Tuesday, 23 July 2013

For Rooney, See Torres

As the latest updates from what must certainly now all but be confirmed as this summer’s long running will he/won’t he/do we even care anyway transfer saga come through and we prepare ourselves to hear constantly from each of the three parties involved one thought overrides all the others, haven’t we been here before?

Here with Rooney sure (his desire to ask to be put on the transfer list already established when he used the same tactic a couple of years ago to snag the mega contract that Man Utd are so apparently so comfortable running down, something to think about the next time you hear him talk of feeling unwanted) but also here before with Chelsea.  The drawn out signing of Torres in January 2011 was another time Chelsea targeted an established Premier League striker quite fancying a move away and who’d been successful at his present club (with both players being similarly less prolific in the period leading up to their potential transfers).  As with the Torres transfer what looks like both weakening a rival and a decent piece of business could end up as an unmitigated failure.

He’s a special case is Rooney.  He was one of the last street footballers that came through (more through his playing style than his background) before Premier League youth prospects seemed uniformly to adopt a kind of drummed in conformity; a kind of technically gifted, Playstation playing, slightly boring ubiquity.  When Rooney came through it was different.  After his debut there were stories that David Moyles literally had to drag him away from playing football with his friends in the street.  He slept with grandmas.  Can’t see Theo Walcott doing that.  And on the field he played as if he make anything happen.  And often it did.  With all the excellence of Rooney once he’d moved to Man Utd and settled down, and at his best he really was one of the best in the world, (156 goals in 292 appearances in the Premier League, 34 goals in 2009-10 alone) he seemed to have had either lost that sense of unpredictability or had it coached out of him.  Which however he finishes his career will always be the biggest shame about it.

Chelsea signed Torres just as he went through the kind of mid career slump that must still have him waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.  The El Nino they signed and the one that started playing for them were two different players.  Even now and after a season where he scored 22 goals there’s the sense that he’s lost that extra yard of pace that once made him so explosive.  With the benefit of hindsight Chelsea overpaid for a player prematurely leaving his prime, possibly due to playing so much top level football at such a young age.  They may be about to do exactly the same with Rooney.

The similarities with them don’t end there.  At 29 Torres is two years older.  He moved to Chelsea at 26, one year younger than Wayne is now.  Both of them started early, Wayne bursting into the first team at Everton when he was 16, Torres playing regularly for Atletico Madrid at 17.  They were both fixtures in their international teams in their teenage years.  The old accepted wisdom over footballers entering their prime was around 27-28.  As the great football thinker Indiana Jones says it ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.  Both of them have a lot of miles under the clock.  With players starting earlier, playing more football and the possibility of burnout we could see that dropping by at least a few years.  Speaking frankly, Rooney like Torres could very well have already seen his best years.

The suspicion that Rooney has lost something about his play, that extra bit of desire that let him impose himself on games, had been in the background even before Fergusson left him out the team before the Real Madrid game.  Everyone points to the signing of Van Persie as the moment Rooney fell down the pecking order but at least as significant was the signing of Kagawa.  After Shinji’s first season settling in he should be a good bet for a run in the number 10 role behind Van Persie this year, something Moyles pretty much said outright when he talked about Rooney featuring if anything happened to the Dutchman (and this is without them yet making a signing this year, Cesc Fabregas’ arrival would make the queue at ten even longer).  With a World Cup looming and facing no longer being first choice it looks ever more likely he’ll be leaving.

It’s been a very twenty first century transfer saga so far, with updates given from Thailand, Malaysia and Australia and twenty four hour news updates on nothing much happening with claims and denials crawling out at a snail’s pace and everyone apart from the people directly involved thoroughly bored of the whole thing already.  Although it’s the first thing that landed in Moyles’ in-tray Fergusson’s fingerprints are all over this.  From dropping him, implying he was carrying a bit too much timber then declaring after his last game that Rooney had handed in a transfer request (something the player still denies) Fergusson has done most of the heavy lifting to ensure Rooney can be moved on while making it look like the club weren’t the ones agitating for the move.  It would be extremely naive to think that three weeks into the Moyles era he isn’t still in contact with Fergusson.  Moyles’ press conferences have managed to walk this line perfectly, giving lip service to the idea of keeping Rooney while offering him no assurances on his role this season. 

It’s all been set up perfectly to force Rooney to admit he’s looking to leave before he’s sold, perfect revenge for Fergusson after failing to deal with his transfer request properly the last time (paying an alleged £250,000 a week to a player asking for a move has proven one of his more debatable decisions).  Sympathy for Rooney will be in short supply, mainly because with demands like that he’s done as much as any other player as to provide us with plenty of opportunity to be cynical about modern football.  It may just have been because watching him go from an unpolished sixteen year old to a managed entitled professional was always going to be disappointing but he’s not helped himself along the way.  In short, he’s come across as a bit of a knob.

Mourinho seems to be enjoying the whole thing, far more than Moyles.  For him he’s in a win/win situation.  Sign Rooney and he’s taken a marquee player from one of his main rivals.  Fail to sign him and he’s managed to ruin their preparation for the new season.  Since his opening salvos back in English football were so unthreatening it’s a relief to see him get his teeth into something he can really have fun with again. 

The actual transfer being a success is harder to predict.  Jose would be gambling on his management being able to restore Rooney to something approaching his peak, no certainty by any means.  It’ll also be, by proxy, an admission that he doesn’t think doing the same will be possible with Torres.  Chelsea will play in the same 4,3,3/4,5,1 that Real Madrid did last season.  Rooney and Torres would be in direct competition with each other for one spot (as well as Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku).  Chelsea could find that if they sign him Rooney could well end up in a similar run of form as the man he’s intended to replace.

Monday, 22 July 2013

In Praise Of... Kim Kallstrom

It’s something when a player who’s won four league championships in two different countries, played just under a hundred games for his country and been a fixture in the Champions League for years can be considered a disappointment.  But Kim Kallstrom can.  Mainly because he was the first Championship Manager prospect who I then followed in real life.  He first popped up on CM2001 as a 17 year old AM/FC with already ridiculous stats and a stupidly low value.  You bought him immediately wherever you started your game.  Within a year he was the best player in your team.  Within three or four the best player in the world.  Everywhere you went you’d use that old formation, which was basically just this:

                         RB                              CB                                    CB                             LB

                                                  CM                         DMC                      CM

                                                                           Kim Kallstrom            

                                                                    FC                           FC

As long as you had Kimmy in there then your team would click.  As the game went on he’d provide as many assists as he would score goals.  His name would inevitably pop up on the flashing commentary more than anyone else’s.  In (slightly) later editions he was listed as the deep lying playmaker that he became in real life but it still didn’t stop him running games, scoring screamers and freekicks from distance seemingly at will (this was in the first edition of the game with ‘highlights,’ the unbridled joy I found in watching the dot with Kallstrom’s number power them in may never again be matched).  And then back in the real world he moved to France, first to Rennes and then on to Lyon and we all waited for him to become a world beater.  And instead he was merely very good.  Forever a disappointment because he didn’t live up to a computer programmer’s idea of how good he would become at 17.  A large part of me will always love him.

* In mitigation during that Germany–Sweden game that they were losing 4-0 and came back to draw Kim was on the pitch from halftime and set up three goals.  And also he was responsible for these:

He really has been a very good player (and still is, he’s only 30 and doing well at Spartak Moscow).  He’ll just never be as good as a generation of massive nerds thought he should have been. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

In Praise Of... Inter Milan in the 1990s

Ah Inter in the 90s.  The decade in which they proved that when it came to spending money without achieving success that they were head and shoulders above anyone else (unless you count their three UEFA cups, which obviously no one does).  They were in a bad way before Massimo Moratti took direct control in 1995 (only escaping relegation by one point the season prior).  Across the city Arrigo Sacchi had built AC Milan into one of the greatest club sides of all time.  Moratti’s plan was to spend money like a teenage Arab and hope for the best. 

Turns out that it ended as the only decade when Inter failed to win at least one Scudetto (in fact it took the match fixing claims then titles and points being stripped from Juventus and AC Milan before they’d claim their next one, in 2005-6).  Moratti had two moves during this time, spending big and sacking the manager.  He used both liberally.  Inter broke the world transfer record twice, paying £19.5 for Ronaldo and £31.5 for Christian Vieri.  Fair enough I suppose, although neither of them really lived up to their full potential when they were there, and they definitely didn’t as a pair.  He also made Alvero Recoba the highest paid player in the world.  Now as much of a fan of El Chino as I am there’s not an argument that can be made supporting that.  Unless it was a result of his debut as coming on with twenty minutes to go and scoring twice so that your team wins 1-2 is pretty much as good as it gets.

After that though he frustrated more often than he delivered.  Later on they signed Hakan Sukur and a teenaged Robbie Keane in the same transfer window for big money then promptly decided they didn’t really want either of them.  The piece of business that deserves to haunt Moratti until the day he leaves is swapping Clarence Seedorf for Francesco Coco.  The club then had to watch as Seedorf led AC to Serie A’s and European Cups.  Coco did not.

And it’s not like spending loads of money to build teams wasn’t working in Italy.  Inter had to watch Lazio spend big under Sven Goran Eriksen then break the Juventus-Milan 90s hegemony to win the league in 99-00 (of which more in a later article, I’ve always had a soft spot for that Lazio team).  The difference in their spending was it seemed to fit a plan.  They had Alessandro Nesta, Marcelo Salas, Roberto Mancini, Juan Sebastian Veron, Pavel Nedved, Diego Simone, Dejan Stankovic, Sinisa Mihajlovic and a pre Middlesboro Alen Boksic.  They formed a team where Inter could not.  And in the season after, when Inter came into the final day of the season in first position, needing only a win at Lazio to make sure of the title (and even the Lazio fans were supporting them, not wanting the third placed Roma to win at all costs) Inter threw away a 2-1 lead to let Juventus win it once again.

Their record in the Derby della Madonnina was almost uniformly awful, one that culminated in a 6-0 loss in 2001, a performance so bad that after the match Inter fans smashed up restaurants owned by the players.  Moratti didn’t help by not realising that sacking managers every season may have a destabilising effect on his team.  Even a Marcelo Lippi then still firmly in his imperial phase couldn’t deliver success.  And when managers were doing well Moratti sacked them anyway, pulling the trigger on fan favourite Luigi Simoni the day after he won manager of the year.  Lippi went after the first game of 2000-01 season.  All in all they had fifteen managers in ten years (including Roy Hodgson twice).

It says a lot that their recovery from this time took the hobbling of their two biggest rivals and an uncompetitive league post Calciopoli (although in fairness to Inter they had already begun to become more of a threat under Mancini and won a still record seventeen league games in a row the first season they actually ‘won’ the title).  Their current existence post Mourinho as an underperforming, disjointed squad could be as much reverting to type as their title wins were.