‘Ding Dong Merrily’ peeps, welcome to Christmas - time to eat, drink and enjoy the festive footie.
And it’s all happening – Everton fans are hoping for a Carlo Ancelotti-shaped parcel under their tree, and Arsenal have welcomed that beaming bundle of fun Mikel Arteta back to the Emirates.
Out of the two, it’s the Ancelotti appointment I find the most surprising - I would’ve thought that Arsenal were a better fit for him given the nature of the squad and the fact that he’d said that he wanted to work in London again, but there you go. Arsenal’s loss is the Toffees’ gain.
And what a gain - as a manager, he’s won everything. League titles in the UK with Chelsea, in France with PSG, in Germany with Bayern, the Club World Cup with Real and Milan, he’s one of only three managers to win the Champions League three times, also Crufts and Strictly, hell, that’s the full monty, Carlo.
But Everton? I really don’t know – we know he’s good, but is it a good fit? Obviously he’s going to have a ton of money available, but is he a long term bet? Will a life in the soggy north west of England with no prospects of any glory for a few years - if ever - and the only glamour the local ‘Spoons on a Saturday night, really appeal to him? I don’t know a lot about the guy except that he doesn’t smile very much, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
But he lights up the bloody room compared to Mikel Arteta, a man who’s made a complete catatonic state into this year’s ‘must have’ personal look. And if Carlo is a bit of a gamble at Everton, Arteta is the 100-1 outsider on the National at Arsenal. I’m not doubting his ability, far from it, but a club in Arsenal’s state is crying out for a personality to impose himself first and foremost on the team and then on the club itself, and I don’t see Arteta as the man to do that.
Apparently they interviewed Patrick Viera for the job and turned him down - so they deserve what’s coming to them.
And as fate would have it Arsenal are away to Everton this weekend, although neither new manager, if in place by then, will lead the team. Probably just as well for Arteta, because Everton are on a roll with ‘Big Dunc’, and with Arsenal’s defence as strong as a Tory promise and their inherent dislike of the cold, the dark and the north of England, it could be an uncomfortable afternoon for them.
Big Dunc has been guaranteed a position under Carlo, and you can’t imagine two more opposites. ‘Big’ is larger than life, passionate, he’s WYSIWYG, takes his shirt off in the rain, runs up and down the touchline – and he hugs ball boys, which I have to say I’ve got a real problem with.
I just don’t think you can do that in this day and age, it just looks wrong. The Jose fist-pump? Well, okay occasionally, but the wholesale clutching embrace of a small child really gives me the creeps.
Anyway... across the park, Liverpool were in the heat this week at the club World Cup in Qatar, and what impresses is that they’re a proper team - greater than the sum of their parts. There’s no egos, they can rest players, change positions, throw in a bit of karaoke, play in the controversial ‘Riverdance’ formation (which stifles the midfield but hey....), whatever, and the overall performance of the team remains consistent.
And that made me think – did Stephen Gerrard hold them back right through his career? Did the presence of one so dominant prevent the development of the bigger picture - of the team? Because they had every opportunity to break through and win the title - the best managers, brilliant players - but they never quite gelled like they do now. So I think so.
News also that the world #1 chess grandmaster became the top Fantasy Football pundit briefly this week - success, he attributed to ‘luck’. Now like most people I indulge in a spot of footie prediction and I totally suck at it. My particular indulgence is a simple affair, just predict a win, lose and draw for each fixture in the Premier League each week.
It sounds easy, but when you get results like Norwich beating Manchester City, Chelsea losing at home to Bournemouth, United winning the derby at the Etihad etc you expect to get it wrong. What frustrates me is the people who don’t – who get it right, against all common sense, form, logic and history, and there’s only one answer.
People from the future walk amongst us. People who’re sent back to stop us making monumental mistakes that will threaten our very existence – like giving Piers Morgan more airtime or thinking the catholic church is a force for good. And of course they’re under strict instructions to remain completely anonymous, but they just can’t resist a small act of one-upmanship, and the b*stards are ruining it for the rest of us.
A tale of two cities – Manchester and Leicester. Manchester, joint favourites for the title have now lost four games already this season, and whilst the absence of Aguero is undoubtedly a factor, it’s their defence that’s really pants. Unlike Leicester who’re equally fantastic going forward but also have one of the best defensive records in the Premier League.
And the difference, according to many, is Jonny Evans. Released by Man Utd then available after West Brom were relegated, he was considered and rejected by Pep (allegedly) as maybe being a bit dull or a bit old for the side he was building. But not for Leicester and look at the difference now, playing like he’s in his prime and looking back to his best.
Of course we had the privilege of watching him as a youngster at the start of his career, playing alongside Nyron in the days when we were still worth watching, and you could see he had class in shovelfuls.
If I could have any wish for Christmas this year it would be to have a team built around the likes of Jonny Evans, a team with potential, spirit and heart, that made football fun again, was great to watch and made you proud to follow.
But I can’t see it happening any time soon.
And a final word about Billy Hughes - a hero of my childhood, married to the sister of a girl in my class. I remember my brother coming home after the 1973 Quarter Final at Roker and he couldn’t shut up about him - and he didn’t even like football that much. Great memories of home.
Merry Christmas all.