'How long left? 88 minutes?!'
In true Spongers style, we celebrate the return of the Premier League by looking back at some FA Cup stuff from about six days ago. Sort of.
Here’s a little joke for you. There are these three pieces of string, right, and they’re trying to get into a club which doesn’t allow pieces of string inside. They’ve tried every combination, they’ve swapped jumpers, they’ve been round the block and come back twice. One gets fed up, so he’s going, ‘Leave this to me lads, I’ve got an idea’. So he ruffles up his hair, right, and swans up to the door with his arms folded. And the bouncers go, ‘Here, aren’t you a piece of string?’. And he goes, ‘No, I’m afraid not’.
Here at Magic Spongers, being unable to get into clubs is a familiar enough experience. Normally, (the joke’s finished now, by the way) we like to try that most familiar short straw of desperate celebrity, ‘Don’t you know who we are?’ And every time, despite educated guesses including ‘them off Planet of the Apes?’ and ‘Jedward’s uncles?’, people don’t have a sodding clue.
I don’t pretend there’s any excuse for this. In fact, general Spongers policy states that it’s pretty unforgivable. Just imagine if that was your attitude on the football pitch though. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ JUST IMAGINE.
Well you don’t have to imagine. You can just go back to the Manchester FA Cup derby match (and further, if you like, to the Manchester United-Newcastle match) and plainly see part-time editor and Twitter aficionado Rio Ferdinand behaving in exactly this manner for more or less the entire time.
Now, I’m not saying that Ferdinand is necessarily finished. I know he’s coming back from injury and I know he’s 33, and he might now be injured again for United’s game with Bolton. But he has been the main culprit in a United defence that without Nemanja Vidic has been a massive cause for concern.
And a main culprit that has been completely unable to recognise his culpability. On countless occasions, the camera zoomed in on Rio giving someone else an absolute shellacking as the ball was recovered from Row Z for a City throw-in, having been booted there in panic by a defence about as composed as Adam Bushby after three pints.
He’s played against two very different strikers in these past two games. Against Demba Ba and Newcastle, Ferdinand and Phil Jones (who has also been woeful of late, by the way) struggled with the striker’s physicality and barely won a single header. Against Sergio Aguero, Ferdinand was terrorised by the Argentinean’s pace and movement, dithered around like a child on his first day at school and seemed to think he could get by because he’s still ‘really good at passing’ and ‘bringing it out from the back’. Which he wasn’t.
When he was injured before the 2010 World Cup, some wag (me) opined that such was his injury record, we might not see him play for England again. One appearance in 2011 was enough to technically prove me wrong, but that technicality cannot mask the fact that Ferdinand is far from the same player. Injuries have done for him. Compare his return with that of Steven Gerrard – who might not have the legs anymore, but has lost none of his impact on his team mates. With Gerrard, you appear to get leadership, drive and goals. With Ferdinand, you get bollocked for a mistake that wasn’t even necessarily yours. It's like you've spent months and years working hard to become the best apple you can be, and then some former apple now reduced to an onion starts screaming in your face that YOU'RE the onion and he's still an apple, even though from your apple pie vantage point you've seen him in a savoury soup VERY recently indeed.
He will likely still play a role for United, and a valuable one at that. With a run in the side he’ll probably recover some form too – and it’ll help that he’s not playing two strikers in season-defining form every week. But the attitude seems all wrong, and detrimentally so. On this evidence, he is well past it and his attitude belies the fact that he probably feels it too. Can you sustain a league title challenge with a brittle defence, the most senior member of which (as he struggles to recover his form) is the footballing embodiment of ‘Don’t you know who I am?’? Sorry Rio, I’m afraid not.