This week’s Human Rights World Cup qualifying has reminded us that night after night after night of wall-to-wall Barclays is not so bad. Guzzling Gazprom actually does represent la crème de la crème of football. Steve Bruce, Graham Potter, Andrea Agnelli, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa: come back to the five and dime soon, lads. The Fiver never knows what it’s got until it loses it.
Ollie Watkins, the best (only?) thing to come out of Weston-super-Mare since Jeffrey Archer, scoring for England against not-actually-that-plucky minnows San Marino? Yawn, whatever. Frank de Boer a rubbish manager? José Mourinho told you that in a 2018 drive-by. Norwegian and German players revealing footballers have taken notice that all may not be roses behind the building of those desert enormodomes? Better, much better, but the lack of football on an international fortnight Friday is thin gruel for those trying to compose a halfway [that’s ambitious – Fiver Ed] humorous round-robin email.
A Bobby Goulding-esque side-step into the weird world of Super League is tempting but The Fiver can’t spake with any authority on that rough stuff up north. So the weekend’s fixtures in the Uefa region it is, where a good news story awaits. For Saturday night, when Luxembourg travel to Dublin, represents Stephen Kenny’s Republic O’Ireland coming-out party, when the Bossman Steo, as the true cognoscenti call him, might finally be able to smile. In the 11 months since he succeeded the Barnsley bluster of Mick McCarthy, Steo has usually worn the expression of Ron Saunders being handed a parking ticket. And small wonder, since the Bossman has been presented with a more-than-troublesome set of circumstances including Sheffield United players, Covid outbreaks, further false positives costing him key players in the play-off to reach the Euros and the ruinous club form of Shane Duffy.
It took 678 minutes for Alan Browne to break the Bossman’s duck, scoring the first goal of Steo’s reign in Serbia. By full-time, all of O’Ireland were wildly celebrating a 3-2 defeat, though strictly behind closed doors as restrictions demand. Now for the Luxembourgers, surely lambs to a Saturday night slaughter in the Aviva. If this was Eurovision, then perhaps this would be a contest (it’s 7-5 O’Ireland on that score, Cousin Wogan Fiver tells us).
In football terms, it’s 5-0 to O’Ireland, though the last meeting was in way back 1987 when Paul McGrath ooah-ed a late winner at the old Lansdowne Road. And times have moved on a tad since. Luxembourg, Europe’s one-time whipping boys, have become actually quite decent under the management of Luc Holtz – Bossman Luco to Lux cognoscenti. A squad including players from Norwich, Mainz, Dynamo Kiev and Standard Liège went close to reaching the Nations League B in the last campaign, which Cousin Co-efficient Fiver tells us actually means something. Oh Steo, oh no.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I will be removing myself until the people in power are able to regulate their platforms with the same vigour and ferocity that they currently do when you infringe copyright” – Thierry Henry announces he is stepping away from social media disgraces until the various platforms start taking racism and bullying seriously. He may be offline some time.
“Can I be the 1,057th reader to wonder why, if Fifa believes in free speech, it is holding a World Cup in Qatar?” – Richard O’Hagan (and no others).
“Now that the EU, the UK, the US and Canada have sanctioned Chinese officials for the human rights violations against Uighur Muslims, and a leading set of barristers’ chambers have concluded that there is a ‘credible case’ of genocide, when do we expect Arsenal to apologise to Mesut Özil for dismissing concerns as just his ‘personal opinion’? Or do Arsenal still think that this is all just ‘politics’ and that they’re better off ‘not involving [themselves] in’ such politics?” – Will Reddie.
“Well done to Marco van Basten for suggesting the offside rule is scrapped (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). Schoolyards in Britain have long been experimenting with this very proposal and even developed the unique tactical position of ‘official goal-hanger’ to ensure a maximum goal return for the big guy who took up smoking before you. However, in a pandemic-ravaged economy, can we really afford for the ranks of the unemployed to be swelled by the redundancies of VAR operatives and assistant referees?” – Colin Reed.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Around 5,000 Netherlands fans will be able to attend their World Cup qualifier against Latvia in Amsterdam on Saturday as part of a government-backed initiative – provided they have tested negative for Covid in the morning and recorded it on a CoronaCheck app. “This is a way it could also work with the clubs and the European Championship,” declared Dutch FA suit Gijs de Jong.
Jogi Löw is happy his players sent another message to Qatar before their qualifying win over Iceland. “We stand for human rights, no matter the location. Those are our values,” he roared.
Everton’s planning application for their new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock has received government approval. “On such a momentous day, [we] would like to thank every Evertonian, along with the many organisations, the tens of thousands of people across the city region and the team of dedicated staff who have played a vital role in ensuring the club reached today’s milestone,” cheered the club.
Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah claims Chris Wilder tried to resign twice as manager before he left earlier this month. “I felt it was my mistake because we recruited how Chris wanted, we spent over £120m,” he tooted.
And José Mourinho insists he has learned to deal with critics questioning his methods. Through a prism of modesty, of course. “I don’t think anybody is going to discuss rocket science with the guys from Nasa, with everybody around the world,” he parped. “They think they can discuss football with one of the most important managers in the game. I got used to it. I appreciate that … I have so many Mourinistas around the world that I play for them.”
STILL WANT MORE?
It’s gettin’, it’s gettin’, it’s gettin’ kinda heavy: Marcus Christenson drops the Euro 2020 power rankings.
Thomas Strakosha stands in the way of England’s strikers in Tirana on Sunday. The Lazio goalkeeper gets his chat on with Will Unwin.
WSL Weekend sees Manchester United take to the Old Trafford stage on Saturday when they play West Ham, but Suzanne Wrack bemoans a missed broadcast opportunity.
Roqué Junior, yes, Roqué Junior, won the absolute lot in football. Only Ronaldinho, Cafu and Dida from Brazil matched his haul. He speaks to Eryck Gomes.