Wednesday, January 28, 2009

England Already Set to Lose 2018 World Cup Battle

Brian Barwick

Can England avoid another humiliation to follow the train wreck of their losing campaign for the 2006 World Cup and stage the tournament in 2018? The short answer is no. The longer answer posits that we may pull it off for 2022, but only if we make the right deals now. More on that in the conclusion. One thing is for sure, no matter who wins, it will have nothing whatsoever to do with who has the best fan support, the best stadiums or the finest facilities. All that matters is football politics and who can offer the best rewards to to the 24 man FIFA executive membership and get 13 votes.

2006 was a disaster. From the get-go, at the very first meeting, the EUFA President, Lennart Johansson, insisted England had already dealt away its chance, by swapping votes with Germany, allowing it to host Euro '96 at the expense of letting Germany stage the 2006 World Cup. The England contingent denied any such deal, which led to a very belligerent, very public row. Subsequently. England, having questioned Johansson's authority in a very public manner, were eliminated in the second round of votes. Next time, the consensus was within the England contingent, Europe will be with us. This is quite clearly delusional thinking. No one likes England, not just its neighbours in the United Kingdom, but pretty much the whole planet. The English wear lead boots when it comes to negotiations and, additionally, the worldwide success of their television rights deals has made them the object of a deep-seated ambivalence. Admiration is a close cousin to jealousy.

Well, the power of wishful positive thinking sometimes skirts the line of myopic hubris. There will be at least four European bids to consider at the next FIFA World Cup meetings. Both England and Russia will make strong independent bids. Additionally, Spain will team up with Portugal to make a powerful joint bid for the Iberian peninsula; while Holland, together with Belgium, will lobby for the Lowlands. England, Russia, Belgium and Spain all have FIFA executive members. FIFA, unlike EUFA and the IOC,. has no rules forbidding members from voting for themselves. This will only leave four extra votes to spare and England, having already placed itself in an adverserial position last time, can't really count on any help whatsoever from any country. As for the rest of the world, with the South American continent abstaining, there are already proposals entered by Qatar, Japan and Indonesia, while other entries are still expected from Canada, Mexico, China and the United States before the February deadline.

Thanks to Vladimir Putin's persuasive manner and suave sense of charm, Russia have become the favourites to stage the tournament. Everyone is still amazed that Putin and his army of American-style ex-athletes and spin-doctors managed to steer the 2014 Winter Olympics away from heavily favoured Salzburg. One might think that Russia's use of its huge natural gas resources as a blackmail tool would hinder rather than spoil its chances to receive votes from the ECC nations, but the opposite seems to hold true. Spain and Portugal, both of whom have hosted tournaments recently, are unlikely to win, but will certainly receive all three South American votes and be able to instigate something advantageous farther on.

The real problem with England's lobby concerns those who are charged to make it. As in all things British, pedigree always supersedes competence. The Chairman of the Football League, Lord MaWhinney, was, unfortunately, born without any vestige of personality beyond the ability to grunt, nod and count the number of heads populating stadiums. Unfortunately, although Sir David Richards, Chairman of the Premier League is popular throughout the footballing world and very much admired for his ability to cut fantastic television broadcasting deals despite a wobbly worldwide economy, he is persona non grata with the F.A.s bigwigs. Led by its Chief Executive, the bombastic Brian Barwick, and his stuttering, sycophantic Socialist sidekick, the Chairman, Lord Triesman, the English Football Association stumbles from failure to failure. Even the most generous pundit would agree that these two have made a repeated series of cock-ups concerning the England national team and Wembley Stadium. It took two resounding errors in the hiring of Sven Goren Eriksson and then his second assistant, Steve McLaren, not to mention the pathetic imbroglio involving the on/off hiring of the brilliant ex-World Cup winning coach, Felipe Scolari, in between, for them to embarrass the nation before the world.

The Russian/American model of using a mixture of athletes, former athletes, financial experts and scores of savvy P.R. people is what England needs. Barwick and Triesman should step aside and let the professionals take over. A brilliant meritocratic cabal of proven business people like Sir David Richards, Sir Richard Branson, David Whelan, David Dein, Peter Kenyon and Phil Gartside should take charge. Cosmopolitan professionals and ex-pros, especially those who can speak a smattering of another language or show off English ethnic diversity like Gary Lineker, Glen Hoddle, Mark Hateley, Chris Waddle, David Beckham, John Barnes, Paul Ince and Rio Ferdinand. This group would not only be a little more diverse than those involved now, but would also have a fair bit more sophistication, sass and pizazz than the usual suspects, verbally and emotionally inhibited Old Schoolers like Bobby Charlton, Bobby Robson, Bryan Robson, and the two mumblers, Alan Shearer and Trevor Brooking. Utilizing the likes of Rio and Becks is probably slightly risky if they don't learn their lines, so to speak, but both are youthful and charismatic and present something completely completely different to a world that often shudders at the discourse of old traditionalist hacks like Barwick, Charlton and Brooking.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Knock! Knock! You Can't Come Out!

Sol Campbell

There's a story to go with this post. I've read about censorship. I've been massacred and humiliated by editors over the years, for sure. Goes with the territory, right? Still, in the case of this story, I've pissed some people off by not naming names. Ahmed Shah, the owner/editor of Soccer Forum, requested I write this story in the first place and is man enough to 'fess up on Soccer Forum where it was first published.. I certainly wouldn't have written this story, otherwise, simply because it's not, in and of itself, a subject I own much interest in. Anyway, after making editing suggestions on a couple of drafts, Ahmed accepted this story.  I believe I show no vindictiveness in my text, nothing that's either libelous or malicious. Sweeping all this 'smut' under the carpet never works, anyway. I'd really like to hear from folks out there as to what they think. Thanks Ahmed! Soccer Lens is easily the best footie site, so far very much untainted by the stink of filthy lucre. Thanks people! To see the original publication and see reader replies, please go to:

One Summer night in Miami I got traumatized. I'm pretty much open to all things. Yeah, I'm fairly liberal and open-minded about all things, I like to think, unless you mess with my religion. I got my head turned forever, though. You don't know who you are until you're tested.

My wife and I were on vacation in Miami. My daughter and her boyfriend are seriously into dancing, so we all got dolled up in our good clothes and went out to Blue, a famous gay dance club, because it was Meringue night. Once we'd polished off three pitchers of Daiquiris, I no longer felt distracted by the sight of men necking and dancing. Out on the floor we all went, tripping the light fantastic to a couple of loud Nicky Pacheco bachatas. At some point, Elsie, my wife, began whispering something I couldn't quite hear clearly in my ear.

"Thazyou gwokipo," she kept saying." "Thaz you gwokipo."

"What ?" I kept saying back, the trebly bass turning every peripheral sound into a wobbly buzz.
"Say what?"

"That's that goalkeeper!" she finally managed to shout into my ear. "The goalkeeper for *^l+*%2 !"k2%$&5."

And sure enough, as I stared at the back of a shaved head and then looked down to see muscular forearms and, connected to these forearms, two hands, inside the bald guy's trousers, holding onto his buttocks for dear life, the sheer horror of it all began doing neurological pool hustler tricks inside my id. As they jerked and twisted around to the beat, I somehow sussed it before I saw his face. It really was *^l+*%2 !"k2%$&5.'s goalkeeper. This goalkeeper is someone I admire tremendously. A player who had, more or less, won everything there is to win, and, arguably, at the time, the number one goalkeeper in the whole world of football: The beautiful game!

Yet I felt woozy. Him? Gay?Wow! I had to sit down and anesthetize myself further with a couple of shots of Wild Turkey. I'm certain I stared at him for the rest of the night, but if he did notice me gaping, he sure didn't show it. Now I've mentioned religion already. Frankly, I'm not religious in a traditional sense. Organized religion does not particularly appeal. I worship at the altar of my family. Yet my only other true love is football, and I worship in a diligent, orthodox fundamentalist way. I didn't want gay footballers on my radar. I wished the issue away. The next day, according to the celebrity gossip columns in the two local newspapers, there were pictures of him night clubbing with his also-famous Canadian model 'girlfriend.' Anyway, again, I wished the issue away.

It was not a big deal in my head one way or another until his form went bad after he’d supposedly gone to war with *^l+*%2 !"k2%$&5.'s legendary coach over his 'night clubbing.' What happened to him next--once the famous coach decided he feared the power of the media and the affect of a scandal on his team’s dressing-room-unity more than losing one of the best goalkeepers in the world--was brutal. After letting him languish in the reserves and promoting a young American prospect who had been waiting patiently on the bench, *^l+*%2 !"k2%$&5 let him go on the cheap and his career seemed to spiral even further downward after he was involved in a spitting incident during a friendly in a Middle East country when he was playing for a big French club. Soon he was let go by them to an even smaller club as he became an emotional basket case, both on and off the pitch, and the subject of much malicious gossip and ridicule throughout the incestuous world of football.

Was the famous coach in the wrong? Homosexuality in the workplace is still subject to a huge amount of stigma. Certain professions like politics will turn a blind eye to such personal foibles and a handful of others wallow in them. Prejudice and discrimination, stemming from negative social attitudes toward homosexual males in particular, have historically lead to a much higher prevalence of mental health disorders among gays compared to their heterosexual peers, according to psychologist IIan Meyer. Meyer also points out that the working world has been 'loosening up' a lot over the last decade. Professional sports, however, particularly team sports, offer no refuge for anyone who chooses to be openly ‘different.’ Athletes who might otherwise be reasonably laissez-faire about other forms of hedonism involving sexuality take on a sort of Fascist mob mentality when their group is challenged from without or within ("The Sexual Health of Monorities" pp. 171-172).

Consequently, the coach then has to think of himself as both an alpha male leader and the facilitator of group harmony through his beta-male lieutenant, the team captain. The rejection of rebellious, individualistic behavior among athletes was described by the anthropologist Edward Bernays as the psychology of the subconscious and its byproduct, Convergence Theory, which holds that groups, in and of themselves, will not have a conditioned response to 'different'' individuals. (http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/ Crowd psychology).

Coaches rule in team games and they are the ones who bring in statutes and regulations to help elicit a conditioned response from the team toward players like our goalkeeper. It’s not really important who this player is. It is important, however, to understand that he very much typifies a certain kind of lifestyle that team athletes are forced to work against together, yet anonymously for the sake of emotional and financial survival. Amidst all this psycho babble, the thing that shows itself most clearly is irony. In a sport where individual flashes of brilliance transcend the ordinary, the notion of the collective soul clashes with the will for individualism that all great players own. This is the genius of the game itself, what Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson refers to as "the peaks and valleys of the team and the game when you manage to achieve perfection" ("The Treble")

Depending upon which survey you read, homosexuals number between 5% and 13% of any society. This means that there are, for example, at least 14,000,000 homosexuals in the United States. Can we then state with some certainty that at least 5% of all professional football players in the world are queer? Not necessarily, say some sports psychologists like Kenneth Bamm. Research shows that a good athlete is always a good athlete, by which I mean that in England a good footballer is, more often than not, also rather good at cricket and rugby; in India, a good cricketer tends to also make a fine player of badminton, squash and tennis; in the U.S., because professional athletes tend to be drafted out of college systems, athletes tend to really excel at American football and baseball. The incidence in Indian sports of professional players excelling in both team and individual sports seems to be an Asian anomaly. Team sports, in the West at least, it is easy to posit, because of Convergence Theory, tend to reject anyone who isn't a Team Player. Therefore, cultural forces push most gay athletes to become practitioners of sports which are more individualized like squash, tennis, diving, Greco-Roman wrestling and boxing ( Therefore, it's absolutely impossible to know how many gay footballers are out there because they are literally forced to live like terrorists in sleeper cells.

Why is this? After all, according to the most current survey of male and female sports fans carried out in 2005 by Sports Illustrated magazine, 86% of the people interviewed felt that it was okay for openly gay athletes to participate in individual and team sports, even if they were open about their sexuality. Yet 63% of the same corespondents strongly felt that it would hurt an athlete's career if they were openly gay. At the same time, over 90% of the people interviewed felt "far more accepting of lesbians in sport than gay men." (sportsillustrated.cnn. com/2005/magazine/04/12/survey.expanded/index.html). Ambiguous answers from an ambivalent public.

What are you supposed to make of it if you are a gay male? The one English footballer known to have come out of the closet, Justin Fashanu was so vilified by the cruel Brit press that he went into exile in the United States. Shortly thereafter, accused of rape by a gay teenager, Fashanu returned home to face a relentless tsunami of abuse. Nobody could possibly have been surprised when he hanged himself. And again I ask: What are you supposed to make of it if you are a gay male professional footballer?

Additionally, there is the fact of celebrity. Footballers play as a team, but the most skillful and the best looking are now celebrity superstars. To be a skillful pretty boy, like David Beckham or Theo Walcott, means you get the keys to the kingdom of celebrity. Footballers in England, Spain and Italy exist in the pantheon of the publicly beloved. They are coequal to movie stars and pop singers. Football may have once been a working class sport and is certainly still played by hungry youth whelped on council estates, but most working class people can no longer afford a seat at Old Trafford or the Emirates. and so scrimp and save to watch games on their satellite dishes. Football is just another entertainment now, up there on the glass teat for your entertainment just like WWF Wrestling, movies and soap operas. As such, footballers are now part of what is called a WAG Culture. Footballers are expected to date actresses, models and rappers, and then appear as a guest on The Ali G Show.

Chelsea's star left back Ashley Cole is a fine example of this madness. Everybody seems to waste a lot of time and energy discussing whether he's gay, bisexual or what. As of today , should you Google his name, the first citation comes up: "Ashley Cole IS in the Gay Orgy Sex Tape" blares out at you. If you own a voyeuristic nature, you can easily get connected to a tacky, grainy video that may or may not show someone who may or may not looks a lot like Ashley Cole groping and French-kissing another male in a room where a lot of people are having sex. (http// Consequently, when two lowbrow British newspapers,The Star and The News of the World reported that Cole was gay, he sued them for slander and libel, winning financial compensation and a printed apology ("Tabloid Apology Over Cole Story" BBC News. 2/hi/uk_news/5114228-stu). At the same time, standup comedians, bloggers and cable radio soccer talk show hosts here in the U.S. constantly, relentlessly harp on poor pretty Ashley's private life and the true status of his relationship with his model wife, Cheryl.

At the same time, ordinary citizens, some of whom may be gay activists trying to 'out' celebrities and others who simply wish to cause mischief constantly keep posting the video in question on the likes of You Tube, MySpace and Facebook. When they are taken down, someone else puts them back up. And at the end of the day, when the ultra-hypocritical reactionary press sticks its oar in., it's to criticize footballers for not being ‘role models ("Ashley Cole Sues Over Gay Report" The Independent:: March 3, 2006. http://

Finally, to close, let's talk about Sol Campbell. He's past his best now, but in 2001, when he left the club he had grown up with, Tottenham Hotspur, for their North West London rivals, Arsenal, Sol Campbell was easily the best Centre Back in the world. Built like a Greek statue, Campbell was fast, brilliant and ruthless. There had long been rumors that Sol was gay and he had always vehemently denied them. Spurs fans who felt understandably angry and betrayed when he left them for their local rivals began to sing songs about Sol with some of the vilest, most nasty racist lyrics I've ever heard ("Spurs in the Dock Over Abuse of SolCampbell" by Jeremy Wilson. The Daily Telegraph, Oct.4, 2008[ort/

He's big!
He's black!
He takes it up the crack.
Sol Campbell!
Sol Campbell!

Fortunately, Arsenal fans were loud, too, and the message tended to get drowned out at Highbury unless you were seated close to the Spurs' bloc. Years later, though, now that Sol plays for Portsmouth, whose fans are relatively docile and quiet, the racist homophobia is clearly there for everybody to hear. Consider this lovely little ditty, set to the melody of 'Lord of the Dance.'

Sol, Sol, wherever you may be,
You're on the verge of lunacy.
And we don't give a fuck,
if you're hanging from a tree,
You Judas cunt with HIV.

Sticks and stones, you may say. It's a free country bla! bla! bla! But consider, if you please, Sol's older brother, John. His story another young man who was taking the same class as him at the University of East London. This young man, a proud Spurs fan named Mark Goldstein, kept singing those songs, both in and out of class and asking John Campbell if he too was queer like his little brother. One day something snapped in John Campbell. He attacked Mr. Goldstein, breaking his jaw, smashing most of his teeth and kicking him unconscious. The victim was so badly injured that he had to have two metal plates inserted into his head to hold the fractured jaw together and forced to spend months drinking liquified food through a straw. The judge was not sympathetic to John Campbell. He was jailed for one year. Campbell's barrister, Patrick Moran, had this to say: "My client has brought shame on his family and most ironically to his younger brother whose reputation he fought to protect."("Sol Campbell's Brother Jailed
For Attack Over Gay Rumour" The Guardian: June 4, 2005.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Just because some Rich Arab needed to turn a randomly-picked Premier League team into a branding name doesn't mean a whole lot, if you study your history. When Kaka refused to sign with Manchester City last week, it sent an earthquake throughout the footballing world (everywhere save North America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic at any rate)! Why? Well, because Mammon is our God, dude! Could this signal the rise of altruism in football? Hmmm! Doubtful.

Not only is the effervescent Brazilian rich and subtly brilliant on the pitch, he is also a practicing 'Christian' and loyal to his club in a sweet, old-school sort of way.  All he really wants, the brilliant young master repeatedly insists, is to earn enough money to build the world's greatest church for his home city of Sao Paolo. Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, Shitty's brand-new owner, who is, I see in the Observer, the fifth richest man in the world, had offered, depending which newspaper gossip you believe, between 110M and 300M in Pounds Sterling to Kaka's club, A.C. Milan and wages of a half a million pounds per week to buy him. A.C. Milan, who are owned by the Italian Prime Minister and media baron Silvio Berlusconi, who is approximately the world's 32nd richest man, accepted this bid. No wonder, as his team is filled with aging dinosaurs like Luigi Maldini, 41, Pippo Inzhagi, 34, Genarro Gatusso, 32, Emerson, 34, Nelson Dida, 32, and many others who are long past their best. It's enough money to help completely rebuild the squad. Unfortunately, Kaka ain't no kaka to the club's fans. In fact, 250,000 fans showed up to demonstrate against the transfer outside the San Siro stadium before a game with Lecce. After the match, Kaka wept like Sophie having her son taken at Auschwitz and refused the the traditional swapping of team shirts with the opposition.

It seemed quite simple two week ago today. Manchester City--heretofore referred to as Man Shitty by the author who still despises the sky-blues with an abiding passion and still remembers them for happily representing the Proddy Dog* part of the population of Manchester, and still recalls every sectarian blow that was both gifted and received--made an offer A.C. Milan could not refuse. Then, depending on which paper you believe, Kaka turned the offer down. His refusal was either because... 1.)It rains a LOT in Manchester and Brasilenhos like the sun; 2.) Kaka adores A.C. Milan's fans back and likes the colony of other Brazilian players-Ronaldinho, Dida, Cafu, Pato and Emerson-in the squad; 3.) David Beckham, who is on loan to the club from the L.A. Galaxy, owns 100% of his own image rights. Kaka's agent likes the idea of that. Man Shitty wanted to split image rights 50/50 with Kaka and, thus, Kaka's agent, who also happens to be his father, refused to negotiate for less than 100%; or,  4) Kaka really wants to play in La Liga for Real Madrid in Spain, where the weather is pleasant and the referees are far more protective of great players. The latter is logical: If you're Kaka, you shouldn't have to put up with the kind of vicious tackling accepted in the English Premier League and Serie A in Italy. The answer is.... all of the above, although I'm a tad dubious as to whether Real would want to let Kaka control all of his image rights, either.

This circus has cemented all of Shitty's problems and shown them up in a very public way. If you've only followed E.P.L. football for a while, I doubt that Shitty are even on your radar. The glamour clubs are United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and, lately, Aston Villa. The big rivalry in the rainy north-west of England is between Manny U and Liverpool. It wasn't always that way, though. A powerhouse before World War Two, Shitty allowed their best pre-war player, Matt Busby, to leave the club and take over as manager at Manchester United, which was a predominantly Roman Catholic club.

The fortunes of the two clubs slowly changed as United's stadium, Old Trafford, rebuilt after being bombed in WW2, became far bigger than Shitty's Maine Road stadium. United's fan base, mostly Anglo-Irish Catholic was always more loyal. Busby also built a youth academy, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.  The club became rich and successful and Busby was knighted in 1969, after winning the European Cup in 1968: A first for an English club. That same year, City won their last ever Division One championship. A few minor wins occurred in the 70s, but there has been no serious success since. Indeed, when I'm home, even their most vociferous United-hating fans, like the comedian Bernard Manning and the pop star Beatle-wannabe, Liam Gallagher, refer to them--yes, their own team-- as 'Shitty.'

Throughout the years, although United have had their ups and downs--while Division One was renamed the Premier League, and Liverpool enjoyed short-lived dynasty status -- Shitty have been a wet dud of a firecracker. Let me repeat and reiterate: Not one major trophy has been won by Manchester City since 1968! But then came the tsunami. After a 40-year-revolving- door of owners, board members, coaches and disastrous purchases in the transfer market, Shitty fans woke up last December, on the morning of New Year's Eve, with their four decades of prayer finally answered. Just like in some daft Disney movie, Man Shitty had been bought by a rich Arab with much more money than sense.

Sheikh Mansour was, he announced, going to use the club as a marketing tool for his scores of investments in fast food restaurants, electronic media, household goods and clothing. A cornucopia of 'stuff' dolled up in Man Shitty sky-blue. Shitty's ship, they thought, had finally come in. To prove it, on the last night of the transfer window, Shitty stole Real Madrid's malcontent, the thumbsucking enfant terrible, Robinho, out of the grasp of the Russian oil oligarch, Roman Abramovich before he could sign him for his toy football club, Chelsea. The problem with the Sheikh's record buy, however, is that, even though Robinho really is a rather special 'flair' player capable of scoring lots of goals, he is not the type to carry a team on his back. Buying one really great player for an ordinary middle-of-the-table team has added virtually nothing at all to a group which needs not only a massive injection of quality, but also a heart transplant. 

In simple terms, Shitty win or draw most of their home games at the sterile City of Manchester stadium and tend to lose most of their away matches. In fact, statistically, they were a slightly better team last season before Robinho arrived. The boy is brilliant. A fantastic dribbler and a sometimes breathtaking improviser. Yet the English game is rough. Referees tend to only protect veteran flair players; never wet-behind-the-ears kids who suck their thumb after scoring goals. At 5' 7" and nine stone (126 ibs), Robinho needs a team to be built around  him. Hughes spent 2oM at SV Hamburg on a tough Dutch lad named Nigel De Jong, but he, too, is young, 22 and new to thePremiership. Another 16M was spent on another hard-case, the stocky, spunky journeyman, Craig Bellamy, who can theoretically play next to Robinho and protect him from the league's thug brigade. An aging veteran goalkeeper, the wily Shay Given, was purchase for 12M. All very well and good, save for the fact that Bellamy and Robinho are both too short to compete in the air with ruthless 6'2"+ centre backs like John Terry and Nemanja Vidic.  The club manager, Mark 'Sparky' Hughes had wanted to bring in his old centre-forward, the 6'4" Paraguayan Roque de Santa Cruz, but the problem which will plague Shitty forever showed up.

Roque De Santa Cruz is a passably good striker, but way past his best, having given his pomp years to Bayërn München, and been a crafty veteran for Sparky's previous club, Blackburn Rovers. He is worth perhaps 8M, but certainly not the 15M Blackburn were asking. After a couple of bids were turned down and much Hughes rhetoric about 'not being ripped off,' City finally bid 15M a week before the transfer deadline. At that point, Rovers new manager, Sam Allardyce, moaned at a press-conference that it would be impossible to replace Santa Cruz at such short notice. Consequently, Rovers decided the fee had to be 20M. Then, after much humming, hawing and brinkmanship, City came up with the money 20 minutes short of the deadline. Naturally, with City's balls to the wall, Allardyce insisted the fee was now 25M. Negotiations were still going on as the deadline closed; unfortunately, the Sheikh seems to have been otherwise occupied in the mosque. It's pretty clear that, when a player who is worth 8M miraculously transmogrifies into a brand-name-vehicle worth 25M, Shitty have problems. Whether they like it or not, the whole footballing world thinks of them as suckers: The Beverly Hillbillies of the game.

Manchester City's manager is Mark 'Sparky' Hughes. Formerly a star striker for Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern München, Sparky took a huge career risk leaving a fine coaching job at a Blackburn Rovers club he had shaped and revitalized and lead into the premiership top ten on a shoestring budget. A legend for his sense of drive and craft as a player, Hughes, in taking over at City surely realized that he has burnt his bridges, having once been part of the giant extended Manchester United family of ex-players and fans that tend to guarantee a lucrative career after retirement. City's owner at the time, Thaksin Shinawatra, a Thai wheeler-dealer who had just stepped down as President of his country, promised Sparky a limitless budget and the chance to buy the best players in the world. Unfortunately, political turmoil in his country, charges of murder and corruption and a decision by the Swiss government to freeze his money, left Shinawatra and, consequently, Manchester City F.C., high and dry. What Sheikh Mansour bought on the cheap was the second club in the third city that is absolutely football crazy. To be sure, it is an absolutely ordinary team, but the club do have a fine youth academy and its first team squad started giving early chances to young players like Michael Johnson, Stephrn Ireland, Micah Richards, Nedim Onuoha and Daniel Sturridge. A few days after Mansour's purchase, at one minute to midnight on the last night of the transfer window, the Sheikh beat out Abramovich to Robinho's signature.


Over the first twenty games of this season, City have been ordinary. Robinho has scored 11 goals, but his only consistently competent colleagues, Elano and Stephen Ireland, have had to play with a squad of burned-out veterans, lazy mercenaries and plain-old bad buys. This group was not all put together by Hughes, to be sure, but the nose Sparky showed for quality, low-cost players at Blackburn, has deserted him now that his wallet is thicker. 15M for a hapless beanpole of a Brazilian striker, Jo; 12M for the 'potentially brilliant' Vincent Kompany, who has been played out of position in the midfield; 8M for the laconic Israeli centre-back, Tal Ben-Haim, who has never recaptured the form he showed at Bolton two seasons ago; 6M each for the erratic Benjani and Felipe Calcedo, each of whom looks like they would be superstars in the Finnish Premier League. The last batch, bought to service Robinho, as I said earlier, have upped the expense ante. De Jong, a hard-tackling, post-to-post midfielder cost  20M. This move should at least free up Vincent Kompany so that he can help out the slow-witted, slow-footed Richard Dunne at Centre Back. Pablo Zabaleta might work out at right back at 7M, but someone has to slot in behind him when he executes his attacks down the right wing and 'forgets' to haul his arse back in any kind of urgent way. Wayne Bridge is certainly better at left back than the thuggish Michael Ball, but 18M is surely three times what he's actually worth at 31-years-old. Hughes' biggest gamble is the 18M spent on the irritable, albeit sometimes brillant presence of Craig Bellamy. As with Bridge, Hughes has definitely paid three times more than his actual market value. The point, I guess, is for the ebullient, ultra-physical tattooed Welsh warrior to act as a ra-ra team leader and plunge his boot up the posterior of the lackaidazical, but also brilliant Robinho. This tactic was already attemped by Real Madrid's old coach, Bernd Schuster, when he sic'd Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Raul on him to 'toughen him up!' It didn't work. Robinho went on  boozy walkabout, screamed to get out. Thus Real sold Robinho to City, where he carries on in the same manic-depressive fashion, and fired Schuster.

As I write, Robinho has just returned to the club from his home in Brazil, and will receive a fine of app. 300, o00 for leaving the club's training cap in Tenerife without seeking the club's permission,. He has also been questioned by police about a possible nightclub rape. Having turned down a move to second-place Chelsea, where he would have had the chance of a fine run in the European Champions Cup and only slightly less money, Robinho already wants out. Sparky may get along well with the volatile Craig Bellamy, but he's had no luck with the Brazilian lads. Jo, Elano and Robinho. If he can't kiss and make up with Robinho, who wants more of his Brazilian compatriots on the City squad, not less. I expect he will be gone by June.

My stern old Grandmother brought me up well and was never shy about her use of clichés. Be careful what you wish for... was one of her favourites.  There's supposed to be a fairy tale at the end of a sad historical story. Ideally, in this one, a fine Arab prince would ride in on his steed and rescue Manchester Shitty's  army of defeated, humiliated fans from being the butt of a million bad jokes and the sarcastic nods and winks of their rival fans at Manchester United and Liverpool. Improvement may soon be gradually forthcoming, but the winning of any kind of championship is more than a few seasons away. Messrs. Robinho and Hughes will surely both be long gone and our old object of desire, Mr. Kaka, will surely have won three or four more championship medals for A.C. Milan and built the world's biggest church back in Sao Paolo.

*Proddy Dog aka Protestant