14 May 2015

The 10 good things about the 2014/15 season

Cheer up you miserable fuckers. Just because we got relegated, have alienated all our players, have an uncertain future and are the laughing stock of the football world, it’s not all bad. In fact, there were plenty of good things about his season. Well, ten anyway, if you really scrape the bottom of a barrel. Here they are… 

1. The arrival of the most handsome man in football. If not the world… 
It's a novel approach for a football club to employ a professional interpreter and then ask him to be goalkeeping coach in his spare time. But never mind that, for it was enough to stare into Rob Gagliardi's dreamy eyes and be beguiled by his long, flowing locks as he calmly translated the demented ramblings of Fabio Liverani into English. Gagliardi is possibly one of the reasons the Orient players were entirely unable to concentrate throughout each game, for if someone that thunderingly handsome is delivering the team talk who can blame them for taking to the pitch with all sorts of conflicting emotions?

2. The second coming of Marvin Bartley 
There’s only one Orient player who can claim to have had a better season than last, and that’s Marvin Bartley, baby. The reason is that for the midfielder to have had a worse season than last, he’d have had to have scored 47 own goals or accidentally sliced off Kevin Lisbie’s legs with a kitchen knife. Still, improvement must be applauded and there were few sights as thrilling this season as Marvin Bartley bludgeoning his way through the midfield towards goal and almost certain dispossession. If he keeps improving at this rate by 2032 we’re going to have a hell of a fifth-choice central midfielder in our squad. 

3. The hallucinogenic madness of the man of the match awards
Dagnall: played out of his skin
In seasons past a couple of representatives from the matchday sponsors would rock up at Brisbane Road, try to be polite about the quality of the food in Theo’s restaurant and then award the man of the match to Dean Cox. Job done. Not this season though, where the man of the match awards have become some sort of avant-garde parody of the club. Against Crewe, for example, Chris Dagnall scored about 11 goals, made 39 assists and played out of his skin to such an extent he was tearing around the pitch in a blur of veins, arteries and mucus. Despite all that, the sponsors gave the man of the match award to Romain Vincelot, who was at the time back home watching his beard. 

4. The Orient podcasts
E10 Mess and a walking, talking bad hair day 
It’s typical isn’t it. You wait forever for an Orient podcast then four turn up at once. But what a pleasure it was to follow our catastrophe of a season in the company of Orient Ramble, E10 Mess, Orient Outlook and Whipps Cross Weekly. Each had its own unique charm – E10 Mess’s hilarious tribute songs; Whipp Cross Weekly’s incisive analysis; Orient Outlook’s revealing interviews; and Orient Ramble’s lengthy diversions into the merits of various savoury snacks – and each deserves a lot of credit for the amount of effort put in by their creators. 

5. The enigma of Gianvito Plasmati
Gianvito Plasmati 
If there’s one player who can hold his head up high this season, it’s Gianvito Plasmati. Only in the literal sense though: he's 6ft 6in. He introduced himself to Brisbane Road by emitting a bloodcurdling scream and poleaxing himself to the ground after hearing a whispered insult from a Preston midfielder. It went downhill from there, though it’s hard to dislike a guy who despite his many limitations played each game with all the bounding enthusiasm of a retarded cocker spaniel. He’ll probably tear up League Two.

6. The comeuppance of Jamie Jones and George Porter
Whatever possessed Jamie Jones to send (and then hastily delete) a tweet goading the fans of the club that gave him his chance in professional football and paid his wages for six seasons? Probably amoeba-like levels of stupidity. Still, the last laugh was on us as the goalkeeper was unceremoniously shipped out on loan from Preston. See you in League Two, Scouse! George Porter, meanwhile, is a bell-end of monumental proportions, but after mocking his former club’s relegation was on the receiving end of this zinger from Craig Delew: “From Burnley to Maidstone, if Carlsberg did failed careers..." 

7. Tell ‘em about the honey, Andrea
Andrea Dossena
Remember Andrea Dossena's volleyed scissor kick from the touchline in his home debut? Well that was the solitary highlight of the ex-Liverpool star's season as he subsequently took it upon himself to try to single-handedly relegate the club with defending of the most kamikaze order. So it was with much mirth that Orient fans greeted the news that Dossena had been arrested over a jar of Harrods honey, entirely forgetting to pay for it almost as if he was supposed to be marking it at a corner. Thereon the jokes wrote themselves: “Hope he hires a good lawyer because he’s no good at defending himself.” And so forth.

8. The performances of Eldin Jakupovic Mk II
What’s the world record for the number of goals conceded by a football club in a single season? Well, whatever it is Orient would have beaten it in 2014/15 were it not for the magnificence of Alex Cisak. With a defence failing calamitously to get to grips with zonal marking, the goalkeeper must have felt like a president being assassinated by knife-wielding assailants while his bodyguards fiercely guarded random patches of ground nearby. That he is even spoken about in the same breath as Eldin Jakupovic is testament to his contribution. 

9. The die-hard fantaticism of Giulia Salemi 
Giulia Salemi has been a die-hard fan of Leyton Orient since birth and has religiously followed the fortunes of the club her whole life by sometimes reading the BBC Sport website. It was for this reason she was chosen as the co-host of the Italian reality show “Leyton Orient". Coincidentally she is also a former Miss Italia and a model of some repute. Coincidentally she also just fired her agent. What to make of all of this? Well, why don’t you ask her yourself? She’s bound to be in the Coach and Horses before our key relegation clash with Barnet next season. 

10. The ever-patient Orient fans
Yes, that’s you lot. In a season in which the club didn’t bother to communicate, collaborate or try to win any matches the vast majority of Orient fans have shown vast wells of resilience and good humour. 1-0 down against Rochdale away, staring down the barrel of League Two and you were still singing your hearts out. Nearly 1,000 of you turned up to watch Orient get relegated at Swindon. And even when you were frustrated, you showed it in a uniquely Orient way, as captured in the tweet of the season from Craig Rodhouse: “Only at Orient. A fan throws his season ticket at the bench on the last home game of the season. We know how to protest.” 

09 May 2015

How to relegate a football club in 11 easy steps by Francesco Becchetti

Think it's easy to take a club from the brink of the Championship to League Two in one season? Think again. It actually takes meticulous planning, as Francesco Becchetti has demonstrated. Here's how he did it... 

Step 1: Massively over-promise
"I'm already visioning a Championship club" 
"I'm already visioning a Championship club," said Francesco Becchetti at his opening press conference which – when viewed in hindsight – now seems like the crazed delusions of a megalomaniacal super-villain. "Being close to people is crucial to us"; "The spirit of family, of players, of people here will be reinforced"; "I've built a super laser-gun and I'll explode the moon unless you give me 100 trillion pounds."

Step 2: Install a sporting director 
Russell Slade, remember, had just built a tight-knit squad that got within a penalty kick of the Championship without paying a single transfer fee. Did he really need additional help in identifying and bringing in players? Let alone help from someone with no experience of the English game other than two seasons as a QPR player many years ago. Someone with no experience of the lower league transfer market. And someone with no experience of looking at his hair in a mirror and thinking, "Something is terribly, terribly wrong here."

Alessandro Angelieri
Step 3: Hire a hugely unqualified CEO 
Now, you might think that to be appointed a CEO of a football club you need some experience of being a CEO or some experience of football. Preferably both. You're wrong, because Alessandro Anglieri waltzed into the hot seat having allegedly never attended a single match in his life and with the professional experience of 17 years as a senior sales manager at a video systems provider. SEVENTEEN YEARS IN THE SAME JOB WITHOUT A SINGLE PROMOTION! So essentially instead of a visionary and ambitious leader, Francesco Becchetti hired Gareth Keenan from The Office.

Step 4: Issue an ultimatum to Orient's most successful manager in decades 
Admittedly Russell Slade's start to the season wasn't brilliant – one win, three draws and two losses in the first six league matches – but aside from 2013/14 that was pretty standard for the manager. Not good enough for Francesco Becchetti, however, who told Slade that he was for the chop should he not provide "redemption" in his next match. What staggering stupidity. "Parents often threaten to spank their children but usually do not carry out the threat," Becchetti subsequently explained, suggesting that a) he likes throwing his weight around, b) he knows little about how to motivate a football manager and c) that you probably shouldn't ask him to babysit for you.

Step 5: Enforce an omertà
The Orient comms team take their vow of silence
One of the great things about last season was the two-way communication between club and fans, including some fantastic behind-the-scenes content on social media. Under Becchetti – especially after Russell Slade's departure – Orient began to operate under the sort of code of silence more suited to a Buddhist monastery than a football club. But there was nothing Zen about it for caretaker manager Kevin Nugent who found himself in the utterly bizarre situation of having to announce his own offer of a contract, an offer that the club neither confirmed or denied and which the ever-helpful Mauro Milanese dismissed as a rumour. What a way to treat a loyal, decent servant of Leyton Orient.

Step 6: Put the interests of a TV show ahead of the club 
There's nothing wrong per se with creating an Italian reality TV show around the club, as long as you don't mind it making Orient the laughing stock of the football world. It's just a bit of fun, hey, and who doesn't like to watch videos of random Italian model-types lip-synching to bad songs in their pants? (1,981 views and counting!) But it's not just a bit of fun if – as this article suggests – the squad were refused increased win bonuses unless they consented to being filmed. And it's even less fun if the appointment of a manager with no experience of English football or English language was partly informed by the need to have a high-profile name attached to the club that the Italian TV audience could identify with. (I wrote about this at length here.)

Step 7: Appoint a manager on a wing and a prayer
Let's be generous and pretend that the appointment of Fabio Liverani was done for 100 per cent footballing reasons and was in no way related to the reality TV show. The question, then, must be: what in God's name were those football reasons? Here's my theory: Francesco Becchetti didn't just want success, he wanted success he could call his own. So not for him a manager who'd already achieved results in lower league English football. No, he wanted someone he could claim to have discovered, to have nurtured, to have given a platform for glory. He wanted to be Brian Epstein discovering the Beatles. Instead he's ended up being Tim Byrne, the man who brought the world Steps.

Ada: Survived the cull 
Step 8: Clear out anyone who knows anything about running a football club 
When Francesco Becchetti took over Orient, he said he'd be relying on the ongoing support of those that had made the club what it is. He was true to his word for about three or four minutes before – in the manner of an international property developer promising to preserve the spirt of a community pub then immediately knocking it down to build a block of luxury apartments – getting rid of everyone from the fitness coach to the cook. Ada the kit man reportedly only survived by hiding in Alessandro Angelieri's in-tray, where he remains undetected to this day. Matt Porter's advisory role was soon curtailed too. Nothing wrong in principle with the new owner bringing in his own people. Unless of course they monumentally fuck up, which brings me neatly to...

Step 9: Don't actually pay the players 
Most footballers, I'm sure, like what they do. But I'm also pretty sure they also like eating food, wearing clothes, paying their mortgage and going to Faces nightclub, Gants Hill. All of these things require money, which means they're going to pretty upset if their employers don't pay them. Astoundingly, in February, a "technical problem" meant that the Orient squad did not receive their wages on time. Sure, the players haven't covered themselves in glory this season either, but to deny them their basic employment rights seems a bit harsh.

Stuck in traffic
Step 10: Publicly bawl out one of your own players via a half-time announcement 
If one of the employees in Francesco Becchetti's waste management business is slightly late for work due to a major traffic accident, does he publicly humiliate them over the tannoy system? Of course he doesn't. He actually has them killed. JOKE! Stand down lawyers! Except, when Darius Henderson failed to arrive on time for the game against Port Vale for reasons entirely out of his control, Becchetti did exactly that, instructing PA Philip Othen to read out a message expressing his displeasure. A touch of class right up there with the ball skills of Sam Parkin or the humour of George Porter.

Step 11: Allegedly forget to file your accounts
At time of writing, the club are currently refusing to comment on the story that they are under a transfer embargo for failing to file their accounts on time. If this is true then this is mismanagement on a monumental scale. Or maybe I'm overreacting. I mean, it's not like we actually need to buy or sell any players this summer is it? Oh, hang on...

So there you have it. Brink of Championship to League Two in 11 easy steps courtesy of Francesco Becchetti. Still, don't be too upset, because the president has an answer: just refuse to allow the players to go on holiday at the end of the season and make them do a fortnight of double training. Then sell the club

04 May 2015

Swindon Town 2 Leyton Orient 2, 3/5/15

In the end, this was a fitting conclusion to a woeful season. Fitting that Orient couldn't beat a Swindon team cobbled together from a handful of reserves, a couple of under-16s, two or three random passers-by and some sticky tape; a team that had nothing to play for and one reduced to 10 men for 72 minutes.

"He's left Scott Cuthbert on the bench!!!" 
Things began as they always do under Fabio Liverani: with a team selection and formation that suggested the manager is either randomly picking names out of a hat, insane or part of an elaborate season-long TV prank in which Ant & Dec communicate with him through a concealed ear-piece with instructions such as, "Leave Scott Cuthbert on the bench, it'll be hilarious!!"

Anyway, the players tried to make sense of the latest strategy, which I'm going to generously describe as 4-3-3, and actually fashioned a few chances in the opening minutes. These mostly came through the endeavour of Jay Simpson, almost as if the ex-Premier League striker might have come in useful in the preceding 15 games in which he was mostly sat on the bench. Hey ho.

Still, unsurprisingly Orient failed to convert anything until Swindon – who appeared to be deliberately trying to lose the game – gifted us a penalty and got their goalkeeper sent off. Lloyd James is of course the Os most reliable spot-kicker so it was with grinding inevitability that he chose this moment to miss.

Following that Swindon did everything in their power to gift Orient a goal, until finally figuring out that the only reliable way to do so was to just give the ball to Dean Cox and let him do the rest. He duly obliged.

And so, with 45 minutes to go and results in other games going our way Orient were halfway to safety. What was needed was one of Fabio Liverani's legendary team talks – a stirring call-to-arms translated by Rob Gagliardi while he teased the tangles out of his hair in front of a full-length mirror.

And yet, and yet... Did Orient come out snorting fire out of their noses and throwing their bodies on the line for their very survival? Erm, not really. They got an early goal to put them 2-0 up and then things just sort of fizzled out like a cut-price sparkler discarded into a puddle by a disappointed child on Guy Fawkes' Night.

Matt Baudry gave away a pointless foul on the edge of the box. Swindon scored. Fabio Liverani switched to 5-3-1-1. Swindon scored again. The players looked to the manager for some indication of what they were supposed to be doing. He responded by playing Scott Cuthbert and Matt Baudry up front. The final whistle blew. Orient were relegated.

Did we deserve it? One hundred per cent. If you spurn a two-goal lead against a 10-man reserve team with nothing to play for then you're asking for it really. If you can't win a single one of your last seven games when relegation is staring you in the face, then you can't really complain. (And, looking at the final league table, just one victory in one of the games we lost would've kept us safe.)

Let's leave the final word to ex-CEO Matt Porter, who knows a thing or two about football, and a thing or two about Orient: "Dear oh dear. No words to describe what a waste of a perfectly good football club and a completely avoidable situation this is. Devastated."
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