The Fifth Official

Rafa's revenge; Tevez in the driving seat

March 11, 2013
By The Fifth Official
(Archive)

Few of us like Monday, but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

Lonely Island

Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez
PA PhotosSir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez did not enjoy a glass of wine after the game

Is there anything as funny as Manchester United, a club and manager who bully officials to get their way more than any other, being on the wrong end of a dodgy decision? Well, maybe the fact that their fans forged a moral bond with their Chelsea counterparts during Sunday's FA Cup tie in their mutual loathing for Rafa Benitez, the Premier League's chief pariah.

Whenever Rafa tottered into his technical area he was serenaded with poison, Chelsea's fans joining in with most of the barbs directed at him by the Old Trafford faithful, who worked the shock of Tuesday's Real Madrid defeat out of their system by poking fun at their favourite facilitator of "facts". Two goals down inside ten minutes and Rafa's season was truly falling apart. Every tinker he tried was met with a chorus of "You don't know what you're doing," from the away end.

But the man who was reminded of his 'fat Spanish waiter' tag at every opportunity by the home fans proved he does have a semblance of sanity about him by making changes that dragged his side back into it to claim a 2-2 draw. The hatred shown towards Benitez from the stands was added to by his old sparring partner, though, as Fergie supposedly snubbed a pre-match handshake in the tunnel, prompting Rafa to march off without greasing palms upon the final whistle. Their combined age is 123; one day they'll start acting like it.

Jury out on Bale

By the time you read this, voting for PFA player of the Year will have been declared open and two of this season's prime candidates threw themselves in front of the other at Anfield as Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez went dive for dive. Both teams are so over-reliant on their two titans that if they had been injured at the same time in this game, you could have called it off then and there.

Suarez probably can't count on the vote of Mousa Dembele now and, if he doesn't claim the prize, which will no doubt prompt talk of a conspiracy from Anfield, maybe it is because the defenders he's made look stupid over the season (and the many people he's fallen out with along the way) don't want to put a tick next to his name. Still, the Uruguayan grabbed his customary goal and a legitimate penalty for once, after a clumsy touch from Jermain Defoe and bundle from Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

All had been going swimmingly for Tottenham thanks to Jan Vertonghen's double, until Hugo Lloris' desire to play the sweeper role like Franco Baresi in his pomp led to an equaliser for Stewart Downing before Stevie G's winning penalty. Liverpool moved within seven points of fourth place, currently occupied by Rafa. They couldn't, could they? No, they couldn't.

'Arry Houdini

Kevin Gallen scored the only goal of the game last time Queens Park Rangers completed back-to-back wins in the Premier League. The year was 1995 and, given attitudes to fitness and recreation in those days, I can only imagine that particular run was inspired by a good few old fashioned tear-ups round the dingy pubs of West London. Spin on 18 years and the premise is the same, although Dubai is now the party destination of choice for today's pampered professionals.

Their win over Sunderland raised the genuine prospect that Rangers could survive the financial abyss that surely awaits them should they be relegated to the Championship. Their accounts posted this week showed they were haemorrhaging money BEFORE they lavished squillions of pounds of Ji-Sung Park, Junior Hoilett, Jose Bosingwa, Chris Samba and Loic Remy. 'Arry pleaded ignorance - claiming 'I don't do business' - but the last name on that list could be the slice of quality standing between the club and oblivion.

Goals from Tottenham rejects Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas (!!!) set Rangers up perfectly for next week's relegation TWELVE-POINTER with Aston Villa, who surely killed off brave (incompetent) Reading, despite Nathan Baker's delicate stepover finish gifting them an early lead. Brian McDermott's side clearly felt the need to even up the comedy count as both Ian Harte and Nick Blackman took tumbles in the relatively simple task of trying to control the football.

In the driving seat

Carlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini have had their disagreements in the past
PA PhotosCarlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini have had their disagreements in the past

The football field is one place these days where the authorities seem happy for Carlos Tevez to be in the driving seat. The former golf pro drove Barnsley round the bend with a neatly taken hat-trick as Manchester City moved quickly through the gears to send the Tykes back to Yorkshire suitable chastened and horrified to learn that results in the Championship had parked them at the bottom of the table.

Despite this tumultuous treble, echoes of last season's six-week golfing break in Argentina persist. As Tevez was substituted he and his manager conducted the sort of exchange expected of the first meeting between a jilted bride and the groom who deserted. Referencing Tevez's arrest on suspicion of driving while disqualified in his post-match presser Mancini even had the cheek to say: "If it has this effect on him I hope the police can stop him every day." Cue mirth all round.

There was far less good cheer at Goodison Park as Everton's season effectively imploded at the hands of a resurgent Wigan, who scored three goals away from home for the third successive game. Roberto Martinez was promised a pay rise by Dave Whelan if they win the FA Cup - a bit like Stan Kroenke vowing to treble Arsene Wenger's wages if they win this season's Champions League. As for David Moyes, he'll be sitting in a darkened room at his Wirral home wondering where he goes from here.

Unbelievable Ref!

As the Premier League season officially moves into its definitive stages, people start visibly fraying at the edges. With pressure to beat the drop, qualify for Europe or poke your head into the morass of mid-table intensifying every week, no-one is immune to the wonky ways in which this scrutiny can shred your brain like a cheese grater.

Allow me to present two examples this week involving our dear old officials as supporting evidence. Exhibit A comes courtesy of a top flight referee who has the art of smuggery nailed. Mark Clattenberg prances round the field making exaggerated gestures like a man operating a glove puppet and he handed Norwich a debatable penalty, thankfully missed by Grant Holt, that infuriated Southampton so much that Mauricio Pochettino marched onto the pitch at the end with his interpreter in order that he could translate a stream of Spanish invective to the Geordie ref, who probably could have done with his own interpreter to talk back.

Exhibit B comes from a more demure man in the middle, Lee Mason, who committed an atrocity far worse than Manchester United's anti-Howard Webb, Cuneyt Cakir, at The Hawthorns. Roland Lamah had a perfectly good goal chalked off after playing a one-two with Gareth McAuley, much to Swansea's disgust. It must have left Lamah wondering if there was any justice in the world (that is a joke most non-UK readers might have to look up).