Monday, May 20, 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.
The long goodbye
Given last season's last-gasp tumult, this campaign was always destined to be a big fat letdown, evidence of which came with the only two strands of interest left on the final day: the race to be crowned the country's fourth best team and a series of farewells so drawn-out and over-dramatised it was like waving goodbye to the Von Trapp family all over again. All seven of them. As the Von Trapattoni's would say if they were modern youths, it was totes emosh.
This was the season that was supposed to take its lead from the Olympics - a nine-month tribute to those humble, dedicated, underpaid athletes, sweating blood for the cause, valuing their fellow competitors and acting with ultimate respect to those who paid good money to watch. But, if you need reminding, perhaps these two words are enough to surmise how that went: Luis Suarez.
So, after all the scraping, the fighting, the whingeing, the biting, the backings, the sackings, the apologies, the whackings, the protests, the drama, the footballing karma, it all came down to another bumper episode of the top-flight's revolving door. It's a warm bye-bye to Messrs Scholes, Carragher, Owen, Ferguson, Moyes, Benitez and Mancini. Your replacements will be along shortly.
Go fourth and conquer
So this is how far you've sunk is it, Arsenal? Congas in the stands at St James' Park and players taking an ovation at the end of a narrow victory over Newcastle, as if they'd just played all of Beethoven's concertos back-to-back in front of a rapturous crowd at the Royal Albert Hall on the last night of the proms. Apparently, this is the glory of finishing fourth, a full 16 points behind the champions.
None of them seemed embarrassed by this overt public display of delight, and I suppose a large slice of it will have been inspired by the fact it was their nearest geographical rivals, Tottenham, who paid the significant price of failure. Again. Tottenham must have known they were stuffed when they realised they were relying on Newcastle to do them a favour, and that Jose Bosingwa wasn't playing for Arsenal. No wonder Mike Ashley offered his staff a £1 million bonus if the Toon won - it was the safest bet he's ever made.
The high point of Tottenham's day was Newcastle's phantom equaliser, even tweeted about by Donald Trump-lite Lord Sugar. But look on the bright side, Spurs fans - at least this will be the last time for a long while you'll be accused of being a one-man team. Gareth Bale signed off in typical fashion with a wonder goal and a yellow card for diving, though this booking should have seen referee Andre Marriner given a straight red. It'll be a long, tense summer ahead in N17.
Don't you Ferget about me
It's a good job there was nothing riding on Sir Alex's final game in charge - if there had been, he may well have been carried out in a box. Ten goals, non-stop action, a Munich-sized comeback but not even a Fergie-time winner laid on courtesy of Howard Webb. At least the outgoing gaffer didn't break with tradition for his final game in charge: he refused to attend his own post-match press conference.
The last time there was a 5-5 draw in the top flight came back in 1984, when Chris Waddle scored a hat-trick for Newcastle at QPR. Fitting this week then that he made headlines by declaring the retiring David Beckham - who Fergie even said nice things about - wasn't even in his top 1,000 Premier League players of all-time list. Rich, that, coming from a chap who looked like he played with webbed feet for a large slice of his career.
Twenty-six years in any job is impressive, but 26 years at the pinnacle of English football is nothing short of miraculous. Just ask Roberto Mancini. Even in his final week, Fergie saw off yet another Manchester City manager before settling down to retirement. So what now for one of the best managers ever seen? I bet he'll be beside a local pitch giving some ten-year-old the hairdryer treatment by Friday.
The deposed Mancini took out a full-page advert in the Manchester Evening News to thank City's fans for their support, while his playing squad resisted the temptation to take one out saying: "Good riddance". Rafa Benitez might have been forgiven for taking a similar option, inserting a page in the Evening Standard that read: "Chelsea fans. Third place and the Europa League. Now kindly do one."
The touchline dichotomy at Stamford Bridge was enough to make Freud's head burst. Waving a tearful goodbye to supporters who've backed him to the hilt at Everton was David Moyes, destined for one of the biggest gigs in world football. Opposite him, offering a sheepish flop of the hand to fans who have done nothing but spit profanities at him during his short stay, was Rafa. Yet in seven months, the Spaniard delivered one more trophy and one more top-three finish than Moyes has in 11 years.
Rafa will have been desperate to get out of West London upon the full-time whistle and probably hitched a lift back to Merseyside with Moyes and his boys, requesting a quiet corner of the bus so he could etch another chapter into his CV. Meanwhile, preparation began immediately for Rafa's replacement as Chelsea's ground staff prepared to significantly enlarge the technical area so it can fit an overblown ego in it next season.
Watch with interest Mourinho's bitter exit from Real Madrid, Blues' fans, because he'll be doing that to you in a few years' time.
Less than 73 hours was all Wigan Athletic got to toast the single greatest achievement in the club's history before it was back to the grind of the daily commute - battling relegation. With the cup tucked away, they were sunk at Arsenal and will now have to conduct Monday's FA Cup parade knowing they are a second-tier outfit, albeit with a Europa League campaign to come. Now Dave Whelan can bore an entire continent about his broken leg in the 1960 FA Cup final.
Judging by two of the insights into Premier League dressing rooms we've seen this week, perhaps they are better off in the Championship. Stoke, celebrating a miserable season, turned to pranks to cheer themselves up, firstly egging Michael Owen's car before bizarrely leaving a pig's head in Kenwyne Jones' locker. He responded by smashing Glenn Whelan's windscreen, before apologising when Whelan denied any involvement. Bravo, lads, bravo.
They should be thankful Paolo Di Canio isn't their manager. If he were, they'd be on the breadline by now. PDC has handed out more fines at Sunderland than a hyperactive traffic warden. Phil Bardsley showed how in touch with the common man he is by bathing in a blanket of £50 notes while on a casino visit, as other members of the squad were punished for being late, crying off training without a doctor's note and failing to sign autographs for fans. Paolo's been biding his time, but now all hell is set to break loose.