Sunday, 20 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 9 - Line of International Duty

So Lucas Digne is French is he?

That's Everton left back and not Spaniard, Lucas Digne. Before his appearance in the white shirt of France yesterday, playing on the Budapest pitch against Hungary in the second round of group games, I had, in my subconscious, assumed that Digne was, like Mikel Arteta when he played, one of those good Premier League players who could get nowhere near the Spain international team. But no, I've been labouring under another long-term Jorginhio-esque/Soyuncu misapprehension. The partly shaven-headed, tattoo-armed, good for a free-kick-and-cross Goodison successor to Leighton Baines is in the French squad that is hotly tipped to win this tournament.

It must have been Digne's Barcelona connections that fooled me. Or am I now getting him mixed up with Gerard Delofeu, who also played for Everton and Barcelona? Delofeu's not in the Spanish first team, but is that because he's not good enough for them or because he's not good enough for France? I mean he's got a French forename hasn't he, like Houllier and Depardieu? But then of course there's Gerard Pique, who definitely played for Spain and Barcelona. So confusing. Now I come to think of it, there are players in Arsenal's first team whose country of birth or representation I am unsure of. Thomas Partey? At least when I watch him in an international I won't be taken by surprise.

Anyway, England-Scotland, I watched it. I'd had a word with myself and have now stopped getting all grumpy about flags and excitement. Stopped telling people about my feelings. I explained myself on a family WhatsApp group last week and felt unburdened. I found myself looking forward to the match, like "everyone else", and yet after all the hype and the bantz and the record viewing figure for the year, it turned out to be Ian Buckells. A booed conclusion. Not from me, though, I enjoyed the tension, like I enjoyed Ally McCoist's co-commentary (less so, Lee Dixon's - love you, Lee), and even Sam Matterface wasn't that bad. Even better, the now traditional Lee Chapman at West Ham tribute act performed by Harry Kane on the international tournament stage meant there were no Spurs players on the pitch for the last 15 minutes. No Arsenal ones in the  England team either, though one in the Scots ranks.

England now face the Czech Republic on Tuesday, both on four points and heading for the knockout round - but through which door? Reminds me of the England-Belgium scenario in 2018, a top-the-group showdown with a twist; one of you will enter a lovely flower garden with birds singing, take a beautiful walk in the countryside with afternoon tea provided, and then live it up with a boogie and champers at the Ritz (Colombia, Sweden, Croatia) and the other will be confronted by a barbed wire fence, attack dogs and snipers (Japan, Brazil, France).

Three days before Wembley there was Munich and, during Germany v France (I didn't realise how many teams would be getting home advantage at the is tournament), I thought that Clive Tyldesley's demotion seemed to suit him. He produced an insightful, inclusive, self-indulgent-free performance alongside the ever-affable McCoist (prepared to have his playing career ripped the piss out of by people who could only have dreamed of getting anywhere near the level he reached). Maybe the pressure is off, and he is less focussed on the game going out in pubs. I did question his assertion at the end of the 1-0 win for France (a strong, flawlessly-managed effort by them which left me cold) that "there has been nothing to be terrified by". As McCoist said in response, "France have got a lot more in the tank".

What I hadn't expected them to fire out was Lucas Digne.                      

Monday, 14 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 4 - Identity crisis

Straight from the off, the delayed Euro 2020 championships (the one that in years from now will be the source of much anguish as people try to recall who hosted the event; 'well, it must have been us, mustn't it? The Final was at Wembley, yeah?... but then again, I'm sure that was also the year Welsh Clive went to Azerbaijan for a game. Or maybe that was a qualifier? Honestly, you can't even trust your own memories!') has been causing surprises. {before I go on, I feel it's right to say of course the biggest shock in these early days was the collapse of Denmark's Christian Eriksen against Finland. Thankfully he is OK now, and all of A fan of No Importance's best wishes are with him}. 

Opening night, Italy v Turkey, and it turns out Jorginho of Chelsea is Italian. Who knew? Plenty of people, obvs, but not me. I've been watching him for the last three (?) seasons believing him to be Brazilian. In truth, I'm not certain I even considered him to be from there, probably just subconsciously recalling other Brazilian players down the years with the same name. To me, he has always just been 'Jorginho of Chelsea', sprayer of passes and expert penalty taker (except when he misses, like at home to Liverpool last season - 'why the hell does he persist with that stupid, poncey, leftie, hoppy-skippy technique, eh? Asking for trouble. Don't matter it worked 20 times before, it's nah that counts. Send him back's he from, Bomber...f**king Brazil, might have known, the c**t').

No sooner had I recovered from the revelation of the J Man having a national identity, then Leicester City's Soyuncu is playing against him for Turkey, when I swear down some commentator or pundit or Talksport mouthpiece (probably Sam Matterface, the dick) mentioned that he was Greek. If this is happening to me in the first game, then I have to wonder what other episodes of incredulity are about to be thrust upon me in the nest three weeks. Aaron Ramsey referred to as the 'Juventus man' and not on Arsenal’s treatment table during his latest lengthy injury lay-off, waiting for his chance to impress Mikel Arteta? Stranger things have happened.    

I watched ten minutes or so of England-Croatia, though of course I had little chance of avoiding it even though I'd committed myself to our new huge inflatable pool in the back garden on Sunday.

"What was that noise?" Meredith asked next to me in the pool, aghast.

"I think England have just scored" I said, confident that the disappointment was disguised in my voice. No need to pass your prejudices on to your kids.

It's been three years since I came out as an English football fan who doesn't support England, but I have met new people since then that I talk regularly to, often about football, and the dilemma is always there. Meredith had a friend over on Sunday who lives just round the corner and her dad asked me that day if I'd "seen the team", before reading it out in expectation of an enthused or concerned response. At half time when he picked his daughter up, he talked of "a nice, bright twenty minutes". I didn't say anything, it didn't seem the time. I'd already 'confessed' to another neighbour a week or so ago, who'd been talking with me generally, before conversation turned turn to the inescapable international football tournament about to start.

"What are the chances England can end up with the trophy?!" he speculated, at which point I nipped any possibility of warm engagement between us in the bud, and stated my abstinence. He gave me the now customary reaction of silent absorption as he processed what exactly had just been filed into his ears. 

In 2018 I gave the impression on this blog that revealing my true self was an act of courage, or was at least my tipping point in a sea of ignorance. I truly believe that if I were to come out as gay, for instance, then the vast majority of people who know me would support me and applaud my bravery, celebrating with me my new found freedom, and yet that support is absent whenever I explain my difference regarding the national football team.

That said, thank you Guy Mowbray for saying late on in the Eng-Croa game that "no England fan will be resting easy". I salute your inclusivity. Normally an international tournament has a dizzying effect on G to the M, like a pasty ginger who has been laying out for 10 hours in 30degree sunshine protected only by a factor 4 sunscreen, but fair play to you there, pal, appreciate it.

Less appreciation from me for co-commentator - and one time League Cup Final winner, no less - Jermaine Jenas, who now sits alongside the greats of England co-voices down the years, such as Jimmy Hill, Trevor Brooking, Kevin Keegan, Big Ron and Glenn Hoddle. It's fair to say JJ doesn't seem embarrassed by this, and neither, presumably, are the BBC - especially when you consider how long they've been promoting Mrs Brown's Boys. 

What do you mean "it's a man"?                          

Friday, 4 June 2021

The AFONI's (A Fan of No Importance's) End of Season Awards

I think we can conclude that it's the end of the domestic season. It's not always easy to tell, but the Champions League Final being played is a strong clue. I've been feeling sad ever since that match, and presume this is because it's all come to an end, rather than anything specific happening in that final 90 minutes itself.

Anyway, my instincts tell me that I must make a few judgements, comments and fact-free insinuations on all (well not all, some) of what has happened on football pitches over the last eight months, and more importantly off it in batshit-crazy places like punditry areas and opinion studios. My own opinions on other people's opinions will be restricted to opinions projected on BBC output due to my continued rejection of satellite channels that explicitly sell football and ruin it (although BT Sport did show the Europa and Champions League Finals for free, so I can take down Savage and Ferdinand at least).  ITV doesn't have football anymore (they might have England games come to think of it, but that doesn't affect my participation as a viewer) although their supply of The Big Match Revisited is vast and impressive.

So here we go...

English team Manager of the Season: Brendan Rodgers     

Now before Pep Guardiola comes after me accusing me of just trying to be different, well, he can talk (no defensive midfielder in the CL Final other than your top scorer, eh?). Of course you're great PG, but it's Brendan Rodgers I'm going for here. I couldn't have imagined naming the pearly-whites smoothie in this category even just a few months ago, as frankly I didn't like him. He loved himself at Liverpool didn't he? Had an extra-marital affair with his tactics board; told the world about Arsenal's interest in him to secure a better contract at Leicester not long after being there. Bit full of himself. But I have come round to him, he'll be delighted to hear. He's coped excellently and uncomplainingly with a succession of different injuries, long and short-term, found the all-important "solutions" with the squad he has, kept City in the top four every week, often the top two, until the very last match when it was all just a step too far, Cruel that they should end up 5th, their fans mocked by Gareth Bale, a narcissist who I will never bend to, City's desperate search for a winner perfect prey for a man who preserves all of his energy for individual glory. 

But Leicester had won the FA Cup by then, a memorably uplifting early evening (groan) in front of fans, whose joint reaction with the players was a better advert for the competition than the endless justifying of it's heritage by the Beeb. Had Rodgers not done the honourable thing in dropping James Maddison and Ayoze Perez for West Ham away late in the season for attending an illegal party during Covid restrictions, City may have held on to that 4th place, but these were the actions of a man setting a great example and putting principles before himself. 

Guardiola may have remarked that Man City's title win wasn't just down to "f***ing money", but it helps doesn't it, Pep, both in normal times and in a pandemic, in fact particularly a pandemic when teams have to play every six hours.

Worst Pundit: Jermaine Jenas      

Having already slated a Spurs player above, cynics may allege that team bias has directed me to my decision above. This may well be true (it is true) but Jenas only narrowly takes this award ahead of Danny Murphy...what's that, he played for Spurs as well, did he? Oh is that why he never criticises them?  Yes, makes sense now I think about it, why else would he focus so much negativity on Arsenal winning 3-1 at Palace but not say anything about Spurs haplessly losing at home to Villa? 

Anyway, Jenas. Honestly, sometimes I agree with things that he says, but then some people agree with things Boris Johnson says. Somebody at my work once declared that Jenas "gets on my tits", because of his array of criticisms of players. "You weren't Pele", the work friend added, and that's defo true, he wasn't Pele, still isn't. He wasn't even Abedi Pele. Nowhere near The Romford Pele. Indeed, how come this unremarkable Premier League footballer gets to co-commentate on Champions League and FA Cup Finals? But it is his MOTD2 appearance talking about/crying over the North London derby at The Emirates this season that lands him this highly contested gong. Six hours elapsed between the final whistle of Arsenal's 2-1 win and the beginning of the highlights show and still he failed spectacularly to find his professional hat. Such tantrum-based indignity leave me no choice. 

He probably wasn't even the Nottingham Pele.    

Best Use of a Famous Children's Book Saying During Half-Time of a Champions League Final - Rio Ferdinand           

Having taken time away from merking the grateful BT Sport crew, Rio identified the difficulty Manchester City faced in breaking through the Chelsea 'block' and informed the viewer that "you can't go through it, you can't go round it, you have to go over it." The omitted 'Under it' may actually have been an option, like the POW footballers in Escape to Victory digging a hole beneath the playing surface and would certainly have bemused the nasty German Tommy Tuchel far more than City not picking anyone who could tackle. But canny Rio realised just in time that he wasn't reading a bedtime story to the little Ferdinand's and was actually live on air, so quickly plucked out "round" before anyone noticed. Unless this is a new variant on players naming song titles in interviews and commentators saying naughty words during matches...

Best co-commentator: Chris Waddle

Simply because he challenged Ian Dennis' astonishment at Man City going several games unbeaten by making the point that they have the most money and the best players.   

Worst Judge of the Viewer's Mood: Robbie Savage

"Go on David De Gea!" Savage implored during the marathon penalty shoot out between Manchester United's and Villareal in the Europa League Final. Rob, we've been here with Tyldesley, most English people want the other team to win, mate.       

A few words on VAR    

I've stopped moaning about VAR, not just because I hate it, but because everyone else is doing the moaning for me, like younger legs doing all my running on the pitch. I actually find it entertaining and quite relaxing to hear all the pundits and fans slaughtering it, as it means I don't have to get all worked up myself. It's here to stay, and unlike the doomed Super League, people actually wanted it, so I hope they're enjoying it.   

That's all for now, might do a Part 2 to this, but it will soon be Euro 2020 (2021) and I'll need time to iron my Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic shirts.  

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Brendan Rodgers shows Super League principles - but in a good way

It seems very rich (!) that Super League evil man Florentino Perez should question the attention span of  supporters when he himself has presided over 12 managers in his 18 combined years as the head of Real Madrid.   

Sometimes, as with Vicento Del Bosque in 1999, a Champions League isn't enough. If the league doesn't come with it, you're out on your ear, pal. So it was no surprise that the popular Super League was erected by the insatiable appetite of Perez, only to be withered away so soon by the passion-killing youths he so caringly reached out to, as they fanny-farted all over his sordid intentions, screaming their lack of consent and blowing their rape alarms.        

Why does a 74 year old billionaire care about 'saving' European football anyway? He's just bored, isn't he? Bored of all those league titles and Champions League wins. Bored of being the president of one of the most famous clubs in the world. None of it is enough. Retirement doesn't seem much cop to him either. Is he just trying to stay alive by killing the game? Or was it actually world-wide attention he was after?

Perez hasn't apologised for the grenade he threw, but then he probably doesn't think he has to, and maybe he doesn't. The owners of the six implicated Prem clubs have said sorry, or at least got their minions to do it, and though apologies were never going to have much impact there was, in contrast to the political world that Perez comes from, at least a show of contrition.

Further down the food chain, there are examples of leadership and accountability in football that embarrass, or should embarrass governments. Leicester City manager Brendan Rogers, seemingly a ready-made politician if ever there was one in the Prem, dropped three of his players for attending a house party that broke Covid restrictions. The game in question was at West Ham, enjoying their best season for 35 years and just below Leicester in the table with both battling for a top four spot and Champions League qualification (now back on the agenda). West Ham won 3-2 and City could certainly have done with the creativity and threat of James Maddison, who has scored eight goals and set up five in 26 matches this season from midfield; but as Rodgers said, "they have to be punished or they don't learn". 

Maddison, in some areas, shows an ample capacity not to learn. Sent off for diving against Brighton & Hove Albion in 2018, he publically apologised to Leicester fans, tweeting that he'd "learn from it". Fast forward four months, and Maddison falls over a non-challenge from Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who mouths "I didn't touch you, Mads" but is himself sent off. MOTD pundit Danny Murphy referred to the apparent contrition after Brighton and the pledge to learn and said "He hasn't". 

This season though, Maddison drew praise from Gary Lineker, of course, and indeed some primary school teachers for setting an example with a "virtual celebration" when scoring for City. Explaining his air high-fives, he said "It's probably what we should all be doing at the moment". And yet, in light of the party a few weeks after (and examining his other celebrations that include directly addressing tv cameras, and running imaginary lines to signpost his name on his shirt), one could easily conclude that it was actually just a bit of attention-seeking.

Rodgers could have said Maddison's partying (and hiding-when-busted) was being 'dealt with internally' blah, blah', or even kept it quiet (if that were possible) or perhaps, as some other leaders have done during lockdown, defended him for breaking clear guidance, maybe going as far to praise him; after all what self-respecting 24 year old wouldn't endanger lives by attending a party of approx 20 people. Our rules are there to be broken!         

Instead Rodgers showed true, responsible leadership, as did Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta in March, dropping captain and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for again being late to a team meeting before the North London derby. Again, that could have been kept quiet, but while Aubameyang's removal could have resulted in huge pressure and ill-will on the man in charge, there are principles being shown by those underneath the moneymen (with their 39th games and Project Big Pictures and Super Leagues) that demonstrate an integrity and humanity lacking in those who are playing an entirely different game above them.      

Thursday, 18 February 2021

The Unholy Espirito of the FA Cup

Thirty minutes or so into Wolves vs Southampton last Sunday (14.02.2021), Amazon Prime commentator Peter Drury (he's been called worse) suggested that the home side had "an hour to vindicate that prioritisation", having just gone a goal down to Southampton in the Premier League.

The prioritisation that Drury referred to was the decision of Wolves manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, to play a weakened Wolves side at the same venue against the same opposition three days before, on the grounds that it was only an FA Cup match.

An hour after Drury's countdown, Espirito Santo held his assistant in a long, warm and Covid-unaware embrace as the final whistle blew on a 2-1 win for his side, at which point the vindication was presumably reached. After all, the overhauling of Southampton's lead meant that Wolves were now ten points from safety in the comfort of 13th place in the table. Job well done, Espirito Santo Ghost might have whispered into the ear of the assistant, and perhaps also "Who wants to go to fricking Wembley anyway?"

Yet, the path of the vindication was not a straight-forward one driven only by fresh legs and minds; Wolves were, to better trained eyes and heavier wage packets than mine, on the right end of two strange penalty decisions that once again exposed the impotence (and point) of VAR and left Southampton ruing their luck - though hopefully not their principles.

Ralph Hassenhuttl's 2-0 win at Molineux on Thursday was their second win against a Prem team in the FA Cup this season and hints at a more positive approach to the competition from a manager who was  enraged at having to take part in a replay last season. Granted, no one wants to go to Tottenham if they can help it, but to show such scorn was an insult to the club's 1976 triumph when, as a Second Division team, they upset the odds, if not the country, by beating Manchester United.

Perhaps if Southampton were more wary of relegation, as was the case last season, then maybe they would be adopting the Espirito Santo philosophy too, but at some point you have to think of supporters. Fans themselves are brainwashed, talking up survival over Wembley, but is consolidation, 15th, 16th in the table worth the sacrifice? Most clubs get relegated, it's just a case of when. Wigan diced with death for about 10 years until going down in 2013 - the year they won Cup against Mansour's Man City in 2013. OK, perhaps the two developments are linked, but memories and history were made. Wigan also beat City in the FA Cup in 2018 when in League One. 

'Ah, League One, there you go, you see', Espirito Santo might wag a finger, or Burnley's Sean Dyche or Eddie Howe (former weakened side overseer at Bournemouth, now a Championship team again), "League One", mate, League One.' But, while a good cup run doesn't necessarily bring on relegation, is it that bad to drop out of the PL? My team never has, so I'm not qualified to surmise, but Southampton themselves and Sheffield United have, like Wigan, been in League One in the last ten years; Man City too, just over 20 years ago. And for all that Wolves and Burnley are keeping it real in 13th and 15th, Southampton will be playing their South Coast rivals Bournemouth (who parted company with Howe at the end of last season's relegation and may have Thierry Henry in position soon) in an FA Cup quarter final. The winner is then one game from proper-earned Wembley and, if luck favours them and they avoid Man City in the last four, have a plausible chance of reaching the Final against them. 

In all likelihood City will win the Cup, probably as part of another domestic treble, and though the current oil-engineered version  are not as vulnerable as Roberto Mancini's side in 2013, there will at least be hope and excitement for whichever underdogs plays them (hopefully not Chelsea or Manchester United). Otherwise you just have reality, and who on earth wants that?                               

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

John Fashanu's dumbing down was ahead of it's time and gave the world Mr Tumble

During his otherwise distinguished playing career, Ian Wright was often asked to explain himself to FA disciplinary committees; "Why did you stick two fingers up to those Oldham fans?; "Why did you punch that Tottenham player?; "Why did you try and break that football near the Manchester United goalie?" Blah, blah, yawny, yawn, blah!

The result of these meetings had a detrimental effect on the lifespan of Wright's Arsenal's goals record, and earned him a number of scattered winter breaks years before the English game invented them (after the rest of Europe) but life is a a bit cosier in the pundit world he now inhabits, where the less regulatory board of Gary Lineker is the only one he has to answer to. And yet, on Saturday evening (9/1/21) after Arsenal had beaten Newcastle United 2-0 in the BBC's live FA Cup 3rd Round match, 'Links' appeared to call into question Wright’s observation on the attacking instincts of Arsenal's Emile Smith-Rowe.

"Explain what you mean by “'play on the half turn'", Gary tapped back at him, presumably for the benefit of those viewers who'd never seen a game of football before but had stumbled upon this fan-free fixture and persevered with it all the way through 90 minutes of plotless ambling - and the start of The Masked Singer on the other side - then extra time, where finally they got their "rewards" by being present for a drilling down into a term of expression for attacking intent. 

Visibly taken aback by the request for justification of his words, Wright could have indeed been forgiven for assuming that a whole new audience had inexplicably tuned in, eager to add "half turn" to "fleckerl" and "soggy bottom" from other 'reality' shows. Floundering, Wrighty suffered the ignominy of having his scrambled words interrupted and clarified by Alan Shearer - a man who'd enjoyed a far jollier relationship with the FA interrogation panel, particularly if meeting just before a World Cup -  jumping in to save the day like Jake Wood (aka Max Branning) when Scott Maslen (aka Jack Branning), completely lost it in the live EastEnders.

Watching from his home not too far from North London, ex Wimbledon striker John Fashanu would have been shaking his head in dismay. If there was anyone better placed to present a pitch-based glossary of terms to an uneducated public, then John couldn't think of them. Fash has never received the recognition he thinks he deserves for his co-commentaries during USA 94, where he, voluntarily mind, took on the role of educator to the masses; back then, he'd heard that many had fallen in love with football on the back of Italia 90, and expected that another section of many would be tuning in to BBC to hear all about this curious sporting event. 

Fash never made it beyond the group stage at USA 94, but left an indelible mark on the tournament. During his predictable stationing at African nation games, he observed in one match the age old trick of a player slotting the ball through another another player's legs and was more than happy to be there to enlighten the sofa-dwelling natives.

"That's called 'a nutmeg'".   

This information was brought to the viewer in a tone later perfected by cBeebies legend Justin Fletcher, who famously attributes his career to Fash, explaining that something special lit up in him during Nigeria-Bulgaria. 

"Honestly I can't owe him enough", the alter-ego of Mr Tumble told us; "I was a young man going nowhere, slumped in front of the telly with nothing but a wacky costume, and then this guy starts was a game-changer; all I had to do was tweak the patronising element and harness it to better use. You sign!...oh sorry, force of habit!...aaaaay!"

Hearing that he was the inspiration for Fletcher's success, Fash said it was "humbling but not surprising", and though work commitments (Fletcher's) have stunted their friendship growth, it is believed that the children's entertainer is Fash's favourite ever Justin.

Years before 'Fash and Fletch' was written off as a workable idea, the former was approached by an independent company to expand on his World Cup performance by fronting a DVD charting the history of football-speak. However, talks broke down when Fash insisted on using clips of his own playing days to illustrate the action. "This is known as 'a skull-cracking, eye-socket smashing elbow to the head" was deemed a non-starter with those out-of-touch FA disciplinary stiffs.

An embittered Fash was left to ply his trade on ITV's Gladiators, where his change of tack was most evident in never telling anyone what "Awooga" meant.    

The demise of Gladiators amid the advent of the 21st century left the Fash trail to go cold, although he did get back into work for a lesser know cable channel covering the 2010 World Cup, where he exclaimed that "the keeper's had a mare there!", adding further fuel to the suggestion that he'd scaled back on his previous philosophy.

Fash wasn't asked to provide a detailed analysis of his insight to the viewers, but once upon a time would have been happy to do so.                          

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Fame! I'm going to live for not long enough, I'm going to learn how to die young!

Diego Maradona's death this year came on the same day (November 25th) as George's Best's in 2005; also on this day, amateur 'southpaw' Rocky Bilbao overcame Spider Rico in Philadelphia, 1975; and on this same day in 1974, my former Arlon Printers Sunday League strike partner Lee Eveson was born.

Three of those men earned a reputation, globally or locally, for enjoying 'interesting' nights out. The other two men are made up. Two of the non-fictional beings are popularly regarded as the greatest football player ever, while the other can factually claim to have scored the most goals in the 1998-99 Berkhamsted Sunday League Division 5 season.

Perhaps it is folly that the 38-goal Eveson has never had a book or a documentary made about him;  the close attention that both Maradona and Best received from defenders, fans and the press seemed to me, at least - and admittedly through a lager-fuelled blur of resentment - comparable to the relentless stream of women in local nightclubs staking a claim on my team mate and friend. Yet, it is only the Argentinian and the Northern Irishman who can be readily found on film or in print.

Plainly it is the visual form that brings Maradona and Best out into their greatest light. All you need to know about them as super-elite footballers can be found in their skill on screen; the talent so breathtaking it's funny as yet another hoodwinked defender is cruelly exposed; the unique brain in tandem with the quickness of feet; the acute awareness of others, and the channeling of that brilliance into a team structure; the willingness to confront ever-present brutality and face it over and over and over again. Words can be interesting to explain some of the pictures, but if you are lucky enough to be blessed with sight, seeing these greats in action is worth more than a million chapters.

Despite having indulged in the world of the footballer autobiography since before 1986, when Maradona turbo-charged Argentina to their second World Cup title, I wasn't interested in El Diego, his book that first came out in 2000. I have been a passionate fan of Maradona since '86 but knew hitherto of his penchant for hysteria and bitterness. As a 10 or 11 year old, I had even enjoyed Graham Roberts' autobiog 'Hard As Nails' (which my dad owned courtesy of his employment in the Press) but, 15 or so years later, wasn't tempted to own the publication of, in my humble opinion, the best player ever. Maybe I didn't want Maradona’s irrational spiel to tarnish the physical poetry. 

The great players don't always produce great books. Peter Shilton - whose admiration of Maradona’s on-field conduct is well documented - put one out that even I couldn't be arsed to finish (normally I take less than a week to scoff down an autobiog) and Bryan Robson's was equally heavy on match recollection and light on flawed off-pitch decisions that might have drawn the reader in in the first place.

Yet a couple of years ago I did buy Touched By God, Maradona's account of 'How We Won Mexico '86. Judging by the title, you mighty expect this book to be an uplifting read of a very special time for Argentinian citizens, but which in reality is a 300 page rant directed at FIFA, Carlos Bilardo and the Argentinian FA, interspersed with passive aggressive digs at Pele and Lionel Messi. The energy of perceived betrayal drives the book like he powered the team to history. 

Sadly, both Maradona and Best died prematurely on their respective days and years, crying foul play, unable to have hurdled all the dark challenges of fame. They will be revered forever, although the end of their stories might offer consolation to a striker born on the same day as their deaths who literally wasn't in their league.                     


Euro 2020 Day 9 - Line of International Duty

So Lucas Digne is French is he? That's Everton left back and not Spaniard, Lucas Digne. Before his appearance in the white shirt of Fran...