AN UNDERDOG STORY
There’s nothing like an FA Cup weekend. It’s a chance to put tired old arguments on the shelf, dispense with the nitty-gritty, huddle round the telly and get behind l’underdog du jour – especially if they’re playing against a serial Big Cup qualifier. Sutton United should, then, look cuddlier than the fluffiest of fluffy bunnies, particularly with a battered Arsenal there to be pelted by pretty much anyone who has a pebble and a sling to hand. Monday’s tie is the shot in the arm the old competition needed; the injection of spark into a marriage for which several dozen too many Manchester United home ties against Championship opposition have resulted in a stale bed. Who could possibly go against the grain?
A number of reasonable people, if recent news out of Sutton is much to go by. If this seemed like the slipperiest possible kind of banana skin for Arsène Wenger in the immediate aftermath of the 5-1 shellacking in Bavaria, he might be surprised to find that not everybody will have it in for his team in three days’ time. For one thing, Wenger has earned a little sympathy for the way he has held himself since then; for quite another, Sutton’s pre-match dealings have created such a pickle that even some of their own supporters have taken against them, a one-off shirt sponsorship deal with the Sun causing disquiet for reasons Fiver readers might surmise for themselves. Dissenting threads on the club’s internet forum have, one supporter claims, been shut down; no Sun, no fun is said to be a maxim the National League outfit are religiously adhering to, although it is a charge Sutton deny.
“We regard them as a toxic brand that no football club, especially not a non-league football club which is justifiably proud of its independence, should do business with,” fumed the fan, in a view the Fiver’s overlords have opted not to censor. Could it be, then, that – jokes about actually being the underdogs in light of Wednesday’s humiliation aside – Good Old Arsenal suddenly find the role of national sweethearts thrust upon them? Everything is relative, after all. The only stumbling block might lie in the minds of those who willed them to cause a surprise at the Allianz Arena; no sane person wants to go through all that again.
Perhaps there might be something rather more wholesome to get behind in the impish form of Lincoln City, who get their own big day at Burnley tomorrow and will wear shirts emblazoned with the name of Vanarama – the company that sponsors the National League in which they play. Lincoln aren’t just representing their entire division, they’re flying the flag for “the UK’s number one new van supplier” – and what, in an age where we take what small mercies we can, could be more disarmingly “underdog” than that? Lincoln, of course, are managed by a talented pair of brothers – Danny and Nicky – whose childhood partly consisted of playing Championship Manager together. Even if the war of words at Gander Green Lane is smoothed over quickly, this modern-football version of the Waltons sounds rather more like the kind of operation you would dig the handrattles out for.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Wherever I went I won, so I am like Indiana Jones” – admittedly, the Fiver’s perhaps not best placed to sum up what makes a winner but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s comparison of himself to a fictitious archaeologist who repeatedly comes this close to taking home the world’s most coveted artefacts before letting them slip from his grasp seems like it could do with a reworking.
TACTICS MASTERCLASS OF THE DAY
“Three centre-backs – stay where you are. Two wing-backs – don’t go over the halfway line. Two centre-midfield players – stay in front of the back three. And you four up front” – Dean Saunders dishes out the advice to Arsène Wenger on the formation he should have used to beat Bayern Munich – one that apparently involved fielding 12 men.
“Re: Andrew Tate praising Bryan Robson’s niceness. I once stood on his toe outside Old Trafford during one of his lengthy foot injury layoffs. He said sorry to me” – Kevin McGowan.
“On the subject of nice footballers; many moons ago me and my reluctant girlfriend traveled via public transport to see West Ham plays Grays Athletic in pre-season (she was reluctant to go to the game, rather than be my girlfriend … I think). Because of the useless bus service we’re arrived way before the players. Sitting on a verge hours before kick off a snazzy car arrived driven by the mobile phone-toting Steve Lomas with a passenger named Paolo Di Canio. Nervously I approached Paolo, apologising for bothering him. He took my right hand in both his and proceeded to ask about all the intricacies of my life. He was charming to my girlfriend and told us we made a beautiful couple. Fifteen minutes later I am trying to come up with excuses why I needed to go and to get him to relinquish my hand. Next month me and my girlfriend celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Paolo Di Canio, football’s nicest man (if you see past all the other stuff – a difficult position for a Guardian reader)” – Grant Taylor.
“I once invited Manchester United’s Danish left-wing pocket-fisherman Jesper Olsen to my sixth birthday party, along with his team-mates Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson. I’m yet to receive Mr Whiteside’s RSVP and Mr Robson politely declined with an autographed picture of him in the 1982 England strip. Jesper went a little further however, replying with a pair of autographed pictures (85 Cup final and Denmark), and also with a hand-written letter. Apparently he was assured that my mum’s cooking was great, and would love nothing more than coming to my football party, he however sadly declined as ‘the gaffer wouldn’t let me off training that day’” – Damien Heakin.
“Shouldn’t that be ‘Christopher Smith (and MLVI others)’?” – Stephen King.
“I can’t help but notice that in your round up of English teams who have done pretty well against Bayern Munich (yesterday’s Fiver) you’ve neglected to mention – either a genuine mistake or because your or some sort of pro-Suffolk bias – Norwich City famously doing them over at their patch in 1993 (and on aggregate). I’m sure I won’t be the only Norwich supporting pedant to point out that Norwich were the only English team ever to beat them at the old Olympic Stadium” – Matt Leuw (and 1,056 other miffed Norfolkians).
“Many thanks for pointing out Paul Doyle’s article about when Man Utd played St-Étienne at Home Park almost 40 years ago. I was there that night, courtesy of my sister, Lynne, who was a hairdresser at the time and one of her clients was the wife on an Argyle director so managed to get us some tickets. I appreciate this isn’t funny or witty, but it is remarkable that after many years of reading the Fiver it finally came in useful. Stopped clocks and all that” – Martyn Shapter.
A Plucky Wigan youth player scoring a rip-roaring rabona against Blackeye Rovers.
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BITS AND BOBS
Tactics? Individual mistakes? Bad defending? Nope, Tottenham lost to Gent on Thursday night because they weren’t up for it. Well, sort of. “I think we underestimated Gent,” yapped Mousa Dembélé. “Generally, I think they wanted it more than us.”
You will not laugh and joke in the Manchester United dressing room. You will not laugh and joke in the Manchester United dressing room. You will not laugh and joke in the Manchester United dressing room.
“No matter what happens, I will manage next season, whether it’s here or somewhere else I am not sure,” said Arsène Wenger when asked about his future. Well there might be a job going at Arsenal, because the joker that managed them against Bayern the other night surely can’t contin … oh, hang on …
Jürgen Klopp reckons it was Liverpool’s schedule over December and January that caused them to suddenly turn bobbins, rather than, say, the rotating cast of circus performers he has to pick in goal.
Watford have announced that they will erect a statue of Graham Taylor outside Vicarage Road to honour their former manager, who died earlier this year aged 72. Do we like that.
And FEEEEEEED THE GOAT AND HE WILL MANAGE! Doesn’t quite scan, but everyone’s favourite loping Bermudian is back in the game, as Shaun Goater has been appointed as the new manager of Ilkeston Town.
STILL WANT MORE?
Amy Lawrence gives her take on why Arsenal need a shake-up.
Tim Stillman on how it took a Munich mauling to unite Arsenal fans on WengerOut’s future.
And Alexis Sánchez has had enough of the Emirates, if today’s Rumour Mill is to be believed.
Bobby Baggio is 50 tomorrow. Here are five of his great free-kicks, as chosen by Emmet Gates.
Huddersfield’s Harry Bunn talks to Jamie Jackson about watching his old man’s FA Cup goalscoring exploits on YouTube before facing his former side, Manchester City.
Wolves and Iceland’s Jon Dadi Bodvarsson tells Paul Doyle about preparing to face Premier League leaders Chelsea – and about beating England: “Lars Lagerback is one of the best coaches I’ve had in my short career and, with all due respect to England, he told us he thought that England was the most overrated national team that he had ever played against.”
Sutton United’s attempt to chisel their way out of the nation’s affections is just one of 10 talking points ahead of the fifth round.
Have a flick through this lovely picture essay of the fourth-round tie between Middlesbrough v Acrington Stanley, starring man holding pint, courtesy of Christopher Thomond and Steven Bloor. Nice isn’t it?
Anthony Martial is starting to refind his groove at Old Trafford after a stop-start season, writes Paul Wilson.
And fancy going to see Chelsea v Swansea on 25 February? Win a pair of (home) tickets by answering one utterly un-Googleable question.
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