Insomnia, Dimitar Cantona & the Roy Race biography

The strangely selective amnesia of Joe Kinnear...

Let’s be honest, we’ve all forgot stuff.

Bobby Robson, still revered on Tyneside, once famously referred to Lauren Robert as Lauren Bacall, often puzzled Shola Ameobi by saying: “Hello Carl” (mistaking him for Carl Cort) and, as England manager, often addressed Bryan Robson as “Bobby.”

Jack Charlton, when he managed Ireland, gave up trying to remember Tony Cascarino’s name and settled for calling him “ice cream man.” In both cases, such slips didn’t seem to matter because Robson and Charlton ensured their teams did the business on the pitch.Joe Kinnear has no such defence. And his memory loss is perplexing.

Apparently unable to remember Charles N’Zogbia’s surname, he did manage to recall the cruel nickname "insomnia” with which Sunderland fans derided N’Zogbia.

Kinnear has suggested the player is just using the row to engineer a move. The puzzle being that, if that is the case, why was Kinnear daft enough to give his wantaway star the ammunition?

"Ere Tony, I'll have a 99... with a flake"

From Cantona to Dimitar...

Dimitar Berbatov is, as a Manchester United fan said to me the other night, “a proper player.”

The media - so keen to berate him for getting lost in games and not showing enough appetite for the fray - should cut him some slack.I am baffled by the criticism of his sulky demeanour on the pitch. Football may be a branch of the entertainment industry but that doesn’t mean every player should be contractually obliged to play to the cameras.

The game will be much more monotonous if every midfielder or attacker is compelled to run around like Action Man and cover, as the cliché goes, every blade of grass on the pitch. Berbatov has the technique, vision and instincts to be as important to United today as Cantona was in the 1990s. The class vs effort controversy is almost as old as football. (And having watched Brian Talbot at Arsenal in the early 1980s I know which side of the argument I come down on.)

Roy Race, when he managed Melchester Rovers, struggled with a similar dilemma. In one instalment, he wrestled with misgivings about signing a striker who only really featured in a game for two minutes but in that period scored two goals to win the match.

Berbatov: United's 21st century Cantona?

Roy, Lennie and Barry...

Roy Race brings me to the question of the great football novel. Joseph Oa’Neill, author of Netherland (a Gatsby-esque novel in which the morose hero alleviates his mid-life crisis by playing cricket in New York) has pointed out that such a novel doesn’t yet exist.David Peace’s Damned Utd is a superb fictionalisation of the worst 44 days of Brian Clough’s life. And the trailer for the film looks magnificent.

But there is, as far as I’m aware, no classic novel that does for football what, say, Walter Tevis’s The Hustler did for pool or Don DeLillo’s End Zone for NFL.O’Neill recommends Barry Hines’s debut novel The Blinder about a gifted working class footballer called Lennie Hawke who struggles to juggle sport and school.

I’ve just ordered it. If it’s as good as the PE teacher/Bobby Charlton/Denis Law sketch in Hines’s more famous A Kestrel For A Knave, I’m in for a treat.If you’ve read any great football novels please let me know. And, I must admit, I haven’t yet read the Roy Race ‘biography'.

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