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Tuesday, 08 January 2013

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Big Sam Hammers home his credentials as the FA Cup heralds Joe’s return


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“On CV, who is there to beat me?” was the question. “Sir Alex?” came the reply. “Arsene; perhaps Rafa?” Not the bullish claims of Mourinho as you might expect. Not the mad rantings of Neil Warnock either. No these were the lofty claims of Mike Bassett… erm, sorry Sam Allardyce on Saturday evening before his West Ham side welcomed Manchester United in the FA Cup. ‘Big Sam’ as he pretends not to like to be called was in confident mood and was keen to tell us all what a misunderstood genius he is. Despite a 20-year managerial career of evidence to the contrary, apparently Allardyce isn’t an advocate of the long ball and is actually an astute tactician and progressive football thinker… who sometimes uses the long ball… as a last resort… in extreme circumstances… like, only for the last 85 minutes of a game.  

The big news at Upton Park for ITV’s FA Cup 3rd Round: West Ham vs Man Utd of course was not Allardyce’s ode to himself but the much-heralded return of prodigal son Joe Cole and the slightly less-heralded, you might even say shame-faced news, that they’d also signed Marouane Chamakh. It’s enshrined in football law that people can only ever say nice things about Joe Cole, you know like it’s also football law to reference Sir Alex’s long tenure whenever a manager is sacked, or to pretend that only foreigners dive, or that the FA Cup still matters. So we are only ever allowed to say what a good bloke Cole is: that he’s just a ‘boy who loves football’, and that he ‘needs to be loved’. Probably all truisms they are too, but I’ve never met the fella and for all I know he could be the biggest tool out there; remember he did spend a sizable chunk of time in the company of John Terry and Ashley Cole at Chelsea, some of that cartoonish buffoonery must have seeped into him at some point. As I say I’ve never met him, in fact the only professional footballer I’ve come across in my meandering existence is another claret and blue legend (of sorts), ex-Aston Villa midfielder and current ITV charlatan Andy Townsend.

Of course in truth, meeting Andy Townsend is actually no more impressive than meeting the old nutter who lives at the top of your road. Most of what he says is gibberish and he adopts a curious style of punditry: when asked a question he furrows his brow, looks sternly back and begins to reply as if he is disagreeing with the point, only to then essentially repeat what has just been said and pass it off as his own opinion. To be fair, with Chiles, Strachan and Keane loitering around the ITV studios, it is like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in there sometimes and I’m surprised Townsend isn’t walking around in a dress and having conversations with his own reflection.

He was on hand, later on Saturday for the FA Cup Highlights roundup and the good thing about Third Round action is that there is lots of it, so we don’t have to put up with too much of ITV Sports patented banality. The headline acts of the day were the Non-League coupling of Macclesfield and Luton Town and their respective defeats of Cardiff and Wolves. Even a grouchy FA Cup cynic like myself cannot fail to be lifted when the Cup minnows unseat a couple of heavyweight names. To add insult to fairly innocuous injury, Wolves boss Stale Sourbread or whatever his name is, lost his job shortly after the defeat much to the chagrin of many of his fellow Norwegians who, when asked what they thought of him replied: “who?”

Elsewhere in the third round, there was not much more in the way of shocks. Another London club debutant started well as Chelsea’s Demba Ba bagged a brace at Southampton to hammer yet another nail in Fernando Torres’ impeccably designed coffin. The affeminate Spanish striker is now such a fixture in the stands that after a recent game, a cloudy eyed John Terry was leaving the pitch and gave a wink in his direction mistakenly thinking it was the players’ wives section. Down in Brighton, the problems continued to mount for the “unsackable” Alan Pardew as his Newcastle side went crashing out to The Seagulls. He wasn’t helped by Shola Ameobi getting sent off in the sixty-third minute, and was helped even less by having to start Shola Ameobi in the first place. The Magpies currently have fewer Premier League points than they did at the same stage during the season they were relegated and with a long list of injuries and the departure of Ba, there may be some hardy Geordies fearing the worst once again. On the plus side, Ameobi’s suspended now.

So as Saturday turned to Sunday, “Don’t go to bed yet!” was the strained plead from ITV’s Matt Smith as I switched off the TV to go to bed. It had been a long day. As ever, the Third Round of the FA Cup promised much, and delivered…a bit. On top of the fabulous results for the Non-Leaguers, there were questions for Pardew to ask himself, Cole and Ba thrillingly announcing themselves; and Big Sam making an arse of himself. Can’t wait for Round 4.

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Chris Pettitt

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