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Oct 5, 2009

Fifth Official: Witness the fitness

What a fickle beast Fergie is. Two weeks ago he was glad-handing Alan Wiley on the touchline, nudging him playfully and nibbling his ear after the officials let Manchester United play until they scored a winner against bitter rivals Manchester City. I bet Alan even got a vintage bottle of Fergie's finest Bordeaux through the post on the day after the game.

Now of course, not only is Wiley's timekeeping shot to bits but he's fat too. Whingeing about decisions and injury time is par for the course in the Premier League, but personal attacks on humble referees should be off limits, no matter how incompetent they are (ok, Rob Styles is fair game).

Of course, it was merely another lame attempt to divert attention away from stinking team selection and a lifeless performance, but nevertheless Ferguson has shamefully picked on the one referee it is almost impossible to hate (unless you're a City fan of course). A truly shabby outburst from an old man who should know far, far better.

Yebda-dabba-doo

Sit down and concentrate, for I shall now attempt to recap the current takeover situation at Portsmouth. There is a rather large caveat though, well two in fact. One, that I don't really understand it at all, and two, it will clearly be wildly out of date by the time you read this.

So, that Sulaiman al-Fahim chap, the one who's been trying to take over the club for about a decade. Yes, him. Right, well he's in hospital, the players didn't get paid this week, they'd lost seven games on the spin prior to Saturday, their long-standing chief exec was on about leaving and the club were staring down the barrel of financial oblivion until the chap whose takeover isn't even a takeover announces his takeover is being taken over by some other chap who wants to complete his own takeover. There, clearer now?

Whoever the new owner turns out to be (I reckon it's a joint bid from beyond the grave by Tommy Cooper and Benny Hill) they inherit a side who at least managed to garner their first points this season after a win at Wolves. They may be a string of rejects, loan signings and lower division stragglers devastatingly low on confidence (and wages) but to muster enough unity and discipline to down a competent Wolves side almost certainly deserves a modest ripple of applause.

Chalk versus cheese

What a way for wily old Arsene to toast the start of his 13th year at Arsenal, by thrashing the man who happens to be the very antithesis of everything he stands for, namely Sam Allardyce. They even look totally different; one a slender chap who dines as well as his players and sups the finest wines, the other a man of a more rounded shape who prefers flat ale and probably thinks fenugreek salad is an avant-garde 80s pop combo.

The optimistic Gooners will have left Sunday's eight-goal frenzy with a larger self-satisfied grin than usual after the Wenger principles were carried out to the letter by a clutch of hungry, cherubic players. Each one of their six goals was practically a work of art and, heck, even Nicklas Bendtner scored. The pessimists will have noted that while the young Gunners managed a half dozen, Rovers could well have netted just as many.

In the midst of it all was Cesc, who should probably get an "I'm staying at Arsenal," tattoo on his forehead just so he can point to it eight times a day when he's asked when he's off to Barcelona. The Catalans, ingeniously, managed to smuggle Thierry Henry into the ground on a covert spying mission on the pretext that he could have a half-time wander on the pitch and clap a bit. He will have reported that despite his badge-snogging bluff, Barca DNA is still strong in this one and a bank-breaking bid should be lodged the very nanosecond the January transfer window opens.

Plucked like Turkeys

So, are alarm bells ringing Liverpool fans? They should be, after the Reds meekly surrendered in the big battle of the bottlers. Chelsea's crisis was a defeat at Wigan and a narrow win at lowly APOEL Nicosia, Liverpool's catastrophe was a truly shambolic 45 minutes at Fiorentina when they were led a merry dance by a Montenegrin teenager.

Rafa went nuts in the dressing room in Florence but it made little difference to the eventual outcome - a fact that obviously cheered Carlo Ancelotti, who has been on the painful end of one of Rafa's miraculous 15-minute rants. The Italian now leads their personal duel 2-1 but at least Rafa can claim to have faced down four Chelsea managers before now in his time at Anfield.

In the end there was to be not even a sliver of the drama provided on that sultry night in Istanbul, just the same whiff of lager and kebabs on the Kings Road after. Didier Drogba made non-specified meaty chunks out of Liverpool's creaking back-line to provide both goals and a measure of how poor Liverpool were came during Rafa's post-match rant when he insisted their defending had IMPROVED from the midweek Champions League humbling.

YouTube if you want to

Finding myself with a spare hour this week I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about and have a read of the hot new thriller taking the internet by storm. It's got everything a good yarn should have; flawed characters, high-stakes, the odd porky being fed to an unsuspecting public, disagreements and tantrums, and internet clips of South American footballers. As you'd expect it's got a catchy title too: 'Independent Arbitration Hearing: Kevin Keegan v Newcastle United Football Club.'

In this most tawdry of Toon tales no-one comes out smelling of roses but, when your standing on Tyneside is as low as Mike Ashley's, it's pretty hard to plumb any new depths. The only way he could besmirch his name further among the Toon Army is if he went round to Jackie Milburn's house and punched his widow in the face.

And the focus of this bust-up that led to Keegan leaving the club and a downward spiral that would ultimately lead to its relegation? An unknown Uruguayan midfielder called Ignacio Gonzalez, who Keegan didn't want but was forced to take anyway. Off went KK, down went Newcastle and back to parent-club Valencia Nacho did go, but not before he managed just 38 minutes of first-team action in the season and cost the club an estimated £1 million in wages. You really couldn't make it up, and that was even before Joe Kinnear walked in the door.

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