And they all asked at once, ‘Why isn’t John Terry starting?’ They asked this, I must explain, because John Terry wasn’t starting; it wasn’t some in-joke. It seems the problem with having club legends (not to be confused with club leggings, which have no drawbacks whatsoever) is that at some point you have to get rid of them and so they become undroppable in the awkward, bad sense rather than the good one of being a great player.
It’s this dilemma which Chelsea and Liverpool share at the moment, and unfortunately, as the whole racism thing has demonstrated, a problem shared is not always a problem halved—very often it’s just a lot more people being racist together. Which leaves the genuine question of what’s to be done here: Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard all need to be put out of their misery (or put into it, depending on how this is going to work) but how are Roberto Di Matteo and Brendan Rodgers supposed to go about doing that if they’re to come up against genuine, straight-faced pressure from media and fans alike every time they accidentally-on-purpose forget to scrawl JOHN TERRY CAPTAIN LEADER LEGEND across their teamsheets in excrement or blood?
Well, as is traditional when a writer sets his own question, I have the answer, although I will warn in advance against any heightened sense of expectation this might create. I may have set the question myself, but my incompetence is such that I could still mess it up as my university dissertation will no doubt soon prove. My answer is The Sir Alex Ferguson Guide To Cutting-Out Club Stalwarts. It’s based loosely on the actions of Ferguson, hence the name. But to avoid libeling him, after last time, I will say that it’s largely in the spirit of Lord Ferg, not the exact reality. In short, he might not have done these things to get rid of players, but he really should have done them. So let’s begin:
1. Provoke the player into saying something stupid about you or the club in the media. The old classic. Wayne Rooney came out against Manchester United in 2010, saying that they weren’t competitive enough in the transfer market, and naturally this made him look like a git, leading everyone to side with Ferguson on the matter of his leaving the club. But what no-one watching will have known is that Ferguson had done the groundwork for the press conference months in advance. He’d call Rooney girls’ names, like Waynetta, he’d tell Rooney that his pale skin made him look like Desperate Dan from the Beano comics. Then, the day before Rooney cracked, he stole his boots and made him train in pumps from lost property, forcing his teammates to laugh at him one at a time. A man approaching his 70s acting as ring-leader in a round of childish bullying—it’s barely believable, but it worked.
A similar tactic could work well on Steven Gerrard. A few months of pumping Phil Collins tracks into the dressing room followed by telling him that you’ve signed Frank Lampard to play next to him in midfield should be enough to send him shouting to the newspapers. Bye bye, Steven. Easy.
2. Hint to the media that the player is a pervert. As I said, these tactics are more things Alex Ferguson should have used rather than necessarily things he has used to get rid of club heroes, but this one really did come close to happening. Ferguson was minutes away from leaking the idea that David Beckham had a boot fetish in 2001 before Becks beat him to the PR punch by being seen with a bandage over his eye, supposedly from a boot kicked at him by his manager. Had Ferguson got there, Beckham’s credibility would have been destroyed (well, more so) and no United fan would ever have mentioned his name again. No-one respects a boot-fetishist.
The obvious target for this one is John Terry. How easy would it be to suggest that he sleeps with his captain’s armband on? Too easy, that’s how easy. I bet you’d be even more inclined to believe it if I said he slept with it, but not around his arm, right? Wink wink. In fact, I’m almost convinced by this story right now and it’s me who’s come up with the lie. Though maybe I’m just a genius liar. Okay, it’s probably both.
3. Convince the player that they put their own transfer request in last week. Again, this almost happened. Roy Keane was halfway convinced that he’d asked to leave Manchester United in 2005. Indeed, Ferguson had put together an elaborate series of witnesses and tapes of the incident, but it all blew apart when Keane realized he’d been on MUTV badmouthing all of his teammates at the same time as he was supposedly requesting his transfer, so he’d actually only done the request metaphorically. True story. And an interesting fact: when people at the club refer to the mythical Roy Keane-MUTV tape they actually mean the doctored CCTV footage Ferguson put together of Keane’s putting in a transfer request.
And it goes without saying that Frank Lampard, a player with enough self-importance for an entire squad of players, is an ideal candidate to have this done to him. He’d want to believe it, so he would.
4. Tell the player the club is closing down. There’s a desk draw somewhere in Old Trafford with a final contingency plan: if a player won’t leave, tell them the club is closing down. It’s believed this was, again, originally put into place specifically for Roy Keane should he refuse to go, although what actually got Keane out of the building was the rumour that playing with shirts untucked would become club-policy.
It could work well on anyone. Richard Whittall, for instance, told me this site was closing down and I believed him until I couldn’t find anyone else he’d told the same. It could happen to you too.
5. Actually close the club down. Ultimately, if the legends won’t leave, closing the club down is the better option. Ferguson has never really had to consider this as he’s never dealt with John Terry, but as we all know, no football at all is better than football with John Terry, so it goes in the guide.
Hopefully these steps will be of some use to Roberto Di Matteo and Brendan Rodgers in their attempts to rid their clubs of those awful legends who just won’t go away. If not, and as usual, please direct all complaints to Richard Whittall, not me, I’m busy. Very busy.