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Roker Ramble: The AFCON bursts into life in Cameroon, and Benitez bursts into flames at Everton

It’s been a funny old week in football. Spare a thought for Ivory Coast’s goalkeeper, referee Janny Sikazwe, Rafa Benitez and... Middlesbrough fans.

Benitez Booted

It wasn’t so much a long and winding road for Rafael “facts” Benitez on the road to glory, more a short hop across Stanley Park which ended in abject failure.

Not even the big guy could polish this turd; he could only roll it in glitter and hope for the best.

The truth is, it never really looked like working for the man who had bought glory to Everton’s city rivals; however one win and two draws in his final 13 games (though some of them were also his first matches in charge) made Howard Wilkinson look like some sort of footballing svengali during his time at Sunderland.

The story of Everton really isn’t so much a sorry tale, more a Netflix 8-part black comedy released to critical acclaim. Their owner, Farhad Moshiri has been described by some within the club as a man who “doesn’t know what he’s doing”, though alternatively was labelled by an Everton supporting mate of mine as “batshit mental”.

It’s no surprise the club are in such a mess: including Benitez, there are players there signed by seven different managers, the club has spent over £500m, largely on duds. The most effective players, Andre Gray and Andros Townsend cost less than the price of a Freddo.

And what about this? They, on the instruction of their soon-to-be-sacked manager, sold Lucas Digne, and in return bought in Anwar El Ghazi from Villa, despite Benitez apparently not wanting him. They removed their director of football, conditioning coach and overhauled their medical team on the say so of the Spaniard, before unceremoniously removing him after little more than half a season in charge.

This isn’t so much of a project that Benitez so often talks about, more a grotesque Frankenstein-like experiment.

Norwich City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Regardless of the allegiances of some towards the chap somewhat cruelly described as a rubenesque Spanish waiter, he was given a bum hand.

You’d think though, that he would have done his research before accepting the role as he admitted he didn’t realise “the magnitude of the task” he was taking on. Mind you, he spectacularly failed to do his due diligence on Mike Ashley, so what do you expect. Benitez really does strike me as the kind of man who visits a back alley surgeon and trusts that he will have sterilised his equipment.

Replacements touted include Bobby Martinez and, somewhat surprisingly Wayne Rooney. Both laced with jeopardy for very different reasons. Martinez created an atmosphere more toxic than the interior of Chernobyl’s reactor no.4 in the dying embers of his tenure at Goodison Park. Rooney, meanwhile has yet to prove himself on any level except for being a relatively decent firefighter at fellow crisis club Derby County. That by no means translates to top flight proficiency; “Why not” said Micah Richards on the BBC’s Football Daily podcast this week - that’s precisely the problem: these “why not” managers never tend to work - the question you need to ask is “why?”

Mind you the last manager they plucked from the football league was David Moyes - though theoretically Martinez had just been relegated with Wigan. So who knows.

Dominic Cummings described Boris Johnson as an out-of-control shopping trolley, and it really does feel like Moshiri is football’s equivalent. God help the next incumbent.

Norwich City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

AFCON delivers with aplomb

Which idiot suggested cancelling the AFCON?

Honestly, things happen in this tournament that transcends football. This last week or so has bought us some glorious incidents that could sustain social media well into 2022.

Firstly we had the case of poor old Janny Sikazwe, the referee in the Mali versus Tunisia match who decided that 85 minutes was quite enough, thank you very much. Time for an early bath. If you look closely enough you can see the moment he realises “oh bollocks” and resumes play.

Not content with that, he then blew for full time 10 seconds before the 90 was up, to the fury of the Tunisian players. Apparently, Sikazwe was suffering from heatstroke; come on Janny sip water, little and often, in such conditions.

Tunisia v Mali - 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Photo by Haykel Hmima/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Cue pandemonium and it was only during the Malian post-match press conference that CAF officials barged in to say three minutes injury time had to be played. Which would have been fine, except the Tunisian players didn’t quite fancy it, ”we did not want to resume because the players had already taken their baths,” said coach Mondher Kebaier.

Can you imagine Lee Johnson coming out and saying the lads didn’t fancy playing injury time against Accrington because Leon Dajaku had already put the Matey in his post-match bath?

Not to be outdone by the officials, we also have a fine example of goalkeeping from Ivory Coast’s clash with Sierra Leone. Badra Ali Sangare may as well have chucked it in the net, for all the use he was.

It, frankly, speaks for itself. Credit too to the Sierra Leone keeper who ran out of the way of one of the Ivory Coast goals, in the style of a Pro Evo player who’d accidentally pressed triangle.

Palace subsidise travel while Glazers are on the take

Two Teesside-ish (depending on how strongly you feel about such things) towns, two very different footballing experiences this week.

Firstly, a lovely gesture from Crystal Palace who have offered to subsidise Hartlepool fans’ travel down to the capital for their FA Cup fourth round tie.

Less so from the pantomime villains of the red half of Manchester, the Glazers, who have slapped a price tag of £45 on tickets for Middlesbrough’s trip to Old Trafford for their match. Considering Premier League games are capped at £30, you could file this one under “complete piss take”.

Mind you, at least their fans can get out of Middlesbrough for a few hours.

My advice to Boro fans out there is that the cost of a return ticket to the beautiful city of Sunderland is far, far cheaper. Seaburn is lovely at this time of year.


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