Football pundits and commentators know what they are talking about don’t they?
Many of them have played the game at the top level, including at Stamford Bridge, The Stadium of Light and the pristine, green felt Subbuteo pitch on the battered table in the back room.
I mention the Stadium of Light because, in a few weeks, it will, of course, be plunged into the darkness of the Championship in the same way as the river waters will rise and drown near neighbour’s Middlesbrough’s latest Premier League adventure. Unless Jeff Stelling can persuade Antonio Conte to take over from Dave Jones – who Stelling sacked on Saturday – Hartlepool look similarly doomed. All of these teams will be unimpressed that Rafa decided to stay with Newcastle and create his own, personal paella paradise.
Niall Quinn played for Sunderland before Dave Moyes – much like Dave Jones – did his very best to ruin everything the club stood for, in the very best traditions of football in the North East. Niall knows what he is talking about and I have the greatest respect for him and his regular mangling of the English language. As a player, he and Kevin Phillips were, for me, the most lethal striking partnership since Clarke and Jones or Toshack and Keegan or … Dixon and Speedie.
And so, to the real message behind this Tale. Quinn was ‘co-commentating’ on the Chelsea v Southampton match for Sky Sports and, as well as eulogising over the foul physicality and all round mixed-up guy that is Diego Costa, he kept praising Gary Cahill. At one point, he called him a ‘stalwart.’
Conte himself would no doubt say that it is ‘important’ (several times per never-ending sentence) that his team play unselfishly and as a team. His unselfish central defenders (yes, incredibly, David Luiz as well) have been voted into the PFA team of the year, as have fellow Chelsea players Hazard and Kante.
Journalists love to hate to love Hazard, depending on the orbit of the moon in the first month of our Lord, Money. Hazard himself has proudly shown how much he really, really didn’t want to defend Mourinho (sorry, under Mourinho) and Kante was voted in because his fellow professionals felt that, collectively, this was the only way to stop him bounding up behind them and taking either their legs or the ball – or, usually, both if they had been foolish enough to take it with them to the supermarket, cinema, bed …
But Chelsea’s defenders? I know that Chelsea are going to win the league and I know that the 3-4-3 will represent Arsenal’s greatest gift to London this season. I just feel that when teams really, really go for it – as, er, Mourinho’s new foreign legion did – that their defence is not what it looks like on paper so much as in the much-loved but, as yet, unreleased training video ‘Titus Bramble’s guide to the art of defending, outer space and silly first names.’
In my view, Luiz still flatters to deceive and gets away with far more than he should, while Cahill is just a ball watcher. This is good on set pieces when Gary is not heading towards his own goal but why is it that, otherwise, he keeps following the flight of the ball, even when several of his fellow defenders (even Victor Moses) already have it covered?
He is supposed to be a good reader of the game and yet his positioning and subsequent movement for Southampton’s equaliser was more akin to a Subbuteo player about to fall off the edge of the penalty area. If it’s any comfort to Chelsea fans, I feel exactly the same about him when he is playing for England.
Because he is big – and, undoubtedly, brave – he gets on the end of lots of things, almost by the theory of statistical probability rather than footballing intelligence. Someone once even compared him to Bobby Moore! Pass me the claret – they’ve had far too much already.
Niall was big and effective. So was Micky Droy, and Ron Harris. They may have been stalwarts in their days too. Footballers understood this then as they do now because they too will one day reach the dizzy heights of football punditry and commentary.
I just wonder, though, how much of it is for the benefit of the cameras and the microphones these days; when individual words seem to mean so much less than what they convey as a whole? I guess Conte would approve of that.