SO many people, particularly those from the fraternity of football managers, claim to be expert tacticians these days.
I freely admit that my knowledge of midfield diamonds and possible on-field manoeuvres is severely limited. It would be equivalent to my understanding of the inner workings of my wife’s mind.
But occasionally, just occasionally, I can just about divine when a player possesses a special ingredient of skill. Steven Fletcher, for instance. I’ve admired his style ever since I first saw him operating for Hibs in Tony Mowbray’s slightly laissez faire managerial era.
Back then, Fletcher was a classy act in the company of Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan. While both those guys regrettably failed to capitalise fully on their obvious potential, Fletcher did not.
This did not necessarily mean he formed part of a church choir (ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein might be called to testify in this instance), but his talent undoubtedly blossomed in subsequent moves to Wolves and then Sunderland.
However, the days of possible delinquency – it that’s what they were – seem to be over, and Fletcher now offers what might be considered a more responsible package as a striker.
By that, I mean he can score goals (ideally, he could score more, but that criticism can be levelled at many strikers), he can head the ball in meaningful directions and, desirably, he can link play when it really matters with some of the sweetest passes imaginable.
He offered substantive evidence of this again in the Tyneside derby on Sunday.. Watching Sunderland disturb the efficacy of Newcastle was a reminder of Fletcher’s potency and the consequential impotence of the Geordie rearguard.
Now, their defence has been in receipt of favourable reviews. Indeed, it should be remembered that Fabricio Coleccini and Steven Taylor recently extracted the venom from the fearsome Diego Costa, of Chelsea.
Fletcher’s horizons are considerably brighter these days. Now that he has returned to the Scotland fold, he can further the Gordon Strachan cause provided, of course, he stays away from injury.
Domestically, without any disrespect to Sunderland, you suspect this 27-year-old could pursue his profession at an even higher level. But today’s obsession among our football managers – those who invent tactics and lead you to believe that they understand them – seems to be the foreign option. Consequently, with umpteen millions to spend, they despatch their scouts all over the globe trying to find men who not only can score goals but can play a bit, too.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but couldn’t Fletcher provide an answer to so many questions?
IF I had the option, not to say luxury, of conducting one last interview with a superstar dude, Roy Keane’s name would come spontaneously to mind.
I’d imagine, however, it would require plenty of chutzpah to interrogate this son of Cork, who seems to unnerve and mesmerise people simply by shouting at them (Mick McCarthy in Saipan), staring at them (Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United), or chapping on their door (Tom Cleverley at Aston Villa),
I have some experience in the matter of interviewee intimidation. Once, I tried not to flinch when Australian fast bowler Merv Hughes thrust his face two inches from mine – and kept it there for over a minute – after I asked him a question he considered impertinent.
But, hey, that was long ago, when the juices of youth ran freely and you cared not a Donald Duck for anyone. I doubt whether my bottle would be as resilient nowadays.
But, returning to Keane, what I respect about him most is that he invariably sticks to the facts and insists, in that wonderful brogue of his, on telling “the trut.” At this juncture, however, you wonder whether “the trut” has emerged about his exit from Aston Villa.
He said it was because he needed to concentrate on his job as Martin O’Neill’s assistant with the Republic of Ireland. Being one of those people who doesn’t believe in mythical presences at the bottom of gardens, I don’t buy that one.
Perhaps he will address the matter in some more detail if and when he writes his next autobiography. Whatever, if you have his ear and are not unnerved or mesmerised by him, please tell him I’m available.
IN my opinion, a viewer has two options on watching the rather extravagant Thierry Henry promo on Sky.
He can succumb to the hyperbole provided by the likes of Gary Neville and Graeme Souness and thus convince himself that the satellite channel has signed the world’s most accomplished pundit – and that, as a result, the sporting earth is about to move seismically.
Alternatively, he can suspect that those blandishments in the promo are delivered through clenched teeth, and therefore fall about laughing. I chose Option 11. It wasn’t difficult.
Mind you, the laughter had no lifespan, not after I consulted my bank statement and found that I pay almost £70 a month for the privilege of a subscription.
Sky managing director Barney Francis obviously believes he has signed a wizard who will introduce the sporting public to the lost art of swooning. That’s why he is reportedly paying him £24 million over six years.
Now, there was a radio show back in the Fifties, featuring Wilfred Pickles as the genial host of a quiz show. He had a sidekick and when a contestant revealed their intimate secrets – they could earn just under £2 – Wilfred would enthuse: “Give him the money, Barney.”
Well, Barney has certainly given Henry the money. Time will tell if it has been well spent. It will also tell how Francis copes with the inevitable farrago of complaints from distraught pundits who find themselves on a fraction of Henry’s wages.
POSTCRIPT: Sunday afternoon on Sky ends with Liverpool and Arsenal drawing 2-2. The home side have slaughtered the Londoners in all but goals. Arsenal have had a tiny fraction of possession.
So, the bold Geoff Shreeves is interviewing Arsene Wenger. “Did you really not get going in the first half?” he asks.
Is this the silliest question of the week, I ask myself? More important, is £70 a month value for money?
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Jeff Holmes Pix