The (2nd) un-PUN-ticipated review – FARE WELL

farewell-wordsThe annual withdrawal symptoms, that break out globally amongst footy fans as final whistles are blown to end the seasons of Europe’s top 5 leagues, are slowly dissipating.  The effects range from a mild indifference towards tolerating other sporting codes, to a full-blown disregard for who rules the remote.  Reported incidents have included alarming footage of die-hard soccer fanatics being ‘killed’ softly by exposure to re-runs of Soap Operas!  Ill informed interventions of “there-there it’s only a game after all” have been met with wide-eyed & prolonged glazed-over looks of bewilderment, that would make Mr Collina (below) look like he was squinting. No matter how many off-seasons one has had to endure, it would appear that saying Farewell does not get any easier.  Particularly when that common expression of good wishes at the time of parting is not limited to the game you love, BUT also directed toward a broad cast of prominent individuals who have made the games worth watching.  The withdrawal symptoms haven’t all been adverse, to be fair.  There have been some bouts of elation that have characterised some goodbyes.  Here is my take on whether the exits of some people prompted the “what took you so long” response, or evoked the more positive sentiment of sincerely hoping that they do Fare well in their future endeavours.

GONE FOR GOOD!

The Knight of the Round(ball) fable Sir Alex Ferguson’s (SAF) retirement (which is for real this time, after a “failed” attempt at walking away from the dugout about a decade ago) resulted in a myriad of reactions which included:-

  1. Shock – The day the rumours were eventually confirmed the announcement made headlines the world over, which were not confined to the sports sections.  Man United fans, players (current and former)/ fellow managers (except Wenger if he is to be believed)/ fans of other teams/ and the lay non-footy-loving-and-very-clueless person (whose curiosity was only peaked by the prominence given to the news) were all SHOCKED!
  2. Fear – Whilst shock was still doing the rounds in footballing circles, the business arena (via the New York Stock Exchange) was “quantifying” the FEAR factor of SAF’s decision.  Within 24 hours of the announcement Manchester United’s share price plunged by up to 5% (approximately USD  175 million)!!
  3. Glee & Relief – For every positive action that SAF conjured up for the benefit of Manchester United’s fans; there was most definitely an equal (if not at times greater) negative reaction from United’s foes.  As this love-hate relationship swung in favour of the foes on May 8th,  their Glee was already simmering under on May 4th when it was announced that SAF could miss the start of the 2013/14 season as he recuperated from hip surgery.  Suddenly there was a chink in the Dark Knight’s armour.  There was to be some Relief, no matter how temporary, from the dominance & bullying.  And as those foes (considered to be Naughty-By-Nature by SAF) chanted “Hip-OP HOORAAAAAY!” SAF went all out to “please” them with retirement, sending their Glee into “Fergie time”.  And the collective sigh of Relief from opposition fans & managers, some referees & journalists as well as that long suffering chewing gum, can still be heard echoing in the distance.
  4. Respect & Admiration – So as the dust settled on a trophy laden career (49 in all since St Mirren’s Scottish 1st Division success) the quantity and quality of those who took time out to eulogise SAF’s career spoke volumes about the Respect & Admiration he had gained.  Never an overwhelming favourite to win any popularity context, one thing remained consistent.  You could never ignore him! The rate at which he trended on Twitter, under the #ThankYouSirAlex hashtag was phenomenal.  And it made it all seem normal then, when people were rumoured to have been willing to pay USD 4,500 for a ticket to witness SAF’s last match at Old Trafford.  Had the Glazer’s been enterprising enough, they could have sold out that match at that ridiculous price and made a significant dent on the club’s debt, or created a roaring transfer kitty for David Moyes!

Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson is a once-off.  His ability to maintain a winning tradition, and instil a never-say-die attitude in his charges is part of his enduring legacy.  The fact that he did that consistently over a period that has seen only consistent change in football is impressive.  We bid FAREWELL to a legend, and the fact that no English Premiership team scored more points than his teams in his last 3 seasons mean that SAF fared better than most in the end. Cheerful: Ferguson in the Ibrox directors' box at the Rangers v Man United legends match this week

Golden Balls

“You can go down a list of footballers since the Premier League and I don’t think David Beckham would probably be in the first 1,000….”.  That was part of Chris Waddle’s response to the news that Becks was finally hanging up his designer football boots! ….Waddle should keep off the glue,  I wonder if he could even come up with a list of 1000 English topflight players over the last 21 odd years.  I mean, are you saying if each season contributed its best forty-‘7′ players on average, Becks would not make the cut for any of the seasons that he was a key member in a dominant United team…?  Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate Waddle’s opinion in stressing that Becks was “..good and NOT great…, BUT I do feel that his chosen method of benchmarking to make his case was waaaaaaay off! Beckham will always divide opinion.  There are those who feel he was more Anna Kournikova than Maria Sharapova, with regard to his overall effectiveness.  BUT my assessment contradicts that school of thought quite strongly.   While his global appeal is more inclined to have him applauded for what he did with his kit off rather than when he was in it, the danger with that is that it masks how good/great he really was as a player.  He was certainly good/great enough to be a 1999 BALLON D’Or Runner-up to the good/great Rivaldo.  In the last 40 years, the English top flight has contributed not more than 14 top 3 Golden Ball nominees,…. including Becks… #TheyDon’tCallHimGOLDENBALLS4Nothin!!  &, Oh by the way, he was also 2nd to Rivaldo for the FIFA player of the year in that same 1999 and if that does not convince you, then DB was the runner-up (by a slim 12 point m to the Great Figo in 2001!  BUT a massive 144+ points ahead of other GREATS like Raul, Zidane & Rivaldo.

So, sadly we are NEVER going to see these (above) poses of Beckham anymore.  We are more likely to see the ones below as Becks transitions into full model-mode, with a sprinkling of footy here and there.  His contribution to football can & will NOT be limited to stats compiled while he was confined to minutes on the pitch, and that is just the simple truth of the matter, whichever way you choose to BEND it!

The One-Club LEGENDS!

A player who undoubtedly fulfilled the immense potential shown during the Fledgling stages of his career.  Paul The Ginger Ninja Scholes has generally been described as “one of the finest midfielders of his generation”, and my endorsement of that statement is unreserved.  What you will NEVER hear though, is that Scholesy was the “finest tackler of his generation”.  Quite the opposite is true, and in a decorated career that spanned 2 decades (including a brief retirement) it is quite interesting that Scholes never really mastered the art of how to get stuck-in, LEGALLY!  BUT that is one facet of his game his fans will gladly send-off, and 99 EPL (3rd most of all time) + 32 Champions League (all time record) yellow cards later , who can blame them?

The things that will be missed will be the laser-like accurate passes over great distances (very Hollywood), the ability to effortlessly dictate play from the middle of the park while leaving a mark on proceedings (yup, and the occasional shin, thigh, groin, ankle etc).  Balls will rarely ever be as sweetly struck as they were when they left his boot.  No longer will we witness the Ginger Ninja lurking with obvious intent on the edge of penalty areas, seemingly disinterested, only to pounce on a rebound and hammer home that signature pile-driver!  Or those late surges into the box to sneak in the odd goal that usually cued this Kumbaya themed chant from the Old Trafford faithful.  “Paaaaaaul SCHOOOOOOOLES he scores goooooooals”

While Zinedine Zidane’s noted regret is “that the opportunity to play alongside Paul never presented itself during my career”, other Scholes fans will regret not seeing him add to his amazing tally of 718 appearances in the ONLY club jersey he has ever worn, that of Manchester United!

Not many footballer’s can boast of a “similar” as Scholesy’s so it would be rather unfair to pit anyone against him.  BUT, be that as it may there are quite a number of parallels that can be drawn from Jaimie Carragher’s body of work, that would validate a comparison.  One club man?…check!  Former England international?….check!  Treble winner?….check!(you know what I mean).  So it’s rather curios that a man with such credentials would still find himself in the shadow of other football greats.  But the second fiddle theme rings true for James Lee Duncan Carragher.

  • His 737 appearances as a RED. = Second to Ian Callaghan’s 857.
  • His 508 Premier League appearances. = Second to Ryan Giggs’ 660 (and still counting), when only considering one-club-men.
  • His 27 England Under 21 appearances = Second to Scott Carson’s 29.
  • His 7 Premiership Own Goals = Second to the Premiership’s all time record “helper-of-the-opposition” Richard Dunne’s 10.
  • His feat of being Liverpool FC’s One-Club-Man = Was achieved first by Gerry Byrne (1957-1969), and seeing as Gerry, like Jaimie, was also born on Merseyside poor Mr Carragher can’t even claim to be The Red’s 1st “Liverpudlian One-Club-Man”.

Even Jaimie’s monumental shift in Liverpool’s come-from-behind UEFA Champion’s League victory over AC Milan, (now archived as The Miracle of Istanbul), will be filed on a lower shelf to captain Steven Gerrard’s lead-from-the-front heroics!  Jaimie will probably never be 1st in The Kop’s hearts either BUT that is not to say he will not be remembered fondly.  His uncompromising attitude towards Liverpool FC’s cause is what cements his status as a scouser legend.  His fans will look to his many gladiatorial performances as source for commemoration.  BUT his detractors will point to his quirky trivia-esque stat of having scored more goals for the opposition (8) than he did for Liverpool (4).

I, However choose to remember the Jaimie whose 150 appearances in UEFA competitions see him sat atop the perch of ALL Liverpool players in that regard.  As well as the Jaimie who still holds the English Premiership’s record for defenders for clean sheets at 202!

The “Gone-Too-Soon” Men!

If you are going to leave any arena, then leaving on your own terms is usually what most people aim for.  Not many will ever dare to contemplate leaving at the top of their game, with nothing left to prove.  And even fewer are privileged enough to then actually achieve that.  For now Jupp Heynckes is that man.  Having steered Bayern Munich to Germany’s 1st ever treble, his decision to step away from the Beautiful Game will have made a lot of sense to most people.  Now boasting having guided two teams (Real Madrid being the other one) to UEFA Champions League glory what more could he want?  And when you then consider the fact that his playing career yielded a World Cup, a European Championship, a UEFA Cup and no less than 4 Bundesliga titles, he surely now has very little left to prove.  That being said though, I still feel that he may have stepped away from a project that was primed to dominate and possibly become a dynasty of sorts.  Time will tell whether Jupp resists the urge to jump back in, BUT for now he has indeed left the (Allianz) Arena.

Sadly, we may never know just how much Tito Vilanova would have achieved in a managerial career that was ended prematurely by throat cancer.  Tito was “given” global relevance when he was infamously targeted for Special treatment by Jose Mourinho who poked him in the eye while he was still Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Barcelona.  He assisted in establishing Barcelona as one of the greatest football teams ever, and when he eventually took over the hot seat many would have forgiven him had he failed to reach the heights that Pep had.  But boy did Tito rise to the occasion.  Already battling the cancer, that saw him miss out on a part of the season, Tito still managed to lead his now slower & thoroughly-reliant-on-Messi, troops to an impressive La Liga title.  He did so by amassing more points than Pep ever managed, BUT what will probably be sweeter for Tito is the fact that his team’s 100 point haul equalled Mourinho’s much vaunted La Liga record.  And that’s how you poke back!  Unfortunately the chance to witness how Tito would have managed Barca’s player transition has been snatched from us all too soon.

Other Notable Departures!

  • Mark Van Bommel:-  Makes the list due to consistency rather than likability.  He was the typical hard-man of footy, and sometimes unnecessarily so,  As Michael Cox’s article will reveal most of his career was good, other parts were bad, BUT his legacy will undoubtedly linger on those instances that were downright ugly!  Which included being cent-off in his last professional match.
  • Michael Owen:-  An England international Great, who could have been the same for Liverpool, BUT for an ill timed “trip” to Spain.  He returned to England’s shores to be average for Newcastle, memorable (for that one Manchester Derby goal ) at Manchester United, before finishing off a “has-been” at Stoke, who probably never fulfilled his real potential due to injuries.  BUT hey, he did bag the 2001 Ballon d’Or
  • Benni McCarthy:-  Another one who has an impressive body of work to look back on (even if his actual body was cause for much concern in the latter part of his career, as he lived up to the Big Mac monicker).  All good things come to an end, and despite his attitude at times, Benni was a great thing for South Africa.  Their national team’s top goal scorer, scorer of the nations first ever goal at a FIFA world cup, and probably South Africa’s least talented rapper to feature on a hit single…. “Shibobooooo”

With the “real” footy season now less than a fortnight away, the toughest bit is surely now behind us.  We have endured; & even the sprinklings of age group international tournaments and a decent FIFA Confederations Cup have done little to sate the appetites for the “real deal”.  We have tried the synthetic substitutes to remedy our off-season woes, BUT still the symptoms persist!  Some have now been characterised by an overzealous focus on the silly season that is the Transfer Window (keep a look out for my SILLY SEASON MUSINGS).  Others have fallen so far off the wagon they are now actively Punting on things that defy any and ALL football reasonings, like The Royal Birth!!!. The accelerated countdown to the end is nigh, it’s squeaky bum time!  And while it is evidently so hard to say goodbye to the European Club Footy Season and some of its protagonists, it shouldn’t be that difficult to say FAREWELL to the wretched off-season!

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