I miss the ashes already and it hasn’t even started. This is what the old world felt like. No internet at home and the Germans’ complete and overawing lack of interest in a bi-yearly sport they don‘t understand means I’m becoming like one of the old men in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, on a bad line to a foreign country desperately trying to find out if the wicket‘s turning. In many ways it‘s gratifying, so much information is immediately available, it just turns out that 99 percent of it is utter bollocks.
But then again, maybe the press are right and the impending marriage of two parasitic shit-for-brains‘ at great public expense is a better way of keeping the suckers happy than the winning back of a 3 1/2 inch-high urn. It’s as if cricket didn’t exist at all. It could have been different; Hitler actually at one point thought that the sport could be useful as a means of teaching values and general manliness before deciding that it was far too wimpy for his butch vision of the world. He had obviously never faced Michael Holding, but this is a story for another day.
In England it is called the “Makelele” role and I presume they do the same in France (being how he was French and that) though they may well have named it after Jean Tigana. In German he is either (the boring option) the Sechser (literally the number six) or, as I prefer, the Staubsauger (the hoover).
Ladies and Gentlemen, it‘s a tactical debate over at the sports desk centred around the fluctuating fortunes of those practitioners of the hardest footballing art of all, the holding midfielder. 1.FC Union will play next week in Ingolstadt without the suspended Dominic Peitz and it looks likely that Hertha will be hosting Duisberg without Peter Niemeyer. Both have been huge performers for their respective clubs this season but show different sides of the job. Peitz is huge – my friend Dave has nicknamed him “The Tree” – and throws himself at everything and everyone that threatens to come near the defense that it his job is to shield. Niemeyer is a touch more cerebral, and uses the role as a launching pad for subtly quick attacks and clever passing. Niemeyer’s play is prettier, you know he’s played well when you don‘t notice him. Peitz is the opposite, a massive whirling dervish.
In its relatively recent history as a defined role, the Sechser has become seemingly irreplaceable, but is he really necessary? It‘s good to have a Nobby Stiles to break up the opposing play into a thousand pieces, or a Franz Beckenbauer to inspire cultured attacks with a guile that can get quickly sniffed out slightly further forward, but becoming beholden to a system for the sake of itself is ludicrous when you can’t find the rare man that can do both. Sven-Goran Eriksson never realised that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard simply couldn‘t fit into his diamond midfield because they lacked the ability to pass the ball simply (or they simply lacked the ability to pass the ball). Fabio Capello is realising that despite the fact that he cost over twenty million quid, Gareth Barry can‘t either. It is surely not a coincidence that the only recent Englishman to have been able to play the role with any skill was Owen Hargreaves, born in Canada and raised at Bayern under the watchful gaze of “Der” Kaiser.
The trouble at Union is that too many passes go astray regularly. Peitz is not the only one doing this, but it is so noticeable when it happens in front of your own defense. He is no Andrea Pirlo, let’s be honest, and I think it could actually be beneficial to Union to be more sure moving the ball forward. The problem is who is going to do it? The aging touch and vision of Marco Gebhardt was never really replaced. Michael Parensen, the obvious replacement, is sadly still injured. Niemeyer is harder to replace, especially as Hertha are relying on a lot of youngsters, but that is why they‘ll be keeping their fingers crossed in Charlottenburg. With games against top of the table Aue and an organised Augsburg to come before Christmas they need him, he is one of the standouts of the season and in a tough role.
Roy Keane famously slagged off Didier Deschamps as being a water carrier. There was an implied compliment in that though. Who wouldn‘t want to carry the water in a midfield of Zidane, Del Piero and Edgar Davids? I wouldn‘t just carry the water. I‘d pass it all over the place in such rarified company. That’s why I’ll never make it as a Sechser.