Off The Cuff

BackPageFootball contributor Ed Diggins is back with a new regular column. Off The Cuff will look at the burning issues of the game and invites readers to contribute their thoughts and views. Enjoy!

Football’s Underworld.

So, John Terry is public enemy number one for the past few weeks. I am not surprised, though in all fairness, can anybody say that they liked him in the first place or expected better from him?

All over England, players and staff are sh*tting themselves right now after the new privacy laws introduced in the past two weeks. There are some serious rumours doing the rounds at the moment, most of which are probably exaggerated or untrue, but some will have foundation. A few newspapers are going to get some mileage over the next few weeks as they release variations of these and some of these stories could be epic.

My thoughts on Terry are mixed; the demon in me likes to see him punished, like for example removing the captaincy of England from him, but, what will that achieve? This sort of stuff goes on in every club and as one colleague of mine quoted, is just ‘pure gossip’.

It’s wrong, yes, very wrong and not a good example to be setting for kids, but sad to say, this is the vile reality of the footballing world. If it affects team morale, then sure get rid of him, but it’s a tricky situation and the balance between private life and football life needs to be adhered to.

I think Terry has been hung out to dry a little because he is the national captain. It is easy to critisise him and call for his head, but unless more of these stories come out, I think the punishment has been harsh. I feel however, that maybe, just maybe, Capello has been tipped off on some other antics and acted now while the potential damage is minimal.

I was however, appalled at the Avram Grant story. Surely a man of his age deserves a bit of respect and dignity? Any papers releasing this type of story about a man of his age should be ashamed of themselves. The man, who I’ve always liked, doesn’t deserve this, but they don’t care do they? His wife has come out and publicly defended him and has stated they won’t sue the papers involved.

The reality is these type of stories are now going to become more and more frequent. Mr Justice Tugendhat may just be the man who changes the lives of footballers for the forseeable future.

Which brings me onto the nations favourite man to hate, Ashley Cole. Out for the rest of the season and perhaps, out of his marriage. No mixed emotions here, it couldn’t happen to a nicer lad.

United in Decline.

United were finished apparently? Leeds came to Old Trafford and finally sunk the ship. Or did they?  United have gone on a run since which has seen them close the gap at the top and progress to the Carling Cup Final. Tuesday night’s win in Milan has them in a good spot to qualify for the quarter final, though there’s a lot left to do in that tie yet. But just how quickly people were to write the team off was amazing.

Of course it didn’t help that Carlos Tevez hit a good patch around the same time as United were losing and drawing games and with Ronaldo banging them in in Madrid, people were pointing the fingers at Fergie. However United’s problems were at the other end. An injury list as long as Phil Thompson’s nose has meant that the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic, O’Shea, Van Der Sar have all played bit part roles compared to last season. Add injuries to Giggs, Brown, Evans and the Twins, all at the same time and you see perhaps why United had problems in December. Sometimes people forget that.

At the other end, I think United have exceeded all expectations, so far. Rooney is on fire and United’s midfield contribution is up too in the goal scoring stakes. More goals than last season on all quarters and United topping the charts on wins, goals scored, goals conceded and points won on the road in the league. Now, I am not getting carried away, theres a lot of tough games ahead and the real test of United is how they cope in the tight games or if Rooney gets injured. But the loss of Ronaldo is not as bad as everybody expected.

And isn’t it amazing what has happened to Leeds since. They have been on a rapid decline and have only won twice in 11 games since, dropping from being comfortably first in the league to four points adrift. A great performance against Spurs saw them fall short in the FA Cup, but im sure they would take promotion right now ahead of those two days out in the sun of the FA Cup.

Mancini Out?

City up to fourth but maybe Mancini is feeling a little bit of pressure lately? Talking to a few City fans who are mates of mine, all is not rosey. Maybe they are getting a bit carried away but last Saturday’s paltry attendance of 28,000 (including 3,500 Stoke fans) is not a good sign. There is growing discontent with the style of football being played. The decision to sack Mark Hughes, with one defeat all season, was a strange one.

Indeed, Sparky got the boot not only because of a rash of draws, but just maybe because he wasted an amount of money on very average players. Either way, it’s results that counts and looking at the City fixture list, it perhaps tells a different story. Initially, all the fanfare around Mancini’s arrival saw City chalk up four wins on the bounce over Stoke, Wolves, Boro and Blackburn. However, when the going has got tough and they have had to get results in more difficult grounds, they have been found wanting so far.

Two consecutive draws with Stoke, lucky to escape with either results and three recent defeats, means that maybe life will not be so easy for the Italian if things don’t pick up. If he fails to get fourth spot, my money is on a new manger in by September. Their fixture list is not too kind either, with City having, in my opinion, the hardest games to come of any of the chasing pack remaining.

Hughes can feel a little aggrieved that his sacking came at a time when he had come out of a tricky run of fixtures, unbeaten and had, what was on paper, an easier run ahead. He can hold his head high in the knowledge that not only did his side play better football, but went to places like Anfield and Old Trafford and come away with credible performances. Add in home wins over Chelsea and Arsenal and you can see why anything less than fourth for Mancini and his p45 is on the way. Only time will tell.

Debt, Debt and more Debt.

The game in England is creaking and cracking badly. United’s American-imposed debt has captured media interest all over the world. Liverpool are broke apparently and Arsenal are being choked by the Emirates. Chelsea and City lose millions upon millions every year, but it’s written off. A paltry 5,000 turned up to see two Premiership teams play each other a few weeks back at Wigan and the COM stadium was just over half full for the Stoke visit last week.  I could go on.

But the real sad story is at Portsmouth and how shameful it is that such a proud club has been put to the wall by shocking mismanagement. I hope they pull out of it and at least, survive into the championship in the summer, but with the taxman also chasing two more clubs once he is finished with Pompey, the English game faces an uncertain future.

Once a Scouse, always a errrm, Bhoy.

Robbie Keanes 74th club move, sees him up North now. “A boyhood Celtic fan” he claimed, well, somebody did anyway. Did we not hear something similar when he moved to Liverpool? Make your mind up Robbie, or is your support for teams reflected by how long you stay at them?

Strange move, though a colleague of mine mentioned this as far back as September and said this was going to happen. I didn’t believe him, but as the talk grew, it came as no surprise. For Ireland, I am not sure if it’s a good move to have your top striker playing in what is considered a lower standard, however, I suppose if he is on the pitch more, then it’s maybe good for him. Interesting to see however if Anthony Stokes outscores him between here and May, will Stokes get his place in the team? Not the best of starts for Robbie so far.

Fickle Fans.

I listened into a well known radio station talk show not so long ago and it summed up how fickle some Irish fans are. The first caller was calling for the head of Trappatoni. He claimed we played terrible football and would be better off without him. The second lad was a Liverpool supporter, who claimed that he and his two kids were going to stop supporting Liverpool, just, err, “because”. He was sick of being a Liverpool fan and didn’t think his kids deserved the hassle involved. Too many bad days he said.

The third was a United Fan; “Ferguson is making a huge mistake by not playing Owen, he should be in the team and United are not winning games because of it” . This also made me chuckle.

No wonder the majority of English football fans hate the daytrippers from Ireland when that sort of shi*e is being spouted about the place.

Coming Next  –

  • Fabregas – Worth all the Hype?
  • Top 5 best and worst transfers of the season so far.
  • Away Days – a review of all the top grounds in the UK for visting fans.
  • And much more.

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Ed Diggins

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