Pete Sixsmith casts one eye back over recent goings-on the World Cup and the other forward to the final, while also finding room for Tow Law ….
Well, here we are, the second Saturday in July and the first game of season 2014-15 getting ever closer. Alas, the Salut Sunderland budget does not stretch to a seat at the Maracana for Sunday’s extravaganza nor to a trip to what looks the best of the new stadiums in Brasilia for the eagerly anticipated third and fourth place game.
I shall make do with the Maracana of South West Durham, the prosaically named Ironworks Road, Tow Law, where Shildon are opening their pre-season, a whole week before the other, better known but no better loved SAFC open their programme at nearby Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland, current home of Darlington 1883. It will come as no surprise to our readers that Ironworks Road has a much longer Heritage than Heritage Park.
Tomorrow is the one we have been waiting for for the best part of a month. We have two giants of the game locking horns with each other (can giants have horns? Can the Editor check this out?). Germany have never won the World Cup in their present guise as a united country, although West Germany did do rather well when they were separated from the East.
By the way, if anybody is interested in the former GDR (presumably that excludes the GCSE candidates whose papers I marked and who seemed to have no knowledge of the place), I recommend a wonderful book called Red Love by Maxim Leo which tells his family’s story in the context of the GDR. The best book I have read this year – apart from The Desperate Dan Book of Ballroom Dancing picked up on a trip to Bonnie Dundee a few weeks ago.
Argentina have the one world poster boy left in the tournament in their team in Lionel Messi, who some say has had a disappointing World Cup. I say to them: “Give it a rest. He’s quality. Look at the space he creates for others and the opposition player he takes out with one simple pass. It’s just like watching Steve Doyle.”
See Salut! Sunderland’s World Cup Final ‘Who are You?’ features:
* Germany: ‘Why Die Mannschaft are invincible’
* Argentina: ‘Don’t cry for us – we like being underdogs’
Watching Brazil on Tuesday was like watching a team who believed all the hype about themselves and who were determined to show how good they were without Neymar. Well, that one backfired didn’t it? So much so that someone tweeted that it was now true to say that watching Barnsley was like watching Brazil – but not quite in a positive sense.
It was a performance that defied description. David Luiz reminded me of – er, absolutely nobody I have ever seen in a red and white striped shirt. I have never seen a Sunderland central defender abdicate responsibility in such a way and whizz around the field in the way that he did. His reputation is in tatters and if I were a forward in Ligue 1 next season, I would take great delight in reminding him of his aberrations at every available opportunity.
Germany were quite magnificent once they got over the initial shock of realising that they were playing a team of directionless, rudderless, ineptly coached Brazilians who played like a Sunday morning team fuelled by the previous night’s Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Bitter.
That they did everything right is a testimony to their mental attitude, their excellent coach and the foresight of the DFB who addressed the problems seen after a dismal 2000 European Championship and set a plan in motion, one that had the full co-operation of the Bundesliga. More than 1300 coaches were trained in 366 educational centres and clubs were leant on to make sure that German players played in German teams.
The current crop started off by winning the UEFA Under 21 Championship in 2009. Boateng, Howedes, Hummels (surely the first player to be named after those little pots of paint that we used to decorate our Airfix Spitfires and Me 107s with), Khedira, Neuer, and Ozil were all members of the team that walloped England 4-0 in the final.
Their players have trained on; ours haven’t. Only Hart and Milner are regular full internationals and six of the 23-man squad have Sunderland connections. Three of them have played in our midfield for the past two years – Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson and Craig Gardener, while Fraizer Campbell had three years at Sunderland. Throw in loanees Nedum Onuoha and Danny Rose and we have 25 per cent of that squad playing for a middle to bottom end Premier League side.
Could Cattermole have progressed like Bastian Schweinsteiger had he left Middlesbrough for a top club rather than Wigan? Why did a prodigious talent like Adam Johnson (and he was very, very good as a young man) never produce the goods at Manchester City? Could Craig Gardner have been a Jerome Boateng had he not been worn down by the relentless demands of the Premier League? Would Connor Wickham have languished in a German squad as he did in ours? Where would Duncan Watmore fit in in the German system?
Bayern Munich have 14 German players in their squad of 26; Manchester City have 6 out of 29 – and three of those are Richard Wright, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell who rarely, if ever, figure in the first team squad. There is talk of Rodwell (another 2009 man) ending up on loan with us.
As for Argentina, the anus-ripping tackle (makes my eyes water just writing the words) that Mascherano performed on Robben ensured that Alejandro Sabella became the first World Cup Final coach who had played a competitive game at Roker Park. Those of a certain vintage will remember him scoring twice in Sheffield United’s 6-2 defeat, a game that was one of the best seen at the old ground. Wilf Rostron bagged a hat trick and Barry Siddall saved a Sabella penner to take us to the top of the league – Division Two that was, before we chucked promotion away by losing at home to Cardiff City.
Sunday will be a fascinating game. Both sides have qualities way, way beyond anything in England. Both sides have much to admire and some things that are less admirable.
Both deserve to be where they are and I hope for a game that points the way forward before the circus of the Premier League begins again – minus Luis Suarez. Will he be missed? Probably only by the army of psychotherapists queuing up to treat him.
* Campo Retro, generous collaborators with Salut! Sunderland, have to pay the rent, too. See their “bright, stylish, vibrant World Cup tees now for just £10” at http://bit.ly/1pjaVA2 and navigate the site for the other offers