DANCING WITH SHEEP
Mickey Blue Eyes
When Karl Marx, prescient man, said history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy the second time as farce, he might have had football's twice yearly transfer window in mind. Had he lived into the weird era of disembodied "social media" he might have added a third......a long drawn-out yawn. Some time ago the transfer nonsense morphed into a hugely funny comedy, a type of electronic tribalism subdivided into dim-witted factions; you had to larf. But now it is simply a repetitive bore as predictable as grunts in a pig sty, a Jimmy Carr routine, mobile phone textspeak, or a claque of fish wives in a back street ale house.
So, a preliminary word about the same old transfer shenanigans. In many ways it parallels the old "free trade" twaddle that appropriately came out of the nineteenth century "Manchester School." Of course there is no such thing as "free trade" in an organised monopoly. All such markets are rigged, socialist or capitalist. Your opinion of either depends on what you think they are rigged for or what their actual affect is. By its own definition, a capitalist market is rigged for individual profits split between the minimum number of profiteers; it has no other function. The financial institutions or individuals who lend the money are the main profiteers via interest, thereby reinforcing the monopoly. So "free trade" is a myth. Example, arch-imperialist Joseph Chamberlain once said that in theory he was himself in favour of it, but he had "...not such a pedantic admiration for it that if sufficient advantage were offered to me, I would not consider a deviation from the strict doctrine"; all this while he was arranging "preferential tariffs" inside the British Empire. I like the "sufficient advantage" and "preferential tariffs" bits. Sounds rather like the transfer window, don't you think, with its lenders, owners, agents and players splitting whatever they can get out of it. The system, friends, the system......
However, the game goes on as the August transfer window winds its gossip-ridden way to its tiresome finale. How the footy powers-that-be got themselves into this administrative mess is a matter for their psychoanalysts. For the fact is it disrupts the pre-season preparations of every club: the only "beneficiaries" are peon peddlers of hate, prompted by a vicarious media, who have their five minutes of fame spitting venom - really just a sick form of impotent self-loathing - at the nearest easy target. Incredibly, targets even include Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, one of the greatest managers of the last fifteen years. No surprise when the very people doing the spitting are the same ones who, whimpering about their club's lack of big money transfers, complain about the financial condition of the modern game. The script is the same each transfer window and will remain so until there is a rewrite. It never occurs to these idiots they are part of the inflationary spiral that may yet do for the game, that they get the kind of society and sports they deserve.
It was appropriate, then, we played Cardiff City away in the week when the great Welsh Rugby Union "amateur" player Cliff Morgan died. Rugby is not my game but all true fans recognise a great athlete when they see one, whatever the sport. Occasionally I can just about watch RU at international level but not at club level, and cannot watch Rugby League at all: neither flows except in spasms, both are little more than predictable charges downfield preceded by a maul. But I would always watch with admiration when outstanding Welsh players like Cliff, Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams were causing us English much grief at rugby while their football team was in the doldrums. Small wonder the Welsh flocked to their national rugby team in a way they never did or do with their national footy team. But eventually even self-styled amateur Rugby Union turned professional and joined the financial circus when it became impossible to hide "expenses" payments.
So it is good to see South Wales in the Premier League in force, especially after Wrexham had a near-death experience in the North. (Incidentally, if you think there is regional chauvinist nonsense between the city of Liverpool and the city of Manchester, wait until you come across North Wales V South Wales). It sort of parallels the resurgence of the old Lancashire cotton towns during the last decade and a half, which was also a good thing whether now on the wane or not. As usual, the real test is when naive enthusiasm and early money ebbs away after the first couple of seasons. Inevitable financial reality can be like a cold shower after a hot bath. Ask, for instance, Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough; there are plenty of others. If you don't know who they are you haven't been paying attention. Go look.
In fact newly-promoted Cardiff City is a near perfect example of the contemporary game. After many years of financial travails they now have a new stadium to replace the old slum that was Ninian Park, and a new foreign owner, Malaysian Vincent Tan, to say nothing of a change of colour strip from blue to red, and even the possibility of a name change. Tan says he will make the club debt free and will probably have spent £35 million on players......but isn't about to say both notions are due to new TV broadcast revenue: it will be interesting to see what he says and what money there is if they get relegated and have to live off reduced revenue. One hopes for their sakes they don't do a Birmingham City or Portsmouth.
Naturally, Cardiff was looking to build on a previous good home win against Manchester City. It might have flattered to deceive - Joe Hart had a stinker and was at fault for two of their goals - but you couldn't fault their enthusiasm and effort. Therefore, it was always going to be a test. Our midweek game against League One Stevenage didn't help much. Nine team changes provided the kind of maddening display many of us, me included, compared to the bad old days; there were only four compensations, Joel Robles, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and John Stones. We were lucky to win. That, plus the usual transfer wittering might disrupt our team effort and confidence for the Cardiff match.
Actually, it didn't.
Again we were full of possession but mostly didn't have a clue what to do with it against a team who on more than one occasion seemed to want to play rugby. Also, the referee was just about the worst homer I've seen in the last decade. But none of it can excuse yet another crab-like team play of sideways-backwards-back to where you were-sideways-backwards and......ah forget it. And when we did get in sight of the goal the arse seemingly fell out of Our Boys altogether. By the final whistle I felt like screaming.
This fan is praying these three opening games, all drawn, almost exactly the same, are merely a symptom of settling into a new playing system. If it isn't......well, we're in for a very hard season indeed. To my eyes, David Moyes, naughty boy, has plainly got inside the heads of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. On top of which, we simply don't have the players to make keep-ball effective. Spain we are not.
The only genuine bright spark was the sight of substitute Gerard Deulofeu in the last ten minutes looking like he was so pissed off he decided to try to win the game on his own. In his first two minutes he had more direct attempts on goal - two - than we had in the previous eighty minutes, and laid on another chance only for nobody to show any interest in converting it. Yet again the only statistic and diagram that matters is the scoreline of 0-0 against a modest team we should have buried. But we didn't, again, and that's that.
Perhaps now the David Moyes haters will finally understand how hard it is to create a consistent football team on limited resources, and why every manager should be allowed time to create at least a measure of stability. The same goes for Roberto Martinez.
I don't even want to think about the Chelsea home game.