By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton
This was the weekend that nothing happened. When there’s a diary to be filled, sometimes you just have to look at the results, the previous weeks, and the ongoing storylines of the season, and pull something out of the ‘we’re creative geniuses’ hat. A sly word there, a perceptive piece of analysis on a crumb of information here, it all adds up to a brilliant, compelling piece of work that is entertaining, empowering for women, funny and enlightening.
At other times, though, all you’re left with is prepositions. And not even good prepositions. So let’s try something different. Let’s imagine the dressing room talks at the Big Four club matches over the weekend, and see what the mood is. It’s made up, but it’ll feel real, and isn’t that, in the end, the real truth?
Roberto Di Matteo: Excellent performance today. You did what was needed, and have kept the results coming. I know we had a bit of a wobble at the end of 2012, but we were obviously in a transitional period and we’ve come through it as a team, and better for it. You understand my tactics, and the relationships we have with each other are deeper than the superficial patch job we managed on the way to the Champions League. Frank, Ashley, those kind of performances are exactly why we need your experience around, to keep the players like Eden and Oscar on the right wavelength, to keep them committed through the grinding slog of an English season.
OK, so we’re only third, but City are for the taking at this point in the season—let’s not let our heads drop, and let’s build for the future. I’m a young, attacking manager, something that the owner wanted even if it wasn’t to be with Pep Guardiola. Thank God he was sensible enough to keep me on instead of getting somebody the fans hate and who is washed up as a manager and a beard artist.
Roman Abramovich: [Abramovich wakes up on Sunday morning. He blows the gold leaf off the freshly baked croissants. He blows the gold leaf off the expertly coiffed hair and incredibly supple and appealing flesh of his girlfriend. He blows the gold leaf off the Champions League trophy by his bed. He remembers he appointed Rafael Benitez and now his club is held together only by mutual antipathy across the club, and Yossi Benayoun] Oh bollocks.
Rafael Benitez: Er… Who’s going to be around next year then? Who do I ask about that exactly?
Roberto Mancini: You can do this but you can’t even beat Southampton? Are you forgetting that I’m the passive aggressive one in the relationship here? If you won’t even follow my orders on the particular dysfunctional relationship that I have insisted upon at this club, then I’m going to have to sell you.
All the other players: We’ve got your number. Everybody has got your number, and you know it. Let’s just sit here in silence for the next four months and we can all put it behind us.
Arsene Wenger: I’m not entirely sure why I’m surprised anymore. I mean, I bought you, I trained you, I am pretty much responsible directly or indirectly for everybody less senior than me being at this club, and yet my ability to discover great talent has been replaced by a surefooted ability to get diminishing returns from my commitment to… to what exactly? I say the word ‘socialism’ while I charge the highest ticket prices about, in a borough with some truly terrifying poverty. I say that financial doping is unfair and yet I’m more than happy to exploit labour laws abroad to take the youngest and most talented players from the world at a price that insults the developing club, and by extension the developing world. I can’t even make those players fulfill their potential as usual. I’ve bought you all, I pay you all, and I can’t help but feel that if this was a game of Football Manager, this would be the point that I admit defeat and just start again.
That’s what I should do. I should just start again.
I won’t though. I’ll just keep going. Who’s with me?
Bacary Sagna: About that new contract…
[This is just an empty dressing room as Manchester United do not play until tonight. As such the conceit for this piece has fallen at the first hurdle. We have looked up at the CCTV in the cupboard where Richard Whittall keeps us, held up a sign saying, ‘WHAT NOW, DADDY?’’ and Richard has buzzed through and spoken on the intercom. We call it the Daddy Phone. He says, “Try harder. A deal’s a deal, no matter how much we all regret it. It’s too close to the end of the season to stop this diary now. Don’t make me dress up as Mother Whittall and beat you. Again. Not again.”]
So, there we have it. Boundaries pushed. Envelopes sent. Box out-thought. You are welcome. Please God, something happen soon.