A hammer blow to Manuel Pellegrini's chances of keeping his job beyond this season, but a wonderful performance from Liverpool. Top four probability over possibility?
Louis van Gaal has blamed 'luck' and the lack of a 20-goal-a-season striker for Manchester United's poor performances. After limping to victory over Sunderland, when will the excuses run out?
By now we're sure all readers will have seen the latest little melodrama in football, Sir Alex Ferguson dishing out what The Independent called 'A Half Time Rant' to referee Mike Dean at Old Trafford on Boxing Day afternoon, shown on BBC1's Match Of The Day that evening. At the end of a year in which the earnest but only sporadically successful 'Respect' campaign has dominated football news, you could argue that having British football's most senior figure carrying on in such a way is not good for the sport. Certainly anecdotal evidence from school football suggests that the more dim-witted parents copy this sort of childish fury and vent their spleen on junior league refs, linesmen, teachers etc.
Significantly, the Match Of The Day pundits were only censorious in the most gentle way. Gary Lineker was of the opinion that it proved the fire still burns within Sir Redface, all evidence of his will to win etc. This seems to us the sort of justification of bad behaviour that you often see decent but timid sorts making on behalf of the emotionally violent - "Ooh, he's a good bloke really, he just gets a bit carried away" as some poor sod picks bits of pub ashtray out of their scalp - or "she just gets emotional" as some family event is ruined by a psychotic outburst from a vicious relative, naming no names, Auntie Jackie.
Quite why "the will to win" as a character attribute should mean you can go into a ballistic rage at the drop of a linesman's flag with impunity, we don't know. Can't Ferguson's anger just be anger and not actually a will to win? Why should it be considered an asset and not a weakness?
It is certainly one of the personality traits most ascribed to Sir Fergie, part of the usually unsatisfactory attempt to identify just how he has had such success for such an extraordinarily long period of time.
It seems to us that anything such a manifest winner as Sir Ferguson of Shouty does is, by some, held to be all part of the winners' gig and therefore a bit clever. Whereas when it's done by someone who is not as successful, it is then seen as the work of an idiot who knows nothing, even though it may be exactly the same in all respects. This is unfair and a massive case of double standards. We invite you to consider how Andre Villas-Boas would have been treated by TV and press media if he had behaved in exactly the same manner. We contend he'd get an absolute kicking from all and sundry. The British cabal of ex-pros in conjunction with a xenophobe press would close ranks to beast the foreigner. You know it. We know it.
We are always told Ferguson does little without thought or consideration for its impact and that this latest raging was another example of his art. In this media universe it's apparently impossible to imagine that he might sometimes just lose his rag and start shouting like an old man trying to send soup back in a deli. They can't conceive that his behaviour, team selections, his tactics or his choice of jacket might actually be wrong; that he is flawed and, even when victorious, makes mistakes.
Everything Ferguson does simply isn't part of some masterplan of psychology and it is brain-in-neutral of those in the media who spout this nonsense to suggest it is.
And talking of Alan Shearer, he trotted out another line that often makes us want to break things, the "he's just doing a good professional job" argument by leaning on the referee "to make sure he got some decisions in the second half". Yes Alan ,because intimidating a referee is such a noble art, isn't it?
Along with his say-what-you-see 'alanysis', this regular Shearer offering - as if it were some sort of arcane knowledge exclusively handed down from a race of wise elders that he is exclusively revealing as an ex-professional - is especially maddening. Alan often delivers these little pearls as if he were an adult, with a heavy heart but knowing his duty, telling a group of eight-year-olds that Santa is not real. We all know that footballers and managers cheat, Alan. We do. We really do. Please a) don't look so happy about it b) don't then criticise someone you don't know/like/play golf with when they similarly try to cheat, and c) don't pretend that you have got the secret of life, the universe and everything. The Buddha of Darras Hall, you are not.
Don't get us wrong, we are not throwing our skirts over our heads (we are wearing skirts for an entirely different reason) in horror at the sight of a manager losing his sh*te on the touchline - indeed we enjoy few spectacles more than an old, furious Scotsman getting stuck in, even though this sight is available 24/7 on any High Street north of Carlisle every night of the week. But the reaction to it just shows how the consequent opinion and discourse gravitates towards the power.
With depressing predictability, we see that a debate has coalesced around this subject with some suggesting that the absence of official reprimand for Sir Fergie is evidence of some Man United-Premier League-FA-Lizard cabal. This is absolute rubbish, and anyone who believes in a formalised conspiracy is beyond any question, irrefutably and forever more, a complete idiot. In a way, it is worse than that.
What it does show, is how the BBC TV - like many other football media - is fearful of criticising the biggest, most successful names in football, especially if they are British. Whether this is for fear of reprisal or a kind of cultural bigotry isn't clear, but the two-faced, double standards once again stand before us naked and ugly.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
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