Forget Santa: This Is The World Cup Fairy

We begin the afternoon with a sweet tale about a young scamp who has fallen in love with the game, and is about to see his first World Cup. Lewis sounds like a cool uncle...

Last Updated: 04/06/14 at 14:36

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This Is Quite Sweet
So I had to pick my 6yo nephew up from school a couple of weeks ago and naturally, within seconds, our conversation turned to football. The little scamp has fallen completely and utterly in love with the game over the last 18 months (he was starting to get into it and then I took him on the Old Trafford Stadium and Museum tour, which sealed the deal).

As the season was over (United's had been over for a LONG time and was difficult to discuss in child friendly language) I brought up the World Cup; it was only when I saw the slight look of confusion on his face that it dawned on me... This is his first World Cup, this is his Italia '90! I spent the next half an hour getting more than a little emotional and waxing lyrical about just how god-dang great the World Cup is. "Kid, you don't understand, 3 matches a day, highlight shows... It's the single greatest month you could imagine; everyone and everything is football. You can't move for football!". He's now very excited but I find it so strange that he has no frame of reference, no clue as to what to really expect.

Anyway, he's on holiday for the rest of this week and little does he know that "The World Cup Fairy" will have paid a visit to his house, put up a wall-chart, bought him the ball, the stickers, the trading cards, the mascot, the t-shirt et al. Forget Santa, he comes every year, this is something far more special.
Lewis, Busby Way

Pressure, Innit
Just a riposte to the WhoScored stat analysis article this morning. It's all very well looking at the league and CL stats on conversions but I'd like a bit of deeper analysis because as we all know it's about pressured situations. For example how many of those penalties were taken in shoot outs? How many were game changers, as in equalisers or winning goals? I'm sure Lampard/SteveG/Rooney have scored many penalty in a 3/4/5goal romp. Also is 76% conversion rate actually that good? Surely a shot from 12 yards, under no pressure from an opponent, dead centre in front of goal you would expect much higher? My own 5aside conversion rate is certainly better - and I'm what you would refer to as fat as opposed to the weird Lampard criteria of the term!

I also seem to remember Rooney having some awful stats in league games when the that wee Sky graphic would appear with the red/yellow balls and know plenty of Utd fans that wanted him stripped of this duty. Not to dampen spirits too much but 2006, Portugal? Remember? That's the one when Ronaldo got Rooney sent off - which was all about the wink and absolutely nothing to do him stamping on Carvalho's meat n two veg/nutsack (can I say nutsack?). Well in that shoot out Lampard and Gerard both missed in the shootout, so did Carragher who was brought on in the final minute of extra time for the sole purpose of taking a spot kick having excelled in training from 12yards - albeit taking them against Paul Robinson, David James and Scott Caron.
Brian Belfast (trapped in London)Gooner [Milner starting at RB suggests Roy has the same amount of confidence in Smalling as the rest of us]

Is it not a damning statement on England as a footballing country that even at the age of 29 we still have no idea what position is best for the most gifted player of his generation?
Lucas (I'd like to see him given a run out in goal) Pollard

The Left Is Often Right
What is it with the English obsession with playing in the middle? The back pages are making it sound like some sort of scandal that Rooney might be positioned out on the left. Meanwhile, Welbeck is having a whinge that he isn't getting played up top at Utd. Maybe they should both take a look at the list of ballon d'or winners since 1998, as three quarters of the years have been won by players who have spent significant spells in their career out wide, usually on the left: C. Ronaldo, Messi, Kaka, Ronaldhino, Nedved, Figo, Rivaldo and Zidane. Sure, like Messi, some of them moved into the centre, but Ronaldo seems to be doing ok "stuck out on the left wing".

Man Utd's transition between midfield and attack has been woeful all season. Rooney has been the central link so has to shoulder a lot of the responsibility. His summer tantrum led to Moyes not having the balls to try and solve this by playing him elsewhere, instead forcing Mata out wide. Mata was much less suited to this role as he lacks the pace, dynamisim, defensive awareness and physical bravery that Rooney or Welbeck can provide.

Rooney has clearly regressed in recent seasons and in my opinion is too inconsistent to be regularly trusted in the 10 position. An attacking left position allows him more time, space to isolate one player and the ability to cut in on his favoured foot. Welbeck could yet grow into a good central striker but he needs to be more clinical, does a fine job on the flank and is certainly not better than an on form RVP.

We've previously seen Gerrard and Beckham play some of their best football on the flanks but we were always told they should be in the centre where they can influence play more. As the list of winners shows, the idea that play can only be influenced from the centre is nonsense and just strikes me as laziness (as it involves some degree of defensive awareness) and arrogance (as the press tells us the centre is most important) on the part of the players who complain.

...Parmjeet Dayal, since when was 26 league goals and winning pretty much every domestic individual award in 09-10 counted as "doing a job"? The two seasons Wayne's been United's main striker, he's scored 56 league goals. Why play him in positions that rely on close control when that's often his weakness? He's the best striker of the ball out of England's forwards, so play him when he can actually bloody get in scoring positions. I like Sturridge but Rooney was top scorer in qualifying for a reason: he's simply better in front of goal. I actually think Sturridge could benefit being given more freedom and drifting into channels more.

It similarly pisses me off regarding James Milner: he won the young player of the year in his last season at Villa playing in the middle, and he fully deserved it. So why change that? Both City and England are guilty of it, and it seriously gets under my skin.

Contractual Chat
Following Mediawatch's reporting of Gareth Barrys £9 Million or £60K a week over 3 years contract, it had me wondering, is this not a better way to report the true value and cost of a player.

In US sport, they always report the total value of the contract. EG LeBron James $110mil (6 Year) contract with Miami Heat, or Miguel Cabreras $248mil (8 year) contract with the Detriot Tigers.

This would then give people the true cost of these players. So, Wayne Rooney has a £78mil (5 year) contract with United. This, along with making my eyes water as I type, is the true cost of Rooney to United.

A conservative £50k a week, for 2 years, plus the £4.5mil transfer fee, puts the true cost of Lambert at £9.7mil. Bargain!

I think this is how contracts should be reported.

Next up, net spend!
Dave, Dublin

Cesc To Liverpool
As this is my first ever mail, I would like to confess to my total addiction to post-season transfer speculation. Ye Gods what witchcraft is this that so bedevils my mind? I honestly think I have not missed a rumour and if the WC is half as exciting as some of the assorted BS then we should be in for fun this summer. What is currently getting my goat is the Fabregas story. To all the Liverpool fans out there, surely Fabregas is the one player who would elevate our squad to another level and fit into the team structure seamlessly? Should we all be petitioning and holding night vigils outside Anfield because with Fab we would become real contenders.

Let's be clear, the guy was a genius for Arsenal, running games at a young age in an average team. His record for Barca is equally great with exceptional possession stats and goals-to games ratio. The man is world-class. Importantly, he would fit perfectly in a system that would see Sterling/Coutinho, Suarez and Sturridge as the front three with Fab taking the advanced/creative midfield role, Hendo dropping deeper to offer more energy in defensive midfield positions and Stevie G occupying deep-lying midfield. That surely is better than the untested Lallana??
So please Brendan, make a bid now before it's too late. We might not get him but we should be going all out to try...
Adam (candles have been lit) LFC

...As the Cesc Saga continues I've gone from being convinced we'll buy him to being certain we won't.

I started off thinking that Wenger can't resist a diminutive central midfield playmaker and has a knack of ignoring what we actually need and buying a playmaker instead. We needed a centre-back and he bought Arsharvin, we needed a striker and he bought Ozil.

Now I've changed my mind and I'm convinced Cesc will go elsewhere in England. That way even if the club spend a bucket-load of money the fans will still end the summer feeling a bit fed-up and arguing with each other. Only Arsenal has the ability to go through a transfer window that on paper is a success and come out of it feeling like failures surrounded by discontent. So my new prediction is that we sign a very good right-back, an excellent defensive midfielder and a superb striker and then spend the autumn moaning about not having Cesc.
Pete, Gooner

Mark, CFC, London, is obviously very easily impressed. Lampard may have scored 46 of 57 penalties (81% success rate), but that's barely above average (79%). Compare that to, for example, Matt Le Tisser (47 of 48, 98% success rate), and you will see that yes, there have been plenty of better English penalty takers.
Salem (Rickie Lambert is tidy too), London

There were, of course, dozens of these - Salem just happened to be the first - MC

And We Had Plenty Of These Too
It was nice of Noah from Palm Beach to confirm Peter G's suspicions that not many Americans know what the lyrics to their National Anthem are about.

The "rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" are nothing to do with fireworks, they are the bombardment dished out by the Royal Navy to Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. The star-spangled banner of the title was flown from the battlements at dawn following the battle, demonstrating to the watching Francis Scott Key (who wrote the original poem) that the fort had withstood the attack. The successful defence of Baltimore is thought to be one of the main factors that tipped the war in America's favour.

A slightly more interesting story than our own God Save The Queen I'm sure you'll agree.

To include something related to football, I anticipate Messrs Reus and Ronaldo launching a much more successful attack on the USA defences in a couple of weeks time than the British managed back in September 1814.
Dave (not even American), Bath, UK.

...Without wanting to turn this into the NME letters page too much, surely Noah P (obnoxiously American as shit) Palm Beach's worshipping of the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock misses the point in quite a hilarious tub-thumping fashion. 'The epicness of Hendrix combined with the national pride that comes from his guitar screaming our country's song' that he describes is generally understood to be a pretty open criticism of American foreign policy at the time and the unquestioning, flag waving triumphalism that goes hand in hand with that. I mean, the guitar playing morphs into helicopters, bombs and machine gunning of Vietnam out of the original tune of the national anthem, but nice to see that a definitive moment of 20th Century popular culture is so easily stripped of context and co-opted to suit purpose (maybe they'll get the hang of being football fans over there after all).

I mean this is nothing to do with football, but it's always good to keep the mailbox based in some sort of reality...and who can resist having a pop at an American's national pride?
James (inevitable comment about there being no sense of irony amongst our dear cousins), AVFC.

Quickfire Responses
Cracking continental-themed mailbox this morning. A couple of responses to some of the mails:
1. Guy S - completely agree with the point about playing in your correct position to get the most out of your abilities. Jones has visibly suffered since being shifted about, Young is blatantly not a winger and Milner openly admits he wants to be a central midfielder. If we can see it, why can't their managers?
2. Andy, AFC - The problem I see with Arsenal taking back Cesc is twofold. First is the price they'd have to pay for him. For the money it'd require to bring him back, you'd expect him to be playing every game - you don't (or at least shouldn't) pay upwards of £30m for a substitute, leading onto point two: who then do you drop? You'd have Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla, Rosicky, Arteta, Flamini, Gnabry and Fabregas all be going for two to four positions. Plus you've still got Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski to fit in there. If they were serious about taking him back, someone would probably have to leave.
3. Strevs, Afc - I'd take Hangeland at United. He's still a quality defender and would be a good stopgap to allow Jones and Smalling more time to develop, assuming they could get more game time.
4. David Szmidt, Brno - is your girlfriend Paul Merson? Either that or she's ripping off his quotes and not citing him as her source.
Ted, Manchester

Please convey my thanks to Martin Brez, WWFC and England, South Korea for introducing me to the nickname of the South Korean national team, i.e., the Taeguk Warriors, which sounds brilliant. It got me curious about other nicknames and a little wiki search yielded the following which caught my attention:

- Benin are called The Squirrels, which is almost as cute as Les Hirondelles (swallows) of Burundi
- South Africa's Bafana Bafana apparently means Boys Boys (and their ladies team are called Girls Girls (in their own language of course)
- I am not sure if this is accurate, but the nickname for the Filipino team is The Street Dogs apparently...
- Comoros are The Coelacanths, a kind of prehistoric fish formerly thought to be extinct and rediscovered in the 20th century.
- The Chinese ladies team are the Steel Roses, which sounds like a rock band!
- Are the Greek team really called The Pirate Ship?
- There are 3 teams called the Dragons: China (obviously), Wales (obviously) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (hmm...). EIGHT team use "lions".
- European teams seem to have the least creative names, beaten soundly by the Africans and the Asians, in my opinion.

I would have to say my favourite is probably La Furia Roja (The Red Fury), which sounds intimidating (exactly what the nickname of a team should do, in my opinion). My least favourite are the ones which are just colours. So disappointing. What are yours?
Jay (What about France as the dark horses? I can sort of see it...), MUFC

With talk of World Cups past, and what make a special tournament, I thought I'd mention that the 'other' UK sports channel has been showing the official films at 10pm every night this week.

Monday was the excellent Spain '82, narrated by a smooth, yet slightly bitter sounding Sean Connery (I think), with Mexico '86 last night and Italia '90 this evening. When added to the seemingly endless run of televised friendlies, it's like the World Cup has already started.
DF (Hold and give, but do it at the right time)

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