Tag Archives: England

Sam Allardyce – football’s Oliver Twist

25 Oct

It is a gritty, but nevertheless accurate, fact that the best looking orphans get adopted first out of the orphanage.  One would think that some sort of “cab-rank” rule applies when it comes to something as important as adoption.  However, apparently this isn’t the case.  Too Good is unable to explain why would-be surrogates apply an aesthetic rigour to their decision-making, but the facts remain to be as they are – the munters get left on the subs’ bench.

Sam Allardyce knows exactly what it’s like to be unloved on aesthetic grounds.  The man from Dudley is football’s answer to brutalism.  Sure, there will be a few outcriers who see a beauty in Big Sam’s interpretation of football, but most of us just think it’s a big concrete mess.  A style of play that ought to have been torn down and reconstructed at the same time as Manchester’s old Arndale Centre was.

As sure as those less appealing orphans are left with a life-time of emotional scarring, so too has Big Sam been rendered damaged and hurt from being consistently overlooked.  A big tear rolls down his big cheek every time he sees a coach with a fitted suit and a more fluid style of play get plucked from the orphanage of crap football teams and nestled into one of the warm, cozy homes of the premiership elite.

The impact this has had on Big Sam is palpably evident.  You only have to scratch the surface to see the wounds:

“I won’t ever be going to a top-four club because I’m not called Allardici, just Allardyce.”

Sam Allardyce.

These aren’t the words of a defiant underdog; unapologetic for his misunderstood genius.  This is a statement laced with the brittle nomenclature of a damaged psyche.  Unresolved emotional trauma that won’t loosen its grip.  Sam’s stuck in the orphanage, and those idiot Top 4 foster parents just keep on picking more superficially attractive managerial alternatives.

It’s the final two words of the quote that yank the heart strings quite so taut.  “Just Allardyce”.  Leave them off and Sam might just have gotten away with a droll observation, evincing a wry smile and a wink from the assembled hacks.  Throw in the last two words and suddenly you’ve got a desperate and isolated man, struggling to control a wobbly lip.  Just Allardyce.  Just Allardyce.  Just plain old Sam Allardyce, nothing to see here.  Referring to oneself in the third person is usually an example of arrogance.  When used for the purpose of self-pity it’s just plain upsetting.

How did he end up feeling so unloved?  Maybe the quote was a defensive reaction; natural for a man who was sacked from his first permanent managerial post by a chairman sat in a prison cell at the time.  Maybe it’s the sniggering he hears when, trying to sound tech-savvy, he makes reference to analysing games on his laptop.

Preston, Blackpool, Notts County, Bolton, Blackburn.  Big Sam’s career reads like a Who’s Who of places you wouldn’t want to live in the north of England.  Newcastle was supposed to be his big break.  A team with a huge following and, finally, some real money to spend.  This was destined to be the final stepping stone before Allardyce was installed at a Champions League team.  Sadly, it turned out to be a tiny Toon adventure, lasting barely eight months.  Newcastle fans sang “You should have stayed at the Reebok” and “Sacked in the morning” at him.

Those cruel words must have still been ringing in Allardyce’s ears when he was sacked again 24 months into his next position, this time at Blackburn.  Quite the transformation for a manger whose stock was soaring when he left Bolton in 2007.  Three years on and Sam was running out of filing space for his rapidly accumulating p45s.

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It’s hard to understand why Allardyce doesn’t resonate more with our footballing public.  Certainly, no-one can doubt his Anglo-Saxon credentials.  Here is a man so quintessentially couched in the British elements of the game that even his jowls look like a flat back four.  Maybe it’s the denial as to who he truly is, and what he truly stands for, that sticks in the craw.  There’s an air of intellectual honesty to men like Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy and Tony Pulis.  Men whose brand of football is as unattractive as the ginger one from Girls Aloud, but who make no protestations to the contrary. 

Not so, for Big Sam.  I don’t know if he’s trying to kid us or himself, but there’s a level of hypocrisy bordering on wilful blindness with Allardyce.  He rails against accusations of direct, turgid football but then goes and signs a front two battering ram of Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll[1].  He’s the dog that craps all over the kitchen floor and then gives it the old “What, me guvnor?” routine when his owner comes home.  You’re fooling no-one, Sam.  And no amount of references to being a “pioneer of using Prozone in football management” will persuade us to the contrary.

Allowing Allardyce the reins at a club like West Ham was the final straw for many.  Everybody loves the Hammers.  Easy on the eye, rich in history and never actually quite good enough to ruffle the feathers of other teams.  Yet here, at the club synonymous with Sir Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore, we were forced to witness the convergence of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole in order to play out the logical end-game of Allardyce’s bleak philosophy.  It was like handing Peter Stringfellow the keys to a listed building.

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In the interests of balance, Allardyce has had his moments in the sun and we shouldn’t let that be forgotten.  “Bolton Wanderers finishing in the top 6” was a phrase few of us thought we would ever hear.  The last time Bolton were good enough to qualify for non-domestic duties, the concept of “European competition” was an entirely different affair that involved tanks and rationing.  Allardyce managed it, though. 

Again now at West Ham, despite the desecration of such holy ground, he returned the Irons to the top flight at the first attempt and finished 10th the following year.  In addition to usually one or both of Kevin Nolan and El Hadj Diouf, Allardyce brings stability to the table.

To quote Clive Owen in the motion picture Sin City, maybe Allardyce just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century.  I haven’t seen any footage of Allardyce in his playing days, but it is unlikely that he ever wore pink boots.  He’s an old-fashioned cannon in an era of drones and heat-sensitive missiles.  If he had been born thirty years earlier, he’d have probably been the England manager.

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The success of his time at Upton Park will likely now define Allardyce’s premiership career.  He did the business at Bolton, was booted out at Newcastle, and then walked into a lunatic asylum at Ewood Park (a spell from which we can conclude very little).  A positive report card at West Ham and you would have to concede that, on balance, his methods get results. 

Ultimately, though, I don’t think it is results that Allardyce craves.  It’s acceptance that he’s after.  It’s understanding.  It’s an arm around his Big shoulder.  More than anything, the ugly duckling from the midlands just needs a little love.  He just needs to be told “it’s not your fault” ten or eleven times, in the manner that Robin Williams did to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, so that he can have a good cry and release the demons that have plagued him for so long.

So here it is.  I love you, Sam.  Not massively, it has to be said.  And not in a particularly wholesome way, either.  But you seem to be able to consistently get results at a certain level within the game.  If I supported any team in the bottom half of the premiership, I’d be happy to have you as manager.  Newcastle were idiots to get rid of you so quickly.  And their fans sarcastically chanting “Big Sam for England” wasn’t right.  If I could have stopped them, I would have. 

I’d much prefer it if you didn’t sign players like Andy Carroll.  But such acquisitions are inextricable with your view on how the game needs to be played.  I accept that.  You could probably tone down the general levels of sarcasm in your interviews.  It gets weary season after season.  And stop talking about your laptop like you work for NASA – we’ve all got one.  But these are small things.  You’re not insufferable, Sam.  You’ll never irritate people to anywhere near the levels that Alan Pardew manages to achieve.  You’re not Alan Pardew, Sam.  You hear me?  You’re not Alan Pardew. 

You’re a good kid. 

Hopefully this provides you with some solace.

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“Please sir, I want two uncompromising centre-forwards.”


[1] While spending a short period of time in the U.S. playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, it may stun you to learn that Allardyce was a student of gridiron and subsequently applied many of the practices and techniques into association football.

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Space Cadet Hodgson steers his team of astronauts to the World Cup Finals

18 Oct

So, congratulations to Roy’s boys.  Obviously last night’s qualification is all just laying the groundwork for when Adnan Januzaj links up with the squad in 2018.   But let’s crack open the Babycham and enjoy a small celebration in the meantime anyway.  We’re off to Brazil!

Judging by the lack of dancing in the fountains of Trafalgar Square on Tuesday night, England fans appear to have taken the news in a measured stride.  Rightly so.  On a sheer numbers game alone, the fifth most populace nation in the European confederation really ought to be able to secure one of the thirteen berths on offer. 

Too Good has never been convinced that Roy Hodgson was a particularly good choice for England manager, but that’s for another day and another article.  Now would be an unkind and unjust time to shine a harsh light on that decision.  It’s touching that Hodgson has declared qualification as his proudest moment in football and he deserves praise for extracting an undefeated 10-game run through the qualifiers[1].

Poland had more than enough chances in the final group game to keep England fans entirely honest about their prospects in Brazil.  As many opportunities as England had at one end of the pitch, Robert Lewandowski could have had three goals at the other end in the first half hour alone.  The best of the bunch, whistling past Joe Hart’s post on 22 minutes, caught the palpably relieved Hodgson mouthing the words “f*** me” on camera.  While we all await Roy’s donation for the swear jar, I ought to confess I muttered something awfully similar.  It could have been bleak.

This was England’s last competitive game before tournament play begins next June.  There’s still quite a few things for Hodgson to mull over between now and then.  Too Good has a look under the bonnet of the Three Lions, takes a sharp intake of breath, and gives its tuppence on what’s running well and what needs a little tinkering with.

Strikers

Let’s start with something positive.  If Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge can stay fit, that’s a great front pairing.  Both are genuinely classy players.  In Rooney’s case, world class.  England can count their lucky stars that Scotland narrowly missed out on laying claim to Wazza as a youngster. He is looking composed and on form. 

While still no stranger to rage’s hypnotic grip, Rooney seems to have calmed a little in recent years.  Perhaps, with a certain amount of good fortune, he may manage only his second ever international tournament unfettered by suspension, red cards or injury.

Sturridge has parachuted into international football with all the same lethal composure he has been showing in domestic competition.  England’s best chances of prosperity this summer will come from hitching our wagons to these two gifted strikers.  Which is just as well, given that the options up front fall off a cliff after that.  Best not to even think about it.

Midfield

As odd as it sounds, the centre of midfield needs a bit of careful thought between now and June.  There’s plenty of players to choose from, just no obvious pairing/triumverate.  Since he’s made him captain, you have to assume Hodgson will play Steven Gerrard if fit.  He’ll need someone to do the running though, as Gerrard is no longer the cavalry charge on legs that he once was.  A 36 year old Frank Lampard is unlikely to be a starting option by the summer, although academics of the game postulate that he and Gerrard never really gelled together anyway. 

It’s difficult to see Gerrard and Jack Wilshere playing as a two, but then a three-pronged central midfield runs the risk of sacrificing Sturridge and leaving a one-man Rooney-shaped attack.  This cannot be allowed to happen.  It is not impossible that Wilshere may find himself being accommodated in a wide midfield position for country, as he has found himself for club recently.

Some of you are probably already mumbling “Michael Carrick” under your breath as you read this.  The Emperor’s New Carrick has his proponents, but I swear to God he’s just wandering through the streets naked.  People watch Carrick never attempt anything glamorous and praise this as “assured” and “steady”.  I’m fine with him being slow of foot but he’s slow of ball too, and that’s unforgiveable in his position.  He practically needs a signed letter from the opposition that they won’t trespass into his passing lane before he attempts a first-time pass. 

If a designated holder is required, Gareth Barry is a better option.  I occasionally amuse friends and acquaintances by referring to Gareth Barry as “one of the quickest players in England”.  The fact of the matter is that when it comes to recycling the play, when it comes to keeping the football hurtling around at pace, and when it comes to dragging opposition players out of position because a player is willing (and capable) of risking a fist-time ball, there are few to match Gareth Barry.  Bloody well watch him if you disagree.  The difference between he and Carrick is a sense of urgency.  Critical when you have to unlock an opposition constantly readjusting and reforming their defensive shape.

Lest we forget, despite being consigned to the international scrapheap, Barry has been a starting choice in a Premiership midfield much better than the one Michael Carrick plays in over the last two years.  His loan move to Everton this summer was a very clear indication that Barry wants to guarantee game-time this season to ensure his world cup selection chances aren’t unduly hampered. 

Maybe Hodgson can conjure a formation that requires neither of the two, but Barry should get the nod if one is deemed necessary.

Defence

Defence is probably the area which will engage Roy’s worry the least.  The centre-back pairing of Jagielka and Cahill looks solid enough and we have sufficient full-backs to populate the remaining 31 teams in the competition.  At right-back alone, any of Kyle Walker, Glenn Johnson, Micah Richards, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones could more than adequately do the job.  Teddy Sheringham recently mooted that even Steven Gerrard could do a job thereThe suggestion is one rich with temptation.  England benefiting from Gerrard’s range of distribution and general ability, while freeing up space for other options in the centre of the park. 

Indeed, Gerrard played right-back during extra-time of a particularly memorable evening in Istanbul a little while ago.  He did an excellent job, too; making vital blocks and interceptions.  Such hare-brained tactical juggling wouldn’t be without historical precedence for England, either.  Against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro ’96, another roving, goal-scoring midfielder was deployed at right-back.  David Platt.  Keep an open mind, Roy.

Goalkeeper

Eyebrows have been raised in the direction of Head and Shoulders’ poster-boy, Joe Hart, in recent weeks.  A few less mistakes from the England’s number one would certainly be most welcome.  But let’s be absolutely frank about this, Hodgson better damn well hope Hart doesn’t pick up an injury between now and the end of the season.  The thought of an untried Fraser Forster, John Ruddy, Ben Foster or Jack Butland donning the gloves in Brazil is enough to put any England fan off their pre-game caipirinha.  In terms of sheer lack of a viable replacement, only Rooney is more indispensable than Hart.

Conclusion

A favourite game of mine since childhood has been to speculate on whether I will live to see the day England win a World Cup. 

Historically, given my comparative youth and England’s odds usually being somewhere in the region of 10 or 11-1 at World Cups, I have always given myself at least a 50% chance of seeing England hoist the trophy.  It was a comforting thought; knowing that I had a better-than-evens chance of seeing us do the business before I set sail for the great penalty box in the sky.    

As I become a little more advanced in years, and England’s odds begin to creep out[2], I’m now not so sure.  Assuming I have maybe fourteen more tournaments left in me, would I say I have a forty per cent chance of seeing it happen in my lifetime?  Thirty per cent?  Twenty?  You’d be a bullish punter to still put it at 50:50. 

Sadly, when August rolls around, I suspect I will be looking at even longer odds again. 

You never know, though…

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Roy’s preparations for the summer are already under way.


[1] Although, to keep this in context, Italy have now gone 40 games without losing a World Cup or European qualifier.

[2] Betfair currently has England at a decidedly limp 23/1 for the win in Brazil 2014.

Ashley Cole and Other Guilty Pleasures…

20 Sep

Everyone has a guilty pleasure in life.  Whether it be a crafty cigarette last thing at night, taking the wife for a spot of swinging or even, God forbid, watching rugby union once the curtains are drawn.  We all have a little something we seek elicit enjoyment from.  My guilty pleasure is Ashley Cole.

I’ll happily admit to regularly being out of touch with the sentiment of the nation.  The opprobrium that the general public reserves for Ashley Cole I do understand, though.  He’s not exactly a tour de force in public relations.  But watching children less than half his age shout expletives at him every single time he took a throw-in at Old Trafford the other week reminded me that I don’t actually mind the fella all that much.  I really don’t.

Discussion on England’s number one “No. 3” tends to surmise two things.  One, that he’s quite a dislikeable character; and two, that he’s a fantastic fullback.  I’m going to make the case that, one, he’s not really that dislikeable (at least, not within the somewhat forgiving context of being a professional footballer); and, two, that he is a fantastic footballer but not for the reasons most seem to think.  I suspect Cole’s number will soon be up for the national side[1], so now seems as good a time as any to take a look back over his career.  As a left-back myself, I’m going into bat for a fellow brother-in-arms.

Girls

Let’s get the non-footballing side out of the way first.  Cole’s epitaph is not going to refer to as him as an award-winning husband.  He’s a naughty lad and we ought not to try to defend him on this.  While wedded to the lovely Cheryl, Ashley was caught dancing the Underpants Charleston with more than one woman who was not his bride.  Of course, he’s not exactly the first professional footballer to have been caught with his trousers in absentia.  If Cole is to be judged by his peers, let’s at least be aware of whom his peers are…

The game is littered with sinful romancers but fans rarely seem to pass judgement[2].  Horny quadragenarian, Ryan Giggs, is the only thing that stands between Ed Miliband and the title of “Britain’s Worst Brother”.  Yet the randy Welsh swordsman is nothing short of revered throughout the footballing community.  John Terry seems to experience something of a Pavlovian reaction whenever he sees a team-mate’s girlfriend and Wayne Rooney will grab anyone so long as they’re at least ten years older than Giggsy.  Even Sir Becks once had a moment of weakness with the nanny.  The point being, if we are to pluck our heroes from the narrow spring that is faithful professional footballers, we’re going to have some rather slim pickings from which to choose. 

Money

Then there’s the suggestion that Cole’s greedy; premised on the now infamous quote from his autobiography that he “nearly swerved off the road” when he was informed of Arsenal’s offer of £55k/week during salary negotiations.  It is a testimony to Ashley’s gripping prose and well-crafted writing style that this quote has become so well known, since the book itself sold a meagre 4,000 copies. 

While we can all reach pragmatic conclusions on the merits of a millionaire publicly complaining about his weekly wages, Cole was at least expressing an honestly held view that is unlikely to be unique (if, indeed, a view more often kept private).  So at what point does it become vulgar to complain about money? 

If you earn the average UK wage that already puts you in the top 1% of earners worldwide.  I suspect this wouldn’t stop many of us from aiming a few metaphorical “teacups” at a few figurative “walls” if our paymasters offered us a salary that was barely half of our expected earnings based on the industry standard.  Certainly, the staff writers at Too Good would have my head on a stick if they weren’t rewarded handsomely for their journalistic prowess.  Prince or pauper, people want to feel fairly compensated.

Football

So let’s turn to the important bit.  Cole’s playing abilities.  We can certainly all agree on one thing.  He is an excellent (a consistently excellent) footballer.  One of England’s finest.  I’m not sure it’s always fully appreciated why, though. 

He’s not a complete left-back.  And he certainly isn’t a wing-back.  In fact, he isn’t really fantastic at going forward at all.  He isn’t a goal threat[3] or, for that matter, a man with a great many assists to his name.  Despite being a striker in his youth, Cole just doesn’t have the attacking instinct that for years some people seemed to suggest he had (probably explaining why he never did get that “confirmed kill” when taking aim at the summer intern).  His forays in opposition territory certainly aren’t up there with some of the great attacking full-backs of the past 20 years (Cafu, Lahm, Alves, Carlos, Maicon).  The role of full-back has been redefined in recent years but Cole’s actually quite traditional in his employment.

Where he does deserve enormous credit is his defensive capabilities.  Cole’s level of anticipation in dispossessing strikers is unsurpassed.  He’s world class at double-bluffing a winger into taking a particular path and then pouncing on the ball.  Again and again he will fake interceptions only to retreat to where he has tricked the attacking player into going.  The preconceptions in his movement are almost as disingenuous as some of the compliments people hand out on Facebook photos.

He’s also a great last gasp defender.  Cole might not have notched many times in his career (bedposts notwithstanding) but you can count a great many goal-line clearances to his name.  He has a parkland animal’s ability to sense danger and scurry things into a safe position.  Balanced and never caught on the wrong foot, Cole is able to move with great haste but never in great panic.  If an expensive champagne flute was carelessly glanced off a table edge, the smart money would be on Cole being the one to catch it.

He’s blessed with great health too.  Only once managing less than 30 games in a domestic season over a fourteen year career.  Last year, aged 32, Cole played his most ever – a colossal 51 games in 6 different domestic and European competitions.  It is a testament to Cole’s longevity that he has clocked up over 600 professional games and is still going strong.  He’s a bit like Bruce Forsyth.  Timeless.  Not to everyone’s taste.  But you know what you’re getting and you can’t fault his commitment.

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Cole may never quite have been the best left-back in the world.  But England have had one of the best defenders going for the past decade.  We should celebrate that.  His views on the Football Association don’t make for polite reading, but he’s there at every training camp and every England game putting in consistently fine performances.  Unlike some of the fool’s gold in the golden generation, Cole always plays well on the big occasions.  He’s the one defender who consistently frustrated the greatest player these shores have ever seen, Cristiano Ronaldo.

So well done, Ashley.  Over a hundred England caps.  A European Cup.  A UEFA Cup.  One wounded intern.  Three league titles and more FA Cups than you can shake a stick at.  Here’s to a career that’s been rosier than your ex-wife’s posterior.  The Full-Back’s Union salutes you!

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Ashley was careful to caveat his marital vows.


[1] And I don’t think it will be Leighton Baines taking his place, either.  Luke Shaw looks to be the real deal.  Brazil 2014 will probably come a touch too early for Shaw (and Roy’s boys are doing their level best to balls-up qualification in any case…), but Too Good can easily see him as starting left-back for the European Championship qualifiers thereafter.  

[2] My favourite story of footballing adultery comes from north of the border in a wee town called Glasgow.  Andy Goram’s wife found out about his womanising when she discovered a lady’s footprints on the inside ceiling of the family car.  Such hatchback horseplay certainly didn’t deter Rangers fans from voting Goram as Rangers’ greatest ever goalkeeper, though. 

[3] Cole’s never scored a goal for England in his mightily impressive 100+ cap haul.  In fact, he’s only ever scored 17 career goals.  Barely a goal a season.

A Ryder Cup for football?

29 Apr

As popular boy band JLS found to their cost, power shifts can be fast and brutal.  One minute you are kings of the kennel, the next you’re whimpering in the corner as One Direction become the new daddies of the dogs’ home.  We might be on the cusp of a similar changing of the guard in European football.

The football teams of Spain have been the undisputed alpha-dogs for some time now.  Yet Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund tore into the Spanish top two like they were week-old puppies.  Did the manner in which both Barcelona and Madrid were brought to heel by German foes, with such unquestioning obeyance, represent a wider shift in supremacy?  The new breed of Bavarian thoroughbreds certainly had tongues wagging.

National pride is at stake when arguments turn to who has the best league.  Even in countries with little home-grown talent, football fans delight in asserting that their teams are the strongest.  Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife, as Arsene Wenger once put it.  In the first flourishes of the 21st Century, the English Premiership had good claim to being the pack leader.  This is palpably no longer the case.  The spin-doctors at Sky Sports tacitly acknowledged as much by revising their claim of the Premiership being “the best league in the world” to now calling it “the most exciting league in the world”.  A subtle tweak in vernacular that New Labour would be proud of.

From my perspective, the last 20 years has seen the crown perched a-top four different heads:

1993 -> 1999 Italy

2000 -> 2004 Spain

2004 -> 2009 England

2009 -> 2012 Spain

2013 – Germany…?

If I were to relent to the demands of argumentative geriatric, Ray Winston, and have a bet, I would wager that 2013 will be seen as a blip in the continuing Spanish reign.  The Cromwellian Bundesliga will push La Liga close but, ultimately, not relieve Spain of its hegemony.  This is only my opinion, of course.  And opinions, as they say, are like arseholes (everybody’s got one).  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way we could empirically assess which league was the strongest?  Well it just so happens I have a suggestion…

Introducing the Platini Plate: “the Ryder Cup of Football”.  Europe’s top leagues compete against each other – 1st plays 1st, 2nd plays 2nd, right down to 20th plays 20th.  A win scores one point and a draw gets you a half.  Football schedules are already more cramped than Ricki Lake in a 2-door Jag, so let’s keep it biannual, taking place during the pre-season of every odd year.  Rather than the frankly unwatchable friendlies currently in situ, you would have Bayern Munich versus Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund versus Manchester City, right down to the grudge match of Reading versus Greuther Freuth.  It could work on either an invitational basis (the Premiership could challenge a different league every two years), or the country of the previous year’s Champions League winners could play the defending champions of the Platini Plate.  The title of “Europe’s Strongest League” would pass back-and-forth like a boxing belt.

The beauty of the Platini Plate (I’m working on a better name.  Suggestions welcome…) is it’s no use having one or two powerhouses in a league otherwise full of carthorses.  The criticism, unfairly in my view, that La Liga comprises of Real Madrid, Barcelona and 18 whipping boys could be put to the test.  Would Norwich beat Athletic Bilbao in the battle of 14th place?  Are Valencia really going to struggle against their 6th place counterparts, Everton?  Champions League teams are, in reality, outliers, rather than indicative of a league’s strength in depth.  This tournament is more interested in the mean average than the cream of the crop.

Would the viewing public be interested in such a contest?  I think they would lap it up.  The match-ups could be staggered over 4 days, building up to a crescendo as the last two teams do battle in a potentially thrilling finale.  Since games would overlap with each other, the red button would be your friend.  Think of the excitement as Martin Tyler announces “there’s been a goal at the Britannia…”.  Cue cheers across the nation as the screen-within-screen shows John Walters firing Stoke into a 2-0 lead against Real Vallodolid.  A point safely in the bag there by the Potters.

As for the players, I can’t help but feel that they would be stirred by a mixture of patriotism (for some, at least) and a desire to demonstrate that they play in the best league in the world.  Everyone likes to think that they work in the most demanding environment.  Here is a chance for players to prove their league is pre-eminent.  You would think Rickie Lambert would jump at the opportunity to show he can score goals against defences across Europe.  And, with Liverpool looking like an absentee from Europe next year, Luis Suarez would presumably be dying to sink his teeth into, well, you get the picture.

So what do you think, Mr Platini?  I’ll not charge a penny for the idea.  It’s yours to do with as you wish.  In lieu of payment, I ask only that you take a flexible attitude to Manchester City when the Financial Fair Play Rules come into force next year.  Do we have ourselves a deal?

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You’re so manly, Ray.  I wish my Granddad was as cool as you.

CORRECTION:
After much brow-furrowing and some careful use of the Too Good abacus, it became apparent that there are only 18 teams in the Bundesliga.  In the spirit of the Ryder Cup, Germany are therefore allowed two wild card picks.  Welcome to the party Eintracht Braunschweiger and Hertha Berlin.  The Spanish, Italian, French and English teams all have 20 teams in their top-flight at the time of writing.