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Aug 10, 2011

The Fifth Official: Losing in style

All summer long The Fifth Official has been sharpening his claws in readiness for the new season. Marvel here as he sticks it to the man by handing out his awards before a ball has even been kicked in anger.

The 'just stepped out of a salon' award

His was one of the most high-profile arrivals of the summer and judging by the state of him, it looks like Andre Villas-Boas wandered straight into Stamford Bridge from the set of a L'Oreal advert. Even more metrosexual than his Portuguese predecessor, Andre - whom I disliked immediately upon learning he is roughly the same age as me - needs to realise that all the moisturising and exfoliating in the world won't help him in his battle to topple the grizzly old coot that is Sir Alex.

The Glaswegian's grey, streaky skin and bright red nose match his gritty demeanour and total dedication to getting the job done. No-one questions the great man's logic for fear of the hairdryer treatment. The only hairdryer Andre will be utilising is a very expensive one after he's just shampooed and conditioned his hair with some flashy Salon Selectives number. Sadly for Andre, second best in the hairdryer department will also translate into second best in Premier League, which will mean the big pointy finger of fate from Roman and the abrupt end of a once promising career.

Another overly-coiffured gaffer who will be forced to watch the title race through the kitchen window is Roberto Mancini, the same old chap with the same old problem: how to mould a team of cash-hungry mercenaries into a cohesive unit willing to take a face full of mud for each other. One diminutive Argentinean is on his way out (thank heavens) but another, hopefully less whiny one is due to replace him. His only other problems are an expensive, lumbering Bosnian, an unhinged Italian, a wantaway Togolese, a disruptive, dwarfy Welshman and a laidback Paraguayan, all earning wages that make me want to set fire to all the money in the world.

The 'pre-season implosion' award

How comforting to see that Arsenal have picked up where they left off, essentially in a stinking, chaotic mess. You know you are in for a torrid season when the fans are booing a draw in a pre-season friendly. Yes, said fans were ground into the dirt with a spectacular capitulation last season and had their questionable brand of loyalty tested still further by a hefty summer hike in ticket prices, but all they wanted was some money to leave the club's considerable coffers. Oh, and guess what? Cesc Fabregas wants out. Again. It's as if he's timing his departure to wreak maximum havoc on the squad and ensure Wenger is walking the plank before the nights start drawing in.

How fitting then that the shambles of London meet the shambles of the north on the opening day, as Arsenal face Newcastle. Despite Alan 'the puppet' Pardew insisting in January that all their Andy Carroll cash would be reinvested on players, he is now trying to peddle the line that it has been swallowed by one £4 million transfer, Gabriel Obertan, three free agents and an all-weather pitch at the training ground. This after having flogged their captain - the Premier League's highest-scoring midfielder last season - back to the sizeable bosom of Big Sam in the Championship. And all this before Joey Barton started quoting George flipping Orwell on blooming Twitter.

Ashley and his lapdog cretin dodgy Derek are matched only in the size of their eclectic mix of hubris and stupidity by the walking disaster area that is Venky's. After harping on about signings, all they have managed to do is seal the capture of David Goodwillie from Dundee United and flog their best player to Manchester United. And just at the time of season when the gaffer tries to foster some team spirit, the squad are forced to humiliate themselves in a cringeworthy advert to flog chicken drumsticks in India. Not only was it embarrassing, it was wildly inaccurate - can you see David Dunn laughing after having his curried chicken leg pinched? Have you seen the size of him?

The 'usual suspects' award

Otherwise known as the Mario Balotelli and Joey Barton section. Those of you new to my work will quickly come to realise that the Italian striker is my muse, largely because because because because of the wonderful things he does. He really is the Wizard of Odd. And if anyone was concerned that his second season in England might see him water down his antics, his exquisite back-heel balls-up against LA Galaxy should allay your fears. The disdain it showed not just for the opposition but for everyone else on the planet was glorious to behold, as was his instant substitution and subsequent touchline row with his manager. Marvel in his eccentric genius, people, because we may never see his like again.

Balotelli may not share Barton's intellect but they are unquestionably members of the 'red mist brotherhood'. Haunted by the sale of Kevin Nolan and aghast at the decision to hand Shola Ameobi the Newcastle captaincy in a pre-season friendly, Barton slumped into a tweeting frenzy where it seems nobody is above being called a 'helmet' by the sorely mistaken Scouse philosopher. Yet after slagging off the comedians in charge and realising only Stoke were interested in him, Barton then climbed down from his lofty perch by asking if anyone had a number for Isambard Kingdom Brunel - the master bridge builder. Comedy gold.

A newcomer to these pages he might be, but Neil Warnock is bound to feature regularly this season. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he's basically Ian Holloway minus any of the endearing features. He actually manages the world's wealthiest club, who regardless of the estimated worth of their owners - some £30 billion - still jacked ticket prices up by 40% upon promotion and rewarded Warnock for his efforts by laying on the dosh to sign such big-name players as Kieron Dyer and DJ Campbell. They look most likely to join Mike Ashley and Venky's in what I like to call the triangle of incompetence.

The 'delusions of grandeur' award

Odd that Liverpool have been splashing obscene amounts of cash around given how they are managed by the league's thriftiest Scotsman. Their predilection for paying way over the odds for British talent - in the shape of Carroll, Downing and Henderson - gave rise to the notion that as soon as Joey Barton became available, Liverpool's board immediately tabled a £26 million bid. Their repeat of sixth place hinges squarely on the shoulders of Andy Carroll (if he can stay out of prison) and Luis Suarez (if he can stay sane) because behind them lurks David Ngog, the striker even Sunderland didn't want (and they'll take almost anyone).

Joining Liverpool on the teetering scales of fate are Tottenham, the club who shot themselves in the foot by relieving Kenny's mob of Europa League duty this season. 'Arry's honeymoon is well and truly over, his best player Luka Modric is hell bent on joining rivals Chelsea (as his joke transfer request circulated this summer put it: "No like play with tall circus man") and the club are still lumbered with three dodgy strikers who still wouldn't morph into a world-class one if you joined them together.

Also included are Everton, who are in a league of their own when it comes to the "haven't got a pot to p*ss in" award. David Moyes has less money to play with than Greece but still manages to pluck pride and spirit out of his Toffees - in the second half of the season at least. Despite his miniscule budget, the fans unrealistically claim that Champions League qualification is a target within grasp, while Dave is just happy to make it to the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup. As ever, fitness is the key, which is why another long, hard campaign is winding its way down the sludgy pipeline.

The 'thankless task' award

Well done Alex McLeish, the man who managed to unify a city usually divided by partisan lines through their hatred of him. Big 'Eck can't win, and even if he does, he'll still lose. Any triumph will be tainted because it was delivered by the hand of an ex-Blues boss while any draw, loss or sub-standard performance will be greeted with contempt from the stands and calls for his head on a Gerard Houllier-shaped platter. It is what is known commonly in the trade as the 'Joe Kinnear Effect'. Villa have already started rewriting history to help their new man, listing all his achievements on their website upon his appointment, apart from taking Birmingham down twice. Surely that should have been right at the top?

Just like any play-off winner, Brendan Rogers has nine-months of hell on the breadline to endure. Proof of this is encapsulated by the decision to hand the keys for the office of on-field creativity to Wayne Routledge, who has yo-yoed between the Premier League and Championship more times than West Brom. Expect an early season flurry of points, especially at home, followed by a slow sink into oblivion post-Christmas. Ditto Norwich.

Also likely to have their nails singed by the flames of fan desire this season are Owen Coyle, Martin Jol, Steve Bruce and Mick McCarthy. Why can't they just be like Wigan, the club who accept the limit of their ambition is 17th and act accordingly? Instead they will moan, curse, swear and boo as their team flail in the face of similarly mediocre opposition. So let's start as we mean to go and take our lead from the Emirates Stadium crowd during Arsenal's knockabout with the New York Red Bulls and get booing. One, two, three: booooo...

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more controversy on Twitter than Joey Barton at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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