IN FAIRNESS, THEY WERE PLAYING TWO TEAMS
When Uefa announced its plans to stage a third-tier tournament for European also-rans who aren’t good enough to qualify for Big Cup or Big Vase, The Fiver is prepared to concede it may have been sneeringly dismissive of the scheme for no other reason than it had been plotted by European football’s governing body. While it’s true the tournament was dreamt up for no other reason than to make Big Vase look a little less naff, it does come with other benefits. The churchmice of Europe – teams like Anorthosis Famagusta, Zorya Luhansk and various other minnows – now get to generate more money through playing extra games, while Tin Pot also provides new and interesting ways for down-on-their-luck bigger fish to humiliate themselves.
While Tottenham did their best to steal the headlines after sending a second string team to get beaten by Dutch side Vitesse, the north London club owe their former manager José Mourinho a debt of gratitude for ensuring they remained firmly out of the spotlight. Now in charge of Roma, we can only imagine how beneath him he felt the competition was before he’d even muddied his snow-shoes traipsing off to Arctic Circle for Thursday’s game against Norwegian side Bodø/Glimt, but at least he could argue it wasn’t his fault his team had been forced to play in the competition.
Having watched them come out the wrong end of an astonishing 6-1 shellacking that prompted paroxysms of mirth the length and breadth of Europe, it was less easy for him to absolve himself of any blame but José being José, of course that didn’t stop him trying. Having initially said one of the greatest embarrassments in Roma history was down to him because he had picked the team, José quickly resorted to type by throwing the players in question under the nearest bus. “I did it with good intentions, to give an opportunity to those who work hard and to rotate the squad on a synthetic pitch in cold weather. I never disguised the fact we were a squad with real limitations. We have 13 players who represent one team, the others are on a different level.” Translation: “I only have 13 good players in my squad of 25 who are any good and I can’t play them all the time, so realistically this is nothing to do with me.”
It is a tale as old as Christmas, or at least as old as the end of Mourinho’s spell at Real Madrid, followed by his subsequent spells at Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham. What is remarkable about this particular telling of it, however, is the astonishing speed it has taken Mourinho to go Full José: just five months into what is usually at least an 18-month cycle. No longer among Europe’s super-elite managers, José now finds himself in a bit of a pickle. With the inevitable player mutiny, followed by another lucrative but rancorous exit now all but assured, he’ll be needing to find another club willing to keep him in the limelight – ideally one with rich owners who have more money than sense and a very gullible fanbase at their disposal. While Paulo Fonseca may well get the vacant Newcastle job, The Fiver has a fair idea who will be first in the queue to replace him.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’m not ashamed of the own goal [against Burnley]; it is the story of my career – some highs, some lows – and in the job I have now I can use it to help young players get over obstacles they have in their careers. I can say to them: ‘You can score an own goal and then a few months later win [Big Cup]’” – yes, it’s Djinkin’ Djimi Traoré himself, getting his chat on with Sachin Nakrani.
“Re: thrashings (Fiver letters passim). How far has your team travelled to be thrashed? A return school exchange trip took a squad of hapless but enthusiastic Hampton Grammar School boys to Bochum in Germany in 1974 as part of a sporting cultural exchange. Now, we know the Germans were still on a high from the 1970 World Cup quarter-final win and a two-leg European Championship win over England in 1972. But our intrepid team of 15- and 16-year-old English schoolboys were unperturbed and ready to avenge this in their own backyard on an artificial pitch. The Bochum Hochschule team were, on average, 6ft 3in tall, 18 years old and included five junior team members from local pro club VfL Bochum. It was arguably one of the biggest mismatches since Arbroath beat Bon Accord. The final score was 16-0. Possession stats 99%-1%. Our post-match wurst was lukewarm as well” – Steve Lewis.
As manager of a Sunday League team in York during the 1990s, I decided that entering the North Riding Cup would give us the opportunity to travel to new drinking venues. We hit the jackpot first out the hat: Masham at home! A quick call to their secretary changed that to Masham away and we booked a bus and two brewery tours for our big day out. The only downside was having to actually play the tie. A few players couldn’t make it, so we lined up with 10 starters including a left-back who had suffered career-ending ankle-knack five years previously and could only manage a gentle jog. Luckily we had a secret weapon. Our goalie was a ringer from a semi-pro league. This, plus a disciplined 7-2-0 formation, meant we were only 5-0 down at half-time and their eighth didn’t go in until the 80th minute. At this point, the keeper called me over to tell me he’d never let in 10 in his life, and if we conceded another he would be leaving the pitch! This prompted a switch to 9-0-0, and a few minutes later we were enjoying well-earned pints at the best clubhouse bar we’d ever visited, celebrating a very creditable 8-0 scoreline” – David Bishop.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Steve Lewis. Commiserations, because on Monday … letters prizes are back, bay bay.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
The Belgian Manchester City fan who was attacked after their win over Club Brugge remains in a coma but is now stable, with two of the five suspects arrested in connection with the incident still in custody.
England and Northern Ireland will join together to give a message of solidarity prior to Saturday’s Women’s World Cup qualifying match.
Pep Guardiola has sent a bon voyage message to Steve Bruce. “I wish him all the best and I tell him, don’t pay much attention to all the comments because he knows it’s bull$hit,” parped Pep.
Bolton captain Antoni Sarcevic has intriguingly left the League One club to join National League side Stockport on a free. To add a little extra spice, the clubs will face one another in the FA Cup first round.
And cue the Souness screengrab: Paul Pogba and Stella McCartney are launching the Predator Freak, the first 100% vegan Adidas boot. “[It] perfectly fuses the world of fashion and football, showing how we can continue to create with the planet in mind,” she cheered.
STILL WANT MORE?
Your Premier League weekend starts right here. It’s 10 things to look out for.
It’s not going well for Mick McCarthy and Cardiff, as Ben Fisher reports.
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