The real-life tales of a football writer
I don’t like international weeks.
The papers are filled with dull-as-Dewsbury tactical discussions about the lad who kissed the badge on his chest (then put in a transfer request), injury news and anodyne player quotes.
I shouldn’t be too harsh on Steven Gerrard. He may be King Rat, star of the Scouse, yet I spent a day with him in Barcelona and enjoyed his company, partly because of his non-stop mocking of Man United and Manchester. Which is what the captain of Liverpool should do.
"Unlucky at Anfield last month lads..."
But back to international week, where the England manager is either cast as a demon or a deity. I was in the company of several leading football writers at the time the FA were chasing Phil Scolari to be England boss – an invitation he sensibly turned down.
“It’s whether he can handle what comes with the job,” said one.
“You mean us lot?” asked another.
That’ll be suggesting managers be sacked if a country usually ranked between 8th and 14th in the world don’t fulfil the ridiculous expectations thrust upon them. Nobody crucifies the Aston Villa manager for not finishing in a Champions League position, so why do England managers get hammered for not overachieving?
But what I hate most about international weeks is the absence of club football. Take last Saturday. I said goodbye to the girl at midday and told her I’d see her in 12 hours.
Ahead of me was Manchester La Fianna’s final pre-season game. We won 2-0, making it four wins and a draw from five. We must have looked at 30 players and I now have a good idea of the 19 lads who’ll be asked to pay to be part of the squad ahead of the season starting this Saturday.
Among our new players is a seven-foot tall German midfielder whose Slovak girlfriend is so fit that I’m going to request that she doesn’t attend matches as the lads won’t be able to concentrate.
Alongside him is a diminutive, bespectacled, Belgian who played for Mouscron, birthplace of Steed Malbranque. It’s also twinned with Barry in South Wales.
If we didn’t have enough midfielders, we’ve also got a Paul Scholes look-a-like from The Markets area of Belfast. It’s safe to assume that he’s not a Glasgow Rangers fan.
There’s a cockney Tottenham fan who listens to Chas ‘n' Dave on his iPod in the dressing room while chomping on jellied eels and wondering why Berbatov joined United when they don’t have electricity in the north.
Chas, Dave and the Spurs squad have a right old knees up
And I still have West African characters straight out of Fonejacker who think that playing for Manchester La Fianna is a stepping-stone to starring for Manchester United.
“I’d like to play in English second division next season and see where I go from there,” one player, who claims he’s 22, told me recently. Do you shatter a dream there and then?
News of our team has travelled – United themselves are sending their coaches to Barcelona in February to study Barça’s training methods.
And the coaches wondered if we wanted a game. I’ll not be around there then - that and I don’t fancy marking Brian McClair, one of the brightest people in football, because he’ll destroy me.
Then I watched Blackburn vs United in a pub. Which is where most of the 8,000 travelling United fans appeared to have been before the 5.30pm kick-off given the number of drunken texts I received, including one from the players’ lounge telling me his afternoon had been spoilt by the mere presence of Robbie Fowler.
I wanted to be at Blackburn, always one of the best away games of the season because of the substantial ticket allocation and proximity to Manchester.
Rooney wallops home United's second at a wet Ewood Park
And I hate watching football in pubs in Barcelona because they are full of “United” fans who call the team “Man U,” have never been to Old Trafford and don’t even know that the Stretford End used to have 1,900 bench seats at the back. I got carried away there, but they do fulfil several stereotypes of United’s support.
After that it was a trip to the Camp Nou. What a game. Barca were three up against Atletico after nine minutes and led 5-1 after 28. 20,000 Barca fans watched their team for the first time this season, boosting the gate to 75,000. They were mesmerized by Messi and I can’t recall a better 45 minutes of football in Spain as Guardiola continues to get it right.
And so to this weekend. No United, no Barca. Can’t Borat come out of retirement and brighten up the Kazakhstan game?
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