Don’t know ‘bout you guys but despite the seasonal arrival of well… mainly socks to up the sartorial ante, I’m both looking and feeling a tad dishevelled; peeky; and a tad bloated. The dog-walking has been an essential antidote to pies and puddings and the occasional pint but not, in truth, sufficient. I’ve needed a dive in the ocean or a game of rugby or something to truly de-cobweb or detox the overwhelmed pipework. Haven’t had it though.
Following this week of lacklustre engagement with either/neither the coalface or the sporting widescreen j’accuse – I accuse myself actually – of a kind of proportionate indolence that prematurely factors in all the really active stuff I have lined up and thereby gets me off the hook. (Pass that pie, please?) I accuse moreover, the Mother-in-Law of baking far too much. Generally, I accuse the calendar of being too Christmassy; but I need to move on.
To the sport.
Kauto Star may well be the real story over the Xmas period but he is an athlete I am barely familiar with. I can more honestly comment therefore, on the gallop towards the Premiership title, now featuring just the two legitimate Mancunian thoroughbreds. If that’s what they are?
Manchester United have eased into a position of some control, despite a brief period where they were utterly exposed -chiefly by City but then in their poor European campaign – as only mediocre pretenders to the title. Ferguson will know that his side have barely improved of late and will be conscious of the need to maximise psychological capital from criticism of The Reds from perceived traitors (Roy Keane) and around issues both for and against the strength of his squad – now being tested to the limit by injuries.
United certainly do need players to compete with authority and confidence in the Champions League next year; some added brilliance in midfield and some fit defenders may help. And yet, domestically, almost independent of any assets the team may have or lack, results come. The defining quality, the defining force of the Premiership itself still being that fierce Scottish fire smouldering beneath this extraordinary club’s belief.
Mancini, on the other hand, enters a period where both he and the widely imagined disunity within his starry group will be tested. Are they – in particular these disproportionately remunerated foreigners – able to show real Premiership grit when the squeeze is suddenly applied? If fluky things suddenly start to go against them, will the likes of Balotelli and Aguerro rally round some newly pressurized core? (Given that for me both are already showing if not outright selfish tendencies then certainly an awareness of a need to make a personal impact, I do wonder how emphatically City will respond as a team to an allegedly inevitable ‘bad patch’). We may learn a great deal about the legitimacy of any sky-blue badge-kissers in the next period, methinks.
Crucially, perhaps, now that City have finally faltered – only drawing at West Brom, being held by Chelsea – allowing United to draw level on points, will Silva flow so freely and with such influence?
So results (or something) conspired almost miraculously in the last 48 hours or so to re-hoist United, whilst undermining the Chelseas and Liverpools of this world. Arsenal too, despite playing consistently well are coming from too far back. Tottenham – lovely, pacy, Redknappy Tottenham – are bursting brilliantly but likely to be less durable, I would argue, than the Northern Bootboys. The sensational Bale is quite possibly the single most exciting footballer on the planet, currently; he is the antidote to Lucas and to Cattermole and to the often outstanding but unsprinting Barry. By sweeping past people in a way that seemingly owes more to childish expressionistic glee than to any football coaching book, Gale is capable of bursting through cynical or disinterested hearts. Even my marzipan bubble was disturbed by the flying Welshman.
But a passing and respectful nod to Kauto Star and at least a mention of the magnificent, record-breaking crowd of 82,000 for the recent Harlequins v Saracens match at Twickenham are in order. As is a further airing for the name Farrell (junior), with which some time in February the sporting population may again become generally familiar.
Perhaps though not before your currently sedentary scribe has actually done a substantial amount of running, throwing, batting, bowling; developing his How To Coach as well as his What To Coach skills. Is there I wonder a workshop out there on How To Shed That Seasonal Lethargy-Thing? If so, put my name down… immediately.