The young ones
For many years, The Sun’s chief sports writer Steven Howard was given the affectionate moniker of Chief Grumpypants by Mediawatch for his continuously glum take on everything surrounding the England national team. Almost two years after Howard’s retirement, Neil Ashton is taking his title.
In the last few months, Ashton has travelled to Russia to be photographed looking sulky about the lack of facilities on offer, accused Gareth Southgate of dreaming for daring to pick a three-man defence and decided that ‘soon enough, another international tournament will slide by. England are slowly fading away’ because they picked Nick Pope as one of four goalkeepers in a friendly squad. You have to say, he’s earned his new name.
On Wednesday, Chief Grumpypants II has noticed that England’s 27-man squad for these international friendlies is not as strong as the 22-man squad Glenn Hoddle took to the World Cup in 1998. At which point everyone looks up and says “yeah, we know”.
Still, Mediawatch cannot quite get on board with Ashton’s reasoning:
‘There was competition in every area of the pitch when the team was selected for the opener against Tunisia. Neville or Southgate, Adams or Campbell, Beckham or Merson, Batty or Ince, Shearer or Sheringham, Owen or Ferdinand. They were hungry young men at the top of their game.’
At ‘the top of their game’? England’s leading striker Alan Shearer had scored two goals in 17 games in 1997/98 after being ruled out for most of the campaign with a ligament injury.
Also, Ince and Merson were 30, Adams was 31 and Sheringham was 32. They might have been ‘hungry’, but Mediawatch is not having ‘young’, and particularly not when used as a stick with which to beat the current crop.
There were 10 players aged 30 or over in the World Cup 1998 squad of 22; three of the current 27 are aged 30 or over.
Sad, sad situation
‘The World Cup, yet another World Cup, is about to pass England by’ – Neil Ashton, The Sun.
See here’s the thing, CGII, the 1998 World Cup also passed England by. For all your talk of ‘hungry young men’, let’s not pretend that was some magnificent spectacle of English football. Tony Adams didn’t look either ‘young’ or ‘hungry’ when Coventry’s Viorel Moldovan sprinted past him during the defeat to Romania.
Funnily enough, that Romania defeat does not merit a mention in Ashton’s ‘woe is 2018 me’ piece. But he does say that ‘incredibly they only reached the second round’.
It wasn’t that ‘incredible’; England finished second in their group behind Romania and so played Argentina rather than Croatia.
And it’s getting more and more absurd
‘That group, a pre-cursor to a golden generation of players who failed to go beyond the quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006, represented English football’s elite clubs. Manchester United supplied four players, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool three apiece, and Chelsea one.’
Well Tottenham finished 14th that season, but fine.
*Brings up current squad list*: Four from Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, three from Manchester United and two from Arsenal. So… more players from elite clubs now? Bring home the trophy.
‘In the coming years, Leicester, Burnley, Stoke and Bournemouth will get used to sending away their English players during international years.’
Scathing stuff. And complete guesswork.
Still, we do wonder what Ashton would make of Southgate having to call up a second-tier player for his squad, eh. Y’know, like Glenn Hoddle did for the World Cup in 1998.
Mediawatch agrees that this is not a vintage England squad, but vintage England squads haven’t got past a quarter-final in any tournament outside England for 28 years. So how about we don’t paint them as failures based on a friendly squad for two pre-tournament friendlies against Italy and Netherlands (neither of whom will even be in Russia this summer)?
Revealed: What always happens in international breaks is still happening
Is ‘revealed’ the most powerful word in digital journalism? It certainly seems so, given how often it is used. ‘Revealed’ hints that the reader is about to have some tantalising secret shared with them. What it actually means is that some banal quotes or information are being up-sold to try and claw some traffic.
International breaks are generally the worst time for web traffic on football news, which makes sense, really. That means that you need to do some serious ‘revealing’. Like this:
‘Revealed: How Antonio Conte and his Chelsea backroom team are spending the international break’ – Football.London.
‘Revealed – What Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal coaches are doing during the international break’ – Football.London.
‘Revealed: What Mauricio Pochettino, his coaches & Kane are doing during the international break’ – Football.London.
We’ll save you three clicks: They are all running training for the players who aren’t on international duty. Just as they do every time there is an international break. Because that’s their job.
‘His opening goal on Saturday was one that will be played again and again as a showcase of what he can do. He has pace, vision, skill and strength. People are mentioning him in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, which may be a little early but certainly isn’t beyond belief’ – Jim Boardman, Daily Mirror.
Well it is sort of beyond belief. By Salah’s age, Messi had won three consecutive Ballon D’Or trophies, been the top goalscorer in the Champions League four seasons running and won five league titles and three European Cups. Steady on now.
Writes (West Ham fan) Andrew Dillon in The Sun, without caring who he offends:
‘West Ham fans have had enough of being labelled hooligans in their ongoing struggle with the club’s board. So instead of pitch invasions, coin throwing and fighting, so have come up with the idea of a static protest. Not to be confused with the static caravans they live in.’
Careful now. The last thing we need is more fights.
Still, this is a man who answered a Football Writers’ Association interview question about the best hotel he had stayed with ‘I had a naked sauna with a complete stranger (female) and the girls at check in are breathtaking’.
Somehow the brackets are the best bit.
That famous atmosphere
John Aldridge on Liverpool vs Manchester City:
“It’s an advantage for them having the second leg at home but then again their ground doesn’t generate an atmosphere.
“Some of their players will shake when they feel the atmosphere we create. They won’t have heard anything quite like it.”
They literally played at Anfield earlier this season. And also played at a packed full Stadio San Paolo (and won there).
‘Alexis Sanchez soars to the top of the Premier League wage table with new £350,000-a-week deal at Manchester United’ – Daily Mail, January 23.
‘Alexis Sanchez is the misfit on £600,000-a-week who Manchester United fear will flop like Angel Di Maria’ – Daily Mail, March 21.
Weird how that wage increases when Sanchez starts playing badly. £1m a week by May?
Optimistic headline of the day
‘That’s how much Bale loves Wales’ – Daily Mail.
It’s definitely nothing to do with Bale being a large part of the tournament’s branding, and Wales being fined £100,000 of their fee for the tournament if he doesn’t appear.
Recommended reading of the day
Adam Bate on Memphis Depay.
Ben Fisher with Matty Blair.
Jack Pitt-Brooke with Ben Wilmot.
Planet Sport quiz: How well do you know Rory McIlroy’s career achievements (Golf365)?