The Premier League has named 10 players it believes are the finest to have graced our grounds these past 20 years.
There’s the loyal servants who’ve packed suitcases full of medals (Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes), the characters whose presence alone shaped matches (Roy Keane, Alan Shearer, Patrick Veira) and the marvels who raised hairs on the backs of our necks (Dennis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianfranco Zola).
The idea is to pick the best one, and my choice is Henry.
The space he created, the gravity-defying acts he conjured and the way he made scoring beautiful goals look so easy, set him apart. Plus (the hand against Ireland aside), he oozed class.
They could easily have extended that list into a top 20.
How about Peter Schmeichel, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Tony Adams, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Frank Lampard, Sol Campbell, Robbie Fowler, David Beckham and Matt Le Tissier?
But, unless you’re a Chelsea fan, a name that would probably be excluded from your 20 is Didier Drogba even though, with the skill and presence he possesses and the quality of goals he’s scored, he should be a contender for the highest list of all.
The reason he isn’t was showcased against Barcelona on Wednesday, when he repeatedly hit the deck like a sack of manure, after turning away from the meekest of challenges with the grimace of a sniper’s victim. And turned the stomach of every watching neutral.
Once again, the vastly experienced 34-year-old kept halting a game of football, by writhing in agony at the slightest touch, hoping to get a fellow professional booked for something he hadn’t done, then leapt up to show us it was all a phoney act.
Astonishingly, serious people have defended, almost applauded, his behaviour, claiming it was part of a masterplan to beat Barcelona by running down the clock and disrupting their rhythm.
For Chelsea’s sake, I hope not.
Because if that’s the only way a club which has spent as much as they have, believes it can beat a team which cost far less, Roman Abramovich should find another sport.
But I don’t believe it was a strategy laid down by Roberto Di Matteo, because we’ve seen Drogba do it time and again.
Remember the grotesque image last month, when he tried to get a Napoli player sent off by inventing an elbow in his face, lying on the deck, peeping with one eye at the ref?
There are players in that top 10 (and in my alternative) who took the odd dive, but with Drogba, cheating is an instinctive option whenever the ball is played to him.
Sadly, he is the biggest victim of his own antics, because he could have been remembered as one of the greats.
Instead he’ll go down (theatrically) as a repulsive con-man.
We’ll remember the dives and the rolls, the time-wasting and the sulks, the cynicism and deceit of a man for whom cheating appears part of his DNA.
We’ll remember the words he screamed into a camera three years ago, after Barcelona beat Chelsea, which could be the title of his autobiography: “A f***ing disgrace.”
We’ll remember someone who could have been a contender.
I hear if the Bahrain Grand Prix passes without serious blood-shed there’s a chance next year’s FA Cup semi-finals and final will be played there.
Well, it certainly fits all the FA’s criteria – a kick-off time and location that suits sponsors and worldwide TV, maximum disruption for fans and an opportunity to rack up admission prices to mind-boggling sums.
Indeed, everything that can put-out the only people The People’s Cup is supposed to be for. The fans. Or “paying extras who provide the scenery” as they are now known.
Fans have always been the lowest priority when it comes to the FA Cup (think back to Hillsborough, where the FA first allowed a game to go ahead at a ground without a valid safety certificate, then pressurised Liverpool to replay the abandoned game while funerals were still going on).
But today, when they drag supporters to Wembley for semis and finals at whatever God-forsaken hour suits them, to pay for their stadium, their contempt is different class.
When asked why the final is being held at 5.15pm on a bank holiday weekend of major railway works, making it impossible for half the fans to catch a train home, they actually had the gall to admit: “It maximises a bigger domestic and global TV audience for broadcasters.”
When asked why the clubs were only receiving 50,000 tickets, leaving 40,000 for the black market, there was the usual response: silence.
The Football Supporters Federation is calling for a public inquiry into the FA’s ticketing plans, hoping to shame them into change.
Good luck with that.
Most of us realised long ago that it’s impossible to shame something which appears to enjoy its shame.
For the first time in a while, I’ve watched a player in a Barcelona shirt who, to borrow an analogy from Paul Merson, looked like a fish up a tree.
Cesc Fabregas against Chelsea was off the pace, off his team-mates’ wavelength and lacked the cool head required to turn 72% possession into victory.
Arsenal fans must have been chuffed… until they realised that if a certain player had been up-front he would probably have left the pitch with the match-ball under his shirt.
Robin van Persie.
He is tailor-made to lead that line ahead of all those clever midfielders.
Indeed, the prospect of him playing in that Barca side, is frightening.
Especially for Gooners.
Especially as, hotel meeting or not, were the Catalans to come knocking, how could he resist?
Following eight winless games, Barnet sacked Lawrie Sanchez.
And the Ronnie Kray lookalike has taken it very badly, accusing them of the one fing that don’t go down too well in his manor: disloyalty.
“I’d like to express my extreme disappointment at the lack of loyalty shown in me by the club,” he fumed.
Yet it’s hard to demand loyalty when you’ve only won 15 of your 53 games in charge, leaving your club three points above the Division Two drop zone.
And it’s particularly hard for Sanchez to demand it after his high-profile role in Nigel Worthington’s exit as Northern Ireland manager last September.
“It’s not happening. It has got worse rather than better. Everybody realises it is time for a change,” he told Radio Ulster before announcing he’d love his old job back as the country’s boss.
A few weeks after Sanchez’s stunning show of loyalty to a fellow manager, Worthington was forced to stand down and is still out of a job.
Just like Sanchez.
What goes around comes around eh?
There’s a question bugging me, on a par with, ‘Why, no matter where I sit on a plane, am I always furthest from the drinks trolley?’
Have those officials who stand behind the goals in Champions League games yet to make a single decision which has affected a single game?
If not, when will clubs start charging them for the best free view in the ground ?
It’s interesting studying the different reactions of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger to recent defeats by Wigan.
Wenger looked tortured, whined about time-wasting and tactics, and gave the impression his side had been robbed, when they clearly hadn’t.
Ferguson, on a night of poor decisions going against him but an even poorer performance from his team, played it cool, praised Wigan to the hilt, and made it seem like just a bad day at the office.
Cue no talk of crisis, no pressure on players, no backlash from a nation who love to see the little strugglers beat the big boys.
United won their next game, ensuring the blip was forgotten. They always do.
Let’s see if Arsenal win theirs. Or if the pressure showing on their sore-losing manager transmits itself onto the pitch, and they go on a poor run.
Which also tends to happen.
Marouane Fellaini has come out with a quote which should show Evertonians he’s committed to their club:
“I would like us to be stronger and more competitive. I hope the chairman will loosen the purse strings this summer.”
The question is, who’s going to explain to him that Bill Kenwright may be very good at pulling strings, but he hasn’t got a purse to pee in.
By Brian Reade