Put down your burden, and run toward the new life!" (Whoops! TDH meant to direct you here.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"The 33- or 34-year-olds will be 36 or 37 by the time the next World Cup comes around, if they're not careful."

So, the Netherlands and the US have missed out on seedings in the World Cup. This travesty - especially, TDH will grudgingly admit, in the Dutch case - has occurred mainly because FIFA believe results that occurred a dozen years ago will somehow impact performance in Germany. So group runners-up France (are you kidding?) and Mexico (debatable) get the seeds, and group winners Netherlands and the US miss out.

Genius! TDH will be shocked if you can't count on one hand the players who will have lasted long enough to appear in 1994 and 2006. And world football is changing more rapidly than ever these days; witness the four debutantes coming from Africa, plus Trinidad and Tobago. Surely it's time to update the silly seeding procedure.

All that said, it's clear from looking over the teams that competition is improving. There will probably be several groups with no easy matches; imagine Brazil-Netherlands-Korea-Paraguay, or Argentina-Czech Republic-US-Australia. It should be a very entertaining tournament.


The Special One may be getting the better of him in England these days, but Le Professeur sure knows how to dick the Espanish around. After Florentino Perez sent Arsene a lovenote in his transparently calculated but supposedly off-the-cuff remarks, the Alsatian had this to say:
"It is an attractive job certainly to everyone who has no job! But, on the other hand, it looks to be not a stable job.... When rotation within a club becomes too quick, that means the problem doesn't always lie with the manager, but somewhere else.... I'm under contract until 2008 and I always try to respect my contract. That's not disrespectful to Real Madrid or anyone else, it's just my line of conduct.... I love Real Madrid as a club, they were the club of my childhood when they won the European Cup five times in five years but I'm 100% committed to Arsenal and I want to do the job well for as long as my contract lasts."
TDH would now like to offer a translation, for those loyal readers who do not understand French:
"Sure, for enough money I could be convinced to move to Madrid, even if I had to work for a football dunce like Perez. But you'd better give me an ironclad guarantee of a multiyear contract, or there's no way I could develop players the way I do at Highbury. You remember when Madrid developed players, right? I think it was at about the same time the team won all those big silver shiny things. Anyway, if you're serious, I think I could persuade Thierry to come, too. His contract's up just before mine."
What would the Gooners do without Wenger and Henry? Not be able to pay for their new stadium, that's what, and then have to go begging to yet another American or Russian bazillionaire for a bailout.


And finally, to TDH's brother-in-law from East Kilbride, here are congratulations for Rangers' achievement in reaching the round of 16 in the Champions League. The only downside for TDH is that Alex McLeish's resume may not show up on Tyneside quite so quickly now....

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"It was a big relief off my shoulder."

Today TDH Theatre returns with this classic vignette set in the waiting room of the chairman's office at St. James's Park....
At the end of a line of tattered Recaro racing chairs sit two men, passing a small bottle of South Balham Vodka between them.

MAN NO. 1 is emaciated, barely filling out a crumpled suit, with a bleached white beard. An electronic bracelet hangs limply around one of his ankles. MAN NO. 2 has on an equally crumpled leather jacket. His face is crumpled, too.

MAN NO. 1: Funny old game, innit?

MAN NO. 2: Yeah, funny old game.

MAN NO. 1 (bridling inexplicably): No, I mean, it's a funny old game, right?

MAN NO. 2 (shifting in his seat): Er, right.

There is silence for a moment as each man takes another swig of the turpentine. They are searching for things to say.

MAN NO. 2: Cold up here, ain't it?

MAN NO. 1: You get used to it.

Another silence ensues. MAN NO. 2 stares straight ahead. Finally, MAN NO. 1's face lights up.

MAN NO. 1: Who'd of thought there'd still be work for us in football, eh?

MAN NO. 2: Well, speak for yourself. I thought I'd be on the sideline right now. Must've been drunk when I started going on about the British Lions not being able to win a match in the Conference....

GRAEME SOUNESS walks through the room and both men offer a muted hello, their eyes not even rising to meet his.

MAN NO. 1: Still, it's not exactly what I had in mind.

MAN NO. 2: Yeah. But he's a clever bugger, ain't he, that Freddie Shepherd? I mean, putting an advert in the Daily Sport for a drinking buddy. Suppose he doesn't have too many local friends these days....

MAN NO. 1's predicament will have come as no surprise to those who have followed English football with more than a passing interest in the last decade. It probably wasn't much of a surprise to MAN NO. 1, either.

But MAN NO. 2 - well, he must have felt a bit like Neddy Seagoon trying to move Napoleon's Piano when Mandaric wouldn't pay up for his planned return to Pompey, after he'd already told Saints goodbye. TDH can just hear him now: "What-what-what-what-what-what-WHAT?"

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Three of his four goals have come from the substitute’s bench."

Loyal readers, cast your eyes over the chart on the right side of this page. Observe the six most efficient strikers in the Premier League. Note that three of them are game-in, game-out starters. Remark that the other three are basically substitutes.

And now, consider the implications. Hernan Crespo, Robbie Keane and Robin van Persie all have bags of talent, so it's not surprising that they're scoring goals. But being used mainly as substitutes, do they have an advantage? Fresh legs can make a difference late in a game, and so can a new look in attack. They also have the advantage of watching the defense work from the sidelines, and of any tactical advice their coaches might give.

All that suggests their scoring efficiency might drop if they played 90 minutes more often (well, maybe all except that last bit about "tactical advice"). But still, wouldn't it make sense to give these guys a bit more time on the pitch? One could argue that they should be used until their efficiency declines to that of the other regular strikers.

If these teams play two strikers, this seems like a no-brainer. Keane should play alongside Mido, since no other Tottenham players even come close to their efficiency. Henry should be partnered by van Persie, not Reyes. Crespo should be finishing Drogba's flicks. (Don't worry Jose, you can still have Young Joe and Fat Frank on the pitch at the same time.)

Basically, the super-subs ought to be replacing the usual second-string strikers. You can argue that strikers aren't so easily interchangeable; you need to match complementary styles, and so forth. But none of these combinations seem particularly strange.

Arsenal lack any big target, and van Persie is more direct than Henry. Crespo isn't as strong as Drogba, but he's quicker and more slippery. Finally, the Keane-Mido combo seems like an absolute dream to TDH. Are you listening, Martin?


TDH is already mourning the news that Goal Line Technology will not be used at next year's World Cup. With 64 matches taking place, who wants to bet that there won't be a single bad decision? FIFA says the chip-ball isn't ready yet. Hey guys, you still have six months to work on it! This isn't rocket science, as the many examples in American sports - some of dubious value - have shown.

Lacking a chip-ball, why not enshrine that Israeli missile technology that was used to judge Luis Garcia's goal in the Champions League final? Something would be better than nothing. And yes, TDH promises to update the other chart on the right sometime after tonight's Premiership match.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

"In a utopia you want to win matches by several goals and by playing a wonderful brand of football. But that's utopia."

As TDH watched Man City's second goal fly in tonight, the sound of Eoin Campbell, manager of The Trader in EC1, bellowing "COME ON CITAAAEEEHHHYYY" could clearly be heard even from 9,000 miles away.

And rightfully so. Psycho's Psyde were on fire, dominating Charlton from the off. The only problem was that Darius Vassell couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse until the 79th minute. Joey Barton wasn't much better - powerful shot, yes; accurate, no. The final proof came when he had to put back his own penalty miss.

It's rare to see a Premiership side defend with flair, but City did so for long stretches, even if they were led by the Phantom of the Opera. The other main pleasure was seeing Phil Dowd shrug his shoulders like the owner of a New York appetizing shop after every decision. "Okay, so it's $24.99 a pound for Nova this week - whaddya want, my kids gotta eat, too, ya know...."

Sven was in attendance, and he must take note of this match. There were three present and former England strikers on show at The Valley: Bent, Cole and Vassell. Guess who was the worst of the bunch, by far? Darius must not go to Deutschland. It would be a crime.


Some readers of TDH will be familiar with the lottery game called Keno. Now there's a new lottery game, and it's called Keano. Where he stops, nobody knows. With interest now coming from Madrid, Big Sam has been reduced to saying, well, if Keane wants to stay in the North of England, Bolton has to be his top choice.

Correct, Sam! Bolton are indeed top of the non-Mancunian Northern table, after Wigan's loss at the wigend. But hmm, will it be Bolton or Real Madrid? Surely, Big Sam's putting just a bit too much stock in Roy's eccentricity....

Yep, there might even be the hint of a coaching role at the Bernabeu, with rumors flying that Wanderley won't last another 24 hours. That'll leave the Brazilian free to coach the Luxembourg national squad. Hey, if Arsene can coach Arsenal, why not Luxemburgo for Luxembourg? Makes sense to TDH.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

"Where are we in relation to Europe? Not far from Dover"

If football has a Queen of the South, her King is surely Harry Redknapp. Again he'll be toddling along the bottom coast, back to Pompey this time once terms are agreed. Will his presence be enough to turn Portsmouth around?

TDH doubts it. The man with Droopy Dog's jowls is competent - of that there can be no doubt - but Portsmouth simply don't have the squad to finish any higher than 18th. After all, three of their top players came from, ahem, Tyneside....


And speaking of that foggy river bank, Souey seems to believe that heeding TDH's advice could save his job. There on the starting line-up card was Chopra's name, though puzzlingly placed alongside Shearer and Ameobi. Heaven forfend that the lad should be allowed to play with the usual complement of midfielders providing service.

Give Souey some lemonade, and somehow, goshdangit, he'll make lemons. Latest lemon: dropping two points at home - at least it's not three this time - to another team below us.


Arjen Robben is simply the best left-winger in the world. The Man Who Would Be England Manager put three defenders on the Supersonic Dutchman (yes, he's faster than this cute little guy), and Robben ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Repeatedly. He must be bursting.

Robben is quick, sure. But his true gift is how he reads other players. His anticipation can only be appreciated in slow motion. As soon as poor Matthew Bates's pupils shifted one nanometer to the right, poof, there went the ball looping over his left shoulder, with Robben in hot pursuit.


Of course, TDH could not let the day pass without noting that the Empire State Building has finally scored for the Kop. Apparently it was quite a sweet little touch. Well, TDH has one phrase for you, loyal readers: a million monkeys. For a quasi-scholarly exigesis on this topic, please look here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

"I have to look at myself in the mirror when I'm shaving, brushing my hair - or what's left of my hair."

So Souey says he'll never resign. Fair enough. Time for him to get the P-45 then (that's pink slip, for the American readers).

Here's another suggestion, while we're on the Toon. How about giving Chopra a few more minutes, maybe starting him in front of Ameobi? The results could hardly be worse. TDH can't recall seeing him play a full 90 minutes, though there's no doubt of his fitness.

As TDH has commented before, though, the Toon surely need a reliable third-string striker or supersub - someone of the Horsfield variety. Carl Cort was supposed to fill this role (and probably replace Ameobi) at one point, but there hasn't been a worthy successor.

Give Chopra the chance to prove his worth. If he can't, then the January window beckons. And, for a change, how about picking up someone who's never been injured? No Bellamys, Owens, etc. need apply....

Thursday, December 01, 2005

No quotes please, we're not good enough

Crisis. There's no other word for it. If TDH were standing in Freddy Shepherd's size 11EEE shoes, even a win on Saturday might not be enough to rescue Souey. The club couldn't beat Everton. The club hardly showed up for a welcome chance to avenge their controversial loss at Wigan. Injuries continue unabated. New coach, new physio, new attitude - what will it take?

One must look back and wonder why it was that Sir Bob was shown the door. He got results, of that there was no doubt. The problem was that his young tyros seemed to be losing the plot, with the Bowyer-Dyer brawl perhaps a holdover from that era. The summer clear-out seemed like a great idea, in principle. (Though, funny enough, the only ones left were Bowyer and Dyer.)

But back at that pre-blog time, TDH pointed out that the players Souey shipped were responsible for exactly half of the Magpies' goals in all competitions during 2004-05. He got rid of 42 of 84 goals, if TDH recalls correctly. How many has Souey replaced? Owen, Emre, Solano and Luque seemed likely to chip in, but 42 would have required all of them to stay healthy and succeed. And let's face it, more goals - not fewer - were needed to improve on last year's 12th-place finish.

Souey took a gamble, and it didn't work. The physio should be fired, and Souey should be next. The Toon need a Milan-style fitness regimen with computerized training, special diets and the rest. And then they need to find a tactical genius who can add some value to the talented but disjointed side currently in residence at St. James's Park. It's time to stop the rot.