PL Diary: The Storm That Blew Hart From His Line

People of Southern England are this morning repairing the damage left after a stor... What's that?! Handshakegate is back? And Joe Hart did a cock-up? Praise be...

Last Updated: 28/10/13 at 10:26 Post Comment

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This morning's diary comes to you from a battered and broken place. England - well, the bottom half - has been ravaged by Hurricane St Jude, named for the patron saint of Stephen Ireland's career. Trees have been deposited in inappropriate places. Buses, trains, and planes have been cancelled. Roving news reporters have been standing bravely in parks and near beaches, breathlessly recounting the turmoil, refusing to be perturbed or distracted by the sight of dog walkers slowly ambling behind them. Crushingly, no reporters were seen to have two phones.

And it's all the fault of one man. Well, two men. Or three. Probably four at the minimum, actually. For at the very last moment, the Premier League came together and managed to whip up a storm.

The precise apportionment of blame between Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic is a matter for debate. The nation's press have largely gone for Hart, partly because he's the senior professional, partly because there's a wider story needs feeding, partly because it's very hard to get NASTASIC into a decent headline, and partly because that's just the funnier option. And partly because it was probably his fault. When the music stops, any goalkeeper standing outside his own box is going to have a certain amount of explaining to do.

It was the farcical cap to an otherwise stodgy game. Chelsea's occasional brightness and Fernando Torres's 483rd return to form had largely been rebuffed by a defensive Manchester City, who then capitalised on Chelsea's inexplicable failure to come out for the first ten minutes of the second half. It's a game of two halves, Jose! You'd think somebody would have mentioned this before. Anyway, Gael Clichy was rubbish, but then Gael Clichy is always rubbish. David Silva was short, but then David Silva is always short. Andre Schurrle looked a bit like a spirit that lives in a tree, but then etc and so on. Things continued to be themselves, which makes for comforting television, if not entirely gripping sport.

Had it finished 1-1, nobody would have complained, or ever thought about the game again. Indeed, had it finished 2-1, everybody would have laughed, but nothing much more. But luckily for everybody, Manuel Pellegrini stepped up and delivered. Or didn't. Peep went the whistle, and off went the Chilean, forgetting, or failing, or just straight-up refusing, to shake Jose Mourinho's hand.

Yes!

YES!

OH YES!

Handshakes are b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-back, baby!

For all that English football may fret over its weaknesses and gaze with admiration and resentment at the superiority of the foreigns, when it comes to handshake snittery there's not a country on this Earth can touch the Premier League. In some ways, they sum up everything that makes this wonderful country so wonderful: a short two-hander about the national identity. Grown adults acting like children? Check. Other grown adults acting like children in response to the first two? Check! A gesture that is meaningless if not performed voluntarily transformed into a compulsory action, the better to ensure that any failure to comply becomes a story in itself? Checkity-checkity-check!

Such value for money, too. One tiny missed gesture can linger for months, even years. What happens the next time? And the time after that? Was that shake genuine? Oh, they've missed another one! Perhaps most pleasingly, it was good to see two managers that appear to genuinely loathe one another. It's been a softly-softly Premier League between the dugouts so far, as though everybody is still struggling to come to terms with Alex Ferguson's decision to trade in his life of malignant dominance and become a writer. More narkiness, please. More spite. More dicking about.

"Why didn't you shake his hand, Manuel?" "I didn't want to." "Why didn't you just wait and catch the header, Joe?" "I don't know. It's all going wrong. Would you like to buy some shampoo?" There is no sadder sight in all sport than a handy metaphor going to waste. So thank you, Joe and Matija. Thank you, Manuel and Jose. Truly, this weather would have made no sense without you, and that opening paragraph would have blown away in the night.

***

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Liverpool -- whose song, by the by, completely contravenes the Met Office's advice for dealing with weather of extreme inclemency. Try: "Stay home / Stay home / With all ladders secured / And your doors and windows closed / Your dooooooooooooors and windows closed" -- and Arsenal continue to walk the path of irritating competence. It's irritating because there isn't much to say about it, beyond 'will it last?', to which the only reasonable answer is 'wait and see' or, even more reasonably, 'no'. Which means we move on.

David Moyes, meanwhile, has finally reached out and grasped part of the legacy bequeathed to him, and has come from behind to win a game in an appropriately Manchester United manner. So that's nice for him. Next step, horse spunk!

Finally, Sunderland. While the win may not have done much for Gus Poyet's job prospects -- the last two Sunderland managers to beat Newcastle lasted 16 more games between them -- it was nevertheless a fine win, notable for two things. First, if you don't score often, it's best to make sure that you've got a really belting celebration lined up, and so congratulations to Fabio Borini for bringing us the man-eating-his-own-hand-while-hailing-a-bus. Second, and we stand to be corrected as we've done absolutely no research at all, but is Phil Bardsley, Carlos Cuellar, John O'Shea and Andrea Dossena the slowest back four in the history of top-flight football? We're saying yes.

Enjoy putting your broken lives back together, citizens of the south! Enjoy sneering at the inherent softness of the south, citizens of the north! Diary out.

Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton

You can follow Andi on Twitter here, Alexander on Twitter here, and buy last season's Diary here.

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