With City’s victory over United, is the tide turning in Manchester?

22 04 2011

Based on comments made in forums and chat rooms after Manchester City’s FA Cup semi final win over United, was the result as monumental for the fans as the press would have you believe?

With Edwin van der Sar’s poor clearance, Michael Carrick’s slack pass and Yaya Toure’s opportunistic finish Manchester City clinched a 1-0 victory over their fierce rivals United and marched onto their first FA Cup final in 30 years.

The facts will read thus: Roberto Mancini’s team will face Stoke City in the final of the FA Cup. It will be their best opportunity in recent years to end a trophy-less era stretching back 35 years since winning the League Cup of 1976. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will have to wait another year to challenge for the famous domestic cup, which they last won in 2004 having been beaten in two final appearances since.

In the league the Citizens are competing with Tottenham Hotspur for the lucrative 4th place and Champions League qualification. In contrast the Red Devils now have their sights firmly set on a well-positioned assault on the Barclays Premier League and Champions League crown.

These are the facts, yes, but for the red and blue sides of Manchester the 16 April 2011 has had and will continue to have dramatic ramifications for years to come.

City – A watershed moment

The overwhelming reaction from City fans has been one of unbridled joy and optimism.

“Today the team got a monkey off their back. This will instil the confidence in the players that they can beat the best in the land on a regular basis. The celebrations at the end showed that. This result could be the turning point for the team.” Burtonblue on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

Several City fans see Saturday’s result as a momentous, watershed moment for the blue side of Manchester – with a playing squad and budget to match the top teams in England – marking the start of better things to come for Roberto Mancini’s team.

“We may lose the final to Stoke – we know that would be kind of typical City – but Saturday 16th April for me is now the start of Year 1.” The Blue Panther on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

United – Bitter pill to swallow

For United supporters, the enduring memory from the Wembley defeat was one of indignation. That, and disappointment that these City upstarts dare upstage the team in red and dash their prospects of repeating the treble triumph of 1999.

Unsurprisingly the United fans were also playing down the significance of the result, highlighting how much the team have yet to play for this season.

“If anybody said we had to lose out on one, of course it’d be FA Cup. Yes, to be 90 mins away from a final and not get there is disappointing, even more so when it’s against your city rivals, but I’m sure we’ll forget about this if we win the title or the CL.” MUFCgal on redcafe.net

Some were even feigning relief the treble was no longer on the cards, yet fellow members quickly quashed this suggestion. Clearly the fans are despondent an opportunity to relive the magic of ‘99 has been denied.

“Lets not win the treble because it’s special being a one-off? What a load of nonsense. Good thing our Manager doesn’t have that mentality.” BG on rednews.co.uk

Furthermore, this result has served as a wakeup call for United fans with member comments alluding to a realisation City are now more than mere noisy neighbours – and it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

“We all know Saturday’s loss will need a long time before it is erased from the memory. Now they have finally beaten us in a meaningful way they will want to use it to the max especially with all the moolah they have. No 19 [top flight league wins] would go some way to softening the blow but the taste it has left will be bitter for a good while.” daviephi on rednews.co.uk

Manchester thanks Sheikh Mansour

While the United fans were licking their wounds the City fans were quick to pay tribute to two individuals in particular: their owner Sheikh Mansour, who they feel has more than shown his commitment to the club, and their often-maligned manager Mancini.

“Just can’t believe what has happened to us so quickly and cant thank Sheikh Mansour enough! I look at our squad now and if we get Champions League…it blows my mind! We will be legends for years to come but will never forget our history!” richards30 on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

While the optimism is clear to see some are just thankful for the memories the result provided, presumably none more so than Mancini who looks to have finally endeared himself to the fans.

“I know if we were to finish 5th and lose the final my attitude will change again but I have been saying that even if we finish top 4 I would still like [Mancini] to be removed of his duties…now I am not so sure. Whatever the future holds thank you Roberto for that moment yesterday, something I will remember for a long time!” OriganiNinja on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

A Manchester in transition

So in the longer term, what does the result mean for each team’s future prospects? In brief: a brighter outlook for City, a bleaker outlook for United.

“Fergie has a huge job to do to get us over the line for 19, (I do not think we have the ammunition to win the CL) and an even huger task to recruit/rebuild and shed dead wood this summer. It’s not going to be easy. If the berties [slang for City fans] qualify for the CL, this guy at the Arse puts his hand in his pocket and Dogleash [sic] starts spending we will need to do some very astute wheeling and dealing, starting NOW!” Everred on rednews.co.uk

The red fans have been aware of a transition taking place in the northwest and are wary of the challenge City will bring to their recent dominance. The fraught second Manchester derby last season was billed as such – as this author wrote ahead of that lunchtime contest at Eastlands.

That match was dramatically settled with a last gasp Paul Scholes header, which the United midfielder recently described as “one of the best things I have ever done”. Those memories are set in stark contrast with his actions in the teatime clash at Wembley where Scholes and his teammates cut forlorn figures desperately trying to cling onto a superiority that has been rapidly eroding over the past two seasons.

The Treble and the Auto Windscreens Shield

Despite the immediate implications of Saturday’s result and another reminder of the shift in momentum in Manchester, some fans offered a sense of nostalgic perspective.

“It’s hard to believe the position we are now in. I remember us getting beaten by Bury around 12 years ago and wondered if we would ever get back near to the top. We have and it is all down to one man…” kismet on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk [on post headed “Manchester thanks Sheikh Mansour”]

These memories hark back to the 1998-99 season, when City were battling in the old Third Division (and United were building to a famous treble), chronicled in Mark Hodkinson’s Blue Moon:

“Sensibly, staff at Maine Road seldom mention Manchester’s other team these days,” wrote Hodkinson. “United are success, money, glamour and a 1-1 draw with Juventus in the semi-final of the Champions League, while City are failure, debt, calamity and a 2-1 home defeat to Mansfield Town in the Auto Windscreens Shield.”

It is a testament to how far City have come to be competing, once again, for the most coveted prize of English cup football yet highlights one of the greatest strengths this United can boast under Ferguson – that of a remarkable consistency and staying power at the top.

City have won four FA Cups in their history. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24-year tenure at United he has held the trophy aloft on five occasions, with the club amassing 11 wins in the competition overall.

“While they cared on the day, and I’m sure it still hurts a bit, it would have pained us a hell of a lot more. Celebrating is great and we deserve it after beating them but it brings us back around to this small club mentality. We should enjoy this now, enjoy the small victories, because we’ll have them singing non stop when they win the Premiership at the end of the season and God help us if they get to the CL final and Barca have an off day.” Rahart on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

Stoke and silverware is just the start

For now, objectives such as to knock United “off their perch” will have to wait but in the short-term City have all the weapons in their armoury, with gifted players an astute management team and an ambitious oil-rich backer, to challenge their cross-town rivals.

“Even if they don’t win it they’ll bang on about it for ages like the Leeds lot still do. 1-0 blah blah blah. It’s horrible. We better get used to it because they’ll be there or thereabouts as long as they have the money and with SAF set to retire one day it will be tough.” Claymore on redcafe.net

The Citizens won’t be happy until parity is unequivocally confirmed in the League and in the Champions League but ending 35 years of hurt – something that puts Arsenal’s current woes in perspective – will go a long way to restoring the balance of Manchester.

Then of course, if United secure the Barclays Premiership, the blue and red armies will be locking horns again at the home of English football in the curtain-raiser to the 2011-12 season for the FA Community Shield.

Whether United fans like it or not, it appears City have joined the top table of English football and the Red Devils will have a fight on their hands to hold onto the silverware.


Ruptured Achilles’ heel is the final nail in England’s World Cup coffin

15 03 2010

Beckham, Terry, Cole…injuries and melodramas expose England’s Achilles’ heel

As the Greek myth of the Trojan War goes, it was the heel of the great Achilles – pierced by a poisoned arrow fired by Paris – that killed the apparently invulnerable warrior. Now in England’s World Cup campaign, one that seemed so promising six months ago, it is the stricken heel of David Beckham that has all but killed off the nation’s chances of success in South Africa.

England's Achilles' heel has been exposedIf 2009 had been a perfect year for England and Fabio Capello, 2010 will so far be remembered with anguish and dismay. It has taken less than three months to derail England’s previously impeccable World Cup campaign. For all the invincibility perpetuated by the form of Wayne Rooney, it cannot be disguised that England’s Achilles’ heel has been left exposed by unrelenting fitness set-backs and public crises.

In the qualifying season Capello equipped the team with a raw pace and precision befitting of a world finals favourite. The pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place. England scored more than any other European team in qualifying with a coherent, dynamic set-up that brought the best out of every individual.

The Italian even went so far as to say he knew who his no. 1 would be in goal, presumably David James given he played the majority of the qualies. The same could arguably be said for his thoughts on how the rest of the team would shape up.

Heskey and Rooney, with Gerrard interjecting from an advanced left position seemed to crack the ‘square peg in a round hole’ enigma of the Liverpool captain and bring the best out of Wazza, England’s most devastating weapon. Lampard and Barry developed an effective partnership in the engine room and Ferdinand, Terry and Ashley Cole made up 3/4s of an impenetrable back four. Doubts remained over the right flank but there were plenty of viable options.

Team morale was buoyant and yet the national team had an air of composed assurance instilled by the Italian’s machismo.

England's qualifying campaign could not have gone betterNow what a difference a superinjunction makes. The revelations (not like everyone was really that surprised) about Terry’s affairs and unrepentant betrayal of an England team-mate sent shock waves through the camp and stripped him of the armband. Shortly after being cut down by a broken ankle that will jeopardise his fitness for the summer ‘Cashley’ Cole’s popularity took another dramatic plunge after having salvaged respect for impressive displays on the pitch.

Wayne Bridge, the most experienced if not reliable back-up to Cole at left-back, backed out of deputising in the Chelsea man’s absence. No one is convinced about who should start in goal let alone be on the plane. Ferdinand has barely appeared all season due to his vulnerable vertebrae; and now one of the only truly talismanic player in the projected squad has cried off to Finland after rupturing that mythical weak spot on his left heel.

His experience – whether you think he would have played every minute in this summer’s tournament or just made up the numbers on the training pitch – would have been invaluable for the squad in South Africa. He has been through everything on the international stage from bearing the expectancy of a nation to bearing the burden of defeat; from his role in redemption in 2002 to reliability in 2006 he has embodied England’s pride and passion from that first cap to his 115th.

Beckham injury It must be acknowledged that England’s hopes are not entirely dashed, yet. Players are rediscovering form and fitness at a crucial time and with Rooney in the form of his life anything is possible. He is capable of inspiring the team around him to excel (just look at how his club are doing).

However, England’s vulnerability has been exposed as far more extensive than thought when qualification was secured in Wembley last September. That 23-man squad will be hobbling to South Africa, a World Cup most expected would go furthest in alleviating 44 years of hurt.

The lesser of two evils: Liverpool or Man City to finish 4th?

12 02 2010

Which self-important, deluded, foreign-funded club would you least like to see take the final Champions League spot at the end of the season?

For the Manchester United supporter this is one of life’s great conundrums. Arch nemesis or arch rivals? Sworn enemy or noisy neighbours? For those who still believe in the beautiful game and the purities of football Manchester City will represent Beelzebub incarnate – driving ticket prices, agents’ wages and fan expectations through the roof. For those sick of the ‘four-trick pony’ that has been the Premier League, practically since its inception, the opportunity to break up the Big Four monopoly with the sacrificial lamb that is Liverpool FC would be a refreshing development.

Scousers...love em or hate em...hate themOn the one hand the Scousers need reminding that last season was an anomaly. A freak event. One comparable to the magnitude of Yellowstone erupting in the film 2012, spiraling the world into chaos and fear, until Rafa made his famous speech that reminded everyone their resurgence was merely a storm in a teacup.

However, the alternative is almost too unbearable to imagine, isn’t it? That City, with their trillions and uninterested investors could flourish while the Crystal Palace’s and Portsmouth’s flounder in their wake. With princes and big wigs in it to make a name of Abu Dhabi rather than rejuvenate a once proud club. Happy to bank roll inept suits such as Garry Cook and make examples of football heroes like ‘Sparky’ Mark Hughes.

Garry Cook = deplorable twat To allow Liverpool to remain in the top four after the shoddy campaign they’ve cobbled together would be criminal of the chasing pack. To allow City to break through into Europe’s esteemed premier competition would do a disservice to the traditions of the sport.

So, if you too enjoy stagnation and fear change, if you would reward those who value self-righteousness and can forgive Villa and Spurs for not making the grade then pick Liverpool for fourth. Alternatively, if you like change on the scale Obama was talking about following Bush’s reign of ineptitude and can accept the Fat Cats profiteering while your neighbour swallows forced redundancy then City with their blood money are for you.

For most the decision is between the lesser of two evils. Like Cameron or Brown. Swine Flu or Bird Flu. Jump or be pushed. I just hope there can be a third option: give us Nick Clegg, a common cold, throw us a parachute and have Martin O’Neill do us all a favour by leading Villa into the top four.

Twitter and the twit: How the John Terry affair has granted the press their freedom

1 02 2010

The JT “superinjunction” has redressed the balance between privacy law and freedom of expression.

If it weren’t for Twitter and a media conscious judge, John Terry’s latest indiscretions with Vanessa Peronccel and his betrayal of Wayne Bridge may have remained buried under paper work and bound by red tape.

Instead these revelations have been splashed across the front and back pages, calling into question the future role of the England football captain, the moral code of team mates and the responsibilities befitting a millionaire role model. Despite this melodrama, what will leave a lasting legacy is in fact how the social media phenomenon of Twitter enabled this to happen and returned freedom of expression to the press.

Wayne Bridge and John Terry as England team mates While Terry tried to keep his affair quiet and his lawyers applied successfully for an injunction to gag the press from reporting details, the judge in question, Lord Justice Tugendhat would have considered the merits of privacy and interests of the public.

The European convention on human rights, article 8 – respect for private and family life – and article 10, which defends freedom of expression understandably made this matter a family affair. With past cases, such as between the News of the World and Formula 1 boss Max Mosley over images of his Nazi orgy; or between the Guardian and Carter Ruck over the Trafigura affair, the press have been found in breach of privacy. As Marurice Chittenden of the Sunday Times wrote: “Until now, 8 was giving 10 a thrashing.”

Subsequently a superinjunction was ordered against reporting details, the press were left flummoxed in having to keep this quiet and Terry could smugly go about his business. That is, until Twitter entered the fray and blew the debate wide open.

Google and Twitter ignored the superinjunction:

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

TwitterTweets were not bound by this super-injunction as authors had no way of knowing this order was in place. Gossip and rumours were unchecked on the social networking site as shown by a simple Google search for “John Terry” that produced these tweets from while the superinjunction was in force at 11.15 on Friday before it was lifted at 2pm.

The judge overseeing the case understood this information was widely accessible to the public rendering an injunction to merely protect Terry’s sponsorship dealings as inadequate justification to gag the press. The Sunday Times championed “Tugendhat of the Inner Templar” as the protector of freedoms of expression.

On Friday Tugendhat reviewed the case and, realising that anyone with a computer could find even more sordid allegations about the affair just a mouse click away, lifted the injunction. He added: “Freedom to live as one chooses is one of the most valuable freedoms. But so is the freedom to criticise – within the limits of the law – the conduct of other members of society as being socially harmful, or wrong.”

If the super part of the injunction can be lifted, revealing the fact that someone has sought an injunction, it exposes the person to gossip on the internet and elsewhere.

The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf was also reported in the Sunday Times as recognising the significance of press freedoms. He said: “Any interference with freedom of speech has to be looked at with great care and suspicion. Terry was trying to stop people from talking about something that was already in the public domain.”

Since then there have been increasing reports on Twitter that Terry was involved in encouraging his mistress Perroncel to have an abortion:

Father of twins and Dad of the Year in June 2009‘Vishaldutta’ said: “John Terry has been s***ing Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend. Got her pregnant and she had abortion.”

‘asMaestro’ wrote: “Dad of the Year John Terry…forced her to have an abortion. Wow. This is the England captain?”

Until now I have been slightly sceptical of the role Twitter has to play for journalism. On one hand it provides an endless resource for breaking news and an insight into the privileged lives of the celebrities who use (or misuse) it. It also allows papers and news outlets greater opportunity to reach their readers.

But, like how these 3D glasses have suddenly become fashionable again, many feel those incessant tweets all day long were merely up-starts indulging in the latest gimmick of our tech-addicted generation. And now “citizen journalists” are getting all the scoops, making on-the-patch reporting less rewarding and all the more redundant.

The limited restraints on citizen journalism enabled through Twitter will mean information is rarely kept secret for long. The growing popularity of social networking can afford columnists and editorials more license to debate issues of public interest. Thus making it harder for those in the public eye to keep their skeletons locked away in their cupboards.

At a time when media and national empires have come to blows over restrictions of censorship abroad, Tugendhat has overruled the strict regulations incurred in this country by the Max Mosley ruling, setting a precedent weighted in favour of freedom of expression and the press.

Mark Stephens, the media lawyer, said: “As a result of a failed attempt to gag the world the lawyers have made a drama out of a crisis. It is an object lesson.” Fundamentally, it was Terry’s misdemeanour. Citizen journalists exposed the crime. Tugendhat called the felon to account. And Twitter served as the vehicle for justice.

I used to think Twitter was for twits. That was until I saw its full journalistic capacity to light up the shady parts of this world and realised its role in exposing the biggest twit of all in JT.

England’s forward options never looked so good

2 10 2009

Even Darren Bent’s recent fine form would not secure him a place in the national side with Rooney, Defoe, Crouch and Cole on fire.

Father-to-be Wayne Rooney has six goals in seven for Manchester United so far. For England in qualification matches his record is nine in eight. The national side has booked their place for the World Cup next summer allowing him to whet his appetite for South Africa by focusing on Premier League and European competition.

Come June, without the WAGs to distract him, Wazza can tuck into the native cuisine of biltong, ostrich and vetkoek (literally ‘fat cake’) and eye-up the opposition with menace. For finally it looks like England have all the ingredients of talent up-front to envy any side on the international landscape.

England's abundance of riches up-front leave no space for Bent

This sudden discovery or revelation, call it what you will, came to me when indulging myself on the forums in recognising Darren Bent’s reinvigorated form for Sunderland. ‘Is he good enough to be taken seriously again?’ I asked. The conclusion was emphatically definitive: no.

He has turned a few heads and can be lauded for his league form but nobody’s making space on the plane for him to join the World Cup party just yet. He may be given a glimmer of hope in Capello’s next squad to be announced on Sunday but that may be misleading as others are simply too good right now.

In analysing the probable forward options that will be in attendance in South Africa it looks like England have an abundance of riches.

Capello has everything rolled into one in the form of Rooney. Defoe has pace and explosive finishing. Cole has strength and power as well as an effective shot on him and ability in the air. Crouch has realised he can score with his head and Heskey is the glue that holds it all together. Give Agbonlahor and even my newly crowned hero Michael Owen time to impress until June and all the boxes are ticked.

‘Fox-in-the-box’, Defoe. Pace, Agbonlahor. Power, Cole. Aerial threat, Crouch. Link-up play, Heskey. Finishing, Owen. All of the above, Rooney.

And for the rest:

Spain – Torres, Villa. They need to be supported by a ‘big man’. Back-ups Cazorla and Llorente sound more like something you’d throw in a paella than up-front. Yet they may not even need one if Spain play like they did at the Euros and Bojan could be back on the radar by then.

France's all rounded front line
France – Henry, Anelka, Benzema then possibly Saha if he keeps scoring for the Toffees. That seems a daunting attack complimented by Nasri, Ribery and Gourcuff! Think they are struggling for qualification at the mo but they have the most all rounded front line for me.

Brazil – Robinho, Fabiano, Adriano (surprisingly included – he must have run out of beer money). We know all about them and will be re-acquainted in November when England face them in a testing friendly. Yet, they have unknown quantities such as Nilmar and Tardelli waiting in the wings and, being Brazil, they will probably be quality. Could say they have the complete package but injuries would expose the more inexperienced players in a World Cup.

Brazilian complete package?Germany – Podolski and Klose have had plenty of opportunities to play together. Klose is effective in the air and together they can be prolific but I don’t think there is much back up after Gomez.

Italy – Gilardinho and Iaquinta don’t really scare me. They are not consistent enough and Rossi and Di Natale are too slight and inexperienced.

Holland – van Persie, Kuyt, Huntelaar and Robben as a wing-forward should be quite a handful. Yet when Robben goes missing they do lack someone with blistering pace. Against England they didn’t create much that wasn’t put on a plate for them by our errors.

Argentina – Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Higuain and Milito. They are all tricky players but no one stands out as offering much of an aerial threat and anyway, they may not even qualify so we’ll worry about them later.

African nations each have one big name striker like Drogba, Adebayor, Eto’o etc but don’t have enough quality back up.

Father-to-be Wayne Rooney can look forward to South Africa
So all in all, England surely have plenty of the right ingredients to produce a dynamic, diverse, devastating forward partnership that is only rivalled by France and Brazil. But eight months ago it didn’t look like we had any capable centre-forwards so who knows how we will shape up in nine months time…

If everyone’s fit, Wayne will still be licking his lips at the prospect of getting stuck into the opposition defences with ample support for good measure, and England should be the team to beat.

Where Ronaldo goes the rest will follow

24 06 2009

How the Premier League became unfashionable.

Six weeks ago the English press was running around like little school girls gushing over the brilliance of our national league. Three teams representing the Premiership had reached the last four of the European Cup two years on the bounce. The English champions were the world champions and they had nurtured and cultivated the world’s player of the year. All eyes across the planet were focused on these shores and the allure of the league had never been stronger.

Safe to say, CEO of the Prem, Richard Scudamore was sitting rather pretty as Blatter and Platini scowled in jealousy, resigned to the imminent departures of the best their compatriots could produce.

But then, along came Florentino Perez. Here was the man that brought us the incompetent ‘Galacticos’; the man who handpicked the greatest players on earth and wrenched them away from their boyhood clubs; the man who threw all the finest footballing eggs in one soulless basket and left them there to rot.

Like a cross between a WWII genocidal dictator, a Star Wars galactic emperor and a Dick Van Dyke movie child snatcher, he set about in his revamped plans for world domination. Within days he had singled out the good-for-nothings (curiously, all Dutch players) and sent in his spies to unsettle the stars with burgeoning ability and more crucially, mushrooming marketability.

Perez channels his two favourite idols

Former world player of the year Kaka was his with nothing more than a brief “Ciao” to the club that had made him their talisman. Before you knew it current world player of the year Ronnie was off with not so much as a wink for old times’ sake. No doubt the contractual papers are being typed up as we speak for Ibrahimovic.

So surely now there will be players clambering over themselves to fill the void left such influential departures. Villa? “No thanks, I’ll wait for Floro to trump up another earth shattering bid from his bottomless pockets.” Benzema? “I’ll hang around in Lyon till Real come calling.” Liverpool’s midfield looks to be vulnerable with Alonso and Mascherano getting fidgety. Adebayour and Tevez have already packed their bags for greener pastures. And even Torres seems to have had his head turned with everything going on.

It looks like Perez has well and truly rocked the boat and swung favour back in the direction of La Liga. Those trusty politicians up in Whitehall don’t seem to have done us any favours either. With the pound crumbling against the euro and the tax bands getting tighter for the rich and famous, it’s no wonder these players are jumping ship.

Yet England hasn’t had a world player of the year grace its shores for as long as I can remember. The last Ballon d’Or winner from England was the Liverpool superstar formerly known as Michael Owen back in 2001. Cristiano was meant to be the start of things to come with the most glorified and majestic players queuing up to represent our top four. The only saving grace now will be if English teams continue to excel in Europe and generate world beaters of their own.

It seems like it has happened in the blink of the eye but now that the European crown is in Catalan hands and the tide is turning, this generation might start having to realise that the Premier League’s not quite what it used to be. As with boom, there comes bust. And as there was Ronaldo, now there is Nani.

It may sound premature to say this, but the golden era of English club football is on the precipice, a couple more big money moves away from entering its dark ages.

Elitist ref selection underlines Ovrebo witch hunt

11 05 2009

Deemed too Norwegian to know better.

A special place is reserved for people like Tom Henning Ovrebo. Just like Anders Frisk, Graham Poll, Robert Mugabe, and Osama Bin Laden before him, Tom has achieved household name status and established himself on Interpol’s top ten most wanted overnight.

The witch hunt began to take shape in the Sky Sports studio on Wednesday night. Drogba set the precedent kicking and screaming and foaming at the mouth and the pundits continued in such vain. On the performance of the Norwegian, the ever impartial Jamie Redknapp (son of Harry Redknapp – brother-in-law of Frank Lampard Snr – daddy of Jnr – consequently making Jamie Lamp’s cousin and an obstinate Frank fanatic and Chelsea convert – still following?) had a lot to say. He launched into his tirade: “Why can’t we have the best Italian or Spanish… Hold on, we can’t have a Spanish one…” Did I mention how Jamie likes to give the audience the impression he has no clue what he’s saying?

YouTube retakes on the Ovrebo debacle

Then you might have noticed him calling Andy Gray Andrew Gay…woops! Was that a little Freudian slip? Revealing some genuine insight amongst Jamie’s typically fumbling post match assertions? Surprised that there were hints of homoeroticism involving Jamie’s adopted paternal role model? Me neither.

If you can sift through all that, then well done! The point is: there’s some blatant elitist referee selection creeping into the Champions League. In this scenario of English v Spanish clash, only an Italian official would have been deemed to have sufficient capabilities, match experience and big game temperament to cope with the feisty semi final encounter.

Poor Tom Ovrebo’s abilities, eyesight, allegiances and all round personal character have been called into question by every quarter since his interesting take on officiating that night. The biggest question marks over his selection have focused on his lack of experience cultivated in the Norwegian league. Albeit, the Tippeligaen, catchy isn’t it, can hardly lay claim to presenting the biggest of big game clashes for ref’s to oversee – what when the Viking’s are taking on Odd Grenland and all the team’s just sound like fruity European beers – but his credentials should be enough to earn him a place amongst the refereeing elite.

The quality of football in Scandinavia should not detract from the role of the ref. They are still relied on to bound about with whistle in hand, cards at the ready, to keep players in check, administer deserving punishments and occasionally, at least last time I checked, award penalties. Then again, Ovrebo’s reluctance to point to the spot at the Bridge does notably discredit such an assumption.

So why was he selected? At the age of 41 the psychologist by trade has proven a shrewd professional. He has overseen semis in the Uefa Cup over the last two years and several big quarters in the Champs Lge such as Inter v Liverpool and Man United v Roma (he gave a pen to the Italians in that one). Earning the right to ref at European championships and even to be preselected for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa show he must be doing something right. Perhaps it is his fleeting similarities in appearance to the referee colossus Pierluigi Collina that earned him this honour. That is the only reason I can fathom in the sudden elevation of fellow slap’ed Howard Webb to top official in England. Bald is back for the men in black.

Collina: bald, Ovrebo: bald, Webb: bald. See the connection?

It appears that Ovrebo’s previous 15 years of refereeing was building up to that crucial semi final second leg and rightly so. Ok, so he had a shocker but he deserved to be the man in the middle on the basis of his experience. One thing we could be more worried about is the increasing trend of English teams getting to the sharp end of this tournament will mean that no English refs will be allowed to oversee the biggest games and our standard of officiating will never get the opportunity to impress. Then again, last time our top man, Mr Poll, was put in the international limelight in the Euro championships for that Croatia v Australia game he forgot how to count so maybe that’s just a blessing in disguise.

Before we find ourselves in a position where no ref is good enough or Italian enough to ref these big games we should embrace the possibility for officials from the third world of league football to earn the right to oversee the games on the biggest stage. Until we have video technology, the rest is up to them and they will have to deal with any consequences…or be gagged and go into hiding until it all blows over.

But let’s be honest, Chelsea should have sealed the tie long before Ovrebo lost his bottle and forgot what a penalty was, so perhaps they’ve only got themselves to blame. And next time, Abramovich should dig deeper into his gold lined pockets and offer a bribe more attractive to the Norwegian.