Alan Pardew seems to be on a mission to prove a point. Or at least make sure everyone is looking at him as often as possible. He's committed to disruptive innovation...
Mesut Ozil was sold as the man that lifted the gloom at Arsenal, but recently something just isn't right. Is he not that good? Is he tired? Could it be that he's just a bit sad?
For those of you that haven't been paying attention/have lives, a re-cap. In the beginning was the referee, who for most of the history of football was a distant, enigmatic presence at the heart of a football match, seemingly popping into existence a couple of hours before kick-off, before disappearing shortly afterwards, back to another less muddy life. Sometimes they came from specific places, like Yate. Way back in the mists of time, they used to wear suit jackets, ties and short trousers. Some things really were better in the old days.
It isn't quite clear when they gained names - names that are memorable in the minds of the public, that is; presumably their mothers used to call them something - but as football and everything about football has churned and mutated into the bloated and glittering pustule it is today, so the referee was dragged further and further into the public eye. Except "dragged" isn't quite right, at least not always. That would imply some measure of reluctance. "Given the opportunity to puff out their chests and stride gleefully" might work better. "Given the opportunity to trip over their own clown shoes," perhaps. For as we enter the last days, and as the seas boil and rise, we are experiencing the apotheosis of the referee as The Referee, an ego armed with a whistle and a book deal.
It would be remiss to focus on the self-prepossession of football's strangest profession without mentioning Jeff Winter, if only because one should enjoy, at every possible opportunity, the moment in his autobiography where he describes his final game at Anfield before retirement. Having played a little extra time to ensure that both the ball and he were in front of the Kop, he blew the whistle. "The fans behind the goal burst into spontaneous applause. It was longer and louder than normal, even for a home win. Did they know it was my final visit? Was it applause for me? They are such knowledgeable football people it would not surprise me."
(Continuing the theme, it would be remiss of me not to urge you to spend as much of the next hour as you can in the company of his delightful website, Jeff Winter Entertainment and Media. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll feel like you've been tied to a chair and vigorously hubrisboarded.)
Where Winter's reflections on his own magnificence showed the way, the brewing kerfuffle - or perhaps the kerfuffling brouhaha - between two of the Premier League's recently departed big beasts, Graham Poll and Mark Halsey, is opening new frontiers. And frankly, it's been very decent of them to bridge the back-page lacuna between Jack Wilshere doing something a bit silly - ENGLAND ACE MOCKS CANCER VICTIMS - and Jack Wilshere saying something a bit silly - I SEEM TO SEE WEMBLEY WAY FOAMING WITH MUCH BLOOD, BLASTS GUNNER.
In some ways, this has been Mark Halsey's season. Newly installed as BT Sport's officiating commentator, he spent the first few weeks saying nothing much beyond "for me, he's got that right", before boldly expanding his repertoire to include "for me, he's got that wrong," and once, thrillingly, "for me, he's lost the plot". Off television, he's managed to inspire both justified concern and hilarious vitriol by revealing his close personal ties to various managers, past and present. Now he's written a book, in which he says - sorry, sensationally lifts the lid on - the inadequacies of a number of his former colleagues, and adds - sorry, dramatically reveals - that a firm of Americans - sorry, Yanks - is involved in statistically assessing assessments of officials. Americans! They play football with their hands! They eat aerosol cheese!
Enter Poll, the man who once blamed Wayne Rooney for swearing into a television camera and so ruining Mother's Day. Addressing Halsey's assertion that refereeing was in the grip of a climate of fear and paranoia, he accused him of "betraying" the refereeing "fraternity", who are apparently "appalled". He then added, with splendid bitchiness, that Halsey would never have made the same living "as the warehouse manager he was or the taxi driver he was". We pause only to imagine the glittering career in rocket surgery that Poll abandoned to take up the whistle, before moving on to the most magical of his revelations ...
A fraternity! Do they have a frat house? Do they call one another bro? Do they - a chilling thought - keg? Or perhaps we're talking something more mafia-tinged: Halsey has shattered the code of omerta, and now, even as you read this, Halseyians and Pollites are gearing up for a long and bloody turf war. Honour will be asserted. Reprisals will be vicious. And the whole thing will culminate either in a mass brawl with improvised weapons on some wasteland outside Tring, or with Michael Oliver's tragic body slipping slowly beneath the Tahoe waves. Or perhaps somebody will write another newspaper column.
It's not that modern officiating has no problems. The closeness between officials and managers, the maintenance of standards, and questions of professional togetherness and morale are all things that matter, and can and should be talked about. It's that they deserve better than to be the chosen battlefield of a minor celebrity trying to flog a book, and another minor celebrity who doesn't like him very much. It's that they have been suborned in favour of the unedifying spectacle of two bald men fighting over a stupid hat.
We've talked about referees before, about the need to stop blaming them not just for the small amount of things they get wrong, but the large amount of things they are thought to have got wrong. However, there's a quid pro quo, which is that the officials need to return to the days when nobody knew, or cared, who they were. Profile365 hereby puts forward two suggestions for restoring the institution to something approaching its former dignity.
The first is to have the men in black emulate the Men in Black (a line that would work much better if (a) referees still wore black, and (b) referees were still all men. Progress, both silly and sensible, has here robbed us of a gag. This modern world). No names and no fingerprints. Black Ray-Bans. First, last and only defence against the worst scum of the universe. Or footballers, whatever. That memory-wiping stick might be useful too, as when they end their careers they can be neatly returned to the state of prelapsarian grace from whence they came.
The second, made with sad acknowledgement of the fact that the passage of time has robbed us of the short-trousered suit, and in light of the realisation that a good referee should be at once hilarious, anonymous and vaguely terrifying, is gimp masks. Pick your favourite, football. You're welcome.