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All Things Footie | Thursday, March 31 | Jordan

Blame it on the old blog

I can’t work out if it’s fitting or not that my absence from posting anything over the last three weeks coincides almost perfectly with All Things Footie’s Fourth Birthday. No one’s bought me a cake—and perhaps I don’t deserve one.

I may have written earlier had there been anything but dull International games for what seems like forever. It comes to something when even a meeting of Northern Ireland and England fails to produce any sparks. Not that controversy or flashpoints in games are what I want to see all the time of course, but some good old blood-and-thunder is welcome every now and then. Quite a contrast between England’s games against NI and Azerbijan; in the first they get four goals from a freak ten minute spell in which everything that gets near the goal goes in, and in the second it’s shooting practice but everyone seems to have left their shooting boots at home.

There was one common denominator between the two games though, Michael Owen’s increasingly familiar uselessness. I wouldn’t be as harsh as to say the new Emile Heskey, but without his pace Owen has very little to offer a top class team. Next to a sublimely skillful and technically superb Wayne Rooney it’s frankly embarassing. Owen’s never had outstanding technical ability, always relying on his pace and a predatory instinct to get his goals. With his pace fading in his mid-twenties and the game adapting so that even against teams like Azerbijan you need more than just instinct to get goals, he looks a shadow of his former self. The sad truth is that Owen isn’t (and hasn’t been for a while) nearly good enough to play with the likes of Lampard, Cole, Rooney and Beckham and draw favourable comparisons. Maybe it’s time he had an international rest and got a bit of that hunger back.

Talking of Beckham (sort-of), I don’t buy the criticism he’s been getting either. Had Owen finished the second goal with the same aplomb as Beckham did his last night, he would have been lauded by the BBC’s 1980s Liverpool mafia until I turned the channel over. Beckham may not look the force he did three years ago for England, but that may be down to the fact that he actually has a competent set of players around him now, and a cunning forward in Rooney to exchange passes with rather than having to try and make his way to the eighteen yard box on his own.

The truth is that England have the best set of players they’ve ever had (in comparison with the rest of the world). And yes, I mean EVER. When have England ever had three of the top five centre halves in the World? When have they had two of the top ten central midfielders? The best left-back and a right back with 90-ish caps? The best crosser of the ball and one of the best free-kick takers in the World? A classy, tricky, World Class player like Rooney up-front? Never, that’s when. If Eriksson fails to win anything with this collection of talent then he’s worse than I thought (and that’s pretty bloody bad).

It seems Chelsea will have to do without Jose Mourinho for both legs of their Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich. As punishment for bringing the game into disrepute, Mourinho will not be allowed access to Chelsea’s dressing room before, during or after the game and must watch proceedings from the stands. Everyone’s favourite unshaven Portugeezer must also pay an £8,900 fine for claiming ex-referee and Scandinavian playboy Anders Frisk had a chat with Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard at half time during the first leg of the Catalan’s tie with Chelsea. I’d love to know how UEFA work out these fines. Luis Aragones is fined £2,000 for being racist, Mourinho four times as much for what (in this author’s opinion) is a much less serious offence.

FC Utrecht were fined €10,250 for allowing supporters to display a racist banner, PSV Eindhoven €20,500 for their fans constant racist abuse and missle throwing at Thierry Henry, Valencia got off scot-free for monkey chants at Liverpool players last year. Chelsea however, are fined over €50,000 for ‘making false declarations’. It’s good to see UEFA getting their priorities right.

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