Hodgson knows that England expects reactionary bollocks not adequate football analysis

maxresdefault_liveEngland did not fail to win their group because Hodgson made changes for the Slovakia game.

They did not make ‘six changes’ for that game in any meaningful sense.

There was no huge risk or gamble to the changes he did make, in any footballing sense: the risk was an emotional risk, a PR risk. And it backfired.

There could be no other back page story: we would hear how by changing the team Hodgson blew our chance to win the group against a mediocre Slovakia that an unchanged England would surely have beaten.

The problem is that this story spins both the usual reactionary bollocks surrounding England and a wholly inadequate analysis of why England got 5 points in three games despite beating the winners of the group, and dominated but failed to achieve in both other games.

It is arguable that England have been guilty of three key crimes so far: failing to convert possession into goals, lapses of concentration at the back leading directly to conceding goals from nothing, and failing to settle on an optimal XI.

The first, failing to convert possession into goals, is the worst issue, the hardest to resolve, and the most widely shared responsibility. It is also a result of England’s opponents not being stupid. England’s key weapons are pace, power and their direct running up front. With these weapons England tore through qualifying to the extent that we were among the pre-tournament favourites. Russia, Wales and Slovakia all wisely dropped off, packed the space, and challenged England to use guile and a slower buildup to attack. This a good approach because it nullifies England’s key weapons and, to be fair, England are indeed relatively guileless in possession: we demonstrably struggle to construct slow build up play. We are not built for it because our players are not that good at it, with some isolated exceptions in Jack Wilshire, who is wholly ring rusty (and as such should not even be in the squad in my view), and Wayne Rooney, who since his loss of pace has developed the necessary skills pretty well. This is why I think Rooney must play, he brings a range of passing and vision that no one else does. Up front, only Daniel Sturridge really has this in his locker, the rest are direct attackers. This isn’t a bad thing per se, it’s just England’s relative weakness at the more tactical side of attacking football that comes hand in hand with being the side we are. We’re not as good at ‘breaking teams down’ as we are at exploting space at speed. It is a collective failing and it’s why we’re good, but not that good. We wish teams “would attack us a bit” so it would “open up”. The problem there of course, is that only teams that know they are good enough to beat us attack us. We benefit when opponents underestimate us. They rarely do. Everyone knows about England’s strengths. They aren’t stupid.

The second is a result of the basic good-to-averageness of our defenders, compounded by poor individual moments. Joe Hart is our best keeper and he nonetheless occasionally simply gifts goals to opponents out of nothing. Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling are our best defenders, and they are both big, strong, quick, great in the air, good tacking, ball playing centre halves – who are also prone to making poor decisions under low pressure when their minds seem to wander. They lack the intense concentration and game-reading of top defenders. Watch Cahill for a while and you can visibly see him catching up with the game rather than planning ahead in the way top defenders like Mats Hummels, Leonardo Bonucci, or Gerard Pique do. “Hey a second ball in the box. Shall I take a touch? Better had now, so I can get into position for the out ball. Oops, a bit heavy. And their forward’s a bit close! Control it Gary! Get this pass away… phew. Just.” Our fullbacks are similarly good players and useful attacking weapons with their good pace and direct running, but none of Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand, Nathaniel Clyne or Kyle Walker are automatic selections. They will do a job, tactically England’s 433 makes us solid in wide positions, and Walker has played well so far to be fair, but our defensive unit is fundamentally average and error prone. Eric Dier is talked about as our most important player because we so desperately need someone disciplined in the position he plays shielding the defence, which he has done very well indeed. As international sides don’t get the time to train that club sides do, or the ability to buy better players, it’s not unusual for their defences to be a bit ropey but ours feels ropier than it ought to be. We are hardly Italy, where four of their five defenders happen to be both world class and Juventus players. We concede shoddy goals randomly: Russia had nothing and scored to snatch a draw due to a single calamitous defensive lapse. Wales had next to nothing and gave us a scare due to a single calamitous defensive lapse. Slovakia had nothing whatsoever and still very nearly scored due to a single calamitous defensive lapse.

 

The third is Hodgson’s responsibility and his team selection throughout has been questionable. So far he has only got it just right for 45 minutes, in the second half of the Wales game. But is he wrong to tinker? Because in fact, England drew with Russia then scraped a win against Wales after… changing it up. Vardy should start as he is visibly fired up, and Kane should not as he is visibly knackered. The Wales game showed this, and everyone watching agreed. Stirling arguably should start, but he looks out of sorts, so Sturridge who is always a threat arguably should get the nod ahead of him, again as per the Wales game. Hodgson received credit for subbing these players for Wales which turned the game around after England were booed off at half time. Both of these players then started against Slovakia in a game we are now told was Hodgson changing a ‘winning’ team. In reality we scraped a last minute win against Wales in a very similar way to how we failed to against Slovakia, and Russia too. Selection is not really the issue here. But what of the four other changes, then: both the fullbacks, and two of the midfielders. Clyne for Rose is neither here nor there. They are similar. Neither has done much. Bertrand for Walker is, in my view, a mistake. Walker carries more threat and may have helped more versus Slovakia than Bertrand did. But did do that he versus Russia or Wales? No. So it’s a debatable point. Wilshire for Rooney was in my view a disaster. The man’s not fit. And Henderson for Alli didn’t work out either, as Henderson went and had a shocker. Some people say he played well. He did not. He played ‘well’ in the sense that Stirling played ‘well’ against Russia. Seeming to be everywhere, trying his best, failing to execute to the required standard to win the game.

Personally I think all three results are a combination of these points. An inability to pick apart deep defensive teams, conceding cheap goals out of nowhere for no good reason, and inconsistency of selection.

It’s quite doubtful that any England XI would have had what it took to beat that specific Slovakia team, who set out to play the way they did. Hodgson can’t stop Joe Hart from going to sleep. The coaches can’t make that back four into Italy.

All in all, England have played quite well, and got quite poor results. They’ve been quite lacklustre in the final third faced with packed defences. They’ve been ropey at the back. And they’re through with a scrappy win and two sickeningly annoying draws. That’s about right.

But let’s all pile on the manager for the sorta most visible thing that happened anyway, right? We need a narrative!

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#TIL if you want this 2% mortgage you better be able to afford 12%

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Here’s a snippet of information that might help you avoid wasting time and damaging your credit score if you’re thinking about getting certain mortgages.

Today I learned that as part of their assessment of the risk of lending to you, lenders stress test applicants’ mortgage payments affordability, regardless of the product being applied for, on ‘worst case scenarios’ of how much payments would be if you were out of any fixed product period and interest rates went up.

The example I was given was for one of the more cautious mainstream lenders, Santander, who I was told stress test at their standard variable rate (SVR) +7%.

What this means is you might see them offering a low rate on a 2 year fixed mortgage, say 2%, that you are eligible for. But when it comes down to it, Santander will not offer you a mortgage based on that. They will offer you a mortgage based on your ability to pay each month if the payments were actually at SVR + 7%. Their SVR is 4.74%, so that’s 11.74%.

Obviously in this example I was given, Santander are simply being super responsible/risk averse by requiring you to have plenty of money before they will take the risk of lending to you. Fair enough. Their call as a lender.

However from your side, you could be wasting your time and damaging your credit rating applying for that low rate unless you understand how much your payments would be at 11.74%, and how that affects the deal.

For example, say you are looking at remortgaging, when you still owe £200,000. Your current monthly payments are £800. As you can comfortably afford to spend £1,000 a month you could make the odd overpayment here and there. That decent 2% Santander offer would bring your monthly payments down to £739 (30 year term) so you apply. Now consider that at the stress test level of 11.74%, the payments on that mortgage would be £2,017.

It’s worth understanding this because in this scenario the lender will figure out how much you could afford at those stress levels, and only offer you that much.

We’ve stated that you could afford £1,000 a month. Well, if the rate was 11.74%, you cross £1,000 a month monthly payments at a loan amount of £100,000.

So what would happen is you would get accepted for their nice 2% mortgage offer at £739 a month, but they will only offer you £100,000: half the amount you actually need, which is totally useless to you.

Net result: you get a negative mark on your credit score for applying for that mortgage that was never going to work for you. You’ve wasted your time.

You were literally in Adam’s bollocks. How’s THAT for an original sin

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There was once a group of people, let’s call them spermists because that’s a fucking magnificent word, that believed sperm contained complete individuals, tiny little preformed people right there in the sperm.

Placed inside specific parts of a woman, the little people that were the sperm could grow into a baby.  It was one part of a theory called “preformationism” and these spermists loved it because it nicely explained the opaque mysteries of conception (they were living in the seventeenth century, to be fair, in a time before we had figured out what cells were).

However, people being people, someone pointed out that if a sperm was a homunculus, a perfectly formed, small human, and if that explains away all the mysteries of conception – then mustn’t that homunculus’s sperm also be fully formed people, and then theirs, and basically wouldn’t it be homunculi “all the way down”? Or at least, bollocks all the way down?

Anyway, one thing this philosophical tickler further helped to “explain” was original sin. It explained how we all had sinned in Adam: because we were there, man. In preformationism, every person that could ever possibly exist must already have been contained in Adam’s bollocks.

The mind boggles, not to mention Adam’s bollocks.

Two times music has taken my world to another level

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These records are unrelated to this piece. I just love them. Sue me.

Serendipitous moments when art unexpectedly intersects with life can give you a window into a different kind of reality. A piece of art applied at a precise moment can sometimes teach you things about yourself and the world around you you might never otherwise have considered.

Part one: A warm place

Once my grandparents’ old house was emptied out I visited it for a final time before it was sold. It was 1999. I was 17.

I’d spent a lot of my childhood in their house surrounded by family. I hadn’t planned to go back there, but I was cycling nearby and for some reason went over to have a look.

I had a Discman in my rucksack as I always did once it had replaced my old Walkman. Then, as now, my headphones were on more or less permanently. It was playing The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, a band I was deep into at the time. I used to listen to my shit way too loud and it was fairly cranked.

I rode up what had been my grandparents’ long steep driveway and round to the back of the house, feeling pretty emotional. To my surprise their hidden doorkey was still hanging on its hook inside the wooden trellis that ran up the outside wall. As I had done so many times when they were both alive I let myself in, for one last time. I floated round the empty house in a daze. It smelled exactly as I still remember it did. It all felt like a dream.

Then I realised that at some point as I had been arriving at the house, the Nine Inch Nails record in my headphones had reached A Warm Place, which was now in full flow:

I looked back at the house once as I left the gates. The track finished. I was compelled to stop the CD and pack away my headphones for the ride home, as some kind of acknowledgment of that moment.

That sensory experience and that feeling will never leave me. Goodbye Sheila and Victor.

Part two: Party rollercoaster

I went on a day trip to Blackpool as part of a team that worked at a restaurant. We had voted to spend our tips on the trip. Perhaps 30 of us went in a hired coach.

It was 2002. I was 20. I had a great Minidisc recorder I’d got cheap in Japan, and these miraculous Sennheiser folding headphones. Those two things had revolutionised my music listening. I could keep five whole records in my pocket on a single disc – with no skipping! – and the Sennheisers folded so beautifully they would also fit in my pocket. I was never without music.

The restaurant staff were a pretty tight group. I still have friends from that time now. A lot of us went out together in smaller groups all the time. Most of us were students working part time, and it was a good time for debauchery. However there were also normal, functioning members of society on the staff, and so we’d chosen a day trip to Blackpool democratically as a destination that had something for everyone including colleagues that didn’t drink and so on. As well as students we were working parents, strict Muslims, sixteen year olds. Those that weren’t game for a standard night out got respected.

But then, if you think some of the group weren’t drinking heavily on the coach and pre-rolling whole boxes of joints to smoke on the beach you’re out of your fucking mind.

So it was that I came to be at Blackpool pleasure beach on a brisk spring weekday, on the Pepsi Max rollercoaster in the glorious cold afternoon sunshine, half drunk and completely baked, headphones on playing 10 000 Hz Legend by Air, the carriages tick-tick-ticking their way slowly up that huge incline at the start of the ride.

The beauty of that rickety old Pepsi Max ride is the way it’s designed to rise slowly high above Blackpool. The town stretches out all around and beneath you. To one side, the sea stretches away and the track design gives you time to enjoy the view before the inevitable high speed plunge and adrenaline.

The jerking, climbing rollercoaster reached the top of its chain-driven climb and started gently rolling round the long slow bend before that first precipitous drop. I was gazing out at the beauty of the scene all around. Just as the tick-tick-ticking of the drive chain stopped, Air finished playing on my Minidisc and everything became calm in the moment. The sea breeze gently whistled past as the drop drew nearer.

And then the next record on the disc came on loud. It was Party Hard by Andrew WK. It opens with this:

I felt it immediately, those first quiet chords heralding the euphoric rush to come. Now, at this exact moment? I breathed in the cold air and laughed in the bright sun. As the coaster began to whip downwards, the song kicked in: “It’s time to party!”

Flat screen TVs

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Finally figured out why I get so uncomfortable at that thing when Tory tabloids hold up having a half-decent TV as shorthand evidence of how good those scrounging poor people have it.

It gets me because TVs are both very cheap and bait in the poverty trap.

Take this 39” HD LED bastard. It’s currently £230. £230 is less than 6 days of the average London rent. Are we really saying if you can afford to spend £230 you’re not poor enough? If being less than a week away from homelessness and destitution isn’t poor enough for these people, then what IS?

This is why using cheap TVs in the way Tory tabloids do is a predictable political grindstone. They push, almost always, that if you want money off me, then you’re never quite poor enough until you’ve got nothing.

Screaming at perceived scroungers, layabouts, foreigners, poor people with “flat screen TVs” and other ne’erdowells are all grist to the political mill of ensuring We get out and vote for the people promising not to give too much of Our money to Them. It is part of the collective bargaining we do over the social contract, such as it is.

The TV question is a material example of this bargaining process.

I would suggest that we revolve significantly around our TVs. They’re the portal for news, current affairs, political engagement, entertainment, learning, interactivity even. It’s hard to make any case that they are a luxury; they are, realistically, essential household items.

You could disagree and argue that a TV is not essential. Indeed, there is nothing that is essential. A home isn’t essential, for instance, because you can always wrap more and more sheets of cardboard around yourself to keep warm and dry. Once you accept the idea that “essential” living standards are a matter of collective opinion, everything else is just haggling over the price.

Clearly we are all prepared to support, for everyone, some sort of unwritten (and sometimes actually written into law) agreement of what is “essential”: a home, a bed, clothes, some warmth and light, enough food, maybe some white goods… a TV. This is basic shit that defines large parts of our society and its institutions.

Arguments on those standards can and will rage. No-one really needs, say, white goods: one can live on precooked ambient foodstuffs that need neither chilling nor heating. No one really needs washing machines: one can hand wash clothes. But you’d lose both those arguments, because they’re stupid in the UK in 2015.

Crushing the genuinely stupid argument is something democracy and collective bargaining does well: when we all get a stake in deciding where a line gets drawn, in deciding which of several ideas of where that line should be, assholes on any of the outlying edges of the distribution of opinions can’t usually plough through too-wacky ideas for that line. Simple probability means a healthy democratic process that reveals a broad consensus prevents, for the most part, outlying lunatics from pushing weird decisions though and drawing lines that most reasonable people find ridiculous.

Which takes us back to the Tory press and their obsessions over £230 TVs.

Sure they have an ideological commitment to oppose any aspect of socialism and I respect that. Despite this I personally think anyone that actually thinks such a TV is, in any context whatsoever, excessive spending on what is effectively an essential household item is crazy.

And here’s why it upsets my political gland. I’m clear that I think £230 on a TV is peanuts. However it’s also anything but to some people, and we should care about that. It’s a lot of money for some poor folk and that’s the unacceptable political double whammy: they want to say you can’t have this because it costs way too much for you, but to us it’s actually hardly any money at all in any meaningful sense.

If you’re poor, sorry if this is blindingly obvious. You’ve got no savings or capital. You’ve got a small amount of income that isn’t already allocated to bills and food. Say you can save £20 a week – which is a lot for the genuinely poor, believe me – then three months later, you’ll have the TV.

Sure, great. But that £20 is all your spare money, everything you have, for like twelve straight weeks. That’s an awful lot of time in your local library, assuming it hasn’t been shut down, reading and drinking water. I’m assuming here that you can and do read. Many can’t, or never did and so don’t – especially very poor people, which is who we’re talking about here.

Also, you better hope your two year old doesn’t need anything in that time, or no other costs of any kind come up, because all that’s got to come out of the £20 a week you’re now saving for your TV.

On the other hand, you can have this this 32” HD LED bastard right now for just £7.50 a week. That leaves you with more than £12 a week to live on, like a king. Of course at 69.9% APR that TV will cost you a total of £1170 over 156 weeks – but it’s only £7.50 a week, which you can more easily afford.

That’s the poverty trap in a nutshell circa 2015: scrape savings from your very low income until you can afford it, and live like a pauper; or pay punitive interest to make it seem more affordable, and hamstring any long term ability to save.

This is what makes the whole Tory tabloid flatscreen TV thing so perverse in my opinion – that what it actually does is attach a deserving/morality narrative to the concept of someone being just *just* above destitution, e.g. 6 days away from homelessness and by extension expulsion from their current community and life. Such bullshit brutalises our own communities.

A TV is a pretty basic fucking thing, come on. £230 is a pretty tiny fucking amount of money, come on, it’s less than a week’s rent in London. And so to imply that if you can afford a TV you’re somehow fine for money is to fail so badly to understand what it’s like to be very poor that it insults and shames poor people for no good reason at all.

On Corbyn media storm (apologies to Bertrand Russell): the establishment does not determine who is Right – only who is Left

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Apropos of press coverage of Corbyn, and the Rightward migration of our political baseline, I keep thinking, with apologies to Bertrand Russell:

“The establishment does not determine who is Right – only who is Left.”

The contrast between how media engage with Corbyn – and ideas from the Left – compared to the likes of Cameron – and ideas from the Right – is interesting.

To even engage with ideas that are not-Right seems to give them the heebie-jeebies. Ideas firmly rooted the Right are the presumed baseline, and form the establishment (particularly the establishment of thought). Other ideas are outliers that challenge this establishment.

Media that may not even realise they are neck deep in the establishment are going bananas over Corbyn. They fear if not him then the conversation he creates. They don’t fear that some kind of Leftism might supplant the hegemonistic Right now that Corbyn is atop the Labour party. This is not going to happen and every pundit and analyst knows it.

It’s a more subtle fear they are feeling. A subconscious fear, even. It’s a fear springing from the alternative viewpoint that is now challenging at the top table, and Corbyn certainly has a legitimate platform that requires attention. It’s a fear that’s manifesting as this ridiculous media storm, with all the usual spinning going on by various politicians and press officers.

Regardless of how hard various folks want it not to be so, Corbyn has the mic. He has the limelight.

The tantrum around Corbyn is evidence that the establishment subconsciously understands a real problem: that Corbyn will talk directly, and from the Left, about many things they really don’t want to talk about. That they don’t want talked about. He will put forward views they don’t want to print in their newspapers, for example, even to attack them.

Are the sheer presence of Leftist views at the top table an inherent challenge to the relentlessly Rightwards drift of the political baseline? Could this be what the establishment instinctively understands, and fears? is this why they doth protest too much?

If Corbyn can ride out the blather and just talk about substantive issues day, in day out… he still won’t preside over a Labour government. But while he’s there, the establishment is unable to exclude the non-Right from the debate entirely.

I think what we are seeing now (aside from OOH LOOK A STORY!!1) is that suddenly, faced with being unable to avoid real Leftie talking points, establishment types have no chill at all.

Calvin is delighted to have this apple on his head

To hell with “social media” business models in general, Facebook in particular

Calvin is delighted to have this apple on his head

  1. Be first to market with a properly good, fun, useful social platform which costs no money and needs almost no tech-savvy to use.
  2. Get some people on it who will have fun.
  3. Watch as their friends and family go on it too and have fun.
  4. Grow a user base out from these initial points as more people see how much fun everyone else is having and join.
  5. Realise people are voluntarily giving you all their most intimate information.
  6. Foam at the mouth at the prospect of all the ad money.
  7. Leverage the hypothetical power of your nascent ad platform to get an absurd market value.
  8. Use your financial clout to ensure your platform continues to snowball into a critical mass, ubiquitous mass market thing.
  9. When you start haemorrhaging younger users who don’t want to share a social space with their parents, segment them off into your youthier-feeling platform with a basically identical business model, no worries.
  10. When businesses realise no-one actually clicks on your ads, let alone actually buys anything, start telling them to “build their brand” by “engaging” with your users through “content” instead as that’s a better approach.
  11. Quietly tighten your platforms’ algorithms so said content only actually shows up on >1% of connected accounts unless they pay you.
  12. Congratulations, now everyone is on your platform and businesses that want to get to them have a compelling reason to give you actual money.
  13. Sell up before the arse falls out of it in due course, and let some other late-arriving ass clowns lose their investment.
  14. Relax with all the money.