Monday, May 14, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: May 15, 9:45 AM UK
The grand finale
The Fifth Official
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.
Blue Moon rising
I didn't think it humanly possible, but it seems the final day of the Premier League season was under-hyped. This was football drama on a scale not seen since Michael Thomas scored his "it's up for grabs now" goal at Anfield in 1989. It was nerve-shredding, bum-loosening stuff to reaffirm a deep love for the beautiful game.
It was an acute demonstration of how individuals, and clubs, can catapult themselves from useless, pitiful blobs of despair to living legends in the blink of an eye. One moment Roberto Mancini seemed impaled on an electric fence as he waved his arms around maniacally, spitting bursts of acute rage towards the sky; the next he was invading the pitch with Brian Kidd as Sergio Aguero's epic winner gave rise to a turbo-charged explosion of glee that has been swelling up for 44 years.
Yes, Manchester City may have bought the title with oil-money and, yes, they contain mercenaries like Samir Nasri and Carlos Tevez, but it was physically impossible not to be swept up by the Premier League's most profound pendulum swing. Just like, for anyone other than Manchester United's fans, it was hilarious to watch Fergie's face drop off a cliff as news of Aguero's winner filtered through to the Stadium of Light just as his team were about to crack out the bunting.
Put simply, this was best Premier League season there has ever been. In fact, it has been so good that the FA might as well cancel football from now on because I'm not sure it'll ever be as good again.
Joey Barton has left the building
Manchester City's mission was complicated by one of their former players, who offered an explicit, X-rated reminder as to why they were entirely correct to get shot of him back in 2007. Joey Barton must have confused the Swansong Sunday with an episode of Prizefighter. Either that or he's spent the last week watching Falling Down on repeat. What a disgrace to QPR that this man is their captain.
Barton constantly maintains that he is led by God, which makes me even more determined to be a good atheist. I doubt the Almighty suggested he try to break the top-flight record for committing the most red-card offences in a minute but, if He did, then Barton, who'd even give Travis Bickle a fright in this mood, delivered in spades. This was dangerous, edgy television, and it delivered like the final episode of The Sopranos never could.
Offering up an elbow, a knee and a headbutt within the space of a minute, Barton then offered out Mario Balotelli on the way off the field. Barton's explanation - that he was merely trying to get a City player dismissed, and that he never lost his head - underlines the warped level of reality he operates on. And his hypocrisy. How about this from December? "Why do people always want to solve any conflict with a fight? As a pacifist, I find it incredible." So do we, Joey, so do we.
The Fosbury Fulop
It was their worst start to a Premier League season, one in which they lost 8-2 at Old Trafford. They also suffered reverses at the hands of Wigan, Blackburn and QPR, went the month of January without winning and operated for about a month without any recognised full backs. All this and Arsenal still finished above Tottenham.
That they did owed much to Marton Fulop, the goalkeeper whose surname surely carries a silent 'u'. He's sat patiently on the bench all season waiting for his chance and has surely pulled off the impressive feat of playing his first and last game for the club at the same time. His performance means a precarious week for Tottenham, and extra motivation for Chelsea, who can win the Champions League and snare the delicious added bonus of preventing Spurs from qualifying for next year's competition at the same time.
Yet it wasn't all good news for Arsenal. They celebrated their win by throwing the retiring Pat Rice in the air (can you imagine Arsene Wenger burying his head in Steve Bould's lap next season?) but judging by Robin van Persie's post-match comments they may as well have given him the bumps as well. "Whatever happens" is a term you certainly do not want to hear when the Premier League's top scorer is asked what will happen with his contract situation. When you boil it down, the striker was essentially saying 'Goodnight Vienna'.
Mired in the Bogdan
Bolton were, in a very real sense, bundled out of the Premier League at Stoke, where it seems normal football rules do not apply. Jonathan Walters aped a bygone era with his opening goal, nodding the ball clean out of goalkeeper Adam Bogdan's hands with all the grace of a giraffe in leg restraints. It was a cruel stroke of luck for Owen Coyle, the Premier League gaffer who has had more to deal with than most this season.
Having said that, if Stoke's opener was fortunate then Bolton's double-Davies break-back owed a similar debt of gratitude to Lady Luck. After a clearance hit Mark Davies and flung itself into the net, his stockier namesake Kevin then caught Thomas Sorensen not so much napping as suffering a narcoleptic episode at his near post. At this point, Bolton's fans were staying up and promptly flashed a proud banner to the world that screamed "The Great Escape". Sadly, there was to be no such thing.
Coyle has been relentlessly positive in a depressing season, and not in a creepy Steve Kean kind of way, but will now have to turn his attention to adapting his painfully on message press conferences to incorporate as many references to the "npower Championship" as possible. The Scot's dignified and honest presence is one that will be a significant loss to the Barclays Premier League.
The end of the season couldn't come quick enough for a hat-trick of Glasgow's finest. Swansea proved on the final day of the season they are the best team in Wales and Liverpool aren't even the best team in Liverpool anymore. Their 14th defeat of a painful season brought with it the ultimate indictment - that Everton fans are now openly calling for Kenny Dalglish to stay. The man himself is calling for a few new players but you get the feeling FSG won't let him near the till ever again after last summer's wanton spending produced nothing but the least coveted of all domestic trophies.
But Kenny's plight looks easy street compared to the travails of Alex McLeish, the man who has masterminded just seven wins all season at Aston Villa. Most of their defeat at Norwich was accompanied with a sacking soundtrack, as Villa's fans implored Randy Lerner to dispense with Big 'Eck. Should he stay, it is quite possible the club will tear itself apart from the inside, much like that unforgettable scene in Alien. At least it won't be Emile Heskey's head popping out of Kane's chest, mind - he's finally out of contract.
Yet the final word of the season must go to a man who managed to keep a straight face when he predicted "exciting times ahead", 48 hours after his Blackburn side were relegated from the Premier League. Steve Kean remained chirpy to the bitter end as Rovers and their poultry giant owners Venky's were plucked from the Premier League one feather at a time. Of all the sights we've seen in this crazy, mixed up season, watching the Yak - the man who never met a pizza he didn't like - try to choke the Ewood Park chicken during the game with Wigan has to be the weirdest and one of the best.
Goodbye and God bless, Premier League season 2011-12. We may never see your like again.
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