Some call it a Devon Loch, others the Costanza Moment. Being in a position from which you simply cannot fail, and then failing – not simply, but spectacularly. It's going to take something similar if Manchester United are to miss out on a record 19th title. Starting tonight at Newcastle, United need 13 points from six games to clinch the title (although you suspect 11 would be enough, as logic, form, the fixture list and that psychic down the road with the inexplicably moreish musty smell all point to Chelsea rather than Arsenal being the main challengers).
United do have a tricky run in, with Arsenal, Chelsea and an in-form Everton still to come. Nor is tonight a given, even though Newcastle have won only two of their last 12 games this season and two of the last 28 against United since the famous 5-0 win that clinched the title for Kevin Keegan's side back in October 1996. United at least have Wayne Rooney back, following his two-match ban for introducing a bad word to millions of hitherto Listerine-mouthed children up and down the country.
Surprisingly, neither Rooney nor Patrice Evra have been banned by the FA for having absolutely nothing to do with a couple of incidents that set a diabolical example to hitherto innocent children. The FA have decided to take no action over the post-match contretemps between Mario Balotelli and Rio Ferdinand – which, let's be honest, was extremely funny – or the very mild damage to the United dressing-room. Won't someone think of the plasterwork?
"We brought it to the FA's attention on Saturday night, we apologised and offered to pay," said a United spokesman, proudly branding an 'IOU, Honest, Love, The Glazers' note. "It was about three inches in diameter ... and not a hole," he added, as the Fiver fnarred wearily, a broken tea-time email. The state of football, reduced to getting all hot and bothered over some damaged plasterwork. Never mind the plasterwork; the real concern is the fact that the basic foundations of what used to be the best thing in the entire world are crumbling.
"[Colonel] Gaddafi is a man I've always admired. I know him and I know Seif, his son. They are my friends. But frankly I don't really know what is happening in Libya, but it must be very hard for Gaddafi and his family" - just when you thought El Hadji Diouf couldn't make himself any more unpopular ...
There are people who would pay good money just to wind up Manchester United fans. In fact, Sheikh Mansour already has – and last weekend's display of impotent rage from Rio Ferdinand, ignominious petulance from Paul Scholes and puce fury from Lord Ferg must have all represented highly satisfying returns on investment for Manchester City's mischief-making owner.
Interestingly, the chances of anyone forking out a fortune to buy Everton in the intention of provoking a similarly amusing shift in power on Merseyside are waif-thin: because what is the point in paying to work Liverpool fans into outrage when so many of them reside permanently in that state already? None whatsoever. Thus, by being very easily offended, Liverpool fans prevent their neighbours from getting too noisy, the sly coots.
"New ownership isn't always the solution to everything," wheezed David Moyes today in an attempt to put a brave face on the fact that, despite making his millions from persuading people to sit through West End musicals, chairman Bill Kenwright has for years failed to convince anyone to buy Everton. "We don't need new owners," insisted Moyes, who for the last three seasons has only been allowed to spend what he earns through sales, which is obviously a ludicrous restriction in an industry in which winners must venture further into the red than Mick Hucknall's suppository.
"We need an investment of money," jarred Moyes, explaining: "Everton could be very close to being very good for not an awful lot of outlay. It might not be one of those clubs that needs £300m-£400m to turn it around. The stadium needs investment obviously, but maybe one side can be developed to start with. I'm not sure, something like that. Maybe the football team doesn't need £100m. Maybe the football team needs an amount that would give it a chance to breathe again and grow a little bit more. That's maybe why we don't need a zillionaire."
So there you have it, Everton aren't looking for a zillionaire, just someone who might like to hand over tens of millions of pounds without actually taking ownership over how it's spent. Everton's position suggests they are going nowhere.
"Never mind Wembley plc, Chelsea should be suing Glazer Inc for breach of copyright. In terms of lack of grace in defeat, every element was there against Man City - the player sent off late on for a vindictive foul, the lambasting of the referee, the litany of churlish excuses and the collateral damage. And they'd have a better chance of collecting damages than they would from Adrian Mutu. It was like watching Drogba and Lampard in their glory days. Such lovely clubs" - Nick Smith.
"Why are people shocked that the dressing room wall at Wembley was damaged by Manchester United? Don't they know it's holy week?" - John Myles.
"To resolve the problem of the Man City v Stoke league fixture being rearranged and giving Man City an unfair advantage in the Big Cup race why don't the FA do what the local leagues do to resolve fixture congestion and hold a 'double header'? Both teams will be at Wembley on FA Cup final day so they could either hold two 30 minute each-way games or make the first-half score count for league points and the second half for the Cup, or just play one game and the winner gets three points and the Cup?" - Brendan Mackinney.
"If Tim Grey (Monday's Fiver) wanted to get away from 'a group of past-it hoofers with only limited talent' then Melbourne – home of the Kevin Muscat-led Victory – is not the place to move. Unless of course, he wanted to be nearer the cast of Neighb … oh. Bad move all round, then" - Wade Howland.
"Re: Alexander Hleb failing to adjust to Birmingham's style of play. Yeah, that whole winning trophies thing can be tough to get used to" - Nicholas Einhorn.
"Re: Eileen Margerum's letter yesterday about being a pedant. I sincerely doubt that George Needham's (formerly known as George S Needham in some circles) middle name was 'C'. I think Ms Margerum meant to inform various websites that his middle name began with a C" - Stuart Kirwan.
"I hope Kevin Murphy (yesterday's Fiver letters) doesn't mind me being pedantic, but there should be a quotation mark after the question mark in his letter" - Mark Robinson.
"I doubt the fans of Jakarta Lightsabres (yesterday's Fiver) will be unduly distressed by their feeble handing of the AeroRoboMegaBowl MCXVIII to the Beijing Phasers, as if it is the 1,118th (MCXVIII) AeroRoboMegaBowl and the year is 2509, then there would be at least two such competitions a year if the AeroRoboMegaBowl were to start next year. PS I had a rough weekend and this pedantry has helped distract me from that. Thank you" - Eoin McManus.
Lord Ferg's favourite face-empurpler Martin Atkinson will referee next month's FA Cup final.
We're Not Making This Up dept: The Royal Emirates Group is set to purchase a La Liga side, thought to be Real Zaragoza, and rename them Team Dubai.
Bovine bother has brought an end to Iffy Onuora's reign as coach of Ethiopia. "He was telling the newspapers that he had to clear a herd of cows off a pitch in order for the team to train," said an Ethopian FA spokesman after former Sheffield United and Huddersfield striker's sacking. "I'm not aware of a single pitch that the team trains in where you can find cows."
Two Moldovan referees have quit after being threatened with violence over the weekend. "I was told that if I don't follow certain decision in that match something could happen to my family," said Vladislav Ivanchenko, who received threats via anonymous texts. "It was a clear threat to my family so I decided to stop right away."
Not content with hosting the British Ploughing (Heavyweight Division) Championships, the South-East England Invitational Mole Racing Gala and the Neasden and District Amateur Dramatic and Dance production of STOMP on Wembley's hallowed turf, the FA will allow 40-odd 18-stone chaps to run on the national stadium's pitch when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Chicago Bears on 23 October.
Why has Arsenal's season unravelled like a badly wound ball of string? David Hytner has five reasons.
A chubby Theo Walcott, a moustache fixation and more stars and stripes than you could shake a particularly large stick at? It can only be this week's Gallery of Arsenal's American takeover.
Want to win tickets to see Sunderland v Wigan? No, us neither. But enter this competition anyway. It might be fun.
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