jeudi 19 mai 2011

Not My Favourite Player

Claude Makelele, my favourite player? No chance. My favourite players are flawed fantasists, like Jari Litmanen or late Youri Djorkaeff (at Bolton, when he was half-lame). But, of course, fantasists always function best with the support of a "water-carrier". Without one such teammate, flawed fantasists are simply flawed. Zinedine Zidane was a fantasist whose grip on the reality of the game was cast iron - he relied on nobody, but he certainly benefited from the work of the "water-carriers" at Juventus and Madrid, and for France. At Juve, Deschamps, the player to whom the term was first assigned by a dismissive Eric Cantona; at Madrid, Makelele; one, then the other for France. Zidane knew better than Cantona. Zidane tried to reflect his glory back towards... towards the diminutive figure in the centre-circle.

In truth, Makelele was more than Deschamps. Deschamps introduced les Bleus to a culture of winning, which he had acquired in Turin. But he did not have Makelele's ubiquity, Makelele's apparent ability to draw the ball - as if magnetically - away from opponents. If Deschamps is to regarded as a "water-carrier", then Makelele at his best was a downpour, covering every inch of turf; nourishing every one of his teammates, making good teammates look great. Frank Lampard and John Terry became great players under José Mourinho - they owe almost as much to Makelele.

And now Makelele reaches the end of his career. Fans will miss him, though less than they would a flawed fantasist. PSG, however, will miss him terribly, just as Chelsea and Real Madrid continue to miss him. Makelele has indeed been a rare player. He has bent the sport to his will, or rather to suit his gifts and limitations. He has fulfilled his role with such expertise that he now defines it; Makelele has convinced the world that every team needs not a "water-carrier", but a "Makelele".

Makelele has always been an obvious, yet remarkable player. Obviously, yet remarkably, he remains by far the best "Makelele" we have seen.

Latest: DSK - Blanc

Fabien Barthez has rushed to defend his former France teammate Laurent Blanc:
'Laurent Blanc is not a racist. He does, however, enjoy dressing up as a chamber maid.'

Emmanuel Petit also backs Blanc:
'If - and I mean if - Laurent was in DSK's bedroom... I'm sure his intentions were innocent.'

News Flash

The DSK saga took a highly unexpected turn last night when it was alleged that the Guinean hotel maid who fell prey to Dirty Dom's advances was, in fact, a blacked-up Laurent Blanc. A New York-based sports news website claims to have received details of Blanc's involvement from an anonymous source, known only as Long Throw-in. The website,, published secretly captured footage of Blanc modelling a series of different pinafores as French football's top brass - including Fernand Duchaussoy and François Blaquart - looks on.

According to Long Throw-in, Blanc and his co-conspirators hatched their plan in a bid to manufacture a story big enough to eclipse the recent scandal regarding racial quotas for academy players in France. Calls for Blanc's resignation will be amplified if it can be proven that he channelled a comic tradition which even Ron Atkinson might deem "a bit much".

Hit refresh for minute by minute updates on this story.

samedi 14 mai 2011

Waiting for Gourcuff

An empty stadium. A football.

Puel, sitting in the centre-circle, is trying to remove his football boot.
Enter Aulas.

Puel: Nothing to be won.

Aulas: You may have a point.

Puel: Not lately.

Aulas: Might I inquire how His Gaffership spent the last ninety minutes?

Puel: On a bench.

Aulas: Did they beat you?

Puel: Certainly they beat us. Four-nil.

Aulas: The same mediocre lot as usual?

Puel: Auxerre.

Aulas: When I think of all those seasons in the Champions League. We were respectable then.

Puel resumes battle with his football boot. Seeing this, Aulas removes his own boot and gives it to Puel.

Puel: It was only a matter of time.

vendredi 6 mai 2011

For Further Consideration

Morgan Amalfitano
Kevin Gameiro is the razor sharp point of Lorient's attack, but it's Amalfitano who provides the thrust. The 26-year old frequently reigns over Ligue 1 matches from first minute to last. Premier League opponents would be rather less (sym)pathetic. Still, a player guaranteed to draw appreciative applause for his touch, vision and passing.

Moussa Sow is Ligue 1's top-scorer; Eden Hazard its brightest prospect. Arguably, however, the third member of Lille's fearsome attacking trio, Gervinho, has been the league leader's MVP this season. He's scored 14 goals and directly created nine. Quick and tricky, he can play as a right winger or up front. Lille paid just 6.5 million euros for Gervinho in 2009 - they'll expect double that should he be sold this summer.

mardi 3 mai 2011

The Case of the Missing Maestro

The toe of Puel's left shoe beat the floor. His hands were clasped together - each policing the other. Marlowe watched and waited for him to uncoil.

'He was a real good boy, real talented. Came to work for me six months ago. Soon as he arrived, I knew something was up - say, you got a drink?' Marlowe had anticipated the question. Five seconds later, Puel was necking Bourbon like it was going out of fashion. But when would Bourbon go out of fashion? Same day as gambling, whoring and a guy tearing hell out of his buddy over a broad.

'This kid had it all. The hacks called him the new Zidane for Christ's sake. Aulas - that's the boss - laid out twenty-five million for him. Gave him the fattest contract I ever saw - I mean crazy money.'

'So what happened?'

'What happened? Nothing happened. The boss wanted fireworks and he got a fifty cent lighter. The kid's lost it, his confidence, everything - and Aulas blames me.' The kilowatts of nervous energy had travelled from Puel's feet to his hands, which clung desperately to his skull. Marlowe wondered when Puel's hair had begun to fall out. Six months previous, he figured.

'What exactly do you want me to do, Mr Puel?'

Puel bit down on his bottom lip and slowly shook his head. Marlowe counted as the second hand of his watch marched past five, ten, fifteen... He had met a thousand guys like Puel. Pawns in someone else's chess game: Puel could go forward or back or maybe diagonally if he got lucky - at the expense of another lousy pawn.

'I want you to find out what's eating the kid. I want Aulas off my back.' Now desperate didn't come close.

'I'll help you, Mr Puel. I'll need all the information you have on the kid. First, his name.'

'Yoann Gourcuff.'