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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 28/12/02, 3pm
Watford
versus
Leicester City
 
A manifesto for football
By Matt Rowson

I heard recently that Marco Van Basten, after several years out of the limelight, has published his "manifesto for football", a set of rule and structure changes that their author deemed essential for the long-term survival of the game. The fruits of Van Basten's labours transpired to be a list of tired Americanisms (games split into three thirds rather than two halves, extra referees etc) which sort of begged the question "why did he bother?".

A more imaginative manifesto for football was suggested by my brother, who as a Philosophy graduate perhaps might be expected to come out with more creative suggestions than an ex-footballer, even a Dutch ex-footballer. Will's suggestion is that for the final ten minutes of every game, all rules are abandoned.

The game would change completely of course, but at the very least I can't see the outcome of my brother's model being any less appealing than that of Van Basten's. A whole new set of contingency plans would be drawn up, and games would never be dull... however stale or tedious a game was turning out to be, or however much of a lead one side had, the crucial uncertainty of the last ten minutes when scores could be settled and the balance of power might change completely would keep you on the edge of your seat. (Actually, thinking about it, this model was tried out over a lunch break during a Geography Field trip around Essex when I was thirteen or something. Coach A coincided with Coach C at Little Bumblefluff or some such and Murderball ensued on the village green... enjoyed by all, although I'm not sure Little Bumblefluff has ever recovered).

Were Will's manifesto ever to be adopted, you'd have to fancy the current Leicester City squad to do well. A Brazilian newspaper once accused Jack Charlton of picking his squad by wandering around the pubs of Dublin and dragging out the most violent, drunken reprobates that he could find... there's something of this in the Leicester squad also. You'd fancy the likes of Elliott, Taggart, McKinlay and Benjamin to take on anyone in a bar brawl, and even Muzzy Izzet, "the talented one" and one of the best players in the division, has already racked up ten bookings this season, a landmark which will see him serve a two match ban in the near future.

Leicester's financial predicament has been well-publicised, and although they're far from out of the woods yet, the buy-out recently accepted by the club's administrators looks like a Good Thing for the Foxes to the extent that the club might not quite be the sitting targets for transfer-window desperados (Helloooo, Mr.Roeder) that they might otherwise have been. It goes without saying that failure to win promotion would be cataclysmic in any event, with a serious amount of wage-trimming essential, but having beaten us with a solid if unspectacular performance on the first day of the season City have continued in the same vein and have a comfy looking margin in second place. With a fair proportion of the squad the wrong side of thirty, Micky Adams is likely to need to do some form of rebuilding in the not too distant future in any case.

In goal for City will be Watford-born Ian Walker, a 2.5m signing from Spurs last summer. Tim Flowers is also still knocking around, and has just returned from a loan spell at Maine Road whilst Simon Royce is on-loan at QPR covering Chris Day's long-term injury.

With "Mad" Frank Sinclair serving the fourth of a four-game ban on Saturday, Andrew Impey should play at right back. Alan Rogers has been playing on the left, but the anticipated return from a hernia problem of Dennis Wise's playmate Callum Davidson could see Rogers moved up into the midfield at the expense of Jordan Stewart. Rogers, it appears, hasn't completely convinced the Leicester crowd yet, although carrying the extra weight of arriving from Forest probably doesn't help.

Matt Elliott is an unmistakable figure (if slightly slower than previously) in the centre; Gerry Taggart is his regular partner but he's been out with a hamstring problem and will definitely not feature in the Boxing Day game with Ipswich. If still missing on Saturday, Matt Heath will continue with another youngster Ashley Lyth the most obvious deputy.

In midfield, Billy McKinlay has taken Robbie Savage's breaking and crunching job, a role which Mickey Adams keeps well covered as you might expect... former Leeds man Matthew Jones is coming back from injury in the reserves whilst youngster Martin Reeves is in a similar mould. World Cup semi-finalist Muzzy Izzet will partner McKinlay in the centre with either Stewart or Rogers on the left. Jamie Scowcroft, City's most improved performer this season, is likely to play on the right although he can also play up-front...look out for Mooneyesque attacks to the far post when play is coming down the left. Nicky Summerbee who, like McKinlay, played for nothing at the start of the season is the other possibility down the right, whilst Stefan Oakes' career is going the same way as that of his brother Scott. Anti-hero and Peter Taylor signing Junior Lewis is still hanging around also and has recently been on the bench, whilst Darren Eadie is, as ever, injured.

Up front, Brian Deane still does his thing very effectively and scored both the goals on the opening day. His partner is 31-year-old Paul Dickov, who is something akin to what Trainspotting's Begbie would be like if he played football. Apart from Scowcroft, alternatives come from the tiny Jon Stevenson and the less tiny Trevor Benjamin who, and this will not come as a shock, is reputedly being hunted by Neil Warnock at Sheffield United. Picture a forward line of Allison, Onuora and Benjamin. Christ.

We're in for a tough game on Saturday, the first of consecutive home games against the leading sides in the division. Rules or no rules, I wouldn't like to be stuck between Elliott and Gifton, who is likely to have his fitness given a serious going over if he plays.

Two defeats in the next two games would make play-off aspirations look fanciful, particularly with so many of the mid-table pack close behind us. Positive results put us right up there and send a strong message.

Gloves off, then...