mardi 31 janvier 2012

Movers and Sheikhers

It's deadline day for transfers on both sides of the Channel. At PSG, Quatari billions are singeing the immaculately tailored pockets of Carlo Ancelotti and Sporting Director, Leonardo. A commitment to signing football's most celebrated mercenaries - beginning with Beckham and Tévez - has been thwarted. Who knew it would be so difficult to dispose of all that cash?

For inspiration, the Ligue 1 leaders could turn to Kenny Dalglish. Twelve months ago, Dalglish ruthlessly maximized the fee Liverpool paid Newcastle for Andy Carroll, thus trumpetting Liverpool's return to the highest echelon of European clubs. As news broke of Carroll's £35 million price-tag, pundits everywhere exclaimed in disbelief, 'Christ! Imagine what they'd fork out for a striker who actually scores goals.'

PSG are desperate to make a similar impact and Newcastle may be set to profit again. Ancelotti and Leonardo need to spend the kind of sum that makes headlines; they need to identify a player who plainly doesn't justify that sum; they need to make the offer to a money-mad owner who will immediately accept.

You read it here first: Shola Ameobi to PSG for €50 million.

vendredi 6 janvier 2012

Football in France is... Better!

Like Thierry Henry - wheezing, limping, in need of a shave - Football in France is Rubbish is back.

Last summer I left France and abandoned my interest in French football. Sod's law dictated that the 2011-2012 Championnat would be the most exciting since Chris Waddle's bleached blond mullet illuminated stadia in the early nineties.

I've tried to ignore Ligue 1. That was fairly straightforward before the British press took notice of PSG's billions, before Joe Cole moved to Lille on loan, before Beckham was linked with LVMH - sorry, I mean PSG.

So now football in France is better - better players, more drama - and I'm going to start writing about it again. Fickle? This is football, the simplest game on earth; requiring nothing more than a ball, jumpers for goalposts and fickle fans.

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.