Monday, February 13, 2012
The Fifth Official
Few of us like a Monday morning, 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.
A ship called dignity
For a brief spell on Sunday, Liverpool's website turned into apology.com, and it's a bloody good job it did. A series of climb-downs helped King Kenny et al edge back onto the fringes of the map marked 'credible football clubs' after a shameful episode in their proud history reached its nadir on Saturday. Perhaps Dalglish's preposterous insistence that it was "bang out of order to blame Luis Suarez for anything that happened here today" provided the epiphany he and the club needed to emerge from their ludicrous bubble of self-importance and hysterical paranoia. Their wave of contrition was the necessary first step in what will be a long road to redemption.
For all the talent that flows so fluidly in Luis Suarez's boots, zero blood seems to run through the man's brain cells. His decision not to shake Patrice Evra's hand was so staggering, it forces one to repeat the circumstances again and again in a bid to comprehend why a man who was found guilty of racially abusing another player saw fit to snub said player's offer of a handshake, when closure of a grubby affair that has seen Liverpool's stock sink lower than the Titanic was within his grasp.
Even more disturbing was his manager's refusal to admit even the slightest hint of wrongdoing as Kenny lapsed into his familiar aggressive, defensive posture. You get the feeling that had Suarez pulled Evra's arm out of its socket, Dalglish would still have backed him. But Suarez is the chief culprit, his actions leading his manager to make a mockery of himself. Dalglish staunchly maintains he is trying to protect the good name of his football club but look where that has brought Liverpool - into an embarrassing triple apology that could have been so simply avoided.
'Arry. Well 'appy
A terrible week for Liverpool but a pretty flippin' fantastic one for 'Arry Redknapp, the man who may as well have instructed his Addison Lee cab to head from Southwark Crown Court to Wembley via Buckingham Palace for a knighthood given the amount of gushing there was about him. On his triumphant return to the Lane, he made a mockery of his insistence during his trial that he was as disorganised as they come, for it was Newcastle and Alan 'I beg your' Pardew who had some gaping holes in their defence.
This, of course, was billed as the battle of two prospective England managers as the media played a merry game with Pardew - asking him to rule himself out of the England job then chiding him for even thinking he might be in the running in the first place. He was right behind the Dalai Lama and Elvis in declaring himself uninterested, though Alan '12/1' Curbishley remained suspiciously silent.
As auditions for the top job go, this wasn't 'alf bad, as 'Arry proved he is capable of maintaining Emmanuel Adebayor's interest level for longer than the usual five minutes and Tottenham underlined their tasty tiki-taka style talent. On this evidence, 'Arry is a shoo-in for the England job, while Pardew would struggle to make the shortlist to be the next gaffer of Gabon.
Chelsea. Set AVB free
It might have been a decent week for 'Arry and Spurs but, further south of the capital, AVB's mob were still dampening their feet on the leaked gallons of cow juice sloshing around the club. A dismal capitulation at Everton is the latest return for Roman Abramovich's £28 million outlay to pluck one of game's brightest young bosses from Portugal.
Roman himself has been circling the training ground most of the week to watch exactly how AVB manages to coax less out of his players than he might do a packet of fruit gums. The suggestion that there was anything untoward in Roman's presence on the training ground was greeted with an almost maniacal grin from the gaffer that screamed of someone trying far too hard to play it cool. At Goodison Park, Chelsea couldn't have done worse had Roman picked the team and laid out the tactics himself.
Everton's home is not a happy hunting ground for the Blues, and it was in a drafty corridor last season that Carlo Ancelotti met his maker. AVB's will not be far off if Chelsea continue to play like this, with an array of expensive talent upstaged by three loan signings: Steven Pienaar, Landon Donovan and the jobbing Denis Stracqualursi, who is starting to find his feet in a league that Fernando Torres has gone 20 hours without scoring in. With Gary Cahill on the bench again, and Michael Essien and Juan Mata removed before the end, the away end launched into a version of this season's song de rigueur: "You don't know you're doing." It was extremely hard to disagree.
Keeping Wolves from the trapdoor
Changes? CHANGES? Mick McCarthy doesn't like changes, but he's getting used to a big one after Wolves decided to bite the bullet and bin him the day after a wretched performance managed to make Midlands rivals West Brom and their conservative manager look like Brazil's World Cup-winning side of 1970.
For the first time in a 20-year managerial career spanning Millwall, Republic of Ireland and Sunderland, McCarthy apologised for a defensive performance so woeful it made you wonder if a four-year-old had been let loose on their tactics board, while Jamie O'Hara's contract must have a clause that says he doesn't have to defend once the ball has gone past him. Mick's matter of fact modus operandi will be missed, but he'll be back. Whether Wolves will is another matter.
Next for the high jump could be another Midlands manager, Alex McLeish. A protest before the game preceded the latest in a catalogue of unambitious, mind-numbingly tedious performances against big clubs. Villa's most enterprising passage of play came from a naked fan who invaded the pitch. McLeish later claimed his team were "unlucky" but, when the boss benches his two liveliest players and employs Emile Heskey on the right wing purely to shield the uninspiring Alan Hutton, he forgoes any claims on luck he ever had. Villa ended the day sixth from bottom and without a home win in seven games. The outlook is bleak, but at least they are not Wolves.
How refreshing that England have sought to trump the fickle finger of footballing fate by forcing their inevitable self-implosion a good four months before a ball is kicked in Euro 2012. Any England fan knows a cataclysmic failure is likely to occur at some stage during a major tournament year, so the bright buttons at the FA thought they might as well get it out of the way in February.
It means an ignominious end for Fabio Capello, who leaves with the best win percentage of any recent England boss but with the abiding memory of his time remaining a four-star hiding from Germany in South Africa. His point of principle - sticking up for a captain he'd already had to sack once - was a sign that the man's judgment is no better than one of the Dolmio puppets.
England are no wiser, no richer and no better than when he started - just a lot lighter in pocket after paying his humongous wages for five years. At the time he was appointed, the clamour was for a man who could knock a fragmented dressing room of millionaires into shape, whether he be from Tanzania or Timbuktu. Now, of course, our next man must be as English as a bulldog smothered in mustard. I hear Schteve McClaren is doing okay. Anyone? No?
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