The last song Eddie Cochran recorded before his death was the B-side to his single Three Steps To Heaven. It was called Cut Across Shorty and it’s a classic.
There’s a wonderful version by Rod Stewart on Gasoline Alley, his band, Faces, used to cover it live, Freddie and the Dreamers had a go, as did some fine country artists. Great song.
Cut Across Shorty is just a reworking of the tortoise and hare story, really. It tells of a foot race between ‘a country boy named Shorty, and a city boy named Dan’. The prize for the winner is the hand in marriage of a certain ‘Miss Lucy’.
A fracas at Fulham’s training ground saw striker Aboubakar Kamara arrested on suspicion of aggravated bodily harm and causing criminal damage
Without wasting time on details, Miss Lucy is less of an unwitting stooge than she may appear, has a preference, and fixes the race for her favourite. That’s how Shorty gets to cut across.
Why? Well, as the song’s lyric explains: ‘Now Dan had all the money/And he also had the looks/But Shorty must have had something, boys/ That can’t be found in books…’
And we know, we get it. Marijohn Wilkin who, along with Wayne P Walker, wrote Cut Across Shorty, honed in on a universal truth. That there are some human qualities that defy logic and rational analysis; that cannot be found in learning; that are innate.
And so to Fulham and Roster Improvement Through Analysis (RITA).
Last summer, Fulham became the first promoted club to break the £100million transfer barrier. They were the third biggest spenders in the Premier League and, in 2018, the 13th biggest spenders in Europe, ahead of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and all of Serie A, bar Juventus and Roma.
Their reward, so far, is 19th place and, this week, a fracas at the training ground which saw striker Aboubakar Kamara arrested on suspicion of aggravated bodily harm and causing criminal damage. He had arrived in an attempt to sort out his future but instead sorted out a club security guard, inadvertently achieving his initial aim.
Kamara joined in 2017, by which time Fulham’s RITA system was very much in place. Indeed, he is a typical RITA signing. Kamara started at Monaco, didn’t make it and had an unmemorable year with Kortrijk in the Belgian league before signing for Amiens, a small club in France’s Ligue 1.
This year, Kamara’s flaws have been increasingly evident. He ignored his former, Claudio Ranieri, and his team-mates to take a penalty ahead of Aleksandar Mitrovic — which he missed
After a single reasonable season, Fulham bought him for a fee in the region of £5.3m.
No doubt his numbers were excellent. Yet there is one aspect of a player’s performance RITA cannot accurately espy: character. The warning signs were there in Kamara’s first season in the Championship when he scored seven goals but drew more cards — seven yellow, one red.
This year, Kamara’s flaws have been increasingly evident. He ignored his manager, Claudio Ranieri, and his team-mates to take a penalty ahead of Aleksandar Mitrovic — which he then missed.
He argued with Mitrovic again during a yoga session, for which he was dropped from the team and skipped training having been banished to work with the under-23 squad. Then, when he attempted to confront chief executive officer Alistair Mackintosh, a fight broke out at the training ground.
It appears Kamara, like Shorty, has something that cannot be found in books, or located via an analytics programme: he’s a high-maintenance pest.
Also not showing up on computer screens were language skills, which is how Fulham came to sign two goalkeepers, Fabricio Agosto Ramirez and Sergio Rico, who barely spoke English.
He argued with Mitrovic again during a yoga session, for which he was dropped from the team
Fabri, in particular, struggled immensely and could not understand his defenders or make himself understood.
He started the first two games of the season, let in five goals and has not been seen since, not even chanced in Carabao Cup matches with Exeter and Millwall or in the FA Cup with Oldham.
Fabri was a title winner with Besiktas but also the player who started to cry after letting in four first-half goals for the club, on the way to losing 6-0 against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.
‘His scouting profile and data profile are both strong,’ Fulham confirmed when Fabri arrived for a ball-park £5m.
Obviously, recruitment cannot just operate off a series of hunches. Analytics are a vital part, as are scouting and first-hand knowledge. One of Fabri’s previous clubs was Deportivo La Coruna, where he worked with Fulham’s goalkeeping coach Jose Sambade Carreira.
It is possible the same mistake could have been made by going the old-fashioned route of scouting research and recommendation. Yet Fulham’s analytics department also rejected Glenn Murray, before he went to Brighton and Callum Wilson — now valued at £50m by Bournemouth — because their numbers did not add up.
The same numbers that cannot identify a suspect temperament, or a weakness of character, or incompatibility with team-mates, facets that are no less important.
In 1984, when Terry Venables considered taking Steve Archibald to Barcelona, he asked around.
The warning signs were there in Kamara’s first season in the Championship
Venables liked Archibald as a player, but didn’t know him. He made discreet enquiries. What was he like? Quiet, everyone said, bit of a loner, doesn’t really mix with the lads. At an English club that might have been a drawback — but Venables wanted him in Spain. A solitary man might as well be alone in Barcelona, as London, he reasoned. All the problems that might affect a British player abroad — language, being outside the group, inability to socialise — wouldn’t matter.
Venables signed Archibald, who was a great success, and they won Barcelona’s first league title in 11 years.
The need for character cannot be underestimated. It is what Maurizio Sarri is alluding to in his comments about Eden Hazard.
He plainly admires Hazard’s abilities as a player but does not see him possessing the mentality to be a leader, as he should be at Chelsea.
‘Wonderful, but an individual player,’ was his description. ‘He’s more an individual than a leader.’
Sarri hasn’t had everything right this season but he makes a point here. If one aspect of Hazard’s make-up stops him being the best in the world it is his character.
He disappears for weeks, sometimes entire seasons, if circumstances are not to his liking, in a way Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi never do. He can turn matches in a minute, as Sarri identifies, but can also turn off — and while there will be a clue with a dip in his numbers, these alone can never tell the whole story.
Miss Lucy got it, Fulham didn’t. That’s the problem with analytics.
Oldham must give Paul Scholes time
Oldham cannot continue in an endless cycle of sacking managers. This inconsistency of strategy and ideas left them mired in the third tier for decades until finally the club dropped into League Two, where they remain, in 12th place.
Once again, Oldham are trying to persuade Paul Scholes to take over, forcing him to drop his interest as part-owner of Salford City. Would it be the best move for Scholes?
It would certainly be a good one for Oldham. Having a fan and household name in charge might at last persuade the owners to give a manager a chance to build.
They couldn’t adopt the same short-termism with Scholes. Could they?
League Two outfit Oldham are trying to persuade Paul Scholes to take over as manager
We’ve seen this before, Arsenal
It was a fine victory for Arsenal over Chelsea last Saturday and much deserved. From the first minute they looked the better side and their midfield was exceptional: diligent, ferocious, swarming around Chelsea and disrupting their rhythm. But what does it mean?
We have seen this before from Arsenal under Unai Emery and previously with Arsene Wenger: a performance of supposed significance, seized upon yet ultimately empty.
On December 2, Arsenal defeated Tottenham 4-2 then drew 2-2 at Manchester United. Yet, by the end of the same month, they had lost at Southampton and conceded five at Liverpool.
It was the same last season. Arsenal defeated Tottenham 2-0 on November 18, 2017, a result that delivered much crowing and triumphant dressing-room selfies but was soon followed by a 3-1 home defeat by Manchester United and draws with West Ham and Southampton.
It was a fine victory for Unai Emery’s Arsenal over Chelsea last Saturday and much deserved
So Friday’s FA Cup fourth round tie is important. Arsenal are an elite club and are certainly capable of performing like one.
Clearly, they are an elite club poorly served by their owner Stan Kroenke, whose limited ambition and vision was for many years hidden by Wenger’s generosity in accepting responsibility for failings that were not always his.
Emery’s announcement that he could only recruit loan players in January suggests Kroenke is no longer protected by his manager. Nonetheless, a team capable of sweeping Chelsea aside as comprehensively as Arsenal did at the weekend should also be taking the game to Manchester United, even reborn under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
For the Chelsea win to be more than just another false dawn, inflicting Solskjaer’s first defeat would be a sign of genuine change.
Cardiff can’t change rules despite tragedy
As awful as it may be to deal with the tragic loss of Emiliano Sala, there is no way Cardiff can feasibly be granted an additional period to the January transfer window for the signing of players.
Chief executive officer Ken Choo said the possibility of an extension had been discussed with the league but was rejected.
That may sound cold but any addition to Cardiff’s squad must come from somewhere and with all British and most European clubs closing for business at the end of this month, it cannot be that one is allowed to operate while others are not.
Cardiff would have to be told they could not deal with any club bound by January transfer window dates, but even if they went outside Europe it could cause problems.
Say Neil Warnock looked to the league in China, where the window closes on February 28. The Chinese club could use Cardiff’s money to mount a raid on a Premier League rival, at a time when the player could not be replaced.
Some may think the Premier League are being heartless here but, despite this terrible accident, they have done the right thing.
As awful as it may be to deal with the tragic loss of Emiliano Sala, there is no way Cardiff can feasibly be granted an additional period to the January transfer window
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed apologised for a racist insult aimed at South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo that was picked up by a stump microphone during this week’s one-day international.
‘I didn’t mean for my words to be heard,’ said Sarfraz, but that’s not true. He meant for his words to be heard — but only by Phehlukwayo, which makes it worse.
Towel tantrum ruins fairytale
Feisty is a word frequently used to describe Danielle Collins; although there are others.
Going down in straight sets to Petra Kvitova on Thursday she repeatedly argued with umpire Carlos Ramos, who must be getting weary of entitled Americans following his US Open clash with Serena Williams.
Courtside equipment was malfunctioning but he made his decisions with impeccable logic, clearly explained. Collins did not appear feisty in response, but brattish, at one time contemptuously dropping a towel on the court as she returned to her baseline position, left for a ball kid to scuttle across and pick up.
That type of behaviour, rudeness towards the sport’s youngest helpers, should merit a code violation.
Ultimately, Collins’s actions rebounded. The more she moaned, the worse her tennis got and she lost the second set 6-0. Collins was the great underdog story of the women’s championship at the Australian Open but by the end few would have been sad to see her go.
Danielle Collins repeatedly argued with umpire Carlos Ramos during defeat by Petra Kvitova
Steve Bruce is on a sticky wicket in Barbados
With Sheffield Wednesday preparing for the biggest match of their season against Chelsea on Sunday, how wrong does it look that Steve Bruce can be found taking in England’s Test match against West Indies in Barbados?
Bruce was appointed on January 2 but, because of holiday commitments will not take over until February 1. In that period he has missed two league games and three FA Cup ties, including replays.
Bruce wasn’t to know that Chelsea would be the FA Cup opposition but, even so, to see him palling around with the England players while his team prepare to face Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain isn’t right.
It belittles Sheffield Wednesday, a club that still pulls an average of 23,763, despite sitting in 16th place in the Championship. Bruce lost both parents in 2018 and deserves his break.
After such a year, he has every right to feel that family is more important than football. In the circumstances then, perhaps it would have been better had both sides accepted the timing was wrong and moved on, because this does not sit well at all.
Steve Bruce was appointed Sheffield Wednesday boss this month but take overs on February 1, how wrong does it look that he can be found taking in England’s Test match in Barbados?
Andy Murray may have long departed the Australian Open but his influence remains.
Do you think Friday’s semi-finalist Lucas Pouille would have countenanced Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, had Murray not got there first?
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