Monday, February 4, 2013
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.
Mo, Mo, Mo, it's magic, you knowwww
A French revolution has dawned in the North East. That famous old Gallowgate boozer The Strawberry had already been renamed "La Fraise" in the wake of the French invasion at Newcastle United. And on Saturday the whole city screamed "Ooh la la!" for match-winner Moussa Sissoko as the Toon's Gallic Roosters pecked up all of Chelsea's corn. 'Moussa' will be replacing 'Shearer' as the new most popular middle name for newborns at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle this week, while Rafa Benitez seems to be sliding the other way through life, towards the interim guillotine.
Firstly, want-away Fabricio Coloccini welcomed run-away Demba Ba back to Newcastle with a warm roundhouse to the face. Ba needed a casualty ward and potentially a nose transplant, but Rafa tried desperately to keep him and his nose on rather than turn to the bench. As he trudged off with a broken schnozz and the garlicky boos of a 52,000-strong armée de Toon ringing through his one remaining working orifice, it was hard to tell who was in more pain - Ba or the Chelsea fans watching Fernando Torres come on as his replacement.
Rafa showed the fight of the condemned man, dusting off his apron to square up to Alain Du Pardon as the pot really started to boil over at 2-2, but as Sissoko scored the winner there was the unmistakable sign of a text message wobbling Rafa's taut pocket, and les geordies rattled their onions for a famous win to the strains of La Marseillaise.
The balls on that man. Incredible. He described the transfer market as "gang warfare" with a straight face before going out and pinching Christopher Samba from a contract in the middle of the night in deepest Russia. His former manager, Guus Hiddink, woke up from the tranquiliser dart wearing Samba's No. 22 shirt but with no sign of a note.
And I don't need to replay the moment Harry outed all of the QPR players on overblown salaries again do I? Oh, okay then. Don Harreone said, and I quote: "You shouldn't be paying massive wages when you've got a stadium that holds 18,000 people." Samba is reported to be on somewhere not too far off £100k a week. Rumours have it the combined deals this January have cost QPR £70 million. I'm not a mathematician but 18,000 seats will take quite a while to pay that back, unless Harry is using them to hide imported cigarettes and fake passports.
What we all expected to see before this one was Peter Odemwingie haring out of the tunnel at one minute to kick off, ripping off his suit to reveal a QPR kit, before being sedated and put back on a bus to the West Midlands. But after all the fuss and all that spending, a Loic Remy injury meant QPR were left to try to play on the floor to Jamie Mackie, then in the air to Bobby Zamora, before settling glumly for 0-0 and a point. All that cash, and they still can't beat Norwich at home. If Monday morning's tittle tattle is to be believed, Remy is crocked for the season, but anything concerning QPR is totally over-inflated as we know, especially their squad of overpaid average Joes.
So long, Mario, and thanks for all the (rotting) fish
We love to adopt a son in England, don't we? 'Cheating' Jurgen Klinsmann was public enemy No. 1 when he joined Spurs in 1994, but then did his jaunty 'dive' celebration and we all called for him to be the next prime minister. Jose Mourinho has been disliked in every league he's managed, but in England we'd walk over angry razor clams to have him back. We hate our cartoon villains until they come here, but then we love them until they love us back.
And so it was we expected Super Mario to love us after we had derided his every action, laughed at him setting fire to his own home, chuckled as he camouflaged his Bentley so making himself unmissable wherever he went, and tutted fondly as he kicked fellow professionals in the testicles or revealed his witty T-shirt slogans. A loveable rogue. OUR loveable rogue. But guess what, he hates us. Detests us. He hates our food, he hates our culture, our weather, our driving. He hates everything about us.
At his Milan press conference, Mario point-blank denied one English tabloid journalist a question. "Do the English misunderstand Mario Balotelli?" another one asked, desperately grasping for something - anything - just to show Mario cared for us as a people. "No, you don't need to understand me. I don't care." And with that, our infatuation was cemented. Farewell, Mario, farewell. Write back to us from Milan, Mario. Please. Write back. Mario?
Serving up some of the most scintillating games of the season so far, the Premier League weekend certainly survived Mario, who spent Sunday night playing in a little league somewhere near Malta. He scored twice, including a last-minute penalty winner, and smiled before driving home on Italy's faultless roads in the warm evening for some gourmet cuisine.
Back at the bleak Emirates, surrounded by car crashes and in an atmosphere dripping with chip fat, it was a long forgotten racehorse owner from Chester who made a surprise bid for his vacant league bad-boy status, jabbing at Mikel Arteta before squaring up to Jack Wilshere in the least threatening head-to-head in Premier League history. The question puzzling all of the game's academics this week is a real Greek philosopher job: When is a punch a punch? It can't only be when it hits the target, otherwise by the same logic Michael Owen would have stopped being called a striker a long time ago.
So we have to say that he threw something resembling a punch, don't we? A small, neat, ineffectual stab at one maybe - much like his football career in recent years - but certainly worthy of a ban that will deprive him of at least nine minutes of action. Maybe it is worth asking what would have happened if our Mario had pawed petulantly at Mikel Arteta's back. What then? Front- and back-page news and an extended ban no doubt. But not Michael - he's not 'that sort' of player you see. A real punishment would be to make him play the full 90 minutes for the next three games.
When it Reinas, it pours
Liverpool could have readied themselves for a half-decent write-up in this one. Even Stewart Downing, who - apart from buying his own dummy a couple of times - played with all the swagger and panache of Luis Figo nearing retirement, and Jordan Henderson, who played as well as Jordan Henderson can play. Yes, there was the moment Downing clipped a set-piece to Henderson on the perimeter, and Henderson sliced his attempted volley straight back to Downing as if to remind us who we were really watching, but Liverpool were comfortably the better side at the Etihad.
Daniel Sturridge wouldn't celebrate at his former club but was happy to get Liverpool back in it as Edin Dzeko lay stricken on the turf with a grade-two prima donna strain, and Gerrard brought back memories of that barmy England win in Germany with his own high-class strike for 2-1.
With his side down a goal and slipping away from Manchester United, Roberto Mancini replaced attacking threat David Silva with elderly full-back Maicon after the customary picture-drawing and tantrums on the touchline. City didn't look like getting anything. Step up strolling Pepe Reina, with all the conviction of a patient recovering from anaesthetic, to allow Kun Aguero to tuck in an equaliser from an impossible angle, leaving Pepe looking like he'd just realised his hospital robe had no back to it. What has happened to him?