Monday, March 30, 2009

Sir Alex Ferguson's Possible Successors

Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson reversed his decision to retire at the age of 60, there has been a relentless tide of speculation as to exactly when the Manchester United manager will decide to call it a day. Numbers-wise, Ferguson has been incredibly successful since taking over the Red Devils in November 1986. There are those who believe Jock Stein, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly, or Ferguson’s mighty predecessor, Sir Matt Busby were better coaches, but the statistics say otherwise. Ferguson's shoes are big ones to fill. And we would all profit by remembering that there were four managers who failed miserably to succeed the club's beloved Sir Matt Busby before the board got it right and hired the Gaffer.

Now there is feverish gossip concerning who is likely to succeed the Scotsman. After taking three Scottish Premier League Championships and a European Cup Winners Cup for Aberdeen, Ferguson carried on the magic in England. Having won 10 Premier League Championships, 5 F.A. Cups, 3 League cups, 2 European Champions Cups, 2 FIFA World Club Cups and a European Cup Winners Cup, there are, literally, no worlds left for the man to conquer. Well... no! Actually there is one. Historically speaking, Liverpool have won eighteen championships and cups. United, having won only seventeen, are neck- and-neck with the Scousers for their equalizing eighteenth or Liverpool’s nineteenth. Consequently, it has been the opinion of many pundits of the game that Ferguson will, if he wins the premiership this season, choose to continue at Old Trafford only until the end of next season,. And, yesterday, this point of view was given a new impetus by the Gaffer's son, Darren. The Peterborough manager is of the opinion that his father wants to take United to two more league titles, surpassing Liverpool. Once that is completed, Darren explained, the United manager will likely stand down.

"His health is fine and he's building a new team," Darren said. "If they win [the Premier League] this year then they catch Liverpool in terms of titles won. I can see him doing this year and next – and then that might be it for him."

So, the next question is: What does Gilly think? David Gill, United’s chief executive, has, no doubt, got some ideas of his own. Indeed, it will be his job to advise the Glazer family, alongside Ferguson himself, on who to chose as successor. The bottom line, of course, will be what Joel Glazer has to say. Thus far,Glazer has interfered in very little club business--’If it ain’t broke,don’t fix it!’ is an American maxim. I’m certain he’ll listen carefully to what Gilly and the Gaffer have to say.

Here are the 15 very good candidates. I placed them in the order I think is appropriate. Please tell me what you think:

1. Marcello Lippi: Age: 60
Lippi has both the ability, enthusiasm and experience required to take over United. Currently manager of the Italian national side, he has won the ECC with Juventus and revolutionized the formerly stodgy Inter Milan. Having won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, Lippi has pretty awesome club credentials at both domestic, European and international levels. He is also, I’m told, great friends with Ferguson. His difficulty with the English language at press conferences, means that many Brit journos have written him off, but I’m not so sure. I don’t think the Gaffer’s Italian is too swift, either. So how do they communicate? I believe that Fabio Capello’s massive success thus far with England shows that an Italian coach can adjust to English sensibilities, and that, Lippi, just like Capello, is a very, very intelligent man.. Finally, if Lippi is hired at the advanced age of 60, it would give ample time for someone at the club already, say Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Gary Neville, to learn the ropes under him.

2. Carlos Queiroz: Age: 56
Ferguson has often endorsed his former assistant's credentials for the role, and the five years years he spent at the club will surely mean a lot. Indeed, he may be the only assistant who has ever walked away from a senior coaching to manage elsewhere and then been allowed to return home. A golden career as a youth coach saw him bring home 3 FIFA World Youth Championships to Portugal. Unfortunately, his record managing at the senior level for Sporting Lisbon and Japan's Nagoya Grampus was not quite so successful. His ten months in charge at Real Madrid, twice as manager of Portugal’s national team and with South Africa’s national team have shown that, despite his innate tactical genius and an eagle eye for spotting young talent, Queiroz is a repeated failure as a man-manager of adults. If he were willing to become a kind of amalgamation, acting as both a General Manager and assistant to a dynamic young boss like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Gary Neville, I think United would do well out of it. At the same time, I believe he will insist on being in charge, which I can’t see Fergie, Gill or Joel Glazer would let happen.

3. David Moyes: Age: 45
Everton’s crafty young manager is seen as the most suitable eligible British outsider candidate for his fellow Scot's job. With very limited resources, Davie Moyes gets his players to perform way beyond the best of their abilities, much as Ferguson once did with Aberdeen. Moyes has also shown a lot of moxy in the transfer market by signing the likes of Mikel Arteta, and Timmy Cahill. Clearly, the dour Scot deserves a lot of respect. Everton have repeatedly been on the cusp of the top four. Despite having fallen out with Wayne Rooney, Moyes has shown a clear ability to nurture young talent. At 45, Moyes has definitely gone as far as he can with Everton,. Having done a lot of business with United, bringing in Phil Neville and Louis Saha at fire-sale bargain prices, Moyes obviously has a good relationship with Ferguson already! Would he get along with Wazza? A better question might be: Would Wayne Rooney get along with him?

4. Jose Mourinho: Age: 46
I put the big-headed little Portuguese at #4 because of his record of success. Everybody knows he wants the job because he never stops canvassing for it. Mourinho proved himself by winning the Champions League with Porto and then with two premiership championships at Chelsea in England. Mourinho is also an inspirational man-manager. He's a psyche master who knows how to deal with the big names on United's massive squad. Ferguson and Mourinho may like each other, but the main problem may lie in tactics. Mourinho's cynical, tactical approach will never connect with United’s traditional commitment to entertainment for the crowd. Whether Mourinho would agree to have his team play attacking football is a huge question.

5. Martin O'Neill: Age 57
The Aston Villa manager was has been considered the heir apparent by many. A fine midfielder for Brian Clough's European Cup winning Nottingham Forest in both 1979 and 1980, the soft-spoken O'Neill seems to have learned a lot from 'Ol Big 'Ead', albeit in a far lower-key way. O’Neill worked his way up through the ranks as a manager  at Wycombe Wanderers and Leicester City, and won championships repeatedly in Scottish football with Glasgow Celtic. A genuinely nice educated, sensitive man, O’Neill owns Ferguson’s knack for distilling the maximum from his players. He also owns a great eye for talent if his bargain purchases of Ashley Young, Curtis Davies and Martin Petrov are anything to go by. He is definitely ambitious enough. Blessed with a rich patient owner at Aston Villa, however, O’Neill might be reticent to leave a perfect coaching situation where he has absolute power for one where the pressure for instantaneous success would be enormous.

6. Fabio Capello: Age: 62
Capello's current contract as England manager runs for another two-and-a-half years. It would expire at exactly the right time, if Darren Ferguson is right. The Italian has managed at AC Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid, winning the Champions League and every domestic honour five times with three different clubs in Italy. He is, in deed, the only living coach whose record rivals that of SAF! However. the Football Association would be loath to let him go. Still, United have deep pockets and their paying more than his current salary of £6m per annum is in no way out of the question. Older than Lippi, at 62, one would have to question how long he would want to stay in charge if he accepted the job. Capello has been a success simply everywhere he has coached. It might be a very tempting proposition for United’s bigwigs to go get the old geezer.

7. Carlo Ancelotti: Age: 49
Very very laid-back, thoughtful, resourceful and quiet, Ancelotti has won the Champions League twice with A.C. Milan, in 2003 and 2007, and Serie A in 2004. He is very loyal to the club’s wealthy capricious owner, Silvio Berlusconi, and savagely protective of his ever aging squad. Chelsea couldn’t lure him to Stamford Bridge last year, but, as Berlusconi wants to clean house, and sell many members of Milan’s aging squad, he may also decide to remove Ancelotti simply with a view toward a total cleaning of house. As with O’Neill, Ancelotti’s weakness may be his reluctance when it comes to confronting negative influences in the dressing room.

8. Steve Bruce: Age: 48
Bruce is the manager of the likely lads at Wigan Athletic. He heads a fantastic scouting networks that finds cheap players in Africa as well as South and Central America. Having brought in Maynor Figuroa and Wilson Palacios from the Honduras, Luis Valencia from Ecuador and the high-scoring Amir Zaki from Egypt, Bruce has repeatedly proven that he has a brilliant eye. Atypically, he brought Palacios in for less than £200,00 and sold him to Spurs for £15M, which is brilliant business acumen. Highly regarded at Old Trafford from his years at the club as a player and captain, he deserves consideration for steering his charges away from the relegation zone and turning them into a consistent contender. The question as to whether his dues-paying time with Birmingham City and Wigan has been enough preparation him for the big time looms large.

9. Mark Hughes: Age: 45
Hughes did well internationally with Wales and domestically with Blackburn Rovers. Indeed, he was on the cusp of taking over at Chelsea when Mourinho was fired, but the owner Roman Abramowicz interfered just before Peter Kenyon was about to announce his signing and hired Avram Grant instead. A former United striker, he is another one known to be shrewd in the transfer window. His time at Manchester City has been difficult. His having had to deal with the vast egos of the immature but brilliant likes of Elano, Robinho, Ireland and Richards and failed in each case can not bode well if he is expected to take charge of the volatile likes of Wazza Rooney, Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo. Worse, he crossed the city divide from the red part of town to the ugly sky-blue of our oldest enemies, Man Shitty. This is unforgivable. He is very clearly a mercenary with no sense of loyalty to his old club whatsoever! I wouldn’t give him a job as a boot boy. Maybe as a fluffer!

10. Laurent Blanc: Age: 43
A fine professional for Girondins Bordeaux, Inter-Milan and Manchester United, Blanc was definitely the ruthless defensive heart of France's World Cup winning team in 1998 and European Nations Cup winners in 2000. Now in his second season as coach at Bordeaux, Blanc has inspired his low budget club into a season-long neck -and-neck race with the rich, sassy eight-time French champion, Olympique Lyonnais. He has also done a fantastic job of resuscitating the stalled careers of ex-United wingerDavid Bellion and Yoan Gourcuff, so that they're both being chased by bigger clubs again. Blanc has a very good relationship with the Gaffer. He could be a very good surprise outsider candidate.

11. Gary Neville: Age: 34
Still a part of the United squad, Gary Neville seems to spend most of his time injured and studying for his coaching badges these days. Very much attached to the club, the city and his working class roots and once team captain, Neville's has always bled bright red. Gaz is passionate, but a lot more calm and less abrasive than Roy Keane. Part of the greatest generation of young English players to rise from the academy since the days of the Busby Babes, Neville has won everything a player can win at a club level. Next to a veteran coach like Carlos Queiroz or Mike Duxbury, Neville might prove to be the surprise players' choice ahead of Keano or Solskjaer.

12. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: 36
Beloved of United fans, the baby-faced Norwegian bandit, a brilliant ex-striker, is now coach of the club's youth academy and the reserves, along with Paul McGuinness, Ole still looks exactly like he did when he arrived at the club fifteen years ago. Calm, perhaps too calm, though Ole is, he enjoys a good relationship with United's other youth academy director, René Muelersteen and the Gaffer. Solskjaer seems to fit the shoes and profile of United's old academy director and assistant, Brian Kidd. Would the Glazers allow Solskjaer and Malmunsteen, or Solskjaer and Queiroz to take over the club? Doubtful, to be sure, but he may yet prove to be the very best bet in the long run.

13. Mike Duxbury: Age 48
As a player, Duxbury was a John O'Shea-type of jack-of-all-trades substitute for United during Ferguson's early days at the club. Duxbury has proven himself to be a very astute defencive coach for United's first-team defence this season. Ferguson surprised a lot of the so-called pundits and 'experts' when he was hired from within to take over from Carlos Queiroz. Clubs like Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers have already put out feelers about Duxbury becoming their manager next season. Very very close to Ferguson, Duxbury could end up co-coaching with Neville or Solskjaer.

14. Didier Deschamps: Age: 40
The captain of France's European Nations Cup and World Cup-winning teams in 1998 and 2000, Didi D always played and still coaches like the little engine that could. Having taken A.S. Monaco to the European Champions Cup final in 2006, he then took over a scandal-plagued Juventus and led his old club back to the promised land of Serie A. Very much like Keane in his on-field temperament, Deschamps seems to enjoy a fine nurturing relationship with his players but have a difficult time dealing with any club's senior executives. One doubts that he would get along with the Glazer family.

15. Roy Keane: Age 37
Once described by Ferguson as his chosen successor, United's old captain is still AWOL from the current leaderless team as a player. Although he would demand and receive serious respect in the Manchester United dressing room asa manager–the apt question would be: For how long? Keane did a fantastic job of bringing Sunderland up from the bottom of the Championship Division to the Premier League in a single season. Unfortunately, things did not work out in the P.L. Lacking experience, he seems to have relied on only the goon tactics rarely perpetrated by his mentors, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, but without the accompaniment of nurturing and respectfulness the two geniuses used to temper their abrasiveness with. Stories persist that certain players would regularly break into his locker and shit into his shoes. Indeed, the day after Niall Quinn showed him the door, the Sunderland players held a post-training party to celebrate his departure. His viciously acrimonious arguments with Ferguson prior to his departure to Celtic surely still rankle the old man. Still, if his coaching job at Benfica works out, we might still one day see the passionate one take over in the long run.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Doing The Credit Card Fees Limit Dirty Boogie

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, which is at last considering an intervention on behalf of debt-hobbled consumers, finally put in play a debate on a measure that would wipe out credit card debt for people in bankruptcy. Yesterday’s opening rhetoric was mostly concerned with the fact that, as the law currently stands, those who  file for chapters 7 or 13 bankruptcy are committed to not only pay off credit card balances in full, but to also be responsible for every penny of secured debt, such as automobile and house loans. This new measure is meant to punish credit card companies who have raised their interest rates to a usuriously high level and offer help for consumers, many of whom are flirting with bankruptcy, so that they may own more leverage when attempting to negotiate better deals with lenders.

This bill, introduced in January by the Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and the ever-slick Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is seen as gratuitous by certain hard-core, born-again fiscally responsible Republicans. After all, say the likes of Florida’s Mitch McConnell, new regulations issued by the Federal Reserve targeting predatory lending practices are scheduled to go into effect next year. Pretty tough meat for your constituents to marinate, Mitch! A lot of people will go bankrupt between now and next January, however, so to most consumers, the bill is needed urgently now!

"The standard credit card agreement gives the lender the power to bleed their customer through evolving, ever more crafty tricks and traps," Whitehouse told  the hearing. "Under this business model, the lender focuses on squeezing out as much revenue as possible in penalty rates and fees, pushing the customer closer and closer to the edge of bankruptcy."
Consequently, the bill would apply to companies that raise rates to a higher level than 15 percent, plus the current yield on the 30-year Treasury bond. Currently this rate sits at 18.5 percent.

A good example of this would be my business associate, Aaron Phipps of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a technical writer. When most of his clientele recently dried up due to a massive corporate layoff, Phipps was forced to pay slightly less than the required minimum on his balance for the first time ever. The thirteen years Phipps has been an on-time payer means nothing to Bank of America, Mr. Phipps believes. Bank of America have increased his rate to 29 percent from 13 percent. Phipps’ interest payments skyrocketed from $350 to $790 a month.

As I write, talking to the bank is no help for consumers. There is no chance of rolling back the rates, Phipps was cheerily informed in a conversation with customer service, although they happily offered him loans and substantially more credit, which, of course, would only have served to push him into even deeper debt.

“Lookit!” he said to me, “I know that I’m like a lot of people who’ve gone way beyond their budget. There’s not a lot of sympathy for you when you don’t make your agreed-upon payments on time. I used to be one of those people. I don't believe in government handouts. But the fact is... you know, really, they moved the goal post. It ain’t right!”

Well, no, it isn’t right! Something smells, Mr. Obama! I don’t care if it’s the fault of your predecessor. I don’t care if it’s Andrea Mitchell’s fault because she wouldn’t give her ugly husband any. I don’t care if it’s AIG or the IMF, Bernie Madoff or an insidious plot hatched by Putin and the Chinese: Something still smells!!!

How is it that Bank of America can kneel before you, asking cheerily for your monetary help, and you and yours just as happily give it to them? You offer up rhetoric about personal responsibility and our good angels, yet when consumers go to these institutions looking for the same kind of help and understanding, there is no compassion. There is simply nada for consumers: Nothing!

The American Bankers Association fanatically opposes the measure. Should this “dangerous bill pass, " Kenneth J. Clayton the, senior vice president and general counsel of the ABA's Card Policy Council Market responded in a letter to the subcommittee, “It would simply serve to restrict credit, raise interest rates and fees or both. This would significantly hurt tens of millions of Americans at the very time they can least afford it."

Another expert, David C. John, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, agreed. "Lenders will raise credit standards so that fewer and fewer people will qualify for those credit products," he told the panel. And in a strange caveat, Mr. John pointed out that such dodgy ex-bank clientele will then be forced to do business with "disreputable lenders who will charge even higher interest rates." A very strange bit of grandstanding there, especially as Mr. John seems to be shilling for a lobby of loan shark shylocks with such scare-tactic comments.

Grandstanding for the Outfit issues aside, consumer bankruptcies rose nearly 33 percent in 2008, more than 1 million filings, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. Such filings are up a shocking 29 percent this February, compared with the same period a year ago. The aforementioned regulations issued by the Fed, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the National Credit Union Administration, will, come December, ban any unfair and deceptive practices. These rules will ultimately prevent banks from raising rates on existing balances unless a payment is more than 30 days late, charging late fees without giving a borrower a reasonable amount of time to pay, and applying payments so that debts with higher interest rates are repaid last.

In the mean time, between now and December, possibly tens of thousands of American consumers will file for bankruptcy, while the banks and their allies in the Hard Right will have won their pyrrhic little victory!

Monday, March 23, 2009


We All Need Some McLovin’!
Ivorismo Rating: ****

Superbad is fantastic. Sure, it’s raunchy. Sure, there’s a lot of discussion about sexual organs. And, sure, my wife and I got into it vis-à-vis the appropriateness of letting our eleven-year-old watch it with us. The thing of it is, it’s got that collective autobiographical thing going. It’s not just the lives of co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who named the two leads after themselves, but me forty-odd years ago and definitely millions of other once-and-future teenagers. Yeah, it fucking is fucking raunchy but in a fluent, fucking genuinely erudite fucking way. Really, it isn't the dirty words, not like some kind of American Pie-ish piece of crap; but, instead, there’s the poetry, flow and rhythm, and the deep, sad keening and braying of bright flaming youth.

The plot involves best friends Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), until then inseparable, soon to separate and attend different colleges. Three weeks till high school ends and they compete desperately, achingly desperately, agonizingly desperately, in a competition to lose their virginity before the looming 21 days run out. I’m glad to know that the aforesaid deprivation is still commonplace for the nerds and so-called losers. I usually feel alienated in these kinds of films because--guilty!--I was one of the jocks who did manage to get laid, although quality was never commensurate to quantity and most of my friends got none at all.

Anyway, Seth is the pudgy, kinky-haired, overtly Jewish one, while Evan is slight and thin with the sad eyes of a Holiday Inn clown painting. They also keep around a kind of jester sidekick, Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who is so unhip and goofy that he’s too unpopular even for them to stomach. They are in deep lust with every girl in the school, but become mute whenever any mode of extemporaneous conversation with any member of the opposite sex is required. This utter lack of ability to communicate with other humans from outside their existential bubble clashes with a commensurate encyclopedic knowledge of porn web sites dedicated to every female body part and a perplexing parallel ability to sum up an uncanny intuitive ability to describe scores of sexual fetishes. Porn: it's a hobby, like collecting sports statistics.

Amazingly, the three are invited to a party on the last 21st night by the poised, sassy popular Jules (Emma Stone), who takes her cruel time to explain that there is a price for admission. No! It’s not a B.Y.O.B. party, but B.Y.O.A.E.E. (bring your own and everybody else's).Their under aged holy grail quest to buy booze becomes the axis of the action as Fogell miraculously produces the dumbest, lame-brained ID card which claims he is "McLovin." After a series of adventures too complex and genuinely hilarious for me to get into here without ruining things, the boys discover that being the guys with access to booze is a powerful aphrodisiac. Jules is very happy to see the three friends and their brown paper bags. Evan is shocked to find that booze even gets his untouchable crush Becca (Martha MacIssac) to happily open her legs and go all the way.
Amidst all this goofiness, two cops (Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader and co-author Seth Rogen) get involved with, first, McLovin and, later, the two boys, as they drive round the city getting stoned and becoming less and less compis mentis as the night goes by. In the end, to meet the hotties, Jules and Becca, the two stoned cops decide to bust the party.

If this film sounds like a kind of more classy, more sassy update on National Lampoon's Animal House, well, that's okay. Hidden within the relentless raunchiness, however, there is the nut of a deep, dark truth. The message is unequivocal and clear. Underage drinking is bad. The filmmakers pull no punches. Kids know nothing real about sex, just like every generation before them, only different. These kids are experts on porn in its every form. Of course, this is not a subject you can be tasteful and sophisticated about. In this generation, everybody may be very well informed about sex, but rarely are they actually having it. It's like a bunch of drunken construction workers discussing middle east peace. Indeed, the kind of agony these kids go through is exhausting and agonizing. Still, the kind of adolescent sexual yearning we get here is cartoony and unrealistic. Yet, it's all okay because Superbad is hilarious. lndeed, the kind of agony the kids go through is exhausting and agonizing.

Audiences these days tend to either talk back to the movie, sit rapt, or a mixture of both. There were lots of laughs, but, surprisingly, there were also many collective gasps from the gut. Genuine moments of surprise. Greg Mottola has directed an R-rated masterpiece. If you would like to find a way to discuss drinking, drugging and sex with your kids, this movie is an awesome, ready-to-wear means of getting down to the nitty-gritty. If not, see it without them and just have a laugh.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who Should Manchester United Buy This Summer?

Expectations are still running high as I write. Having just beaten Spurs on penalties to win the League Cup, Manchester United own a four point lead atop the Premiership with a game in hand, are into the semi-finals of the F.A. Cup, and have just won a second leg at home to the Italian powerhouse Internatzionale Milano in the European Champions Cup round of sixteen. Already winners of the World Club Cup, United have a chance to win five trophies: aka ‘The Quintuplet.’ Thus, the fanatically vicious British press, with its unconditional love for successful London teams--which these days means Arsenal and Chelsea--is collectively sharpening its macheté, waiting, hoping and praying for the red devils to fail. This weekend's 4-1 loss at home to our arch-rivals Liverpool got the journos delirious with joy, but will, hopefully, be the collective bite of reality the team needs to keep it from going into the climax of the season in a state of complacency.

Failure, of course, is a relative concept. With ten games left to play in Premier League competition, the only minor stutter I can see happening is a loss or draw at home to Arsenal. Liverpool have beaten us home and away this season, but I'm confident we'll prevail in any upcoming competition. I can only see one team, Barcelona, being able to beat United. With their fixtures all jammed together during the last three weeks of the season, however, the club will touch wood and hope that there are relatively few injuries. I would be delirious just to clinch our third Premiership championship in a row. Repeating as European Champions Cup winners will not be easy. Winning a twelfth F.A. Cup would be nice, but is not even slightly imperative.

Rumours are always buzzing around United. The most serious one involves Cristiano Ronado and Real Madrid and has been going on for almost four years. United partisans point the finger at Real, the obese, greedy Billy Bunter of football, but it takes two to tango and three to make a bargain! Ronaldo and his agent seem to be constantly stirring the pot up, causing friction between both clubs. United have repeatedly rejected the chance to sell the tricky winger for around 75M pounds. The bad thing about this situation is that this season, and lately in particular, Ronaldo pouts a lot and plays like someone whose head is elsewhere. One thing is for sure, the rest of the team have performed well, whether the diva-like, moody Cristiano has made an effort, or not. If Real Madrid increase their bid to 100M, or throw in Sergio Ramos and/or Wesley Sneijder plus, say, 60M in cash, I would say that United would be making a good deal.

I'm going to go through the squad by position and see where help and changes might well be necessary. The old cliché, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, holds true; but, these days, the challenge for a man like Alex Ferguson, 67-years-young, after 22 seasons at Old Trafford, is to keep winning and leave a good squad for his chosen successor. Whether fans like it, or not, the Gaffer will tinker with the squad.

Goalkeepers: Edwin Van Der Sar, Thomas Kucszak, Ben Foster.
There's no rush to find a replacement here. Van Der Sar has signed for one last season and Foster just played an absolute blinder in the League Cup Final. Two out of three is good. Kucszak is big, but has many weaknesses including difficulties dealing with corners and taking charge of his area. I would happily sell him to a club who could use him like Zenith St. Petersburg, Tottenham Hotspur or Newcastle United. If the price is right, United should replace him with Sergio Asenjo from Real Vallodidad or Guillermo Ochoa of Club America.

Right Back: Rafael DaSilva, Wes Brown, Gary Neville, John O'Shea.
We're all set here. Rafa has been sensational in his rookie year. Wes Brown, when he's not injured, gives very good coverage at RB or CB. Gaz Neville, being the natural nurturer, will be an excellent coach for the other two.

Centre Back: Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Wes Brown, John O'Shea.
United have an embarrassment of riches at C.B. Jonny Evans has proven himself to be a fine replacement for the two oft-injured hard men, Rio and Nemanja. The newspaper rumor mills have A.C. Milan buying Vidic for 20M in the summer. This would be crazy. Vidic is absolutely the best centre back in the world at the moment. No other defender even comes close. He was favourite with the bookies for both English and European Footballer of the Year awards until Fernando Torres gave him fits this weekend. If A.C.Milan or Inter really want to bring some youth to their geriatric defense, they need to offer the club at least 50M!!! I still wouldn't sell him.

Left Back: Patrice Evra, Fabio DaSilva, John O'Shea.
Did I say an 'embarrassment of riches?' Well, Evra and DaSilva are so good; I have to say it twice. Evra is the best left back in the world, but Rafa's twin, Sergio, may well make Pat feel his hot breath on his neck. Sensational Sergio: Last week the kid hit a hat-trick playing left back for the reserves.

Right Wing: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lee Martin, Park Ji-Sung.
Well, will he or won't he? As I've said: I believe that Cristiano, after a disappointing season, has reached his optimum sell-by date. Sell him for 100m! Or, 60M and Sergio Ramos and Wesley Sneijder.* Parky is a great water-carrier, an energy machine. Lee Martin hasn't played much, and despite his having lots of potential, I expect him to be sold. Look for the club to buy at least one winger.

Midfield: Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Darron Gibson, Jonathan Possebon.
There is no other club in Europe with so many talented midfielders. Scholes will be good for one last season and Giggs possibly two now that he's been moved inside from the left wing. The main chink in United's armour, however, shows itself when Anderson and Fletcher are hurt. Both have been converted from attacking midfielders to defenders, yet neither one is defense-oriented. A hard-core, rugged defensive midfielder is a genuine need.* Should Ramos come as part of a Ronaldo deal, the problem will be solved because he can play as a fullback, centre back or post-to-post midfielder. Alternatives in the rumour mix are Javier Martínez of Atletico Bilbao or Axel Witsel of Standard Liége. Don't forget that 17-year-old, baby-faced Adam Ljajic, the so-called 'Baby Ronaldinho,' bought from Partizan Belgade, will arrive in January 2010. The injury-prone Owen Hargreaves has had both wonky knees operated on. So much for what the Gaffer insisted was 'tendonitis.' We look forward to his successful return(touch wood!)

Left Wing: Nani, Park ji-Sung, Zoran Tosic, Ryan Giggs.
Two things are certain. Ryan Giggs can no longer play a whole match on the wing. Nani has scored a few brilliant goals and made a few nice crosses. The problem is his maddening inconsistency. Too many aimless dribbles. Too many bad passes. Worse, he is very easily wound up by the opposition and seems to pick up quite pointless yellow cards, again and again.

Strikers: Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Alberto Manucho, Dmitar Berbatov, Frazier Campbell.
Again, here we have an embarrassment of riches. Manucho and Campbell are both out on loan, although neither seems to be setting the division on fire at Stoke City or Spurs. Welbeck is very poised, but skinny and easily jostled off the ball by determined defenders. Carlos Tevez is a delight. A real grafter! The last player I want to leave. There are, however, too many complications and difficulties involving finances and club rights when it comes to dealing with Carlitos' owner/agent, Kia Joorabchian. Come Summer, although I say my prayers every night before I go to bed, I'm certain he will be gone. This leaves Wazza Rooney and the iconic, albeit brilliant Dimitar Berbatov to handle all the pressure. New names in the mix are Ezequiel Lavezzi, Karim Benzema, David Villa, Takayuki Morimoto and Mario Gomez.

Here's a list of names in the rumor mill with a short analysis of their skills, attributes and negatives. Get back to me about what you think :

Sergio Asenjo: 6'2", Age: 22, Club: Real Vallodidad.
Asenjo had his best game ever against Real Madrid on November 3. He made 47 saves as Vallodidad held on to a 0-1 lead at the Bernabeu. He has kept goals for Spain in the Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 teams. Tall and powerful in the air, always aggressively in charge of his area, and able to make long kicks, Asenjo will soon be challenging Liverpool's Pepe Reina for the #2 job in the national team. Barcelona have dithered about paying 6M for him. At that price he would be a bargain for United.
Ivor rating *****

Guillermo Ochoa: 6'0", Age: 23. Club: Club America.
I watch nearly as much Mexican football as I do Premiership matches. The general quality of the players is not great. As such, Ochoa is absolutely an athletic, cat-like standout. He is brave and aggressive with very safe hands. He has looked very good in internationals also. Of course, it is impossible to know how good Ochoa is until he plays in Europe. Unfortunately, his team are asking for around 10M for him, which is a little too expensive.
Ivor rating ***

Diego Lopez: 6'5", Age: 27, Club: Villareal.
Lopez was Iker Casillas' understudy at Real Madrid, through the academy and then for seven years in the first team. Gossip says that the Gaffer is absolutely besotted with the 6'5" Lopez. Perhaps he's reminded of Peter Schmeichel, but if you watch enough Spanish football you'll know that he tends to be very erratic, letting himself get pulled out of position and is none too communicative with his defense. To be fair, I've also seen him be untouchable on good days, but he's just not consistent enough and hard-bargaining Villareal will want 10 to 12M for him.
Ivor rating **

Defensive Midfielders:
Miguel Veloso: 6'2", Age 22, Club: Sporting Lisbon
Veloso is the real deal. Tall and quick. Tough tackling. A superb passer of the ball. He has all the tools to be United's supreme midfield commander and follow in the footsteps of Roy Keane and Bryan Robson. The downside is that the boy likes his food and doesn't enjoy training. The rumour is that he did not get along with the then Portugal national coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, over the training issue. Sporting are asking for a whopping 21M, or else Arsene Wenger would have snapped him up already.
Ivor rating ***

Javier Martínez: 6'5", Age: 22, Club: Atletico Bilbao
I don't usually gush over really tall players, but Martínez is an extraordinary tackler with a fine sense of balance. A fantastic, energetic post-to-post player, masterful at the long pass, equally at home attacking or defending, I believe he's going to be a star for whoever picks him up and, as his buyout clause is set at 6M, think he'd be a great buy for United.
Ivor rating *****

Axel Witsel: 6'0", Age: 20, Club: Standard Liége

My son and I saw him play for Standard in a summer friendly and his class was there for all to see. Great short and long passing, ball control and tackling. He's master of all he sees in midfield. A little too skinny right now, Witsel will grow into stardom.
Ivor rating ***

Douglas Costa: 5'7", Age: 18
I've seen him play twice for Brazil's Under-21 team. He's very poised and has lots of moves, surprise passes and clever flicks going on. The problem is that he's slight and easy to shove off the ball for opponents. Gremio supposedly want 12M, which is a lot for someone who still needs a lot of preparation and seasoning and might turn out to be the second coming of Kleberson!
Ivor rating **

Attacking Midfielders:
Bruno Pereirinha: 5'8", Age: 21, Club: Sporting Lisbon
At a club full of fancy foot workers, Pereirinha sticks out because he's a plain, meat-and-potatoes utility footballer. Equally at home on the right wing or in central midfield, Pereirinha can also fill in at right back. He's got good deft footwork, good balance and speed. He is very slight, however, and would need building up. Expensive at 10M!
Ivor rating ***

Simon Vukcevic: 5'11", Age: 23, Club: Sporting Lisbon
Like Zoran Tosic, Vukcevic is a product of Partizan Belgrade's youth system. He is lightning quick, brave and a far better passer than Nani or Ronaldo. The only problem is that he has a constant, diva-like urge to act out mini on-field dramas, which, although they may be part and parcel of the game in Portugal are considered repellent in the Premier League.
Ivor rating **

Nicólas Bertolo: 5'8", Age: 23, Club: Atletico Banfield
Extremely skilled and brave, Bertolo can play on either wing or inside. He looks fantastic on YouTube, but, then, so did Naní. Argentine players tend to be durable and determined. Well worth a gamble if his club don't want more than 8M.
Ivor rating ***

Luís Antonio Valencia: 5'11", Age: 23, Club: Wigan Athletic
Valencia came to England under a cloud after the Ecuador squad he starred in at the 2006 World Cup was accused of taking a collective dive against England. His play at Wigan Athletic has been tremendous, however. A durable left winger with good crossing skills, Valencia has turned out to be everything Nani promised to be but failed to deliver. Not cheap at 15M, though.
Ivor rating***
Alexis Sanchez: 5'6", Age: 20, Club: Udinese
Small and worryingly slight, this Chilean wonder-kid has all the tools, quick feet like Ronaldo and a willingness to take on defenders. IF Cristiano Ronaldo leaves, Sanchez is seen by the Gaffer as the closest like-for-like replacement. Expensive at app. 20M.
Ivor rating **

Rafael Van Der Vaart: 5'9", Age: 26, Club: Real Madrid
If Real really are going to have a fire sale to raise money to buy the overpriced galactico stars their hearts desire like Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, David Villa and Carlos Tevez, the adaptable Van Der Vaart might be worth picking up. Injury-prone, he is nevertheless comfortably able to play both on the wing or inside when he is fit. His long-distance shooting abilities and corner-taking could also prove to be useful. He is, however, similar to Michael Carrick, and, even at 'fire sale' prices will still be relatively expensive at around 10M.
Ivor rating **

Ezequiel Lavezzi: 5'8", Age: 23, Club: Napoli

This kid is really good. Great balance and a very good ball handler. He can play as a second striker or on the wing. Unfortunately, perhaps because he plays at Napoli and is so popular there, the press unfairly refer to the young Argentine as 'the next Maradona!' Don't believe the hype. If Napoli really are asking for 20M, I don't think he's for us. He's good, but not that good, so far.
Ivor rating**

Takayaki Morimoto: 5'11", Age: 20, Club: Catania
He's Japanese, good-looking, big, durable and energetic according to a Korean friend of mine. Doubtless, he also offers up endless opportunity for United's marketing people. A free-scoring, old-fashioned center-forward in Serie A, he may well be a bargain if priced less than 9M.
Ivor rating***

Mario Gomez: 6'3", Age: 23, Club: VhB Stuttgart
This big bruiser has been hyped as the next big thing for two Bundesliga seasons now. He's a big scorer with all the tools an old-school centre forward could want and is particularly comfortable, like Ruud Van Nistelrooy, with his back to the goal. VhB supposedly want 35M for him and that sounds outrageous for a player who has thus far choked for both the German national team at the ENC and for his club in the ECC.
Ivor rating **

Walter: 5'10", Age 19, Club: Internacional de Alegre
Big and bulky, yet quick, according to the journos, Walter was recently the surprise star for the Brazilian national youth team at the South American Under-19 tournament. Although most of the European scouts had come to watch Douglas Costa, it was Walter who drew the raves. The major down side for him seems to be an Adriano-like predilection for overdoing it at the buffet table and with the ladies. Who knows with Brazilian kids? United's previous bit of business netted them the sensational Silva twins. It's a crap-shoot.
Ivor rating: **

Karim Benzema: 6'0", Age 21, Club: Olympique Lyonnais
Here's a striker everybody wants because he's got all the tools: Height, bulk, ball-handling skills, courage and a surfeit of confidence. Still, dealing with O.L.'s chair/owner Jean-Pierre Aulas seems to be traumatic for clubs and agents alike. Supposedly Aulas wants a young striker plus 45M in a preferred swap deal. He is very good, but he does not exactly carry Olympique on his back. I believe he's slightly overrated and absolutely overpriced.
Ivor rating **

Luis Suarez: 5'10", Age 23, Club: Ajax Amsterdam
Ajax don't seem to have missed Jan Klaas Huntelaar even a bit since they sold him. This Uruguayan striker has the verve, physical presence, skill and goal poaching acumen that breaks down defenses. Nay sayers, considering the likes of Huntelaar and Alfonso Alves who have failed after leaving the Netherlands, may be right. I'm very impressed by him, however. His aggressive style and combative nature get the lad lots of yellow cards. I see a fighter, a rooster ready to go to war like RVN. I think he's the kind of player our Gaffer adores. He'd be 12M well spent.
Ivor rating ****

David Villa: 5'7", Age 27, Club: Valencia
Villa is pure class. Absolutely the best. Recklessly brave, with a fantastic ability to hold on to the ball, he is a perfect partner for Fernando Torres in the Spain national team. He's worth the 45M Valencia want for him. Problem is: He's not leaving Spain, So forgeddaboudit!
Ivor rating ****

Let me know what you think!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oral Learning With the Pakamac Heiress

Fellatio first happened for me in 1967. 
Frederika, (aka Freddie) was reading Anaís Nin, 
listening to the Doors. Rich girl.
Hale Barns girl. Resplendent
in the cotton puffery of gingham smock mini-dresses,
thick wool tights, blocky black shoes spit-shined 
by Berengeria,  the Portuguese au paire.  Freddie, 
sweet, not because it was her nature, au contraire,
but because she sprayed Paco Rabanne in her shoes 
and in her knickers, in the hair down there.

In retrospect, I can sincerely say, Anais
was not a good teacher, Freddie wasn’t very good,
she just nibbled away, her tiny mouth 
opening and closing,  her beautiful rich girl’s teeth 
sharp and definitely in the way.
I called my dick Field Marshall Von Runstedt in those days.
Why I cannot say. But, applaudably curious,
She would talk to the opening, dig a nail into a vein,
squeeze it every which way. Put on a fraulein accent,
ask what der Field Marshall had to say.

We had talked about it for weeks.
I had religiously consumed
glucose lollipops, honeyed yogurt and
a pint of pineapple juice per day.
To make my sperm taste sweet,
doing it in Anais' Parisian way.
The truth was that she didn’t see me as person, just a
good-looking, non-complaining utilitarian piece of meat 
in frighteningly tight jeans, pretty, pouty and poor.
 A hard-on with a foot-high Isro, ready to play.

So my parents went to see Manchester City.
My dad winked when he drove away.
And Freddie undressed me, giggling, giggling, giggling
cuffing my penis in a boxer speed-bag sort of way.
Laughing, nibbling, unwilling to spit.
When I came, she said, “I-eeeew!”
And I cleaned it from her eyelid with my thumb.
She said my spunk smelled like high-tide at Blackpool,
Tasted like Finnan Haddie*. I felt insulted,
and I never let her give me head again.

—Ivor Irwin

* Finnan Haddie: Smoked herring from Scotland

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Adeus, Patrão!

I’m already getting emails from friends in Brazil. They are very disappointed that Luiz Felipe Scolari was fired by Chelsea. There was a lot of hope that Scolari’s success would open the gates for other Brazilian coaches to ply their wares in Europe. So far, when the Brazilian national team wins the World Cup or the Confederations championship, it is seen by a fickle public as one more triumph for their brilliant flair players. My friend Carlinhos put it this way: “When we win, our players take all the credit. When we lose our coaches get blamed.”

Yet strategy and organization are absolutely a key component of Brazil's successes. As in any country, Brazilian coaches have worked hard to perfect a balance between attack and defense. After all, who created the back four? Bela Gutmann may take credit in his memoirs, but he happened to dream it up while coaching in Brazil. Whoever and whenever is less important, however, than the fact of its implementation. The bottom line was that at least one of the wingers needed to drop back and help out in midfield.

Brazil's brilliant 1970 team meant to retain possession forever. When the ball got taken away, however, Utopianism fell by the wayside and Mario Zagallo's boys retreated behind Tostão. 4-5-1 was born. This concept of five players in the middle, running a whirling dervish of a revolving 'diamond,' not only demands flair and adaptability from players, it also requires an innate intelligence and an ability to improvise.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Let the collective competitive World Cup record speak for itself. Germany and Brazil have each played 92 games, but Brazil, surprisingly to some, have conceded far fewer goals. This is why they have won the tournament five times.

Consider this also. The best Brazilian players all tend to have left for Europe by the time they have turned eighteen. Access to the best mature players is a perk Brazilian coaches no longer have access to. Consequently, the scales have tipped. Denied the most exquisite talent, coaches have become much more decisive figures in the domestic leagues. The pluralistic vision of a smart, savvy coach is more important than it's ever been. All those fair-to-middling players, once condemned to careers combating relegation, playing in the more physical second division and early retirement to jobs as coaches, now have hope.

Consider how European teams have counted the cost of this new status quo. In 2005, Sao Paolo beat Liverpool with a display of tar-baby style absorption and quick counterattacking in the World Club Cup Competition. The next season Barcelona took the same treatment from Internacional. The coaches, the peripatetic, Paolo Autori, and the zen-calm Abel Braga, had their players performing in a ruthless, disciplined manner that belies every Brazilian stereotype. Nine men played behind the ball. Passing was short. The tackling was meaty and for keeps. Each team won by a single breakaway goal.

Kudos to these coaches indeed. Yet another problem presents itself here. Brazilians are all for tourists. Yet they don't like gringos playing football in their leagues. In Brazil, Gringo is the unfortunate word of choice for all foreigners. A number of players from Argentina and Paraguay in particular have played in Brazil and are constantly, relentlessly booed. It's not an issue of race, though. Black players like Faustino Asprilla from Colombia have not been welcomed, either. "A Gringo is a gringo is a gringo!" insists Carlinhos. "Foreigners can come here and sleep with our women, but we will not countenance cheeky, arrogant Gringos polluting our beautiful game." Yes, indeed, even superstar players, from neighboring countries, like Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascharano for Corinthians and that nice Jewish mensch from Buenos Aíres, Juan Pablo Sorin of Cruzeiro, are classed as Gringos" and booed.

It's all a bit ironic, especially considering the cultural and ethnic diversity that Scolari had to deal with at Chelsea. Big Phil, as the nasty English press love to call him (Every coach has to have at least one Fleet Street nickname), has always succeeded as a coach because he has a lot of guile and a natural ability to motivate player squads. Sometimes, however, this is not enough. The shortest simplest explanation may be that he had a hard time chatting with such a diverse group of players because, previously, he has always exclusively relied upon his dexterity with the Portuguese language. Still, the amount of time he spent with the club seems incredibly brief, especially considering that all this took place before Scolari got the opportunity to coach before the knockout phase of the European Champions Cup.

What hurt Scolari in particular was his inability to motivate the brilliant, but incredibly sensitive striker Didier Drogba. A number of unnamed players told The Guardian reporter, Barney Ronay, that the last thing they were looking for was a new dad. This father-figure persona did not go down well in London. Felipe in particular, likes to play the grand Brasilenho patrao. Indeed, Dunga, the Brazil National team coach and former longtime team captain, is well known for criticizing the national compulsion with fixing the societal problem of absent fathers.

When Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, Don Felipe was absolutely the undisputed patrao of what was referred to as "Scolari's family". By comparison, in Italy, France, England, Spain and Germany, as Juninho Pernambucano says of his manager at Olympique Lyonnais, Louis Puel, "I love this man because he treats me as a professional."

Scolari also made the mistake of picking out some transfer targets with difficult reputations. It was all bound to upset the higher highers at Chelsea, especially their Russian mobster oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich. Scolari pined for Robinho, the thumb sucker with an affinity for, at best, rough sex, or at worse, rape. Robinho is a fine, flair footballer, but, as they've found to their cost at Santos, Real Madrid and Manchester City, he needs a team of psychiatrists to accompany him wherever he goes. He also lobbied for the alcoholic Adriano, another one with an affinity for violence against women. Juninho Pernambucano was the leader he wanted for the midfield, but the Chief Executive, Abramovich's lick spittle, Peter Kenyon, wanted nothing to do with coughing up 15M in pound notes for a 37-year-old. Kenyon compromised, however, and allowed Scolari to bring in Deco, Jose Bosingwa, Ricardo Quaresma and Mineiro, a plodding 34-year-old Brazilian midfielder recently put out to pasture by Werder Bremen who loves his patrão. Save for the star Portugal right back, Bosingwa, his other purchases have flopped.

This insecure need to use old favorites and compatriots definitely telegraphed the wrong idea to the club's thuggish owner. Still, to be fair, coaches who want to deliberately create cliques to divide and rule the clubhouse are asking for trouble. Scolari seemed, to all intents and purposes, unwilling to embrace a wide, wicked gringo world.

Since being fired and paid off to the tune of, depending on the source, 7, 18 or 21M, Felipe Scolari moans that his Chelsea team was not capable of "thinking Brazilian" enough. This is a bizarre point for Scolari to make considering he was made his name in the mid-90s coaching practical and ruggedly functional winning football teams in Gremio and Palmeiras. Perhaps the problem was that, although he was cosmopolitan in a Brazilian and Portuguese sense, he simply wasn't cosmopolitan enough in a European sense.

Still, Don Felipe's resumé is absolutely fantastic. His seven months at Chelsea may, ultimately, prove fortuitous. The old macho may now be mentally better tooled to coach another team in the Premiership or La Liga. If the brilliant Scolari has learned from his mistakes, he may yet succeed and be the one who opens the door for his colleagues back home to charge through.

For Elsie

Each night
before I get some kip
I think about
Ebola, Al-Qaida, starving Sudanese,
Barack Obama, pornography and war.

That way
I’m not thinking about You!

—Ivor Irwin

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dear Yahweh

Dear Yahweh, can’t wait to be a burden on my kids.
Long long time, they’ve cumbered me
So, soon they'll deliver and carry
Bleach and clean and scrub-a-dub-dub.
And do it happily.

No Sun City for me. No old folks warehouse, please
No special strangers tossing me
like some smelly old sack of shit.
Each must take turns putting me up
in a sunny parlor, so’s I don’t have to climb
to the top of the stairs. A nice
glimmering walk-in bath with handles installed
A minor cost..... Yours, of course.

The purpose of children is insurance
A girded codpiece against the testicle-kicks of mean daddy time
A guarantee. Insurance.
Yeah, that’s what kid s are all about!
Bring them up in your own image, knowing that they
Owe you and oughtn't just farm you out

I’ve spent all the money on schooling and clothing.
Attended the ceremonies and soccer practices,
Cheered for you religiously at your games.
Knowing that, once you’re earning, you’ll be gone.
Only recreatable in photographic shrines,
Discount baby-sitting, birthday parties,
Christmas present competition and good Thanksgiving wine!

It's been a blessing.
Now Lordy Lord Yahweh, dude.
I’m gonna be a burden on my children
Yes. And on my children's children too.

—Ivor Irwin

Monday, March 2, 2009

Miguel Cotto Gets His Respect Back: Jennings Out of His League

February 21, 2009

Guts is sometimes just not enough. Preston's own Michael Jennings is a brave lad with a lot of bottle; unfortunately, he just wasn’t endowed with enough ring craft to prevent Miguel Cotto from regaining the World Welterweight title at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. At 31, having avoided a fight with Cotto for close to two years, Jennings may keep boxing, but surely this was his last hurrah with the big boys.

The affable veteran Welsh coach Brian Hughes and a vast supportive apparatus of investors, trainers and hangers-on have always kept Jennings tightly wrapped in cotton-wool, somehow managing to keep the cash register ringing without ever going for the gusto against experienced, highly rated pros. Tonight, however, Michael Jennings’ chickens came home to roost. A former British Welterweight champion, Jennings, now 34-2 (16 KOs), in his first fight ever outside the UK, was not even close to a match for the immaculate Puerto Rican, Miguel Cotto. The sleek Cotto, in his first match since being stopped by Antonio Margarito in the 11th round of a brutal nail-biter last July, was ready.

Puerto Ricans tend to use a lot of hyperbole. Miguel Cotto, the kid from Cagüas, a star at the Bairoa Gym since he was six-years-old is, I’m told, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter from La Isla since: a) Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad, 2) Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho, or, 3) Wilfredo Benitez. My mother-in-law, Marina, who’s from Juncos, loves Tito forever for raining on glamor boy Oscar De LaHoya’s parade. I love defensive skills, so I tend to go for Wilfredo because he was the best slipper of punches I ever saw.

Anyway, Miguel Cotto is no longer on the outside looking in. He is behind the door and he has a vice grip on the handle. A silver medalist at the 2000 Olympics, Cotto turned pro in 2001 and on September 11, 2004, out pointed Kelson Pinto to win the WBO Junior Welterweight Championship. Suffering to maintain a low weight after six knockout wins, he vacated that title and moved up to the Welterweight division. After stopping Carlos Quintana to win the WBA Welterweight crown, Cotto successfully defended against what the legendary coach Angelo Dundee has hyperbolized as being the ‘greatest generation’ of Welterweights ever, stopping Quintana, Oktay Urkel, Zab Judah, the brilliant Shane Mosley, and Alonso Goméz.

His only loss, to Antonio Margarito, turned out to be a fiasco after the fact, as Margarito was caught using doctored hand-wraps (what Ring magazine referred to as “an illegal plaster-like substance") under his gloves before his first defense of the title against Shane Mosley. Suspended from boxing for at least a year, the now infamous Margarito will surely be subject to strict supervision and many difficulties before he gets to box again. Thus, tonight, Cotto stepped into the ring ready to unite the WBA and WBO titles.

Jennings entered the ring first, bouncing up and down to the Sex Pistols’ punk anthem 'Anarchy in the UK.' Jennings, used to a traveling army of 2,000 English loyalist fans accompanying him, wherever he fights in England, walked into a chorus of boos from a partisan pro-Cotto, mostly Puerto Rican crowd of 9,000. The English contingent were not shy about singing their bawdy songs, but Los Boricuas were not to be outdone. This was the best atmosphere I’ve seen at Madison Square Garden in at least twenty years.

The opening round was a tit for tat affair. Jennings worked hard at keeping a safe distance while Cotto dance-stepped around the center of the ring, taking his measure. Jennings threw very few clean punches, five jabs at most, but Cotto’s was the first telling blow, his short left upper cut catching the Englishman on the chin midway through round two. With 30 seconds to go in the same round, Cotto launched a furious barrage which forced Jennings on to the ropes, although the Englishman managed to tie him up inside for the last 10 seconds. Jennings continued to attack in the third round, throwing out jab after jab, although very few landed cleanly. Cotto, cocked and continually crouched down low, waited to pounce at opportune moments, landing a lot of tight, short body shots.

The left hook Jennings caught at the start of the fourth proved to be the beginning of the end. By the middle of the round, Jennings started to bruise. Cotto pummeled him back into his corner with a left hook and then, after throwing a string of unchallenged one-twos, put Jennings down for the first time with another crunching left hand body shot.

The 31-year-old took the full count before springing back up, but , after retreating across the ring, he was quickly downed again in the opposite corner, the victim of yet another sweeping Cotto left hook to the body.

Jennings barely survived the round, but it was pretty comical to see Cotto jumping up and down in his corner thinking the contest was already over. Luckily, his trainer pushed his mouthpiece back in before Cotto managed to spit it out. When the bell for the fifth rang, Cotto flew out of his corner in panther fashion. A left jab rocked Jennings' head back. Still up for it, Jennings’ John Bull bottle overcame common sense as he anemically tried to match Cotto’s punches. Then Cotto exploded, all action as he sent Jennings careering into the ropes with a wicked right to the head, followed by an equally awesome left uppercat.

One last booming bazooka of a right to the Brit’s head ended it as Jennings went down on his knee again. Jennings’ glazed eyes made contact with his trainer, Brian Hughes, who was having none of it. Hughes wind-milled his arms, trying to will the groggy Englishman to stand up. And Jennings did indeed stagger, rubber-legged, into a standing position but the referee, Benji Estevez, had seen enough damage done after three knockdowns to call the fight off.

"Cotto's a bloody great fighter," Jennings said after the fight. "The hardest puncher I’ve faced. He was very deceiving. You think you're out of his range but then he strikes. I thought I had distance from his firepower."

A deliriously happy Cotto, delighted at his truncated night's work, felt vindicated after suffering from his only pro defeat to Margarito. “Getting back into the ring and being able to study my opponent for the first couple of rounds tonight was great," Cotto said. "I started to go to the body and then the head. Third round I let my hands go and I just threw my punches."

"Cotto's the complete fighter in every sense of the word," Coach Hughes told me, all breathless with admiration after the fight. "Cotto really put the ring down on Michael. He's such a great fighter.”

Later, Jennings announced at the press conference that he was going to urge Hughes to get him a rematch. This would be foolish. I like all those Brit gangster movies like Layer Cake and Sexy Beast. Jennings looks like he'd make an excellent bodyguard for some cinema gangster. I think he should take acting lessons because, on tonight's evidence, he really ought to retire.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Ultimate Dummy Brummies

This one is for Will Ansell and Gerry Kelsall, tragic victim of Villa. On to victory, Walsall! While you're away from the Motherland, work on your Urdu, lads!
Instead of coming up with an all-era Villa team, as requested, I made up collection of the best players ever from the Birmingham area teams. Terry Hennessey may have been the most underrated midfielder ever!

Billy Wright

Gil Merrick

The Best of the Best
Gil Merrick (G)
Don Howe (RB)
Billy Wright (CB)
Ronnie Flowers (CB)
Steve Staunton (LB)
Terry Hennessey (DMF)
Bryan Robson (DMF)
Archie Gemmill (AMF)
Willie Johnston (LW)
Trevor Francis (ST)
Andy Grey (ST)

Team #2
Phil Parkes (G)
Derek Parkin (RB)
Paul McGrath (CB)
Joleon Lescott (CB)
Stephen Warnock (LB)
Norman Deeley (RW)
Ray Barlow (DMF)
Tony Brown (DMF)
David Wagstaffe (LW)
Steve Bull (ST)
Cyrille Regis (ST)

Team #3
Bill Glazier (G)
Ray Ranson (RB)
Roger Hynd (CB)
Bryan Sharples (CB)
Mark 'Psycho' Dennis (LB)
Malcolm Page (DMF)
Peter Broadbent (RW)
Paul Merson (AMF)
Bertie Auld (AMF)
Ronnie Allen (ST)
Geoff Astle (ST)