Possibly for slightly different reasons, I share a seasonal sentiment with professional footballers at this time of year. Frankly, I don’t really see Christmas as a holiday at all, not in the modern, feet up, pizza al forno, sunset-strolling sense of the word. The back-to-back relentlessness of late night drinking, hungover present buying, panic wrapping, excessive eating, faux-surprised unwrapping, exaggerated thanking, yule logging, early morning drinking, flood-bailing, left-over binging is enough to make you long for the January transfer window and a return to normality. I notice in Germany, where they take a big fat month off from the Bundesliga, they’re busy organising club friendlies. This isn’t because they’re afraid of being out of practice but rather as an excuse to escape their stollen-packed gingerbread houses. But, as luck would have it, Father Christmas or Santa Claus or Keiser Sose, whatever you call him, has packed up and poof! vanished (isn’t it Father Christmas who pulled the greatest trick of convincing the world he didn’t exist?) and we’re left blinking in the face of 2014.
So, three things: Firstly, the premier league, which is shaping up to be a straight up slug-fest between the Chels and Man City. As things stand, with the momentum and the squad they have, City are outright favourites. But I like the approach Jose has brought. The dressing room is looking calm, the results are coming in, players are trusting themselves to do what they do best and frankly I can’t remember a Christmas period when we had this level of consistency. Obviously I feel bad for Juan Mata, and I know we’re just asking for injuries if we make the mistake of selling him, but as long as the results stay as they are, I can hardly accuse Jose of getting it wrong. What may be the deciding factor is whether City have a good run in the Champions League and their heads turn. A couple of slip-ups at the crucial moment are all it’ll take. Either way, this has the potential to be one humdinger of a season finish.
Secondly, although we all know that the best way to get rid of the coffee granules in a cafetiere is to pour them down the loo, remember to flush it afterwards or else you end up having to make really awkward explanations to the next person in there.
And finally, forget the Winter Olympics or the Ryder Cup or any of that gubbins, 2014 is a World Cup year and that means business. Except it’s occurred to me that maybe it doesn’t any more. I mean, what’s the point? In all the highlights of the last World Cup there stands out the farcical ghost goal non-scored by Frankie Lampard against Germany.
Now I don’t want to rub your nose in it, but when Frankie scored that goal, and the pints went flying, we knew that the tournament had really kicked off. We’d had a slow start against some defensive opposition, sure, but you know, there were vuvuzelas. Coming back from two nil down against Germany, scoring on the stroke of half time to steal momentum, changed all that. It was meant to be. Diego’s Argentina would be next, who were a house of cards waiting to be blown down and the next thing you know, we’re in the semis and anything’s possible. But nooooo. Sepp Blatter doesn’t want technology in football and our cold gruel is snatched from our poor, orphan hands. Alas, this cruel twist of fate!
And yet, and yet… Somehow we find ourselves on the verge of another World Cup and nobody’s said a peep about the fact that exactly the same thing could happen again. Have FIFA implemented any of the already existing technology? Have they adopted the obvious easy solutions as we have in the Premier League? No. What they’ve done is given the next two tournaments to Russia and Qatar and seeded Switzerland. Also, Sepp Blatter has run unopposed and been re-appointed as president. You just have sit back and applaud.
Well, I say we should take a leaf out of Rugby Union’s book and make a stand. We boycott the World Cup in Brazil and set up a rival tournament that starts just afterwards, inviting all the teams that will inevitably have been knocked out by some unfair refereeing balls-up. I’m talking the Mexicos and Ghanas. Also, we ship in the home nations to bulk things up a bit, invite the countries that missed out entirely like Sweden and the Czechs and boom, before you know it you’ve got a credible threat to an overblown monopoly. Obviously it won’t last long, but look at the AFC in American football: it doesn’t need to. All you need to do is challenge the status quo and it all changes. Let’s call it the World Trophy, the big difference being it allows technology to help referees. That and it takes place every two years – none of us are getting any younger.
Besides, let’s face it, it’s not like we’re going to win in Brazil: we’ve got a dodgy squad, the group of death and jungle fever. We’re doomed. At least this way we oust Kim Sepp Blatter, ditch the insane ranking system and bring football in the 21st century. Who’s with me?