Saturday, 10 November 2007

Fergie's Flirtatious Feuding

My view from afar of Fergie's Flirtatious Feuding
By Russell Brand

I'm in Morocco and no matter how completely my senses are flooded with the mystery of the souks and the nobility of the Atlas mountains this will always be to me the nation that in Mexico '86 fielded a player called Mustafa Merry (I remember the Panini sticker book representation rather than the individual). I liked that name as a child as it seemed like a joke, and also pre-empted by a decade my mate Matt's nickname for me as an Arabic-tunic wearing junkie, Mustafa Skagfix.

The other prejudice I've been carting about was learned from the Joe Orton biopic Prick Up Your Ears where Joe and his murderous lover Kenneth Halliwell briefly holidayed here and copped off with loads of rent-boys. I don't know why that stayed with me, it just seemed so jolly, bathing costumes, giggling and Alfred Molina and Gary Oldman enjoying tense frissons. The memory of the pair of them, and Mustafa Merry, skipped through my mind while I was on the phone to the travel agent.

I've not encountered Mustafa or a single rent boy the whole time I've been here and am thinking of demanding a discount. I've kept my eye on things in Albion though and here's my round-up of football news, not to mention my "wacky, sideways" view of it all: Chris Hutchings' sacking; oh. I liked him, he was a friendly peep-eyed, thin-lipped, gel-haired uncle and I don't think Dave Whelan has given him long enough. Also talk of Paul Jewell returning to Wigan seems barmy because Hutchings was formerly his first-team coach.

What if Jewell does return and offers Hutchings his old job back? It'll be uncomfortable, Hutchings won't be able to tell the players anything - he'll be like a castrated step-dad. "Run round them cones lads," he might shout; "Eff off, you're not my real coach," Heskey'll respond. It'll be awful. It doesn't do to go backwards, unless you're an old lady descending stairs, then it's de rigueur.

West Ham have always been keen on the ol' "sell players then bring 'em back" technique and it's always a bit disappointing. Julian Dicks, Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie all came back for less successful second spells and whilst it's romantic I don't know that it's good business. Though who wouldn't welcome dear Harry Redknapp back to the Boleyn in an instant? Why, only the loopy and the indifferent.

There was talk of Nicolas Anelka returning to Arsenal but I imagine Arsène Wenger is not one given to nostalgia, and it seems improbable that any of Fergie's former charges would be welcome back at Old Trafford - they usually seem to be kicked out from 'neath the protection of his coarse petticoats like incestuous toddlers. I admire Sir Alex Ferguson's need for conflict as much as his appetite for success, and his remarks this week about Sepp Blatter's proposed cap on foreign players were tremendous fun; implying that Arsenal and Liverpool would suffer most under such a ruling then nonchalantly awaiting the protestations from the Emirates.

Wenger was of course unable to resist retaliating and I thought his riposte was a good one: "His own foreign players must feel undervalued by that." I enjoyed this particularly as I was following this minor dispute as if it were a soap opera and after Ferguson's initial dig I knew Wenger would respond but was unable to anticipate the quality of his parry. It's like flirting a bit, or any form of seduction: one must destabilise the target to make them suggestible to new ideas, like bumming.

Not that I'm suggesting that this was Ferguson's ulterior motive although the chemistry between them is exciting. The cursory, eye contact-free handshake that followed last Saturday's clash, whilst brief, must have felt enormous to either man. Like having a fingernail traced up the nape of your neck or sweet breath blown into your ear, how could it not engender an electric shudder? I wonder if they think about each other much when they're alone, initially angry - "the security was a bloody joke" - but lapsing into the whimsical - "he has such inviting lips, ever wet and puckered, each rebuke a prelude to a vicious kiss" - almost certainly.

Actually Yossi Benayoun would be carried shoulder high along the Barking Road should he ever return. His hat-trick against Besiktas, like every ball Joe Cole has ever kicked whilst clad in blue, induced a gut-pang, and now as a nation we must hope that he uses his much missed and lamented skills to give England a chance of qualifying for the European Championship perhaps, if the mischievous deities of nostalgia have their way, under the stewardship of Terry Venables.

Guardian column

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