Malcolm Dawson writes……the germ of an idea came to me as I pondered my stance on the upcoming referendum. I wanted to form an objective view as to whether or not it was better to remain within the EU or if in fact leaving was the better option. But all I was getting from both sides was unconvincing rhetoric and increasingly outlandish claims, designed to appeal to people’s prejudices on the one hand or to provoke a sense of fear and outrage on the other. The logical, if possibly subjective arguments I wanted to hear and which would allow me to make an informed decision, weren’t forthcoming. How I thought am I to decide?
One of the features of EU membership is freedom of movement and residency and so I thought, if those in charge of the Leave and Remain campaigns aren’t coming up with the goods, perhaps I should just trivialise it all and make my decision based upon a fantasy football match between Sunderland players wholly from within the UK versus those from places within what was once termed the Common Market. The Republic of Ireland presented a problem. Although obviously a sovereign nation, its footballers have always enjoyed the opportunity to play in Great Britain so I decided I would carry on with that tradition and make it a UK and Ireland team versus the Rest of Europe.
Then came last week’s horrendous event in West Yorkshire and it all seemed just too trite. There were other instances too, in France, in County Durham, in Glasgow, of people who suddenly had the gift of life taken from them in the blink of an eye to remind me that football is (as my dad used to say) just 22 blokes (or lasses) kicking a ball about.
But football continued to occupy my thoughts and with too much spare time on my hands and with another 10 days or so to go before the transfer window officially opens, I re-defined my criteria and went back to and expanded my fantasy XIs, something that has occupied me over the years. In the 60s it was Subbuteo that provided the catalyst, in the 80s the “Daily Telegraph Fantasy Football League” and in the 90s playing FIFA on my Sega Megadrive. On supporters’ coaches we would set ourselves challenges. Pick a team that you might see at a barbecue – Patrick Berger or Paulo Wanchop perhaps or in the transport museum – Laurie Sanchez and Kanu being the first names on that squad list.
And so I expanded my tournament. I would choose 4 sides but to limit the choice all the players would a) come from memory and b) have played for the club since we won promotion under Roy Keane 10 years ago. The teams would comprise
1 Players from EU countries
2 Overseas players who are not from the European Community
3 A side made up of UK and Irish players who either came to the club on loan or who graduated from the academy and so cost nothing and
4 A team qualified to play for any of the home nations or Eire who were transferred into the club for a fee.
Then I would theorise on the possible results using a mixture of personal assessment and the player ratings using FIFA stats player ratings as they were in a season when they represented Sunderland.
So here we are:
1. The EU XI FIFA rating 812 (73.82)
Manager – Dick Advocaat
Simon Mignolet 70
Marcos Alonso 66 Younis Kaboul 76 Carlos Cuellar 74 Patrick van Aanholt 74
Bolo Zenden 72 Yann M’Vila 78 Jan Kirchhoff 75 Steed Malbranque 74
Nicklas Bendtner 78 Fabio Borini 75
A surprisingly low rating for Marcos Alonso who I always thought looked class.
2. The NON EU REST OF THE WORLD XI FIFA RATING 821 (74.64)
Manager – Gustavo Poyet
Oscar Ustari 74
Santiago Vergini 73 John Mensa 76 Lamine Kone 74 DeAndre Yedlin 71
Wabhi Khazri 78 Stephane Sessegnon 81 Ki Sung Yueng 74 Ahmed Elmohamady 74
Kenwyne Jones 77 Ji Dong Won 69
Sess was canny but was he that good?
3. The UK and IRELAND FREEBIE XI (Loan and Academy Products) FIFA RATING 771 (70.09)
Manager Kevin Ball
Playing 5-3-2 with two wing backs
Jordan Pickford 71
Wayne Bridge 72 Nedum Onuoha 78 Calum Davenport 71 Jonny Evans 68 Danny Rose 72
Jack Colback 70 Jordan Henderson 72 Grant Leadbitter 65
Danny Welbeck 69 Martyn Waghorn 63
Now Onuoha was decent but 6 points better than Danny Rose and 10 more than Evans? I think not.
4. THE NOT SO CHEAP AT HALF THE PRICE BRITISH ISLES XI FIFA RATING 829 (75.36)
Manager Martin O’Neill
Playing 3-5-2 but with the fluidity to go 4-4-2
Craig Gordon 78
John O’Shea 75 Michael Turner 76 Anton Ferdinand 72
Phil Bardsley 72 Lee Cattermole 77 Craig Gardner 74 Jack Rodwell 75 Kieran Richardson 76
Darren B£nt 82 Fraizer Campbell 72
What – no place for Stephen Fletcher or Danny Graham?
And now the results of my fantasy matches.
Semi Final Number 1: UK&I FREEBIES v NOT SO CHEAP BIs XI
The game kicked off under a bit of a cloud when it was revealed that on loan Calum Davenport was to stand trial following a domestic incident involving his sister. “Innocent until proven guilty” stated hard man manager Kevin Ball and so it transpired as the player was to be acquitted. Fortunately the game went ahead before Davenport’s sister’s boyfriend attacked him and his mum inflicting serious knife wounds. The attacking flair of the Freebies’ defensive players Nedum Onuoha and Danny Rose found space between the somewhat ponderous midfield of NSC@HTP but Welbeck and Waghorn failed to come up with the goods and the nearest they came to scoring was a long range effort from Jordan Henderson which whizzed past the post into the South Stand. Their opponents lacking any real creative attacking threat also struggled to carve out opportunities for the front two but the pace of Bent and Campbell made up for that and each latched onto a long ball to set up the other.
Result BRITISH ISLES XI 2 UK & IRELAND FREEBIES 0
Semi Final Number 2: EU XI v ROW XI
The Rest of the World team had pace aplenty in midfield but was lacking in bite and the defensive qualities of Kirchhoff and M’Vila who complemented the attacking flair of Bolo Zenden and Steed Malbranque for the EU. Despite an early clattering from Lamine Kone, the Dane Niklas Bendtner, still recovering from a night on the tiles with Lee Cattermole and a breakfast of cold pizza was not to be put off, finishing off a neat move from close in. Fabio Borini fired in a trademark thunderbolt and converted a penalty when DeAndre Yedlin handled in the box. Kenwyne Jones struggled manfully up front on his own as Ji Dong Won never got into the game but it was Wahbi Khazri who found the net for the consolation goal.
Result EU XI 3 ROW XI 1
Final BRITISH ISLES XI v EU XI
It was thought that this game would be eagerly anticipated even though the British Isles’ defence looked decidedly uninspiring. The big question was could they effectively deal with the fire power of the continentals? Martin O’Neil pulled a bit of a fast one however by dropping his front two of Bent and Campbell and replacing them with Jermain Defoe and David Connolly in an attempt to add some last minute fire power to the campaign. That threat was to be negated by excellent performances from Younis Kaboul and Marcos Alonso and some tinkering of his own by Big Dick. The Belgian Mignolet had looked shaky in the semi, failing to command his area when he needed to and so was replaced by Vito Manonne. However, despite the changes neither side got to grips with the game. Van Aanholt tried a couple of long range efforts but Gordon was up to the task. Bardsley was urged to shooooooot at every opportunity but the nearest he would come to scoring was in the casino after the match. After 90 turgid minutes it was decided not to inflict any more boredom on the home crowd and the game is to be decided on penalties on Thursday.
And back in the real world, Farage, Johnson and Gove appear to be intent on scoring own goals while Cameron, Osborne and Corbyn are failing to marshal their defence in a co-ordinated way. It all seems too close to call at the moment but we’ll find out on Friday.