KK's contract, smug Spurs, Fab's plan & Spanish pub ammo

Bonkers old week in FFT world, what with the transfer deadline and Keegan leaving and Keegan coming back and Keegan leaving and Curbishley leaving and some blokes from Abu Dhabi arriving. We’ve barely had time to speak. But we have had time to listen. Because that’s what we do.

Big noises coming out of the north-east this week, many of them expletive. While a cartoon of the baying mob outside Shearer’s Bar, sorry, St James’ Park would have a big speech bubble full of angry exclamation marks, the thought bubble coming from the boardroom would be all question marks – about how to resolve a situation they’d all blundered into together.

Kevin Keegan had made clear his belief in the rehabilitation of Joey Barton by playing him at Arsenal. When the board tried to flog young Joe – not in a cat-o’-nine-tails way, in a get-orf-moy-laahnd way – instead of concentrating on hiring some nice new players, King Kev blew his rapidly greying top.

"If you go, I go. If you don't, I might go anyway"

Anger begat argument begat if-he-goes-I-go begat fair-enough-then. At which point, contracts were studied, and to everyone’s embarrassment it was realised that however the marriage was dissolved, it would end in compensation one way or another, KK having agreed to pay a seven-figure sum if he walked away (again).

Hence the confusion over whether he jumped or was pushed, and the ongoing “discussions” which weren’t so much “Can we make it work?” as “How do we get out of this with the most possible dignity?” This being Newcastle United, don’t expect too much of it. Pity poor Gus Poyet if he comes to Toon; it’s to be hoped the fans don’t vent upon him their righteous anger over the whole sorry mess.

As one era ends with an entire squad transfer-listed on deadline day, as Newcastle’s effectively were on Monday, so another one starts with an entire squad of January transfer targets at the north’s other great comedy club, Man City. The new owners were quick to point out who was on their post-Christmas list, naming Liverpool’s Torres, Arsenal’s Fabregas and – most deliciously for fans and journos alike – Manchester United’s Ronaldo. Which begs the question why they didn’t irk the entire Fab Four by targeting a glamorous young Chelsea player, like… erm… ah.

City did of course put in a phone call to London, with an amusingly newsworthy attempt to “hijack” Man United’s painfully drawn-out signing of Dimitar Berbatov. As it was, the hijack happened at Manchester Airport, with the Bulgarian bundled into a strange car (Sir Alex’s) and driven off to a distant quayside building (Old Trafford, via Carrington and an unusually long medical) without the permission of his parent (club).

Little Dimitar tries to blend into the background

Still, while many in N17 and beyond hoped Spurs would brassneck it out and refuse to allow the player to join United, there are contented murmurs from the Tottenham board. They may have lost a striker, but that wasn’t unexpected; what’s pleasing for them is that they’ve emerged on the moral high ground, forced to sell by a sulking player in cahoots with a rule-bending buying club. And they got the money they wanted – which will probably, despite the squeals of the Sevilla suits, end up in Iberia in January.

City, of course, forced United’s hand by having their own Berbatov bid accepted. This ended up weakening a key rival for a European slot, but it appears to have been made with genuine intent. It was only later that the bids began to resemble a drunk teenager on Championship Manager, with our personal favourite being the attempt to lure the larger Ronaldo to Eastlands.

On to the international break, and folk have been queuing up to have a pop at Fabio Capello. Proof that this isn’t only the English way came in our video interview of Ruud Gullit’s damning-with-faint-praise précis of Fabio’s functional football, while Martin Peters exclusively told us that we’re no nearer knowing Capello’s best team than we were nine months ago – and arguably, neither is he.

What we do know is that England didn’t practise any offensive set-pieces AT ALL before the Czech friendly. It didn’t seem to do the team any harm on the night, considering the Three Lions roared loudest from dead-ball situations, and we think it’s all part of Fabio’s masterplan. See, the game against Croatia might be so tight that it comes down to one goal. And if that goal comes for England from a set-piece that the Croats are completely unable to prepare for, who laughs last? It’s only a theory, but…

Tight-lipped Capello: "Don't tell him, Pike!"

We do know some things for certain, though. Want some knowledge to impress your football friends? Right: tomorrow, Spain could equal the Germans’ record unbeaten run in World Cup qualification. They haven’t lost in 35 qualifiers since 1993, when they were done by Denmark. Still, they shouldn’t get too cocky: however easily they qualify, just like England, they always bottle it when they get to the finals. Don’t they?

Also, Henrik Larsson might win his 100th cap for Sweden tomorrow in Albania, which would make him the fifth Swedish centurion (behind bonkers goalie Thomas Ravelli, Sheffield Wednesday stalwart Roland Nilsson, the authentically-named Bjorn Nordqvist and Niclas Alexandersson – who played for Wednesday, Everton and West Ham without anybody noticing). And which country has the most centurions? The USA, with 11 of 'em.

Right, Jedi, you have your information. At the risk of enraging the Government by encouraging drinking, get yourself down the pub and tell your mates you know something they don’t. And hope they haven’t read this blog too…

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