SEASON PREVIEW 2010-2011
Mickey Blue Eyes
In loving memory of Chris, 7th April 1986 - 4th June 2010. Always in our hearts.
As we all know, mood plays a large part in how fans anticipate a footy season. Each year we become as adolescents who think they are the first generation to discover sex, music, social gathering and the colour shade of Royal Blue. Some are up for it all summer; others take time to get into the swing of things. This time some of us are looking forward after a jaundiced World Cup tournament. Many have a near-irrational sense of optimism sometimes based on nothing more than a few weeks "tanning" and getting dead drunk or worse in a neon-lit dive in Benidorm or Ibiza. In other sad cases it is a looming opportunity to get away from 'Er/'Im Indoors or some other psychological condition requiring a vent of spleen on twenty two men kicking a ball around a field. But mostly it is simply because people love the game of football. Nobody really knows why. It has always been that way. Don't even try to analyse these facts of life because it will get you exactly nowhere. Comedian Ken Dodd had it right when he said years ago, "The trouble with Sigmund Freud is that he never played second house at the Glasgow Empire after both halves of the Old Firm had just lost."
When the pantomime aspect ebbs, the players, fans, owners and administrators are merely humans with strengths and faults and good and bad behaviour. Optimism, genuine talent, teamwork, spontaneous enjoyment and determination are the good. Delusion, chauvinism, malice, envy, hatred, greed, thuggery and paranoia are the bad. Good and bad, all are much more fragile than they think. There are no heroes or villains in the phoney media sense, though there are many in the game on and off the pitch who persuade themselves they are just that. It can be a peculiarly narcissistic, petty and nasty place, football. In the last generation it has also become a part-repository of the greed-cult of Ayn Rand and the ugly mentality of toryism.......and not least, consciously or unconsciously, amongst some fans. Of course footy's financial system stinks and is immoral - if not outright crooked on occasion - as promoted by Sky TV and the Rupert Murdoch-Silvio Berlusconi axis. But the game's saving graces are still well worthwhile, which is why pre-season optimism is perpetual. In the end the game really is the thing. The spectacle itself is still mostly good, aberrations aside. All the rest is background noise or some form of profiteering that rightly draws our contempt.
A prime fact of the new season will be a first David Moyes quality squad in maturity. Likely this will be the last chance for this group of players to win a trophy as a team, and I suspect they know it. Against the odds Moyesy has learned almost all the painful lessons of managership and come through with a sense of determination and a clear view of how he wants the game played. During his developing years the system and its cynicism didn't crush him as it did many others, nor did inevitable whimpering amongst those fans who lost their nerve at difficult moments. His early overbearing crudity has almost settled into something more manly, and in the end more likely to bring playing success. I hope he can keep it up because the transnational banks rip-off is going to make his job even harder. How many Portsmouth/Liverpool financial lessons does the game need before it shakes off the nightmare?
Put starkly, we have little or no money and we aren't going to get any in the immediate future. David Moyes will have to live with that as we all will. Merely running the club at its present level - old, limited stadium and an obvious knock-down in earning power - requires a player sale every so often, if not each season. The notion that some semi-philanthropes will come in, donate money and take a relatively small share of a limited pot from a deteriorating ground would be hysterically funny if it wasn't so outright gaga. That simply isn't the way rampant capitalism works (particularly the Anglo Saxon version) and anyone who thinks it ought to take a GCSE O level in economics. There are no white knights, only carpet baggers and accountants armed with right-wing spiv Newspeak straight out of Orwell's 1984. Malcontents can bullshit all they like, the foregoing are the realities we are stuck with for the foreseeable future. And that assumes nobody gets a sudden death wish and bankrupts the club as part of a pension scheme. Meanwhile, David Moyes has to work with the clay he has. He and Bill Kenwright have the kind of working partnership all aspiring clubs need. How long it can last is anybody's wager, at least it is for the same yoyos who squeal for "more investment" while also squealing about the level of debt. But that is merely an excuse to find somebody or something - anything - to blame for lack of success. Anything, that is, except a thoroughly evil economic system. This is football's version of the malevolent Daily Mail and Sun "news"papers.
Despite these caveats the current squad is easily the best we have had in almost two decades. During the last few seasons we had glimpses of the kind of footy Moyesy says he wants his teams to play. Problem is, the present structure of the game and our economic status in it has meant he has little time to build up a good squad before player transfers change the blend or injuries or inexplicable loss of form bugger everything up. Furthermore, you can't be sure how team chemistry will actually work until new players get into their stride. Virtually everybody in the game is in the same boat. The dismissal rate of managers shows how little time there is to get it right. And of course luck can play an enormous role in it all. There are no guarantees when the "transfer window" and entropy are in play. Everything can collapse almost overnight.
The summer "window" lasts twelve weeks from the end of the season, which, given our current condition, is about thirteen weeks too long. It closes on 31st August and doubtless will continue to be the centre of media cat-calling and manufactured lies right up to the appointed hour. Some fans too will gossip like a gang of owl Scotty Road shawlies waiting for the corner pub to open. Not that it will matter overly to us. (If you can be arsed, see http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/administration/regulations_on_the_status_and_transfer_of_players_en_33410.pdf. It has the virtue of arming you with actual knowledge when your local ale-house blow-hard kicks off on the subject.) This "window" nonsense is a bit like Lahndan, once you are there you can't wait to get out of the polluted dump and its metro rat race - you need to breathe fresh air and see friendly faces. But really the form of the transfer system doesn't matter much if you don't have enough dosh to deal in it in the first place, which is why it tends to be comical when your average goon rants on about buying this or that player. When you hear that kind of bollocks you can see where Willy Russell got the inspiration for "Shirley's" opening monologue in the film of Shirley Valentine. When she says, "Hello, wall," to her kitchen wall you can't help thinking Russell got the idea from listening to some footy gumbo out there in cloudcuckooland.
So our transfer comings and goings were inauspicious, exactly as months ago Moyesy said they would be. Incoming were Englishman Jermain Beckford (age 26, free), Frenchman Magaye Gueye (age 20, £900,000), Slovak Jan Mucha (age 27, fee undisclosed...if any) and Portuguese Joao Silva (age 20, £600,000, pre-"window" in April). Outgoing, Danny Gosling, for whom we got nothing because somebody fell asleep on the job and Gosling and his agent took advantage of the bureaucratic slip. Fact is, Gosling's action tells us more about him and his agent than it does about the club. But thanks for the derby Cup goal, Danny, your sojourn was worth it if only for that, though I daresay club bean counters are spitting feathers at a financial loss we can ill afford. Out too went Lukas Jutkiewicz to Coventry. As usual, expected rumour followed rumour about our best players, Mikky, Yak, Jags and Steven Pienaar as agents stirred the paranoia pond. But at the time of writing nothing has happened to these four, thankfully. Mainstream media remains the toilet of prolific shite from wine bar hacks who couldn't do a day's work to save their lives. Wouldn't it be interesting if someone in football had the courage to sue one of these useless no-mark information clerks for spreading libellous lies, or bribing third rate agents and other tramps for scurrilous "stories"?
At the time of writing the official 29 man squad is: GOALKEEPERS - Jan Mucha, Iain Turner and Tim Howard. DEFENDERS - Tony Hibbert, Leighton Baines, Joseph Yobo, John Heitinga, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy. MIDFIELDERS - Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Phil Neville, Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell, James Wallace. FORWARDS - Louis Saha, James Vaughan, Jermaine Beckford, Magaye Gueye, Yakubu Ayegbeni, Victor Anichebe, Joao Silva, Kieran Agard, Jose Baxter. It should be possible to garner a good team from the list whatever the team formation. Not that I am going to bother forecasting team shape from that lot. That's Moyesy's job and he's rather good at it, which is why he is the manager and you are a wage slave for a pittance in some office or factory. All I will say is that five of our regular first team are thirty years of age or more and we all know what that means in football. That's another job for Moyesy that will require he plait even more sawdust.
A glance at pre-season fixtures shows how much thought he puts into his training and fitness schedule, though these days I don't bother much with friendlies. This is why I have seen only two this time around, versus Preston away and versus CD Everton. I went to these in case it was the last opportunity to see Mikel Arteta in our colours. He is easily the best player we have had over the last fifteen years and I wanted to have fond memories if the worst happened. I know this player admiration thing can be subjective at times, but where Mikky's concerned I don't see much room for doubt. And there he was making everything look so centre midfield-easy. You could have wept at the mere idea of losing him. As usual, he seemed to be everywhere without breaking sweat, switching play, passing immaculately, retaining possession and bringing others into it at crucial moments. The Preston game was also useful for a first view of new players Jermaine Beckford and Magaye Gueye, both of whom showed up well against fairly innocuous opposition that faded badly. How the newcomers will perform in the Premier League remains to be seen: they won't always have it so relatively easy. Still, it was encouraging in its own limited way. Even Moyesy seemed to be enjoying it because he moved Tony Hibbert to left back in the second half.
The CD Everton game was an essential goodwill event to complete a link with the clubs' early history. It deserves our special consideration for the continuing development of links with our Chilean friends. It is to the credit of both clubs' owners and administrators that eventually they held the game in spite of mutual arrangement difficulties. Eventually both clubs responded in kind and made a wonderful joint effort to promote common heritage, city links and the game. It is also a classic example of what can be achieved by fans with genuine knowledge, talent, good manners and persistence. As I can bear witness, John Shearon of the Ruleteros Society demonstrated all of these qualities on your behalf during a visit to South America last year. The lesson is you don't need a big mouth to achieve things with the club. Show some common sense and courtesy and you will get an equally courteous response. Act like a braying mule with a chip on your shoulder and you will get what you deserve, which is nothing.
The match itself was a marvellously friendly occasion and a great tribute to the goodwill and abilities of the staffs and fans of both clubs. At one point there was a really touching moment when the Chilean fans kicked off a crowd chorus joined by everyone in the ground, thus proving that cynicism doesn't always win the day. It was a useful workout too, though Everton Chilé did a Preston late on and almost got overrun as they went down to two good goals from Beckford and Bily. Most of the first team squad had a spell on the pitch but it was especially pleasing to see Marouane Fellaini back after suffering a kebab tackle from one of You-Know-Who that had me concerned for the hairy one's future. Having socialised with our Chilean comrades before, during and after the match I can vouch for the good time had by all. I hope in some way it returned the kindness we received during our visit to South America last year. I only wish they had been here longer. Fingers crossed, the international relationship will thrive even more in future years. Very well done to all concerned and well earned grateful thanks from this fan.
For the first time in recent years other run-outs went well and almost without loss. All six games were won on the Australia tour. In England, Preston and Norwich were defeated. The only game we lost was a much sterner test in Wolfsburg, Germany. Other "Everton Elevens" played two, drew two in Wales; played two, won one and drew one in Scotland; and played and lost one in Ireland. It all augured well and got the players up to scratch fitness, but it wasn't the real deal and it would do well to remember it. The Prem will be its usual stern test and the only proper measure. There will be no casual hiding place then. But Moyesy has prepared them well. Now it is up to the players to deliver in the time honoured tradition of sports gladiators everywhere. From next Saturday there can be no friendlies. The moment has arrived, as it always does.
So here we are for another season, all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of hope. However, this time there is some substance to the emotion. This time, fingers crossed, the squad look very capable and talented. This time it looks as though we will have good players on the bench to supplement match action at suitable moments. On paper, fourth place and/or a good Cup run looks very possible if we avoid injuries and get some luck. One "distraction" we won't have is European competition. Truthfully of course we wish we did, but that possibility went out of the window with last season's lousy start. Our best bet lies in a good start that can be maintained until the end of November. If we then suffer a mid season lapse that will give us a fighting chance to rescue the situation in the final third. If we don't suffer injuries or loss of form who knows what's possible? Winning one of the Cup competitions is certainly not beyond the current side. Last season proved too how they can take on the so-called top four, give them a good run for their money and roundly defeat them. If the club can maintain its present sense of unity from top to bottom not much is beyond them. However fragile, the club has been rebuilt through hard work from a seemingly hopeless position. For the first time in many years we can look forward instead of backwards. By November we will see how realistic it is.
Chris would have relished all these goings-on, especially the sense of optimism. We miss him more than words can say. The world was a better place with him in it. And this small group of family and friends want this season to be in his memory whatever the outcome. He was One Of Us and always will be.