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armchair centre back :: strange days

at least he wasn't naked
i started 2016 by having a dream about jose mourinho and i just have to live with that.

i'm not sure what brought this on. i went to bed on the 31st [ok, technically the 1st already], pretty much sober, although a little loopy from complete exhaustion, fell asleep rapidly and then suddenly he was there. it's not possible that i'm actually missing the football antichrist already, is it? i mean, there is no chance that my life has diminished with the absence of a clear and present evil against which i feel the forces of good must martial themselves, lest the universe be destroyed, right?

of course not.

i just happened to fall asleep and for some reason, now that he is well and truly gone-ish [more on that later], my mind as just purging itself of the last remnants of his foul presence. i refuse to countenance any other possible reason, so please don't bother suggesting one. please.

2015 is over now and thus have we closed one half a premier league season that reads like something out of the twilight zone. seriously, there are sports bookies committing suicide right now because of the amount of money they owe clients rather than the other way around. did you pick leicester city to be top of the table at the turn of the year? that's a payout. crystal palace to be positioned for the europa league next season? that's a payout. chelsea to be in the bottom third of the table? yup, that's definitely a payout. basically, every schlub who took a long shot bet because what the hell likely had an extremely merry christmas. up is down [particularly if you're a chelsea fan]. black is white [insert other chelsea joke here...] olivier giroud grew a beard and looks quite unappealing. we're through the looking glass, people.

here's a look at a few of the things that are currently completely ass-backwards in the premier league:

mourinho was an improvement on me, you say?
hot :: claudio ranieri
not :: jose mourinho

one of the sport's supposed elite managers, mourinho got to celebrate the holidays in the dole queue. since then, of course, chelsea have started to do a halfway decent impression of the team that won the league last year, but it's not entirely convincing. even more embarrassing for jose, the guy who replaced him is the one who managed to steer the netherlands' national team out of the 2016 euro, after they made it to the semi-finals of the 2014 world cup. think about that: a man who took a highly successful team managed by louis van gaal and turned them into a disaster has now taken a disastrous team managed by jose mourinho and made them look viable.

the punchline here is that mourinho is currently being touted as a possible replacement for manchester united manager if/ when he is relieved of his duties. so there is something worse than being jose mourinho.

claudio ranieri, on the other hand, has taken a team so deep in the basement last christmas to the top of the table or, at the moment, damn close. it's true that leicester's previous manager, nigel pearson, deserves much of the credit for having turned the team around last year, but ranieri is smart enough to know a good thing and how to work it. working with less than an eighth of their budget, the stalwarts at leicester held manchester city, one of the wealthiest teams in the world, to a tie. still think ranieri's emphasis on team spirit is jejune? the only two teams to defeat leicester city this year are arsenal and liverpool, whose managers are also devotees of the school of team spirit.

oh, wait, i forgot something. claudio ranieri was the manager roman abramovich/ chelsea fired to make room for mourinho the first time they hired him. *cough* justice *cough*

hot :: non-league players
not :: really expensive strikers

why should vardy get all the glory?
who the fuck knew jamie vardy's name two years ago? no one, that's who. but all evidence points to the fact that smart scouts should have known who he was, because he's currently sitting tops among goalscorers in the premier league. almost every recruiter in the biggest league in the biggest sport in the world managed to miss him. not to rub salt in the lancasatrian wound, but not one of the players manchester united have splashed out for comes close to his productivity. [don't believe me? check out the player stats from ea sports.]

i've heard rumours that my beloved swans are looking at dropping some serious coin to prise charlie austin away from relegated queen's park rangers. that would be close to a dream come true for me, with the "close" part stemming from the fact that i wanted them to sign him last summer. austin went from being employed as a bricklayer a few years back to being one of the highest scorers in the premier league last year. oh, and in sixteen appearances this year for qpr, he's managed ten goals.

about the only manager who seems really attuned to the possibilities of players plying their trade in england's non-professional leagues is crystal palace's alan pardew. [yes, they lost to a resurgent chelsea today, but they can take solace in the fact that the effort that has left them exhausted has seen them rise as high as fifth in the table and still leaves them as contenders for european football next year. remember, they were in the relegation zone when he took over a year ago.] rumour has it that crystal palace have signed a 19 year-old from nine leagues further down after scouts found him and called him to pardew's attention. in fact, the manager was interested enough that he called the lad himself to invite him to try out with the team. that is the equivalent of the equivalent of major league baseball scouting a kid playing catch with his father. it seems ridiculous, until you consider the fact that the guy running the show has created a serious european contender with what amounts to pocket change for a lot of their rivals.

ok, it might be worth spending for a guy who can defy gravity.
you'd be hard-pressed to find any high-priced players who have justified their fees thus far in the season. in fact, no one looks more clever than arsenal, who spent a grand total of 10 million pounds to sign goalkeeper petr cech [and no one else] and who has already saved more than enough points for the team to justify that fee. it's entertaining just to watch him be able to psych out opposition players by approaching them. those who maintain that there's no real talent involved in being a goalkeeper have never watched a player trying to move against a really assured guardian like cech. it's like some sort of jedi mind trick where the giant net shrinks to nigh on nothing. [related to my last post about the importance of learning languages, cech apparently communicates with his multi-national defense line in no fewer than three of them. during the course of an active game, he is yelling instructions in at least three languages, not one of which is his mother tongue. talk to me about how the athletes are stupid again.]

of course, there are persistent rumours that arsenal are getting ready to drop some serious coin on borussia dortmund forward pierre-emerick aubameyang. to that i say... if they're going to spend a huge amount of money on a forward, that's the one i'd pick too. i got mocked on twitter a few months back for saying that i'd rather they signed aubameyang than superstar forward karim benzema or edison cavani. no one's mocking me now. if arsenal choose to part with a lot of money, i have every confidence it's a good investment. after all, it's not like they're unaware that there are phenomenal deals to be had in the lower leagues. it was arsène wenger's decision to recall loanee francis coquelin last year at this time that made them late title contenders.

in fact, every time wenger spends a lot of money, it seems to pay off with dividends. all those people who criticized mesut özil for not justifying his massive fee two seasons ago are eating healthy meals of their own words right now. those are probably the same people who griped during the three games or so that alexis sanchez took to adapt to the premier league last year.

the bottom line? spending a lot of money is fine if you're getting value. finding a diamond in the rough makes you a goddamned genius. and goddamned geniuses are what owners want.

hot :: fun
not :: predictability

simply having a wonderful christmastime
you know, i'm willing to bet that, deep inside their mostly dead hearts, even manchester united and chelsea fans would be willing to admit that this year has something that has been missing in the premier league for years: fun. seriously, no one knows what the fuck is going to happen and that is beyond awesome. tiny bournemouth, who had to build some makeshift seating to boost their stadium capacity to around one-fifth that of manchester united entertained their fans by humbling the mighty united just before the holidays. claudio ranieri kept a deceptively polite demeanour while handing mourinho's chelsea their collective ass, a loss which resulted in the evil one's dismissal. arsenal's strange inconsistency has flipped: they've been brilliant against other top four contenders, strangely uninspired against lesser opposition, although they've generally managed to prevail.

but it's not just that. the prevailing sentiment in the league is that ego is over. the most successful managers this season by far are those who emphasize team play and a sense of togetherness in the face of adversity. everyone is pointing the finger at louis van gaal for manchester united's mediocre results. no one is pointing the finger at jurgen klopp for getting similar results from liverpool. why? because fans get it: one of those men is deeply committed to providing something that the fans can enjoy. hint: it's not van gaal. fans aren't stupid. they know that, given his druthers, klopp is going to deliver them a team they can love. manchester united fans don't have that faith, even when their team wins.

so what's to come for the last part of the season? who knows? manchester city almost always manages to mount a steady charge for the top late in the season, once they're eliminated from the champions' league, and right now i don't see any reason why that won't happen. having been condemned to face barcelona in the next champions' league round, i can't see arsenal troubling themselves about moving on there, which gives them more time to focus. and frankly, i think that people have been underestimating the slow but steady way that tottenham have been sledge-hammering away at the opposition. [i know that as an arsenal fan, i'm supposed to hate tottenham, but here's the truth: i don't. in fact, i don't even dislike them. i actually find that they're an incredibly entertaining team to watch right now. i think that mauricio pochettino is, along with pardew, the most consistently underrated manager in the premier league and aside from that, he seems like an absolute sweetheart when i see him interviewed. i love hugo lloris as a keeper. so yeah, far from hate, i find myself cheering them along much of the time. take that, predictability.]

we wish for...

the beginning of january, of course, signals the beginning of the mid-season transfer window, which means that it's time for fans to close their eyes and wish upon a star, or a lucky object, or to rub a lamp in the hopes of waking the premier league-specific genie. dom and i have been keeping tabs on the possibilities for our favourite teams and we've determined that this is what we'd really like:

come on arsenal, what's not to love?
for arsenal :: mats hummels. that's what dom wants. and who could blame him? everyone is freaking out so hard about arsenal needing a goal-scorer or a midfielder, they're ignoring the fact that signing a world-class defender who can score goals as well could be even more beneficial. the borussia dortmund team captain is going to be pricey, but we know that arsène wenger will spend money if he feels it's warranted. in this case? it's an investment that's going to last years and likely pave the way for a whole new generation of arsenal. seriously, the man is a beast on the back line, a world-class player capable of marshaling the troops and pressing forward. also, if arsenal don't try to push through a deal, you know damn well that hummels' former manager jurgen klopp is waiting in the wings to bring him to liverpool. as long as arsenal are looking at signing one player from borussia dortmund, they might as well shoot for the moon. loosen the purse strings, arsène. now.


for swansea :: well this was a hell of a lot easier before i knew charlie austin was on the table. i've always wanted him for swansea. i really like the guy and i think he'd just glow amidst a team where his solid work ethic was appreciated. [although, i'd really like to not give up jonjo shelvey to get him, seeing as i'm one of the few swansea fans who really likes him.] i asked dom the other day about borrowing defender calum chambers for the balance of the season, since he's well behind hector bellerin in the pecking order these days as arsenal's right-back and got sort of a slant-eyed look. i didn't dare bring up the possibility of borrowing joel campbell again. but let's be honest: swansea need a manager before they need anything else. pundits are now saying that maybe they should stick with caretaker boss alan curtis, since they've experienced a modicum of improvement in form since he's taken over. to that i say: fuck you.

yup. this guy right here.
this isn't intended as a slight against curtis, but i truly believe that what swansea need now is a dazzling star of a manager. they need to sign someone who makes a statement that they aren't just aiming to be a middling premier league team and that they think they can do even better than they did last year. in discussing potential candidates, my own preference leaned towards jorge sampaoli, although marcelo bielsa, who i didn't consider a serious possibility, was pretty tempting. more recently, however, ajax boss frank de boer dropped some pretty heavy hints that he'd be up for the challenge, and that's basically eclipsed everything else from my mind. why? because he seems to think that it would be awesome to take a team of swansea's stature and turn them into something great. my god, that's what we all want.

i rather doubt this is going to happen in january, but i do feel like swansea chairman huw jenkins and i are in sync on this one: he hasn't shown any indication that he feels pressured to appoint someone until he's found a person he's happy with. if need be, i'll hold my breath until the end of the season, but i'm really hoping for resolution sooner than later. any guy who welcomes the challenge of taking a team with limited resources to the upper echelons of the premier league is a hero in my books and huw, we need a hero. i want frank de boer. 

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