Arsene Wenger pledges to ensure his over-worked Arsenal players take on no more than two Premier League matches a month, after a recent dip in form. This leads to a major row, with the Gunners unlikely to complete their league fixtures until October. But the move is defended by keeper Wojciech Szczęsny, who says the change gives him a chance to hone his ballroom skills ahead of the Strictly Come Dancing 2014 series and work on his javelin prowess for Poland at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Paul Lambert reveals details of a new plan to get the best out of his side at home, switching home matches from Villa Park to Birmingham’s new claret and blue-donned library on Centenary Square. Rumours that the new setting will lead to a louder reception are put down to jealousy from Blues fans, as are fears that Christian Benteke’s confidence might be further dented by an outstanding library fine from 1997.
Cardiff’s shock replacement for Malky Mackay, Ronald MacDonald, makes good use of extensive transfer funds handed over in a brown envelope by club owner Vincent Tan. The big-shoed boss invests in a new kit for the newly-renamed MacBirds, involving yellow tops with red and white striped sleeves and socks, with a whole range of tie-in Happy Hour offers leading up to kick-off (and rarely beyond) at the newly-renamed Malaysium Stadium.
Jose Mourinho ups the psychological ante with a bold promise to gift main rivals Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool three points each from their respective February, March and April meetings, promising to field sides built around stalwarts of the club’s 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup victors. But newly-recalled skipper Ron Harris, inspired by a recent showing of Escape to Victory, has other ideas, voicing his determination that his opponents will be pushovers. ‘Chopper’ is overheard after a discussion with fellow defenders John Boyle, John Dempsey and Dave Webb, telling Mourinho: “Hang on a minute, boss, I think we can win this one!”
Plans are afoot to see the Eagles revert to their former Glaziers nickname and move away from SelhurstPark to their original home, in time for Palace’s 110th anniversary. The first blueprints are submitted for an architecturally-ambitious fully-glazed stadium, complete with a retracting, conservatory-style roof. Rumours circulate that manager Tony Pulis is against the move for health and safety concerns on account of his favoured aerial style of football. But on record, all he says on the subject is a cryptic, “Teams that play in glasshouses should always switch floodlights off before getting changed”. This leads to much late-night television study on football philosophy, and reputedly even has Eric Cantona baffled.
Manchester United make an audacious bid to take Roberto Martinez to Old Trafford following his promising start as the Toffees’ boss. Asked whether this smacks of desperation after previously poaching David Moyes from Goodison Park, United director David Gill admits Moyes’ appointment might have been a genuine mistake. “We thought his Scottishness was the key factor, but maybe it wasn’t. We want to try a new approach now. Take into consideration that we were stuck with the last dour Scot for 27 years. It makes sense to act fast, before the new guy gets too comfortable in his role.”
Rene Meulensteen shows his commitment to the cause by moving into the listed building that gives the ground its Craven Cottage name. The Dutchman’s appointment in December was greeted with news that he was buying furniture ahead of his switch from Cheshire. But his inherited squad are still surprised as Meulensteen breaks away from a training session to direct a clutch of removal men waiting by the famed Cottage Pavilion. News of the move is greeted by Fulham fans as a positive sign, not least with previous incumbent Martin Jol having opted for a Dutch barge moored downstream at Chelsea Harbour Pier.
KC stadium owner Assem Allam stages a press conference to let Hull supporters know he is willing to compromise on his headline-grabbing plan to change the club’s name. The Egyptian businessman reveals, following talks with Cardiff owner Vincent Tan, that the Humberside and South Wales outfits will – if both relegated within the next two seasons – merge as Hulldiff City, playing home games at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s, as it’s ‘kind of equidistant’. Mr Allam says: “Cardiff and Hull have quite a bit in common. For a start, Hull will be 2017’s city of culture, and Cardiff is …. Erm, well, the capital of … erm, Wales.” He added: “All I’ve heard since I’ve got here is ‘City this, City that’. That has annoyed me to a certain extent, but I’m not above agreeing to some of the supporters’ ideas – as proved by this proposal.”
Brendan Rodgers reveals what he sees as the secret behind his team’s resurgence, as the Reds look to keep up their winning start to the season. Rodgers suggests in a candid interview that fortunes changed after that infamous ‘biting’ incident involving Luis Suarez and Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The Anfield boss says: “He was always a good player, but Luis struggled to keep his balance and was prone to fall over in key areas of the park. But when I advised him to review his diet and suggested he look at a high-fibre, bran diet, he took me quite literally. A little piece of that Serb lad is in his game now, and seems to have made all the difference.” However, the Reds boss would not be drawn on fears that other strikers might now be queuing up to bite Ivanovic to improve their own all-round game.
Manuel Pellegrini shocks Man City fans by loaning England goalkeeper Joe Hart back to hometown club, ShrewsburyTown. The City boss, on the back of a purple patch of form for his team, says, ‘No one player is bigger than the team, even if they’re 6ft 5ins. That includes Joe, who has shipped a few goals this term.” Pellegrini feels Hart would benefit from ‘getting back to basics’ at New Meadow. Unfortunately, Shrews boss Graham Turner has other ideas, telling the local press he is more than happy with Chris Weale’s form, and wouldn’t be rushing to replace his No.1. In the meantime, Hart is spotted on the Severn, behind the club’s former Gay Meadow home, trying to get to grips with a coracle, telling puzzled on-lookers ‘high balls are meat and drink to me’.
David Moyes’ bid to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements at Old Trafford takes a surprising turn when the new boss repeats history by snapping up 57-year-old Viv Anderson, who was Fergie’s first signing. Asked why he thought this would help stabilise his squad after such a shaky start, Moyes said: “Viv really is the business. No doubt about that. It’s about building for the future, and – difficult as it is to believe – there will come a time when I won’t be able to rely on Ryan Giggs for everything. Giggsy’s still only learning the game anyway. Perhaps he just needs a bit of experience around him.”
In a poll of media pundits and red-top tabloid rumour-mongers, Alan Pardew receives a measly one per cent of votes for the choice of ‘most newsworthy’ boss in the Premier League, something the Toon boss sees as ‘surprising’. After several years upsetting viewers and fans alike with rash actions and words, the Wimbledon-born boss is singled out as being ‘low box office’ of late. Furthermore, he has quietly become the third longest-serving Magpies manager in 25 years, going back to the era of Arthur Cox and Willie McFaul. One journo says, “He’s hardly even worthy of the label ‘ridiculous’ these days. He hasn’t so much as pushed a match official over in more than a year, nor been misunderstood or misinterpreted in post-match interviews. It’s a bit disappointing. I can’t believe his side are in the top 10 this season either. Sometimes I wish Joe Kinnear was back here, with his entertaining foul-mouth antics. And what we’d give to see Dennis Wise return. In those days the press pack all stood together … against the management team.”
Plans by Chris Hughton to change his image have hit the buffers, insiders at Carrow Road reveal. The popular clubman, in charge of the Canaries more than 18 months, said in early December he was prepared to turn nasty if it helps his struggling side climb the Premier League table, following embarrassing 5-1 and 7-0 thrashings at the hands of Liverpool and Manchester United. But while his side remain above the drop zone, Norwich’s nice guy privately confesses he just can’t cut the Colman’s mustard when it comes to throwing wobblers. And one City player, whom we can’t reveal but whose name sounds a bit like Des Hooligan, told reporters: “He tried throwing teacups after one defeat, but spoiled the effect by asking if anyone took sugar and whether it was milky enough. We fell about at that point. The fact he bought us some fondant fancies when Delia had laid on a full buffet upstairs didn’t help his new No More Mr Nice Guy image.”
Saints striker Rickie Lambert ruffles feathers within the England camp by suggesting his fellow internationals should turn out for at least four lower-league clubs before they get the nod from Roy Hodgson. The 31-year-old, who represented Marine, Blackpool, Macclesfield Town, Stockport County, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before getting his break at St Mary’s, feels such ‘apprenticeships’ should be compulsory. He said: “I didn’t get where I am without a few cold, wet Tuesday nights at EdgleyPark and Spotland, and nor should my England team-mates. Some might argue that the likes of Wayne Rooney should get special dispensation. But while I agree he’s a special player, I’m sure he’d learn something from a three-month loan at Chester, where he could play alongside his brother John, or with his cousin Tommy at Vauxhall Motors.”
Potters boss Mark Hughes reveals a plan he feels could revolutionise the English game – playing matches without a referee. The Manchester United and Wales legend told the press after Marc Wilson’s latest dismissal: “I’m fed up with speaking to you guys after matches and moaning about poor refereeing decisions. There were a lot of decisions that left a lot to be desired again today. The men in black always seem to spoil the flow of the game, so why don’t we just do without them? We could pilot the scheme for a season and see how it goes. I can’t believe no one’s thought of it before, truth be told. If any issues arise from matches they can be referred to a football pools panel, which would replace those stiffs on the current disciplinary panels. Tidy.”
Black Cats boss Gus Poyet says he is ready to buck the trend and keep his side up, even if it means using visual aids. Poyet said he is fed up with hearing how the omens for the Black Cats do not look good. Only West Brom, in 2004/5, avoided relegation after being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas. But the Uruguayan remains chipper. He said: “We’re doing okay. We keep chipping away, picking up the odd point. And if the worse comes to the worse and we do go down, we’ll still be local heroes if we can just win at Newcastle in the first week of February. That’s our cup final. Taking that logic to the next level, I feel we should treat every game as if it’s against that lot up the road. So I’m working on a deal with the suppliers of Edgar Davids’ glasses, seeing if they can supply us 11 pairs with black and white vertical stripes on the lenses. That way, it will look like we’re up against Pardew’s mob every week. That could be just the fillip we need to press on and stay up.”
Swansea striker Michu says he is determined to recover from his latest injury and be back in the Swans’ starting XI soon, to help mastermind their return to form. And the Spaniard, recovering from another ankle knock, said he’d even be willing to deputise for wayward club mascot Cyril the Swan for a short while if it comes to it. He said: “I’ll play wherever the gaffer wants me. Out on the wing is okay, so a role as the mascot would help improve my fitness. Cyril has been in the news now and again for bringing the game into disrepute, and that’s an area of my game I fell I need to work on. It’s not about individuals, this is a team game. So if the gaffer wants me inside the swan costume, that’s what I’ll do. Besides, plenty of players in this league are experts at swan dives, so that’s another aspect I can concentrate on. Bring it on.”
New boss Tim Sherwood says he is not interested in a lengthy Spurs contract. The ex-Blackburn Rovers title-winning skipper says he feels a ‘stupidly-long’ deal would only bring complications and too much expectation from the fans and owners. He says, “Anything more than an extra season would be a gamble. It piles on pressure. I’d soon lose my boyish good looks. The last thing I want is a situation where I end up on gardening leave after being potted. I hate bloody gardening. I’d rather take each game as it comes, but unfortunately those contracts aren’t out there. The thought of a three or five-year deal would do my head in. That’s a big responsibility – all that time tied to making banal comments about the strides being made ‘at this football club’ or ‘taking the club forward’. And anything I can do to avoid having to reassure fans that if I was cut down the middle they’d find blue and white in my veins is alright by me.”
Caretaker boss Keith Downing is fed up with high-scoring draws, the grouchy ex-punk rocker and robust ex-Wolves midfielder tells a press conference. After respective 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4 draws with Southampton, Everton and Aston Villa in January, he says, “It’s getting me down. I much prefer a neat 1-0 win. How I yearn for those good old days when late great David Coleman would announce ’One-nil!’ and Jimmy Hill would implore sides to just ‘shut up shop’. I don’t want to be reading about exciting affairs and the odd casual brace to save the game from Nicolas Anelka. Bring back those days when strikers would talk to the TV shows about how all they really wanted was a goal that goes in off your backside in a crowded area, without you even knowing anything about it. Everyone else enjoys this more attacking fare. But not me.”
West Ham United
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce announces he is bringing in a crack Russian medical team to help get injured players fit again and resurrect his season. Allardyce says his plan is a surefire method of keeping the East London outfit up. After centre-back James Tomkins twists his metatarsal on the touchline at Cardiff, and with no cash to splash during the transfer window, Allardyce resorts to a new approach. He explains: “I’m in touch with a couple of Moscow lads who were part of the mid-80s ‘medical factory No. 1’ op, a workers brigade using a Henry Ford-style conveyor belt for quick-turnaround eye surgery. Admittedly, myopic issues are more an issue for Premier League referees, but the same can be applied for my injured players.” Early details are sketchy, but it appears that five doctors in surgical masks and gowns will patch up the players, who will be fed into the Upton Park treatment room by conveyor belt. Allardyce added: “The deciding factor will be how quickly our injured players are back in the squad.”
This Malcolm Wyatt article first featured on the sportnw.co.uk website and re-appears here with the permission of the author and its original home.
And to see how many of Malcolm’s predictions from 2013 came true, head here