Monthly Archives: February 2011

Lost in translation

The pride of Essex took a pounding this week, not just when a bunch of visiting Yanks better known as the San Jose Earthquakes (which is a bloody stupid name, if you ask me) put a 3-0 whupping on my hometown XI, Colchester United. No, the worst of it was that the press release sent out by the visiting MLS team got the name of their English opponent wrong, alleging that the California tourists had posted a triumph over Colchesterville United. Whoops. That wouldn’t have gone down well with the Barside lads at Layer Road.

At The Rails feels it has to stand up for the little clubs like Col. U. After all, we’ve got a bunch of U’s fans whooping up a promotion-clinching victory up there on our banner at the top of the page. And among that Where’s Waldo of Escort-driving Essex lads and lasses are two of my cousins, including one who’s contributed to this site. So, stuff your corrected press-release, San Jose. I don’t even care that you’ve got a partnership with Tottenham and played this warm-up match at the Spurs Lodge in my home county. We of Colchester (and Colchesterville) all say sod off to Leicesterland, or wherever your next match is, and don’t come back.

Ian Harrison

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Hot Strikers

Goals don't come much better than Rooney's bicycle kick

Everybody needs a hot striker.  No, I don’t mean hot as in attractive or sexy… because that would mean leaving Wayne Rooney off the list.  I mean players who are on a hot streak, as in they look like they can score any time they get the ball.  So far, you have been pretty well served if you have had Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov or Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez up front. But if you want to catch the guy in front of you, it’s time to take a chance on one of the men below who are all in top form.

WAYNE ROONEY
Was last week’s bicycle kick winner over Manchester City the greatest goal of all time?  Yes, I’m biased as the owner of a Rooney jersey… but even I have stayed the heck away from him this year on my fantasy team.  After a mopey World Cup performance for England, and a sulky first half of the season, Rooney finally scored a goal that lives up to his billing as the current top team’s top player.  He now has three goals in his last three games so it looks like the slump is over.

Sturridge: Better than Torres

DANIEL STURRIDGE
Hey Chelsea, here’s the striker you need. The problem is you loaned him to Bolton.  His three goals in three games for his new squad makes the massive payment for the thus far goal-less Fernando Torres look a bit silly.

ASAMOAH GYAN
I love this guy.  He impressed last summer in the World Cup for Ghana and he’s the reason Sunderland could afford to sell Darren Bent… and he just keeps on scoring.  And while this isn’t the most manly sentence I’ll ever write, you have to admire his groovy post-goal dances as well.  Two goals in his last two games put him on a streak… and the best part for fans of the Black Cats is that he seems to score key goals when the club needs them most.

ROBIN VAN PERSIE
As far as hot streaks go, no one in the Premier League is in better form than this left-footed Dutch striker. He has nine goals in his last six games. That’s right, nine goals in his last six games: you read it correctly.  (and he has to keep scoring as 4-0 has proven not to be a safe lead for Arsenal anymore… I know, it’s a cheap shot after their big Champions League win but I couldn’t resist)

Zigic is not a robot, as far as we know...

NIKOLA ZIGIC
Birmingham’s 6 foot 7 inch striker has taken over the crown from Peter Crouch as the top-scoring ridiculously tall striker.  Three goals in the last four means you might want him on your team as well because he is available at a pretty low price.  (Yes, but can Zigic do the robot?  Crouch is still superior at  that dance/celebration as far as I can tell)

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:
Two more for your consideration… Luis Suarez looks deadly for Liverpool.  One goal so far but only a crossbar prevented another last week.  And can you have a better debut than Demba Ba?  He transferred from Germany to West Ham and notched two goals in his first start for the club.  Expect to see more of him as the Hammers fight to stay in the Premier league.

Scott Ferguson

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Sunk in Stratford, Spurs stadium search heads back to drawing board

I respect tradition as much as the next bloke. But I’m also a pragmatist, which is why I would have been perfectly happy to say yes to Stratford if Tottenham, and not West Ham, had won the right to take over the Olympic Stadium.

It might be West Ham territory, but the Stratford site would have been a great opportunity to build in an area free from residential neighbourhoods, next to the best transit links in East London. Sure, there are two train stations within a few blocks of White Hart Lane. But they’re both tiny, and there’s no tube or DLR for miles. And everything in Tottenham is hemmed in by rows of tiny houses, not wide open plazas and park space.

Given the increased financial pressures clubs will face when UEFA’s Fair Play rules take effect next season, Spurs clearly need a home that will maximize revenues, whether it’s on the supposedly hallowed ground of the High Road in Haringey, the Olympic Park of London’s East End or up north in Enfield.

But all that’s happened on the stadium front for Spurs over the past three months is the team has gone out of its way to trash its own Northumberland Park proposal, even as that plan was winning approval from the Mayor’s office. Then they went out of their way in a different direction, alienating tradition-minded supporters in the process, by trashing the requirements of the post-Olympic plan, choosing brutal honesty instead of the Hammers’ blue-sky thinking. Hey, mind if we knock down your brand new stadium and build a football pitch with no running track around it? You do? Really? Damn. Well, back to the drawing board.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not so cruel and corporate that I wouldn’t prefer a plan that keeps the club in N17, even at a higher cost. But impeding progress for the sake of staying in the borough is folly. Besides, while the address might be the same, there’s not much else about the current White Hart Lane that my grandfather would recognize from the ground where he had a season ticket in the 1950’s. Change is inevitable, whether it’s the addition of luxury boxes and giant video screens, or a new location altogether.

Karren Brady, the Wicked Witch of West Ham, said giving the Olympic Stadium to Spurs would have been “a corporate crime.” Seems a bit strong to me,  and Tottenham are so unimpressed with her scaremongering, and the Olympic decision that they’re considering appeals and legal guarantees to ensure she keeps her word, retractable seats or not, about retaining the track. Brady had better hope the view, from whatever distance, is worth paying for. Otherwise there’s not much chance 60,000 people will pay to watch West Ham eke out a meagre existence at the bottom end of the Premier League…or worse.

Of course, that’s spilt milk now, and Spurs have to move forward. But where? Having rubbished it for weeks, chairman Daniel Levy insists the Northumberland Park plan, even though it’s been approved by the city, is dead in the water, too expensive and too tied up in red tape that’s limiting the scope of surrounding housing developments meant to recoup some cash.

Levy might not have put all his eggs in one basket with his Olympic plan, but the ones he left behind in Tottenham are cracked and broken. And unless he can come up with a working plan for a new home sometime soon, his team is in danger of ending up in the same state.

Ian Harrison

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Weekend 10: The Misery of Others

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow

My Mum always taught me not to revel in the misfortune of others, that it could be me getting the bad end of the stick.  Then my French-Canadian father taught me the age-old tradition of dancing gleefully on your enemies’ missteps.  Vive le Schadenfreude!!

1) Manchester United’s Unconvincing season of Invincibility has come to an end, after the Mancs lost 2-1 at Molineux to the league’s last-place team.  United has had this annoying habit of grasping points from the jaws of defeat…. instead they were left grasping their ankles on the weekend.  The loss meant the title race would have been broken wide open except…

2) Arsenal blew a 4-0 lead at Newcastle United.  The Magpies were supposed to be distraught over the loss of Prince Andrew, and probably were after conceding three goals in the first 10 minutes.  But then they remembered that Arsenal’s defence is pants, and let Joey Barton chew at the Gooners’ ankles.  But Arsenal were not alone in their misery because…

3) Chelsea thought they were making a massive move of football irony, playing newly-acquired Fernando Torres against his former club.  But the aging — and fading — champions were bereft of ideas against Liverpool’s back five, losing 1-0.  Three centrebacks! Two wingbacks! One of them is Glen Johnson! And he’s cut his hair AND he’s playing on the left!  It must have been confusing for the old buggers.

It hurts right heeeeeerrreeee...

4) Torres looked like a high school freshman who couldn’t find his first class.   This particular John Hughes movie saw Jamie Carragher starring as the school bully, taking the ball — and lunch money — away from the Spaniard, who thought he was joining the gifted programme, but instead accidentally showed up at remedial gym class.

5) Speaking of audacious debuts, El-Hadji Diouf appeared in his first Old Firm game, less than a week after joining Rangers on loan.  Never a favourite with the green side of Glasgow, The Human Camel was the subject of constant taunting by the Bhoys. Celtic captain Scott Brown received a yellow card for his efforts, calling it “the best booking I’ve had in my life.”

6) Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley says he will freeze ticket prices for the next 10 years.  A club spokesperson says, “We know these are tough times for everyone so we’re trying to do all we can for the fans. Mike is fully on board with this… it is a good way of showing commitment back to the fans… ”

In the words of Homer Simpson, “It takes two to lie: one to lie and one to listen…”

Um, doctor, it's my, er...

7) Schteve McClaren has lost his job at VfL Wolfsburg, after the Bundesliga team only won one match in the last 12.  But rumours abounded that McClaren was really turfed by a faux pas.  Ever the cunning linguist, McClaren was keen to show off what he learned from his German Made Easy cassettes, but then answered a question auf Deutsch about squad formation by mistakenly threatening the “annexation” of the owner’s wife…

8 ) Fabio Capello’s policy follows his predecessors: pick a player for their badge rather than their form.  A hugely slumping Wayne Rooney is getting a game against Denmark, as is Carlton Cole.  Of course, players like Blackpool’s DJ Campbell and Bolton’s Kevin Davies have more goals than them this season, but England managers have never been ones to let success get in the way…

9) West Brom fired manager Roberto Di Matteo after a run of bad results.  No doubt the newly-promoted team will replace him with a gaffer comparable to their other talismanic figures, like Bryan Robson and Gary Megson.  Hey, Roy Hodgson’s available!

10) Cristiano Ronaldo is still a horse’s arse… and I’m not the only one who thinks so

Brent Lanthier

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Schteve gets the schack

He may be a cunning linguist, but continental creativity with accents hasn’t been enough to save Schteve McClaren from getting ze sack at Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg. The former Three Lions gaffer (and didn’t he do well at that?!) was the first Englishman to manage in Germany, and he came to Wolfsburg fresh off an Eredivisie title with FC Twente in the Dutch league. But he won just five of 21 games and leaves with his schquad in 12th place, juscht one point above the relagaschion zone.

Auf Wiedersehen, Schteve. Where will your varying voice take you next?

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Carroll: Bad Bargain, Good Buy

The Geordie and the General

Alright, now that the dust has settled — and the incredulity has been reduced to simple head-shaking — let’s get this out of the way: Andy Carroll is not worth £35 million right now.  He’s 22 years old, he has only ever scored 34 goals at the senior level, and is carrying a thigh injury.  He has one England cap.  One.  And he has already been in the papers several times for the wrong reasons.

That doesn’t make him a bad buy.

The long-and-short of it was that Liverpool’s situation was dire.  Last year’s mediocre campaign became the millstone for this year’s disaster.  The Reds are down 10 points from this time last year, a season that saw Liverpool plummet 23 points from their almost-title winning finish in 2009. (This is the point where you can hear the collective snorts from the crimson side of Manchester).  It’s because they couldn’t score. For all intents and purposes, Liverpool had no strikers.

Over the last 10 seasons, Liverpool averaged about 62 goals a season in the Prem. In the early part of the decade, a peaking Michael Owen shouldered much of the load. When he started to get hurt, Liverpool’s goal totals slumped and so did their form.  After he left for sunny Spain, other players managed to fill in the gaps, and Rafael Benitez’ stingy formations meant Liverpool were always contenders.

Then Fernando Torres arrived and the goals started to come again.  In the 2008-09 EPL season, Liverpool scored 77 goals… their highest total since they were winning the League. (In fact, they came two goals away from doing it that season. If Liverpool had scored a goal in two of their drawn games, they would have tied United on points, but pipped them to the title on superior goal difference).

Torres brought the goals — and so did mighty midfielder Steven Gerrard.  But the team began to rely too much on the pair.  An infuriating tinkerman early on, Benitez eventually built his formation around Torres and Gerrard, neglecting the development of other forwards.

Both players wanted to play all the time: Premier League, Champions League, cup ties.  The result was that Torres and Gerrard got hurt… a lot.  Combine that with the departure of defensive keystones Xavi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and the team fell into shambles.

Fast forward to this month.  The team is trending to top out at 50 goals this season.  Top that with an atrocious goals-against and they are looking at a paltry +3 goal difference.  That would almost certainly rule them out of the lucrative Champions League again… and maybe even the Europa League.

Unhappy Torres

So when the transfer window was closing, an unhappy  Torres handed in his transfer request. He wanted to play in Europe. He wants to win titles (which he never did on Merseyside.  Not one piece of silverware.).  The team’s shiny new owners realized they had both an opportunity and a dilemma. Free-wheeling Chelski was willing to pay top dollar for the Spaniard… but that would have left the Reds without a paddle, in the popular parlance.  If Torres goes, there is no one.  The cupboard is bare.

Enter Newcastle United.  The perfidious Mike Ashley had to have known what Liverpool were doing with Torres. He is simply desperate for cash so he pounced, jacking up Carroll’s price.  The overlords of Anfield paid and made the young Geordie the most expensive British player ever.

He ain't pretty, he just looks that way...

The reality is it would have been foolish not to take him.  Liverpool are replacing Torres with England’s best striker this season. Who has more goals? Not Wayne Rooney, the man who was considered to be among the best in the world.  Not Peter Crouch or Jermaine Defoe or Emile Heskey.  In fact, no England player has found the back of the net this season as much as Carroll — and he hasn’t played since Christmas.

Carroll is not a pretty goal scorer.  He doesn’t have Rooney’s skill on the ball.  But he’s tall like Crouch, big and strong like Heskey and heads the ball like Tim Cahill… only he doesn’t have to jump.

Instead of Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan to feed him the ball, he now has Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez (don’t laugh, he’s come along this season!) and Luis Suarez.  That last one could be telling.  There are big hopes that Suarez and Carroll could be the new Owen and Heskey (except a Heskey that actually scores).

Finally — and this is important — he is only 22-years-old.  He will learn the game — and learn discipline — from Dalglish, one of the finest strikers to ever play the English game.

The club paid far, far too much for him.  I admit that, even with my red-tinted glasses on.  But Andy Carroll could end up being the finest money that Liverpool ever threw away.

Brent Lanthier

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Great Dane or great waste?

I don’t care what anyone says about Nicklas Bendtner, I like him.

Not since Ian Ure and Gus Caesar donned the red of Arsenal and forgot to tie their laces have we had a player who has proven that it’s possible to make it to the top without being properly scouted and just scraping through. That, my friends, is sheer audacity.

Let’s face it, he’s pretty awful. With quality that doesn’t quite match his ego, he frequently turns the wrong way, looks as if he is wearing iron boots and uses the entire Clock End as target practice. As Carlton Palmer once said of him, “he plays all over the pitch, but that’s only because his first touch is so crap”.

In interviews he comes across as a world beater, assured that his hidden talent that one day will wreck havoc on the defences of the Premier League. It’s always a case of what he could do, not what he has done. No one sings the praises of the Dane more than the Dane himself.

That’s why I quite like him.

Anyone who can convince senior scouts at Arsenal that he’s world class by word alone earns the upmost respect for me. It almost gives me hope that one day I can follow in his iron footsteps.

He’s the footballing equivalent of Liam Gallagher. Doesn’t have the looks, doesn’t have the talent but has all the mouth.

So a tip of the hat to you sir, for keeping my dream alive.

Sam Saunders

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