...what happened to the fourth Champions League place the last time an English team won the thing. Plus, who would want to pay £60 to watch the current England team?
A Sunderland fan in the mailbox is surprised by Jack Colback's call up to the England squad. Plus, thoughts on Welbeck and Liverpool's Champions League draw...
Once upon a time, before the internet and Championship Manager made everything better and worse, it was possible for football clubs to buy players that their twitchy-fingered fans hadn't already become experts on. Those were dark and barbaric times, yes, but we lived through them, and we emerged with a handy battery of stereotypes that we could use to understand exactly what kind of waste of money our latest waste of money was. We learned, for example, that there are basically four kinds of central defender.
Most common to English football fields is the Brutish Enforcer - lion's heart, dandelion's brain - who spends his days flinging himself at or near the ball with minimal regard for anything else in the way, however delicate, breakable, or precious.
Also on the violent side of things, though not as overtly barbaric, is the Repressed Psychopath, all latent menace and contained fury, with the dark eyes and empty smile of a man who knows what all the knives are called, and why.
The most coveted kind of centre-back is the Imperial Controller, those smug aristocrats that float around the field intercepting balls, directing team-mates, and generally making the game and the opposition look disgustingly simple.
Finally, there's the Jovial Maverick, who makes up for his inability to actually defend with hilarious Cruyff turns on the edge of his own box, frequent charges through the centre of the field, and three or four startling finishes a season. (There is an occasional English cross-breed, too, the Brutish Maverick, essentially a big lad that runs forward every now and then only to fall over before he has a chance to do anything useful. You can put your Phil Jones joke in here.)
Laurent Koscielny, however, is a man apart. He lacks the moronic vigour required to brutishly enforce anything; looks more like a repressed philatelist than a psychopath; is more mint imperial than commander; and so far his only maverick tendencies have been some excellent own goals. This failure to cleave to any of the categories brings with it the sad consequence that no defence with Koscielny at its heart will ever be entirely trustworthy. He just doesn't make sense.
At the time of writing. Wikipedia - what? This is research - describes him as "aggressive, uncompromising, and ball-playing", a description that could hardly be more generic if it read "has a nose, and knees". "Uncompromising" is a particularly lovely term for saying something where there's nothing to say, as it sort-of implies that there is such a thing as a "compromising" defender, one that agrees to let a striker through every other run, perhaps, or approaches the opposition to negotiate a reasonable percentage of headers. Calling a defender "uncompromising" is usually just a fairly inelegant variant on "so-and-so doesn't give up easily", which for a defender in the Premier League is more-or-less required.
This is not to say that Koscielny's a bad player. He's actually quite adept at the whole get-in-the-way-of-the-opposition business: reads the game well, has acceptable technique, makes some decent tackles, and certainly carries himself like a man with a reasonable pass completion percentage.
But being good is one thing; feeling right quite another. Stereotypes are the lurid buoys that guide us through a stormy, uncaring, dangerously complex universe. When people obstinately refuse to comply with them, we're lost. In a world where everybody's the new somebody, Koscielny, bless him, isn't the new anybody.