Monday, January 26, 2009
The last look at the weekend
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 five-star weekend.
Look at the mess you've made Mike
How to sum up a tumultuous Tyne-Wear derby in 150 words dear friends? The happenings off the pitch could eat up double that on their own.
We had loyal servant Shay Given finally calling time on his 11 years of anguish and torture in Toon (save for a few Champions League forays and the odd cup run); Mike Ashley entering the ground to a chorus of boos flanked by a string of bodyguards who were even wider than him; Joe Kinnear doing some bizarre fist-pumping and kiss blowing to the 35 nerds who turn up at the players entrance before the game and Wigan's Ryan Taylor about to enter stage left.
The game itself was notable for the softest penalty of the season, awarded by am-dram referee Howard Webb. Steven Taylor felt Steed Malbranque's warm breath on the back of his neck, engaged his default Platoon setting, and hey presto! Peep peep! Penalty! Shola Amoebi rescued his afternoon from the spot after it had seemed he was hell-bent on displaying exactly why Kinnear's decision to hand him a new three-year contract was about as astute as employing Bernie Madoff to look through your books.
In the end the points were shared, despite defences so accommodating they gave you a cup of tea and a hobnob biscuit before inviting you to gleefully trot through their ranks unopposed. Sunderland will be happy with a point, while winnable games are running out for Newcastle. Their trip to West Brom next Saturday is now looking a little bit massively massive.
Sunderland's chant de jour at St James' Park was the undeniably amusing ''Charlie Insomnia''. The brooding Frenchman must have been sleepwalking over the weekend because somehow he's ended up at flipping Wigan. Yes, after all that bluster about Lyon waiting in the wings, Aston Villa sniffing about, Spurs casting an eye over him and Arsenal (!) checking out his wares, he's ended up signing for a side whose manager has lured him by admitting they can act as a stepping stone for his career.
Of the many preposterous statements prior to N'Zogbia's watershed 'insomnia' moment, this is maybe the most telling: "After four years at Newcastle, I want to reach a higher level of ambition. I don't think that is possible here."
Now, I don't think the sentiment is wrong, but he's now going to fulfil his dreams at Wigan is he? That's Wigan, who have one top ten Premier League finish to their name. Wigan, who sported 4,000 empty JJB seats when local rivals Liverpool came to town last week, and who drew an astonishing 15,881 when Stoke pitched up in November.
After his attempt to clinch the title for 'most idiotic reason to want to leave a football club', Zog was at Villa Park to witness his new team mates attempt to break the record for most goal line clearances in a 15-second period. And succeed.
Stoke: Robinho's new favourite town
By the time you read this Manchester City's crack team of recruitment specialists will be scouring the internet, holding agents upside down over bridges and desperately hoping to unsettle star players, preferably from clubs who haven't yet heard of their obscene wealth.
In truth, a few bored members of the backroom staff will be flicking through the extensive player database on Football Manager, with a big tick in the filter column marked ''won't go missing when trying to break down an obdurate but essentially limited Stoke side for over 50 minutes''.
They were, of course, aided by the most blatant sending off of the season, as Rory Delap hoofed Shaun Wright-Phillips as if he were kicking a bean bag round the cinema room at his Staffordshire mansion.
Limp and lifeless are the two words that spring to mind when ruminating on City's second-half showing. A vague penalty shout was all City had to show for 45 minutes of bluster. When a side containing Robinho, Bellamy, Ireland, Wright Phillips and Elano fails to create a clear cut scoring chance in nearly 50 minutes against Stoke, you have to point the finger at their manager. Don't you think?
Calm down Liverpool, NO
Liverpool finally managed their first win since Rafa's mental combustion, but, despite being the better side up until the 60th minute, they triumphed largely thanks to the game's unlikely pioneer, Mr Mike Riley.
The miniature whistle man has seemingly taken it upon himself to reintroduce the lost art of a Norman Hunter-style reducer to the game. Sick of the season's growing fashion of dismissals for studs-up challenges it seems bad-boy Riley actually dismissed Frank Lampard as reward to Xabi Alonso for assaulting the Chelsea midfielder's shin.
Fernando Torres then thought he'd better shape up to prevent facing the same fate as Robbie 'the leper' Keane. But tiny Mike wasn't finished with his quest to ensure a return for violence into our nation's famous old stadiums - letting Jose Bosingwa off scot free after his karate kick to Benayoun's spine. Lip readers even saw the maverick cop goad Liverpool's protesting players with a ''calm down'' followed swiftly by a stern ''no''.
Apparently Mike is also lobbying in private for a return to terracing, one Molotov cocktail per fan upon entry next season and a complete ban on shin pads.
The drafty window slams shut
Monday, of course, marks the close of the transfer window. As of 5pm teams are stuck with what they've managed to beg, steal or borrow for the rest of the season. In the meantime, the rest of us can look forward to high-pitched hysterical squeaking from a string of rolling sports news channels who desperately try to flam up Geoff Horsfield's loan move from Chesterfield to Stockport as the transfer event of the century when they realise naff all is happening by 3pm. At 4pm we can expect their flashing news strap to read: ''The breaking news this hour is that there is no breaking news this hour...''
While I'm watching I like to envisage these deals being thrashed out in a smoky Casablanca-style bar with groups of smartly dressed men in flash braces and spats haggling over Roque Santa Cruz and Andrei Arshavin as if they were a pound of bananas from the market.
Then, the bargaining reaches fever pitch at about 4.45pm when the drinking den resembles a busy morning on the floor at the London Stock Exchange with notes being hurled everywhere and lashings of illegible shouting before, finally, at 5pm the big clock chimes, the bar set disappears to be replaced by a sunny meadow when all concerned instantly down tools to join together and indulge in a hearty rendition of Knees Up Mother Brown.