Scene: A swanky board room, complete with bar and snooker table, somewhere in London. The 20 Premier League managers have been assembled, and stand around idly picking at sandwiches and making small talk.
A video message plays on the television that serves as the room’s focal point. An anonymous Premier League suit explains the situation: all 20 men are to be the combatants in a mass brawl. Refusal to participate will result in a five-point deduction for their team, while the last man standing will be awarded an additional ten points.
Here’s how it goes down…
20. David Wagner (Huddersfield)
The Terriers boss removes his cap, assesses his options and then calmly retreats from the room. He’s a sickeningly lovely family man; there’s absolutely no way he’s getting involved in anything like this. He replaces the cap, nods acknowledgement at Jurgen Klopp and leaves. He will have a pint ready on the bar next door to toast the eventual victor.
19. Unai Emery (Arsenal)
No sooner has the situation been explained than Emery starts trying to form alliances with the other managers.
Perhaps because he so deeply resembles a sleazy corporate suit from a Robocop film, the others are having none of it, and instantly turn on him. Slavisa Jokanovic coldly and mercilessly approaches him as Emery begs, pleading and backing off towards the edges of the room.
Jokanovic, expressionless, grabs him by the lapels and hoists him bodily through a plate glass window, shards shattering everywhere as the Spaniard falls into a crumpled heap on the floor below. This isn’t a game for the weak of heart – and it’s only just begun.
18. Rafael Benitez (Newcastle)
With everyone still taking in Emery’s brutal elimination, Benitez receives a thumb to the eye from an unseen assailant. ‘Fuck this’, he thinks, and follows Wagner out of the room. He may not know when to walk away from a job, but apparently he knows when to walk away from a fight.
17. Jose Mourinho (Manchester United)
Mourinho thinks he’s gotten away with gouging Benitez square in the eye and skips away gleefully, only to run heftily into the stock-still Sean Dyche, who was watching him all along. Uh-oh.
Dyche grabs a snooker cue, snaps it clean in half against the nearest wall, ignores Mourinho’s hurried claims that it was Pep Guardiola that had behaved so heelishly, and pummels Mourinho without mercy. The Burnley manager just can’t stand that kind of chickenshit behaviour, and who can blame him. Also it really, really looks like Phil Mitchell beating up Ian Beale.
16. Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
Being able to turn your head 180 degrees in either direction is a definite advantage in a mass brawl like this, and Roy has seen more than his fair share of Scandinavian bar fights, but those days are long behind the Palace manager. He never really stood a chance.
15. Marco Silva (Everton)
Looks like the hardest member of a boy band, the one that your older sister started getting funny feelings about when she was about 14 while trying to pretend she didn’t still like that kind of stuff. That still means he looks like he was in a boy band, though.
14. Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Completely unfazed by Mourinho’s petty attempts to pin the blame on him, Guardiola starts brawling, but like Hodgson, the days when he might have been able to handle this are long gone; he’s just not the right kind of crazy anymore.
13. Chris Hughton (Brighton)
A real scrapper, and definitely capable of handling himself, but MMA has weight classes for a very good reason. A noble effort by the Seagulls manager, but the shortest manager in the Premier League swiftly disproves the old adage that it’s all about the size of the fight in the dog. This isn’t professional wrestling.
12. Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves)
Tall and, as a former keeper, presumably has excellent reach; however, that beard leaves him open to cheap shots from the savvier combatants.
11. Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)
Came up as a player under Harry Redknapp, who surely knows a dirty trick or two.
Most people would put him much lower, but I can just picture Howe now, cow-brown from mud and the ruddiest pink of cheek, tears filling his eyes, continuing to get back up, making and throwing a fist, taking a punch, getting back up, making and throwing a fist, taking a punch, getting back up, and on and on until his beaten body simply can’t maintain the brutal cycle anymore.
If this were a film, he would be our hero. But it’s not. It’s a fucking fight and he comes 11th.
10. Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea)
The third-tallest Premier League manager, apparently. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance against the heavy hitters if he tries to keep it a fair fight, but he quietly and efficiently dispatches some of the pretenders below him in the list with some tried-and-tested techniques honed on the streets of Naples.
He starts with a cigarette to the eye of Marco Silva. “Take That!”, he quips, but none of the managers have read my observation that Silva looks like he was in a boy band, so this genius off-the-cuff remark goes unheralded.
But then, just as Sarri is getting warmed up and starts laying his mysteriously acquired brass knuckles into Javi Gracia’s face, Sarri seems to come down with an unknown illness and just…dies. Weird.
9. Claude Puel (Leicester)
I wasn’t initially convinced about Puel’s credentials: he spent his entire playing career at Monaco and the streets of Monte Carlo are hardly notorious for churning out grizzled street toughs.
But then I read that he used to throw himself bodily into sliding tackles on his then-manager Arsene Wenger in training just for the lols. Man just doesn’t give a fuck, and that makes him dangerous.
8. Mark Hughes (Southampton)
7. Neil Warnock (Cardiff)
The most difficult man to place. It’s very easy to picture Warnock starting a fight with some provocative words and then instantly shuffling back to the bar to watch the action unfold with a mischievous smirk plastered across his face.
However, it’s equally easy to imagine that under that tracksuit is 14 stones of pure Sheffield steel, with muscles worn tough like biltong and sinews of granite. He’d have no technique, but you don’t need it when you’ve got sledgehammers for arms.
Either way – whether through guile or grit – he’s getting surprisingly far in this encounter.
By the way, did you know that Neil Warnock used to be a winger? How can that possibly be true?
6. Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
The tallest man in the fight, and certainly the most frothingly ferocious once he gets riled. It is Klopp that takes out most of the field in the early going, attacking in a snarling frenzy. If you watched the opening minutes, he would be your pick.
But that style just isn’t sustainable to the very end, and the big German would eventually be taken down by a well-timed strike from one or two of the more controlled and cerebral fighters.
5. Mauricio Pochettino (Spurs)
Another one who was surprisingly difficult to place but ultimately, I don’t think anyone playing under Marcelo Bielsa and alongside Diego Simeone can get away with tying his hair back in braids for very long unless he can seriously handle himself.
4. Sean Dyche (Burnley)
Anyone who has heard Dyche speak at length will know that his (literal) bark is worse than his (figurative) bite, but he’s still a big bald hard bastard, isn’t he? As discussed, he’s the first to reach for the snooker cues. But I think he can be beaten.
3. Javi Gracia (Watford)
The true dark horse of this fight. Looks like he’d be one of those deceptively strong wiry men, and surprisingly, he is over six feet tall. Do not underestimate the fierce anger of a man who has his surname misspelt on a daily basis.
Gracia is one of those strange men who looked 35 when he was 20 and still looks 35 now that he’s 48: his face, hair, and body shape haven’t changed a jot. To me, that suggests a man who has a basement stocked with nunchucks, a collection of training dummies and a strict training regime. Not to be messed with.
2. Manuel Pellegrini (West Ham)
I know what you’re thinking: Second? Pellegrini?
But you’re forgetting that the man is a zombie. That’s not a metaphor: what you mistook for a mere pallid complexion and slow, methodical manner are in fact evidence that the Chilean is an honest to goodness reanimated abomination from beyond the grave.
Naturally this makes him incredibly difficult to take down with bare hands, as nothing short of removing the head or destroying the brain will suffice. Thus he will go largely ignored and unharmed in the melee, and this will prove fatal: one bite or scratch and you’re effectively already out of the game, and by “the game” I mean “life”. If you’re lucky, you won’t come back.
Turns out Wagner and Benitez were right to bail so soon. Being hard isn’t worth shit if you’re dead, and especially not if you’re undead. Humanity has only one hope…
1. Slavisa Jokanovic (Fulham)
The undisputed, unequivocal victor.
Jokanovic always looks incredibly bored and dead behind the eyes in post-match interviews, and that’s because he has seen things – horrible, awful, terrible things – and he misses them. At least they made him feel something. Football is a mere pale imitation.
He could kill you with a flick of his wrist and everyone knows it. Really, this whole fight was just a necessary evil, put on to keep Jokanovic’s bloodlust satisfied for another few months. You don’t keep a lion hungry.
Time for Jokanovic to step over the bodies of the fallen and join Wagner next door and claim his hard-earned pint.
But just as he reaches the door, a shadowy figure appears behind him and sinks its teeth right into the Fulham manager’s shoulder…
0. The reanimated remains of what was once Maurizio Sarri.
Well that’s that mystery illness solved.