soccernet blog
June 20, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/20/2010

I received this incredibly articulate rant about England's World Cup performances from my friend, former Cerebrus colleague and fellow Sunderland fan, Allan Fletcher. It is reproduced in its entirety below.

My response to Allan was that I wholeheartedly agree - I might just put your whole rant onto Soccernet! I am sure it is what most people think about England at the moment anyway. Heskey out and play one of Lampard or Gerrard, they can't be in the same team. Instil some self-belief and play to a system, it is not complicated. The only good thing is that they have not lost yet. Such drivel, as England served up against Algeria is unacceptable, though.

Hi Lars,

I'm now seriously doubting the intellectual capacity of Senor Capello. I think his IQ may be lower even than that of Graham Taylor. Went on to the Soccernet website this morning but couldn't find any recent outraged comments about last night's England performance - maybe they're all being heavily edited.

Shan't repeat my rant about the omission of Theo Walcott - I think he could have been a star of the tournament. But I shall repeat my vitriol regarding the obsessive bias in favour of Emile Heskey - I'm sure the guy even looks embarrassed himself at being selected. Let's look at some comparative statistics, bearing in mind that England badly need to score goals: Heskey has scored 7 goals for England in 59 appearances; Peter Crouch has scored 20 goals in 38 appearances (many of them as substitute). I know there's some bizarre and misguided strategy regarding Heskey - something to do with him tieing up defenders and laying off balls for Rooney. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem a good enough reason to pick someone for a striker's position - especially as no-one seems to be benefiting in terms of putting in goals.

After all the time he has had, Capello still hasn't solved the problem of playing Lampard and Gerrard in the same team. Most foreign coaches think Lampard is the most gifted player we have - Capello should have built the team around him. However, it seems that something else has crept in to sour the team's performance - maybe the players have lost respect for Capello, but the performance of many players last night was decidedly weird. There's something clearly wrong with Rooney - he can't even seem to control the ball properly. Gerrard was a completely different personality last night - on a few occasions he seemed embarrassed to have the ball with a clear chance to shoot - so he tried to pass it sideways to someone who wasn't there!

James made a strange brief comment when interviewed after the match - possibly something to do with the fact that he didn't know he was playing until 5 minutes before the bus left from the hotel! Capello's practice of not telling the players they're on the team until 2 hours before a match is not only insulting, but doesn't give them time to prepare themselves - it's crazy.

Our only chance against Slovenia is to have a major revamp of team selection and strategy - personally I'd fly Walcott out there and play him. Crouch has to be in the starting line-up. Play Gerrard in the position he's good at. Lampard is a naturally attacking midfielder - play him more as he does for Chelsea. The problem of Carragher is solved - he's looked as if he's struggling. Get Joe Cole on - for Christ's sake not Wright-Philips - he can't stay on his feet! Put Rooney on the subs bench - he's completely out of touch.

Yours - incandescent England fan of Wynyard!


June 12, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/12/2010

Take a look at of football management in the media-driven world of the Premiership, and ask yourself, are any of the managers follically-challenged? I can only think of one, and that is Tony Pulis. Fortunately Sunderland have in their boss Steve Bruce a pretty good head of hair. Why do I say fortunately? Please have a read the brief article below, submitted to Newsweek late in 2008 when election fever was dominating the US media.

This is a sad insight into the superficial, modern media-driven world, but we really do need football managers to have great hair, as well as coaching ability. Look at our two Italian imports from 2009-10, Ancelotti and Mancini, they both have outstanding manes. The others who are a bit lacking in that department just do not survive; Benitez is the latest casualty. He may have won the European Champions League for Liverpool, but as his hair gradually receded, so did his popularity with the club Directors, and they had to bite the bullet...Rafa just had to go. The same fate befell Zola this season at West Ham, as his hair started falling out, he also fell out with the new regime at Upton Park.

What have all the truly successful managers such as Ferguson, Wenger, Rednapp and Moyes in common? You guessed it, in a word, hair. So by this reckoning, the managers most likely to move on next season are Pulis at Stoke, possessing of a 100 mph hairstyle usually covered in interviews by a baseball cap, and Martin O’Neill at Villa, who has been looking a bit thin on top recently. McLeish will also have to start watching his step now, but on the other hand Dalglish appears to be a banker for the Liverpool job.

To understand more what I am talking about, take a look at the post-match interviews with national managers and coached in this World Cup. It’s not just tactical nous these guys have in common, but from Maradona to Eriksson, Capello to Aguirre, Olsen to Queiros, they all have great hair!

A Head Counts More Than We Know In The Race For President.

What if there was a way to cut through all the deep analysis of the candidates, what sort of weeks they are having, keeping an eye on the polls and all the associated stuff that fills the media at election times. What if there was a simple analytical tool, obvious to anyone, that could predict with almost unerring accuracy, who would be selected from either party, and accurately predict who might become Prime Minister or President? What if there was a formula that would show if a candidate had any chance at all, well before the day of the election, giving the party the opportunity to select the right candidate.

Well there is a way, a deceptively simple way of accurately assessing candidates. And it is very intuitive – all we have to ask is “do they have hair?” More specifically, the lack of it. Not anything to do with the 1970s musical, but whether each candidate has an impressive mane.

Forget all the well-run campaigns, the media profiling, the fundraising, all the political junkies who feed off the campaigns. Unfortunately my conclusion over many years of observing politics here and in Europe, is that the “follically challenged” candidates have no chance of winning this or any other election.

This is a sad insight into the superficial, modern media-driven world. It is an even sadder insight into how much the average voter looks at the policy, value and integrity of each candidate before exercising their democratic right. Forget policy on Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, universal healthcare, the candidate’s religion or their moral values, having hair beats all these policy issues into a distant second place.

Unfortunately, and we may as well admit it now, but the slaphead with a terrific photogenic wife and wonderful supportive family, and the most well-thought out policies and serene stage presence has no chance – having a decent mane is what counts. Ask yourself a simple question – who was the last British Prime Minister or American President with a less than full head of hair? I guess that was Gerald Ford, but he was not really elected to the position, he just held the reins for a while when the hotseat was vacated by Richard Nixon. Before that was Eisenhower, in an age before media image was everything. Check the pictures out at

Is it only the USA where these rather superficial voting habits rule? A very definite “No”! We have just elected the Debonair David Cameron, with a full head of hair, and Tony Blair was one of the longest-serving British Prime Ministers until his retirement in 2007. His-Tonyness at least stared with a full mane. Blair was rather regularly challenged by spectacularly hairless Conservative party candidates for Prime Minister, and easily beat them off every time. His replacement, Brown was elected unopposed by the Labour Party, and yes, he had a decent thatch. I cannot think of a bald UK Prime Minister in my lifetime, and although Churchill was a natural leader, he was bald in a time when the media did not decide voting patterns. Look at Nicolas Sarkozy, he is debonair in that way in which only the French can be, and is definitely not showing signs of thinning on top.

Perhaps this simple theory helps to explain why more women are now in the frame for senior government positions. Angela Merkel rose to Chancellor in Germany. Of course the role model for all recent female political leaders was the appropriately-named Margaret Thatcher, who in 1979 formed one of the strongest transatlantic alliances, with Ronald Reagan. Reagan may have been criticized for some aspects, but he had great hair, and was re-elected for a second term. Bill Clinton may be remembered for other events, but his great hair has outlived all his critics.

OK, exceptions “prove the rule” – this is prove in the old English usage, as in test, for example in “proving” bread. Vladimir Putin is getting a little thin on top, and has been in charge in Russia. Just one problem though, in his case the opposition in the form of Garry Kasparov was prevented by the media and the system from running a campaign. Kasparov has a full head of hair, but to quote him – “there is no choice in Russia”.

So the sad conclusion is that we are so media-influenced and somehow see bald men as being unworthy to run our governments. What does that say about us as educated voters? I felt maybe after this humorous insight into the electoral process, perhaps it was time to break the mould in 2008. Such a change, at least for me, would restore my faith in the political process, but what happened, Obama beat the balding McCain into a distant second place. .

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

June 2, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 06/02/2010

As my Facebook friend and fellow Black Cats fan John Ievers put it so succinctly: Darren Bent missed the cut for the final squad!!! My response to him was: Yes, that was sad to see, John, but it is down to two things: Sunderland is a long way from London, and secondly, England's playing style is with a target man. Although I could have seen Bent picking up the scraps…

There has been a lot of media coverage of Darren Bent since his exit from Spurs under unusual circumstances. He has shown though that he has the temperament to rise above all this and just be an outstanding footballer. He is obviously disappointed – see the reporting for example at

Bent had an amazing 2009-10 season, and not just here in the "blogosphere". Those 24 Premiership goals were in the real world slog of that league, week in and week out. But since half of it happened at a stadium several hundred miles from London, the media tend to underreport what went on, sensational though it was. This is an issue that has dogged Sunderland over the years, great players have been neglected by the FA. Luckily, Bent is still young enough to make the next World Cup.

Quoting from former Black Cat Chris Waddle on Sunderland striker Bent was the third highest scorer in the 2009-10 Premier League season with 24 goals but has also missed out. And former England winger Chris Waddle admitted Bent's omission was understandable considering the way England play. "It's hard for Darren Bent," said Waddle. "He has got 23 goals and England always play with a target man so Rooney and Defoe are always ahead of Bent. Barring injury I never thought he'd be on the plane."

What would have given Bent a place on the plane to South Africa? First, a decision to go with 5 strikers; we know that Capello picked 4 because England have Lampard and Gerrard as outstanding scoring midfielders. Then perhaps a true recognition of Defoe’s record. He scored 18 goals last season, and 6 of those were during Wigan’s 9-goal collapse at White Hart Lane. OK, he has done well for England in the past, but he also has had the chances to shine. Thirdly, if Heskey had been dropped, as an essentially non-goalscoring striker, who is there to hold the ball up for others, such as Rooney?

In the end, it was Capello’s decision. He will live or die by what England achieve in the World Cup, and we wish England well, of course…but all Sunderland fans will wish the squad was different in one way.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

Lars Knutsen Lars Knutsen was born in Sunderland of Norwegian parents across the Wear from the SSOL back when shipbuilding not car manufacture was the city’s main industry. His first game was in 1968 and he has followed the Black Cats since then, with great memories of the 1973 FA Cup. He hopes the “yo-yo” days are over and defines supporting a team by whether the result affects your mood (but maybe not in the way portrayed in the book “Fever Pitch”!) so has been cheerful recently. He endured school in Newc**tle, has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, a Professorship at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and works in the Pharma industry as a consultant Medicinal Chemist.

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