Monday, March 7, 2011

March madness

*I relished Liverpool's 3-1 win over Man U as an rip-roaring wormhole back to the '80s English football I grew up on. But what was the point of Alex Ferguson calling a press ban on United before the game, as if he was expecting defeat - it was no loss to the fans anyway.

Speaking to the protagonists, preferably exclusively, is the whole point of a hack going to a game, but player quotes remain such ephemeral fluff, while tactical analyses and opinion columns illuminate immeasurably more. Coaches are more interesting than players, but Fergie is not one of them in my book. I have been to Man U press conferences where otherwise fine writers prostrate themselves at the feet of King Alex, who himself stops journalists mid-sentence from asking anything controversial.

Premier League press conferences are almost pre-planned anyway, with the small cabal of Fleet Street (the UK's national dailies) arranging among themselves what to ask and write beforehand. Ask an unscripted question and the big boys will berate you for interrupting their flow. Wait until you think they have exhausted their mundane agenda and the conference is abruptly brought to an end by the press officer.

Clubs can appear to be mugs in inviting the muckrakers in for a cosy chat twice a week, but league rules and PR strategies demand it. Access is better than none at all but the sad result is reporters in bed with their quarries, good for copy but bad for the truth.

*Mr Blazer's hissy-fit at FIFA's refusal to give CONCACAF extra places for the 2014 World Cup made me chuckle. Africa had an off-day in 2010 it is true, but its 55 members outnumber CONCACAF's 40, has more strength in depth and above all, has been Sepp Blatter's biggest supporter for years. The Swiss deliberately targeted African votes to win power and stay there. In any case while Jack Warner remains in power, the rest of FIFA are loath to give CONCACAF anything. Chuck should break his silence on his crooked boss before he blazes at the rest of the football world for being unscrupulous.

*Last week I was in Valencia when Barcelona came to town, but with the cheapest ticket more than the airfare, I took beer and paella in a partisan 'Los Che' bar. If you are ever at the Mestalla, do visit Manolo's hilarious cafe cum soccer museum, run by Spain's famous fan. Although Barça had to wait until the 77th minute for some Messi magic, they were a cut above their east coast rivals. Either that or Spain's third-best team are so poor it confirms suspicions that La Liga is the Scottish Premier League in the sun.

*I am starting to question my support for video replays in football from watching the Cricket World Cup in India. The ubiquitous use of Hawkeye in this sport makes for fairer results but seems to be diluting the fan experience by removing the opportunity to perceive injustice and bad luck, and desire revenge as a consequence...If Frank Lampard's goal against Germany had been allowed last summer, England still would have lost, but at least we can console ourselves with the delusion that we were robbed.

*A seven-goal thriller from the Copa Libertadores

*Boris Becker proves you should never watch soccer with your wife

*Look what happens when you try to be sportsmanlike to the opposition...

-Sean O'Conor

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