A comical day at the Cottage

WHEN I first glanced at the Craven Cottage team sheet, I thought Fergie had done a ‘Mick McCarthy’. No such luck: this, apparently, was the best team we could put out. What a fitting way to round off an ignominious week.

Actually, Saturday was surely the least regrettable of the week’s various embarrassments. Frankly, it bordered on the comic. Witnessing the makeshift three-man defence made up of midfielders and children blunder about, with Old Man Scholes in front of them dropping everything he touched, was like watching an amateur family on the old “Generation Game” cocking up some expert task in front of a guffawing Bruce Forsyth. Travelling Reds seemed to pick up on the vibe, and spent the last 20 minutes deafening the stadium with insouciant uproarious songs, drawing a rare tribute from Fergie himself afterwards.

The press later described the afternoon in apocalyptic terms but surely no-one should be drawing serious conclusions about our prospects, given the state of Carrington’s outpatients queue? Fergie amusingly used to refer to these moments as “cracked badge weeks,” wherein a defeat or two would cause papers to run tales adorned with pix of the club crest riven in two: he didn’t need to add that these “crises” rarely turned out to be any such thing.

It’s never good to see your lads concede three, of course, and it’s always painful when Scholesy – my favourite player – has one of his putrid stinkers, but I found both the Villa defeat – and its horrific Rooney dive – and the McCarthy selection outrage far more depressing.

Wayne’s blatant cheating has already been forgotten, it seems, as bigger footballing stories have since crowded the agenda, but I’m afraid that it’s a proper Never Glad Confident Morning Again job for me. There’ve been a few arguable incidents with Wayne in the box before, but nothing clearcut: the player could convincingly declare, as he did only weeks ago, that he was proud to be a non-diver, and we could cling to him as one of the rare examples of hard-but-honest English old skool pros still in the game. Ha!

As far as I can see, he hasn’t apologised for it, Fergie hasn’t mentioned it, and journalists seem to have moved on without asking about it. Then again, it’s World Cup year, isnt’ it? No-one in the game wants to hear bad news stories about Ingerlund’s putative heroes. Rather like when everyone conveniently forgot Michael Owen’s World Cup cheating, yet still continued to bang on about Maradona’s 20 years earlier. And then we wonder why the whole of Europe characterises Albion as a nation of perfidious hypocrites...

As for McCarthy, I can think of no better response to the dog’s dinner he offered us last week than Keano’s succinct injunction that he can ‘stick it up his bollix’. Who will be happiest about such a novel development? The backstairs whisperers plotting the European Super League, which would be the final nail in the coffin of traditional football. It is shameful enough that the so-called big teams have been rotating and freewheeling when it suits them for years, without the warranted punishment – but if the rest start reciprocating, where will it end?

The irony is that this season is turning out to be one of the LEAST-suited for such manipulative McCarthian malarkey. The stumblings of the top six or seven have produced an increasingly thrilling concertina effect, and I can’t remember the last time United had lost five by Christmas yet remained virtually top. With apologies to Werner Heisenberg, this is the kind of Uncertainly Principle we should all be welcoming: as Arsene Wenger rightly pointed out a few weeks ago, nothing should be presumed, and a record low points total for a champion could be on the cards. He was ridiculed then, as he’d just lost and was deemed to be straw-clutching, but events instantly proved him right.

So, naturally, we’d be hugely annoyed not to win at Hull next Sunday, it being the kind of three-away-points banker upon which we built out last title. But whatever the redtops might then say, it would not be the end of the road. How glad we should all be to leave a world where observers pathetically stampede to “call” a title before anyone else: for the only 2010 certainty is uncertainty.


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