It’s A Fickle Old Game

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

I think Sami Hyypia summed everything up brilliantly the other week. ‘When we were winning, the rotation wasn’t a problem but now we lose a game and it is.’

Fickleness is to football as Manchester United is to Liverpool, as AC is to Inter, as Barca is to Real. I could go on. The point is this, fickleness has no place in football, in the same way that United have no place in Liverpool. However, like United, the fickle folk won’t go away.

Rafa’s Rotation

I’m going to start with my team in this rant. Firstly, I am totally against rotation, period. If your strongest sides fit, you play it, unless you’re playing Bury in the Carling Cup (that’s no disrespect to Bury or the Carling Cup, but there both doing nothing for the game aren’t they?). But Hyypia is right, when Liverpool were beating Derby 6-0, unfairly drawing with Chelsea 1-1 and beating Toulouse 4-0, we loved Rafa, and recognised a potential title assault. However, five out of the last six results since (0-0 Portsmouth, 1-1 Porto, 0-0 Birmingham, 0-1 Marseilles, 2-2 Spurs) have meant that Señor Benitez’s beloved policy is an old fashioned way of thinking about things. But this wasn’t a factor in the drubbing of Derby was it? It wasn’t a factor when Mr. Stiles gave that decision was it? Thought not.

The clowns we see on Jimmy Hill on a Sunday morning don’t realise the real problem with Liverpool, which isn’t rotation. It’s the fact that Benitez has too much loyalty to poor players (a la Houllier). Xabi Alonso is a quality player, undoubtedly, but this season he is in a rut, no doubt about it. I’m not saying sell him, but he’s not cut the mustard this season really. We’re crying out for Javier Mascherano to come and play with Steve in the middle, but no. Benitez plays Alonso unquestionably. Benitez carried on playing him because he wanted to be proved right about his crown jewel, and lucky for him, Xabi picked up a broken foot for which he had to be dropped. It was the same with Josemi, who was even worse than his replacement, Jan Kromkamp. It was the same with Nando Morientes, arguably the biggest flop in recent Liverpudlian history.

It seems like I’ve strayed off point, but I assure I haven’t. The point is this, because of the fickleness surrounding the rotation policy, nobody even gave a thought to the fact that the players may not be performing well. We assume that because we have big names at Anfield they are good players and the problem is purely with the rotation policy. Fickleness has clouded the real issue.

Simple Steve

Mr. McLaren of England fame is where I finish my rant. Simple Steve has had a tough baptism into International Management. Firstly, the odds were always stacked firmly against McLaren because he wasn’t Big Phil. Secondly, the odds will cease to move in your favour if your first 2 actions in (arguably) the biggest job in international football are appointing a cosmetic dentist, and appointing PR Guru Max Clifford. Steve, Steve, Steve…

And most astoundingly third, he hires a former manager to guide him through what to do. Why not just say you haven’t got a clue Steve?

If you discount these factors and think about the man himself as a manager though, it’s fair to say that McLaren hasn’t had a fair crack of the whip from the press and the fans. His middle 2 results are by far his worst, but aren’t teams allowed a minor blip in form? Granted, blips shouldn’t come in the form of a 0-0 at home to Macedonia and 2-0 loss away to Croatia, but one competitive loss isn’t too bad. The thing that annoys me is this; Holt, Samuel et al are now McLaren’s biggest fans since the last 2 international weeks, which were superb in all truthfulness. Firstly we had Beckham’s renaissance, Brazil 1-1 at Wembley, and Estonia 3-0 away. Then the last week we had 2 excellent 3-0 wins over Israel and Russia respectively.

Be honest though, after Paul Robinson gifted Croatia their 2-0 win, you wanted McLaren sacked, right? And then after we hammered Russia and saw some excellent work from the backline, particularly Rio Ferdinand, you were ready to write to the Queen about nominees for the New Years Honours List, right?

I’ve always thought that McLaren should be given a chance unless a real possibility of not qualifying arose, which in my opinion hasn’t. We’ve got 2 home games left, one of which should be a good arse-kicking against Estonia, whereas the other versus Croatia, is as tricky as we want it to be, but all the same, 3 points is attainable. Of course we have to play Russia on that pitch, but I think we can take a point off the Soviets in the Motherland personally.

Fickleness though, has reared its head in this case and tried to destroy a man living out his dreams. Simple Steve is doing a good job. A good job means he is allowed 1 loss and a couple of draws. But then again we’re England, we should be winning everything. Or should we?

Fickleness has clouded the real issue once again. Should England be challenging for honours? It’s been 41 years, 2 months 1 week and 6 days (at time of writing) since we won some tournament against the Gerry’s, and we haven’t come close really since Sir Alf’s greatest triumph (Bobby Robson’s assault on Italia 90 aside, of course, and also El Tel’s jaunt in Euro 96). This golden era in my opinion has always been a false dawn. Look at England now, in every position, with the exception of the mercurial Steven Gerrard in central midfield, you can name a foreign player who is better. Did we ever honestly think that we had a prayer of challenging for major honours? I agree with the rest of England, Germany 2006 wasn’t good enough, but would we have been able to match Italy on final day?

If it weren’t for the fickle nature of the modern fan then we would be able to realise that it’s going to take something pretty special for the current England side to win Euro 2008. If it weren’t for the fickle nature of the modern fan, then we would be able to see that maybe, just maybe, McLaren and El Tel are about to work a minor miracle…

The Thing About Fickle

The point that I am making is that being fickle fans as most of you all are, is not cricket, and it’s certainly not football. Football is about watching your team and supporting the General on the sidelines, as well as the players in the trenches. It’s not about whining and throwing hissy-fits about sacking somebody every time you lose a game, because no problems get resolved, and if anything it worsens them. Look at the West Ham Support last season, faithful until the end and the team responded.

After Beckham was recalled, we decided we’d give Simple Steve another chance, and look at what’s happened! A draw against the best in the world (Brazil, not Israel) and a 3-0 comprehensive win against Estonia! And then two 3-0 victories at Wembley, the way it always has been.

So fickle fans of football, lighten up, get behind your countries in the next bout of International Showdowns, and get behind your clubs for the rest of the season.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

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