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All Things Footie | Monday, November 1 | Jordan

Sit down, and shut up

And I thought last year’s ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ was the biggest non-event to get wall to wall media coverage, in comparison to this year’s luidcrously no-eventy, non-event, it looks like a war. By all accounts, encounters between Arsenal and Manchester United have been getting less and less violent since the infamous punch-up of 1990, though curiously the fuss made over them has moved in the opposite direction. I propose that anyone who is unimaginative and lazy enough to keep warbling on about the least feisty ‘battle’ I’ve ever heard about should be forced to tender their resignation as a pundit / journalist / manager / ex-player-with-no-braincells forthwith. That list includes: Neil Ruddock, Mark Bright, John Salako, Alex Ferguson, the entire editorial / journalistic staff of the Sun, Mirror, Daily Mail and Daily Star sport sections, and errrm, me I guess.

I’m very interested at the moment with what’s going on in the old first division—or is that the old second division? or the Championship?—more specifically, the rise and rise of Wigan Athletic. At the beginning of the 2002/03 season, Wigan were second favourites to win division two, while Leeds fans hoped the appointment of Terry Venables and the money brought in from the sale of Rio Ferdinand would steady the club in both footballing and financial departments—a top six finish was expected. Just two short, short years (and a few months) later, Wigan are atop the first division (Championship / old second division / etc.) having spent the whole season so-far unbeaten and comfortably beating a shadow of the Leeds side that began 02/03. The emergence of Wigan is remarkable, almost as remarkable as the demise of Leeds United, and both Paul Jewell and his players must be applauded and appreciated in equal measure. I firmly believe we’ll be seeing Wigan in the Premiership next season, and lets hope that the success encourages a few more of the city’s residents take a day off from watching fat blokes play catch to see some real athletes, and some real sport on a saturday afternoon.

It’s becoming clear to those that didn’t identify it already, that the only real threat to Arsenal’s Premiership title are José Mourinho’s Chelsea team. He’s a canny manager Mourinho, I like him. He’s intelligent, he makes the big decisions and he makes them well. How many managers in this country would play a big, ugly, greasy haired Russian (no offence meant, Alexi) over the British media darling (and expensive signing) Scott Parker? Only two, and both of them manage teams equal on points at the top of the Premiership. Both Wenger and Mourinho understand that it takes more than buying the latest Sun Sport favourite and throwing him straight into your team to build a good side. Teams need balance, not just literally, but figuratively—characters in the dressing room; sensible heads to offset the egos; nice blokes and bastards all together; it’s what makes a team click—for every Pires, there’s a Parlour, for every Carvalho, there’s a Terry, for every Ferdinand, there’s a Neville (or two). Mourinho’s building a canny team who’ll be very interesting to follow this season, and as far as I’m concerned he’s got what it takes. Ferguson on the other hand, is losing it big time and needs to stop playing to the crowd.

The whole Mutu saga has been interesting too. I don’t know whether it’s just because I’ve always rated him and kind of liked him, but I can’t be as universally condeming as many of the popular press and armchair fans. He’s cocked up, that much is obvious, but he’s not the only Premiership footballer to have had a noseful or two. What he could have done, was to be a bit forgetful, and miss his drugs test until they’d gotten out of his system, then claimed he was hibernating or something. The only problem with that approach is that with the precedent set by Rio Ferdinand, he would actually have ended up with a longer ban! Imagine that! Ferdinand’s punishment working as a deterrant to stop other players escaping the censure and public humiliation that’s in store for those people that have digressed. What a wonderfully unexpected side-effect of the FA just being horrible to a United player because everyone’s against United.

Even given Mutu’s digression, if I were a Premiership manager I’d still sign in him without a second thought (in about six months obviously). He’s a magnificently talented player, and with this episode behind him I’m sure he’ll straighten himself out and feel he’s got something to prove again. A very tempting proposition.

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