The Sports Direct Tim Stillman column

Tim Stillman Column

I have a dream fellow Gooners. Well, in truth, I have several dreams. But I’ll leave the one involves Robbie Savage’s testicles and a set of vinegar soaked razor blades for another time. I dream that one day, international football will jump back into its bloody box and quit its persistent interruptions in the club season. It just feels like a season doesn’t really ever get the chance to glide effortlessly out of a rut and into a groove until the internationals hibernate into the winter.

Now, if I were being entirely selfish, in truth, I’d do away with the whole jamboree altogether. International football holds about as much interest to me as boxing. I’ll watch a title bout but that’s about as far as my interest can be piqued. I think most people in England feel the same nowadays. However, I recognise that beyond the parochial bounds of blighty, the international game does mean a lot more. Then again, not every international side has that goblin faced grass muncher as their captain.

But, for instance, nations whose best players habitually make their living in other countries will understandably look at the international game as a valve to witness players they produced. How else are Ivorians to witness the genius of Eboue first hand I ask you? But there has to be a compromise. It’s a paradigm I use often, but international football has become the Royal Family of the sport. It puts so little in, takes so much out and we somehow have to consider having our nuts squeezed by it as some huge honour.

I agree with Arsene that, as a starting point, there has to be some kind of pre-qualifier to filter out the dross. In the post Cold War world, there are a lot more smaller countries and I don’t think it’s valuable or interesting for anyone for Andorra to get humped 10-0 in every game. This is one of the reasons the interest in international football is waning. The other big factor is that the spectacle is reducing. There is often an argument that players play far too many games. As a result, international tournaments nearly always flatter to deceive as the players on show are usually breathing out of their arses by June.

The number of club games played has not exponentially risen in more than a generation. To illustrate, Arsenal played a total of 64 matches in the 1970-71 season. Last season they played 56. But money spinning friendlies are filtering their way into the calendar seemingly every year. 10-15 years ago, we didn’t have the August friendlies, the November playoffs / friendlies, or the February and April slots for these soulless exercises in futility. International football was once a spectacle, now it is rendered as an empty soiree into FIFA’s endless greed.

Staying with footballing authorities loosely speaking, an oft heard retort to the overtures of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play initiative is, “It’ll change absolutely nothing.” I’ve always felt this is a barb dressed up in over exaggeration and I think events of this week have shown that. With Chelsea confirming that they are to sell the naming rights to Stamford Bridge at the earliest available opportunity. Manchester City have also, controversially, done the same in a deal that looks as though they’re taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another. (It should be pointed out that, as yet, UEFA have not ratified the deal as qualifying under the initiative).

Mike Ashley has also followed suit with Newcastle this week with the renaming of St. James’ Park. The fact that the likes of City and Chelsea are seriously studying these options elucidates the extent to which clubs obviously don’t feel FFP will have “no effect.” Otherwise, they would just ride roughshod over the whole thing. Even if City’s naming rights deal makes it past the FFP panel, there really are so many creative ways of exploiting the loopholes. The money made from these circumnavigations dries up eventually. Then what? Another creative ploy? How many of them are there?

Do I honestly think FFP will deconstruct the cartel of European football? Do I honestly believe the likes of Barcelona or City would be evicted from the land of milk and Champions League honey for non compliance? No I don’t. But Chelsea and City clearly don’t believe they will be able to continue to willingly flush hundreds of millions of pounds down the toilet any longer without evidence of self generated income. The knock on effect will mean spending amongst the sugar daddy clubs will stabilise.

The extent of the effect of FFP is up for debate, but to say it will have no effect doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Indeed, not all of the consequences will be positive. To a degree, we’ve seen at Arsenal this summer that rising ticket prices will continue to be a thorny issue as clubs look to drive up revenues. Supporters are the obvious target. Expect commercial activity to go into overdrive too. I don’t think it’ll be too long now before all 20 top flight clubs are playing in corporately sponsored stadia.

One of the predominant themes of international breaks is the interview with the unhappy squad player. Away from the tentacles of London Colney and back on terra firma in their own countries, players seemingly cannot wait to locate a journalist and reveal all about their club based misery. In reality, I appreciate it’s not quite like that. Selective “translations” are the modus operandi for the British media in these quiet periods. Nevertheless, two Arsenal players have expressed small dissatisfaction with their marginal roles in the squad.

Coquelin and Arshavin have murmured mealy mouthed words about wanting to play more. Which is fine, because who wants a squad of Stuart Taylors? I always take such mumblings of discontent to be a good sign. If players cannot break into the side, that’s usually because the players ahead of them are playing well. Gervinho and Walcott have struck a formidable partnership at the flanks of Arsenal’s attack which Arshavin cannot disband. Gervinho already looks like a valuable signing. A case of the manager spotting a quality that was previously missing from the team and amending it.

I don’t think I ever fully took to Nasri as a player. He has undoubted quality, which I always recognised, but I got frustrated by the lack of end product. Full of nice touches, but always in areas that the opposition could cope with. Admittedly, there was a six month spell last season where I was prepared to revise that opinion, but come crunch time, I think he shrivelled up quicker than a post orgasm phallus. Gervinho gives us a penetration we were lacking last year and his assists and goals are beginning to really hit pay dirt. Arshavin may be more talented than Gervinho, but his inspired moments seem to be becoming more fleeting.

I understand Coquelin’s frustration if it’s true that he was blocked from a further loan move on the premise of greater first team opportunities. However, he has no better example of the profit patience can yield than the man he is competing with. Alex Song was very much a bit part player for a few years, on the fringes of the first team squad with the occasional loan spell thrown in for good measure.

Now he has blossomed into a fine midfielder and probably one of the first names on the team sheet to boot. With the midfield three coming along nicely, the front three producing the goods and three international centre halves vying for two places, the rhythm and understanding of the team gives the manager no reason to disrupt things at the moment.

In closing, I would point out how delighted I was to be asked to contribute to So Paddy Got Up and to be able to share print reel with some journalists and bloggers I greatly respect. I will of course be at the launch at The Tolli on 7th December. They have Abbots Ale on tap in there. I quite like that drink. Just in case you wanted to know. See you there. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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