MAYBE it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the time of year. Maybe it’s the stresses and strains of a packed festive football programme. But there seem to be an awful lot of ill managers around at the moment.
Sven-Goran Eriksson started it all when he turned up for a Manchester City press conference with a sore throat last Monday. And after watching more televised football than can possibly be healthy today, I’ve noticed there seem to be a few Premier League bosses looking even rougher than usual. (And it’s not a job that lends itself to preserving your looks anyway.)
There was Steve Bruce, sounding all cracked and broken and in need of a hot milky drink after Wigan’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle.
There was Alex McLeish, similarly sore of throat after Birmingham thrashed a Middlesbrough side whose idea of defending set-pieces appears to be to pile everyone towards the near post, then act surprised when several opposing players are left unmarked behind them.
And there was Harry Redknapp, who looked in need of a good night’s sleep when he appeared on Sky after Portsmouth’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal. (Something the City of London Police’s anti-corruption unit might want to bear in mind if they’re planning any more dawn raids. Which, for legal reasons, I’d like to make clear that they’re not, to my knowledge.)
Match of the Day viewers did not see the Redknapp interview, as he is still not talking to the programme due to some documentary or other that went out a while ago. (Curiously, though, there doesn’t seem to be a blanket BBC ban in force, as he gave an exclusive interview to Radio Solent only last month. If anyone can explain that one to me, feel free to leave a comment.)
Perhaps that was why Steve Coppell could clearly be seen with his hand over his mouth during the first half of Reading’s 1-1 draw with West Ham at Upton Park. He was trying to avoid catching those blasted germs from his fellow managers!
Last night’s final match: West Ham 1 Reading 1. Commentator: Dan O’Hagan.
Well, OK. The real reason Coppell was covering his mouth was to prevent Sky’s cameras from picking up what he was saying in a mobile phone conversation to his assistant Kevin Dillon following Brynjar Gunnarsson’s sending off for a two-footed challenge on Hayden Mullins.
It’s a risky business, picking games for live TV coverage. Sometimes, the TV companies don’t get it right. So while Chelsea and Aston Villa were playing out one of the maddest games seen in the top flight in recent memory, Sky were stuck with a rather pedestrian mid-table clash at Upton Park.
So pedestrian, in fact, that even with a sending off involved, it was still deservedly relegated to the MOTD graveyard slot, thus denying Birmingham the honour of being on last for a third consecutive show.
Among the highlights of tonight’s programme were Tony Gubba’s frankly incredible pronunciation of Juande Ramos’ first name (Yoo-an-day) and Martin O’Neill’s indignant interview after Villa’s 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge, in which he bemoaned the first-half penalty given against his side, and the red card for Zat Knight that went with it.
“We had a goal not given on Saturday as well, so don’t even talk to me about decisions,” O’Neill said. “If we get the next 15 decisions in the three games coming up, it will only semi make up for it.”
Fair enough, Martin. So what you’re basically saying is that however much luck you get, it will never be enough. And given that you are the manager of Aston Villa, I think you’re absolutely right.
One more thing. Arsenal’s fans directed chants of “England’s No 1” at Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia during the match at Portsmouth. This was deemed worthy of mention by the commentator, as it has been by the national media on several occasions over the past couple of weeks, since it became public knowledge that Almunia will soon qualify for England through residency rules.
I’m sorry, but is this a joke? Paul Robinson, David James and Scott Carson are all better keepers than Almunia.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that this story has been given legs because there is a ludicrous pro-Arsenal bias on the sports desks of most national newspapers. (But if you’ve ever read Will Buckley’s book ‘The Man Who Hated Football’, you’ll know that there is.) I can’t help but think, however, that if Almunia played for anyone other than the Gunners, the notion of him as England’s first-choice goalkeeper would have been laughed all the way back to Pamplona.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say you’d have to be feeling not quite yourself to put Almunia forward for the job. But then there are a few bugs flying around at the moment. Just ask Redknapp, Bruce and McLeish . . .
Boxing Day Gubbometer
1. Derby: 5
2=. Wigan: 4 (Gubba difference: +1)
2=. Fulham: 4 (GD: +1)
2=. Reading: 4 (GD: +1)
5. Bolton: 3 (GD: +1)
6=. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0)
6=. Birmingham: 3 (GD: 0)
6=. West Ham: 3 (GD: 0)
9. Gubba: 2
10=. Chelsea: 2 (GD: 0)
10=. Sunderland: 2 (GD: 0)
12=. Everton: 1
12=. Middlesbrough: 1
12=. Newcastle: 1
12=. Bury: 1
12=. Workington: 1
12=. Huddersfield: 1
12=. Grimsby: 1
(NB. Where teams are level, positions are decided by Gubba Difference; the number of times a team is on Match of the Day last with Tony Gubba commentating.)