Pulling up the drawbridge in the disingenuous name of progress

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BIG MAL, BIG PROMISES, BIG CUP

We’re fast coming up to the 50th anniversary of one of the most infamous claims in the history of English football. “I think a lot of these foreign people are cowards, they play with a fear of defeat,” opined Malcolm Allison in the aftermath of Manchester City’s 1967-68 title win. “I promise you that next season City will attack these people as they haven’t been attacked since the old Real Madrid.” We’re also fast coming up to the 50th anniversary of Fenerbahçe bundling City out of Big Cup at the first hurdle. Some statements stand the test of time better than others, don’t they. Oh Mal!

But City have never given up on their dream, and now they go again as the knockout stages of Big Cup begin. Though this time their talk is tempered with the reality of how difficult it will be. “We are trying to break into a well-established order: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid,” noted captain Vincent Kompany. “Any team who has tried it has failed.” The Fiver was about to reference Chelsea by way of rebuttal, but on second thought the 2012 winners haven’t exactly gone on to establish themselves as a reliable Big Cup force, have they. Oh José! Oh Guus! Oh Antonio! Oh Roman!

Then we looked at the list of clubs to win Big Cup for the first time since the moneymen jiggered everything in 1992-93, and it runs to Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Marseille. Three new champion clubs in a quarter of a century! A rum return, especially when you consider Aston Villa, Hamburg, Juventus, Steaua Bucharest, Porto, PSV Eindhoven, Red Star Belgrade and Barcelona all enjoyed their first win in the dozen years before that. It’s almost as though the drawbridge was pulled up in the thoroughly disingenuous name of progress. Oh Vincent! How could we have ever doubted you?

Po’ Li’l City aren’t just going into battle against history: they’ll also be taking on Basel/Basle/Baarrrrlll, who have a decent record against English clubs, having in the past inconvenienced Chelsea, Liverpool (twice), Manchester United (twice) and even Sheffield Wednesday for goodness sake. They welcome back Leroy Sané, who nearly had his leg turned into a Rubik’s Snake at Cardiff in January. The young winger will no doubt welcome an edict from Big Cup ref chief Pierluigi Collina, who insists “we need players playing, so they must be protected”. And it’s not Uefa’s only speedy response to a disciplinary issue: Collina also says mobbing referees is “not the message we want the game to convey”, a mere two decades after Manchester United became renowned at home and abroad for their willingness to engage officials in mutually beneficial Socratic dialectic. So well done to everyone at Uefa for taking their boots off the desk there.

Spurs, meanwhile, travel to Juventus. Thing is, Bill Nicholson didn’t say anything daft back in the day, so The Fiver doesn’t have an angle on that one.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Barry Glendenning from 7.45pm GMT for hot MBM coverage of Juventus 2-0 Tottenham, while Scott Murray will be on hand for Basel/Basle/Baarrrrlll 1-3 Manchester City.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“These changes follow Albion’s poor results this season which currently sees the club at the bottom of the Premier League” – West Brom sack Alan Pard … oh, hang on, they’ve only axed chairman John Williams and chief suit Martin Goodman.

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FIVER LETTERS

“I’d thought I’d take the time to check how The Fiver has been doing in the Big Cup prediction department. Last season, The Fiver actually got a respectable two out of 28 score predictions correct! This works out to about 7% and probably beats a monkey throwing darts or using a typewriter, so I congratulate you on your football knowledge. Still, the odds would only have given you an 18-factor return, so you would still be down 10 units, but that’s a lot better than at least some dart-throwing typewriter monkeys” – Thomas Krantz.

“Many years ago, back when kids bought their music in vinyl form (ask your parents), I worked for Our Price in their Uxbridge store. One particular day the manager was crouched on the shop floor, moving some stock in the Top 40 albums display, when a customer stood over him to take a CD case off the shelf. However, in doing so he somehow managed to lose his grip on the CDs he already had in his hands. He made a failed and, from my vantage point loitering behind the counter, quite comical attempt to grab at them, but only succeeded in sending them tumbling on to my colleague’s head. He stood up, with the intention of remonstrating with the customer, but for the Chelsea-supporting store manager there was to be disappointment and a resigned acceptance when he found that the clumsy customer was none other than the infamous slippery-handed condiment-dropper Dave Beasant” – Tim Grey.

“Nick Livesey is on to something when he points to overlooked possibilities regarding the Proclaimers (Fiver letters passim), but there is another factor. Twins Charlie and Craig Reid share a dual-part harmony vocal on the chorus, but since the song is sung in the first person, surely they are alternating the lead vocal. Thus in the first instance Craig (or Charlie) is indicating he would walk 500 miles, and in the second Charlie (or Craig) is indicating he would do the same, but raise his brother 500 miles ‘to be the man who walks 1,000 miles’. So if the Proclaimers are repeating themselves in the series of choruses, for one of the brothers the mathematics originally claimed by The Fiver are correct. Equally, the 1,057 pedants led by Paul Croft are correct for the other brother. If these miles are cumulative, however, either Charlie or Craig seems to be willing to travel around 25,000 miles and his brother half that distance. Where the circumference of the Earth is 25,000 miles, that brother would seem to be making the more sincere claim, as walking 12,500 miles would get you anywhere you needed to go. His brother would just be showing off” – Basile Bailey.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Tim Grey.

THE RECAP

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NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Hull City midfielder Ryan Mason has been forced to retire, taking medical advice following a head injury suffered during a game at Chelsea last year.

Gordon Taylor is under pressure to justify his £2.2m salary as PFA chief suit. “The Dalai Lama could be the chief [suit] of a union and on that money and I would still say it was wrong on so many levels,” sniffed Graeme Le Saux.

Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette faces six weeks out after surgery for knee-knack.

Antonio Conte has vowed to fight speculation over his future after Chelsea recovered their top-four place with a 3-0 win over West Brom. “We are getting used to [it],” he tooted. “My players know very well what we have to do.”

And Rochdale boss Keith Hill isn’t having any of Mauricio Pochettino’s complaints about the Spotland pitch before their FA Cup tie. “It just seems to me it was an easy punch to hit us with,” he sighed. “It was a bit of a low blow.”

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Pernille Harder there. Photograph: VI-Images via Getty Images

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