LARRY RYAN: Nigel Pearson victim of empowerment age

Some of us felt this golden age of controvassy might have peaked the morning we learned Roy Hodgson had been found wanting on the tactical half-time comedy front, and had landed in the ‘race-hate mire’ for telling a joke about a monkey in space.

But we hadn’t yet lived through the special times that have given us the rolling story: ‘Pearson says sorry for calling journalist an ostrich’.

It was, admittedly, a “post-match rant” that had it all — one Gervais, David, Seinfeld combined would struggle to better. Even as Big Nige was maxing out on the boorishness, his innate competitiveness took over and he found himself insisting he would make a better ostrich than the one settled in front of him.

“If you don’t understand that question then I think you are an ostrich — your head must be in the sand. Is your head in the sand? Are you flexible enough to get your head in the sand? My suspicion would be no. I can. You can’t.”

It wasn’t an untypical course of events in a Pearson media briefing. Last year, he spent much of an interview with the Telegraph stressing how much he valued his privacy, while managing to let slip he cheated death fighting off five wild dogs with a stick while on holiday in the Carpathian mountains.

The Setanta of the Carpathians would, you suspect, ideally like to reprise that scene in a technical area one day, to preserve his aura of barely-restrained menace.

Maybe that menace will be enough to keep Leicester up, but in the meantime it gave us a much-needed 72-hour diversion from the grimmest Premier League season we have known for a while.

There are two other notable aspects to this controvassy that shouldn’t be overlooked. It is another milestone in English football’s steep learning curve in the use of banter; another safety demonstration, following those provided by men like Richard Keys and Malky Mackay, highlighting the dangers associated with bantz falling into the wrong, untrained, hands.

But perhaps more telling was what happened the following day, when the BBC sent a reporter — Pat Murphy — to chastise Big Nige at great length and suggest he was a paranoid bully who required anger management classes.

“Someone’s got to tell you,” declared Murphy, taking this responsibility on his shoulders, on behalf of us all. To his credit, Big Nige managed to keep the lid on the restrained menace. Pat gave us the impression he was gamely levelling the score on behalf of a wronged, outwardly inflexible, colleague, on behalf of his industry, even if many would argue an industry which has fitted turnip heads onto managers is ahead on any totting-up process.

But there is a wider relevance to Murphy’s brave civic duty when considered in the context of the void left behind by Alex Ferguson.

We have already witnessed the miraculous empowerment of many groups within football since Fergie’s departure, notably Manchester United footballers who quickly broke David Moyes’s resolve with their demands for chips and shorter runs and passing.

You can’t help think this sudden freedom, this fecklessness, among the downtrodden has had a contagion effect, with nobody bar Mourinho — not even Big Nige — able to coax their players into much defensive discipline.

Then, of course, there were the match officials, off whom a great burden was lifted. Essentially free now to award penalties and offside decisions for and against whoever they want, and eat a little more if they desire, they appear determined not to allow Mourinho fill the void in this very specialist area of persuasion.

And now the reporters, finally, are standing up. Through the Fergie ‘youse are all fucking idiots’ malevolence years, back through the Brian Clough ‘listen, young man’ patronising period, and beyond, they have taken it on the chin and cravenly admired the manager’s “ability to take the pressure off his players”.

In fairness to Brave Pat, he had a nibble or two in Fergie’s day too, but there was little appetite from colleagues to take up the baton.

This time, they are all over it. They are starting small, it’s true, with the relegation candidates, but you suspect, in Brave Pat, they now have a spiritual leader to take this mission onto bigger things. We also saw this week why Mourinho, despite the bravado, hasn’t filled the void yet. Last week, as we knew he would, he took 0-0. He adapted to the reality and did enough.

But afterwards, as we also knew, he wasn’t satisfied. His reaction all week to mild suggestions Chelsea are boring was small, defensive and insecure. Nobody called him on it though, bar Gilesy, who pointed out the lack of class.

But then these guys, led by Brave Pat, are starting small.

Rugby Country gripped by showpiece?

Selected memories. Forest-Malmo was my first. Heysel, of course. The Steaua-Barca penalties, the two Milan masterclasses. The Ajax young guns. Lars Ricken’s lob against Juve. Working through 1999, only to have the news broken by some kind of makeshift version of the internet that skipped from 1-0 to 1-2. George Hamilton’s magic carpet in Istanbul, JT’s tears. JT’s shinpads.

Ever since the final was one of the rare, televised treats in a season, even the non-committed, half-interested will be on board by the time the European showpiece comes round. RTE’s coverage has regularly drawn a million viewers. Even when there’s no obvious allegiance to the finalists, this is a date etched on the calendar.

But forget all that, today is the big one in Rugby Country. It mightn’t be the big one outside Rugby Country. They might be struggling to give away tickets for it. But in Rugby Country, you can feel the buzz. In every home and workplace in the land, they are debating the head-to-heads. Every kid in the playground is Wesley Fofana or Matt Giteau. These are the glamour occasions we will always remember. You can sense the anticipation. Can’t you?

No need to talk up big weekend in Las Vegas

If there is a buzz around this weekend, it has spread this far from Vegas, where there is no insecurity in evidence yet from Mayweather and Pacquiao.

In fact, the sense of enormous well-being shared by these lads left a curious sporting void this week, one briefly and admirably filled by Rotherham manager Steve Evans, who celebrated League One survival with a classic sneering ‘pop’ at Millwall striker Lee Gregory.

“A Millwall player said we’ve not got bottle. I’ve got 12 bottles of pink finest Champagne and we’ll be drinking them for about a week. Look forward to League One, son, and keep your trap shut.”

But no trash talk at all from the two lads. Knowing full well there is no need, this time, for the hard sell.

Heroes & villains


Paul Curran:

Nigel Pearson victim of empowerment age

The great champions and leaders like to bow out at the top, but isn’t there something even more noble about trucking on, as long as you can, for as long as you’re let?

Jurgen Klopp:

After all Bayern have put him through, deserved a parting day out courtesy of a comedy German Cup penalty shoot-out


Theo Walcott:

“Arsenal are the best team in Europe.” Needs to pen another series of books to unleash his creative talents.

Steven Thompson:

The St Mirren skipper raised the bar for training ground banter by spearing team-mate John McGinn with a spiked pole in training, piercing his thigh.


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