My ongoing argument has always been about listening to those on TV whether an ex-pro or former manager and so on talking about certain players, and in all fairness the young people of today are misled. Misled by their extraordinary comments, when a simple pass according to one is sublime. A ten yard pass is something the modern day player struggles to make, and that is because, like a lot of youngsters when I was growing into myself, thought they had to do a trick because it looks better.
The term “simplicity is genius” will remain the most important term in any walk along the touchline, not in a coaching manual, that you can believe, because you cannot fit it into all the diagrams. When you see these coaching badge track suited clowns on the line giving a player a piece of paper or running through his iPad with instructions, I cringe to think back to my day when I would have told them ‘where to go?’
That includes Sir Alex, ‘Big Head’ Mourinho and all that sail with them, only Sir Alex is in a different class to the Portugeezer.
If Mr. Brian Clough thought that he was Old Big Head he had another thought coming?
The point is I watch the game today and the greatest pass ever made is so very difficult, the one that puts three players out of the game by passing the ball ten yards.
That’s the pass that doesn’t need an iPad.
This is all about a world class inside forward who would not have have got one single cap in this country, which really epitomizes the problem with both the FA and who they choose to manage them.
To watch this player perform reminds me of all of the pitfalls my father warned me about going from school of trials to England youth team trials where one cannot use the ability he possessed that actually got him to where he, in my case, found out that he was wasting his time. As Billy Hudson always told me after every hurdle in my way, “Wait until you fill out and we’ll see then,” which might not sound too much like great advice, but how comes he was the only one who knew?
In Italy, looking at the way Andrea Pirlo plays this game of ours he was looked at as another “diamond” to follow such incredibly gifted creators such as Rivera at AC and so many before him. I must let you into an everlasting memory of the Italian inside forward.
I was watching a competition called The Gold Cup in Seattle one afternoon and set my eye on Bruno Conti a brilliant blue shirted – how loved their match shirts also, so classy – and it etched in my mind.
Conti was usually used as a winger, who played for Roma, where he spent his entire club career, aside from two season-long loan spells with Genoa in the 1970s. He is considered by many in the sport to be one of the greatest Italian players of all time in his position – inside-forward. Nicknamed “The Mayor of Rome”, Conti was an important figure in the club’s history, and won a league title as well as five Coppa Italia titles during his time in the Italian capital.
I spoke to a friend back home and told them to back Italy to win the World Cup, but me being me forget to get him to back them for me – as we had no betting shops in the USA – and then sat and watched Bruno give some mesmerizing displays, but none more important as the one against Brazil when his jailbird friend Paolo Rossi scored that amazing hat-trick.
Like Pirlo, how lucky he was to be an Italian inside forward!
I am reading about one of the best footballers of our times Andrea Pirlo and I just share the opening written by the man himself:
A pen. Beautiful, granted, but still a pen. A Cartier: shiny, a little bit heavier than a biro and emblazoned with the Milan crest. The ink cartridge was blue. Plain old blue. I looked at the pen, spun it round in my hand like an infant examining its first toy. I studied the thing from a few different angles, seeking out hidden depths and meanings. Trying to understand. Trying so hard that I felt a headache coming on and a few drops of sweat slide down my face.
Finally, the flash of inspiration arrived. Mystery solved: it was, indeed, just a pen. No added extras. Its inventor had left it at that. Deliberately? Who knows.
Suddenly I heard a voice. “For goodness’ sake, don’t use it to sign for Juventus.”
Adriano Galliani had at least managed to come up with a decent line. As a leaving present, I’d have expected something a little more than his perfect comic timing. Ten years at Milan, finished, just like that. Still, I raised a smile, because I know how to laugh, loud and long.
“Thanks for everything, Andrea.” As the club vice president and chief executive spoke, sat safely behind his desk, I had a look around. I knew his office like the back of my hand. It was a vault in the heart of Milan’s old administrative base on the Via Turati. I had happy memories of that room: other contracts, other pens. And yet I’d never noticed some of the photos on the walls, or had done so so distractedly. Those photos had a weighty history, but the prestige was subtly understated. There was every type of photo on display. Memories of the glory days and once-in-a-million occasions. Trophies lifted into the air; clouds always being pushed just a little bit out of shot. My picture had been taken down from the frame, but not by force. Getting bored of Milan was a risk I didn’t want to run. That’s why at that last meeting I was sorry, but just the right amount. Galliani and Tinti, my agent, both felt the same. We said our goodbyes without regret. In the space of half an hour (probably not even that), I was out of there. When the feelings gone, having an excuse can help.
“Andrea, our coach Masssimiliano Allegri reckons that if you stay, you won’t be able to play in front of the back four of the defence. He’s got a different role in mind for you. Still in midfield, but on the left.”
One small detail: I still thought I could give my best playing in front of the defence. If the sea’s deep, a fish can breathe. If you put him under the surface, he’ll get by, but it’s not quite the same thing.
“Even with you sitting on the bench or in the stand we’ve won the league. And you know, Andrea, the strategy’s changed this year. If you’re over 30, we’re only offering a year’s extension.”
Another small detail: I’ve never felt old, not even at that very moment. Only indirectly did I get the impression that people were trying to make out I was finished. Even now, I struggle to get my head round their reasoning.
“Thanks, but I can’t really accept. There’s a three year deal on the table at Juventus.”
It was a polite “no” to Milan, without money even entering the conversation that spring afternoon in 2011. Not once in that 30 minutes was it ever mentioned. I wanted to be thought of as important, a key player in the clubs plans, not someone about to be thrown on the scrapheap. It was, it seemed, the end of an era and I felt I needed something new. Alarm bells had been ringing ever since the middle of what turned out to be the last season at the club, one ruined by a couple of injuries. I arrived at Milanello for training and realized that I didn’t want to go into the dressing room. Didn’t want to get changed, didn’t want to work. I got on well with everyone and had a normal kind of relationship with Allegri – there was just something in the air. I recognized the walls that over the years had sheltered and protected me, but now I was starting to see cracks. I could sense some kind of draught that was about to make me sick. The inner urge to go somewhere else, to breathe a different air, became ever more pressing and intense. The poetry that had always surrounded me was now becoming routine. It wasn’t something I could ignore. Even maybe the fans wanted a bit of relief.
For so many years they’d applauded me at the San Siro of a Sunday (and a Saturday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday…), but now perhaps they wanted to stick new faces into their Panini album, hear new stories being told. They’d got used to the things I did, my movements, my creations. They weren’t awestruck any more. In their eyes, the extraordinary was in real danger of becoming normal. You can’t be Pirlo any more. That was a difficult idea to accept. In actual fact, it was deeply unjust. It brought on the start of a sore stomach as I searched in vain for that lost stimulus. I sat down with Alessandro Nesta: a friend, brother, team-mate, roomie. A man whom I shared a thousand adventures, and about as many snacks. At half-time in one of our never-ending football games on the PlayStation, I confessed all. “Sandro, I’m leaving.”
He didn’t seem surprised. “I’m really sorry to hear that. But it’s the right decision.”
Going back to Andrea Pirlo with the international break upon us this is the right time to bring you the feelings of a player who has graced the international scene for years and none more so than when England, whether the players or management, couldn’t come to terms with the great red wine drinking Italian.
That will be the photograph l will choose as it shows him as some kind of entrepreneur or a wine expert. It is simply his look and if you read between the lines of I THINK THEREFORE I PLAY you can see that this man is something more than a footballer, Number 10 even, he is more like the Leonard Cohen of the game and his use of poetry and creativity is basically all we need to know about a man who when last playing against England in the European Championships – leaving Frank and Stevie G looking like they were either waiting for a bus or just two innocent bystanders?
I cannot put into words how much l admire, respect and would have loved to have done one, two or three things in my career, one being playing against him, two being changed in these dressing room with him every day and then go onto the training field and watch how he went about more than his training regime but try to see how he prepares his amazing talent going into an upcoming match?
This is the kind of man l would love to educate my son Anthony in the USA as he faces all of what has gone on before him, the hypocrisy and unbelievable ongoing ignorance of the authorities. What I mean by that is I call certain players “un-coachable” and coaches sometime will come across such genius therefore must make a big decision much like choosing which pen you choose to use?
I am not aiming this accusation at the USSF, merely stating a fact that has brought such disastrous outcomes to each and every competition every two years in a country of ongoing mishaps. I do know the answer to this, but why is it that we don’t get the broom out at the FA and start all over again.
At club level it happens, in 1974 when I left Chelsea, just around three years prior they were in a European competition, which they won and the year before that Manchester United played Leeds United in the other FA Cup semi-final yet when I stepped down off the Manchester bound train from London, Euston within a few short months both these clubs were relegated to the old Second Division. As for Manchester United two years prior to that on 29 May 1968 they carried off the big one, The European Cup. This mirrors the 1966 success. How can England win a World Cup then four years later actually perform better in Mexico, only for unforced errors to be so costly, and find that they were outcasts – something I know something about – for ten long years. The point is: What were those at the FA doing all through the Seventies to rectify these issues?
I recall being in a meeting down at our old Chelsea Boys Club one Thursday evening where the Chelsea Old Boys, my fathers team, and experiencing something like a meeting we had at Highbury when Terry Neil actually attacked me in front of a full dressing room after our FA Cup final defeat in 1978.
The only difference I laughed whereas in this meeting in Chelsea there was no evidence of such a thing, as tempers frayed because of team selection. It’s called, although stupidity, passion and know-how by a bunch of Amateurs, yet here were those ‘suits’ at the FA sitting on their brains collecting full salaries while our national team never qualified for a World Cup for twelve years.
Today they would have blamed Covid?
Don and l covered the last great disappointment against Belgium in our podcast while taking a break in Gran Canaria and as usual although we were spot on they continue to go down a route where not a soul would entertain a Andrea Pirlo therefore the slump will continue – and it will take more than Jack Grealish to get us to a final of any kind?
I go back to 1966 when winning the World Cup was the worst thing to ever happen as the likes of Denmark and Greece have reached finals along that long journey to nowhere. As for us we continue to ignore our most talented and creative individuals and l’m certain that there will be more clangers dropped by the England manager. Again, as I said after Mexico ’70 that’s it for now with the two Bobby’s, Moore and Charlton finished at the very top level we will be down the river without a paddle, and so it goes…Alf had other ideas and was sacked as I was serving the three year international ban he gave me. On a brighter note, I am so very happy to have played alongside Alan Ball against Franz Beckenbauer in 1975 with my only mistake being I should really have called it a day after that final whistle blew. There were only three people on this earth who could have mentioned this to me and I’d have taken notice, Billy Hudson, Tony Waddington or Bobby Moore – and oh how I could have done with a word in my ear after that match.
It’s a quarter-past-nine and a number appears on my phone that l usually ignore, meaning ‘no name, no answer’ as these strangers drive you crazy, but what gets me is when you answer they speak to you as if they’re your long lost friend, anyhow to my sheer delight this was someone a little special, Shani a lovely friend from my time spent in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus.
It was a bitter sweet call in some ways as her husband Peter had passed away but she said it was a blessing in disguise as poor old Pete had suffered with the dreaded dementia. I was not feeling low but Shani lifted my spirits just to know that she was well, as we touched on such good times on that island, despite it being a war torn place which if you went through the backstreets people were still suffering from such a war. Crazily, strangely, amazingly this war was a part of my disastrous decision to purchase property in Famagusta.
Mr. Waddington took our Stoke City team on tour and we booked into The Golden Sands Hotel on the beach known as The Golden Mile and it was arguably the greatest football trip of my time. On our last night Geoff Hurst, Jimmy Robertson and I were sitting on the pavement waiting for a taxi when the place shook. I thought of an earthquake. The taxi turned up, we slept, we packed and we left thinking no more of what happened. It was the first dropping of a bomb. It was not until I returned to visit an old friend after my own bomb had dropped in Mile End Road that I realized that this place had been in one of the most diabolically brutal wars in existence. The Golden Mile was fenced off. The Golden Sands Hotel stood derelict. I was going past there one day and asked “What is that?” and told it was the beautiful hotel we stayed in and only one person had been in since the war. The Golden Mile leads you to the border on northern and southern Cyprus, where there is no love lost to this day. I have crossed that border on many occasions and witnessed the look on faces with guns. I also had the most marvelous experience of being invited by my friend Alfie Fisher, on the Army Base in Dhekelia to choose the Man of the Match in the Army versus Navy match, a match that if you thought 1970 Leeds United and Chelsea was rivalry, you should have been standing next to me. I chose The Sniper as my Man of the Match and explained to the team that it was between two strikers the Sniper and his mate up front, but I chose the Sniper because in the last month he shot thirty-odd Afghans from a mile away in his bunker, now you won’t get that from Danny Murphy, Jermaine Jenas or Alan Shearer.
You take things like this through all the Lockdowns thrown at you, the looks on old villagers faces told a story on its own, and although they still looked frightened they entertained us generously and you left feeling empty. I think, or was told, we was the last aircraft to leave the island, whether we were or not I had no idea as did none of our group what we were leaving behind, we were thinking that this most beautiful of spots had been a fantastic bonus that we deserved after my first six months in a red and white shirt. The boat trips with the Band aboard singing all my favourite Beatles songs on these bluest of waters were astonishing. I told you that Waddington didn’t only know about football, this man had so many strings to his bow it was simply crazy.
This is Shani bringing so many happy, yet terrible memories back to me, happy in 1974 before the bomb dropped and then going back to come across my lovely neighbours Shani and Peter (from Derby), Phil and Carol (from Fulham) and then there was Jake the doorman of the Cromwellian, my old Night Club in South Kensington, yeah, you can’t go anywhere can you?
I met a very special Chelsea fan in Okan Dagli, who turned out to be a very good friend and its a pleasure to mention my friend.
Talking of friends, I get my emails still from John Grundey, who with a little luck and financial backing he and I had a radio show, which was going along nicely only for everything good to come to an end, thankfully this time it wasn’t a bomb.