Watford’s Fernando Forestieri: supporting a cheat

It’s easy to cast judgement when another team’s player has blatantly tried to con the ref. Less so when when it’s one of your own. On Saturday, one of Watford’s players, Fernando Forestieri, was caught cheating against Wolves. He did this:

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Francesco Totti’s trophies with Roma will not reflect the greatness of his career

Francesco Totti, 20 anni nella Roma

Hungry for Glory is Roma’s current motto. The club have taken to using it with imagery depicting the wolf that founded the Eternal City, ready to devour rival teams that enter Olimpico . Unfortunately for Roma, history has shown that their rivals can often tame the metaphorical wolf without too much bother. They haven’t yet tried releasing real wolves onto the pitch, which would surely yield better results, but in the meantime, they’ll have to make do with Francesco Totti.

At 38 ½ years old, we should be talking about Francesco Totti as someone on the verge of retirement, but yesterday he scored a wonderful brace in the Rome derby. Pardon my ageism, but old players aren’t supposed to be that influential; when they’re close to forty they should be wheeled out occasionally to steady the ship, not driving their team’s fight back in their biggest domestic fixture. This leads to two possible conclusions: one, Totti is not human; two, he’s one of the great players of his generation. It’s possible that both are true.

After two decades in Roma’s first team, including fifteen years as captain, and the second highest number of Serie A goals of all time, Totti’s status as a great should be beyond debate, but this is football, and there are always doubters. The shade these doubters cast is to point at his relatively meagre trophy haul. His only league title came in the first phase of his career, and since then he’s had to make do with a few cups and plenty of runner-up medals. He also has a World Cup, of course, but the 2006 tournament didn’t see Totti at his best; his greatest form for the national team was way back in 2000, when he helped Italy reach the final of the European championships, including an outrageous chipped penalty in the semi-final shootout against Holland, some twelve years before Pirlo repeated the technique against England.

But, it’s a cold, loveless world if footballers are judged only on who has won the most. At best trophies are a useful guide, at worst they’re woefully misleading (see Fernando Torres’ haul over the past few years). Rome is a beautiful, spectacular city. The romantic side of football demands the team that bears its name should boast the kind of attacking flair that draws universal admiration. How disappointing it would be if Roma were a highly effective side of utilitarian troopers, so how right it is that Totti is very much a player to be watched. Some players create a legacy defined by less tangible means than simply winning stuff.

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Ched Evans’ second chance is a smokescreen of denial

There is an argument being put forward that Ched Evans ‘deserves’ a second chance, which in football means he should be given a lucrative contract to score goals. Why shouldn’t he, it’s important that he puts his talents to good use instead of wasting what remains of his career, or so the argument goes. But there’s a big leap from saying someone should be allowed the chance to find employment after they’ve served their punishment, to saying a football club should fast track the return of a former employee convicted of rape. In any case, no one has been arguing against the legality of employing criminals – but since when did society become so clearly defined by matters of law?

Think about other professions in the public eye; can you imagine many people holding a similar view if a Government minister was convicted of rape – do you think there’d be people calling for that person to get a second chance in their old Cabinet job? And, there are many less high profile professions where you’d imagine a rape conviction would be seen as a career ending incident. You probably wouldn’t welcome a convicted rapist back to teach at your local school, for example.

Football is of course laced with double standards and hypocrisy, and there are no limits to the absurd positions people will assume in order to defend their preferred idols. The Luis Suarez charge of racist abuse was a prime example. All sorts of armchair experts on linguistics came forward talking about cultural relativity, and explaining the authorities were ignorant for not recognising that the language Suarez used was a term of endearment in his native land. The end result was a lot of white people defending one man’s right to call a black man ‘negrito’, but there we are. That happened.

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In off the bar: the sound of glory

Remarkably, some people decided not to spend Monday night watching Hull City v West HaIf. Granted, there were times in the first half that shook my sense of purpose to its core. What choices had a I made that led me to this point, watching Stephen Quinn competing with Mark Noble on a Monday evening, and trying to care who won?

And then Enner Valencia thumped one in off the bar, and I was immediately at peace once again. Any appraisal of this goal would conclude that it was a decent hit; a shot that crashes in off the wood work is automatically elevated above a good proportion of other goals. But, if it’s accompanied by a good THWACK sound, it becomes hall of fame material

The sound of ball twatting against post or bar on its way into the net is one of the best sounds in football. It represents something unstoppable, and Valencia’s goal was just that, a fizzer that exploded off his boot with minimal warning.

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The joy of being a big fish in a small pond

Lee TrundleWhen god was dolling out physical attributes like speed, agility, balance or just a basic coordination of limbs, some of us missed out. For us lesser gifted souls, having a kickabout with some infants is this the closest we’ll get to being really good at football. Goading five year olds into tackles they cannot possibly win, adding a bit of commentary, “oh he’s still going, they can’t stop him, this is sensational!”, and finally, taunting the keeper by performing the worst and most deliberate step over ever. Of course, this is the only time someone like me would dare attempt a moment of flair;  if I tried it on a fives pitch with my mates I’d suffer such a swift and brutal humiliation that I wouldn’t feel confident playing a simple pass for weeks. Playing football with massively inferior opponents is therefore great. Being a big fish in a small pond might seem unambitious. But, on the other hand, why expose your talents to their limitations if you don’t have to? Better to ply your trade at level were you can thrive. Clearly some professionals agreed.

Lee Trundle

In my mind, the lower league showboater is one of the finest and most important characters in the game. If you’re going to play at a s**t level, you may as well live out your fantasies and be fawned over by your public. In recent years no one has shown more dedication to this role than the magnificently named Lee Trundle. We hadn’t seen swagger like this since Ricky Otto played a pass with the outside of his boot at Southend. Soccer AM’s Showboat segment gave Trundle a stage, and he intended to occupy it for as long as possible, reportedly calling the show himself to alert them to his latest highlights. Watching Trundle’s clips it was hard to imagine his repertoire of five-a-side skills would have been anything other than useless at a higher level, but in League One and Two, he was Ronaldinho combined with Zidane. If a simple pass would suffice, Trundle would deliver it as some sort of no-look flicked back-heel. This is the hall-mark of the lower league fantasista – a devotion to pointless flair. Trundle did try to make a step up when he signined for Bristol City in the Championship, but the goals and, more importantly, the Soccer AM highlights, dried up. His legacy is an important warning to all aspiring Football League Francesco Tottis – stay in the shallow end.


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