Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: July 2007

In one respect, 1st August came not a moment too soon. One of Fat Fred’s parting gestures was – surprise, surprise – to allow his flabby great jaw to hang open and expel one last gust of hot air; but amidst that hot air was the nugget of information that the clause in Michael Owen’s contract allowing him to leave for just £9m expired at midnight on 31st July. With bidders queuing up for the injury-plagued striker in as great a number as there are Mackems in Mensa, Little Mickey must now be resigned to having to get fit and repay our faith and patience. Should another club express an interest, though, there’s still a possibility he’ll be sold – but only if the new hierarchy decide it makes good sense, and only on their terms.

In another respect, however, we had less reason to be thankful for the steady ticking of time. In July, Allardyce’s efforts on the transfer front bore as much fruit as an apple tree on Teesside – particularly disappointing after a promising June in which we made some decent signings and looked as though we might actually be operating according to some kind of pre-meditated strategy. No one was more frustrated than Fat Sam himself, who repeatedly underlined his awareness of our deficiencies in terms of sheer numbers as much as anything else and wound up laying the blame for the repeated failures in the transfer market squarely at the door of the takeover and the new regime: “Trying to get to where you want to get can be a little bit difficult sometimes, and I understand that because you’ve got to find everything out about the new business, but you can get frustrated from that point of view because it moves slower than you’d like. It’s Chris Mort I deal with now in the main, but he hasn’t had that much experience in football terms, so one would hope that now we’ll get even quicker”.

Publicly putting the pressure on Mort and Ashley, the incoming chairman and new owner respectively, probably wasn’t the smartest move on Allardyce’s part, not least if the rumours of a mutual antipathy are to be believed; neither are likely to have appreciated being told to get up to speed by a manager they didn’t appoint and apparently don’t rate, and both will have bristled at the thinly-veiled demands for them to dust off the chequebook, particularly given the parlous state of the club’s finances . It doesn’t bode well for off-pitch harmony that Mort and Allardyce have already held “clear-the-air” talks – even arch agent provocateur Jose Mourinho took over two years to aggravate Roman Abramovich. The speculation surrounding the possible return of prodigal sons Kevin Keegan and / or Alan Shearer may be fanciful, but it hints at a significant amount of behind-the-scenes unrest.

And to think we hoped all that might be a thing of the past with Fat Fred’s departure. On 25th July he finally waddled off into the sunset with his fists full of cash – £38m, to be precise – and Mort’s apparently unironic words of praise ringing in his ears, but of course declined to go quietly. Not only did he reveal that Owen’s escape clause had an expiry date attached to it, but he boasted he’d done “fantastically well for what was a hobby” and claimed that he would have fought the takeover had he been physically fit at the time. Having at first issued a gruff challenge to Ashley and then, upon receipt of the money, delivered a glowing verdict of the new regime, here was the fat songbird warbling a different tune again. Thankfully we won’t be subjected to his tweeting any more.

Amidst the backroom politics and the tangled threads of transfer rumour (including the drawn-out tedium of the Dyer-to-a-London-club-for-“family-reasons” story) – not to mention the formality of the stock exchange delisting, the raiding of the club by City of London Police investigating corruption in football and the arrest of former favourites Robert Lee and Warren Barton for drunkenly helping themselves to someone else’s limousine – it would be easy to forget that there was actually some action on the pitch too, for the first time since mid May. Having beaten Hartlepool in Fat Sam’s first friendly in charge, we stole a very late and unconvincing draw at Carlisle and then, in our finest schizophrenic style, went on to beat strong Celtic and Juventus sides comfortably.

While Geremi and Rozehnal settled in, Albert Luque surprised us all by looking moderately interested and scoring three times before surprising no one and getting injured. And he wasn’t the only one – Joey Barton broke his metatarsal against the Cumbrians, while Owen, Ameobi, Butt and Taylor were among those who joined him on the treatment table. Having promised on his arrival to get to the bottom of our annual injury crisis, Allardyce has now been presented with the opportunity to deliver; but, as fans who’ve had to put up with Fat Fred for the past fifteen years, we’ll know the feeling if he can’t.


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