Thursday, June 25, 2009

To All You Yid Traitors Who Fucked Up My Passover

It’s nice having a country of your own.
It’s nice to own a house.
It’s nice to have a pair of shoes to throw.
All the better if your wife can wear a blouse,
and doesn't need to wear the veil.
Dubya said the Big D is it.
Democracy is what everybody wants.
He didn’t say it in a conceited way.
Just that he was certain.

The lessons of history teach us that Haman
was voted in.
And Mussolini
was voted in.
And Hitler, Oh yeah, Hitler
was voted in.
And now let’s give a warm Oak Park welcome
to Hamas and Hezbollah, because they
was voted in.


Just like leaving a place for Elijah’s cup,
or the second sitting for the Last Supper.
I suggest: After your Sabra folk songs,
sung in your shitty Ivrit.
And having the audacity to trivialize 6 million dead kikes.
The next bit about “God bless the Palestinians!”
I wish, like an old Yiddisher witch,
that those words catch in your throat and choke you,
and that that affliction you get is stomach cancer.

I have an honest, simple suggestion.
Because you love the Palestinians so,
and, because, after turning all four cheeks,
you’ve got no more to show.
Give them your house. And, sure...
You’ll feel guilty. All Jews feel guilty
You can keep up the mortgage payments.
I would call you a traitor,
but I know already that you own no sense of shame.

—Ivor Irwin

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bitter Defeat: Aftermath and Perspective

Sir Alex Ferguson was doing his suffering in public after Manchester United were left shell shocked, nauseous and punch-drunk from taking a hammering in Rome. Allowed to play their unique brand of heart-stirring football, one which relies on one-touch passing, a relentless ability to retain possession and surgical execution, a ruthless, brilliant Barcelona team stole away Manchester United's Champions League crown 2-0. Openly critical of all his players, which is a rarity for the crusty old Glaswegian, Ferguson described United's vaunted defence as "shoddy" and the whole team to be "a disappointment." In truth, however, the one who got it wrong and might have been a little more circumspect about there being plenty of blame to be placed at his own door for some disastrous strategic choices, was the great man himself. The Gaffer is not used to taking a pummeling, and, although the club have only taken two major losses this season, the chickens have clearly come home to roost.

The truth is that United were tactically bankrupt before the referee, Massimo Busacca, ever blew his whistle. United's humiliation of a callow, gutless Arsenal side two weeks before in the European Champions Cup semifinal at the Emirates seems to have bamboozled the Gaffer into believing his strategy was infallible. The truth is that the Gaffer learned nothing from a far more important game, when the club were defeated 1-4 at home by a very ordinary Liverpool team a month ago. Barcelona's awesome midfield pair, Xaví and Andrés Iniesta, were the instrument of destruction, just as another brilliant pair, Xabí Alonso and Javier Mascharano were for Liverpool four weeks earlier.

"I don't think they have ever given the ball away in their lives," is how Ferguson put it when asked by the press to describe Xavi and Iniesta, but the same is also true in the former case. Ferguson can righteously claim that the season-long absence of Roy Keane's post-to-post warrior successor, Owen Hargreaves, has left him no choice but to revolve the triumvirate of Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Paul Scholes as emergency defensive midfielders. It's a fair excuse, especially because, by nature, all three are attacking midfielders. All the more pressure seems to pile on the triumvirate at the behest of Michael Carrick, a floating midfielder with silky passing skills who seems to expand more energy willfully avoiding tackles than slotting into his position.

Being dismantled by Liverpool, who also did it to Real Madrid, and Barcelona, who did it to everybody, is, I'm told by certain friends, no disgrace. The question is: Why did it happen? How could our World Champions, knowing well in advance the tactics which were about to be used against them in both cases, not be prepared? Ask anyone: A pundit or a casual fan, a professional player or coach. We all knew what Barcelona were going to do. Which ponders a couple more questions: How come Ferguson couldn't figure out what the rest of us instinctively already knew? And, from a philosophical bent, I really need to ask everybody: How is it that the three best teams in Europe have no Plan B?

Barca's native Catalan coach, the kid-like Pep Guardiola, has, at 38, already won the treble of La Liga, the Spanish Cup and the European Champions Cup in his maiden season as coach. This is a first in Spain and comes exactly ten years after Manchester United did it for the first time ever in England. Thus I would playfully suggest that, for the rest of his career, Pep has nowhere to go but down. He's a nice man, I'm told, a very simple, down-home guy. So simple, in fact, that everybody knew exactly what he was going to do. Having the horses helps, of course, and having horses like Xaví, Iniesta, Eto'o, Henry and the ultimate little pony, Lionel Messi, is invaluable. The plan was to keep it narrow and not make mistakes in defence. Yes: It was as simple as that! Guardiola's money star, Messi, instead of going toe-to-toe with United's speedy, hard-tackling left back, the brilliant Patrice Evra, was moved inside. Thus, without the use of marauding fullbacks, Daní Alves and Eric Abidal, both of whom were suspended, Barca were always going to pack the midfield and attempt to smother any United creativity by choking off the blood supply to their hard-working strikers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

A lot of post-match fuss has been aimed at the absence through suspension of United's brave, aggressive midfielder Darren Fletcher, but his replacement, Anderson, is more than adequate. Indeed, Anderson is much quicker than Fletcher and far more intelligent. No! The problem lay in the fact that, for two weeks, during the buildup to the game, Pep brilliantly fired off his propaganda bulletins concerning keeping the beautiful game beautiful to a hungry press. A game of wide-open football was what he wanted and the vain Scotsman gave it to him.

Having watched United execute Assistant Manager Carlos Queiroz's smothering tactics a year ago to beat Barcelona in the semifinal, Guardiola knew exactly what to do. Despite winning two European Champions Cups, Ferguson's United teams, although often heavily favoured, have stumbled out of the competition again and again. Atypically, two of Ferguson's best United teams ever were knocked out by the same aging A.C. Milan club in both 2005-06 and 2006-07. In both cases, Carlo Ancelotti's team gummed up the midfield, forcing United's speedy, short-passing team, to slow down. Once they were bogged down, United's midfielders did what English teams have always done--they started making risky long passes. Such a telegraphed passing game will never work against a well-drilled midfield group like Milan's Seedorf, Gatusso, Pirlo and Kaka, and the four of them began surgically picking off virtually every United pass and executing lightning counter-attacks. After four humiliations by the Italian club, Ferguson finally allowed Queiroz to take complete tactical charge last season. Instead of fighting it out with Barcelona's even more potent midfield, Queiroz put nine men behind the ball and had United counterattack instead. It wasn't pretty, but it worked and United won the competition.

A year later, having lost Queiroz, who took the job of Portugal's national team coach, Ferguson was faced with the same predicament again! After watching Chelsea break down every relentless Barcelona attack, again with nine men behind the ball, and only lose the semifinal because of some atrocious refereeing, surely, I thought, Ferguson would be cautious. After, as he put it, watching Pep's lads "annihilate" Real Madrid 2-6 at the Bernabeu, surely Ferguson would be cautious. After having eaten four cans of Ancelloti's Milanese ass-whup, surely he would be cautious.

Unfortunately, although the most successful manager in British football history has a great mind and an amazing ability to install a will to win in his players, Ferguson decided to let Pep Guardiola establish the rules of engagement. There would be no nine men behind the ball in Rome. The tsunami of unctuous praise which had followed his double dismantling of a sparkling young Arsenal team certainly played a part in his decision. If cynical veteran journos like Martin Samuel, Kevin McCarra and Barry Glendinning praised his tactical nous, surely he could trust this team? If old pros like Lee Dixon, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker all said this was probably the best Ferguson Manchester United team ever, surely he didn't have to make them win ugly?

In the opening nine minutes of the game, as Cristiano Ronaldo ran riot, bottling three clear chances, and Barcelona were a nervous wreck, Ferguson really looked like a tartan Einstein. It seemed like Barca had no physical presence whatsoever. What was Messi doing in the middle? Where was Henry? Their goalkeeper, the much maligned Victor Valdez, looked to be the only calm player on the field.

The torture session began with Samuel Eto'o's opening goal after 10 minutes. This absolute shocker began innocuously enough. It started after Xaví whipped the ball off Anderson's toe. He slid it to Iniesta, who shimmied past a lunging Giggs and then did a quick 1-2-1 with Messi which fell to Eto'o, who saw, courtesy of a second Nemanja Vidic panic attack(just like the first panic attack against Liverpool's Fernando Torres), a clear way to goal. Edwin Van der Sar—clearly recognizing the deer-caught-in-headlights awe which Nemanja Vidic exhibits when he goes head to head with world-class strikers in really big matches—came charging out of his goal, his arms splayed wide with expectation of a lob from the Cameroonian striker. Instead of lobbing the ball, however, Eto'o, at his cool panther persona best, juggled the ball at shin height and then flicked it into the net with a light prodding motion off the very end of his right toe.

To all intents and purposes, this was the end of the actual game. Every single grain of confidence passed from United to Barcelona. It was as if a gale force had displaced a sand dune. Ferguson's strategy fell to smithereens as his go-to-guy, Ryan Giggs, went from playing in the hole to falling down the well and drowning. Wayne Rooney, deployed on the left to torment the slow plodding Carlos Puyol with speed and muscle, spent the next 80 minutes displaying the face of someone whose hemorrhoids are being squeezed in a pare of pliers.

Lionel Messi, placed by Pep in a central position as opposed to his usual wide man role, went from being anonymous to enormous. Nagged at and smothered by Patrice Evra and Wes Brown a year ago, United had no clue what to do to deal with him this time. His assigned marker, Patrice Evra, who almost played the little magician off the pitch last season, was caught in an enormous quandary. If he moved in on Barca's magician, it exposed United's left flank to marauding attacks from the other ball whiz, Andrés Iniesta, our old nemesis Thierry Henry and, Oh-My-God, Carlos Puyol. As this reality set in and Messi gamboled about, free as an Amsterdam whore with a brand-new red card, every United defender already had his hands full trying to deal with Iniesta, Henry and Eto'o. What Ji-Sung Park was doing out there is impossible to fathom. He actually managed to mop up more than a few loose balls, but, unlike Iniesta, instead of holding on to the ball or being able to pass it on to an already emotionally and physically spent Old man Giggsy, he kept passing the ball away to the opposition. Indeed, by the 80th minute, when the little Argentine's brilliant header scored a second time, it was a kind of mercy killing.

I have to first say that this was a glorious night for those who love football. But then I also have to say, as a Manchester United fan, that Ferguson's decision to go for it was absolute 100% folly. What is also settled, for the time being, is the argument about who is the world's best player. Messi was a colossus. He put Cristiano Ronaldo out to pasture. It was not even close. Contrary to so much blog wisdom, Ronaldo clearly showed a lot of guts out there. Along with the plucky full backs, Johnny O'Shea and Patrice Evra, and the sad, marooned Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo was one of the few players in a white shirt who did not quit in the eleventh minute. Indeed, Ronnie never stopped running and his raucous petulant little skirmishes with Carlos Puyol showed off his frustration and commitment. Credit where credit is due to Puyol also, whose gamesmanship is the stuff winners are made of. Indeed, Messi had all the available help he needed from Xavi and Iniesta while Ronaldo was a lone warrior. Clearly, Rooney's deployment on the left won't work against a team that denies United possession. Wazza';s best work is through the middle of the pitch and this is where he has to be restored come next season.

With the news that Owen Hargreaves is healing more slowly than was expected and won't be back until at least January(if he ever comes back at all), Ferguson must man up and face facts. Instead of wasting 32M on Dimitar Berbatov, when having another striker was an unnecessary luxury, he should have settled with Carlos Tevez's owner/agent early and bought a strong-minded, hard-tackling midfielder last season. It's unfair to expect anyone to be the next Roy Keane, but the Gaffer's faith in Darren Fletcher and Anderson, two converted attacking midfielders, is the club's Achilles heel. Buying a ready-made, good-to-go, post-to-post midfielder like Javíer Martinez or Miguel Veloso is one way to go. If Ferguson is bound and determined to wait for Hargreaves in the same patient way he did for Louis 'Sick-note' Saha, he ought to invest in an old-hand like Genarro Gatusso.

Ferguson's massive cock-up now needs to be placed in context. United have just won the World Club Cup, the Premier League for a third successive season and reached a Champions League final for the second year in a row. This was a defeat. It is not a catastrophe, even though right now it still feels like one. A cock-up does not constitute even the semblance of a crisis. Barcelona's superiority on the night has truly shaken Ferguson and his squad, but a temporary case of hubris such as ours will surely set in with Barca, too. The pressure cooker atmosphere of life in La Liga, the Premiership and the ECC makes it very difficult for any team to repeat easily without having a huge price to pay in pure mental and physical exhaustion the next season. Rival clubs of both teams, especially Real Madrid and Chelsea, are about to lay out hundreds of millions in a massive effort to prevent both clubs from repeating.

This tournament represents both the best and worst of United's history and Ferguson's mighty heart. Naturally, the agony is especially painful when it is played out at the highest stage and, God knows, we United fans are dreadful losers! United will regroup, remake, remodel, polish their boots and go at it again. Barcelona are the best team in Europe right now. It hurts, but it's true. Still, even at 68, Sir Alex Ferguson learns from his mistakes. We'll be back for our cup next year!