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All Things Footie | Friday, February 27 | Jordan

Return to Europe

Preface: you’re winning three-nil at home, you’re warming the bench, it’s the eighty-fourth minute and the manager tells you to get your tracksuit off. As a player you must really wonder, why bother? Run around for six minutes, probably don’t get a touch, come off needing to get your kit in the washing machine and clean your boots. What a waste of time.

Next time you’re in this situation, think of Bournemouth’s James Hayter. In two minutes and twenty seconds of football against Wrexham, Hayter scored the fastest hat-trick in the history of English football (and one of the fastest Worldwide), took home the match ball, and no doubt earnt himself some kind of recognition from the manager. A goal every 47 seconds? Not a bad average.

This week saw a welcome return to European football rather than Couldn’t Give a Carling Black Label Cup ties and pointless International friendlies. Arsenal travelled to Celta Vigo, where a fine performance from the criminally underrated Edu sees the Gunners take a slim one-goal lead into the return leg in a fortnight at Highbury.

It was a tale of two Edus, his namesake for Vigo (who from now on will be referred to as Edu2) having an excellent game too; why Raddy Antic took him off in the second half is a mystery to me. In the first half Edu2 caused the shaky looking full back Lauren all kinds of problems, not helped by an unfit Freddie Ljungberg, whos usual energetic tracking back helps out the defender in (all too often) times of trouble. The second half saw Edu2 switch top the right flank, where he attempted to do the same to the inexperienced Gael Clichy; helped out even less by Robert Pires. To their disappointment, both Edu2 and Antic underestimated the french left-back, who though only eighteen must surely be giving the manager selection headaches. Along with Kolo Toure, Clichy has been a fantastic young developer this season, looking assured, unnervingly calm and I’m told can only be outsprinted by Thierry Henry on the training ground.

Manchester United’s night in Portugal proved a less successful night for the English, with Alex Ferguson’s men taking away a one goal deficit thanks to two splendid goals from Benni McCarthy. Roy Keane also surprised everyone by losing his temper and stamping on someone, then losing his temper some more when he realised that Refs in foreign countries actually send you off for this kind of stuff, rather than just having a few strong words; telling you that next time you stamp on someone, it’ll be a booking. Dropping John O’Shea and playing Gary Neville at centre half wit Wes Brown, Ferguson seems to have missed the point. It’s Brown that’s a load of rubbish, O’Shea, while not sparkling this year, is a fine footballer, and a potentially outstanding centre half—far better than Wes Brown has ever looked like becoming.

Regardless of the poor result, beating Porto at Old Trafford should not be problem for a team of United’s experience, but keeping McCarthy and the superb Deco quiet will be a much bigger ask with this defence. I think United will need to score at least twice if they are to progress.

Chelsea won too, for a change. Stuttgart looking a shadow of the side that beat Manchester United 2-1 back in October, conceeded an own goal in the twelfth minute after Fernando Meira deflected a superb Glen Johnson cross. Chelsea have a huge strength in the ability of their fullbacks to cross the ball, it’s probably why Hasselbaink is having such a prolific season, and playing to it may help Ranieri hold on to his job a little longer. I’m kidding myself into think Ranieri has a chance of holding on to his job, because I’m a huge fan of the Italian. His wit, his friendliness, his enthusiasm and above all, his honesty; if he was replaced by a soulless bore-monger like Sven Goran Eriksson it would be a very bad move. Unfortunately for Ranieri, Abramavich knows nothing about football, even less about Chelsea Football Club, and will almost certainly appoint someone lauded by the general public and the press like Eriksson, rather than stick with the quiet man who’ll be far better for the club in the long term.

When Ranieri said that he didn’t think Chelsea would win a trophy this season, he was being realistic, he was demonstrating that he knows the game, he knows you can’t ask 26 millionaires to form a gelled unit of 11 overnight. He knows that time, hard work, dedication and effort are the only way a team can be built. On plenty of occasions, 11 poor players have beaten 11 great players through knowing each other’s—and the team’s—strengths and limitations. If Abramavich, or whoever it is that wields the axe, fails to realise this, Chelsea could be the biggest flop of all time.

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