The Return of Myspace?

It has been many years since I had a profile on Myspace, the website synonymous with bulletin posts, profile songs and trading picture comments. Like many other people, my allegiance switched to Facebook when it became apparent that it was becoming the new social media behemoth. In April 2008, Myspace’s crown was officially taken by Facebook when they began to receive more unique worldwide visitors, and the site once valued at $12 billion has been playing a (failed) game of catch-up ever since.

Back in September, Justin Timberlake (now co-owner of Myspace) tweeted an image of the new re-designed layout, and a buzz began surrounding the previously fledgling site. Details have emerged about a top-to-bottom revamp of the entire website, with the new Timberlake/Vanderhook management team from Specific Media looking to remove all traces of News Corp’s influence (which had turned the once popular service into a confusing and muddled shell of its former self). Although the brand spanking new service won’t be rolled out to the public until at least early 2013, a few lucky users have been invited to the private beta. The guys over at TechRadar have managed to have a quick look, and their views are on the whole positive, praising the site’s gorgeous interface and clever new features. One intriguing feature is ‘affinity’, which grades your similarity to another user as a percentage, based on common interests such as bands and books.

Overall, the site looks a lot slicker then its predecessor, and after viewing their official teaser video (available to watch below), I can say that Myspace has done enough to get me to sign up once again when it is officially launched next year. Social media is an industry of progression, and once a site loses it’s place in the spotlight, they have tended to not return to their glory days. However, the bold (and necessary) decision to revamp Myspace from scratch has given the service a shot at re-writing the rules for social media sites.

Osman for England

I have to admit, I was originally rather negative when I heard the news that Leon Osman had been called-up to the England squad. Regardless of my Everton bias, I thought that his inclusion was a pretty pointless exercise. The fact that England’s game against Sweden is a friendly fixture means that the match should be treated as a way to experiment and develop a stronger squad for future competitive fixtures. Osman is uncapped and has never had the experience of playing on the international stage, and coupled with the fact that he will be approaching his mid-thirties when England compete at the 2014 World Cup, he cannot realistically be seen as being a long-term candidate for the England squad.

'True-blue' Osman is a product of Everton's youth academy

But then, I reconsidered. Regardless of any ‘four year plans’ or younger alternative candidates, why shouldn’t Osman be given the opportunity to play for his country if he has earned the right? Earning your first England call-up is something that players would cherish, whether it comes early in your career or, like Osman, at age thirty-one. If a player has performed well enough to warrant a place in the team, then surely he should be rewarded by getting the recognition his performances have deserved. For years Osman has been a solid component in Everton’s squad, and although rarely being involved in any headline-grabbing incidents, he has been a very competent and consistent performer.

On the subject of the ‘future’, come Brazil 2014, if a player approaching his mid-thirties is playing better than a young player billed as having massive potential (Walcott 2006, Chamberlain 2012), then I’d prefer him in my England team. The future is important, but surely not as important as the present, and taking an in-form older team to a major tournament would surely be a better option than an undeveloped but high-potential squad (regardless of whether their England future will be shorter than their younger counterparts).

'Just don't come back with a broken leg Leon'

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hailing Osman as England’s future. But what I am saying is that regardless of age, if Osman has deserved his place in the list of English players who have had the opportunity to represent their country, then I say give him the cap that his hard-work has deserved.

Skyfall Review

Before I talk about Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s third outing as the enigmatic secret agent James Bond, I need to tell you two important things. Firstly, I am one of those people whose impatience means I struggle to avoid the temptation of flicking to the last page in a book, or searching for the twist in the latest blockbuster. This habit has been made all the more of a problem thanks to Wikipedia, my nemesis when trying to avoid spoiling any major releases. Secondly, I’ve been a Bond fan since the Brosnan era, growing up with his rather complicated gadgets and cheeky quips (a personal favourite being when he creatively dispatched of a villainous henchman in Tomorrow Never Dies by throwing him into a printing press, following up this act with ‘They’ll print anything these days…’). Now, with both of these facts in mind, you can understand why the temptation to spoil Skyfall by giving in to my annoying habit was especially strong.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

                              Bond in a Morphsuit

However, for once I managed to control my curious nature, avoiding the major spoilers before Skyfall was released, and even after it had begun raking in enormous profits at cinema’s worldwide. Thanks to this, the bombshell that Judi Dench’s ‘M’ was making her final appearance in Skyfall hit me with its full effect. As the sad background music in her final scene built to a crescendo, I was waiting for the heroic twist. As she uttered her dramatic final words, I was sure her rescue was imminent. Even when she breathed her last breath, eyes open and locked in a stare, my eyes flicked to the corners of the screen, waiting for the switch in action which would result in the rescue of the MI6 matriarch. With M bleeding out in the arms of Bond, and the next scene discussing the reading of her will, I began thinking that she was probably dead.

                  What are the odds of a Zombie M in the next film?

Of course, M’s exit was a major piece of the film’s overarching themes of death and resurrection. Right from the opening sequence, a train-hopping, motorbike-racing, market stall-smashing thrill ride in Turkey, it is made extremely clear that Skyfall should be viewed as a conclusion and, just as importantly, a transitional rebirth of Bond. The traditional opening sequence focuses on Bond’s ‘death’, with some subtle and not-so subtle presentations of this theme (a tombstone reading ‘Bond’ being a blindingly obvious one). Bond bluntly tells Raoul Silva, the film’s main antagonist played by the terrific Javier Bardem, that he works in ‘resurrection’. The destruction of his childhood home, a source of personal demons for 007 which prevents him from truly moving on, is another metaphor for the franchise’s transition. And the re-introduction of Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) shows that the franchise, whilst carrying on with its modern, gritty feel, is also going back to its roots. Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who is revealed to be M’s replacement at the film’s conclusion, has a traditional air about him, presented in his old-school braces and oak-laden office (and surely a Ron Burgundy-esque ‘rich smell of mahogany’).

Any excuse to include this glorious man

Overall then, I can confidently say that Skyfall is one of the best Bond films of my generation, and with the introduction of a new team backing up 007, the franchise has the potential of setting up a fantastic new era. Therefore, if Craig plays his cards right in his next outing, and is blessed with a strong director, he has now been set up with the opportunity to stamp his name as the iconic Bond.

Everton: The Month That Was (October)

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In last month’s edition of Lowdown, I discussed the apparent ‘Toffee curse’ and whether Everton were finally showing signs of breaking the run of poor early season form which has plagued them in many recent seasons. Well, September was undoubtedly a fantastic month for the Blues, with David Moyes being rewarded for his work by winning the Premier League Manager of the Month. Following an impressive 3-0 victory over Swansea, Everton moved into the top four in the early season table. Signs were very much pointing towards an uncharacteristically strong start to Everton’s campaign.

However, as September drew to a close, Moyes took the decision to choose fitness over form in the club’s Capital One Cup tie with Leeds, to give some of the club’s mainstays a rest. After a muted display, the Blues succumbed to a 2-1 defeat, ending one of this year’s potential cup runs before it had even begun. Moyes received a fair amount of stick on some social media sites, with criticism towards his negative squad choice and apparent lack of ambition in the tournament. Yet the squad themselves should take a large portion of the responsibility for their shock exit. In my opinion, with all due respect to the Elland Road outfit, Everton’s starting eleven included enough talent, such as Coleman, Fellaini and Mirallas, to see off a Championship team.

Six minutes into Everton’s next Premier League fixture, it seemed that the ramifications of the cup defeat would spill over into their league form, after Gastón Ramírez fired newly promoted Southampton into the lead. These fears, however, were emphatically silenced when the Blues responded with  one of their best performances of the campaign so far, with Osman and a Jelavić brace ensuring a 3-1 victory. Following the win, Moyes was quoted as saying he would be happy to pay to watch Everton in their current form. However, quite rightly so, he was also quick to warn that the squad should not get dizzy from their positive results, especially when considering their Capital One Cup loss.

A trip to Wigan’s DW Stadium followed, where Everton had the opportunity to top the table going into the international break. However, the sense of fluidity between the players and their build-up play, which had been key to their previous impressive performances against Swansea and Southampton, seemed absent, as strikes from Arouna Koné and Franco Di Santo twice forced Everton onto the ropes. Fellaini seemed less of a key man, and more of a potential accident in the making, as various petulant outbursts seemed to threaten his chances of lasting the whole game. The most controversial of these was an aerial battle with Maynor Figueroa just before half-time, in which Wigan fans complained that the midfielder had led with an elbow. Personally, I believe the Belgian’s challenge did not warrant a red card, but it was obvious his frustrations were limiting his performance. The once again exceptional Leighton Baines rescued a point for the Blues with a late penalty, after Nikica Jelavić  had equalised in the first half. Incidentally, Baines’ successful conversion from the spot meant he has now scored all nine penalties he has taken in the Premier League.

After the international break, Everton’s next league fixture was away at QPR, a team who had yet to register a win so far in the league and were rooted to the foot of the table. A largely dismal affair started off terribly for the Toffee’s, when a mistake by Phil Neville allowed Junior Hoilett to burst forward and score. The goal was admittedly fortuitous, only beating Tim Howard thanks to a nasty deflection, yet considering the time Hoilett was gifted on the ball and the space he was allowed to run into, the chance was one which should have been snuffed out earlier. Pienaar’s dismissal was of course a major talking point of the game, with Everton’s Facebook page erupting with Toffee fans angry at the unjustified second yellow card. However, despite his second booking being very harsh, he had moments before been warned for a challenge on Hoilett, one which could have easily have been the second yellow which ruled him out of the game and out of the Merseyside derby.

The impressive form of Baines, culminating in his first-team call up to the England squad, was something for Blues fans to cheer about in the past month. Baines’ nod for the start at left-back, a position held with a vice-like grip by Ashley Cole, indicated his possible contention for the position in the near future. Yes it was against San Marino, a team ranked dead last in the FIFA rankings, and it was also in the aftermath of Cole’s bust up with the FA over his offensive tweet, but I personally believe that, regardless of opposition calibre and surrounding incidents, Baines’ inclusion as starting left-back in the England team was thoroughly deserved. Realistically, Baines’ selection does not indicate a full transition as new first-team full back for England, but more likely a chance for Roy Hodgson to experiment with alternatives. Yet Baines’ form this season has helped cement his status as heir to Cole’s seemingly ever-present role in the England team. His performances in the league have thus far been key for Everton’s positive run. According to the EA Sports Player Performance Index, the official rating system of the Premier League, Baines is judged as the third best performing player in the entire division.

Of course, Baines is not the only Toffee feeling confident about his possible international future. Since the retirement of England captain John Terry, an unexpected opportunity has arisen for a centre back to inherit his place. Phil Jagielka, currently with 16 caps, has himself admitted that there is strong competition for the available role, but he is very much putting his name in the hat. Hodgson’s decision to start him against Poland indicated that his chances look good for permanent selection.  At thirty, Jagielka must take his opportunity now to stamp his international legacy, considering younger alternative compatriots Gary Cahill and Ryan Shawcross are also ready to pounce, yet a strong season both domestically and on the international stage (when he is offered the chance) could allow him to make the transition from heir presumptive to permanent centre-back.

By and large, Everton’s performances through October, and in their entire season thus far, can be judged with cautious optimism. The EA Sports PPI rated Everton as the best performing team in the entire division prior to the international break, based on the combined performances of their players. Furthermore, two of Everton’s squad featured in the top five performing Premier League players, the previously mentioned Baines (3rd) and Steven Pienaar (5th).  The team’s form has ranged from impressive highs (the performance against Southampton) to disappointing lows (Pienaar’s dismissal and the team’s subsequent draw with QPR). However, Everton’s results, coupled with Moyes’ managerial award, means that the Toffee’s will go into November in a very strong league position and, hopefully for fellow Blues fans like myself, the ability to carry on their current success.

Is the Toffee curse finally broken?

 

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Read any of the stories on Everton’s positive start to the season and you are bound to come across the term ‘slow-starters’ and how the Toffees are maybe showing signs of deviating from this label they have acquired over David Moyes’ tenure. As an Everton supporter, I have had to get used to hearing this label in reference to my club, and this accusation has been somewhat justified in recent seasons. Whether the poor run of early form happens from game one (such as the 2010-2011 campaign in which Everton amassed just three points from their opening six games) or a few matches later, it has nevertheless become a common trend for the tag to resurface for the blue half of Merseyside.

So far, the Toffees have had their best start to a campaign for five years, improving upon the positive opening they made last season. However, what followed Everton’s solid start last year was a familiar dip in early season form which saw the accumulation of six losses in nine matches. So what is to say that the club will not follow their apparently pre-written script and have to play catch up later on in this season too?

An argument for Everton continuing their impressive start is the return of Steven Pienaar, following his signing of a permanent contract. Last season, on-loan Pienaar had arguably his most impressive campaign for the Toffees, amassing the highest amount of assists (6) from anyone in the squad. This was despite the January acquisition only playing for half of the season, and being cup-tied from the F.A. Cup due to his Tottenham appearances. Following the midfielder’s permanent re-signing this summer, I joined with many other Blues fans in a feeling of genuine excitement that Moyes had re-invested in a player who was and, for all intents and purposes would return to be, a key player in the Everton set-up. A player who had not figured in Tottenham’s first team plans during his short spell at White Hart Lane, due to a combination of injury and competition for places, immediately returned as a key player and an important creative piece in Everton’s squad. An example of a perfect club and player partnership it could be argued.

But of course Pienaar’s success at the tail-end of last season and into the current campaign has not been purely down to his individual talent. The South African has been able to reform the creative partnership he and Leighton Baines have previously thrived in. The duo have been responsible for Everton’s biggest creative threat so far during this campaign. Following Everton’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle, Baines topped the Premier League chart for chances created for teammates (19), a stat made all the more impressive when considering the left-back’s position. Newcastle’s defensive 4-5-1 formation in this game of course aided Baines’ freedom to advance forward, but take nothing away from his impressive build up play with Pienaar, which was directly responsible for the left-back scoring Everton’s first goal.

The emergence of Nikica Jelavic as Everton’s much needed clinical finisher as well as the quick-footed and promising new signing Kevin Miralles also adds to the optimism surrounding Goodison, with the squad showing enough genuine talent to provide a serious top-half push in this campaign, providing of course that their form stays consistent.

Optimism aside however, if I take my fans cap off for a moment, there are definitely potential hurdles in Everton’s continuing campaign. The talk of Marouane Fellaini’s itchy feet, regardless of its level of exaggeration, has led to a number of top clubs keeping a close eye on the Belgian international. Sir Alex Ferguson attended Everton’s draw with Newcastle, sparking rumours of a January interest. Considering United’s need for a long-term central midfield option, and after Fellaini’s star performance against the Red Devils in August, it is a rumour I’d easily, and begrudgingly, believe. Losing a player like Fellaini, who at age twenty-four represents a fantastic long-term prospect for the Toffees, would mean the loss of a strong central figure in the Everton midfield. With all of the excitement surrounding Everton’s attacking options, it is key to have a balance. A ball-winner. One who can snuff out attacks defensively and hold up play to release our own attacking threats. That is not to say that Fellaini is not lacking in the attacking department himself, considering he has already managed to equal his goal scoring tally from the entirety of last season. Keeping Fellaini is a key part of Everton’s potential for this campaign, and the growing uncertainty about external interest could work to unsettle the team and in turn their results.

Injuries could also play a major role in Everton’s ongoing run of form. Darron Gibson, who managed eleven league games for the Blues last season without a single defeat, was ruled out for over a month with a thigh injury following the West Brom game. Striking threat Jelavic was also sidelined for two weeks following a nasty collision with a goalpost against Newcastle in September. If long term injuries were to hit a number of key Everton players, would the remaining squad still manage to perform at the level they have been doing so far this season?

It seems a simple formula. Play well, avoid injuries and resist the interest in your key players. Even if all three of these occur, however, no-one can know for certain how the upcoming few games for Everton will finish. A contentious decision or a defensive mishap could decide a game, regardless of who has performed better on the day. Despite the uncertainty of the beautiful game, I believe that Everton fans can be optimistic about this year’s chances, and hope that they can finally defy the early season hoodoo which has damaged them in recent seasons.