A silent points week last time out with the International break, so time to refocus and dive into the melee of transfers of another fast and furious weekend in the hectic schedule, the days and matches melding into one, the misery, the comfort eating, the energy drinks, all that, melodramatically and melancholy framing it in terms of a season of jiggering savagery of emotions, refereeing atrocity and VAR wholly justifying a legitimate late winner disallowed because someone forgot to file his toenails. I always say when the daffodils are up, that’s a sign that the real crux part of the season is upon us, and here we are with just ten/eleven games to go.
My dog is footy mad, I wonder where she got it from? Her post-match warm down reflection is captured in this week’s photo after a 12-19 thrashing on the front lawn earlier this week.
I wonder how Jürg was during the international break? He’s having a tough old time, although he earned £6.7m from commercial deals last year his tax return has shown, that is on top of the £16m salary he gets from Liverpool. Klopp’s current clients include Deutsche Vermögensberatung, Opel, Sky TV and Erdinger Weißbräu. Which is nice. Klopp’s adviser Marc Kosicke said: We decided that Jürgen stands for ‘Made in Germany’. We’ve managed to ensure that it’s all German companies he’s promoting. Apart from the British broadcaster Sky. which feels like a German company because of its long history as a Bundesliga rights holder. So that’s ok then. However, Klopp is generous, he is part of the ‘Common Goal’ initiative, in which players and coaches donate 1% of their salary. In Klopp’s case that goes to charitable projects in Liverpool, the German city of Erfurt and Cape Town.
Back to my fixation if not addiction on the state of televised commentary, we’ll be back this weekend to the light-hearted back-and-forth rivalry of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, Punch and Judy in full kit. Robbie Savage has moved the art beyond mere words, communicating in yelps and squeaks, creating a complex new soundscape. Thankfully there’s always someone new to continue pushing the format. This week I stumbled across Bobby Bulloch, co-commentator on Hamilton Academical v Ross County. Arriving late for the second half, Bulloch apologised to us viewers, explaining that he went away for a jobby at half-time. Honestly, he did. A bravura performance with its roots in 1990s peak-era Billy Connolly. Bulloch doubled down on his gaffe, going on to explain that he was a wee late back because I had to squeeze quite a bit, a scatological extemporisation too far, the routine instantly stripped of its initial folksy charm. And so, despite jobby objectively being one of the three funniest words in the English language, Hamilton fired him and announced they were sending Bulloch off to the Jobby Centre.
Also in Scotland, it was Ross County 7 [SEVEN] Falkirk 0 on the Sky Sports tracker, spitting out the landslide. Watching this comes through makes you wince for the Falkirk fans, the brackets fizzle. This arguably unnecessary, possibly barbaric but definitely magnificent phenomenon survives, gratifyingly. The square brackets are graphic representations of humiliation, exclamation marks, wrestling attention away from an exultant team which has just played the game of its life, and on to the sobbing wreck of the losers. They make the number an incredulous shouty sound, it reminds me of a middle-aged son telling his half-deaf father how the microwave works. The brackets are a foghorn honking of alert. They make innocent browbeaten teams the reluctant centres of attention picked out by a spotlight by Jeff Stelling. He ensures their defeat has been absolute, he twists the knife and then unleashes a rifle, just to make sure. He yanks the sword from the scabbard and gives us all the gory details.
We enjoy the horror, but put yourself in the shirts of the bracketed supporters. Already pig-sick distraught at the gallows, thrown their scarves in the bin and now sinking delirious pints. Some of us have been there (Burnley 0 Hereford 6, Division 4, January 24, 1987, attendance 1,961). But fear not, there’s the next game to look forward too: ours was Burnley 2 Wolves 5.
Exactly why the honest folk of Her Majesty’s Government have decided that a big new dollop of bellicose patriotism is necessary to take everyone’s attention away from the omnishambles of their last 13 years is not clear, but having no cash for NHS pay rises they’ve now repledged this week £2.8m towards a joint bid to host the 2028 Euros by England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic Of Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Wight, the Falkland Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, Jersey, Guernsey, Anglesey and Gibraltar. Quite where the Cruella de Braverman policy on sinking small boats fits in with this inclusive strategy I’m unsure
While it’s never in my nature to talk the country down – my ongoing love of Morris dancing, cheese-on-toast and Boddington’s bitter is there on record for all to see – I do wonder whether this is the wisest caper. Our bid to stage the 2018 tournament saw David Beckham lose a beauty contest to Vladimir Putin. The gap between myopic exceptionalism and realpolitik is a large one. Nevertheless, a feasibility study is in motion. Let’s see which brand-new company owned by a pub landlord friend of Michael Gove quickly knocks out a PowerPoint for the study.
Rishi is already in flag-waving mode. It’s the home of football, it’s the right time, it will be an absolutely wonderful thing for the country, the prime minister of England (ahem) said. But 2030 will be the centenary of the World Cup, and surely the romantic choice will be the South American collective involving 1930 hosts Uruguay. Romance: that’s FIFA’s prime consideration when making these decisions, right? Who’s bothered about the Euros? Scotland obviously after this week’s 2-0 victory over Spain.
Another thing I love seeing is when the ball is booted out of play and heads into the stands. It’s coming your way! Oh, but it lands just short, a few rows down and five or six seats ahead. The supporter who catches it does so perfectly and casts is pitchwards with a meaty, assured throw. Those around him slap his back and cheer. You wonder that in any case, the ball would have smashed into your face and scolded you with hot tea and you’re no sure you can throw it that far anyway. The ball sails into the stands with the arc of a comet. Being behind the goal increases your chances of receiving it but in tandem your chances of being concussed by it. When a wayward shot jolts into the stands it can also be knocked around between fans, especially away fans, before a killjoy steward goes to retrieve it, luminous jacket moving up the steps.
Then sometimes a fan heads it back on the return. Cue chants of ‘Sign him on, sign him on’ or when the ball rattles around empty seats and a ball boy has to clamber over the advertising hoardings to collect it. Or when it leaves the stadium all together, it reminds you of playing as a kid and retrieving footballs from gardens, stuck up a spiky conifer or under a low hanging Volvo estate. Maybe I need to get out more…
Not content with beating every European country in the Covid death stakes, England is now teaching them how to play football, again. Chelsea will face holders Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finalsPep faces his former club as City play six-time winners Bayern.Inter face Benfica and Serie A champions AC Milan take on current leaders Napoli.If Chelsea and City get through, they will meet in an all-Premier League semi-final. Premier League also-rans Chelsea’s reinforced the feeling that, after almost three decades of ludicrous braggadocio about the Premier League being the best in the world, something has changed, and it might be.
Transfer deadline is 11am Saturday. This weekend will see a number of games with huge stakes at both the top and bottom of the table. The action kicks off with what is always one of the most pulsating Premier League matches in the calendar, City v Liverpool, and ends on Monday evening. City go into the contest as favourites, but Kloppy’s Koppites side shouldn’t be ruled out, and they have lost just once in their last six meetings in all competitions against Pep’s side (3 wins for Liverpool, 2 draws). Though they are not in direct competition there are huge stakes for both clubs. City could be 11 points off leaders Arsenal if results go against them this weekend, while Liverpool could also see a double-digit margin to Tottenham and the top four. Chelsea are in danger of slipping out of the top 10, with a tricky clash against Unai Emery’s in-form Aston Villa in the late kick-off on Saturday.
There are doubts over whether Erling will feature this weekend, with his dad saying it is ‘touch and go’ whether he will play against Liverpool after being pulled from the Norway squad due to a groin injury he picked up against Burnley. Serves him right, shouldn’t have been so greedy, scoring his second hat-trick of the week. However, there is no doubt that Pep will be determined to get the Norwegian on the field. He got lucky against Burnley and fluked a hat-trick, so I expect him to play.