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The Fifth Official: K-Mac no longer the Villain

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a five-star weekend.

Return of the Mac

"Mr Lerner might come down to the training ground and that," was Kevin MacDonald's appraisal of what may transpire in the next 24 hours at Aston Villa after a 1-0 scrape past Everton made him a genuine contender for the manager's job again. Before then, Mac attack would shuffle out of the media glare to neck a chicken korma, watch Dragon's Den and have a chinwag with the girlfriend about whether he even wants the job, and that.

The enigma that is K-Mac. Who is this coy man blinking meekly at the camera and telling us he's not sure he's ready for our attention? He won the double as a player with Liverpool in 1986. He starred in The Anfield Rap with MC Barnes and a break-dancing Craig Johnston, before disappearing from Liverpool to obscurity, outshone by "he's the man, if anybody can, Macca can," (lose the ball and World Cup points to the Irish) Steve McMahon. Have the effects of this rejection left Kev mentally frozen as an unsure man in his twenties? Is that why he has a 'girlfriend'? He may have been a rapper once but he certainly didn't push the envelope as a freestyler. "We need to, like, move up the table," was his whispered pre-match verdict.

The thing is, despite being so shy you wonder what he's afraid of people finding out, everyone at the club thinks he's the bees' knees. John Carew hugged him like his best friend at the final whistle. The tunnel security man shook his hand, and 'Stan' Petrov and Luke Young nailed their colours firmly to the mast. Kev managed a flirtatious smile in his interview before hurrying off to check the Sunday EastEnders omnibus had recorded properly. Mr Bashful may yet be joining the cast of merry managers yet.

Barton gets battered

I find myself in an unusual situation this week, dear chums, as I prepare to defend that most indefensible of midfield terriers, Joey Barton, for the second time in seven days. The same Joey Barton who reckoned he could have done just as well as those footballing imposters resembling England's midfield in South Africa. Yes, even Shaun Wright-Phillips.

As Newcastle's game with Wolves unfolded it became clear that Mick McCarthy's team had been sent out to kick, pinch, pull, punch, stamp, or if possible, maim the ex-moustachioed midfield maniac. Chief culprit was Karl Henry, who was tasked with sticking to Barton like detritus on a stick. He could only have done a better job had he actually been given a stick to batter him with. Afterwards, he said Barton's bark was worse than his bite, but he clearly hadn't canvassed the views of the teenager who Barton poked in the eye with a cigar or that lad whose face he nearly kicked off, an offence for which he went to prison.

As the players left the field, and Barton hobbled off for a week-long ice bath, Mick McCarthy sidled up to the misunderstood maniac and put a fatherly arm round him. I'd love to believe that the gruff Yorkshireman (is there any other kind?) whispered in his ear, 'how does it feel to get dinnered by a player no-one's heard of tache-boy?' but in effect what he said was, 'if you're going to grow a wispy slug on your top lip in the name of team spirit, you've got to be prepared to wear one or two yourself.' The rematch is in early April, so expect the war of words to begin around Christmas time.

The Young Boys of Wigan

All the signs were there. Spurs thrashed Young Boys during the week to qualify for the Champions League group stages, while Wigan pitched up at White Hart Lane on the back of a 10-0 aggregate thumping in their opening two homes games. And, on top of all that, they'd shipped nine the last time they visited Tottenham's particularly choice part of north London. It had away win written all over it.

Wigan had been so poor in their humiliating defeats to Blackpool and Chelsea that even Young Boys would probably have battered them on Saturday. Heck, even Barely Walking Toddlers - that obscure Macedonian team I may or may not have just invented - might have racked up a cricket score against them, given their complete lack of anything resembling form or confidence.

And yet Spurs gleefully handed Roberto Martinez's band of pansies an away win. The Spaniard admitted as much after the game, hinting that his lads had previously been afraid of smashing into tackles ala Karl Henry on Barton. But now, they are all prepared to die for each other apparently - apart from Charles N'Zogbia, who is just dying to leave.

'Arry's chin wobbled twice the usual amount in his post-match presser as he admitted that he dreads games like these more than any other, largely because of Tottenham's fecklessly fickle fans, who cheered their boys off four days earlier for sealing passage to the world's most lucrative club competition, before booing them off for losing to the Premier League's whipping boys. Startling fanship, I'm sure you'll agree.

Tevez and the foot of clod

Every now and then moments come along that can come to define a striker's career. The hapless Chris Iwelumo - now missing howlers for Burnley on a weekly basis - will forever be remembered for his gravity-defying horror show against Norway, while Ronny Rosenthal can't walk down the streets of Haifa without someone abusing him for his shocker at Villa Park back in 1992.

Should Carlos Tevez's career steadily sink into a stupor from this point onwards, we can all hark back to the monster miss against Sunderland on Sunday that sparked the rot. It was such a routine finish, I'd even have backed Bobby Zamora to score (but probably snap a limb in the process). The look on Tevez's face in the aftermath was priceless, as if he was wondering why his team-mates weren't rushing over to celebrate with him. It was the sort of look you'd get if you asked Titus Bramble to give you a quick rundown on the fundamentals of super-symmetric quantum mechanics.

Tevez's game swiftly went to pieces after his finishing deserted him, and Sunderland, buoyed by the life that had been offered to them by the foot of clod, set about imposing the first defeat of quite a few in this, Roberto Mancini's "which will come first, the sack or a mutiny?"campaign. There's still time for the Italian to ship Micah Richards out on loan though - maybe to the WWE would be a suitable destination given his attempt at hauling back Darren Bent.

He may be wearing a tatty tracksuit to your Armani, and his face might have more angles in it than a triangle convention, but that Roberto is Steve Bruce, and he's just done you.

Jose: It just got Messi

We're just 90 minutes into the Spanish season and already Barcelona have amassed an insurmountable lead over the Special One and his hastily concocted band of millionaire nomads. Jose may as well give up the ghost now, because he's no chance of pulling those two points back if his fresh faced collection of vaguely-promising World Cup youngsters (plus Karim Benzema) continue to perform like they did in Real Madrid's 0-0 draw at Real Mallorca.

A curious thing this club v country dynamic. Gonzalo Higuain was prolific at the World Cup, yet stick him in a Los Blancos shirt and he's about as profligate as a clone of Iwelumo and Zamora, with a dash of Rosenthal added for good measure. Lionel Messi on the other hand, endured 450 scoreless minutes in South Africa, but plop him in the noisy environs of Santander in a red and blue top and he pots one within three minutes.

Still, it helps when Messi can slot straight back into a side of World Cup winners so tight, you wonder if they've all been on one long spa session since they lifted the trophy, occasionally breaking off from the celebrations to make eyes at Cesc Fabregas over in London.

Wresting the title from one of the finest teams of our generation at the first attempt? No way, Jose.


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