Levante is where the Harte is
Liam Brady, John Aldridge and Big Cas. More recently Robbie Keane, Phil Babb and David Connolly. It's rare for Irish footballers to look beyond the British Isles when it comes to earning a crust. English football dominates here. In the papers, on radio and television, on the streets with kids in Liverpool jerseys, in the pub where Chelsea-United is as big a deal on Baggot Street as it is on the King's Road. It wasn't until the swelling of the Champions League, the foundation of the Premier League (and all the money that came with it) and Gazza's move to Lazio, prompting Channel 4 to buy the rights to Serie A, that there was any real exposure to futbol or calcio here. Football began and ended at Old Trafford or Anfield for most and when it comes to Irish players, it still does. No one leaves school for a trial with AC Milan or Auxerre. No one kicking a ball around the playground dreams of playing for Real Betis or sports a Stuttgart shirt. Ireland may have been independent since the twenties but when it comes to football, as with so many other things, we're very much little Britain.
Until the summer of 2004 Ian Harte had played professional football for only one team; Leeds United. He'd been there for nine seasons, experiencing the dizzy heights of the Ridsdale era, when Leeds spent it like Posh and Becks and powered their way to the semi-final of the European Cup; and the desperate lows that followed their defeat to Valencia, the subsequent disintegration of the club, lurching from one crisis to the next; the trial of Jon Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, O'Leary's book, bankruptcy, the loss of all of their decent players (and their ground) and subsequent relegation to the tin pot Championship. Harte, a fairly limited defender who was a good passer of the ball and could really hit a freekick, was linked with the usual suspects and a move to somewhere like Blackburn or Everton, middle of the road Premiership sides, looked to be on the cards. Instead he packed his bags for Valencia and signed a four year deal with newly promoted Levante. He played twenty odd games for the team that, after such a promising start, would get well relegated (the game that sealed their fate was a 1-1 draw with Barcelona, four matches from the end of the season, a result that saw FCB crowned Champions, like you didn't know). 1nce again there was talk of Harte being transfered to some mid-table outfit back in Blighty. And again it didn't happen. Harte stuck it out, played almost every game and helped his side out of the Segunda Liga and back into the big time.
Due to injury he has yet to play this season and has been boring viewers of Sky Sports Liga coverage with his Shearer-like analysis from time to time. I have no doubt he'll make an appearance tonight. I'm no great fan of Harte, he's dog slow and his positioning is at best very poor. That said, I admire his resilience. La Segunda Liga is every bit as bad as Serie B when it comes to shit teams and dire, hack and slash football. Like Serie B there are few foreign players and you're unlikely to have heard of the ones that are knocking around Xerez or Gijon. It takes character not to cut and run so good on Harte for staying the course (my thanks to the GOP for these particular turns of phrase :). I wish him a speedy recovery.
The squad for tonight's game is a bit thin. No 'dinho, he's rested for the Bremen game on Tuesday and Rafa Marquez is out too. Motta comes back though and will probably line out ahead of Edmilson. Santi will get a rare, rare start on the left of the attack. It'll be interesting to see if Thuram starts after his interview with L'Equipe this week.
(Very quick) Round up: Gio, Sylvinho and the World Club Superbowl Stanley Cup
New deals this week for Barça left backs Gio and Sylvinho, both until June 2008. It seems that Belletti will sign a new contract too, despite interest from Milan, who have a penchant for aging defenders.
The squad for the World Club Waste of Time has been announced and the good news is that Saviola is included. The "tournament" takes place in mid-December so it's positive to see that his recovery is ahead of schedule. Also on the plane to Disneyland or wherever this farce is being played out are Gio Dos Santos, Marc Crosas and young Ruben in gol. Hopefully they'll get a run out against erm, eh, whoever the fuck they're playing. Can you sense my complete disinterest in this colossal waste of time. Thought so.
Finally, as I'm sure you've heard, ex-blaugrana striker Henrik Larsson has signed a three-month loan deal with Manchester United. He may be thirty five but Larsson is a fantastic player and I have no doubt he'll be brilliant in his short time at United. That's your lot for the time being. More tomorrow on the match. Let's go Ezquerro!