How was it for you? For Aleksa who nailed 100 points, it was Salah (32), Haaland (16) and Tsimikas (15) who secured the points, like squirrels storing up the acorns in a secret stash for the winter ahead. Lee (80) and Pete (76) had decent weeks too but didn’t collect as many acorns. Leading the league in the league leaders’ position with a leading points score of 761 points is Mr Wright, continuing an impressive run in harvesting points like the squirrels raiding the bird feeders in the misty November mornings. Michael (748) is in second and Nikita (747) in third.
The November Manager of the Month battle is shaping up between Rhys (128), Lee and Pete (112) and Aleksa (110), scrambling around in the fallen autumnal leaves like a scurry of squirrels trying to find those last conkers on the ground beneath the Aesculus hippocastanum tree. The next round of games is coming up on … 25 November. That’s right, it’s another international-break intermission. Time to refill the bird feeders this weekend and relax about the fantasy malarkey.
This week’s photo is of my seat at Turf Moor, an image I will return to as therapy over the blank weekend ahead of next week’s home game v West Ham.
Bobby Charlton’s public commemoration service on Monday to mark his passing was a global event. It was evident in the stature of the people who turned up, and the numbers of ‘ordinary folk’ who turned out on a blustery, grey Manchester day to pay their respects that he was a special man. Charlton was until relatively recently, United’s and England’s record goalscorer and whom, along with team-mate Nobby Stiles, remains one of only two Englishmen to have started and won World Cup and European Cup finals.
On the back cover of the order of service booklet was photo of a young Charlton, blond hair blowing in the breeze, before he needed the combover, wearing the distinctive simple red and white kit synonymous with his illustrious playing career. Charlton’s legacy will stand the test of time. Three league titles, one European Cup, a World Cup, 249 United goals, 49 for England. A survivor of the Munich air crash in 1958, in which eight of his team-mates were among 23 people who lost their lives, a moment that changed United – and Charlton forever.
But there was more to him than that. Charlton was a reminder of a less aggressive and less complicated time in football. The stat I really like is only two bookings and never being sent off. A fierce competitor while still showcasing his sportsmanship, Bobby’s name is synonymous with all that is good about the English game. Both inside the Cathedral and out, there were so many heartfelt epitaphs paid to his life. We’ve lost another of the genuinely true greats.
VAR has become a meddlesome, irritating flaw at the heart of our game. I watched a Sky Sport documentary this week, highlighting the development of the technology, the team at Stockley Park, and interviewed Howard Webb – the Joe Biden of referees. But no matter how they pitched it, I couldn’t escape from the time-stretching pauses at the ground where I find myself in a no-man’s land space, emotions frozen hanging in mid-air, waiting to erupt one way or another. This is the phenomenon of VAR dead time, the anxious junctures that now punctuate the game.
At its best, VAR sorts out the kind of decisions that can haunt, but at its worst VAR is baffling, protracted and emotionally abusive. It can suck the life out of a game or tip it into farce. Increasingly, it presents more questions than answers. VAR discourse has swallowed up every other conversation about the game. The documentary shone a spotlight on Stockley Park, the HQ of a shady group of ex-referees and video analysts who decide whether games are won or lost. Didn’t fill me with confidence that it’s still prone to human intervention and thus judgement rather than finessing the tech.
Those jarring pauses and bitty little earpiece exchanges turn a compelling match into something that barely resembles football. I left the documentary feeling VAR is utterly out of control and no one knows how to put back in the box. What does appear to be shifting is the game’s faith in it. When first adopted in the 2019-20 season, it was meant to iron out the vagaries and inconsistencies of football once and for all. The feeling was that there was too much at stake to leave decisions vulnerable to human error.
During Newcastle vs Arsenal, perhaps the most VAR-centred goal of all time was scored; an Anthony Gordon finish which may or may not have contained an out-of-play ball, a foul and an offside, all in one move. On the highlights reel, it reminded me of Kevin Costner endlessly replaying the Zapruder film in Oliver Stone’s JFK, trying to make logic out of random bodily reactions. The Key Match Incidents Panel, set up to provide accountability to Stockley Park, deemed the goal decision correct, but pointed out two missed red cards in the same game.
Three years in and VAR is just as aggravating as the injustices it sought to rectify. Half times, post-match press conferences, podcasts and Talk Sport are now given entirely over to these incidents, offering adversarial, sometimes absurd opinions. It has become a circus. While TV broadcasters seem to love this controversy, fans seem to be increasingly alienated.
That somehow changes making it more thorough would only further suck the life out of the game further. Of course, while truly egregious examples – like Luis Díaz’s disallowed goal against Spurs – could have been handled differently, making VAR ‘better’ could make the wider game worse. Here, it becomes an almost quantum conundrum. Of course, you could scrap it altogether, but can you imagine just how annoying Gary Neville would be then?
But it’s not just in the Premier League. Fun and games in South America dept: Corinthians director Alessandro Nunes stormed off to the VAR pitch side booth at half-time of his side’s match at Grêmio and started to kick it down having been incensed by decisions against his side in the first half. It’s not clear if a VAR official was even in there but he gets top marks for performative funk. Oh, and Corinthians won 1-0 anyway.
Chelsea 4 City 4 Crash! Bang! Wallop! What a match. In truth this eight-goal epic with a Palmer penalty equaliser was like a non-stop big-budget cinematic experience, a relentless explosion of dopamine and colour with superheroes from across the Premier League multiverse. Peter Drury and Jamie Carragher reduced to primal screams by the chaotic end to the game. POW! A deflected goal from Rodri to surely win the match.?
Chelsea got a last-minute penalty and up stepped Cole Palmer – sold by City in the summer – to blast it home, before offering a statuesque, told-you-so celebration, a nuanced nod showed his arrogance at odds with most players scoring against their former team. I guess being valued at £40m when you’re a 21-year-old from Wythenshawe gives you that self-belief.
Pochettino’s cast of hopefuls have scored 14 in their last five games, maybe time to look at having some of those chaps in your fantasy XI? Did you have fun? Pep asked the post-match presser. Yes we did – and more surprisingly, so did he, or so he would have us believe. Pep’s trophy magnets have been ruthless spoilers, controlling the narrative and ensuring the final act plays out in their favour time and time again, but here they had to embrace the chaos of what descended into a rampaging soaraway shootout that would usually put Pep in a week-long funk.
City have made a habit of winning two-horse title races, but this season could be different, with Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Villa and a resurgent Burnley all looking to be top dogs. Next up for City is a home game against Jürgen’s Reds.
Progress Union Berlin have appointed Marie-Louise Eta as their new assistant coach. The 32-year-old is the new assistant to Marco Grote and will be the first female coach to appear on a Bundesliga bench. Eta has arrived right on time in the backroom staff because Union are bottom of the league with six points from 11 matches. Hopefully this appointment spells the end for Proper Football Men, and ensure Big Sam, Big Mick and Average Height Neil are denied further years of mediocrity.
Union’s new hire won the Frauen-Bundesliga three times, and a Women’s Big Cup, with Turbine Potsdam. Marie-Louise has a Uefa Pro Licence and six years’ experience of coaching in youth football, including three different age groups for the German women’s national team. The news has made headlines, with the Bundesliga’s website claiming Eta has broken the grass ceiling a phrase that sort of sounds clever at first but actually doesn’t make sense, but we get the drift. The 19 years of hard work she’s put into coaching have seemingly paid off. Giving responsibility to someone that is highly qualified and experienced? It’s such a crazy idea, it might just work, let’s hope so and sets us onto a more diverse and democratic coaching culture in the game.
Bits & Bobs
This is what happens when you do a post-match press conference and fans are still raging about a VAR decision at the bookies Klopp
Chelsea face new questions about their funding under Roman Abramovich’s ownership after leaked files revealed a range of secret payments that may have breached FFP and helped enrich a fair few people, too.
City have posted record Premier League revenues of £712.8m as their income shot up by £100m during their treble-winning season.
This weekend the fantasy football tap is turned off for another international break, we’re left wondering what to do with ourselves. OK, so there’s a Cricket World Cup to be won, the Grand Slam of Darts, Strictly’s Blackpool week, the Big Brother finale and Nigel F*rage ingesting an array of Antipodean animal genitalia. But football. We need football. Makes ball shape with hands. Foot. Ball. Well, hold on. There’s still lots of proper football in League One, Two and non-league, so get down to a local game and enjoy the footy as it used to be played.