Thursday, 11 December 2014

Is it time to bow down to Roman’s Empire?

by Alastair Pusinelli.

Chelsea. One loss all season, top of the Premier League and have one of the best managers in football of the last decade. All matters on the pitch are going swimmingly, and it would be a surprise if Chelsea didn’t lift the Premier League trophy come May. The Blues still seem to be the only British club who currently challenge in European competitions, lifting the Champions League in 2012 and Europa League in 2013. However, Chelsea as a brand and a business is on a par with their footballing prowess with almost all areas of the club looking positive.

The Ladies

Chelsea Ladies were narrowly pipped to the Women’s Super League title in October after heading into the final day top of the championship. This may sound disappointing, but when you look at the fact that they finished second bottom in 2013, only picking up 10 points, it is safe to say that the ladies’ side are on the up. What’s more, January signing and South Korean international Ji So-Yun was awarded Super League Players’ Player of the Year, which could be a sign that Chelsea are looking to raise their profile in the East.

The Academy

The Chelsea U21 and U18 sides did the league and cup double last season lifting the U21 Premier League and FA Youth Cup littered with young English talent. Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke were instrumental in those successes and both were on hand to help England win the U17 European Championships in Malta last summer. Chelsea currently have nine youngsters involved in the England age group sides (U18s: Jake Clarke-Salter, Dominic Solanke; U19s: Ola Aina, Izzy Brown, Charlie Colkett, Alex Kiwomya, Ruben Loftus-Cheek; U20s: Lewis Baker, John Swift). It is clear to see that Chelsea have a lot of promise coming through their books and it is refreshing for a big English club to produce so much home-grown talent. Jose Mourinho has given academy graduates Loftus-Cheek and Solanke first team action this season as well as Dutchman Nathan Aké and Andreas Christensen from Denmark.

The loan network

This is one area of business which many football fans and experts have qualms with. Chelsea currently have 25 players out on loan which has raised a number of concerns in the industry. Over the past few seasons Chelsea have sent more and more players out on loan and to one club in particular, Vitesse Arnhem. Last season seven Chelsea players were on loan at the Dutch club owned by an associate of Roman Abramovich. But after complaints over a ‘co-operation agreement’ and questions of ownership over both clubs Chelsea have only sent three players to Vitesse this term. This issue now seems to have been put to bed but it is difficult to say whether this policy is good or bad business for The Pensioners.

Yes they are getting young players minutes on the pitch in the Premier League, Championship and top European leagues but when players are out on loan for the third or fourth season in a row is it not time to pull the plug? Take Gael Kakuta for example. He was signed illegally back in 2009 after Chelsea encouraged the French youngster to terminate his contract with Marseille. Since then he has represented Chelsea 16 times, but has not featured since the 2010/11 season. He has had seven loan spells since joining Chelsea and there seems to be no benefit for club or player. However, the loan system has worked well for Chelsea in the past, but perhaps sometimes too well. Thibaut Courtois was signed from Belgian side Genk in 2009 and subsequently spent three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid and ended up defeating Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals last season.

The finances

It’s no secret that Chelsea and Roman Abramovich have a wealth of finances but unlike Premier League rivals Manchester City they have stayed in line with Financial Fair Play laws. In addition, Chelsea reported a record profit of £18.4m for the year to June 2014 despite lifting no silverware. This was thanks to the new Premier League broadcasting deals and the sale of Juan Mata to Manchester United for £37.1m. It shall be seen if Chelsea can balance the books again this year with the big money signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, but remember they offloaded the erratic defender David Luiz for a staggering £50m. In the summer of 2013, Chelsea agreed a 10-year contract worth a whopping £300m with sports merchandise giants Adidas to manufacture their kit. This is the third largest kit deal in football, behind Adidas’s partnerships with Real Madrid and Manchester United (starting next season).

Where next?

So, the pressure is now on the first team to lift trophies and give the club that footballing ‘superpower’ label that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United have (or used to have). But everything is set for the Roman Empire to conquer the Premier League, Europe and target world domination. But is there any department at the club in which Chelsea need to seriously consider improving? Apart from the very hit-and-miss loan system I have already mentioned, Chelsea do lack the grand support around the globe. For instance Manchester United have a huge following in the Far East and Manchester City have launched sister clubs in Australia and the US. However, I believe Chelsea need to concentrate on their footballing matters for this to happen. United have 13 Premier League titles to Chelsea’s three, so it is clear that global fandom is a long process.

Chelsea’s ground Stamford Bridge has always provided a conundrum for the powers that be at the club. It is an iconic ground but for its support as opposed to architecture. Chelsea’s hierarchy bid to convert Battersea Power Station into a 60,000 seater stadium in 2012 but were unsuccessful. It is clear that Chairman Bruce Buck wants the club to move elsewhere with Stamford Bridge still under custody of Chelsea Pitch Owners plc. The CPO bought the land and naming rights of both the ground and ‘Chelsea Football Club’ during financial difficulties in the 70s and 80s. Abramovich and Buck have given up hope of moving stadium for now and are looking at increasing The Bridge to the desired 60,000 capacity. But with the location of the ground with train lines and a hotel next door, this will not be easy and the club will need to play its home matches elsewhere for a season.

So, it is clear that the club is heading firmly in the right direction. But for now, the future of the Roman Empire is in the hands of General Mourinho.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Women’s football: still on the bench?

by Alastair Pusinelli.

This past Sunday marked a very historic day for women’s football in Britain. Is was the final day of the Women’s Super League. Three teams were all vying for the title on the final day, and as Chelsea Ladies were favourites, I thought I’d tune in. All The Blues needed to do was better the results of Birmingham and Liverpool and the title would be theirs. But of course Chelsea, who were away at Manchester City, went two goals down in the first half, and could only grab one back in the second period, despite a City red card. However, second placed Birmingham City could only manage a draw at home to Notts County, which wasn’t enough to overhaul Chelsea. So, Liverpool Ladies’ 3-0 victory over Bristol Academy saw them leapfrog both Birmingham and Chelsea to retain the Women’s Super League Title. A truly spectacular advert for the women’s game in the country.

I’m no expert on women’s football, but I’ve seen enough games to have an understanding on the sport, and how it compares to the men’s game. First of all, the game pace is much slower and players are allowed a lot more time on the ball. Of course I am used to watching either Premier League matches in which the ball is zipped around quickly, or watching Portsmouth go down the Football League and now have to deal with the muscle of League 2.

So I was quite surprised that Chelsea Ladies, the league leaders going in to the final game, were trying to launch long balls up to their lone striker, who is five foot six. But, when Chelsea got in-and-around the penalty area and played a lot of short, sharp passes with quick feet they looked dangerous but ultimately couldn’t create that golden opportunity. Play like this is not too dissimilar to what we see every weekend in the Premier League, especially when one team is dominating the possession stats. To follow, I also saw a resemblance to Spanish football, in particular the Barcelona ‘tica-taca’ style with neat passes around the edge of the box, eventually breaking down the opposition.

This leads quite nicely on to my next point. Next year’s Women’s World Cup is to be hosted in Canada, but there have been severe complaints as all of the venues are set to use artificial turf. Almost 50 top female professionals have signed a petition and threatened legal action if the tournament is not played on grass, citing gender discrimination. They feel that the male version of the tournament would never be played on artificial turf, but I think there is a hidden reason for this. Other than being cost-effective, artificial surfaces change how the game is played. If, as I expect at a World Cup, the pitches are of the highest order, this can actually benefit the women’s game. Having trained at Ciudad Deportiva de Paterna, Valencia’s training ground, I know that about 80% of the pitches there are artificial. This is to encourage the kids coming through the ranks to pass the ball along the ground as the turf is much truer than grass.

So reverting back to when I saw Chelsea Ladies intricately move the ball around; playing on an artificial surface will help the sides who play in this manner. So, with few players over six feet tall and no ‘Drogba-esque’ powerhouses up-front, I honestly think the future of women’s football should be on artificial surfaces. Instead of always being compared to the men’s game, the women could have their own, unique style which could, in time, attract the masses.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Seeking skippers for sinking ships

by Alastair Pusinelli.

With Steven Gerrard retiring from international football and Alastair Cook’s continuous poor run of form, England's football and cricket sides both need fresh starts.

Both sides have been embarrassed on the biggest stage of all in recent months. The cricket team had the public humiliation in The Ashes last winter, and despite a mini re-vamp are still struggling.

The footballers obviously just had a World Cup to forget in Brazil, coming home with just one point from their three group games.

For the England football team, all the signs suggest Wayne Rooney will be the man to lead the side until at least the next World Cup in Russia in 2018. He has the experience, he’s won countless trophies at Manchester United and scored goals for club and country.

However, there were questions of whether Rooney should have even been in the side for the Brazil World Cup after the emergence of Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling.

Wayne has captained England before on two occasions, against Brazil in 2009 and San Marino in 2012, but he has rarely led out club side Manchester United.

Ex-England captain Bryan Robson feels Rooney, Joe Hart and Gary Cahill are the contenders for the captaincy.

Robson told the BBC: “As a captain I don't think we have a standout candidate. Wayne has captained Manchester United and England. He knows what it’s about.”

He added: “You have to go to the experienced ones who will play each game, especially with the European Championship coming up. Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and Wayne Rooney look like the contenders."

England could look to the Argentina-theorem when looking for a solution to their captaincy dilemma. Lionel Messi continuously delivered in his Barcelona shirt but never transferred his club form onto the International field.

Coach Alejandro Sabella decided to make Messi captain and build the team around him, much like Carlos Bilardo did for Diego Maradona.

Messi has gone from strength-to-strength for La Albiceleste, culminating in the Golden Ball award at the World Cup. England could do the same and make their supposed star-man Rooney captain and hope the leadership will up his performances.

Zoom in to view table

The cricket side have a more difficult decision to make. A new coach has come in and the ‘untrustworthy’ Kevin Pietersen was dropped, so the ECB feel the side needs to rebuild before making any more big decisions.

But time is beginning to run out for skipper Alastair Cook. He oversaw the humiliation Down Under, and there has been little to shout about since.

To make matters worse, Cook’s form with the bat has deserted him, having not hit a Test century in over 14 months. Matt Prior’s withdrawal from the squad adds even more pressure on Cook as he is now the only man in the side to be consistently struggling.

However, if the ECB were to make a decision and drop Cook, who would be the man to take his place? Stuart Broad is perhaps the most likely man to take over as he is the vice-captain and T20 captain, but could he still make the right decisions after bowling twenty overs? Only time will tell.

Other than Broad there are few contenders. Ian Bell is the most experienced man in the side, and the only player remaining from the iconic 2005 Ashes series. But he is someone who is very keen to stay out of the headlines and get on with his business quietly, and the ECB would have already handed him some responsibility if they thought he was captaincy material.

Ex-Captain Michael Vaughan has called for the ECB to ‘roll the dice’ and pick Eoin Morgan as captain. He said in his Telegraph column that Morgan ‘has a nice manner, a lot of tactical awareness and a strong personality.’

Vaughan suggests that Morgan should be handed the captaincy for the rest of the series against India to prove his credentials for the one-day captaincy in Australia and New Zealand.

For me this raises countless issues. Firstly, many fans would question an Irishman leading out the England side.

Secondly, bringing in Morgan would lead to a substantial re-jig in the batting order. Morgan has only batted at six in Test Cricket, which would mean the in-form Joe Root would have to go back up the order and open, where he was criticised last summer.

Thirdly, the ECB have usually used the one-day formats to blood players and captains into the test side. This would be hugely counter-intuitive and show a complete lack of trust in Stuart Broad, the current vice-captain.

And, most importantly, Eoin Morgan had his chance in an England Test shirt, averaging 30 in 16 matches, so to bring him back as captain seems laughable.
Other options would be James Anderson, who has been around the side for a decade. But this would be asking a lot from our star-bowler.

Some say Joe Root as he is one of the few playing with confidence but handing him the captaincy too soon could ruin him.

Or, England could choose to take a massive U-turn and bring back Kevin Pietersen, but this seems far-fetched.

My opinion would be to give Alastair Cook the rest of the series to save his England future. He then needs to carry on this work in county cricket to prove his ability.

Stuart Broad (far left) already has the Cook pose nailed

If Cook fails to deliver, then the winter series in the West Indies is Stuart Broad’s chance to take the captaincy. Hopefully by then, the cloud hanging over English cricket will have disappeared.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

World Cup legacy: Germany conquer at Brasil 2014

by Alastair Pusinelli.

The month long football fiesta came to a close with Germany the much deserved winners over a below par Argentina side. Mario Gotze's extra time volley was a fitting end to a memorable tournament and gave the Germans their fourth World Cup, their first as a reunified Germany (West Germany won the trophy three times between 1954 and 1990).

Den Maanschaft went into the Final as hot favourites despite no European side ever lifting the trophy in the Americas. But when you hit seven past the hosts and pre-tournament favourites Brazil, people take notice. What's more, Argentina had limped their way to the Final, having not scored in over three hours of football, relying on penalties to defeat a resilient Dutch side.

But maybe the likes of Higuain, di Maria, Aguero and four-time player of the year Lionel Messi were waiting for the biggest stage of them all to make their mark. The first chance of the match fell to Gonzalo Higuain; a misplaced headed from Christoph Kramer handed the Argentinean striker a one-on-one with Manuel Neuer, but he snatched at the shot and scuffed the ball wide.

This was a huge wake-up call for the Germans, and they began to settle when Andre Schurrle came on for Kramer who was struggling afer a blow to the head. This moved Toni Kroos into a holding midfielder role, allowing him to dictate play but still break forward into goal-scoring positions.

The men in white then went close when Kroos' corner was headed onto the post by Benedikt Howedes, who really should have made the net bulge. Alejandro Sabella's Argentina looked the stronger after the break, with captain Messi through on goal but somehow putting the ball inches wide.

The Germans regained control but none of their efforts on goal tested goalkeeper Sergio Romero, sending the Final into extra-time.The tie looked destined for the dreaded penalty shootout but both teams had the chance to reach immortality. Argentinean left back Marcos Rojo sent a superb ball over the German defence straight to the feet of the rat-tailed Rodrigo Palacio. But the Inter Milan man couldn't convert, a miss that would prove costly.

With seven minutes remaining, Andre Schurrle broke down the left wing and clipped the ball towards the front post. Substitute Mario Gotze took the ball on his chest and knocked it past a despondent Romero in the Argentine goal. A strike worthy of winning any final.

La Albiceleste could not create that chance to force penalties to hand Germany their first World Cup in 24 years.

I'd like to thank Brazil for hosting a simply spectacular tournament, despite all the concerns about the infrastructure and the Brazillian economy. With the next two tournaments in Russia and Qatar, it is unlikely we will witness the scenes of celebration like those in Brazil, with the tournament delivered by a country that breathes football.

For England, it was another tournament to forget, but there remains a hope that these new young Lions will produce something special in years to come. With England being knocked out early,  it gave us fans the opportunity to appreciate what the other nations had to offer.

Costa Rica showed great tenacity, proving the whole is greater than the individual,  topping a group where they were supposedly the whipping boys and reaching the quarter finals for the first time.

Colombia played with a smile on their face, which passed on to whoever saw them play. Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez deserves a mention after that breathtaking goal against Uruguay, and was somehow not awarded the Golden Ball for best player, with the panel going for someone more their cup of tea - Lionel Messi.

Germany were undoubtedly the best side, but they didn't start playing anywhere near their best fooball until the Semis. Therefore I issue a warning ahead of Russia 2018. Even if you are reigning World Champions, fail to deliver from game one and you could head home early. Spain lifting the trophy in Johannesburg seems a long, long time ago.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Holland barged out - again

by Tom Irving.

Another tournament goes by with Holland continuing their role as International football’s bridesmaid with no luck, having to endure other’s happiness over their own time and again.

Against Argentina, Maxi Rodriguez’ penalty condemned Louis Van Gaal’s men to board the next plane home, as 90 minutes and an extra 30 saw no goals in a tense match that needed the dreaded penalty shootout to decide the winner in Sao Paulo.

Doomed to wait another four years, Holland’s strange relationship with the biggest footballing tournament goes on, a team synonymous with the world cup, giving the tournament some of its greatest moments and players, and rarely putting in a poor performance at any of them, yet still, the trophy cabinet lays bare.

Truly, it is a love-hate relationship.

The assured and confident displays from this year’s Dutch squad counted for nothing as Jasper Cillessen’s feeble attempt to stop the deciding penalty brought all too evident memories of recent and not so recent failures back to the fore.

Set up to stifle the strengths of the Argentinian attack, this new Holland team play in a style different to that of yesteryear, less flair, more fight, less tricks, more tactics, less speed, more strength.

The football may be different, but the results stay the same, another night to forget for the Oranje.

Gone is the chance to take on the old foe, Germany, in the spiritual home of football, for the greatest prize the sport has to offer.

Football, though unpredictable at times, is rarely a romantic sport, Holland continue to know this only too well.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Decline and ball: the routing of Brazil

by Thomas Davies.

Last night in Belo Horizonte, something happened that no one privileged enough to watch it will ever forget.

It was a sporting performance of sheer skill, astounding precision and utter ruthlessness. It was the exquisite execution of a technical masterplan years in the making. It was the effortless extinguishing of the dreams of 200 million Brazilian souls.

Germany’s merciless 7-1 rout of their beleaguered hosts broke all sorts of records, was completely unexpected and was breathless to behold.

From minute one, Joachim Löw’s charges asserted a control and dominance more befitting an FA Cup tie between a Premier League outfit and non-league no-hopers than a FIFA World Cup semi-final between two of international football’s most successful sides.

Despite a bright start, the fragility of Brazil’s defence and the bluntness of an insipid attack - shorn of suspended defensive talisman Thiago Silva and the wonderful but injured Neymar – was plain for everyone but the most die-hard Seleção supporter to see.

When Thomas Müller, taking advantage of the acres of space afforded him by the meandering David Luiz, pounced to open Germany’s account a nation was stunned into silence; and the rest of the world began to make out the writing on the wall.

What happened next was humiliation on a scale that Brazil as a footballing powerhouse has never and probably will never experience again.

Within moments, Miroslav Klose had slotted the second – in-so-doing becoming the top scorer in World Cup finals history. But this was a secondary by-line to what was unfolding on the pitch.

In the time it would take for Marcelo and Julio Cesar to belt out their national anthem, the Germans had added two more - a delightful double from the nerveless Toni Kroos that sent the majority inside the stadium into utter despair.

All sorts of wounds were opened for a bewildered and disoriented home side and when Sami Khedira, the outstanding holding midfielder, applied the salt with a fifth inside half an hour, all knew Brazil’s quest for glory on home soil was over.

A second-half brace from substitute Andre Schürrle piled further embarrassment on coach Luis Felipe Scolari who must now surely fall on his sword before it is forced upon him.

The Deutscher Fußball-Bund stranglehold abated finally, with a frustrated finish in stoppage time from Oscar that couldn’t even be classed as consolation.

For Germany, an inexorable and daunting march to the final brings them within touching distance of a first world title in 24 years.

For Brazil, despite a marvellous tournament that has embraced and illustrated the very best of the sport, a footballing dynasty, legacy and reputation stretching a century lies in tatters.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

True Detective at its best

by Jian Farhoumand.

True Detective came out of nowhere two months ago and – after many a labyrinthine twist and turn – concluded with its gripping season finale on Saturday 12th. Where did this whirlwind come from and what exactly was it? HBO’s latest blockbuster series, brought to the UK by Sky Atlantic, created many a water-cooler moment during its eight-week run – the story of two jaded cops investigating a series of gruesome murders among the grassy bayous of Louisiana. True Detective took us by surprise as we nestled into our sofas, still convalescing from the bloody, vainglorious ending to Breaking Bad and still licking our lips (and wounds?) at the arrival of a new season of Game of Thrones. Despite what it had to contend with, however, True Detective somehow managed to sneak in and pull the rug from under us (and them), stealing all the thunder.

Although it arrived quietly and without fanfare, True Detective built steadily and progressively to a bombastic crescendo, going out in a storm of bullets, blood and bravura. The eight-part series, co-starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, was much more than we hoped it would be precisely because most of us had no preconceived notion of it until it had already begun. And ended. Admittedly, McConaughey was already back in our collective consciousness, riding high after winning this year’s Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and stealing a scene from Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Combine these two dexterous displays with McConaughey’s deft channeling of Rustin Cohle in True Detective and you behold his comeback triumvirate – or what The New Yorker has catchily dubbed The McConaissance.

While all and sundry are hailing McConaughey as the Comeback Kid for his prodigal return from a vapid romcom wilderness, we’ve forgotten that Harrelson, too, had dropped off our collective radar for some time – albeit returning sporadically in supporting roles in the likes of Hunger Games (2012 and 2013) and in the stereotyped ‘gay best friend’ part in support of Justin Timberlake’s lacklustre lead in damp squib romcom Friends with Benefits (2011). Some cynical critics claimed they couldn’t imagine Harrelson in a serious role after his long-term stint in lighthearted TV sitcom Cheers (1985–1993) and cinema cult comedy Kingpin (1996), alongside various other whimsical cameos in the likes of TV’s Spin City (1996) and cinema’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999). We forget Harrelson has a (very) dark side. Natural Born Killers (1994), anyone? Or how about the macabre, sticky ends that Harrelson’s characters meet in both The Thin Red Line (1998) and No Country for Old Men (2007)? After Volker Schlöndorff’s Palmetto (1998), we all should have known that Harrelson had a serious noir vein throbbing within him. Cue his entrance as True Detective’s Martin Hart.

Hart is a character born of a long tradition of violent screen cops, maybe best-typified by Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (1971) – the no-nonsense cop willing to bend the rules to get the job done. For example, Hart has two young men arrested for having had the audacity to engage in a threesome with his underage daughter. Then he chooses to beat them up (viciously) in a cell in exchange for not having them charged with statutory rape. He also cheats on his long-suffering wife (sympathetically portrayed by Michelle Monaghan) regularly. Then, when his girlfriend (played by siren-esque Alexandra Daddario) leaves him, he bursts in and attacks her new boyfriend. Hart prefers action to words. He doesn’t like talking. When asked how he would best describe himself, he simply replies: "Oh, just a regular type dude." Then he adds, with a smile: "With a big-ass dick."

McConaughey’s Cohle, on the other hand, is the diametric opposite to Hart. Cohle is a much more cerebral character. An intellectual. A connoisseur (McConoisseur, perhaps?). If Hart is Dirty Harry, then Cohle is Agent Cooper – Kyle MacLachlan's Buddhist FBI operative from David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990–1991). Cohle is self-reflective, meditative and pensive. The sort of cop who wants to think things through and do things properly. The sort of cop perhaps best typified by Elliot Ness in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987) – a cop who did everything 'by the book'. So, at least initially, Cohle is the thinker while Hart is the doer. One is a scholar, the other a thug. When Cohle is partnered with Hart at the start of True Detective, we are presented with the classic 'Good Cop–Bad Cop' combo. Both characters are integral to the whole: two sides of the same coin; the yin and yang of Louisiana crime-fighting. At first glance they are so distinctly different that they bring to mind Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential (1997) featuring film noir’s quintessential good cop (played by Guy Pearce) and bad cop (Russell Crowe) partnership.

Cohle speaks in poetic-sounding crypticisms, propounding profundities such as: "I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. […] Maybe the honourable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing and walk hand in hand into extinction”; or “This place is like someone's memory of a town, and the memory is fading, like there wasn’t anything here but jungle”. Meanwhile, poker-faced Hart simply looks on in disgust and says things like: "Stop saying shit like that. It's unprofessional"; "Not everybody wants to sit alone in an empty room beating off to murder manuals"; or "Listen, when you're at my house, I want you to chill the fuck out"; and, maybe most pithily: "You are like the Michael Jordan of being a son-of-a-bitch." So these two characters are at different ends of the spectrum. We get the message.

Yet True Detective is not black and white. Although Hart and Cohle are initially portrayed as wholly distinct personalities, it’s not long till their edges start to blur. Being a well-thought-out series written by real-life academic, Nic Pizzolatto (a novelist and former assistant professor), the characters aren’t simple. Far from two-dimensional, Cohle and Hart start to reverse roles with Cohle’s behaviour becoming more action-packed and Hart’s more reflective. The series cuts back and forth between 1995 and 2012. The former scenes follow Hart and Cohle on the trail of a serial killer in 1995, and the latter show them seventeen years later, aged and greying, one still working, the other retired. What follows is a compelling series of murder and subterfuge, boldly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, in which many exceptional moments and scenes stand out.

Yes, the six-minute, single-take, track-and-pan long-shot gangland scene in episode 4, Who Goes There, is exceptional and highly reminiscent of the verisimilitudinous opening long-shot of Robert Altman’s The Player (1992). Yes, the testosterone-fuelled fight scene in the police station car park between Hart and Cohle in episode 6, Haunted House, is a brutal, popcorn-choking moment. Yes, the shock-and-awe ending to episode 3, The Locked Room, is a monstrous cliffhanger leaving us with the slow-motion introduction of a new character ominously named Reggie LeDoux, looking terrifying and strange as he wanders menacingly through a meadow, machete in hand, naked but for tattoos, dirty underpants and a long, dangling gas mask (yes, a gas mask), leaving us wondering, WTF…

Despite this plethora of awesome moments, however, True Detective can probably best be summed up by a single scene in episode 5, The Secret Fate of All Life, in which the essence of the show is neatly distilled and in which we finally see the two partners’ roles reversing: After following a dark, twisting trail into the heart of Louisiana’s drug and prostitution underworld, Hart finds himself on the grassy perimeter of LeDoux’s secret bayou meth lab. Hart radios his location to Cohle who quickly arrives, ready for action. Cohle leads the way through the brush, adroitly spotting and silently pointing out hidden trip-wire boobytraps rigged with grenades. The pair duck through the long grass and branches until they come upon an incongruous, ramshackle, camouflaged building: LeDoux’s meth lab, finally. Cohle tells Hart to go back and radio for help. Hart refuses, saying he won’t leave Cohle to enter alone, so the two approach the house together. However, it’s clear that Cohle is becoming the more assertive of the two. They find LeDoux inside, again half naked and seemingly high. At gunpoint, they force him outside where Hart handcuffs him before going back inside to investigate.

Cohle stands guard and spots LeDoux’s partner, DeWall, emerging from an out-house a short distance away. Their eyes meet. Hart comes out of the main building, visibly disturbed by what he’s just discovered inside, marches straight over to the kneeling, cuffed LeDoux and matter-of-factly shoots him in the side of the head, killing him instantly. Cohle looks back over at DeWall who – having witnessed his friend’s execution – panics and turns to flee through the grass. Cohle pulls his gun, aims and starts firing. Just as one of his bullets appears to meet its target, DeWall happens to run through one of his own grenade-rigged trip-wires which immediately explodes. Cohle is now off the hook for shooting a fleeing man in the back as all evidence (i.e. DeWall’s torso) has been completely obliterated in a bloody, visceral mist.

Hart is now in shock. Cohle takes charge, glancing down at LeDoux’s lifeless body, and says quickly to Hart: “Get the cuffs off him before the blood settles. We’ve got to make this look right.” Hart follows instruction. Cohle goes inside to see for himself what had so enraged Hart: two kidnapped children are caged within – we soon learn that the girl is alive but the boy is dead. Cohle finds a loaded AK-47 amongst the criminal paraphernalia scattered around, emerges from the building and immediately starts firing into the brush, deliberately ensuring that multiple bullets hit tree trunks, branches and a rusting car. We realise he’s altering the crime scene to make it appear like he and Hart were fired upon first, on their initial approach.

If this isn’t gripping enough, what makes it all-the-more riveting is that (sprinkled throughout it) this scene repeatedly jumps forward in time, seventeen years into the future to 2012,­ where the visibly older Cohle and Hart are now being interviewed by two younger detectives and are recounting to them what “happened” in complete contradiction to what we actually see happening. So when we see Cohle and Hart initially creeping silently through the brush, we hear their voices (from the future) narrating how chaotic the scene is (which it isn’t) as they are being fired upon (which they aren’t) in a “shit-storm” of bullets. This jarring disconnection between their verbal renditions and the actual reality we are presented with create an exhilarating frisson, making us feel that we (the viewers) are in on a big, exciting secret that leaves us pondering the age-old conundrum of whether the end justifies the means. After all, two drug-dealing serial killers have just been dispatched, haven’t they?

But this clever scene isn’t done yet. We are then presented with yet a third timeline to which even more flash-forwards occur, this time to the police department’s shooting board investigation (presumably within a few weeks of the incident) in which we see Cohle and Hart sticking doggedly to their concocted story. The three layers of time compacted into this one scene, combined with the thrilling action within it and the contradictory nature of the narrations in regard to the action – which thereby draws us into the collusion – make this the stand-out scene of the entire series. And there were still three episodes to come.

If you watched the finale then you know what happens. If not, I won’t ruin it for you. Let’s just say that The Sopranos (1999–2007) scored 9.3 on IMDb; Breaking Bad (2008–2013) scored 9.6; and True Detective (2014 – 20??) is already up to 9.4 after only a single season. If that’s got you wondering whether there’s more to come then the answer is yes. Nic Pizzolatto is currently writing Season Two, and  – if rumours can be trusted – we might get to see Brad Pitt and/or Michael Imperioli cracking the next case. In the mean time, let’s dig out those other McConaughey-Harrelson classics that have been gathering dust on the shelf… Ed TV (1999)? Or, for the more erudite out there, Surfer, Dude (2008).