A Christmas Carl: Part 2-The First of the Three Spirits

When Robbo awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of from behind his desk, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his office. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters.

To his great astonishment the fourth official’s time board which had previously been held aloft by the apparition of Martyn Pert, rose up in front of him; then stopped. Zero! There was no number when he went to bed. The board was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Zero!

“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Robbo, “It isn’t possible for the board to be at zero! That only ever happens at the end of the first half!”

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of his chair, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his exquisitely tailored crew neck sweater before he could see anything; and could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of players running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if there were added time to play.

Robbo went to his chair again, and thought, and thought, and thought it over and over, and could make nothing of it. The more he thought, the more perplexed he was; “This is worse than when I’m trying to decide what substitution to make” he thought to himself; and the more he endeavoured not to think, the more he thought Pert’s apparition bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back, like an over committed full back to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, “Was it a dream or not?”

Robbo stayed in this state until the board began to rise once more, when he remembered, on a sudden, that the figure had warned him of a visitation when the board displayed the number one. He resolved to stay awake; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than play three up front, this was perhaps the wisest resolution in his power.

But now the board began to hum in a soft and ominous tone, and swiftly altered to a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the windows of his office rattled.

The windows of his office rattled, I tell you, by a hand; and Robbo, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who rattled them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

It was a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions (imagine a more handsome Peter Beardsley). It wore a top of the purest white and round its chest was bound a lustrous blue hoop, the sheen of which was beautiful.

“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Robbo.

“I am!”

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

“Who, and what are you?” Robbo demanded.

“I am the Ghost of Seasons Past.”

“Long past?” inquired Robbo.

“No. Your past.”

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.

“Rise! and walk with me!”

It would have been in vain for Robbo to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; and that he had a cold upon him at that time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman’s hand, was not to be resisted. He rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped his robe in supplication.

“I am mortal,” Robbo remonstrated, “and liable to fall. Or, at the very least, simulate contact in an attempt to slow the game down.”

“Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”

As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground. “Good Heaven!” said Robbo, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. “I was born in this place. I was a boy here!”

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the young coach’s sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten.

“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?”

Robbo muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.

“You recollect the way?” inquired the Spirit.

“Remember it!” cried Robbo with fervour; “I could walk it blindfold.”

“Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!” observed the Ghost. “Let us go on.”

They walked along the road; Robbo recognising every gate, and post, and tree; until a little market-town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some boys were playing football in a field beneath the spire.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “They have no consciousness of us.”

The jocund players came on; and as they came, Robbo knew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them! Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past! Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them speak of chances they had created and goals they had scored, as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, for their several homes! What were chances to Robbo? What good had goals ever done to him?

“The field is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “A solitary child, is left there still.”

Robbo said he knew it. And he sobbed.

They went, the Ghost and Robbo, across the field to where that child still played, and Robbo sat down upon a bench, and wept to see his former self as he used to be; practising step overs and Cruyff turns with never a thought of tracking back.

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his expressive style of play. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood beside the field, with a notebook stuck in his belt, and holding a local newspaper in his hand.

“Why, it’s Mr. Guzzyfug! ” Robbo exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Mr. Guzzyfug! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was practising here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. He offered me my first trial with Wolverhampton Wanderers!”

To hear Robbo expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his friends in the game, indeed.

Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual character, he said, in joy for his former self, “Lucky boy!” and cried again.

“I wish, ”Robbo muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: “but it’s too late now.”

“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Robbo. “Nothing. There was a boy practicing free kicks near my house last night. I should like to have given him some advice: that’s all. And not told him he would be better served learning how to line up in a defensive wall”

The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand: saying as it did so, “Let us see another Christmas!”

Robbo’s former self grew larger at the words, and the world became a little darker and more dirty. The trees shrunk, the church vanished and fragments of grass flew into the air; but how all this was brought about, Robbo knew no more than you do. He only knew that it was quite correct; that everything had happened so; that there he was, standing in a brightly tiled corridor.

The Ghost stopped at a certain door, and asked Robbo if he knew it.

“Know it!” said Robbo. “it’s the locker room at Molineux! I was apprenticed here!”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a wig, sitting on such a high treatment table, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Robbo cried in great excitement:

“Why, its old Gutterbritches! Bless his heart; it’s Gutterbritches alive again!”

Old Gutterbritches laid down his dubbing, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious track suit; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:

“Yo ho, there! Robbo!”

Robbo’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-‘prentice.

“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Robbo to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There he is. He was a decent left back was Dick but often failed to get goal side when defending set-pieces. Poor Dick! Dear, dear!”

“Yo ho, my boys!” said Gutterbritches. “No more training to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Robbo! Let’s get the nets in”

You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it! They charged onto the pitch and had the nets, flags and balls up in their places before you could have counted to twelve, panting like race-horses.

“Hilli-ho!” cried old Gutterbritches, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. `”Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Robbo!” (This is all text-book Wolverhampton dialogue by the way).

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Gutterbritches looking on. It was done in a minute. And then a ball was brought out and Robbo, Mr Gutterbritches and Dick Wilkins were lost in the reverie of keepie-ups, head tennis and the general gaiety of three carefree souls with nought but the fun of football in their hearts.

When the clock struck nine Mr Gutterbritches sent them on their way and wished them a Merry Christmas.

During the whole of this time, Robbo had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon its head burnt very clear.

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to see these silly folks so full of love for the game.”

“Small!” echoed Robbo.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Gutterbritches: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few hours of your mortal time: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Robbo, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our style of play light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.

“Nothing particular,” said Robbo.

“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.

“No,” said Robbo, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my players just now! That’s all”

“Spirit!” said Robbo in agitation, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?”

“One shadow more!” exclaimed the Ghost.

“No more!” cried Robbo. “No more. I don’t wish to see it. Show me no more!”

But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both his arms like a central defender holding on to a forward at a corner kick, and forced him to observe what happened next.

They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, but full of chalkboards and chalk. By one chalkboard stood a slightly older, slightly wider Mr Gutterbritches and near to the window sat a young player, probably a tricky number ten.

“Boss” said the player, turning to his coach with a sad smile, “I saw an old player of yours this afternoon.”

“Who was it?”

“Guess!”

“How can I? Tut, don’t I know.” he added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed. “Robbo.”

“Robbo it was. I passed his locker; and as it was not shut up, I saw he had a book of defensive tactics inside, I could scarcely help seeing it. And then I heard him speak of five at the back and two holding midfielders. The team is in desperate need of attacking flair, I hear; and there he sits ensconced in the world of defence. Quite obsessed with defence, I do believe.”

“Spirit!” said Robbo in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”

“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

“Remove me!” Robbo exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”

He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.

“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”

In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in which the Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part despite Robbo’s constant shouting, occasional pat on the back and arm around the shoulder was undisturbed by any effort of its adversary.

In an instant Robbo was back at the training centre with the floodlights blazing relentlessly, he could not hide the light, which streamed from on high, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own office; and had barely time to reel to the chair, before he sank into a heavy sleep.

A Christmas Carl: Chapter 1-Pert’s Apparition

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little blog, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,
R. B.

Martyn Pert was scouting players in South America: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his travel was posted on the Instagram accounts of both #IluvdaCaps!!! and #BlooandWhite4ever who both saw him boarding a plane at Vancouver airport: and Robbo himself had seen the flight tickets and approved the itineray. Martyn Pert was in South America.

Robbo knew he was in South America? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Robbo and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Robbo was his gaffer, head coach and his friend.

The mention of Pert’s travels brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Pert was in South America. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Robbo never painted out Pert’s name from the locker room. There it stood, hours and days after the flight, above the door to the boot room: Robbo and Pert. The pair were known as Robbo and Pert. Sometimes people new to the media called Robbo Robbo, and sometimes Pert, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was so defensively minded Robbo! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, kind of defence! He carried that defensive style of play always about with him; he plotted in his office in the dog-days of the season; and didn’t change it one degree at Christmas.

Opponents playing attractive football had little influence on Robbo.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Robbo, how are you? When will we see your team play again?” No baristas implored him to bestow a tactical nugget on how to break down two rows of four, no children asked him why he preferred inverted wingers, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to goal of Robbo. Even the visually impaired people’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up alleys; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “Quick before he starts talking about how possession stats don’t really matter”

But what did Robbo care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all attacking intent to keep its distance.

Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—Robbo sat busy in his office. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the players on the pitch outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the turf to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and striplights were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the pitch was of the narrowest (to prevent skillful wide players effectively plying their trade), the offices opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Robbo’s office was open that he might keep his eye upon his attacking midfielders.

“A merry Christmas, Boss!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Nicolas Mezquida, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Robbo, “Fine lines!”

He had so heated himself with rapid running in the fog and frost, this player, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

“Christmas isn’t about fine lines Boss!” said Mezquida. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

“I do,” said Robbo. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough thanks to the salary cap.”

“Come, then,” returned Mezquida gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose?”

Robbo having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Fine lines!”

“Don’t be cross, Boss!” said Mezquida.

“What else can I be,” returned the coach, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for playing football with no defensive structure; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not another clean sheet to your name; a time for balancing your goal difference and having every goal scored against feel like ash in your mouth.”

“Boss!” pleaded Mezquida.

“Mezquida!” returned the coach sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Mezquida. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Robbo. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you! Now get out there and start working on closing down the opposition central defenders!”

“Don’t be angry, boss. Come! Play football with us to-morrow.”

“Good afternoon!” said Robbo

“Merry Christmas!” said Mezquida

“Good afternoon!” replied Robbo

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with iPhones lit up, proffering their services to go before the UberEATS cycle riders, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Robbo out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street, some labourers were replacing a demolished gas station with a community garden, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of tattooed and bearded men with growlers had gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture.

At length the hour of shutting up the training centre arrived. With an ill-will Robbo dismounted from his chair, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant players on the field

“You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?” said Robbo.

“If quite convenient, sir.” said the players in unison.

“It’s not convenient,” said Robbo, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop a day’s worth of TAM, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?”

The players smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Robbo, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s TAM for no defensive work.”

The players observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking Major League Soccer’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Robbo, buttoning his exquisitely tailored great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.”

Robbo took his melancholy protein drink in his melancholy office; and having read all the latest training manuals on how to play with an isolated striker, and beguiled the rest of the evening with GIFs of Kendall Waston tackles, prepared to leave for home.

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the football on the floor.  It is also a fact, that Robbo had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Robbo had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of Vancouver, even including—which is a bold word—City Hall, real estate developers, and craft beer enthusiasts. Let it also be borne in mind that Robbo had not bestowed one thought on Pert, since his flight to South America. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Robbo, having risen from his chair, saw in the football, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change—not a football, but Pert’s face.

Pert’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the office were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Robbo as Pert did look.

As Robbo looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a football again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the door handle and prepared to head home.

He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he walked the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Pert’s tracksuit floating in the corridor. But there was nothing.

“Fine lines!” said Robbo; and walked across the room.

After several turns to the door and to his desk, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a whistle, a disused whistle, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten with the players during training. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this whistle begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out shrilly, and so did every whistle in the training centre.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The whistles ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the treadmills in the state of the art fitness room.

The fitness room door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

“It’s fine lines still!” said Robbo. “I won’t believe it.”

His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, “I know him; Martyn Pert!” and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Pert in his usual tracksuit, socks, and boots. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Robbo observed it closely) of shin pads, corner flags, yellow cards and goal nets.

“How now!” said Robbo, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“Much!” — Pert’s voice, no doubt about it.

“Who are you?”

“I am your partner, Martyn Pert”

“Can you — can you sit down?” asked Robbo, looking doubtfully at him.

“I can.”

“Do it, then.”

Robbo asked the question, because he didn’t know whether a figure so unreal might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the figure  sat down on the opposite side of the desk, as if he were quite used to it.

And then the figure raised a frightful cry, and Robbo fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.

“You will be haunted,” cried the figure, “by Three Spirits.”

“I — I think I’d rather not,” said Robbo.

“Without their visits,” said the figure, “you cannot hope to shun the path you tread.

The figure then held up a fourth official’s time board (sponsored by TAG Heuer)

“Expect the first when this board moves to the number one”

“Couldn’t I take ’em all at once, and have it over, Martyn?” hinted Robbo.

“Expect the second when the board moves to the number two. The third upon the number three. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us.”

When it had said these words, the figure stood and walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the office window raised itself a little, so that when the figure reached it, it was wide open.

Once the figure departed Robbo closed the window, and examined the door by which it had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Fine lines!” but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the figure, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; sat back down in his chair, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.

Vancouver Whitecaps need a Kamara

The good news is that the Whitecaps have at least realised that signing players who fit with Carl Robinson’s style of play is an eminently sensible approach.

After the announcement of Anthony Blondell a few days ago the club has now added Kei Kamara to the mix (and, indeed, the mixer).

The bad news is that the Kamara signing feels a little bit like opening your main gift on Christmas morning and finding you are now the proud owner of an iPhone5C.

I mean, it will do the job and everything but it’s just it would have been better to have received it at least a couple of years ago when it was a little more state of the art and a little less in a state of repair.

Both the club and Robinson have been keen to emphasise both how suited Kamara is to the way they play and (once more with feeling) how “good he is in the locker room”.

The obsession with constantly repeating this phrase for every new signing aside the actual evidence suggests that Kamara can sometimes be “challenging” in the locker room just as much as “good” and one area where the coach has seemed to yet really find his feet is in dealing with big personalities who aren’t totally content with events both on and off the field.

That dynamic could be an interesting one to watch.

Perhaps more interesting than the Kamara signing is that ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle has indicated that the Whitecaps are still trying to bring Fredy Montero back on loan from his Chinese club for the 2018 season.

Granted this policy of stocking up on proven but ageing MLS forwards isn’t the most exciting or imaginative way of doing business and there’s a degree of short-termism which bodes ill for the long run.

But seeing Montero play slightly deeper behind Kamara with (and this is very much up in the air given the circumstances) Reyna on the left side and Blondell as cover wouldn’t be a bad way of doing things.

But if neither Montero or Reyna are back next season then there’s suddenly an alarming lack of any genuine creativity around the opposition penalty area.

That may not bother Robinson all that much given how well his team fared in the standings in 2017 but the odds of him catching the lightning in a bottle of set-piece goals and a couple of very against the run of play road wins isn’t the foundation for a successful season.

Time will tell as more arrivals and departures unfold in the coming weeks but, as it stands, Vancouver have made a couple of useful additions in the forward area.

That’s good I guess.

Vancouver Whitecaps: At the time of writing

Yes, we are currently in the “at the time of writing” phase of the year in which there’s always the disconcerting sense that as soon as the hapless hack hits “publish” the Whitecaps announce an arrival or departure that nullifies just about everything written.

But, when you think about it, isn’t the whole of life lived through the “at the time of writing” lens?

Every choice we make, every decision we decide upon is subject to the constant flux of an ever-changing world.

And isn’t “constant flux of an ever-changing world” just a pretentious way of saying the same thing twice?

And isn’t asking rhetorical questions just a tedious way of padding out a post that actually has very little to say?

All points well worth considering.

But here’s where we stand with the Vancouver Whitecaps squad rebuild/rebrand right now.

Anthony Blondell will definitely arrive from Venezuela and extensive YouTube viewings imply he may be the kind of big and strong striker to suit Carl Robinson’s preferred style of play.

It was somewhat disconcerting to hear the coach comment that Blondell “can also play out wide” since it brought to mind visions of a misplaced centre-forward lumbering down the wing in the desperate hope of earning a set-piece opportunity.

But hopefully it won’t come to that and Blondell will be looking forward to really getting to know the underside of the giant video board at BC Place as he waits for yet another lofted clearance to finally drop.

Things don’t bode so well for Fredy Montero’s return since all public utterances from the club are somewhere along the lines of a shrug and a smile to indicate there is nothing they can do but sit and wait for a phone call from China.

That would be a shame for two reasons.

Firstly Montero pretty much guarantees goals and secondly because it would have been interesting to see him play in a slightly deeper role behind Blondell as the kind of genuine number ten that Yordy Reyna just isn’t.

The centre of midfield is the most baffling right now.

All the indications are that Nosa Igiebor won’t be back which would make his brief tenure at the club genuinely bizarre.

He was only really introduced to the team for the playoffs, was named the best player of the first half in Seattle by Robinson himself and then that would be that for his Whitecaps career.

It’s hard to believe there wasn’t an agreement in place for next season so either we have to believe the unbelievable or assume one or other of the parties have decided that the said agreement doesn’t look quite so tempting after all.

Weird.

Russell Teibert might be back as the Whitecaps declined his option but are still in discussions with a player who didn’t even make the bench in either of the two final games against Seattle.

Why the club or Teibert would want that relationship to continue is a mystery.

If the squad improves then Teibert necessarily slips even further down the pecking order and the player himself must want more for his career than the occasional run out in games the coach has decided don’t really matter.

And the signing of David Norman Jr to an MLS contract means Teibert can’t even think of himself as the young Canadian hope in the centre of the pitch anymore.

There are some who argue that Teibert is an important part of the club’s public presence in the city but they are wrong.

It’s hard to see Matias Laba returning given his long-term injury and while Christian Bolaños may be tempted to take a lesser deal the chances are that at least one other MLS coach will fancy their chances to get more out of the Costa Rican international than Carl Robinson did.

That would make Brek Shea the current first choice on the left side and (assuming Montero and Laba do leave) the only Designated Player on the team.

That’s probably meaningless in real terms since Shea is very much at the lower level of the DP scale but it screams volumes about the ambition of the club.

So the plan has to be to move Shea on and invest serious money in at least two players of genuine quality.

That has to be the plan right?

Vancouver Whitecaps: Plan B

“Compromise is the devil talking,

and he spoke to me”

The Occasional Flicker-Dexys Midnight Runners

Compromise may be “the devil talking ” to Kevin Rowland, the slightly manic lead singer of a slightly manic band named after a drug designed to make you slightly manic, but to the rest of us it’s often the lifeblood of living in the world.

Giving a little bit here to get a little bit there may be the increasingly eroding foundation of a functioning society but we should cherish it while it still exists.

And given that it seems certain that Carl Robinson will be back as coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2018 (barring the unlikely, but still just possible enough to be cruel, divine intervention of the Welsh FA) maybe it’s time to find a compromise between the way he wants to play the game and the way we want to watch?

So let’s try to figure out if we can find some kind of happy medium.

This whole discussion is predicated on the fact we still don’t know the details of who is in and out of the squad next year of course but such is life.

There seems no reason to believe that David Edgar won’t “return” following his season long injury in 2017 however and that would give Robinson the chance to play three solid central defenders as the foundation of his lineup.

He’s tried it before to mixed reviews but given a preseason to work on the system it’s not inconceivable that Edgar, Waston and Parker could all be starters next year.

That gives Robinson the comfort of lots of defenders on the field but would also allow the full backs to push forward.

Jake Nerwinski was very good at that this year and Marcel de Jong proved capable in the time he was given.

In the ideal world a fit again Brett Levis would be Nerwinski’s counter point on the left given the role requires the ability to get up and down the field with regularity but if it’s not Levis then finding a quality left back should be high on the shopping list.

Those wing backs give Robinson the comfort of even more defenders on the field (particularly in road games) while offering much more of an attacking threat at home.

And the super bonus of this system is that the coach can add one more player to his central midfield.

It’s possible that it was as much the “new car smell” as their play which swayed so many of us toward Ghazal and Nosa at the end of the season, but assuming that wasn’t the case and they actually are a step up in quality then one more decent player alongside them would allow the Whitecaps to really shore up the centre of the pitch in most games.

Even a Tony Tchani or a reassigned Alphonso Davies could do that job with some success.

Up front, and this is the key to the whole thing, if Robinson wants to play a lone striker as a target man (and he really, really does) then he needs to recruit a player who both knows and wants to play that way.

Fredy Montero did brilliantly to turn a sow’s ear of a role into something akin to a silk purse but ultimately it was a waste of both his talent and the club’s money.

If Vancouver can pick up a decent journeyman to lead the line (most likely from Northern Europe) they can then spend the money they save on the striking role to get that extra quality midfielder or even a very, very good left back.

The final piece is to allow Yordy Reyna to roam free somewhere in the vicinity of the number ten position to cause general chaos.

It isn’t a perfect system by any means but on the road it would be able collapse into a veritable seven or eight man defence with the chance of a break enhanced by a genuine target man and at home it could transform into a five man midfield capable of getting in crosses from both flanks.

It wouldn’t be overly pretty football but it might be effective and it might even be exciting at times.

But whatever happens the key is to recruit players designed to fit the system Robinson intends to play.

That should be blindingly obvious but there’s been far too much buyer’s remorse from the Whitecaps over recent seasons as they find themselves constantly trying to force three or four square pegs into two or three round holes.

Can the Vancouver Whitecaps change their ways? (Part Two)

Last time out we wondered if maybe, just maybe, the way the Vancouver Whitecaps dealt with the manner in which their season ended could have been handled in a more effective manner.

This time out we’ll look at the thing most of us care about a little bit more.

What happens on the field.

In a recent article for The Guardian Jonathan Wilson wondered whether Jose Mourinho’s coaching style had drifted from the pragmatic to the dogmatic.

In other words, playing defensively and picking up a point against other top teams in the Premier League was no longer working in a competition where rivals Manchester City were more often than not picking up three points in the same games.

Pragmatism isn’t pragmatism if it doesn’t actually work.

His kindest critics would argue that Carl Robinson is a pragmatist. That he makes the most of his resources by setting up a team designed to shut down the opposition while simultaneously being able to make hay out of the sunshine of their mistakes.

And the final league table gives that argument a degree of validity.

But what if we lived in a world where the Whitecaps as an organization weren’t content with that kind of approach? What if we lived in world where the coach was told his style of play would always be ineffective when it really mattered and the time had come to adapt the way he sets up his team?

Ironically I think we may already have lived in that world and it was called 2016.

Back then Robinson toyed with the notion of a genuine number ten, played with the idea of only one defensive midfielder and even flirted with the prospect of a deep lying playmaker.

None of them really worked of course and we will have to decide for ourselves whether that failure was down to the players (mostly Pedro Morales) or the coach being unable to set up a team capable of taking the game to an opponent.

To be fair to Robinson the form and fitness of Morales was poor for most of that year but the coach’s failure to fit the most talented player the Whitecaps have had in the MLS era into any kind of system other than bunkering counter attack was telling.

And it’s Robinson’s inability to send out a team willing to attack that remains his greatest weakness as a coach.

And logic says that it has to be inability rather than unwillingness because no coach  would fail to attack the decimated Portland Timbers team we saw at BC Place earlier this season would they?

Would they?

And no coach would not want to take advantage of a a decimated Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the playoffs would they?

Would they?

Actually that second one he definitely wouldn’t because he said so after the game.

But the pattern of passivity is now so fixed that it’s become like some kind of Nietzschean Eternal Recurrence in which we are condemned to relive the same incapacity to break down a reasonably competent defence “once more and eternal times more”.

And the most terrifying thing of all, the thing that is the void we must all stare into, isn’t that Carl Robinson doesn’t want his team to play in a more open and appealing fashion.

It’s that if even if he did want it he wouldn’t quite know how to make it happen.

 

Can the Vancouver Whitecaps change their ways? (Part One)

The thing they always say about Watergate is that it wasn’t the crime that destroyed so many careers but the cover up.

I mean, the crime didn’t help obviously, but the sense of wrongdoing was exacerbated by an unwillingness to accept fault and that unwillingness cemented the notion of guilt deep into the mind of the general public.

And after that there was no way back to respectability for the main actors involved.

Obviously nobody would argue the way the Vancouver Whitecaps played those two games against the Seattle Sounders was an actual “crime” (although if  a political party ran with that as one of the main policy agendas I could be tempted to look at their overall platform with a forgiving eye) but what’s made those games an itch that just can’t be scratched is that everybody within the organization, from the coach on up, seems intent on insisting that it really wasn’t too bad.

Almost from the moment the final whistle sounded the official line has been that Vancouver did very well to be where they were and were actually (if you squint a bit, tilt your head to one side and then press your fingers against your temples really hard) quite close to getting a result.

We all saw the games.

They were nowhere near getting a result (although I guess a loss is a result of sorts?)

So one can only asssume that this constant insistence on how splendidly it all went is due to one of two things.

Either it’s an attempt to soft soap those in the local media who don’t really take an interest in the Whitecaps while at the same time supposedly pulling the wool over the eyes of the more casual fans in the hope they can be persuaded that all is well.

Or it’s because the people at the club who really matter, from the coach on up, genuinely believe those performances were acceptable.

If it’s the former then they are fooling nobody who matters to the success of the team and are simply adding to the vague cloud of mistrust that occasionally puffs up from their Gastown offices like an inept mockery of the nearby tourist attraction.

If it’s the latter then heaven help us all because there’s nowhere to go next year but along the same bland and featureless plateau of tolerable competence and intolerable timidity.

The Vancouver Whitecaps were genuinely awful against Seattle and the fact that nobody of note within the organization is willing or able to speak that seemingly unspeakable truth will taint the vision and cloud the minds of supporters for so much longer than ever needed to be the case.