Sunday, 27 February 2022

Back in the USSR

We watch with horror the Russian invasion of Ukraine progress with admiration for the bravery and resilience of its people. Ukraine's remarkable Volodymyr Zelensky*, an actor who played a comedy role in which he became an unlikely president only to do so in reality, is acting out the greatest role of his life. Displaying the Ukrainian flag is pretty much an empty gesture, but....

Putin's invason of Ukraine will surely soon take much or all of that country effectively back into the USSR though, unlike the Beatles song, most Ukrainians will not feel lucky. The West woke up too late to a situation which has been slowly unfolding not just over the last few weeks but over many years.

Many strategic and policy errors have been made pretty much since the end of the Cold War. The largest has been assuming that Putin, like Yeltsin and Gorbachev, was "someone we could do business with" while not paying enough attention to the rogue state behaviour of cyber criminality, intrusions into other nations sovereignty (including the UK's with the novichok poisonings) and general mischief making. With hindsight I feel the West acted with a degree of triumphalism over the end of the Cold War which could be likened to the treatment of Germany after World War 1 which, it can be argued, led to the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Hitler and the inevitability of World War 2. I accept, however, that once Yeltsin made the error of annointing Putin as his successor it might have been difficult for  more constructive relationship to have been fostered.

Given Putin's tendencies, which have been evident for a very long time, I opined to Mrs H on our walk a few days before hostilities commenced that the only way I could see that Ukraine just might have saved itself would have been for it to declare itself neutral, like Switzerland or Ireland. I noted that this had one big problem - it wasn't what the Ukrainian people wanted. But, as Mick Jagger sang, you can't always get what you want.

The reason I say this is that I feel the west, in the form of the EU and NATO, flirted with Ukraine, encouraging it to believe that it could become fully and quickly part of the west as its neighbours to the west had done after the fall of communism. The considered opinion was that, for the time being at least, NATO membership could cause more problems than could be answered, leaving Ukraine in limbo and having unsettled the Russians or at least having given them a pretext for grievance.

You can see why Russia felt threatened even by an alliance that is inherently defensive and why NATO didn't hurry to admit Ukraine looking at the following map showing the countries admitted to NATO since 1997 (this one comes from many useful maps on the BBC website):

In considering NATO's decision to put admission of Ukraine onto the back burner we have to allow for the fact that Ukraine did not seem particularly stable for much of the last 3 decades. But it's also obvious that Ukraine is incredibly difficult to defend against Russia. Allowing for Belarus being a Russian client state, it currently has hostile borders from ten o clock all the way round to seven. It has been quite a surprise that the Hitleresque tactic of coming through another country (i.e. Belarus) to attack the Ukrainian capital hasn't been promptly successful. However, Putin has clearly not gone for a "shock and awe" bombardment of Ukraine, presumably because he wanted to absorb a functioning country not flatten it. Of course I'm not giving him any particular credit for this small mercy and it might be that he didn't think it was necessary, at least yet. The Russians may have expected their advance special forces to open things up rapidly, coupled with the subterfuge of Russian soldiers in plain clothes and ordinary cars infiltrating into the cities, which has been reported and may or may not be Ukrainian paranoia. 

Putin may also have felt that his "special operation" would have been a bit like Soviet tanks rolling unopposed into Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. 

The reason I think that the West ought to have steered Ukraine to declaring itself neutral, rather than leading it half way up a garden path, is that it has had long historical trading links in both easterly and westerly directions. The country has spent much of the three decades of its independence convulsed over how close a relationship to have with Russia and with the EU. I accept that this argument has been substantially settled in recent years in favour of looking west but Ukraine was not likely to be admitted to the EU anytime soon.

If you doubt just how threatening Russia sees Ukraine being part of the west, just think for a moment what the USA would say - and do - if Mexico announced it was entering into a military alliance with Russia. Or China.

Ukrainian neutrality might have given it the best of both worlds in terms of trading relationships and avoided the need for high spending on defence. I accept that the flaw in my argument is that Putin would still have seen a free Ukraine as a threat to his regime, especially if it thrived economically. The sight of increasing living standards just over the border in a country seen by his people as very similar would almost certainly have caused Putin to go tonto, to use Ben Wallace's term, anyway. It would have inconvenienced Putin to the extent that he couldn't have used "NATO aggression" as a pretext. The bizarre "nazification" claim would still have been available, I suppose.

Plenty of people are saying that we should have stood up to Putin sooner. Many of these are also the same people who oppose war anywhere, were totally against our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and oppose higher miltary spending whenever it is proposed. Quite a few of them would long since have relinquished Britain's nuclear deterrent. The hand wringing going on now makes me want to ask just what people expected us to do, then or now. 

In the circumstances of now NATO was surely right to make clear it would not fight over Ukraine, especially with Putin's chilling hint of using nuclear weapons if the west got in his way and given what we can tell about his mental state.

So for now we can just marvel at the bravery of the Ukrainian people and assist in any refugee crisis while the West invokes sanctions and provides material (and materiel) aid where it can. And make sure we do spend appropriately on defence and that all NATO partners pull their weight. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Germany - aren't you ashamed at having to finally say you'll meet your commitment of 2% of GDP? Though, you've promised it before, so I'll believe it when it happens).

Personally I would fast track neutral Sweden and Finland's wish to join NATO as well, despite - or because - of Putin's hissy fit over the suggestion.

The West also needs to think carefully about what it can do to destabilise Putin's regime. There is plenty of evidence about just how dangerous going against Putin is for individuals but I do hold out some hope that either the clique of oligarchs around him, or his military leaders, will see that their boss's behaviour has become a liability. The sanctions are broad ranging and, over time, will hit Russia hard. Russia can only lose in an economic war wioth the West. At least we, as individuals, don't need vet many goods for embargo, unlike China.

In the meantime I say "Budmo, Ukraine!" It's the shortest and most common toast in Ukraine and means more than just cheers - broadly "let us be".

* Some sources give the president's surname as Zelenskyy. Of course it's actually Володимир Зеленський, so you can see it does have a double letter at the end but I would have thought the issue is whether we need that to produce the phonetic equivalent. I recall an Iranian student I knew at uni telling me of difficulties he had faced because his surname, spelt phonetically on his passport in American English didn't match his father's, spelt phonetically in French. When I visited Ukraine a bit over 20 years ago the difference between the Ukrainian alphabet and Russian was explained to me as, at first sight standing looking at signs in Kiev, having visited Moscow a few years earlier, I couldn't tell the difference. They are both cyrillic with 33 letters but there are four Russian letters which don't appear in Ukrainian and vice-versa. However the "spot" I was given was that there are two letters which appear in one language quite a lot in common words and which are missing from the other. Of course I don't remember the detail. In practice the languages are more diverse than that would make it seem and non-Ukrainian speaking Russians would apparently struggle to understand much Ukrainian which has a lot in common with the Slavic languages as well as Russian. So much for Putin's "we all all Russ together".

Ukraine has no great strategic interest to the West though it does produce about 8% of the world's grain. This stat was no surprise to me, having been driven for several hours through what seemed never ending wheat growing prairie en route from Kiev to Chernobyl. The news that Russian forces had "taken Chernobyl" made me smirk. None of the four Russian designed reactors there are operational, so it wasn't contributing to power supplies. The striken unit 4, which basically blew up in 1989, is in a stable state and enclosed by a shelter, funded by the West. If Putin really did want to take it back for Russia he truly is crazy, but I'm sure it was just sloppy reporting. Chernobyl is very close to the border with Belarus and there are main roads direct to Kiev (or Kyiv as it seems to have become).


Sunday, 13 February 2022

Osi's nearly right: it rarely disappoints

There are many benefits in being retired. Strangely one of them isn't that I get to stay up and watch more Superbowls on live TV. It all depends what I'm doing the next day. When I retired I decided I should celebrate Mondays. They became "Magic Mondays" because I didn't have to go to work. This was partly because Monday would usually be my longest day of the working week, often leaving the office at 8pm.

A friend who wasn't retired once asked "doesn't it mean the weekends aren't special?" He is now retired and will realise that they still are. That's when your family can come to stay, as they aren't working. And there's the weekend's sport: TV to watch and golf competitions to play in. But Mondays are different.

However, now I have to get up and do stuff on a Monday to make it magic I don't stay up to watch the Superbowl, which I often did while still working. There is of course an old joke about coming back to work for a break to recover after a good holiday. 

And I must admit I do get much more tired after a late night now. Getting old sucks but as I always say, it's better than the alternative. So yet again  I won't be watching this year's Superbowl live, as Mrs H and I have something planned.

The climax to the NFL season always makes me wish I'd watched more of the coverage through the season. As the NFL season starts in early September, just as the football season has got into full swing, I tend to start paying proper attention towards the end of the regular season, as the race for the play offs shakes down. 

But there is so much good sport to keep up with that I' ve gone back to watching gridiron mainly via the highlights shows, which was how I got into watching it back in 1982 when Channel 4 first broadcast the sport regularly on British TV. 

One of the reasons I feel that way is because, as Osi Umeniyora says "the NFL never disappoints". Osi presents the BBC's weekly highlights show with Jason Bell. When I started watching the highlights shows on BBC which cover the whole week's play, rather than highlights of selected matches on Sky, I found the pair of them boisterously enthusiastic to the point of irritation. Indeed, Mrs H couldn't bear to be in the same room as the TV.  So Osi doesn't just say "the NFL never disappoints". Each week after the best action has been shown he exclaims "you know Jay Bell, THE NFL NEVER DISAPPOINTS!!!" thumping one hand into the other rhythmically at the same time. And, although it was Bell who appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, it's Umenyiora who dances around when talking, unable to stay still for more than an instant. And he frequently asserts his credentials as one of the New York Giants defenders who stopped Tom Brady winning seven Superbowls instead of five.

The thing is, Osi is right. Or very nearly right. One reason is the outcomes are nearly always uncertain and there are surprises every week. If you take the Divisional Championships week in the play offs (what a soccer fan would call the quarter finals) all four matches were tight, none of them were decided by more than a single score and they were all on a knife edge in the closing stages of the matches. One match was decided in what the Amercians call "overtime" (extra time to a Brit). The others were decided in ordinary time but with literally no time left on the clock, the winners scoring on the last play. (Like rugby the play continues until the ball is dead by which time the clock already said zero). The top ranked team in each of the conferences lost. The two fourth placed seeds going into the play offs will contest onight's Superbowl.

No wonder many pundits said it was the greatest weekend in NFL play off history. Three matches won with no time left is a record for the play offs season, let alone one weekend. In the Kansas City Chiefs win against the Buffalo Bills the lead changed hands three times in the last two minutes of playing time. Even more dramatic than the 1979 F A Cup final. (You remember - Arsenal 3 Man United 2, all the key action in the last 5 minutes).

Of course the game is set up to produce tension until the end. In some of those matches teams tried to deliberately score the winning points with effectively no time left on the clock, so the other side wouldn't have the opportunity to strike back. It worked in some cases but it failed disastrously for Kansas in their Conference Championship (semi-final) match against the Cincinnati Bengals, declining the chance to score an equalising field goal with time left, intending to run the clock down and either win it or at least level the scores right at the end. But two plays went wrong and they had to make a harder kick to take it into overtime before going for an ambitious play, conceding possession and losing.

They lost to a team that two years ago was the lowest ranked team out of 32 in the NFL, whose whole  structure promotes competition, though within the closed shop franchise system of no relegation. The Bengals, as the lowest ranked team, got first pick in the college draft and selected the number one ranked college quarterback, Joe Burrow. A no 1 draft pick quarterback, by himself, wouldn't normally be enough to turn round a team so quickly (Osi says) but Burrow has done it. The Bengals play in their first Superbowl since the one I was fortunate enough to see, against the San Francisco 49ers in 1989. That game was won at the death in one of the great Superbowl finishes by San Fransico's legendary quarterback, Joe Montana, passing to the almost equally legendary receiver, Jerry Rice. As I said to Mrs H as we sat at the far end, a hundred yards from the action "I'm not sure if he got there, looks like he was knocked out at the one yard line". Then the TV screens showed Rice stretching out his hand in mid air to break the plane of the touchdown line and the 49ers had won.

And now Joe Burrow has acquired one of Montana's nicknames; "Joe Cool" for his calmness under pressure.
I know American Football is too stop-start for some. Although it's a series of set plays, improvisation does come into it especially with teams like Kansas and its quarterback Patrick Mahomes. It does have ebb and flow - after all cricket is a series of set plays each lasting a few seconds and a test match can certainly ebb and flow - though maybe not end to end. But American Football does flow end to end at times: interceptions and touchdown kick off returns certainly provide that, much like rugby.

And rugby, despite its end to end nature, has what Stephen Jones in the Sunday Times recently called "the grinding predictability of the box kick as the scrum half laboriously places his men in position to obstruct and the defensive team funnel back to try to take the high ball. No one ever uses that set up as a dummy play for some kind of surprise attack". They do in the NFL, Stephen, but they call it a "fake" not a "dummy".

Jones went on to say of rugby rucks: "those horrible, linked crocodiles where individual players form up on the back of the player in front, giving the scrum half about an hour to kick clear... the most unsightly and predictable of all". 

Though my main problem with rugby is, despite playing it at school (a long time ago) I've never understood the rules or tactics. In the NFL the officials speak to camera to explain decisions. (In the amateur form of the game in the UK they do the same, though you have to stand on the home touchline to hear them). So you know exactly what has been decided.

As for tactics, in the NFL you know they are mainly running standard plays selected by the coaches, whereas in rugby you just know that much of the time they are running standard plays in open play, as my office buddy who was a rugby league fan explained to me in 1978. "They're running standard plays imported from the NFL, Phil. Rugby Union will catch up eventually".  And they have, but it hasn't helped the spectacle.

But while I find Amercian Football much more exciting to watch than rugby I admit Osi is not entirely right. I practically stopped watching the sport when most of the coverage focussed on the live games, often late at night and not always guaranteed to be interesting. A one off game can of course be boring. And with the advert breaks (three intervals for four quarters) time outs and stoppages a one sided or uneventful game isn't great on TV. (If you're in the stadium there is the compensation of pizza and beer delivery to your seat of course).  

So I won't lose sleep over not watching the Superbowl live. But I can't wait to catch up with the highlights.

* Stephen Jones's piece "Predictable game can't let control freak coaches like Erasmus take fun away" was in the Sunday Times on 2 January 2022

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Trust me, wearing trainers did not come from hip hop!

I read a suggestion recently that the fashion trend for wearing sports footwear, trainers and the like, or sneakers as the Americans call them, was pioneered by black hip hop musicians in the mid 1980s. A statement that I knew before completing the sentence was tosh. Indeed, I could potentially argue it's a form of cultural appropriation, because it was a well established trend at least a decade earlier in the UK among white football fans.

You can find any number of articles on 1970s and 1980s British football fan culture which refer to the "casual" look. Many of them credit Merseyside with a trend which I first noticed myself at Goodison Park in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

The classic three stripe adidas training shoe was part of the look but that wasn't really new, or specific to Liverpool. When I went to university in 1970 I soon dispensed with wearing formal shoes and opted for the trainers that were part of the post hippie "uniform" along with long hair (I already had that), cords (by 1971 I didn't even own a pair of denim jeans) and, for winter warmth, an army surplus greatcoat. Unfortunately I don't have a photo to do full justice to this vision of ultimate cool, but you can use your imagination I'm sure.

Indeed I can recall many schoolboys wearing what we called "bumper" boots - a UK version of baseball shoes - as casual footwear in the 1960s. I never liked them myself but some friends did and the style still persists.
Having left my early 20s behind, what I noticed a few years later on the terraces - and thought very weird - was that, along with much shorter hair, the younger element of the crowd had ditched wearing "colours" (i.e. scarves etc identifying their allegiance) and were wearing things like short sleeved Ben Sherman shirts. Whatever the time of year. And what always looked like brand new trainers. These youngsters were the early "casuals".

The look had the advantage, in an era of football hooliganism, of anonymity at way games, helping to avoid trouble (at least until you opened your mouth). The police would target skinheads wearing Doc Martens for special attention and were apparently more inclined to leave these smarter looking lads alone. Which was convenient, whether you were looking for trouble or trying to avoid it.

As fanzines became widespread in the late 80s and early 90s a generation of pre-blog era writers were inspired by Nick Hornby to share their experience of following their team. I read many nostalgic pieces in the Everton fanzine When Skies Are Grey by fans who would have been a decade or so younger than me about this era. Indeed, some editions of the mag seemed to be as much about fashion and music as football. 

Some people have gone on to make a career from it, one such being Jonny Owen, the film producer, actor and writer who first realised that he would prefer writing to working in the local Hotpoint factory when he left school and wrote some articles for his local team's fanzine, the grandly named Dial M for Merthyr*. Owen is also Mr Vicky McClure and a director of Nottingham Forest. In his column in the Sunday Times this week he writes about a chap from Blackburn called Gary Aspden.

Owen also has a slot on TalkSport radio. Despite having had guests like Liam Gallagher and Robert Plant on his show, the social media reaction to Aspden's appearance was as big as for any of Owen's broadcasts. This was because Aspden, who comes from Blackburn and is a Rovers fan, works for Adidas and is the man behind the Spezial range of trainers that has been so popular in recent years. Aspden had spotted the huge community of people obsessed with classic trainer styles, which isn't peculiar to Adidas. 

But in his Sunday Times column this week, titled rather pretentiously by the sub-editors Our trainers say so much about us - their effect on social history must not be ignored, Owen gives credit where it's due:

"it was Adidas where it began back in the late 1970s as Liverpudlians travelled Europe watching their dominant teams and bringing back exotic new sports wear"

You might scoff at "dominant" in Everton's case, though in the 15 years from 1975-6 to 1989-90 Merseyside teams won the league 12 times out of 15. Admittedly Everton only contributed two - and a European trophy in 1985**. Anyway, he contends that it was a Liverpool shop owner, Wade Smith, who noticed the trend for trainers on the Liverpool streets. Smith was a buyer for Topman. A third of all Topman's sales of Adidas came from the Liverpool store, so it wasn't that hard to spot. The most popular items were the Samba and the Stan Smith tennis hybrid.

Legend has it that Smith (Wade that is, not Stan) drove to Germany in a van and bought as many pairs as he could to set up his own shop. According to the Liverpool Echo the shop sold 110,000 pairs of Adidas trainers in the 1980s. Smith surfed a wave of brands, selling Fred Perry and Pringle jumpers and introducing exotic Italian brands like Sergio Tacchini in a strange fashion subculture centred on Liverpool. Casuals would make a pilgrimage to Smith's shop, which had moved to more elaborate premises on Matthew Street from its first location of Slater Street. Later on he went further upmarket, stocking Prada and Gucci. Oh those brand tart scousers!

I had a pair of Adidas trainers in the late 60s, which I'm fairly sure were Sambas. You can buy the "classic" style now: they look like this:

But were they being made that early, or is that yet another false memory of mine? The answer is that Adi Dassler's company first made them in 1949, to enable footballers to train on icy, hard ground. And playing football was what I used  mine for, at least till I went to uni.

Returning to Wade Smith, his shop closed in 2005 but here he is with a collection of his trainers:

As for "bringing back exotic new sports wear" one website dedicated to the casuals culture (Casually Bollocks - a history of the Football Casuals) claims a key moment was Liverpool's European Cup quarter final at St Etienne in 1977 when fans arrived back with an array of expensive French and Italian footwear "most of which they looted from stores". I prefer the Echo's take on this, that Liverpool and Everton fans came back from European jaunts with "holdalls crammed" with trainers. Apocryphal - indeed stereotypical - or not, the fascination with Adidas and Ben Shermans I had noticed diversified to include Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste, a brand I only ever saw worn in Liverpool for many years, as the Casuals branched out into polo shirts from their short sleeved Ben Shermans.

Indeed, I can recall a small shop full of younger punters on Lime Street in a scruffy block that used to obscure the station. A while back now the block was demolished to open up the station to the street and St George's Plateau:

The fact that the station was practically hidden often led visitors to have to ask directions though the sailor in uniform in the late 1960s who asked a bunch of fifteen year olds where Lime Street was must have noticed us smirk while telling him. (Lime Street was notoriously where the prostitutes touted for business). Although it wasn't Wade Smith's shop in that long gone eyesore block, I remember being puzzled by the stock of Ben Sherman short sleeved shirts and various branded polo shirts being on display in mid-winter.

 One can see from the reaction to Jonny Owen's interview with Aspden that the fondness for classic Adidas trainers runs deep in the males of the 60s, 70s and 80s generations, but particularly football fans. A trend that I believe stemmed from the uniform of scruffy students but was turned into a proper fashion style now widely credited to Merseyside football fans. Owen suggests the fashion spread because of football fans travelling way. Teams like Aberdeen met Liverpool, took back influences and made it into something of their own. The trend quickly spread down the M62 to Manchester. Many of Owen's compatriots in South Wales had "second" clubs, often from north west England, so the fashion was soon brought back to Wales and he says he spent most of the 1980s wearing three stripe Adidas trainers.

I was very fond of my Adidas trainers and boots in the 1960s, though when I was playing a lot in men's football, wearing boots out very quickly and spending my own money on them I was perfectly happy wearing the cheaper but functional Gola brand, especially playing at centre back. ("You might have Adidas on mate but I'm gonna tread on your toes and make them muddy"). And it wouldn't occur to me to wear trainers as a leisure shoe now, I'm happier wearing what we call sneakers than what the Americans call that. I'm not going to a lecture or to stand on the terraces, after all. This is my current favourite pair, from Dune:

As you can see they owe quite a lot to the Adidas training shoe in style. Though not as much as this slightly older pair of Pikolinos owe to running shoes:

Not that I'd like to run more than a few yards in them, mind. There are times when the greatcoat would come in useful in the winter round here though.

* Dial M for Merthyr is one of my favourite fanzine titles, though for me the ultimate has to be the Norwich fanzine Norfolk 'n' Good. As for me, the few articles I had published in When Skies Are Grey had no impact whatsoever on my career, though I keep meaning to republish the best of them here.

** But please don't spoil things by asking why the run ended when Everton were the best team in Europe - according to UEFA - in 1985.

P.S. Adolph "Adi" Dassler gave his name to his brand. His brother Rudolph worked with him but they fell out and so Rudi set up his own company, which in a flash of originality he called RuDa,  from the first syllables of his names. But after a bit he changed the name to Puma

Sources included:

Jonny Owen's Sunday Times column on 6 Feb 2022 (Our trainers say so much about us) and 1 Nov 2020 (The impact of fanzines on football cannot be overestimated)

Friday, 4 February 2022

Will the scattergun hit the target this time?

Frank Lampard was a footballer I always feared - with justification. He scored the winning goal when Chelsea came from behind to beat Everton in the 2010 F A Cup final, the nearest Everton has come to a trophy since 1995. I was at a premier league match at Goodison in 2006 when Chelsea came from behind twice to win 3-2, Lampard scoring the second equaliser in the 81st minute. And again at Goodison in 2012 Lampard scored twice after Everton had taken an early lead; Chelsea won 2-1. 

So even without the family connection of his dad, Frank Lampard snr, scoring a rare goal - with a diving header - for the winner for West Ham against Everton two minutes from the end of extra time in the 1980 F A Cup semi-final, which he followed by doing a jig around the corner flag, Frank jnr has caused Everton fans plenty of hurt over the years.

But that was his job - and he was very good at it. The nature of those goals and come from behind wins speaks to strong character.

When asked about these events at his unveiling as Everton's new manager he said with a smile: “I have got a lot of making up to do on that front – and I do apologise....I am here to absolutely represent the club and I will try and make up for those moments.”

No need to apologise, Frank, just get us out of the current mess and then onwards and upwards as we go into our new stadium!

Lampard was clearly well prepared for that question and seems to be a bright chap. For a start he can use words like "insinuate" which I remember being impressed by when I heard his call to James O'Brien on LBC way back in 2009. This was after the newspapers had a field day when Lampard split from his then girlfriend. Lampard took the risk of calling in because his sister was distressed by hearing him called a "bit of a rat". Despite his clear anger, Lampard was measured and eloquent. You can read the full transcript here

So Lampard has a bit about him. Even so I wasn't sure I wanted him as manager until Everton fans got softened up by the club's ludicrous pursuit of Vitor Pereira. Yes, he won the league twice at Porto a decade ago but he went there as Andre Vilas-Boas's no 2 and he took over a team that had already won the league. And Porto have won their domestic title 11 times this century already, so he arguably had at least a 50-50 chance of retaining it. Since then his achievements have been few but have included getting 1860 Munich relegated from the German 2nd tier. Pereira has been considered before by Everton. He was interviewed in 2013, which was pre Moshiri so maybe Luvvie Bill is to blame for the fascination with him - Pereira also turned down an approach to speak in 2019 when they had ditched Marco Silva.

After the risk Moshiri took in appointing Benitez (which I thought a risk worth taking) I would dearly love to believe that the Pereira flirtation was a cunning plan to get Everton fans to unite behind  someone else, which they did by demonstrating against Pereira and for Lampard. But there is no evidence whatsoever that Moshiri is that clever.

I wish Lampard well but I am nervous. He will need luck as well as skill in sorting out a dysfunctional club and making sense out of the squad he has inherited - and bolstered - through the club's erratic recruitment policy, which would be flattered by the word "scattergun". The scattergun continued to fire in the January transfer window. At least they got bodies in and filled one of the clear unfulfilled needs from the two previous windows, a right back. Time will tell whether Nathan Patterson will prove to be any better than Jonjoe Kenny as a replacement for the ageing Seamus Coleman, who I now always call "Coal-y-man". If it was good enough for Carlo Ancelotti...

But Patterson was a logical acquisition. As was Mike O'Lenko (real name Mykolenko) the Ukrainian left back the club has apparently been tracking for some time, even though the deal had to be done urgently as Benitez had fallen out with Lucas Digne in December - just before being shown the door himself. But then the rationale falters. Offered Al Ghazi in the Digne negotiations with Villa, Everton took the winger on loan even though they already have Gray, Townsend and Gordon. That loan acquisition meant Everton's quota for the season was full so they had to make Dele Alli a permanent transfer, albeit with zero up front fee. They wanted Alli, sometimes described as a no 10, but were already in the process of bringing in Donny van der Beek, also a no 10, on loan from Man United. Which was a curious echo of a previous window when Everton brought in three number 10s at once (Rooney, the disappeared Sigurdsson and the invisible Davy Klassen). Meanwhile the need for a holding midfielder was ignored although there may have been an attempt to bring Idrissa Gana Gueye back from PSG.

I hope I'm wrong (I often am) but I have serious doubts about van der Beek - who seems a nice lad but could prove to be an innocuous Klassen mk2 - and also about Alli. I wish Alli well but my problem with him is that I've had a problem with him for at least 4 years. When he broke into the England team, on the back of stellar statistics for goals and assists in his first two seasons at Tottenham, I couldn't see how he was managing to notch so many goals and assists when his overall performances were, to me, underwhelming. He didn't seem to be "in" matches, even though he often ended up making the odd notable contribution (like scoring). In the last couple of seasons the goals and assists have dropped of a cliff and are more in line with the general contribution to play. 

In Alli's second season at Spurs he scored 22 goals in 50 matches, which would be good for a striker let alone someone thought of as a midfield player. In the seasons either side he notched double figures. But since then they have dwindled to two so far this season. I worry that he has lost a yard of pace. I know he's only 25 but at the top level the first two yards are in your head (a Bob Paisley quote) and I suspect it's in his head where the problems lie, i.e. with motivation. I also worry that teams figured out how to keep enough of an eye on him to stop the goals which seemed to come out of nowhere as he ghosted into the box.

It's not just the evidence of my eyes. xG (expected goals) is one of the data metrics in use as football tries to become as statistical as cricket or American Football. It measures the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored from a particular position on the pitch during a particular phase of play. This value is based on several factors from before the shot was taken. In Alli's pomp at Tottenham his actual goals were very much higher than his expected goals. Now they are in line.

Alli was doing what Jordan Spieth did with his putting when he broke through. Spieth's stats for holing putts from 15 feet were off the scale compared with any of his peers. That couldn't last but Spieth strengthened other parts of his game to compensate.

Arguably Alli has done the same. He certainly works harder than when he first broke into the Spurs and England teams and has gained a reputation for covering ground and putting a foot into challenges. But I suspect Everton are hoping they can rekindle the superstar Alli who was once talked of as being worth £150 million, not some kind of latter day James McCarthy. 

Alli's decline is not new. Gary Neville presented this analysis of Alli under different Spurs managers on Sky Sports in October 2019: 

Remember Alli's stats have deteriorated a lot since then: he scored 9 goals in 2019-20 and three in the following season.  It's not just that Pochettino "understood" him. Alli's stats were in decline long before Poch left Spurs. Since then Jose Mourinho, Nuno espirito Santo and Antonio Conte have all had a go. Oh, how Mourinho tried.  Having noted that Alli is "not a good trainer", Mourinho told him:

"There is a huge difference between a player who keeps consistency and a player who has moments. I think one day you will regret if you don't reach what you can reach."

That's not the worst thing Mourinho said to or about Alli by a long way, as you'll see from the reference below, which includes the text "fing lazy". It's also not to say Lampard won't succeed. His first challenge is where to play him. Starting from the bench I imagine, but once on the pitch? I thought perhaps Alli was really a second striker rather than a no 10/midfield player. If so, how does he fit in with Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison? But then I remembered how Spurs lined up when Alli was performing well. They had Kane and Son ahead of Alli and Eriksen. Maybe Lampard thinks he can have Alli and van der Beek behind DCL and Richi with Doucoure and Allan doing the hard yards in midfield behind them in a line up something like this:

Indeed that is pretty much the line up I saw predicted in one outlet. It had Everton fans pointing out that it omits the player of the season so far, Demarai Gray. More worryingly it looks frighteningly open, which was exactly how Lampard's Chelsea played.

But perhaps Lampard is aiming for a squad where players can mix and match in various line ups and with more fluidity, Manchester City style. I like the idea in general but I'm very unsure of it in a relegation dog fight.

Anyway it seems Everton think Dele is a midfield player as that is how they have listed him in the first team squad on the club website. But he is a player who likes to come in from the left as his this position heatmap from Sky shows:

You can see how Alli has drifted deeper over the last five seasons. And, while this would have been very much the area of the field Lampard himself operated in, it is also where Gray and Richarlison like to play.

Whether Everton will get Muhammad Ali or Delhi Belly time will tell. I just hope we get a happy player who does well and we don't see him running down his contract at Everton in 18 months time, with the club paying his wages while not playing him to avoid paying Spurs any more performance related transfer fee. I wouldn't bet on it, but Frank Lampard might be.

Good luck, Frank.,before%20the%20shot%20was%20taken