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All Things Footie | Monday, October 18 | Jordan

‘It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in football’

The thing people don’t realise is that Alex Ferguson has been quoted hopelessly out of context, poor lamb. What he was actually saying was after spending a large percentage of the national debt of ethopia on granny shagging forwards, doped up centre halves, Olympic hopefulls and second rate Brazillian/Cameroonian journeymen, the way they can’t beat Birmingham on an off day is ‘the worst thing’ he’s seen in football. When asked about the ‘brawl’ at Old Trafford last season, what he actually said was:

‘Well, it was just handbags really. I’ve seen bigger scuffles in training—I don’t know what all the fuss was about. I mean, my captain deliberately ended a players career a couple of seasons ago with a vile, malicious, thigh-high challenge; a few years before that, my mad star-player was on his way off the pitch when he sent a studs-up kung-fu kick into the crowd assaulting a fan and nearly getting locked up, and about ten years ago there was a full blown punch up between my boys and Arsenal. No, that nonsense last year was—though thoroughly uncalled for—all part of the game’

Or did I just dream that the desperate, semi-senile old has-been talked some sense?

Saturday saw Arsenal rack up number 49 on their unbeaten trail, and it’s getting to the point where we’ll stop applauding each victory and just give each in an olé like just another pass in a seemingly endless move. And just as when your team’s strung 49 passes together, each touch accompanied by the customary cheers, When they do finally lose the ball it doesn’t make much difference: you know they’ll get hold of it again soon. Arsenal are at that point now; they’ve proved their point, made their statement, it may be possible that the astonishing record that’s re-set each weekend will start overwhelming the greater achievement that is to get a side playing the way they do. I’ve never seen a side play with such unnerving swagger and confidence as Arsenal do, and I’ve never seen a 17 year old newcomer epitomise that swagger in the way that young Cesc Fabregas does in Arsenal’s midfield. Central midfielders—as Alex Ferguson is finding out—are one of the most difficult players to find. Ones who can dictate a game the way Roy Keane used to, the way Steven Gerrard and Patrick Vieira do now, not just stelly warriors but subtle users of the ball, clever passers who read the game as well as they play it. Unlike the position of striker or goalkeeper for instance, being able to do this in a side surrounded by great players is more difficult—they demand more. I’ve never seen anyone under 24 come close to being able to fill the role; Fabregas is a freak of nature.

Liverpool pulled off a fine comeback in difficult circumstances to beat Fulham 4-2 on Saturday too. I’ve got a lot of time for Fulham, and they looked completely in control at 2-0 up before a lucky (or unlucky if you’re Chris Coleman) deflection sent a speculative Milan Baros shot looping over Edwin van der Saar. From then on, there was only one team in it. I’ve been very impressed this season with the attitude Rafa Benitez has brought to the Liverpool side, and I’ve been particularly impressed with the flying winger Luis Garcia. For five or six seasons now, Liverpool have desperately needed a wide man, someone to hug the touchline, run with the ball, cut in, give them a bit of width. Berger was their ideal solution but Houllier never used him; other than that it was converted forwards/central midfielders trying to play wide roles. As soon as Benitez shook off this width-phobia and Owen-obsession Liverpool have matured into a decent side. Surprised? Not me.

I think everyone in the country is guilty of misjudging Everton. It’s still early doors, but I—along with a few others I hasten to add—had written the Toffees off at the start of the season as no-hopers, but as in his first season there, with little expectation on the team David Moyes has seen his side blossom. And with the sale of Rooney, the bank balance too. Pats on the back all round at Goodison Park.

I like Jose Mourinho. I’m in a minority I think, but he tickles me. I like his arrogance, I like his myopia, I like the way he lays into journalists or just refuses to speak to them. I like him even more when his side’s just lost. He’s like the grumpy old grandad of the Premiership (despite being one of the younger bossess). Chin up Jose.

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