In The Mixer
One man's opinions on all things football

Following his election as UEFA president, Michel Platini has pledged to lead something of a red revolution, beginning with an overhaul of the Champion’s League format. Former France captain and midfield maestro Platini, saw off competition from the previous incumbent, Leonart Johanssen by pledging to reduce to three the number of Champions' League places allocated to Italy, Spain, Germany and England.

“These countries should have three clubs each in the Champions League so that teams from other leagues that are not in the same financial bracket can compete with them on the pitch. There are not enough champions taking part in the competition. Yes to an open Champions League, no to a closed pseudo-NBA (America's basketball association).”

In contrast to Johanssen, who refused to consider change to a competition that has brought huge prosperity to the game, Platini appears to be advocating good egalitarian principles: equality of opportunity, fair competition and a redistribution of wealth away from the G14. And when couched in these terms, I find myself instinctively sympathizing with his proposals. Saying ‘we’ll take one team from each eastern European country, and 4 from England, Spain, Italy and Germany is a bit like a university with five places to fill saying ‘we’ll take one comprehensive kid and 4 privately educated ones.’ The argument that the privately educated children are simply better at the point of arrival merely perpetuates the inequality. Sometimes a little positive discrimination is, therefore, required to make things fairer.

These are good principles, which when applied to societies improve the lives of the individuals within them. But let’s not get carried away with our philanthropic ideals. My socialism does not compel me to agree with Platini. Careful reflection leads me to the conclusion that Football competitions are very, very different to the societies in which we live.

Notions like ‘equality’ are loaded moral terms, in that we often accept without consideration that equality is preferable to inequality. Our reasoned recognition that racial or social equality is preferable to its alternative can cloud our judgement on other issues. Equality is no moral absolute. Our belief in social or racial equality stems from considerations such as causing hurt or suffering to others is wrong. And we’d do well to remember this when analyzing Platini’s position.

We are dealing here with football clubs and not individuals. Football clubs do not stand in dole queues or have their credit cards rejected in supermarkets. They don’t experience the humiliation and frustration that poverty or discrimination brings about.
But, of course, football clubs are nothing without their fans and fans do surely feel the pain of inequality, when their club is denied their ‘fair share’. This, I grant you, is true. That football competitions should be more egalitarian as a result, however, is a truly ridiculous notion. Sport, by definition, produces winners and losers. If it didn’t, we simply wouldn’t watch it. The Champions’ League is not like sports day at a politically correct primary school, where every child must win a prize. It’s competitive. And we as fans want to watch the very best teams and the very best players. Perhaps, on reflection, Platini would also like to introduce a rule that says when any team goes 3 – nil up, the game must be immediately stopped with the winning team giving the losers a hug to say sorry. Not so ridiculous if the goal is ensuring greater equality between teams.

Perhaps Platini should reflect a little on his motivation for meddling with the format of the Champions’ league. I can’t help but wonder whether he’d be so keen to interfere if the French league had parity with England, Spain, Italy and Germany. With tongue firmly in cheek, I suggest that Platini’s prime motivation requires a contextual explanation. French history is characterized by a paranoid inferiority complex, a deep-rooted fear that they are not as powerful or important as their European neighbours. Throughout history, among those French who have attained positions of power, this fear has manifested itself in thinly disguised attempts to diminish the influence of others whilst claiming justice and equality as their prime motivation. Platini is merely a symptom of an ingrained national characteristic. His attempts to reduce the English, Spanish, German and Italian Champions' League contingent is no more instructed by a desire to protect the good of the game, than the cheese-mongers of Paris who stubbornly refuse to stock good-quality cheddar are motivated by a distaste for the finest cheese on God’s Earth. To understand Platini, we’ll do well to consider Thucydides’ analysis of the Peloponnesian War. ‘Fear, was the principal motive, though honour and self-interest afterwards came in.’


According to Jose Mourinho, Shevchenko has finally ‘got the message’ following Chelsea’s Carling Cup victory over Wycombe last night. Apparently, his two goals against the league two outfit provided the Chelsea boss with evidence that his £30 million pound striker had at last understood what was expected of him as a Chelsea player.

"I was happy with Andriy's performance - he gave me more than I demanded. He will now play in Sunday's FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest.
"His attitude was good. He is learning and he showed he gets the message."

Given the circumstances, we cannot be 100% certain of what it is the Ukrainian is supposed to have understood. With only 3 league goals to his name this season, it’s presumably something to do with a need to score more goals. However, having scored over 150 league goals in Italy, one would have thought that this requirement was not something that he grasped for the first time last night. And, two goals against a side struggling to escape the lowest tier of the football league, is hardly an achievement to keep the doubters at bay. Although Shevchenko is without question a world-class player, being told this by the manager of Wycombe will not be enough to rebuild his shattered confidence.

It is far more probable, therefore, that Mourinho was alluding to Shevchenko’s need to fall in line, embrace the Special One’s team ethic and distance himself from his Russian employer. Newspaper reports that the Ukrainian striker was a mole in the Chelsea camp had clearly affected their close-knit squad and had almost certainly distanced the player from his teammates. The chilly atmosphere came to a head at Anfield this weekend, as Mourinho’s dissatisfaction turned into outward disaffection when he refused to shake the Ukrainian’s hand following Chelsea’s defeat to Liverpool. Mourinho’s anger certainly had nothing to do with the player’s performance on the pitch. He had come on as a late substitute and could not be deemed responsible for Chelsea’s lacklustre display.

Mourinho’s warm response last night was perhaps indicative that the manager himself has had a change of heart regarding his future at Chelsea Football Club. Over the last few weeks he has cut a forlorn figure, sniping at his employers and dropping unsubtle hints that he feels his position has been undermined. Last night, however, he came out fighting, issuing a clear sack-me-if-you-dare message to Abramovich. Recounting an earlier conversation with John Terry, Mourinho let it be known that should he be shown the exist door at Stamford Bridge, irreplaceable members of the squad may well follow him through it.

"When JT tells me, before he signs his new contract, because he has almost signed it, when he tells me it would be very difficult for him to play for another manager in his career, it is because he accepts my philosophy and it is the way he feels. He feels comfortable," Mourinho said.

Nothing the Special One says is without prior calculation, even if he sometimes gives the impression of opening his mouth before his brain has clicked into gear. This was nothing short of a thinly veiled warning to the powers that be at Stamford Bridge and leads to the conclusion that despite reports suggesting that Mourinho has already made up his mind to leave the club this summer, he has decided himself that his best opportunities for future success - especially in the Champion’s League – lie with Chelsea. And if he has to play arguably the world’s most acclaimed striker in order to keep his job, then this is a sacrifice he is prepared to make!


Filthy Lucre Lucas

Posted In: , , , . By Toby Davis

So Lucas Neill has finally completed his £1.5 million move to West Ham. Yes, that’s right, West Ham who currently sit second from bottom in the table. Of course, Neill claims, he made the move for purely footballing reasons and a PR offensive to match that used in the defence of Jade Goody has kicked in to put forward this slightly unbelievable standpoint.

Following last summer’s World Cup, it had seemed inevitable that, at some point, Neill would leave Blackburn to ‘further his career’. Rafa Benitez expressed an interest last August and pursued the player right up until midnight on deadline day. Only his reluctance to part with Stephen Warnock prevented the deal going through. However, a consistent start to the season ensured that Rafa would return to the negotiating table when the transfer window reopened in January and everyone fully expected a deal to be swiftly concluded.

West Ham, however, desperate to escape the relegation mire, fancied trying their luck and dangled a very tempting carrot in front of Neill. £60 thousand a week is quite a carrot! In fact, it’s somewhere between two and three times what Liverpool were reportedly offering. According to Neill however, his love of carrots had nothing to do with his decision to choose the East London outfit over Champions League football and a late push for the title at Anfield. ‘Anyone who thinks I joined West Ham simply for money is way off the mark’. Apparently, it was West Ham’s determination to sign him, and Rafa Benitez’s perceived reluctance that pushed him towards Alan Curbishley’s side. That combined with guaranteed first team football and West Ham’s fantastic history, which on planet Neill is comparable to Liverpool’s 18 league titles and 5 European Cups.

I won’t be the first and nor shall I be the last person to suggest that there is something in Neill’s claim - that his decision was neither motivated by money nor symptomatic of a lack of footballing ambition - that defies belief. Neill was guaranteed first team football at Blackburn who lie eight places above West Ham in the table and are well within reach of a UEFA cup place. Mark Hughes had made Neill his captain. He was the team’s talisman and would have been adored by the fans had he only considered extending his contract at Ewood Park. Arguably, Hughes wanted Neill to stay as much, if not more than West Ham desired him to come.

As for the claim that Rafa had not pursued Neill with sufficient fervour: he fought for his signature right up until midnight on deadline day, came back in for him in January, negotiated a deal with Blackburn and discussed personal terms with Neill’s representatives. All this, however, lacked the personal touch that Neill was looking for, as he claimed last night that he might have signed for Liverpool, if only Rafa Benitez had bothered to pick up the phone. Even if we accept Neill’s version of Liverpool’s perceived rejection, (something that Liverpool Chief Executive Rick Parry was quick to refute), it beggars belief that he joined West Ham for footballing reasons alone and that money had nothing to do with it.

"People have questioned why I signed for West Ham and not Liverpool but I don't understand that.
"Yes, Liverpool is a great club with a fantastic history but, equally, West Ham have produced people like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds over the years. If West Ham was good enough for those guys, then it's good enough for me.
"If people want to insult my decision to play for West Ham, then they are insulting some of the greatest players the game has produced, including the three men who led England to the World Cup in 1966."

So West Ham’s glorious past is comparable to Liverpool’s because they produced one truly great player and four very good ones. They didn’t win a lot, but they had some good players! And apparently, it’s an insult to these players to question Neill’s decision to join their club. Had he decided to go and play for Blackpool for 60 grand a week, presumably it would be an insult to the great Stanley Matthews to suggest that he went there purely for the money!

But of course, this is a slightly unfair comparison. Blackpool aren’t about to embark on a gargantuan shopping spree to rival that of Abramovich’s Chelsea. According to Neill, West Ham’s shopping list ‘blew him away’. Well, of course we’re not privy to this information, but we can speculate as to who might be on this list by looking at who West Ham have been linked with since the transfer window opened three weeks ago. There’s Mathew Upson, the rock at the heart of Birmingham’s relegated defence. And there’s Ashley Young, the gifted forward whose goals haven’t quite managed to lift Watford off the foot of the table. Young has since rejected West Ham in favour of Aston Villa. Insert old head on Young shoulders pun here! We can only speculate as to who else may have been on this list. One thing’s for certain. Having seen this list of players, Neill was so confident in West Ham’s ability to avoid relegation that he had a clause inserted into his contract releasing him should the unthinkable happen and West Ham go down.

Like most fans, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that money was not the prime motivating factor behind Neill’s decision to snub Champions’ League football in favour of a relegation struggle with West Ham. Maybe, he did feel rejected by Liverpool when they refused to come close to matching West Ham’s offer. It’s a safe bet however, that had West Ham offered 30 grand, instead of 60, Lucas Neill would be a Liverpool player now, challenging Steve Finnan for a first team place. As it is, he’ll probably be playing for Newcastle next season!