Enigmatic Berbatov and amorous Pires
Few of us like Mondays 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 the past week in football.
The Berbatov code
One of the most significant breakthroughs during World War II was made by a team of computer boffins at Bletchey Park in England who cracked the Germans' secret messaging code and helped the Allies land decisive blows on their enemy. It may have been a while but I reckon we should get the old band back together and see if they can decode a modern day footballing enigma: Dimitar Berbatov.
The pop psychologists have already had a go, diagnosing his languid stride and 'can't do' attitude as a sneaky attempt to lull the opposition into a false sense of security. Body language experts were drafted in for the midweek clash with Rangers, where they were all one step away from declaring the Bulgarian clinically dead due to his lack of movement.
He didn't even make the squad against Wigan last weekend and looked like a little boy lost at Ibrox, but somehow on Saturday he turned into the laconic-faced assassin by notching an astonishing five goals - a Premier League feat matched only by Jermain Defoe, Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. There is now just a picture of him next to the phrasebook definition of 'being in the right place at the right time.'
Of course, one man's gain is another man's pain as Big Sham had to shuffle into the Old Trafford tunnel and squirm with embarrassment as he apologised to Rovers fans who made the trip. A brief glance on their website reveals a news list with the post-match headline "Completely outplayed," just above the pre-match rallying call from Sham entitled "Perform on the big stage". Oh dear.
Save Avram's season
You know something is seriously a-rye at your football club when they are slashing prices and billing a late November clash with Wigan as 'save our season' day. The marketing brains behind it, the bongo brothers Gold and Sullivan, were hardly subtle were they? It may as well have been labelled 'come and see if Avram gets fired today' day.
As it turned out, a limp Latics wilted in the face of a nearly full stadium of cockney wide boys and West Ham duly recorded their second Premier League win of the season. A measure of how much of a one man team they have become was evident with the inclusion of Scott Parker, who is shaking off a chest infection. If he deteriorates next week, expect to see him attempt to boss the midfield with a hot water bottle down his shorts and a drip attached to his arm.
At least Avram's post match interview gave the bongo twins food for thought, if they ever want a quick and painless divorce from their grumpy manager. "I always say to them you can do anything you want, as long as you don't come in my area," he moaned. So next time the Hammers go eight league games without a win, all Sullivan and Gold need to do is find out what 'area' Avram is talking about, and move in lock, stock and barrel.
Long ball, snow joke
If, under duress I must stress, I had to choose two managers to participate in a naked jelly wrestle, it would probably be Roberto Mancini and Tony Pulis. The Stoke manager because he has form for naked aggression - just ask James Beattie - and the Italian because he is the one I imagine would be most scared at the sight.
Their teams are as much a case of chalk and cheese as the gaffers. Stoke comprise a bunch of honest, industrious pros whose all-for-one and one-for-all style is based on a large tub of elbow grease. City are a bunch of millionaire charlatans, most of whom grumble about hard work and would probably sell their own grandma to buy a new car.
As goalscorer Micah Richards confirmed after the game, a few of City's delicate flowers weren't exactly chomping at the bit at the prospect of an aerial battering in sub-zero temperatures at the Britannia, but with a white dusting on the field, at least Stoke had an excuse for the ball coming down with snow on it.
In the end a draw was highly predictable, with only the post-match jousting providing a shred of entertainment as Mancini said Stoke played "long ball, long ball, long ball" and Pulis retorted: "What game was he watching?"
The Konchesky Experiment
Poor old Woy can't seem to get it right at the moment. For the first time this season he decided to release Liverpool's handbrake away from home and stick David 'Wash' Ngog up front with the still slightly undercooked Fernando Torres, knowing full well Spurs are as wide open as a 24-hour supermarket and knackered after a busy week in their quest to achieve world domination while employing absolutely no credible tactics whatsoever.
The trouble is Liverpool's front line looked so unused to being presented with clear cut chances that they froze like an embalmed rabbit in the Arctic whenever they were offered a clear run on Tottenham's goal. Twice Torres opted to fall over rather than shoot when clean through and Maxi is such a bum-licker he copied his colleague's lead and did exactly the same.
Martin Skrtel is so keen to establish himself as a Liverpool legend, a la Jamie Carragher, that he thought he'd better equalise his own opener, while the Paul Konchesky experiment came apart at the seams. If the left back is ever asked to draw a picture of Aaron Lennon he'll have to start with the winger's arse given that he spent most of the afternoon staring at it disappearing into the distance. As Konchesky did his 'wading knee deep in treacle' impression, Lennon breezed through and rounded off a memorable week for Tottenham.
All that, and Carragher managed to dislocate his shoulder but still have a moody pop at Sotirios Kyrgiakos who was taking his time in coming on the field to replace him. After Spurs' winner, Woy sank deep into his seat and stuck his fingers in his ears so he didn't have to listen to the inevitable chant for Kenny Dalglish from the away contingent.
Pucker up, here comes Pires
When 22 adrenaline fuelled athletes line up alongside each other in the tunnel prior to entering the field of play, the meeting often provides a snidey look here or there, infrequent sledging and the occasional fracas, as Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira can testify to. But watching Aston Villa's new signing Robert Pires go down the line of Arsenal players on Saturday handing out hugs and kisses was one of the more bizarre pre-match sights of the season.
Of course, Pires has plenty of pals at Arsenal but it's not like he hasn't seen them since the days of the Invincibles; after all he was training with them up until about two weeks ago. As it was, the veteran set the tone for a first half in which Villa were so submissive you wondered if Arsenal had somehow managed to insert sleeping pills in their Gatorade.
Perhaps sensing Pires was still longing for his days on the other side of the fence, judging by the amount of times he passed to his former charges, Houllier hauled him off at half time and sent a few players to test the water in the opposition half, as if he'd suddenly remembered they had lost two games in humiliating fashion last week. Sadly for Hou, the horse had long since bolted.
Next up for him an emotional return to Anfield, which means a week of stories in which he claims it was he who masterminded the Champions League triumph of 2005, and he who built the Kop with his bare hands. I imagine he and Woy will have plenty to talk about.
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