Nineteen-year-old Alex Iwobi for Arsenal at Everton, 18-year-old Marcus Rashford for Manchester United at the Etihad. Each scored a splendid goal: Iwabi’s Arsenal’s second in the 2-0 win at Goodison, Rashford’s the dynamically spectacular winner in the Manchester derby.
Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and United’s Louis Van Gaal rejoiced in the achievements of the pair on the day, but it might be pertinent to ask the two managers: what took you so long?
Alan Smith the former Arsenal and England centre-forward, now a perceptive critic, tells us he admired Iwobi as long ago as last summer when he sparkled for the Gunners in a pre-season game in Singapore. Yet in a haphazard season in which Arsenal have searched in vain for a consistent spearhead – France’s Olivier Giroud being endlessly unpredictable, Theo Walcott being far less adapted to the role than he himself thinks, Danny Welbeck injured for so much of the season, why has Iwobi not been used regularly, before?
As for the astonishing Rashford, he too got into the United first team so late in the season, when other strikers for one reason or another were unavailable. It was hardly a case of giving youth its fling, more a matter of sheer expediency. To be rewarded with no fewer than four goals in the youngster’s first two games, two of them in the defeat of Arsenal, and subsequently the memorable winner in the Mancunian derby.
Irony of ironies. Pep Guardiola is now all too likely to arrive as manager of Manchester City with the club out of the European Champions Cup. A rare reminder that money, even Middle Eastern and now Chinese money, isn’t everything.
Schadenfreude is the German word for being pleased at someone else’s misfortune and I must admit I do feel it at the moment. There seems to be a kind of bitter justice about a club which has spent fortunes on star players being, metaphorically at least, out of the money.
Poor, sidelined Manuel Pellegrini, had the chair, so to speak, whipped from under him when it was prematurely announced he would be on his way at the end of this season. And though his team lurches on in the European Cup, injuries to key players tore the heart out of the side.
Guardiola likes to spend a slightly self-indulgent three years at each of his clubs. I imagine he would like to get out of the City contract a great deal earlier if, as seems possible, they are condemned next season to that Platini irrelevance of a competition, the Europa League. Hubris and Nemesis? Perhaps that would be a little too stringent to suggest. But at a time when so unfashionable Leicester City appear to be marching towards that gloriously unexpected Championship (if I may use the term correctly rather than a euphemism for the 2nd Division), perhaps the old Greek phrase which might loosely be translated as ‘pride and punishment’ could be forgiven.
When Antonio Conte arrives at Chelsea, as now seems pretty certain, despite his recent refusal to announce his appointment – and the fact that he is learning English – how long, you wonder, will Michael Emenalo survive as senior steward of recruitment? I wrote of the mystery of Emenalo long ago when he was appointed to an assistant coaching position; now the matter of his of his far more senior position has been raised by a leading sports columnist.
When first appointed it was reported, and now denied, that his only previous coaching experience had been with a girls team in the United States. Yet his rise, you might say, has been meteoric, and he is reportedly highly esteemed by the Chelsea billionaire owner Roman Abramovic. Though, with the deepest respect, one might ask what the oligarch, for all his wealth really knows about the game.
Emenalo, a former Nigerian international, has of late presided over a transfer policy which is in tatters. Conte would inevitably bring his own, Italian staff. Though how long he would last is, given Chelsea’s history in recent years, perhaps open to speculation.
I remember apropos of Emenalo, being told by a journalist colleague of him sitting just behind the team benches at a European game and noticing that the Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, seated beside Emanolo, didn’t address a single word to him through the match.
I hope Roy Hodgson doesn’t persevere with the idea of a deep lying midfielder just in front of the back four. A sad waste of the creative and goalscoring talents of such as Jack Wilshere, absent alas from Arsenal and international teams for the whole season so far, but the scorer of those two splendid rescuing goals when last he played for England. He needs to be much farther upfield where his shrewd passing as well as his finishing powers can be fully exploited.
The idea of sacrificing Tottenham’s splendidly precocious Dele Ali there is equally misconceived.