As long as there is both football and human weakness, there will be allegations of match-fixing. But a decent start would be an independent, national body...
As Gerrard and Henderson both struggle with injuries, was it a mistake for Liverpool to sell Jonjo Shelvey? Plus, thoughts on Arsenal, Everton, United and Chelsea's strikers...
There are very few unalloyed pleasures left to the modern football fan. Goals are overrated, after all, and slide tackles are thoroughly déclassé. Passing is only acceptable under a certain distance, even the most affable now insist on coloured boots, and the only identity that matters anymore is that of the brand. But even in these straitened and austere times, even the weariest and the most cynical can't help but enjoy the sight of a young footballer blossom into the fullness of their own destiny.
So it was on Monday. A delighted nation watched transfixed as Jonjo Shelvey emerged from his chrysalis, spread his wings and flew into the Swansea sky, transformed from a sleeping caterpillar into a beautiful, hilarious butterfly. This paragraph embarked on that metaphor in the hope of being able to draw some kind of parallel between the symmetry of a butterfly's wings, and the fact that Shelvey was largely responsible for all four goals, two on each side, but it didn't really work out. Sorry about that. Let's move on.
Until now, Shelvey has always been something of an enigma, provoking questions without providing answers. 'What is he for?' was perhaps the most common, followed in particular order by 'Why is he so angry?', 'What was he trying to do there?', and 'Will his brother please, please, please, for the love of almighty Pazuzu and all the screaming demons of the desert wind, just get some contact lenses?'
Rich comic potential has always been present, of course, most notably in his performance against Manchester United last season. It's not particularly unusual or amusing to get sent off for flying two-footed into an opponent; indeed, it's to be expected. What is unusual is to then accuse Rio Ferdinand, Fred the Red, and the ghost of Ernest Mangnall of, essentially, snitching. "Where I come from people don't grass people up." Presumably he thought that the referee had been busy doing something else at the time, perhaps texting a friend or taking a holiday in Portugal, when Ferdinand humbly beseeched him to get his cards out. A quick check reveals that Mark Halsey was in fact standing a few yards from the incident, with presumably functional eyes.
(As an aside, Shelvey comes from Romford, in the London Borough of Havering. Slightly to the north of his home town is the former parish of Havering-atte-Bower, within whose boundaries used to reside one Thomas Hammond, noted Roundhead and regicide. During the English Civil War, and prior to convicting Charles I of capital crimes against beards, Hammond testified in court against his former commander-in-chief Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, in favour of combative midfield general Oliver Cromwell. Grade-A snitching, straight outta Havering.)
Even more indicative, perhaps, was Shelvey's brief reinvention as the falsest of false nines. Brendan Rodgers, philosophising his way through an injury crisis, popped Shelvey up top against West Ham last season, and was rewarded with a performance of rare peculiarity. The erstwhile striker spend 89-and-a-half minutes, plus stoppages, looking as though he'd never played, watched, or even heard of football before, while the other 30 seconds contained the winning goal, albeit via the not-inconsiderable figure of James Collins, and rather a lot of shouting.
This is what marks out the truly special player. The mastery of opposing forces. To spend all game being entertainingly and miserably useless, then justify the entire experiment. To get sent off and rail not against the decision but the chirruping. To line up a gargantuan volley miss completely take advantage of the confusion by beating one defender then kick the ball into another then tuck the rebound past the goalkeeper then celebrate-while-apologising then with the adrenaline still galloping produce a backpass of such precise iniquity that Steven Gerrard himself would be proud...beyond comprehension, beyond punctuation, beyond belief. All of existence is contained within that passage of play, a tragicomedy that encapsulates the helplessness of man, puny and small, at the mercy of capricious gods.
And then he did it again.
Shelvey now belongs to a proud lineage of footballers. He takes his place alongside Titus Bramble, Nicklas Bendtner and a few special others in surpassing such earthly concerns as being any good at football, and ascending to a higher level of eloquently bumbling farce. His is a life of pathos, bathos and that other Musketeer. He may technically belong to Swansea but really he belongs to all of us. And we must cherish him, and welcome him, and watch him with wide eyes and broad smiles, for he was placed on this earth to confuse and confound and delight, and there is no higher human purpose.
Gunnergremlin - Stop reading his articles then. Problem solved. Anything else I can help you with?- up4thejamboree