SPORTS

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May 7, 2002

Booked by Collonia

It's a funny business how the tables turn (not the wheels o' steel). How the tables have turned for Manchester, Bayern, and Real. When was the last time that these teams have failed to contribute any silverware to their trophy cabinets during these last few days of the season? The three peaks of world football collectively known as 3M (Manchester-Munich-Madrid) that stick to each other every Champions League knockout round have been shamefully conquered by Arse-anal, Dortmund, and Valencia respectively (although, in all fairness, Real might actually win the Champions League). How the league tables of Europe's finest divisions have been turned upside down and inside out. What has the world come to? None of Europe's elite defending champions have been able to retain their titles this season. Hats off to Dortmund, Ajax, Valencia, Juve, Genk, Slovan Liberec, Lyon, and Sporting Lisbon. Shame on you, ManU, Bayern, PSV, Real, Roma, Fenerbache, Anderlecht, Sparta Praha, Nantes, and Boavista. But of all the fallen champions, let's look at where things went wrong for the most harshly criticized, playa-hated, and underestimated team, Manchester United.

Manchester United's season was ruined from the word go. Because of the trivial publication of a book by Jaap Stam, where the Dutchman had a bit of innocuous fun with the Neville brothers and Becks, Fergie had to ship him off to Lazio in the name of team unity. What a mistake that turned out to be! If Laurent Blanc would have been a brand of white wine, I can safely say that he was aged to perfection. But no, he happened to be a defender. Granted he won the World and European Cups, but he would never be effective in the Premier League, especially given his age, where the style of play is the diametric opposite to that of Italy. People talk about how good Italian defenders are, blah blah blah, but it's not very hard to excel if attackers are halted not through timely tackles and offside traps but frequent gusts of wind! Oh, the joys of watching Pippo Inzaghi and Alex Del Piero falling gracefully in the wind, as their glisteningly gelled hair bellows majestically. The fact of the matter is that Blanc could not cope with the physical nature of play in England having come from the Serie A. If United had the burly Dutchman instead of the Frenchman, Manchester would have the League and Cup double this season. If not for another Italian import, the Reds would have done the treble. Seba Veron was a failure of disastrous proportions. Not only did he cost 28.1 divided by 19 Ruud Van (the Man) Nistelrooy's, he was worth less than a ball boy on the pitch. The 'little witch' whined, and groaned, and complained till Fergie let him fly over to Rome six times a week to alleviate his loneliness in Manchester. His half-hearted efforts on the pitch earned him the honor of being labeled the 'little bitch' by the Old Trafford faithful, and when Roy Keane and the gang threatened to burn him alive for his performance in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal, poor Seba ran off to Rome to hide his tail. God knows I have no sympathy. He literally gave away the title to Arse-anal when he placed a beautifully executed world-class pass to Alan Boksic for Middlesborough's winner at Old Trafford a few weeks back. It's a good thing that Lazio is so desperate for him to return that it is willing to buy him back for the same price it sold him. Good riddance.

"Always look on the bright side of life" goes the spirit of St. George. And in the same vein as my country of birth and residence, I will look to the positives for United this season. The first thing that comes to mind is a 10-seater orange van named Ruud. The Ruud van carried the entire team through thick and thin, and he deservedly won the distinction of the PFA's Player of the Year, which I might add is the one and only worthy individual honor in England. He is the top scorer in England and in the Champions League, becoming the first player in the Premier League to score in eight consecutive games, as well as becoming only the fourth player in the history of the Champions League to hit the double-digit mark in scoring in one season. You thought that you heard boos when he scored, but actually it was the crowd singing his name, "Ruuuuuud…" The fighting spirit of Roy Keane was another plus. Never was there such an inspirational captain as Roy, and never will there be another. He must be credited with getting players in line after some of them experienced rough patches of form. Becks, Fabien Barthez, and Scholesy are the most noticeable beneficiaries. Oh yea, thanks also for ringing Seba's neck in training (à la Sprewell, for you NBA fans). What else? Of course the Old Trafford faithful deserve a loud round of applause for their unfaltering love of the club, though they may be excused for lukewarm support, given Manchester's sporadic form this season and an eminently trophy-less conclusion to the season. You have shown that you are not spoiled by all the recent success: well done my Lancashire and South-East Asian mates.

Though I have said what I wanted to say in this column, I can't resist taking a quick poke at Arse-anal and Arse-n-Weener. Good show for beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final lads (you finally won a cup!), but I'm afraid that you all are guilty of mistaking a one-off orgasm for a prolonged state of ecstasy. I appreciate the fact that you haven't won anything for ages and ages, but do you really believe that you can be the new ManU? You think that a period of Gunner hegemony is beginning? Well, at least your esteemed manager does, to which I will answer shortly. The only difference between ManU and you this season was Seba's assist against Middlesborough, and if it weren't for your 'tactical' exit from Europe so early in the season, you would not have even been in smelling range of Manchester, or Liverpooh for that matter. Every team needs luck to win sometimes, but if you can do a three-peat of the league as Manchester has done by 18 and 12 points in the last two seasons, then and only then will I call you by your nickname of Arsenal. Mister Weener, you dismissed Sir Alex's claim that Manchester was the best team in England and even had the audacity to claim that Gunner domination of the Premier League has commenced. Let's anal-yze that which you do so well. Vieira is as good as gone next season. You can't defy the gold reserves of the Spanish monarchy. Seaman, Keown, and Adams are all headed to the old folks home, and with them the fabled Gunner defense. Their replacements-to-be are called Oleg and Igors, and I'm afraid that doesn't ring a bell in anyone's ears. Pires won't be back till December, and considering he's been your best player this season, I would say that doesn't smell good either. Bergkamp will retire to the Dutch indoor senior leagues to join the likes of Gullit and Van Basten, and without the French ball supply of Vieira and Pires, Henry and Wiltord will completely be obsolete. With no promising prospect from your reserves either, Arse-anal's prospects for next season are pretty, pardon my French, shitty, Mr. Weener.

What about the rightful kings of English football, Manchester? With the sale of Veron, United will recruit a world-class defender, or possibly two, to fill the void left by Blanc's retirement. Beckham, Scholes, and Giggs will enter the footballer's golden age of 27, and Ruud and Ole will be as consistent as ever (mainly because they aren't going to the World Cup). Mikael Silvestre and Fabien will return with a World Cup winner's medal, and everyone who had a swipe at them over the course of this season will be forced to kiss their shiny heads. With Dwight Yoke headed to Blackburn, United will be in a position to purchase an up-and-comer, possibly Bhutia from cash-strapped Bury F.C., and Diego Forlan will have adapted to English football to start knocking in goals next season. With the entire team in its prime and the manager back for another stint, the 2002-2003 Red Devils will make history. Gracefully neglecting the Worth-nothing-ton Cup and Charity Shield, the Reds will sweep the domestic league and Cup, as well as the European, Super, and Toyota Cups. Oh and by the by, look out for a repeat six-one drubbing courtesy of Manchester this Wednesday at Old Trafford, Mister Weener. You better pray that Everton's hard boys will go easy on you come Saturday. I personally will instruct Veron and Blanc to take out as many of your players as they can since that's all they're good for, so tell Freddie and Patrick to be careful! Red Devils Forever!