In his regular Cutter column Wayne Farry looks at staged moon landings, growth spurts, and belly-busting officials.
Last night saw the eyes of the world on Hollywood as the movie industry celebrated itself (they really do deserve a bit of back-patting after all) in usual style with The Oscars. It was a momentous occasion and in this spirit of glitz and glamour I believe it’s only right to move from this industry to another with as little representation of minorities at its top table – English football. We start off with a man so well-versed in the art of on camera performances that it’s not inconceivable that he could one day make the move into cinema – Jose Mourinho. His Chelsea side – who at one stage this season looked like they would steamroll the entire league – have slowed down as of late. Quite why this has happened is up for debate – some have cited a relatively small squad, which is a possible explanation – but it’s just as likely that it’s the usual mid-season stutter. Most if not all eventual champions have a wobble during the season and Chelsea’s recent slump has been aided by their rivals tripping over themselves simultaneously, so they shouldn’t be overly worried. What is slightly more worrying is the behaviour of Mourinho himself. Always a lover of mind-games and talking absolute garbage, this season he has taken things to a whole new level. Last season his greatest achievement was convincing the world that Chelsea didn’t blow the chance to win the title, which was mightily impressive. This season he appears to be trying to convince the world that he has absolutely lost his mind. He has spoken about there being an agenda against his side, that referees are too harsh on his players. Usually a champion of all physical aspects of football, this weekend he labelled Burnley’s Ashley Barnes a “criminal” for a tackle he put in on Nemanja Matic. Impressive stuff. It’s never easy to predict what Jose is going to say, but in the coming weeks we should probably expect discussions on how the moon landing took place in a movie studio, how jet fuel couldn’t possibly be hot enough to make two towers collapse, as well as how there must have been another shooter on November 23rd, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. As long as it deflects attention away from his side, he’ll be happy to say it.
Next up is a manager who isn’t as much of an extrovert but is certainly seeing great things happen with his side this season. Though they drew at home to West Ham yesterday, Mauricio Pochettino must surely be ecstatic with the change he has brought to Spurs in his short time at the club. Yesterday they came back from two goals down to draw, far from the first time they’ve gained points from losing positions this season. The North London side have won 16 points from games which they were losing and it’s hard to look beyond the influence of their Argentine manager when it comes to this stat. If you look at Spurs teams over the years, many had style, pace, attacking talent and more. What they were always lacking was steel, belief and willpower. The speed with which Pochettino has introduced all three of these qualities is shocking and remarkably impressive. Of course, it helps when you’ve got the best player in the world in Harry Kane banging in goals every week but to introduce a system and have the players take to it so quickly is mightily impressive. It is essentially the equivalent of turning a baby into a UFC fighter in the space of a few months, not accounting for growth spurts of course. Mentality is a massive part of football, and a huge determining factor in whether a side is successful or not. Pochettino appears to have sorted out Spurs’ mentality issues already, something AVB, Tim Sherwood and even the mighty Harry Redknapp were unable to do. If he keeps it up, Spurs could reach the Champions League sooner rather than later.
A hot topic in English football this season has been refereeing standards. Or, more aptly, lack of standards. Plenty has been said about the standard of refereeing in the best league in the world (sic) but it truly is mind-blowingly poor at times. You may say that the speed and strength of the game has grown exponentially in recent years and that errors are natural and I would agree wholeheartedly. What I find hard to reconcile is that while players’ fitness levels have grown massively, referees’ almost certainly haven’t. It would be unreasonable to expect referees to be quite as fit as players but they shouldn’t be too far behind. It’s not just about physical fitness as it is about mental fitness. As anyone who’s played even five-a-side football will attest, once you’re knackered your decision-making abilities go out the window. I, for example, am a five-a-side superstar in the first ten minutes of every game. Neat touches, fantastic vision, the whole shebang. But once I get tired, and it’s a certainty, I almost totally lost control of my body and mind. Passes that I could once play with my eyes closed become nigh on impossible. It might sound like a silly example but it really isn’t. You see it in almost every Premier League game – refs huffing and puffing after they’ve made a gut-busting run to keep up with play. Anyone who says the moments of rest to take on board more much-needed oxygen don’t effect decision-making are talking out their arses. To keep a sharp mind and to be able to retain the ability to make as many correct, informed decisions as possible, referees must be able to keep going for ninety minutes. I’ve heard many insist that video technology is the only way to go, but is it really? Yes, it would ensure correct decisions but it would also potentially turn football into a strange resemblance of the American version. With more stoppages would inevitably come more ads, it would be a bloody nightmare. It would be a crying shame to break up play, and it would deprive fans of one of the best parts of football – debates over refereeing decisions. But if the Premier League isn’t going to introduce more technology the least it can do is ensure that its referees get rid of their bellies and stay as physically and mentally sharp as the players they’re officiating over. Surely that’s not too much to ask.