Yes, sorry Pards, been a while hasn't it? To tell the truth, had a bit of trouble with what's called motivation, just couldn't find any. Tearful memories of all those happy years of life at the top and the consequent spend, spend, spend every summer have proved hard to forget really. And with eight of our numbered players from last season already departed and young hopefuls Smith and Monteiro also leaving its left me all rather flat. Not to mention the fact that the incoming additions to strengthen the squad have, so far, added up to two, being a free centre-half and a very cheap non-league striker. Its all left me, and a lot others I might add, a bit down in the mouth.
Not that we didn't need to reduce the numbers, we used 38 last year, the most since the year dot and the constant changes didn't help us at all. And from what you've been saying last weekend the numbers will continue to fall, although it must be a bit galling that your first buy for the Addicks, Bougherra, will be the next to go.
So sorry days as the realism of life in the fizzies begins to bite, but at least there's one thing that we can agree on and thats the pre-season opposition. These games are surely all about getting fit and having match practice while at the same time generating a bit of confidence. Not everyone has the same idea of course, Glen Roeder and Roberto Martinez to name but two. These two fizzy managers, of Norwich and Swansea if you need reminding, have been playing Tier One teams and getting comprehensively hammered. Norwich lost 1-5 at home to Spurs at the weekend ( our little Darren scored 4) before a massive 22000 crowd - I bet they went home looking forward to the season - and the Swans lost 0-4 on tour in Spain to the other Barcelona team, Espanol.
Pardew has, meanwhile, tried hard to generate some enthusiasm, and confidence, by playing plenty of non-league opposition and there’s been plenty of goals as a consequence. And if you wanted a players viewpoint, and purely by chance, there's a comment in one of todays papers quoting one of Valladolids' strikers on the value of pre-season games " You have to win all the games to dispel any doubts, to give you peace of mind and to start off you with more guarantees ( of success, presumably)."
So after all the non-leaguers the real test, of course, comes at the weekend. The only home game of pre-season and its La Liga "giants" Athletic Bilbao. They finished 11th last season after a bad start and we can only hope that you've had a quiet word and asked them to leave most of their first-teamers at home so as to give us another morale-boosting win. We don't want a Norwich-style spanking do we?
And to help us out, and like most things in Spain, the season over here starts very late, not till August 31st and for most Spanish teams the pre-season is long and Athetic are still warming up. They have a 13 game pre-season planned, have played 5 games so far, won 4 with just one drawn one and they even won that on penalties. So looks a tough bet but then foreign tours can be a bit of a mystery for players and with no reserve league over there there's no distintive reserve line-up so with 33 players on the books all wanting a game, several of these games have seen numerous changes. And if you saw the recent Barcelona games in Scotland you'll get the idea and will be prepared to see wholesold changes at half-time with the top players only playing one half and then the reserves are given a game. The two only games that Bilbao have taken seriously so far was the 2 game tournament in Casablanca where they (only) used 16 players in each game.
Athletic are renowned for being one of only three Spanish teams never to have been relegated from La Liga in its 77 years ( the others, of course, are Real and Barcelona), and, of course, are famous for the quite absurd tactic of only playing local Basque players ( although they stretch it a bit by including 2 players born in Logroño), so expect a few bizarre names of the teamsheet. Here's a few of their stars and if you can spot all of them you'll know they've bought their first team:
Goalkeeper Iraizoz; Defence; 20 Aitor Ocio, 5 Amorebieta; Midfield; 10 Yeste, 11 Gabilondo, 16 Orbaiz, 17 Etxeberria, 18 Gurpegui; Strikers; 9 Llorente, 23 Aduriz. The most famous one is old boy Etxeberria, still only 31, over 400 games for the club and who's played 59 times for Spain.
As for the Addicks all we can say is they'll be the ones making less changes at half-time because at the moment the team really picks itself which can be argued is perhaps no bad thing. With all the injuries - Weaver, Holland, Ambrose, McLeod, not to mention ZiZi's absence in China and with Todorov's still getting fully fit it should be the same side that started last weekend at Brighton:
Christie; Semedo, Hudson, Fortune, Youga: Wagstaff, Racon, Shelvey, Thomas; Gray and Varney.
On the bench will be Moutaouakil, Wright, Sam, Basey, Fleetwood but I have to say Pards that their midfield is likely to be too strong for us and Racon and Shelvey could well be overwhelmed. If you want to go for a decent result why not put Semedo or Sinclair in there as well, leave Thomas on the bench and move Moutaouakil to right-back.
Verdict: We'll presumably see the first goal conceded by the first teamers and I'm going for a nice friendly 1-1 draw.