Sunday, 24 September 2017

Socialism Trumped

I was taken aback a few days ago to find myself in violent agreement with something Donald Trump said in his speech to the UN:

"From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish, devastation and failure".

The only thing I would add to that is that milder forms of socialism tend to head in the same direction but at a slower pace, witness the 1970s Labour government ending in the disarray of the winter of discontent and the Blair/Brown hegemony, with its gross over spending, leaving us horribly vulnerable to the global financial crisis and leading directly to the decade of hard slog (austerity if you will) that we have had to swallow to get even half way back towards stability.

Trump was widely derided for tweeting that President Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower just before his election victory. That might have been false news, but it has now emerged that the FBI did wire tap Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort: they were looking into links to Russia and had a court warrant. It is still not clear if Manafort will be charged, or if evidence to impeach Trump will emerge because of contacts with the successor to the Soviet state Trump slagged off in his speech.

Be that as it may and notwithstanding the amount of tripe that he utters, the Donald has spoken of a universal truth. One that is surely obvious. Though not to the band of apologists for the ultra-left, which just happens to be lead by the dangerously popular Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.

Popular partly because of populist policies, like significantly reducing university tuition fees and reducing the interest rate on student "loans". Policies which would misallocate resources to the few not the many, as anyone who has heard moneysavingexpert.com's Martin Lewis speak passionately on this subject will know. And, ironically, couldn't remotely be called socialist.

There are sensible reforms to higher education and its funding that could be made, but I don't expect to hear any proposed this week in Brighton.  And there are more pressing issues for funding, though presumably Labour don't think they would be as popular.

Indeed, I don't expect to hear much sense coming from there at all, even though John McDonnell has suddenly switched to lauding Harold Wilson and his government's empty soundbite about the "white heat of technology" rather than Marx, as he tries to reposition himself towards the mainstream (a very long distance). I expect to hear plenty of sloganeering about the many not the few and lots of stuff on unquantified and unaffordable policies which would be counterproductive to that aspiration.

Corbyn and McDonnell would get us into trouble much more quickly than Wilson, Callaghan, Blair or Brown and without the competence of a Jenkins, Healey or Darling to steady the ship.

Given the huge potential for the Tories to drop the ball, or just commit political hara-kiri all I can say is - life jackets at the ready!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

May Day

In Florence Theresa May gave the speech that could - and should - have been given six months ago. But the Tories had to go through the first rounds of the "non" negotiation to coalesce behind a half way coherent approach to transition and exit, i.e. making sure the other 27 aren't immediately financially disadvantaged when we leave (else why should they co-operate one iota), a defined and time-limited transition to give businesses on both sides the chance to adjust and a bespoke future relationship, because none of the existing models work. Remember, this whole, enormous, energy-sapping endeavour is because of the Tory party's need to find a way of holding itself together. At every turn.

May's speech thawed the ice a bit, but amongst the warm noises were the expected barbs, mainly "not enough detail". Barnier, Merkel, Macron and others will keep taking turns at saying this. It was Macron's turn this time, saying there must be more detail on the exit bill, EU citizens' rights and the Irish border before trade talks can begin. This broken record approach will be leavened by words of encouragement to make us commit to huge costs with no guarantee of anything much in return. After all, they don't just want to preserve their bloated bureacracy till the end of their current budget in 2020, do they?

Per Yanis Varoufakis (and me), this is what you do when you want to ruin a negotiation, either because you don't want a deal at all or you want to put the other side under such time pressure come the end game that they will agree to almost anything. Rule 1 is "not enough detail". Note, it's never "that doesn't work for us, but something more like this might". Try again to pin ze tail on ze donkey that doesn't even exist, ya dumb rosbifs! Have another go, you dozy Brits! You're nowhere near - and the clock is running! If it was a game show it might be funny.

Per Nigel Lawson (see yesterday's post) we still don't get it - this isn't, for the EU, a negotiation about economic prosperity in the future. The EU is a political organisation, dedicated to its political survival and political development. We have threatened that and can't be allowed to get out and immediately flourish. It's not even about us. It's "pour encourager les autres".

P.S. The implications of the above are that we must be ready, if it continues to be a "non" negotiation, to walk away from Rene in good time to put the pressure back on the other side. Barnier says there's only 12 months left, to allow time for ratifaction by 2019. I think we need to be sure we can get a deal with 12 months to go, which means in 6 months time, else we need to use our only card in these negotiations: they won't get the money and their budgets will suddenly be short. If we let the clock run down without being fully prepared for no deal we are in trouble. Either that or we start making visible and meaningful preparations for no deal. I do hope the cabinet has talked this through and are ready to be as fully behind it as they were May's bunch of platitudes in Florence.

Friday, 22 September 2017

If only Brexit could be agreed by lunchtime

Today is the day Mrs May tries to get some movement into the Brexit negotiations trench warfare. I expect the reception will be lots of negative noises in foreign accents, especially if Yanis Varoufakis (and I) prove to be right that Brussels doesn't want to see a "successful" negotiation. In similar vein, former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, said that too much time and energy is being wasted on negotiations with Brussels. He went on "Those who say that a good trade deal is in the best interests of the EU and the UK alike wholly fail to understand what the EU is about. It is not about economics at all. It is a political enterprise, dedicated to the achievement of full political union"*. As I've been saying, their "project" matters more to them than economic prosperity.

A little while ago David Davis appealed, almost pathetically, for flexibility and innovation to move things forward in the Brexit negotiations. It reminded me, nostalgically, of the biggest commercial deal I ever negotiated, getting on for 15 years ago. One of my salesmen had been courting the Ministry of Defence, to whom our company provided services, over many months if not years. He was looking for a win-win where, if they would sign up in advance for packages of work which they normally bought piecemeal, there would be gains for both parties - the certainty of a long term contract for us and big price reductions for them based on real cost savings because the set up costs each time were huge.  He found the ground fertile and the customer's buyers kept putting more things in the pan - "what if we add in this? And that?" When I told the company's corporate centre wallahs that our price was going over £20 million (main board approval was needed for a formal bid over £10 millon) I'm sure they thought I was on something rather than onto something.  But in due course we were invited to submit a tender against a spec that lead to a price of around £22 million. At this point my corporate friends got over excited and, after the bid had gone in and we headed off to the first serious negotiation, I was briefed by the CEO to get the deal signed by the end of the week (!?) at a price not less than £20 million, so it could be publicised with the company half year results, which I guessed clearly needed 'sexing up'. (The company was a stock exchange quoted plc, at its zenith on the fringe of the FTSE 250).

The first morning's negotiation proceeded painfully slowly, with my 2 colleagues dealing with nit picking details posed by the other side, which outnumbered us by a factor of 2 (they were civil servants after all) and which eroded our price by tiny sums, totalling maybe £100k altogether. As lunchtime approached I figured that the negotiation was proceeding at a rate that wouldn't lead to a deal anything like in time. Even with my passion for detail, the thought of more than a week of this made me feel almost suicidal. But desperation kicked my brain into gear. Addressing my opposite number, I said "I think I've figured out your brief and, in order to move things forward more quickly, I'm happy to tell you mine" and then paused for silence to work its magic. Sitting next to me, my commercial manager, who I'd worked with on and off for over a decade, looked horrified and went a very funny colour. The response from across the table was something like "er, ok....". "I suspect you've been told to get the deal done but not at more than £20 million" I said, again leaving a silence. The wry smiles on the faces of the other team confirmed that my hunch was right. Then they started to look intrigued. "My brief is to do the deal quickly but at not less than £20 million". Intrigue was replaced with concern. "However, I expect I can get agreement for a price of, say £19.95 million, as long as we get it signed this week and you are happy for us to announce the contract is valued at around £20 million". "Why don't we break for lunch now and we'll respond when we get back together" was the response. Instead of taking stock and pondering what to do over lunch, my team was able to talk about interesting stuff like football, albeit nervously, while I made a quick call back to the ranch. The afternoon session was convivial and brisk: we agreed the price at £19.95M, placed actions for the teams to flog through the detail to get the necessary price breakdown schedules to come to the right number and what the process would be to sign the documents and agree the press release. I was back in my office 60 miles away before the folks there went home, with a diary freed up for the whole of the rest of the week.

If only Brexit could be resolved so easily. The thing was - we both wanted to do a good deal, one that left everybody happy. Michel Barnier's brief is to leave the UK feeling bruised, battered and unhappy. There's no way that can ever be a win-win. The best that can be achieved is a broadly equal degree of unhappiness, an equality of misery.

But I can't help hoping David Davis still looks cheerful at the end of it and Barnier looks like the proverbial sick parrot. Indeed, some days the only "win" I can see would be for the apparently unflappable and cheerful Davies to drive misery mush Barnier to a nervous breakdown. An uncharitable thought, but I bet I'm not the only one!

*Nigel Lawson's piece was in the FT

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Grand Turk and chaos

So the British Overseas Territories hit by hurricane Irma (which I just misheard on the news as "Harry Kane Irma", must have that hearing test) are too rich to qualify for us to spend our £13 billion overseas aid budget on. We can only allocate dosh from some smaller emegency aid budgets. Who says? The OECD? Well, sort of. The artificial target of 0.7% of gross national income for overseas aid that we signed up to - actually yonks ago, but we made it a  self-imposed legal requirement in 2015 - and that few countries get anywhere near (only five spend more against the GNI stat) comes with an OECD list of approved countries that includes China, India and North Korea but doesn't include the hurricane-hit islands.

Hmm, I've been to Grand Turk (though not the Caicos Islands) and it was one of those places you feel a bit embarrassed walking round as a tourist because it is grindingly poor and there is obviously a lot of unemployment. And that was before it got trashed by Irma.

But there's nothing actually stopping us switching some of the £13bn aid budget to the Caribbean, where it is clearly sorely needed. We might miss the 0.7% target officially but Parliament could vote for this easement, just as it voted to ditch the fixed term Parliament requirement when it fancied. So we might slip down the international aid league table but we would know that was artificial, that we'd spent just as much and that we'd allocated the money wisely. And, as one Tory MP said "if they weren't poor enough before, they bloody well are now". The OECD might amend it's list but people there need help now. And we've all read stories about how the Department for International Aid has to scurry round finding projects to spend all their bounty on, so they almost certainly have unallocated cash.

What is actually likely to happen is that the Treasury will find the money from other budgets. So other necessary spending might get squeezed. And it's unlikely we'll be as generous as is required.

This sort of thing really irritates me. We are very good at blaming others (the EU, the ECJ, the European Court of Human Rights) when all too often it's just that we can't get an act together and plough through the bullshit. Though the Tories aren't the only political party that I've ever been a member of, I tend to think that they are usually better administrators than their rivals. I think this is partly because their MPs are drawn from a broader gene pool, with experienced business people in particular, which gives them a better chance of running the proverbial piss up in a brewery. And they tend to do best at running operations as it were when there isn't much of a legislative programme: don't just do something, stand there as I think Ronnie Reagan said. There's a lot to be said for competent ministers running departments well, rather than being distracted by having to concentrate on passing new, usually irrelevant, laws. The moribund Major government, after we crashed out of the European Monetary System on White Wednesday, actually ran the country well. So did the coalition government of 2010-2015 for the most part.

Whatever else is going on, Boris Johnson and others would have gone up in my estimation if, instead of allowing the press to whinge about the OECD, had said that they were going to reallocate the aid monies immediately and figure out how to account for it later. It reminded me of a saying from where I worked 20 odd years ago: "ask for forgiveness, not permission" when we were encouraging our teams to get on with things rather than always delay and ask for guidance.

Not much danger of that piss up being organised at the moment, is there?

"A hurricane force farce" said Mail online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4881734/Britain-BANNED-using-13billion-aid-budget.html
"British territories hit by Irma 'too wealthy' to receive aid budget funds" said the Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/13/uk-to-provide-further-25m-aid-to-hurricane-irma-hit-bvi-and-anguilla

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Don't Walk Away, Renee?

Theresa May called her fateful election because she wanted a mandate for 'no deal is better than a bad deal', in other words to walk away from the negotiations if necessary. We are now seeing why she felt that might be necessary. Of course, what she really wanted was for the other side to believe that her team would walk away if it came to a crunch. In which case they probably wouldn't ever have to actually do it.

In all major negotiations both parties will go into the talks with aims, aspirations and red lines. Given that the principals rarely get involved (I thought it was bizarre when May campaigned as if she was actually going to be negotiating herself), positions are set down for the negotiating teams - what they can and can't agree, what they need to refer back on and, usually, what are the drop dead issues when there is no point in continuing the meeting because the gap is so great further input from the principals is required. The walk away points.

Of course, in a negotiation of such importance as Brexit, conducted in the glare of the media and frequent press conferences, either side declaring that we're going away until you've had a bit more of a think/come to your senses would cause hyperventilation amongst the commentariat. But it could easily come to that, especially if the EU side continue to refuse to talk about the full range of issues before the divorce monies are settled. Which of course doesn't make sense, because what the UK will find it can justify paying depends on what benefits, if any, we think we'll get from a future relationship. So that drives us to assuming there won't be any, which reduces the prospect of agreement. David Davies also pointed out a week or two ago that it is impossible to resolve the Irish border issue, another of the items the EU want resolved up front, without knowing more about what the general UK-EU customs arrangements will be. These issues are all linked and only a moron, or someone who doesn't want to reach a deal, would set out to negotiate that way. At the moment I'm inclined to think the EU side are both, though Yanis Varoufakis is sure it's just the latter - they don't want a deal, or at least not any deal that could be seen as giving the Brits anything worthwhile.

A number of commentators have concluded that the Brexit talks are just like any divorce and that Michel Barnier sounded just like a spurned spouse in his some of his recent utterings. The argument about the money blocks out discussion of access arrangements and damages the future relationship. All this was very predictable and many commentators did indeed forecast it would go this way. But only Varoufakis (that I've seen) has made the point that I made: that the EU actually want the negotiations to be a failure because their precious "project" is more important to them than getting a deal which works for both sides. I was saying 10 months ago that the EU's willingness to make its people poorer to protect its project meant that it wouldn't be possible to negotiate successfully with a self-harming psycopath (see Cold Front At Calais, 25 October 2016). And, more recently, that some important people in Brussels, such as Darth Vader - sorry I mean Martin Selmayr, Juncker's Chief of Staff, who was in the press again in the last week having allegedly threatened the Europe editor of Der Spiegel with a "smack in the gob"- have more or less said Brexit can't be seen to be a success (see Has Theresa May saved the Labour party, 19 May).

In negotiating parlance, the talks are in difficulty because the two sides don't have enough shared values. The UK side see it purely in transactional terms, talking about win-win and the best deal for all parties. For the EU side that is secondary and I'm sure that they want the talks to be seen to be a failure from the UK's point of view - an expensive mistake which will weaken us and make us a less attractive country for third party countries to invest in, so allowing EU countries to hollow out the UK by taking business (banking, finance, car manufacturing etc) from us. A future where the UK depends on heritage and tourism, a bit like Greece, would suit them nicely.

I'm not sure how the Brits can play this any differently, though it might be sensible to respond to Barnier's tiresome demands for clarity by stating clearly that we aim to be the EU's biggest external trading partner, outside the single market and customs union but with agreed arrangements to facilitate trade and collaborating closely on defence, security, environmental and research issues. Maybe this has already been said but I haven't seen it summarised that succinctly. However, I expect this would be met with the same response we've had so far - "what you are seeking is impossible". Which is why we must be prepared to walk away at some point.

I was involved in quite a few large and complex commercial negotiations. They would, of course, have been about a thousandth as complex as Brexit and with millions not hundreds of billions at stake over the long term. But the principles are the same. The best participative training courses I ever took part in were on negotiating based on soundly grounded psychology and research work done at Harvard. And there is one point on which Michel Barnier is right. If you want to have an ongoing productive relationship afterwards, rather than screwing the best deal you can and running leaving the other party feeling exploited, both parties need to share the best possible information on the available options, so that informed decisions can be taken with full understanding of the implications and consequences. Then the course that is optimal is usually clear to everyone. So when Barnier said "There are extremely serious consequences of leaving the single market and it hasn’t been explained to the British people. We intend to teach people what leaving the single market means” I wondered whether he was threatening us, as our press interpreted it, or impatiently inviting us to consider the consequences that would flow from various ways forward. It must be frustrating, though, for both the EU negotiators (feeling that we aren't being specific about what we want) and for the Brits (never getting anything coming back on what the EU side think could work).

Many Europeans start from the view that what the Brits want is either not clear, impossible, or both. For example John Bruton, the former Irish Taoiseach, has said Britain's Brexit vision is not achievable. Hmm, I hadn't realised we had a vision of Brexit....but leaving that to one side, Bruton has said a lot actually, most of it probably self serving from an Irish point of view: that, to make Brexit work, Britain must show the EU that it cares (a two way street, that one!), that the UK government and DUP must spell out exactly the sort of Brexit they want (only to have Barnier pooh pooh it? Why won't Brussels list options they would accept in parallel?), that the divorce will leave scars (tell us something we don't know!) and that Ireland needs to try to stop Brexit happening.  The last of these comments, with its implied suggestion of interference in the result of an election in another sovereign state, is as popular with me as it would no doubt be with him if I said the Brits should be trying to overturn Ireland's medieval laws on abortion and campaigning for the rights of victims of egregious Catholic priests and young mothers whose babies were taken from them and made to suffer Jane Eyre conditions or worse. A period of silence on his part would be welcome, while he works to put his own house in order.

Of course, there is a genuine Irish question in Brexit, about the future border arrangements. I've been saying since the referendum that I can't see a solution that keeps the non-border between the north and south and the porous border (I mean free travel area) between the Irish Republic and the UK. To be honest I probably need a history lesson on the latter but, having been perplexed that the free travel area concept survived the troubles (I'd have scrapped it unilaterally in a hearbeat in 1993 when the Warrington bomb went off 20 minutes after I'd been on Bridge Street with one of my young sons) I remain perplexed on this one. There have to be borders somewhere if we are to "take back control". It can be between the north and south parts of Ireland or it can be between the two parts of Ireland and the UK - an option laden with political and emotional implications. The problem for the UK is that this is an important issue because of the history and its implications for the future - those volcanoes don't feel extinct to me - but, from a UK economic prosperity viewpoint, this is all second order. Nevertheless, it could be the tail that wags the dog, if only because of May's disastrous election punt and the resulting disproportionate power which came the way of the DUP.

Brexit means the age old Irish question has a new angle - so does it look more like the Gordian knot than ever? I think it does. Of course, the Irish border question isn't difficult for movement of goods if we stay in the customs union, or for the movement of people if we stay in the single market. But, as this would mean we can't make our own trade deals with other countries, it's pointless unless, of course, you really want us to stay in the EU. Some arguing for that have a position of principle - they explicitly want us to stay in. Others, like Keir Starmer and the Labour party, use their weasel words to advocate being out in name but not actually being out i.e. in the customs union, in the single market, unable to enter into our own trade deals, making contributions to the bloated EU budget, under the yoke of the ECJ, etc, etc. The Soft Brexit, or Hotel California option as I've called it (i.e. you can check out but you can never leave).  You accept the EU's migrants and its regulations and you don't have the slightest influence over either. You pay a contribution to the EU budget but you don't have a vote on it and can't monitor what it's being misspent on. Niall Ferguson summed this option up well: "Some divorce. It would be more like becoming a child bride under sharia".

Which leaves us needing to negotiate something that works.  So, back to Yanis Varoufakis. You remember - the Greek finance dude who went to meet Osborne at No 11 wearing a leather jacket. Which we all thought was some kind of rebellious statement, till we read that he'd borrowed it because he'd come without his own jacket. But his wife might have been the inspiration for Pulp's wonderful Common People song. Anyway, enough of urban myths, Varoufakis knows first hand what it's like to tangle with the EU, to try to appeal to the EU heads of state - and fail - when faced with intrasigence and to be screwed into the ground. He said:
  • Barnier's teams mandate on "sequencing" (you give us everything we are asking for, unconditionally. Then and only then will we hear what you want) is exactly what one demands when one wants to ruin a negotiation in advance
  • The EU, under the guise of negotiations, is forcing May and her team to expend all their energies negotiating for the right to negotiate
  • The EU will not budge as Brussels' worst nightmare is a mutually advantageous agreement that other Europeans might interpret as encouragement to mutiny
  • Merkel will not step in. She didn't for Greece and she won't for Britain
  • The EU will reject all British proposals as naive or in conflict with "the rule of EU law" when EU law is practically silent on exiting. What they mean is the logic of brute force and their indifference to large costs inflicted on both sides of the channel (which is my self-harming psycopath point)
Varoufakis went on to say "prepare your people for total capitulation - that is your only option". No chum, it ain't. We aren't Greeks. We are British, we are one of the strongest countries in the world and it's time for us to stand up and convince them that we are more determined than they are. And, if necessary crazier than they are. We will go the distance and we won't buckle.

Actually Varoufakis said we have 2 options:
  • Make the EU an offer that, politically, it can't refuse. For example, request an off-the-shelf Norway like EEA deal for an interim period of "no less than 7 years".  He notes that, tactically, this makes Barnier and his team redundant, it offers certainty for business, EU residents here and Brits there, and Merkel will know the problem has gone to her successor so she can relax. Varoufakis says this "respects Brexit" (I'm not sure about that) and gives time for Britain to debate what it really wants in terms of the future EU relationship (I think we could do that for a lot longer than 7 years without consensus).
  • Or, unilaterally withdraw from all negotiations, leaving it for Brussels to come up with a realistic offer on free trade and other matters. If Brussels doesn't, it doesn't. In the mean time take some moral high ground by granting British citizenship to EU residents here and say we'll now see "how our friends across the channel behave". 
Varoufakis vastly prefers the first of these options. I vastly prefer the second and hope that is what we will hear from Theresa May in her forthcoming Florence speech. I hope she says that we will table an offer for what we owe which is the maximum which can be fully justified against our legal obligations. Which will be a tiny fraction of their ridiculous and unjustified demands. Until and unless the EU is prepared to negotiate properly they can take it or leave it.

Sometimes the only way you can move a negotiation forward is to convince the other side that you are crazier than they are, that you have a nuclear button and you will push it. I suspect it's the only way to negotiate with a self harming psychopath. (Even if they aren't all psychopaths, they are petty - stories of Brussels apparatchiks denying the British negotiators drinking water have emerged. If they want to be childish, we should show we can do it much better).

Ideally, this will make the EU blink and decide to actually negotiate. If not, we lose nothing by pushing the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) button. It's simply a matter of whether we accept being crushed into the ground in a sham negotiation or whether we threaten to pull them in with us.

We have to make the threat. It's the only way we can get a proper negotiation going. And if we can't? Then we couldn't have done anyway, so we haven't lost anything. And if it isn't possible to get a positive outcome to the negotiation, the sooner we know and can plan for that, the better. So it's time to say "your call Michel, Emmanuel and Angela". If they won't talk like grown ups it's time to Walk Away from Rene.

For the purpose of this blog it's unfortunate that none of the negotiators appears to be called Rene, but never mind!

John Bruton's comments were covered by Andrew Gray on the website Politico on 26 August, see http://www.politico.eu/article/united-kingdom-may-decide-brexit-vision-not-achievable-irish-ex-pm/, but google "Bruton and Brexit" and your screen will practically melt.

Meanwhile the inevitable tales of dirty tricks emerge: see  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/09/britains-brexit-negotiators-denied-water-brussels-divorce-talks/

Niall Ferguson's article "I was right: hell hath no fury like a spurned EU" was in the Sunday Times on 3 Sept 2017

Yanis Varoufakis's article "The EU wants Theresa May's total surrender - I should know" was in the Sunday Times News Review on 10 Sept 2017

EU's Mr Big 'in threat to belt reporter' was in the Times on 10 September



Sunday, 10 September 2017

Too much dwell time

Everton's form is worrying. They were widely thought to have had a good summer transfer window, acquiring Michael Keane, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney though losing Romelu Lukaku. The hoped for replacement centre forward didn't arrive and, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin's performances have been encouraging (and it's good to see one of England's U20 World Cup winners actually getting a game) Lukaku was a guaranteed Premier League goalscorer and his contribution will be hard to replace.

Yes, their two defeats have been to good sides, Chelsea and Tottenham. But they were insipid in both games and probably should have lost by much more than an aggregate score of 0-5.

Watching Stoke hold Manchester United 2-2 on MoTD I was left wondering why Steve Walsh hadn't considered Eric Choupo-Moting, who they signed from Schalke in August. He was a handful for Jones and Bailly, who had been thought to perhaps be the answer for United in central defence, took his two goals well and his post match interview revealed the Cameroonian international has very good spoken English. He was born in Germany mind, of a German mother and Cameroonian father and played for Germany up to U21 level. He isn't young - 28 already - and his scoring record isn't stellar: a couple of goals for Hamburg in 30 odd games early in his career, 20 from 74 games for Mainz between 2011 and 2014 and 18 from 82 games in 3 years at Schalke, while scoring 13 from 45 full international matches. We'll see if he keeps it up in the Premier League.

Part of my concern about Everton is the tempo of their play. It seems to have gone back to the slow-slow/slow-slow-slow possession football of the Martinez era at its worst (not sure what dance that is, but it ain't a cha cha). I understand why teams feel they have to get into a game and establish control by keeping hold of the ball. But if you play in front of the other team all the time it doesn't half make it easy for them to defend, especially when your team isn't blessed with much pace, Calvert-Lewin aside. The best teams don't feel it necessary to go for the high press all the time, are patient and will let you play in areas where you aren't going to hurt them, before picking you off with pace and precision. The other side of that coin is that, if you are playing a team with better players on the whole, then you will either have to get lucky or you will have to outrun them, outcompete them, throw them off their game, have better teamwork and generally want it more. None of which is compatible with a slow possession game.

I read recently that Joachim Low looked hard at why Spain had overtaken Germany in the years after he took over as German national coach. Germany lost to Spain in the final of Euro 2008 and again in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup, which Spain also won. He identified that the dwell time, the average time his players kept hold of the ball, was fractionally longer than Spain's and set about improving it. (Don't ask what the England national team dwell time is - I don't know but it is much longer than Germany's in 2010 that Low was unhappy with).

So playing proper possession football doesn't mean slow-slow, doesn't mean taking loads of touches, doesn't mean always taking a look and making sure. All of which are a sure way to struggle in terms of scoring goals. All good teams move the ball forward quickly at the earliest sensible opportunity.

I am reminded of what Joe Royle said when he took over at Everton, then marooned at the bottom of the Premier League back in November 1994. The turnround in fortunes was immediate, a derby match against Liverpool was won and in early December I was fortunate to see a stunning 3-0 home win against Leeds in which a revived Andy Hinchcliffe, soon to play for England, terrorised the opposition with his crosses, free kicks and corners. After 2 goals from corners a penalty was awarded and a wag near me in the stand joked "they're giving a way penalties rather than corners now!" Royle took Everton to an FA Cup win the same season and European qualification the next. Asked what changes he had made to produce this transformation he said that he had simply told the players to get the ball forward more quickly and reminded his strikers that you score goals by getting across defenders.

The other element of beating better teams is to have the home crowd on your side and roaring with enthusiasm. Which you don't get playing slowly.

I'm sure Ronald Koeman knows at least a thousand times as much about football as I do and his tactics may actually be the best that his current team can deploy. But it's boring to watch. I also read recently that Denis Law doesn't go to many matches now because he thinks the game is too slow and too much of the play is sideways. He doesn't enjoy watching the ball being knocked across the back four.

I'm with Denis and Joe on how football should be played.

And I think Everton would do better if they played at a higher tempo.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

TalkSport's odd couple

I see that Joey Barton, currently banned from playing football for betting offences, has been taken on as a pundit/commentator by talkSPORT. Barton is an interesting character. He's got a temper - he's been convicted of assault twice, serving 77 days of a 6 month sentence for a street brawl in Liverpool and being given a four month suspended sentence for a training ground incident while on Manchester City's books. He has also been charged with violent conduct by the FA on three occasions. So he's definitely got a yobbish streak. But he can also be very erudite. And also a bit dim as the rules on betting for football footballers are pellucidly clear - I paraphrase but they basically say it's not allowed on football matches anywhere in the world at any time. And if I know that you'd think most professional footballers should also know it. But honest, sort of, as he didn't use a stooge to place his bets and had an account in his own name. Whatever, I think the length of his ban (13 months) was harsh in all the circumstances, but the FA probably think that, as he's 34 a long ban should mean the end of his controversial playing career.

Did I hear someone say typical scouser? I couldn't possibly agree but it is a fact that Barton comes from Huyton.

Barton is appearing with Alan Brazil on talkSPORT's breakfast show. I sometimes listen to talkSPORT and Brazil in particular is usually worth listening to. However his ratings have been falling and Barton might be the man to spice things up.

I spotted Brazil and Barton in a newspaper ad. The thing I found most striking though was even more politically incorrect than anything Joey Barton has done or said. But as Brazil is male and white I might be able to get away with a remark about a person's appearance. After all, the newspapers give David Cameron plenty of stick for his paunch. So I'll go ahead and say doesn't Alan Brazil look more like a koala bear than you'd ever believe a human being could?