SEASON PREVIEW 2014-2015:
BEWARE OF GEEKS BARING RIFTS
Mickey Blue Eyes
Life is short, but the art is long, the opportunity fleeting, the experiment perilous, the judgment difficult.
HIPPOCRATES (c.460 - c.370 BC), physician.
That Greek genius Hippocrates, what was he like, what a card. How come he knew so much about professional football over two thousand years before it evolved?
Yes, a new footy season looms. The wheel turns again. Our harmless obsession returns in search of......what? World Cup or no, for most of us Street End proles this domestic state of affairs is more Duke Ellington than Hippocrates:
Missed the Saturday dance
Heard they crowded the floor
Couldn't bear it without you
Don' get around much anymore
A vaguely relevant story: As a mere visiting working stiff, a long time ago I was asked what I thought of New York City. I said, "If it doesn't excite you, you have no blood in your veins. But if you want to live there you have no brain in your head." This is what you would expect from someone who has never wanted to live in a so-called twenty-four hour city, let alone slums of the imagination like London and Las Vegas. I have always preferred natural circadian rhythm to false insomnia. My choice was reinforced later by an American family member who for a decade lived in the city-that-never-sleeps. Then he fled home to the drowsy Midwest where he told me, "New York is a zoo and everyone living in it is in a cage. Only most of them don't know it." Thus Middle America opinion when it moves its obese tush away from TV evangelists, the Pentagon, soap operas, guns, indigestible food, broadcast news lies, and the War on Tirrr.
What has this to do with football? Well, admittedly not much except for the tenuous link between a circannual footy season and the "blood in your veins" polemic. In my case at this time of year my Blue Blood flocculates from more seasons than I care to count. So does my utterly disgraceful bias. Faces come, they go; playing fortunes rise, they fall; der ball ist noch rund. (Yes, I also have German family members, which is convenient given who are the new World Champions). Nevertheless I am as enthused at the new season as I was any of the others. I still like informed and humorous footy chat and still relish the face-to-face opportunity to put right a chauvinist loony or two. In a word: marvellous. There can be no schizophrenia about the game. You either love it or not. If the latter, why are you reading this?
Yes, here we go again off on the edgy puissance of a new season. And as always there is good news and bad news for those who seek a sane and humorous balance. For the good: uncertain hope for playing glory, harmless loyal brio, spontaneous exhilaration attending a match, delight at a moment of athletic prowess, kids agog with excitement, great players, simple enjoyment of The Beautiful Game. For the bad: the same geese honking at the latest Enemy of the Month, back entry führers, barking-mad malcontents, corrupt talentless media, bullshit "marketeers," numerologist MBAs, crooked spiv accountants and public relations spit-ballers. Take your pick; the choice is as wide as ever. Some things never change in dystopia. Ask your zero-hours, security-free profiteering employer.
Fashionable economic dressing of the game means playing fortunes can rise and fall quicker than courtesan corsage. Clubs can only keep their trousers up with braces made of ready credit while all the rest are within a few months of losing them in a bordello. These rampant capitalist days the biggest crime is to have limited or no finance or, more precisely, collateral. Example: For a period last season Southampton looked to have a good team; sadly for their supporters they now look to be knee deep in money (though even that remains to be proved) but up to their armpits in playing merde. Events have shown only oligarch cash guarantees can produce oligarch "success". Yet many fans still seem more interested in moving from a patrimony to a plutonomy, which is the equivalent of suicide by shotgun instead of Russian Roulette. If John Moores was still here and compos mentis he would so confirm. So would your zero-hours employer.
Like it or not elation is as likely as deflation in the real football world. But sensible fans stay away from the stupor of nitrogen-filled balloons and its opposite haveabaddayism. The game survives in spite of, not because of, dim-witted tribalists and manic depressives whose mantra is Gore Vidal's, "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." The difference of course is that Vidal had a wicked sense of irony. The point is, if constructive change be rarely tidy it can at least aim for a rationale. If genuine change is to come from the bottom up, as it should, it would be a good idea to have sensible plans to bring it about, including how to access sufficient capital; anything else is mere bureaucratic noise in an empty room. Anyone can destroy but few have the talent or patience for construction. One shudders at the notion of some poison sherbet sniffer with hands on the kind of economic nuke that radiated Southampton.
Still, what is not to like about Roberto Martinez? Well, unless you are one of those yoyos who believes El Bob has joined the Conspiracy To Keep Us Trophy-Free......nothing. Even the way he dresses is exemplary, thus proving you can avoid the current ugly beach bum look if you have enough pride in yourself. His buoyancy is contagious in a club with a small "supporters" hoggery like that which almost rutted Aston Villa to death (literally what price "revolutionary" billionaire owner Randy Lerner now?). Fortunately Martinez appears to have enough common sense to ignore the grunts. I sense behind that easy-going, open exterior a centre of steel. How else could he stay sane and function at this level? Last season he surprised even dyed-in-the-wool optimists like me when he delivered results much better than expected. He did not so much walk the walk as dance the dance in brown shoes. This season, raison d'éxister as ever, the question is can he at least repeat it? If highest-ever season ticket sales are any measure many Evertonians expect him to do both. So what happens if he falls short? More predictable tedious scapegoating?
Idiot fickleness thy name is football fan, Klutz of Gunsels sub-section.
I have no idea what the preseason friendly performances were since I no longer follow them. There was a time when I went to all but I stopped when geese honked and hogs grunted about those too. Stupid repetitive noises bore me as quickly as Rap or Heavy Metal or beer breath or the chips-with-everything mentality. Anyway, such games tell you nothing except which players need to lose weight or go gluten-free. Not exactly the kind of chat likely to help your understanding or brighten your day.
At the time of writing the transfer window has not run its slippery course. Thus far, In: Gareth Barry, Muhamed Bešić, Brendan Galloway, Romelu Lukaku for a club record fee, plus Roberto Martinez, Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman, John Stones and Leighton Baines all on extended contracts. While Out: Gerard Deulofeu. All told very good business on the back of the new TV money and the breathing space it allows. These days extended contracts are at least as important as new signings because of the commitment to wages. But beware......years ago the same pre-season optimism prevailed after Colin Harvey signed four expensive players. When he was congratulated he said sensibly, "I haven't seen them play together yet." Subsequent events showed he had more sense of reality than most. Nothing is certain. Caution and common sense are advised, unless lightning strikes miraculously; my old physics teacher would dub this "A fortuitous concurrence of atoms." The biggest encouragement is that Barry and Lukaku have played here for a full season, so that must be of some worth: the squad looks to have a good blend of youth and experience. We can but hope, though the transition will not be easy or seamless. In fact there is as little sense in outlandish optimism as there is in mindless pessimism. Reality will do.
Defence looks solid enough. Tim Howard had a fine World Cup, which should re-light his enthusiasm. Centre back(s) should be alright if the legs of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin can hold out for a season, but the future diamond there is obviously John Stones, assuming his heading improves - if not, I guess he is destined for sweeper or full back. But he will have a fight at full back where Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines is another way of saying brilliant, the best duo in the league bar none.
Midfield is the most interesting part of team-building. Darron Gibson will return, though nobody knows how long he can stay clear of injuries, while bright new signing Muhamed Bešić will have to try to establish himself in a formation including Jimmy McCarthy, Ross Barkley, veterans Gareth Barry and Leon Osman. This gives a sense of optimism, of youth, especially where Barkley is concerned; last season in one match he tried a run right centre and ballooned a shot wildly into the Street End, turned and looked apprehensively at Martinez on the touchline, who applauded him and urged him forward, which implies a rare level of mutual trust. Meanwhile, McCarthy seems to improve with every game, a small miracle of perpetual motion and tackling. At present the wide players will be Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar and Aidan McGeady, all interchangeable; their form tends to fluctuate but they are all capable of sudden devastating effect, which is just as well given the wearing physical treatment Steven gets in every match.
Attack is vested almost exclusively in Romelu Lukaku and Steven Naismith, the latter usually a little deeper and off-centre. Now is the time for Romelu to stop saying, "I am only young," and do what he is best at, which is scoring goals and intimidating enemy defences. The future is his if he goes after it. We must hope the price tag has no affect on him, bearing in mind the money paid for turkeys......for instance Fernando Torres at Chelsea and Marouane Fellaini at Manchester United, and any number at analfield; there are plenty of others. Naismith took his time adjusting to the English game, but to his great credit he got better and better and in the last third of last season showed outstanding awareness for positional play, when to race forward and when not to. If the two of them hit it off this season they could be deadly. Or they might find older enemy pros have prepared themselves well.
Roberto Martinez has demonstrated the incalculable effect of personality in management (of anything). Impossible to attain, you either have it or not. When this is added to talented football knowledge the results can be pretty spectacular, as they were last season. However, there was an air of surprise about it all. Now we are about to see if he can keep it up and maintain impetus while rebuilding the team. This time everybody will be ready for him. My best guess is that it will be one hell of a giddy ride whichever way it goes. My wish, an altogether different matter, is for a trophy at long last. If we get enough traction we can again do to the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal what we did in recent years: scare them to death. We are due to give our loveable neighbours a good rogering too.
As I see it, when his playing method fails - as occasionally it is bound to - it is likely to be as horrendous as that wildly irritating home defeat to Pullis's up-and-under Crystal Palace. This is inescapable when a passing game falters, for which see also the World Cup performance of Spain. When it goes wrong it looks weak and ineffective, passes go astray and team shape virtually evaporates. The great School of Science League Champions of 1969-70 had the same default, one of the reasons it disintegrated so quickly. No team has everything. But this squad has proved it can beat any other in England. These days we let the others worry about playing us. We have come a long way from the dark days over a decade ago; it has taken that long to stabilise a club that trembled on the brink of playing and economic disaster. Matters are still fragile.
We hope for a good opening to the season because poor beginnings can have a debilitating affect on fans enthusiasm as well as our final league placing. I think the first six league fixtures will tell us how the season will pan out. But in the long run we cannot maintain progress without a new stadium of minimum 50,000 capacity; anything less is unambitious. For us it would be a football tragedy if all that hard work by everyone behind the scenes is lost through a failure of nerve at a crucial moment. Such is the reality of the professional game in England.
So everything is up for enjoyment. Relish it. You only get one chance.
Meanwhile......none-poetic hogs and geese look away now.
Since I began with a Greek I might as well finish with another, much-abridged C.P.Cavafy. :
When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
... ... ...
- do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
... ... ...
you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.
... ... ...
Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.
That emotional C.P.Cavafy, what was he like...........