Part 2: ‘A Fan Diary – 10 Positives from the World Cup’.

And, we’re back again… Have you recovered from the lack of football yet? Thankfully the EFL season starts in just a couple of weeks, and transfer speculation is in the process of hitting fever pitch.

Meanwhile though, here is Part 2 of our ‘A Fan Diary:10 Positives from the World Cup’. If you haven’t already, make sure you enjoy Part 1 first!

6) 3-5-2

There was much discussion heading into the tournament, sealed by our friendly games against Nigeria and Costa Rica, as to whether the anticipated decision to play with 3 centre-halves would be wise. Safe to say those questions have fairly solidly been answered now.

An excellent performance in the Quarter-Final victory over Sweden, showed precisely why allowing an extra centre-half meant you could have one sweeping round the back with pace covering the long ball (hello Kyle Walker), one pushing forward with possession (hello Harry Maguire), without either sacrificing an extra man in Central Midfield, or playing up front.

The fact that both of England’s wing-backs made it into FIFA’s official team of the tournament also pays testament to how the set-up made best use of the resources available to them. Harry Kane, John Stones, Jordan Pickford, and Harry Maguire can also consider themselves at least a little bit unlucky to have not made the Team of the Tournament too.

7) Harry Maguire

Ah slabhead, you beautiful man. His arm draped lovingly over the barrier – it made a wonderful meme to see one of England’s best centre-halves just acting like a teenager in a nightclub. And you know what, it fitted. No doubt in years gone by, the Sheffield-born lad had done exactly that in West Street Live, Plug or Leadmill.

His Northern everyman qualities made him all the more endearing. That his CV includes Hull City and Sheffield United, whilst he has brothers playing for Chesterfield and Gainsborough Trinity is just a bonus. I bet you he has scraps with his chips, and remembers to thank the bus driver.

But also, he put to rest the inferiority complex that envelops English football sometimes. Why can’t our centre-halves dribbled out from the back? Harry can. If Beckenbauer was from South Yorkshire.

And as a key part of England’s famed ‘love train’ from set-pieces, he was an integral part of our attacking output too. With 75% of our goals coming from set pieces – almost all of them were down to either a Maguire assist flick on, him just causing havoc generally, or powering home the kind of header that made you whelp with delight. Take that Sweden.

His consistently assured performances indicate that he’s going to have one hell of a future for England. The next Tony Adams or Terry Butcher. If he has a good season for Leicester – watch the vultures begin to sniff round.

8) Russia

Look, don’t get me wrong. Russia is bonkers. The Cyrillic alphabet is ridiculous, the level of spoken English was quite low, and the police / border guards were just generally terrifying (often without doing much). They’re always the villains in Bond films for a good reason!

But you know what? There were no hooligans jumping out with AK-47s, everyone I had the joy of meeting there always wanted to be helpful (even when they didn’t speak English), and there wasn’t even the vaguest hint of trouble. I had no problem arranging for my FAN ID, and whilst the immigration-related bureaucracy did seem excessive at times – as long as you didn’t lose anything, it was fine.

Government laws were passed to prevent hotels from scalping tourists, and when you were partying out on the streets – the police left you alone (unlike the French constabulary from Euro 2016, who were very hands on). There wasn’t even the vaguest hint of trouble.

Which begs the question, what happened? We all remember the crazy scenes in Marseille 2 years ago. Well – the stories and rumours vary… But it really does seem that if you *properly* take no prisoners as an entire government, that you can stop a violent minority from ruining things for the rest of us.

Moscow is a fascinating place, full of absolutely amazing history (if that’s your bag). St Basil’s Cathedral is one of the prettiest buildings on the planet, and not even the Coca Cola signs everywhere could take the atmosphere away. If you ever get the chance, go and visit. There’s even a McDonalds in Red Square nowadays!

9) Euro 2020

It’s never the failure that kills you, it’s the hope. But you know what? It’s time to get helpful.

England are officially the 4th best side in the World (and Europe). Which is convenient – ahead of the upcoming 2020 European Championships. There are plenty of painful memories to banish – and with the ridiculous 24-team format set to continue, there is surely a place for England at the next festival of football.

And heaven forbid if England were to do as well as we did this Summer; then it won’t be trips to Moscow we’ll be worrying about… There is no one host country for the whole tournament; with 12 host cities looking after a number of games. Namely; Baku (that’s in Azerbaijan in case you’re wondering); Copenhagen, Munich, Budapest, Rome, Amsterdam, Bucharest, St Petersburg, Bilbao, London, Glasgow, and Dublin.

And rather conveniently / dangerously, London will be taking a centre-stage role in this travelling circus; hosting both of the Semi-Finals, and also the Final. Wouldn’t that be something eh?

10) Football Came Home

No really, it did. The memes were absolutely everywhere – and this is just one of my favourites.

With this being England’s first good tournament in the age of social media, it was perhaps to be expected that the whole country seemed to lose its mind for a little bit. But it was fun whilst it lasted.

And that’s the thing – is that football coming home, was only ever about fun. It became acceptable to like the national team again. There were no under-performing superstars running wild with their WAGs, no captains having affairs with a teammate’s wife, and nobody racially abusing the brother of their centre-half partner. Jesus, that was all just John Terry!

So you know what, football was already home the second we were celebrating. The second that viewing figures went through the roof, the second national happiness went through the roof, the second we really did start to believe again. To see my 9-year-old brother fall in love with his country’s team for the first time – that was more than worth the inevitable heartbreak, just on its own!

And after this Summer, it transpires that Three Lions is the only song in British history to reach Number 1 on 4 (yes, four!), separate occasions with the same artist line-up. That might just sum up exactly how wonderful, yet utterly eccentric this country is.

Football came home. And wasn’t it bloody great?

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Thoughts On Marouane Fellaini’s Contract Extension At Manchester United

Marouane Fellaini’s Manchester United career has been…  interesting. With plenty of highs but just as many lows, it would be fair to state that the Belgium international has struggled to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful. Fellaini has been a decent ‘Plan B’ for United at times but he is very much a last resort at best if the Red Devils are chasing a goal.

According to WhoScored, the Belgium midfielder made 16 Premier League appearances for United last season – 11 of those coming from the substitute’s bench. Fellaini has struggled for regular game time under Jose Mourinho and that looks set to continue with the arrival of Brazilian Fred. Fellaini still has a reduced role to play at Old Trafford, though, and he isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Fellaini is now contracted to the club for the next two years, with the option to add a third year in 2020. The Belgium man is like marmite; you either love him or you hate him – and it would be fair to claim that there was a mixed response to that news. Fellaini can do a job for United at times but he isn’t the most reliable and he will always be the main scapegoat from the David Moyes era.

To be fair to him, Fellaini has had a positive impact for Belgium at the World Cup 2018 this summer. Trailing 2-0 to Japan in the last-16, Roberto Martinez turned to Fellaini and the United man helped his side get back on level terms – notching the equaliser less than 15 minutes after coming onto the pitch. United fans will be keeping a close eye on his efforts throughout the rest of the tournament.

At the time of writing, Belgium are preparing for their quarter-final clash with Brazil and the European outfit are 6/1 in the latest World Cup Betfair odds ahead of that fixture. Fellaini will almost certainly start on the bench again but he could profit in the second half. Brazil’s main weakness is in the air and Martinez may turn to Fellaini if Belgium fall behind in the early stages.

Fellaini could head back to Old Trafford as a World Cup winner if everything goes to plan and United will benefit directly from his experience next season. Despite his obvious flaws on the pitch in terms of creativity and work ethic, Fellaini has played at a very high level for most of his professional career and he can help a few of the younger, newer players on the training ground.

Was tying Marouane Fellaini down a new contract a risky move from Manchester United? Not really. He is a bit-part player and most fans know that – Fellaini is not going to take centre stage in Jose Mourinho’s squad. He has a unique ability to make an impact off the substitute’s bench and United can always turn to him if needed. Mourinho will be hoping that he doesn’t need to turn to Fellaini quite as often next season.