We need to be up front here and confess that originally this piece was going to feature a slightly zany joke at the expense of Everton’s ‘raunchy’ new calendar. The setup was something about being surprised that David Moyes got so involved and the punchline would have been a photo of a pale and shirtless ginger chap, preferably looking like one of those that featured on the old Mr Muscle oven cleaner adverts.
Where the whole thing fell down though was finding a photograph. Google images and some quite specific search terms were the order of the day. Oh my, oh dear, oh sweet Lord forgive us all. The things we saw. Things no one should ever see.
Thankfully though, hours of repeatedly watching Taliban beheadings and an old VHS copy of Faces of Death have provided some small measure of catharsis – enough to continue with the rest of this nominal match preview anyway. So here goes…
Let’s leave all the false modesty, not-tempting-fate guff out in the porch here, all the signs point to Sunderland coming to Goodison Park on Saturday and being the recipient of the Uber-knacking that some bleeders or other have got coming from Everton.
Even at the best of times the Black Cats struggle against the Blues, especially when they come to Merseyside. In fact, the last time they won a league game here Paul Bracewell was in their starting line-up. Oh what happy memories we all have of that night, when Michael Bridges came on as a late substitute with the score at 1-1 and veritably skipped through the Everton defence to score two goals. Genuinely, for one of them he utilised a weird, skipping Eddie-Izzard-doing-an-impression-of-someone-running-with-wolves stride to just underline how easy the whole thing was.
They also won a League Cup tie on penalties in 1998 but there are only so many times we can rehash the lengthy, oh so lengthy, events of that particular evening. There are grown men who still wake up like Martin Sheen, tangled in their bed linen and sweating under a lazily spinning fan, recalling the stark horrors of the referee miming at Ibrahima Bakayoko for him to take his sweatshirt off before placing the final kick in the Park End seats.
Apart from those games though, generally we murder Sunderland, home and away. In fact, in the past 20 or 30 years you would struggle to find opponents we have beaten more consistently.
Last season they actually came and played well in the FA Cup quarter final, especially in the first half, and definitely thought they had broken the back of the job when the final whistle went to signal a replay at the Stadium of Light. Their fans definitely had one eye on Wembley when Everton rolled up and put on what was widely recognised as their performance of the season. They may end up looking back at that night as a watershed moment in Martin O’Neill’s time in charge, because two weeks later they returned to Goodison in the league, got thrashed 4-0, and have looked pretty desperate ever since.
O’Neill has had a reasonably amount of money to spend since he’s been Sunderland manager, but in all honesty every month that passes sees the further deterioration of a reputation that blossomed the longer he was on his sabbatical from the game. His glory days of winning cups with Leicester City seem a very long time ago while managing Celtic is a job that requires a very particular and exacting skill set that doesn’t necessarily translate directly to the English Premier League. Where at one time he might have been seen as being cut from similar cloth to our very own David Moyes, he is beginning to look more like Kenny Dalglish: a man mystified and frustrated by the fact that all his old tricks just don’t seem to work anymore.
That said, he did ape one of Moyes’s less inspired recent moves by offering a short-term contract to James McFadden. When you hear of these deals it seems as if there must be some secret society (almost inappropriately called it Masonic then) that players and managers are inducted into that obliges them to find ‘work’ for even the most clearly finished of their number.
Poor old McFadden, once a fresh-faced, rat-tailed scamp, now looks as if he’s permanently nursing the sort of exaggerated hangover only ever seen in sitcoms and soap operas whenever his waxy features peer out from the voluminous folds of an oversized Wenger coat on some bench or other. And just to underline the futile nature of his deal with the Black Cats, he did his hamstring almost as soon as the ink was dry on the contract. He’s probably gutted, but it does seem like the ‘real world’ equivalent of shaking hands on a new job at an interview and then immediately sitting back in the chair, lighting up an Embassy Filter and letting rip with a prodigious fart.
‘Anyone fancy a pint?’
Louis Saha is the other former Blue in the Sunderland ranks, and it has not gone unnoticed by anyone that the ‘mercurial’ striker – mercurial being a term that can stand for whatever you like, but more often than not means ‘mostly shit’ – has yet to score for his latest club. We hate to be the perennial footy mythbusters here, but he isn’t actually ‘bound to score’ on Saturday – we would actually wager that players returning to their former clubs are in fact no more likely to slot than in any other game, it’s just that everyone makes a big point of highlighting the ones that occasionally do.
Whether Saha is still actually any good is a mystery, because his appearances have been so sporadic, well, during his whole career, that it’s hard to observe any real trends in his level of performance. Tottenham were happy to let him go though, and he was hardly mourned when he left Goodison, so you have to lean towards the conclusion that his best days are way, way behind him now. It shouldn’t be forgotten though that at times he was absolutely sensational for Everton. In terms of ability combined with athleticism, at his best he was as good as any other striker in the country. Which is why Manchester United paid over £12 million for him back in 2004.
So, when his name is read out on Saturday, rather than dwell on his lacklustre final season or so, when he was roundly berated for being lazy – sometimes fairly, sometimes not – think back to matches like the home one against Chelsea in 2010 when he Vanessa Peroncelled John Terry all over the place and scored both Everton goals in a magnificent 2-1 win.
Granted, you may have to mentally gloss over the fact that first of all the soft twat missed a penalty in that game, but still, you get the gist.
Ooh, ooh, another belting brace comes to mind here as well – the two he scored in the last 10 minutes at West Ham in 2008. Incidentally, the teamsheet for that one shows Leighton Baines only started on the bench, replacing Victor Anichebe for the final five minutes. How times change.
Baines has established himself as an England regular now, and is joined in the latest squad to face Sweden next week by none other than Leon Osman. Salem’s Lot Shelvey’s in as well like, just to put the game into some context, but you can’t help but feel pleased that Osman is getting some sort of recognition for his talents. He’s not soft, he will see it as a bit of a novelty and a nice day out for the family, and who would deny him that?
Actually, we don’t know him or what goes through his head, so he might think this is it, he’s cracked it and finally demand a transfer request to a club who can meet his ambition to play in the Champions League every season. It’s quite cool that ‘every season’ had to be tacked on the end there seeing as it remains at least a possibility that he could actually do that with Everton in 2012/13 at least.
Another product of the Everton youth system experiencing slightly different emotions to Osman at the moment is former striker Michael Branch. The one-time wonderkid has been sentenced this week to seven years inside for drug dealing. Dead smart.
For fellas who spend their formative years in professional football, where they become used to great money for very little graft, perhaps it is unsurprising that narcotics seems to be an increasingly popular line of work – they can continue to be the envy of all their mates, right up until the moment they get caught.
Speaking of that sort of caper, you often read in the papers or hear on the news about ‘drug deals gone bad’. They never talk about all the other ones though; the good ones that are really amicable and take place without the slightest hitch.
It’s just lazy journalism.