The thorn and the rose

Woh, this must be what it’s like to support a Premier League team (not the Blue Square version). Andy Burgess has used his national newspaper column to SLAM former boss Jim Smith.

It’s an undignified tirade; a signature of the modern professional who has to remain in a constant state of outrage in order to secure requisite media coverage. Burgess argues that Darren Patterson should have remained manager when the Merry revolution rolled into town. On this point, I’ve got to agree. Patterson had a decent start when Brian Talbot left and was able to offer continuity. Smith knew too little of what he was coming into, he would have been better sitting back and taking stock.

But then Burgess rather shoots himself in the foot. It’s the classic myopia of the professional footballer. The suggestion is that we were in the game at half time against Orient. Fair enough, it was 1-1, but we were on course for a hiding. Lee Steele was causing all sorts of problems and Billy Turley was having a storming game keeping them out. Continuing on the trajectory we were on we were going down. For Smith to walk in and reassure the players that everything was going to be OK would have been a dereliction of duty.

It seems that Burgess’ central point is that Smith is a constant moaner. Can anyone disagree with that? His radio interviews regularly single out individuals and it does make you question what the reaction is going to be like in the dressing room.

But then, this is Andy Burgess, the most infuriating player from last year. Just as Smith was building a team around him, he went missing. Just when we needed inspiration, he disappeared. Who wasn’t frustrated by his performances when we knew what he could do; and fundamentally failed to do, for most of the season. Smith’s moaning may be like a drill to the head, but Burgess offered him plenty to moan about.

Meanwhile, the signing of Danny Rose is not a huge surprise, but it’s very welcome because he should offer the reliable creativity that was lacking on Saturday.

The word we’re looking for here is… ‘Huh?’

Professional support is, by definition, absurd. In what other service industry do those delivering the product enjoy it more it than those buying it?

This week’s news that David Beckham has signed a £125 million contract to play in a league which is about the standard of the Championship with crowds to match, illustrates the point perfectly. Its all very NASL 1979 isn’t it? Big stars fading in front of bemused crowds. Good luck to him, I say, it would have been painful to watch him withering on the bench at somewhere like Middlesborough.

There’s a common theme around this time of year; especially on the This is United Forum. Another team signs a player and the boards are hysterical with people screaming about how we (the mighty footballing institution Oxford United) have missed out. This usually leads to even louder calls for the board to own up to what is going on, because we need to know. The obvious answer in most cases is that the player in question isn’t very good, or they think the offer they’ve got from Manchester United might just be more appealing. The search for a striker has finished with, pound-for-pound an even more bizarre story than the Beckham one. We’ve signed a Latvian international, with a bagful of domestic silverware and Champions League experience who has goal average which is better than 1 in 3. Which begs the question; what’s wrong with him?

If he does come up trumps, this could well be the key to the whole season. Certainly the new spine of Santos, Rose and Grebis illustrates that in the world we currently occupy, we are serious big hitters and that, despite everything, the championship is still ours to lose.

Rose amongst the thorns

The signing of Danny Rose has the This is United forum salivating. He’s from Manchester United, for heavens sake, he could be the new Ryan Giggs, or the new Russell Beardsmore.

Let’s not get carried away, but there’s no doubt he ticks all the right boxes; ball winner, goal scorer and captain of the reserves. I was captain of my school second team, which meant I was the best player not in the first team. Rose may not be on the cusp of a Champions League debut, but he appears to be rated by Lord Ferg and his coaching drones.

He’s 19 with no experience, there’s a real risk he’ll burn out in all the expectation. When we’re struggling, it’s not long before you’ll hear hysterical screams of ‘GET KENNET ON’ from the Oxford Mail Stand whilst midget sized subs engulfed in their dark blue training jackets bob self consciously up and down the touchline. This is the sort of thing you do when playing Championship Manager; once you’ve run out of ideas you just throw in random youth team players regardless of how good or bad they are. Our faith that only Oxfordshire’s teenage footballing protégés can save us appears so unshakeable it’s as if Cowley Marsh is blessed with Cocacabana Beach like qualities; awash with top class stars waiting to be discovered.

It is probably testament to Jim Smith‘s standing that we’ve landed Rose; Manchester United players are frequently shipped out higher up the league ladder. On the other hand; as Lord Ferg works very hard to convince his players that everyone hates them – building a fierce team ethic – perhaps he wants to expose Rose to true hate. He’ll get it from the fickle Kassam faithful if he does something as heinous as skewing a throw-in to the opposition goalkeeper in front of the Oxford Mail stand on Saturday.

Now this is a crisis

Every manager under pressure will point to the injury problems they have, but we are in the midst of an injury crisis of biblical proportions. It’s like no other I can remember, I once saw us play at Lincoln in ’82 and my memory is of a team so decimated that I had a chance of playing right back. Or so I thought; it turns out that there was only one change from the previous home game against Exeter and it was just that I was a long way from home and simply didn’t recognise the name of sub Andy Kingston.

So what we consider a crisis, often turns out to be nothing of the sort. However, this is a proper crisis, with only have 9 fit professionals, including two keepers and three players with a combined experience of precisely zero games.

Typically I would deplore a team that would buy their way out of this kind of problem, but it seems unfair that we’ve been stymied from solving the problem based on our relative and accumulated financial strength. This is not a club funded by a Russian oligarch, it’s a club with a fanbase prepared to invest in a flickering hope that one day the good times will roll. Rather than being allowed to use the benefit this offers, we’re left floundering. The wage-cap is designed to prevent teams from over-speculating, but surely the 10 point deduction for going into administration is enough of a threat.

January is going to be difficult, and the league is the least of our concerns. This is our last opportunity to bring players in. It seems we have the leeway to bring in one player and would need to get some out before anymore came in. The two most obvious candidates for shipping out are Dempster and Tardif, with possibly one of Johnson and Brevett (difficult to tell on current form). Can they be shipped out when injured? Should we be shipping out some of the few who are currently available to play?

Then there’s the Lewes game next week. A loss would be a demoralising humiliation, but would free up a weekend to allow players to recover. With nobody else taking the opportunities we’re presenting them with in the league, we may need to simply ride out the month and take the hits when they come at us. Though in truth, with the problems we’ve got, we probably don’t have a choice in the matter.

In out, in out, shake it all about

The least said about yesterday’s game the better. It probably has little bearing on the rest of the season so let’s move on.

There’s been a bit of movement within the senior squad this week; Time And Relative Dimensions In Football: Chris Tardif has asked for a transfer. It’s not really a surprise he’s a more than capable keeper sitting on the bench at a Conference club; it’s amazing he signed a new contract in the summer.

Everyone seems to like Tardif; fans tend to have a black and white view when it comes to goalkeepers – the likes of Phil Whitehead, Richard Knight and Paul Reece were loved, whereas Paul Kee, Neil Cutler and Ian McCaldon were all universally loathed. Tardif was definitely the former; but in an era of brutish centre backs and failed champagne signings it was probably more to do with his steady ‘nice bloke’ middle manager persona.

Jamie Slabber is on his way, which can come as a surprise to no one. OK, some things worked against him; the team in a slump and a lot of games away from home but at no point did he show that he had anything worth hanging on to. You have got to question the attitude of a player with a Premiership scorecard lounging around the benches of the Conference.

As the January transfer window starts winding itself open, the inevitable rumours are starting to fly. Luke Rodgers may be on his way, apparently. Rodgers was always a pain when he played against us for Shrewsbury and could be a good signing. He was at his best when playing with the old warhorse Nigel Jemson who did all the thinking whilst Rodgers did all the running. He always looked like he should be playing at a higher level, but Crewe is about as far as he’s got. Assuming he hasn’t got a bit of the Slabber in him, he could well be a decent partner for Steve Basham, who is very much the thinker in the striker roster.

I suppose it was inevitable that other rumours are flying around. Andy Burgess to Leeds seems a little far fetched, but the This is United forum rumour that he might be on his way to Peterborough which is more credible, but only because it’s consistent with Posh’s current signing policy.