Saturday, 12 December 2009

Shearer-Berbatov: Football's Philosopher Kings

I always enjoy the experience of shifting my views about people and things, especially if the transformation is 180-degree: such changes of heart are what gives God hope for mankind. Initially I took something of a dislike to the Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov as a footballing personality, perhaps in part because he's one of those guys who wears an alice-band in his hair on the pitch, but mainly because of his associations with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, two 'problematic' clubs; and the unsavoury, protracted, big-money saga of his transfer from one to t'other.
Anyhow, what did I know? I was blind, prejudiced - I just never knew Berbatov's hero and role model was Alan Shearer, not until the two sat down for this Football Focus interview, in which Berbatov's quiet-spoken admiration of Al is incredibly and touchingly direct: 'I was a Blackburn fan when you become champions... I was only a fan of Newcastle because you were playing there.' Good lad, that Dimitar.
Shearer compares Berbatov to his old teammate Matt Le Tissier, a hugely gifted player of questionable work-rate. I've always liked players who walk until they absolutely have to run, so long as the eventual running ends up yielding something splendid. (Consider, for one, Zinedine Zidane.) So, in this light, I now rather like Berbatov's style. But I like even better the flabbergasting way he chooses to express his commitment to the aesthetics of the game, namely by quoting Saint Augustine at Shearer: 'Unless there were beauty and grace in them, they would be powerless to win our hearts.' Truly I have never heard the like of it, not even from Eric Cantona... I don't think Al picked up the theological reference, but I hope he made note of it for the future.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

PBR preview, second annual...

O happy day: amid the nervy, opportunistic, end-of-days irreality of our current politics, as we slouch toward an election - it’s Pre-Budget Report time again. Is it already a year since Alistair Darling did this last? Most of the key stats turned out worse than he predicted then, but he will say that’s no great surprise, and I daresay most of us, wearily or sceptically, will agree.
So what punts into the darkness has he got this time? I'm first to admit I’m no augur, never adept at sifting the guts for omens. Still, sifting the bloody auguries of others, I assume the price of my beer is going up. That NHS IT project will take a slash, presumably. One expects some action on the much-discussed want of Chinook helicopters in Helmand. Me and my Mumsnet comrades can probably expect to witness the further waning unto death of the middle-class tax credit. And it’s mooted there could be some great clunking ‘super tax’ on bankers’ bonuses, or rather the ‘bonus pools’ of specific banks.
If the last is true, one can expect to hear cries of outrage on behalf of the financial services, Britain’s last surviving industry of global stature. This blog does feel that the rich bankers could afford to take a bullet or two for the team, so I wouldn’t cry for them, not least if further changes to personal allowance and national insurance widened the net of straitened households obliged to reckon themselves ‘rich.’
The biggest issues remain the deficit and the scale of borrowing, the sitting-target scale of the public sector, and the quest for a return to growth, all issues that Darling claims to be thinking about for the purpose of the next 3-4 years. This package won’t change any of that, indeed couldn’t, because Darling won’t be Chancellor anymore come next summer, by which time we can expect an emergency budget from the new mob. The other day John Rentoul observed with a dab of acid that ‘Cameron's average lead in the polls has slumped from 14 points to about 12.’ Last year while I was thinking aloud about the PBR I wrote that Cameron’s average poll lead had ‘taken a bashing’ in falling from something like 17 points to something like 11 – obviously a wild provocation, one that briefly got this blog some zealous attention from the sorts of Tory bloggers I’d hoped never to meet outside of Hell, where we're all headed. But presumably those lads are a bit more relaxed inside their skins this year, those poll numbers being so settled, and Labour still led by this Prime Minister, the only cause for fret being the obvious urgency to get on with the great task of transforming the country...