SPOUTING BLATANT BULL
It is not true that before becoming a popular football manager Brendan Rodgers was a tantalising stand-up comedian, whose best joke went thus: "A man with a slightly disconcerting habit of patting interlocutors on the cheeks while staring them in the eye with a blend of friendly earnestness and deranged confidence walks into a bar and says: 'Hello, I would like an orange juice please and something to take home for my pet'. The barman asks: 'What type of pet do you have?' The man replies to this question."
It's not a very good joke, is it? When all is said and done, it is badly let down by the lack of a punchline. The buildup was fine, you might even go so far as to call it promising, but ultimately you have to conclude that it was a non-gag. A flop. Downright irritating, if you want to be frank. Feel familiar, Liverpool fans?
Liverpool's season and style of play seems sadly bereft of certain crucial components, such as reliability in front of goal, reliability at the back, basic toughness and positive results, all of which means the club are currently three points and two places worse off now than they were at this stage last season and, of course, out of the Cup after being bullied by mighty Oldham Athletic.
Still, the campaign has also had some highs, of course: indeed, at one stage Liverpool were threatening to play so well that Rodgers predicted they could storm up the table and finish in second place – that was right before they lost at home to Aston Villa; and several weeks later they looked so close to getting their act together that Rodgers predicted they could storm up the table and finish fourth – that was just before they lost at home to West Bromwich Albion. Rodgers wisely refrained from declaring Liverpool imminent Euro Vase champions before last night's first leg in St Petersburg but he unwisely opened his mouth afterwards to baffle listeners with talk of "a near-on perfect away performance" after Liverpool were deservedly beaten 2-0 by Zenit.
There is no shame in losing to a team as talented and expensively-assembled as Zenit … unless you then try to convince people who actually saw the match that the loss was some kind of unjust anomaly and that, if we overlook trifles such as appalling finishing, patchy interplay and feeble defending, the losers were moral victors. There is, of course, something even more basic than defending and attacking effectively and even easier to get right: talking.
And yet previous Liverpool managers have failed even on that front: Roy Hodgson alienated the few Anfield regulars who were prepared to cut him some slack when he started babbling about sides such as Wolves and Birmingham being fearsome opponents and Kenny Dalglish lost his messiah status when he began guffing about conspiracies everywhere and trumpeting advertising deals as major honours. After those two flops Liverpool fans have been prepared to give Rodgers time to repair years of neglect and ineptitude, and some even maintain that Rodgers's recruits such as Fabio Borini and Joe Allen will yet prove inspired hires, but it is hard for anyone to be convinced that Rodgers knows what he is doing when he persistently spouts blatant bull.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I've finished training absolutely disgusted. I can't just sit and take that, the fans need to know. They pay his wages and what he dished up is the worst effort I've seen in 25 years of professional football. The absolute minimum is to give everything every single day. Is it because he hasn't been starting? Is that what you do? Down tools and stop trying? The football club deserves more, the fans deserve more. Nikola's future is up to him. There's been no shouting match or bust-up, it's all up to him" – Birmingham City manager Lee Clark manages to sound quite a lot like there's been a bust-up with striker Nikola Zigic while denying that there's been a bust-up with striker Nikola Zigic.
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"May I be one of 1,057 pedants to suggest that surely if Petr Cech wanted to protect his broken finger as per yesterday's 'comedy tin' he would pick a player guaranteed to score against him in training and not a woefully-out-of-form-for-three-years striker like Fernando Torres when he would have a much better chance of saving his shots and hurting said finger? Just sayin" – Ronan Heffernan.
"By Martin Dickson's logic (yesterday's letters), if the Fiver was looking for love then the optimum number of cards to send out would have been 713,710" – Haydon Bambury.
"If the Fiver was a racehorse (Fiver passim), it would surely be appearing in the Tesco freezer section by now" – Simon Baker.
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BITS AND BOBS
Roberto Mancini has hit out at suggestions he could be sacked if Manchester City fail to beat Nasty Leeds in the FA Cup. "If Manchester City should sack me, the other 20 teams in the Premier League should be without a manager," he said, inventing a mysterious 21st top-flight side.
David Moyes will not decide on his Everton future until the summer. "I won't make a decision until the end of the season. So you can ask me every week, but I'll probably give you the same answer," he said, providing football hacks with the perfect opportunity to file the same story every Friday and disappear to the boozer early.
Beleaguered Blackeye Rovers fans have suffered yet another indignity: David Bentley has returned to the club on loan from Tottenham.
Arsene Wenger has said he doesn't regret missing out on Gareth Bale's signature and ending up with Theo Walcott instead. "If I tell you the number of players we did not sign who we should have signed, you would be amazed," he said to no amazement from Arsenal fans.
And Bondz N'Gala, Chiro N'Toko and Dani Lopez have all joined Barnet in a bid to provide them with the most exotically named squad in League Two.
STILL WANT MORE?
AC Jimbo + a big piece of cake + various European rags = this week's European football papers review.
Having more $ex + finding God + joining the Barmy Army + moving into engineering + running away with the circus + a few other oddities = the Joy of Six on peculiar reasons to give up football.
Cristiano Ronaldo + a 78cm leap = an inadvertent tribute to the outlaw art of heading, reckons Barney Ronay.
Eight FA Cup fixtures + one Premier League game x 1.111111111111 = 10 things to watch out for this weekend.
Oldham + Everton + a common denominator = a no-win, no-lose Cup tie for Joe Royle, calculates Andy Hunter.
And Luton + Millwall = uncomfortable memories of their infamous 1985 quarter-final, writes Sean Ingle.