About Me

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I'm 21-year old Journalism student based in Leicester and a bit of a football obsessive. You'll probably guess from my blog posts that I'm a Liverpool fan and you'd be correct. I post on here, Tumblr and the Kop and also have a Twitter (@MattKenny_LFC) page. Comments are always welcome so have a read and tell me what you think.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Torres exit means Owen now the lesser of two evils

It’s easy to forget how good a player Michael Owen was for Liverpool now that he has effectively been wiped from the club’s history books. Once a hero to the Kop, Owen wronged the club that produced him on three separate occasions (leaving to Madrid for a minimal fee, returning to play for Newcastle and joining bitter rivals Manchester United); performing acts of treason that hurt that little bit more because he was an English lad that we thought respected the fans.

I never thought I could feel as much hate and disappointment towards a player as I did when Michael signed for United, but after the actions of a certain Spanish striker I might have to reconsider my opinions and maybe even apologise to Owen. For now he is the lesser of two evils.

Owen left Anfield for the Bernabau in 2004, for a measly £8m plus the infamous Antonio Nunez, after 18 months of failed contract talks in which it seemed the striker was committing his future at least once a week. The promises that a new deal would be “signed soon” were false and by the time he decided he wanted to leave the club, Owen had ran down his current contract and left Liverpool in a woeful bargaining position with potential suitors. Whether this was the England forward’s plan all along is for you to decide.

When Real Madrid came calling Michael’s head was turned and he was never going to look back. So without a care in the world Owen jetted off to sunny Spain leaving David Moores and Rick Parry to count the transfer fee they had received; an act that should have taken three times as long considering the player was worth at least £24m.

Losing your star striker always hurts and Owen’s departure wasn’t the perfect start to the Benitez era. But despite the disappointment, there wasn’t that sense of sadness that all Reds felt when Fowler left for Leeds in 2001. The Anfield faithful would miss the finishing expertise of Owen but his personality left a lot to be desired and he never had the same connection with the fans as a Dalglish for instance. Many fans had grown tired of Owen’s injury problems and felt that his international career was always his priority.

After breaking onto the scene at the 1998 World Cup with a magnificent solo goal against Argentina, Owen was always going to be built up as the great new hope. The entire country idolised him and from that moment on it felt like he was “England’s Michael Owen” rather than “Liverpool’s Michael Owen”, something that didn’t sit well at Anfield.

Liverpool fans have always had a special bond with their players, especially star strikers, and many hoped that Owen could become the next in a long line of idols to pull on the red shirt. As well as being great players, icons were expected to symbolise the club and to embody the spirit of the supporters (as Kenny did by attending so many funeral after Hillsborough and Fowler did by supporting the dock workers) but despite his incredible scoring rate it never quite felt like Owen was one of us. The lack of chemistry helped to make the parting bearable and made it easier to hate the player. With Torres, it isn’t so easy.

Fernando Torres became Liverpool’s record signing in 2007 and as soon as fans caught a glimpse of that infectious smile they were in love, there was a new messiah. Upon his arrival Torres said all the right things, he stated his respect for the club, his excitement at the prospect of playing at Anfield and told of his ambitions to become Liverpool legend. The Spaniard spoke with a glint in his eye and fans hung on his every word. Torres seemed very much a Liverpool player and seemed like someone the great Bill Shankly would’ve approved of wearing the red shirt. He was everything Owen was not, it wasn’t all about him, he had better offers but he wanted to play for Liverpool.

He backed up his bold words on the pitch too and by the end of his first season at the club Torres had broken all sorts of record after scoring an unprecedented 31 goals. That great debut season turned out to be the peak of Torres’ Liverpool career and the same injury problems that plagued Owen began to take their toll on the former Atletico man. His goal-to-games ratio remained the best in the league though and after just 12 months on Merseyside he had established himself as the club’s new talisman. The problem for Liverpool was that Torres’ great goals seemed to be spaced apart by month long layoffs and they could not afford to replace him due to the strangehold Tom Hicks and George Gillett had on the club.

The financial meltdown was worsening every year and it had become obvious to fans that progress would never be achieved until the American owners were replaced with some more favourable foreigners. Tabloids began to talk about a possible Torres exit as early as 2009 but the thought of Liverpool’s number nine moving to a club like Chelsea was one that amused fans more than worried them. We knew better than the press, we knew that Torres loved the club and would stay through the badtimes because he wanted to become a legend.

For a while it seemed that the fans could be right as Torres committed his future to the club before the 2010/11 season, despite countryman Rafa Benitez’s sacking and the disasterous 7th place finish that meant no Champions League football. Roy Hodgson had been appointed as his replacement and a new era had begun. The change did little to reinvigorate Torres and seemed to depress him more than anything. He had left his boyhood club in search of silverware and after three seasons he had nothing to show for his efforts.

For the next six months a look of distain was permanently engraved onto the face of Fernando Torres and his form had dipped to the extent that he was unrecognisable on the pitch. There was the odd moment of class and his goal record remained respectable despite his obvious unhappiness but it was his lack of effort and commitment that really upset fans. In his first two seasons Torres would chase everything down and he built up a reputation as a player who could not be kicked out of a game. Fans still remember John Terry trying and failing to rough him up on his debut. Back to 2010 and defenders didn’t even have to try to take Torres out of the game, he was doing it himself.

Come January and the transfer window and speculation was once again rife about Torres’s future. Talk of a move to Chelsea was constant but fans continued to bat away suggestions of unrest despite all that had gone on in the first half of the season. “If he was to leave he would go abroad”, fans would say. Torres loved the club too much to play against it. Most expected the Spaniard would see the new owners and the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as a step in the right direction, a step closer to the progress he wanted to see. It wasn’t to be and soon would come the news that fans thought they’d never hear. Torres wanted to move to Chelsea.

The revelation that Torres had handed in a transfer request crushed fans’ perceptions of a man they thought understood them and the Liverpool way. All previous talk of commitment was confirmed as lies and Torres had become a villain as quickly as he became a hero. Perhaps he did love the club; perhaps his motives for leaving were valid, but the manner in which he left means that his side of the story will never be considered by Liverpool supporters.

I saw one quote in the aftermath of Torres’ exit that summarised the situation better than any article could:

“We hate you so much because we loved you so much.”

Fans got over Owen relatively quickly because he never had that bond with the supporters. The scars left by this transfer will take a lot longer to heal because Torres was one of us. Atleast we thought he was.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool - Match report 6/2/11

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool - Match report 6/2/11


Meireles ‘69

Fernando Torres’s debut ended in defeat as former-club Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Raul Meireles scored the only goal of them game to give the Anfield side a well-earned three points and the bragging rights after Monday’s deadline day drama.

Torres had the best chance of the early exchanges after former teammate Maxi Rodriguez appeared to forget what team the Spaniard was on and played him through on goal but the resulting shot sailed over the bar.

The home side had the majority of the possession in the first half but struggled to break down an organised Liverpool side that were more than willing to sit back in their new 3-4-2-1 formation.

The Reds appeared to be getting the better of the £50m man with Lucas easily dispossessing Torres before Agger became the first LFC player to foul the Spaniard, much to the delight of the travelling supporters.

The ex-Red nearly got his revenge minutes later though. Lucas was dispossessed on the halfway line and Torres was sent through one-on-one with Reina but just as the Chelsea striker’s magic moment appeared to have arrived, Jamie Carragher slid in with a last ditch tackle to deny his former teammate.

Liverpool’s best chance came on the half hour mark when Steven Gerrard squared to Maxi Rodriguez, but the Argentine continued his nightmare half by inexplicably hitting the bar from all of three yards.

Chelsea’s three pronged attack were struggling to make an impact as Liverpool’s packed defence neutralised the threat of Torres, Drogba and Anelka during a relatively comfortable first 45 minutes for the visitors.

The tension appeared to be getting to the Chelsea backline when Ivanovic and Cech clashed after confusion over a Martin Kelly in what was a frustrating first half for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

It was a slow start to the second half with neither team creating many chances. Liverpool came close through a long range shot from Glen Johnson whilst Chelsea were limited to set piece opportunities.

Kenny Dalglish’s team appeared to be growing in confidence as they committed more men forward and a foray forward by Johnson resulted in a dangerous freekick for the vistors but Raul Meireles’ cross was easily caught by Cech.

The Portuguese midfielder was on target on 67 minutes though as Liverpool scored the opening goal. Gerrard crossed from the right and after Cech completely missed the ball Meireles was there to score his 4th goal in 5 games.

As the jubilant Reds fans celebrated, the camera panned to a solemn-looking Torres, who had been subbed for Kalou, who may have been regretting his move as he sat on the bench during what was meant to be his dream debut.

The goal did little to change the complexion of the game however, as Chelsea continued to dominate possession without really threatening Pepe Reina’s goal. Carlo Ancelotti decided to bring on David Luiz for his debut as his team desperately searched for an equalizer.

It was Liverpool who came closest to scoring though when Dirk Kuyt slid through substitute Fabio Aurelio who cleverly cut inside John Terry before seeing his effort comfortably saved by Petr Cech.

Fans would have expected a late rally from the home side but Chelsea continued to huff and puff with little result as they struggled to break down a resilient Liverpool side.

There was a late penalty appeal for the champions when Glen Johnson brought down Branislav Ivanovic in the area but their pleas were ignored as Liverpool held on for a famous win at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool now move up to 6th and Chelsea lie 10 points behind leaders Man United.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Dortmund vs Schalke - Match report 4/2/11

Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Schalke

Schalke earned a goalless draw in the Revierderby after a brilliant performance by Manuel Neuer denied the hosts Dortmund. BVB were dominant throughout the majority of the match, hitting the post twice and seeing several efforts saved by the inspired Neuer.

Dortmund laid siege to the visitor’s goal from the moment the whistle was blown in what was a frenetic start at the Westfalenstadion with Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski and Mario Goetze both failing to beat the German stopper in the opening seven minutes.

Even centre half Mats Hummels came close for the hosts when he saw his spectacular overhead kick saved by Neuer.

Jurglen Klopp’s side continued to apply the pressure as Schalke struggled to get out of their own half in the opening 45 minutes, despite somewhat stabilising in defence after surviving the early onslaught.

The chances continued to fall to BVB though when Kuba intercepted a clearance before Neuer made another crucial stop.

The best chance of the first half fell to star striker Lucas Barrios who collected a clever pass from Goetze but the Paraguay international failed to keep his shot on target under pressure from Christoph Metzelder.

Schalke improved in the second half but that didn’t stop BVB from creating and missing a whole host of chances, with Barrios again the culprit. He saw a 51st minute effort sail comfortably wide before striking the post four minutes later. Sven Bender also had a chance for Die Schwarzgelben but Neuer was again well placed to save his effort.

Die Knappen began to threaten as the second half wore on with Jefferson Farfan firing over the bar before Jurado was denied by a brilliant Weidenfeller save.

Dortmund then had a chance of their own when Robert Lewandowski looked to chip his side into the lead but the outstanding Neuer came rushing out of his goal to make the block. The host’s final chance fell to Mario Goetze but he became the second BVB player to be denied by the woodwork after he took down a lofted pass before rounding Neuer.

The result means Dortmund extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points while Schalke move into 9th ahead of Frankfurt on 26 points.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Bari vs Inter Milan - Match report 3/2/11


Kharja ‘70

Pazzini ‘94

Sneijder ‘96

Inter managed to steal three points from an unlucky Bari side with a 3-0 win at the Stadio San Nicola.

New boy Houssine Kharja opened the scoring in the 63rd minute before fellow January signing Gaimpaolo Pazzini and Wesley Sneijder sealed the win in injury time.

Bari will count themselves unfortunate though after dominating possession and enjoying most of the good play in the first half in particular.

In a first half of few chances it was the home side who came closest after Sergio Almiron saw his long range freekick palmed away by Julio Cesar when it seemed destined for the top corner.

It was Almiron, along with Massimo Donati, who were dominating the midfield with Inter’s Kharja and Motta struggling to get a foothold on the game and Javier Zanetti spending most of the game covering the marauding Maicon.

Maicon was the biggest threat for Inter throughout the first half and it was he who came closest for the Nerazzuri when he saw his toe poke roll inches wide after another mazy run through the Bari backline.

Inter started to come into the game more as the half went on but struggled to break down an organised Bari side as the teams went into halftime with the score 0-0.

Bari continued in the same vain in the second half, enjoying the majority of possession without really testing the Inter back line of Maicon, Materazzi, Ranocchia and Christian Chivu.

The big talking point of the game involved Chivu who appeared to punch Bari defender Marco Rossi. The officials failed to send the Romanian off but he is sure to receive a ban and a warning in the near future.

You could sense the frustration among the home team and the fans and it wasn’t long before Leonardo’s side made them pay for their lack of cutting edge as the introduction of Sneijder changed the game.

Ten minutes after the Dutchman was brought on Inter took the lead when Eto’o drew in two defenders before slipping the ball to Kharja who struck a low left-footed drive past the helpless Gillett.

Giampiero Ventura’s side tried to get back into the game but were denied by an inspired Julio Cesar before Pazzini and Sneijder scored in injury time to secure the win for the Champions.

The result means Bari are 5 points behind Brescia at the bottom of the Serie A table whilst Inter’s recent revival sees them climb into third place.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Kenny's flexible tactics paying off

Many fans (myself included) were baffled when they saw Kenny Dalglish’s line up for the match against Stoke on Wednesday and I must’ve jotted down 5 or 6 possible formations after studying the teamsheet. It reminded me of when Rafa Benitez was manager and the press would joke about his ‘rotating’ and the fact you could never quite guess who he was going to pick.

While this may be frustrating for the media, I find it refreshing and think it can only benefit Liverpool FC if opposition cannot second guess the manager. It makes us a lot harder to prepare for. This is in stark contrast to the style of Roy Hodgson which was as rigid and predictable as seemingly possible. Last night Kenny picked a team featuring six players who are defenders by trade as well as Lucas, Raul Meireles, Gerrard and Kuyt. Anything but predictable then..

At first I suspected we would see a 4-4-1-1 with four tall defenders in Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger making up the back four to combat the aerial strength of Stoke. I then assumed the attack minded Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio would play on the wings as many fans have hoped they would do. It turned out I couldn’t be more wrong and instead of a more conventional formation we saw a 3-4-2-1 that turned into a 5-3-1-1 when defending (which wasn’t very often).

The formation looked something like:

Once I got my head around what the formation was I started to understand why Kenny had selected the players in their respective positions. It was obvious that Kyrgiakos was selected to combat the supposed aerial prowess of Stoke and Kelly and Johnson’s roles as wingbacks were designed to help the Reds hit the Potters on the break. On paper it appeared to be quite shrewd, Stoke typically play with Fuller and Carew/Jones up front and take advantage of set pieces to great effect. What Dalglish didn’t know was that Tony Pulis had chosen to rest Kenwyne Jones and Rory Delap leaving Stoke void on any attacking threat besides the isolated Jermaine Pennant.

Stoke lined up 4-5-1 and decided to put 10 men behind the ball from the very start. With Liverpool also set up to counter attack this meant the game became very congested in the centre of the field with the Reds struggling in the early stages. As the game went on though the merits of the new formation began to show and we saw some great passing moves involving Aurelio, Lucas and Kuyt, who had one of his best games in a long time.

Another player benefitting from the new system was Daniel Agger who was afforded the licence to bring the ball out of defence and make those graceful runs forward that are becoming so typical of the Dane. Agger’s penetrating play proved to be the extra dimension the Reds needed and led to the opening goal as one of his marauding runs led to him being brought down by Salif Diao. Steven Gerrard took the resulting freekick which deflected into the path of Raul Meireles who took the ball under control and lashed in his 3rd goal in 4 games.

Lucas Leiva is another player who is thriving in the Kenny Dalglish regime and his quiet yet effective performance allowed Meireles and Gerrard to roam behind the lone striker Kuyt. Once a player that caused Liverpool fans to flinch when given the ball, Lucas is now one of the most reliable and composed midfielders in the division. Stats showed that his pass success rate was 89% which underlines just how comfortable the Brazilian has become in possession. His new found confidence on the ball can surely be credited to Dalglish whose pass and move principles have also allowed Meireles, Agger and Johnson to thrive as footballers instead of cogs in Hodgson’s rigid machine.

Debutant Luis Suarez had to settle for a place on the bench but he made up for lost time in the second half as he made an impressive 25 minute cameo. What I noticed straight away was the quality of his movement and his constant aware ness of who was around him. One of the biggest problems for Liverpool in recent years has been a lack of movement off the ball in attack, which has meant the Reds have struggled to break opposition down on numerous occasions. Considering the former Ajax man had not even had a chance to train with his new teammates it made his performance that bit more impressive and is a testament to his natural football ability. He capped off his performance with a goal, though his finish was perhaps his worst touch of the match. Suarez burst through the Stoke defence and rounded Begovic before scuffing a finish in via a deflection and the post to give the Reds a 2-0 win.

Overall I think things are looking a lot rosier under Dalglish. The defence has been sorted out and three clean sheets on the bounce show just how big an impact Kenny and Steve Clarke have had. Players are now enjoying their football and appear willing to play in any position or formation for the manager, which is the complete opposite of under Hodgson when players didn’t even want to play in their favoured positions.

With Agger fit and firing, Stevie and Meireles getting towards their best, Lucas improving all their time, Suarez just getting started and Carroll still to return things are looking good for Liverpool. Long may it continue and long live the King.

What defines a successful football career?

Ever since Fernando Torres kicked Liverpool into touch to move to Chelsea there has been talk of ‘furthering careers’, ‘ambition’ and ‘success’. Torres was at one of the biggest clubs in the world on a big contract, he was the star and scored plenty of goals but this wasn’t enough for the Spaniard which has led me to ask the question: what defines a successful career?

First I decided to look up the definition of success so that I could better understand attitudes towards player’s or club’s levels of achievement. The definition reads:

“1. attainment of wealth, position, honours, or the like.

2. a successful performance or achievement”

The general consensus among the media and fans is that Torres moved to Stamford Bridge in order to win honours and achieve his career goals. Liverpool may not have won any trophies during his 3 year spell but they were still successful enough to be considered an elite club and Torres met all of the above criteria for success apart from ‘attainment of honours’.

Wealth: Torres was one of the best paid players in world football during his time at Liverpool.

Position: Torres was undoubtedly Liverpool’s star player and was/still is considered one of the best in the world in his position.

Successful performance: The Spanish striker broke a number of goalscoring records for Liverpool.

In football though, trophies are seen as the real marker of success for a top player. Saving your club from relegation or topping the goalscoring charts is not enough to satify a player’s ambitions, see Charlie Adam and Darren Bent. Both feel that they need to be at a big club if they are to make a success of their career (Bent got his wish, Adam did not).

Loyalty is rare in the modern game and the vast amounts of money available to the teams mean that midtable clubs are always likely to lose their best players. Gone are the likes of Matt Le Tissier, who spent his entire career at Southampton despite numerous offers to play at a higher level.

The success (of lack of success) achieved by Le Tissier is often debated and many pinpoint the forward’s lack of ambition as a reason for his one-club career. But despite never playing in Europe or winning trophies he had a career that many great probably envy. He consistently scored great goals and is far and away Southampton’s best ever player, a tag that will mean he is forever remembered despite the lack of medals he has to show his children. Fans will always talk about how great Le Tissier was and argue about whether he should be admired or criticised for his loyalty. He has a special place in football history that is far more exclusive than that taken up by those with extensive honours on their CV.

Compare his career to someone like Wes Brown or John O’Shea whose medal collections mean that they are unanimously seen as successful. They may have won countless titles and cups but they are truly forgettable players, even from a Man United fan’s perspective. Years after their retirement they will be a distant memory in the minds of even the most avid supporters because they have spent the majority of their careers picking up trophies by sitting the sidelines. Is that success?

Steven Gerrard’s football career has been spent exclusively at Liverpool and as their captain he was won every honour in the game apart from that elusive league title. In 2005 and 2006 he came close to leaving Anfield for Stamford Bridge in a desperate effort to fill that single gap in his personal trophy cabinet before performing a spectacular U-turn. Gerrard changed his mind and decided that a league title at Liverpool would mean more than 10 at Chelsea. Since then he has been lauded for his loyalty but I don’t believe he should be praised for staying true to a club that has given him everything.

Gerrard may never win a league title but he will without a doubt be thought of as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players and one of the finest midfielders of his generation. Torres may celebrate many title successes alongside the likes of John Terry and Didier Drogba but he has surrendered his chance to become a true legend, a player that will be remember fondly by Liverpool fans for decades to come. Now his goals will be greeted with bitterness, with that sense of what could have been, like a modern-day Stan Collymore.

When Gerrard retires at the end of his career and is given the greatest of send offs by the Kop,Torres may look at his medals (if he wins any) and his bank account and think “was it worth it?” I for one don’t think it will be.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Poor punditry as Stoke unfairly stereotyped

As a Liverpool fan I am very privileged to have the majority of my team’s games live on TV and more often than not we are allocated a substantial slot on Match of the Day. This got me thinking, what must it be like supporting a team who are never on TV and who are subjected to 3 minutes of highlights on a Saturday night.

The quality of punditry in this country is very low and the so-called experts more often than not don’t know (and don’t wish to know) anything about players outside the ‘big teams’. It’s no surprise then that this attitude spills over to your casual football fan, who begin to pick up the stereotypes and lazy assumptions that the likes of Shearer, Gray and Hansen spurt out week after week.

The team in question and the subject of this blog are Stoke City football club. Tony Pulis’ side were promoted to the Premier League in 2008 and as with any new top flight team they were patronised by the media. “We don’t know a lot about them but they’ll work hard and make it difficult for the opposition” is the type of sentence you will hear regularly in relation to the likes of Wigan, Bolton and of course Stoke. The media’s attitude towards them is very much ‘we don’t know them and we don’t want to know them’.

It’s often said that staying in the Premier League is one of the toughest tasks in football, so you’d expect that the Potters would receive tremendous amounts of praise after they exceeded expectations by finishing comfortably in 12th in 08/09. Stoke never got that ‘well done’ though and by the end of their first season they had developed a reputation for being a long ball side whose only attacking weapon was the long throw of Rory Delap. Quite how pundits came to this conclusion I do not know, as their only experience of Stoke is through heavily edited 3 minute clips which are impossible to judge a team’s performance from.

Stoke are often labelled ‘anti-football’ which implies that there is a right and a wrong way to play the game. Although Barcelona and Arsenal play a beautiful passing game, I would not say that this idealistic interpretation of football should be adopted by every team. Part of the intrigue of the game is the difference in styles of different sides and clashes between them. Sadly, the Sky era means that there has to be a story behind every game, a favourite, and an underdog. Teams such as Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea have obvious identities and the media do not need to make false stereotypes at their expense.

Unfashionable sides are different story though and it’s far easier for fans, Sky and the BBC to watch 5 minutes of Stoke before labelling them ‘dirty’ and packaging them as the team everybody hates to play due to their ‘physical approach’ than to actually watch their games.

In reality, Stoke are actually a decent team whose squad is packed full of very capable players such as Matthew Ethrington, Sanli Tuncay, Ricardo Fuller, Jermaine Pennant and Glen Whelan. Tony Pulis likes to play to his team’s strengths, namely their towering centre backs and the aerial prowess of Kenwyne Jones but there’s nothing wrong with that and why should he set his team out to play tiki-taka if he does not have the personnel to do so? That doesn’t make them a dirty side though; stats show that Stoke play well within the rules. They do not have a player in the top 10 for fouls or yellow cards (unlike Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and last season there were 5 teams below them in the fair play table. One statistic that may shock fans is that the Potters lie 14th in this season’s fair play standings with Arsenal one place below them (what a surprise that would be to the media!) in 15th.

Teams who believe what the media say about Stoke get a great shock when they realise that the Staffordshire side can actually knock the ball about, are more organised than dirty and are very capable of outplaying a side rather than bullying them. They may use the Delapidator whenever they can but what team wouldn’t take advantage of such a weapon?

Stoke are now in their third season in the top flight and look set for their best finish yet with the team sitting high in 10th. Maybe they will start to get more respect when fans and media realise than the Potters are not one-dimensional and they are here to stay, I wouldn’t count on it though.