Monday, August 20, 2012
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.
Shove your Olympic spirit
I'm consumed by joy that the Premier League is back, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. It was, of course, preceded by the Olympic Games, a magical slice of wonderland in every sense for those of us who live in London, as the city transformed itself from a selfish, unworkable pit of hostility and public transport hell into truly the most blissful place on earth to reside.
And what of those athletes from all corners of the globe? Humble in their approach, dedicated to their sport, behaving impeccably, respecting their competitors, all the while interacting with the crowd and not treating them like contemptible nincompoops. Role models, the lot of them. But tell me this - where is the flippin' fun in that? It was all far too nice.
Thankfully, one burst of sweary, moany goodness from the Premier League - led spectacularly by Alan Pardew, that paragon of Premier League virtue, and his linesman-shoving antics - washed all that feelgood nonsense out of our system. So you can take your Phelpses, your Ennises and your Bolts and do one, because I want my Mr Chelseas, my Joey Bartons and my hounded and harangued fourth officials back for good.
City halt Saints' march
Brand new season, same old themes. Yes, Carlos Tevez may have come back raring to go and sporting a new svelte figure that suggests he didn't spend an entire summer in his favourite Buenos Aires churrasco joint, but this was Manchester City as jittery as they finished last season. Mancini's men went 2-1 down to a team far below their stellar station before pulling it round to snare the spoils and send their fans into raptures. Sound familiar?
You know the other thing I love about this great game of ours? Everyone gets a second chance, and a third, and a fourth. Svelte Carlos will be the fans' darling again in no time. Before the game on Sunday, he crowed: "I am feeling very good. I did all the pre-season." YOU'RE MEANT TO DO ALL THE PRE-SEASON, CARLOS. YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER. Try to remember that before you start with the Joan of Arc heroism at losing a few pounds. Good finish, though - that leapfrogs you back up above Samir Nasri in the early running for the fans' player of the season.
Calamity Jack Rodwell was so surprised at his starting berth that he meandered around his new paddock looking as convincing as a one-legged flamingo. He for one will be glad at football's collective amnesia after laying Southampton's breakaway second on a plate before losing a footrace to no less than five Saints counter-attackers. £15 million, eh? I'd have had one of those hard as nails Mongolian Olympic boxers in my five-a-side team any day.
Say what you like about Arsene Wenger - he's a man who likes to stick to his principles. One of the most steadfast seems to be flogging his best player and captain on the eve of the Premier League season to maximise the disruption within his own squad and extinguish any miniscule strands of hope held by that small pool of Arsenal fans who aren't massive pessimists. He's so fond of it he's done it twice two years running.
The smattering of boos that greeted the final whistle after Saturday's goalless draw with Sunderland were entirely predictable from a set of fans who even jeered a pre-season friendly prior to the start of last campaign. Sadly, Santi Cazorla's silky debut was overshadowed by the glut of chances missed by the pair tasked with replacing the Premier League's top scorer, who also came second in the assist column. The only bright spot for Arsenal, apart from Cazorla, was that neither Marouane Chamakh nor Park Chu-Young were anywhere to be seen.
No matter how many times it happens, it can't get any easier for Arsenal fans to flick the switch in their hearts from love to hate, though it will have been made far easier in this instance by Robin van Persie's nauseating "little boy" speech at his Manchester United unveiling. If Arsenal fans were ever to get hold of RVP's mini-me, they'd surely go straight for the "Santa doesn't exist" jugular. Neither, it seems, does any form of loyalty, anywhere.
Bring back the King
Presumably, the "Bring back King Kenny" campaign begins here, then? Brendan Rodgers got off to the worst possible start as Liverpool's latest gaffer, mugged off by the chap who played loyal lieutenant to Dalglish and was apparently informed of his sacking via a telephone call from an Anfield HR no-mark. Classy.
The latest bright new dawn had worrying echoes of the last as Liverpool defended like their entire back line was made up of Caldwells, Luis Suarez was carded for his inability to control the rage that so often consumes him, a starting berth was still found for Stewart Downing and the gaffer finished the day laying the blame squarely for the defeat on the performance of the referee. All we needed was a post-match interview walk-out and we'd have had the full house.
It was always going to be a gamble appointing a manager who talks a good game but had essentially only had one good season to his name in the Premier League and only modest success prior to taking over at Swansea. Naturally, all the talk will be of time and patience, until Christmas, when Liverpool are lingering mid-table, tiki-taka gets the hook and Joe Allen starts hoofing long balls up to the recently recalled Andy Carroll.
Nice to Michu, Rob Green
Saturday was also a day to welcome back some familiar faces as well as welcome some new ones. How nice it was to see Rob Green back in the big time where he belongs. Eminently popular in the United States, for obvious reasons, QPR's new shot-stopper adjusted seamlessly after his season in the Championship, where he has honed his "diving over the ball and plucking it out of the net while looking like he'd rather be anywhere else" routine.
Green is now more of an expert than most on Swansea's new signing Michu, who scored twice on Michael Laudrup's dream debut as Swansea gaffer. That chief Carlos Tevez apologist Mark Hughes had goal pie smeared all over his chops will have amused many. Perhaps less so the fate of Chris Hughton, whose Canaries were stuffed by a Clint Dempsey-less Fulham on his first Premier League appearance since being cut loose by the North-East's chief cowboys.
Also back to replace the nonsensical witterings of Steve Kean, who used to fill a good 40% of this column each week, is Sam Allardyce who, judging by the clean sheet of Jussi Jaaskelainen and match-winning antics of Kevin Nolan, clearly still thinks this is 2001, when those two titans of mediocrity helped Bolton win on his and the club's Premier League debut. Sam later compared Nolan to David Platt because he "ghosts into the box without anyone knowing how he got there". I'm guessing it's via his legs, Sam.
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