Greetings all, and a jolly happy new year to everyone
Another weekend beckons my fellow fantasians. A good few weeks have passed with a discombobulated set of fixtures mixing with the turkey and tinsel, but now the last of the mince pies have been consumed, time to focus on the things that really matter.
How was it for you? Last weekend saw Mr Wright smash it with 98 points into top spot, followed by James S (96) and Rhys (93). As it was the final weekend of December, although it was January 2, the jostling for points was fierce, and we have Nick and Michael (400) tied for MoTM, with Pete (398) in third. Michael sits top of the league on 1,193 points, with Nikita (1,185) and Nick (1,180) chasing.
Transfer window Welcome to January’s transfer window silly season, a chance to fantasise. What if Player X were to join Club Y? Just think of the xG and the pressing stats, the transition control and verticality IP. But equally the January window has not exactly stirred the creative juices just yet.
Jadon Sancho back to Dortmund. Ivan Toney to Arsenal for£100m? Wild speculation is the food from the gods for those creating a feeding frenzy among fantasists, and how about managerial changes? Stevie G’s Saudi adventure is in the balance, after Al-Ettifaq’s eight-game winless run and Jordan wants to come home. Trouble is for Jordan, if he does come home, he’ll have to pay tax on this grubby oil dollars – £770k a week for six months is a £4m tax bill. He’d best anticipate root-canal surgery without anaesthetic to come to terms with that.
Franz Beckenbauer Building an all-time football XI depends a lot on your age. I went to my first match in 1968 so have an album of black and white photos in my mind of players invisible to most of my fellow fantasians. Some of the positions are up for debate but there are half-a-dozen players who are automatic picks: Bobby Charlton, Cruyff, Best, Maradona, Pelé – and Franz Beckenbauer. They are The Untouchables. Maybe I’d add Zidane as a holding midfielder.
Beckenbauer is the greatest centre-back of all time. I’ll shout for Bobby Moore too, and in Italy there will be calls for Franco Baresi. But they are contenders, understudies, sous chefs. Beckenbauer was the Master Chef, combining Baresi’s longevity, Moore’s intelligence, Koeman’s goals, Maldini’s bravery.
Twice the winner of the Ballon d’Or, he won a European Championship with West Germany and three consecutive European Cups with Bayern, five German league titles and is one of only three players to win the World Cup as a player and manager. When he joined Bayern, they were not in the newly founded Bundesliga. As a player, manager and later behind the scenes, they grew into a global giant. Can anyone claim to have had a bigger influence on a single club?
This week’s blog photo is of Franz Anton Beckenbauer, one of my all-time favourite footballers and captain of my all-time XI, born 11 September 1945; died 7 January 2024. Time comes for everyone, even the immortals. Tributes to Der Kaiser: Andy Brassell reflects on his unprecedented influence on all aspects of German football, Brian Glanville’s obituary is here.
Mid-Season review We’re at its midpoint, another season half-over, and what have we learned ? Or what have we not learned? Will City pull it off again? Are Liverpool back? Are United just rubbish or half-decent but just consistently inconsistent? There are just so many unknowns. Here’s what has caught my eye so far.
Shirt sponsors. What do they all mean ? On the front of Chelsea shirt it says Infinite Athlete. Can’t be a reference to their players, who have mostly been lumps all season. SBOTOP on Fulham shirts? Forest proclaim Kaiyun on their fronts. But what is it? A science-fiction story? An eastern European pop star? To save you googling: Infinite Athlete is a sports techie firm. SBOTOP is a betting company. Kaiyun is also a betting firm. Now you know. As do I.
Nice names. They do cheer me up. Marvelous Nakamba of Luton. Or Schlupp of Palace to be substituted, so I can shout out: Schlupp off! Well, it amuses me. My favourite new name is young Hayden Hackney of Middlesbrough. Straight out of a Victorian novel.Bottom of Form
Sensible pitch-side adverts. They do exist. I like it when they are easy to understand, such as the one at Coventry City which announces FH Brundle, Steel Floors. Though I wonder how many fans watching the game will have a sudden desire to get one.
Love hearts of the season. The back pages have gone all drippy. Jude Bellingham – they are just so in love with him. And the Spurs manager, Ange Postecoglou – whose name I have still not got my tongue round, but it’s been kissy-kissy with him as well for most of the season.
Commentator of the season. Ally McCoist, please don’t change, please remain yourself, please continue as you once were. I have to say, it really is, it really is, I have to be honest with you, it really is…at the recent Glasgow derby.
Disappearing player. What has happened to Mason Mount? Poor lad. So much was expected of him when he moved from Chelsea to Man United. Has he retired?
Reappearing Steve. Erik ten Hag has been under fire all season, so it was reassuring to see him sitting on the bench being comforted by his personal priest, a white-haired, elderly man with a dog collar and a cloak. Then I realised, it was Steve McClaren.
Manager Watch Klopp seems to be reborn. He’s been snarling, those throaty guffaws at his own jokes in short supply as he takes down hacks for asking him about kick-off times and celebrates dramatic winners with Pep Lijnders in the style of victorious barbarians, chest-bumping each other and issuing guttural roars into each other’s faces with full alpha-male agitation.
The odd thing about this season is that it’s probably Pep who is enjoying himself the most, seemingly sleeping in a sea of serenity as everyone else clambers and stumbles around. I’m liking Uncle Roy Hodgson, who wrote the literary novel on post-match grumps with last week’s effort, and Mikel Arteta’s weekly impressions of Mr Angry and Mr Misunderstood as his strikers, banjos, and the proverbial barn door at six paces gets asked of him every game.
Roberto De Zerbi is another regular interlocutor and there’s a decent likelihood of some touchline verbals from him. All good, clean fun. But what of the ultimate touchline performer, Unai Emery, whose technical area movements often resemble an episode of drama lifted from Strictly with Villa’s crazy train of hard-pressing, half-spaces and high lines.
But we also need to talk about Wayne. So farewell then. After less than three months in the job, Birmingham bundled their big-name managerial hire out of the door. He won just two of his 15 games in charge, and the writing was plastered across the wall in giant neon letters after a 3-0 battering at Dirty Leeds. When Rooney was brought in, Birmingham were above Leeds in the table. Now, they are 20 points behind them. From fifth place to 20th in 83 days.
This quote from the Birmingham’s chief suit Garry Cook is amusing, when Rooney was hired: When the opportunity presents itself to appoint a manager who is both a student and a great of the game, then you act. It’s a defining moment for the football club. It was a costly mistake for both parties, but I hope Rooney gets another chance to find his place.
Review of your team I’m sure like me over Christmas reinvented your childhood with a straw and box of Maltesers to recreate those halcyon blow football games. No? Just me then. But I did do some head scratching on my pitiful performance to date. Here’s my half-year report.
Newcastle defenders were all the rage for the first ten games, now about as welcome as a Young Conservatives float at the Notting Hill Carnival. I’m sticking with Tripps and Burn for the moment.
Arsenal were my core, I had Ødegaard, Saka and Martinelli, then drafted in Gabriel and Zinchenko after his worldy goal against Burnley, and then Jesus, but farcically, turning his ankle being hit by a bloody football while stretching every sinew he could not to block a cross into the box. Doh! By the end of Christmas, Zinchenko had done his waving and limping off thing again. This group are porcelain fragile, physically, and mentally.
At a club where he infamously got injured during his medical, Diogo Jota survives in my XI and with Mo on AFCON duties, come out, come out wherever you are, World Hide and Seek Championship trophy waiting for you to collect from the front desk if you don’t get a shed load of goals and assists in the next month. I got rid of Nunez, every ball played to him got banged straight back at whichever midfielder gave him it in the first place. I’ve got a more mobile fireplace. Having said that, he seems to becoming the assist maestro now.
I did go for cheap United defenders to balance the books, but the only time they attacked the ball was when it was dropping 15 yards in front of them, at which point they charged towards it so it can bounce over them into the space behind. I could be ETH’s defence coach. Look at the 0-3 defeat to Bournemouth. Maguire was chiefly at fault for the first, headed in by Dimitrious Goutas Greek God of Free Headers who beasted Shaw on the way through. Maybe ETH should double check his players don’t have their bootlaces tied together again.
This weekend Erling’s foot-knack is likely to keep him out of
Fantasy Football teams the City squad for their match against Newcastle, It’s not fracture, just stress sniffed Pep We have to take it day by day. Meanwhile Trent Alexander-Arnold is knacked!
I’m not an expert in probability theory but I believe it was the great Émile Borel who popularised the theorem which states that ‘if you gave an infinite number of Arenal centre-forwards, an infinite number of balls and sufficient time then eventually one of them would stop taking too many touches and shoot before giving all the opposition defenders time to get back to cover’. This is not that time, however, so avoid picks for your fantasy team.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in today’s blog, the Samaritans is a registered charity aimed at providing support to anyone in emotional distress. Their free and confidential phoneline is available 24-hours a day on 116 123.