I would fly 6,600 miles

United

Brothers United

Happy New Year readers! I hope 2017 is off to a good start and my best wishes to you and yours (your football team that is) for the year ahead.

The traditional festive fixture whirlwind has just blown by and left a few disgruntled managers in its wake. The managerial whine has become as much a tradition as mulled wine at this time of year. The usual suspects have had their say:

Wenger: “In 20 years it is the most uneven Christmas period I have seen on the fixture front, the difference of rest periods is absolutely unbelievable.” A surprising outburst from Arsene, a man not usually inclined to complain.

Mourinho: “The busy period is for some clubs not for everyone because you analyse there is no congestion for them. The fixtures are chosen to give some rest for some and create problems for others but we are used to it because we are in the Europa League, which creates more difficulties.” Mourinho is the great conspiracy theorist of the modern game; he sees a dark plot against him in every shadow. I rather doubt that Rupert Murdoch is out to “create problems” for you Jose but you never know.

Some are newer to the English game but have adapted quickly with their complaints:

Pochettino: “The physical demand is massive but mental too. You can see plenty of pictures from different leagues in Europe — [players] in swimming pools, at the beach, players with families, relaxing. Our players were at training, playing and going to bed early. That is tough because they are young and they need to enjoy life.” Yep, those young multimillionaire footballers hanging out with models in clubs, if only a way could be found for them to enjoy life.

Klopp: “I am a football fan, I would like to watch football everyday but if you do it, after four weeks, you cannot do it anymore. The only thing is you have to accept the problems you cause with things like this.” Is he saying that after four weeks it’s impossible to play any more football or watch it? I’m pretty sure I could keep it up for four weeks (watching that is). Indeed, it’s a challenge we all rise to every four years with the World Cup.

The unspoken complaint of course is that Chelsea have had it (relatively) easy this festive season. Conte however has a hypothesis as to what is really troubling his rivals: “I think they are angry for our position, not for the fixtures.” I think he’s right.

In his recently published Saturday, 3pm: 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football (buy it), Daniel Gray gets to the heart of why those of us in the stands love Christmas football:

‘Down in the concourses at half-time, football and Christmas collide to make excitable children of us all. There is probably a bigger crowd than usual. It is swelled by home-comers from London, Aberdeen and abroad, bumping into old pals and old flames, sipping with seldom-seen kid brothers. It becomes a grotto, hubbubbing with more noise than any class on a school visit could make, the air mobbed by breathless chatter about life and the transfer window.’

As an expat now, I’m one of those who’ve swollen crowds on Boxing Days as I make my annual pilgrimage. My dictionary defines a pilgrimage as ‘a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.’ That sounds a lot like my recent journeys to Tannadice from Kuala Lumpur.

We fans will get up early, arrive home late, and travel for miles to see our teams. It’s often expensive and exhausting. But you won’t hear me complaining (much), unless United lose; because 6,600 miles is a long way to travel to see your team get beat.

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If only

Mourinho

Jose Mourinho – photo by In Mou We Trust http://www.flickr.com

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are lousy players, and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when Roman doubts you,

And make no allowance for his doubting too,

If you can defend and not get tired of defending,

Or being lied about, don’t park the bus,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

Except perhaps the FA, but make not too much fuss:

 

If you’re fined – and the touchline bans you master;

If you can think – and make excuses your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

For another huge pay-off just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted again by journalists, the fools,

Or throw your toys out of the pram, left broken

And claim you’re forced to work with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And proclaim yourself the special one,

Then lose, and start again at your beginnings

And with a feeling that you’ve been hard done;

If you can force your doctor out of the club

To serve your ego long after she is gone,

And so the players left without a magic rub

They turned on you and said: ‘you’re wrong!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with oligarchs – and lose the common touch,

If neither refs nor loving fans can hurt you,

If all players count with you, but none that much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With wasted time until it’s done,

To seek a corner and then win it,

And – which is sore – you’ll get the sack, Jose son!

 

No way Jose

mourinho

Jose Mourinho. Photo by In Mou We Trust, http://www.flickr.com

Mourinho is a master of tactics. He is particularly adept at using his post-match press conferences tactically in order to deflect attention from poor performances from his side. He was at it again on Saturday following Chelsea’s lacklustre 2-1 win against Queens Park Rangers.

He admitted that his team “did not play well” but he knew very well that the headlines the next day would focus on his comment that “at this moment it’s difficult for us to play at home, though, because playing here is like playing in an empty stadium.” The fans are a bit too quiet for Jose’s liking and it seems his players are suffering as a result.

“I was today looking around and it was empty, but not in terms of people because it was obviously full. That’s what is frustrating.” The emptiness of the full stadium? How very philosophical Jose, and frustrating. Perhaps Chelsea fans thought QPR stood for Quiet Please, Respect.

It’s a cheap shot though, especially aimed at those paying eye-wateringly expensive ticket prices. Managers are happy to laud the fans as the all-important “twelfth man” when they’re winning but as soon as they start losing or performances falter, number 12 is expected to stay behind for extra choir practice.

The cheapest general sale ticket for the game was apparently almost £50 and if I’d paid that much to witness a less than inspiring performance from my team I would feel quite entitled to sit in sulking silence, contemplating why some players who earn £100,000 per week seem to have difficulty in completing a 10 yard pass.

Recently I wrote about the BBC’s price of football survey and the increasing cost of watching football in the UK. Clubs are discovering that eating your cake is somewhat incompatible with having your cake. Higher prices means more money for clubs but as Chelsea Supporters’ Trust chairman Tim Rolls points out, many “young people – who are the most likely to sing and make noise – have been priced out of the game.”

You see Jose, the voice, just like the legs, starts to go a little bit with age. Typically, Mourinho was in no mood for backing down. He subsequently claimed that “we are the team to get less support in home matches. When compared to my previous time I think it’s getting worse.” Maybe the fans have got older compared to last time; maybe prices have got more expensive.

One fan took to Instagram to suggest that Mourinho’s comments were ‘bang out of order’ and received a sympathetic phone call from John Terry in reply. It was reported that Terry told the supporter that he ‘understood the concerns of supporters – but insisted Mourinho had deliberately spoken to stir the home crowd into more obvious displays of passion.’

In return, Chelsea fans might ask the skipper and the gaffer for some more obvious displays of talent.