MONDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
Newcastle's new era begins
Yesterday, around the climax of Super Sunday, a van was driving around the streets surrounding St James’ Park bearing the image of a journalist, Jamal Khashogghi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Welcome to the Premier League, 2021-22.
Ronaldo's 'ambition' is to win more Ballon d'Or awards than Messi - France Football boss
If at this point you want to accuse The Warm-Up of not focusing on what actually happened on the pitch, it’s because what happened on the pitch is almost totally irrelevant. Harry Kane ended his drought, Newcastle lost from a winning position… none of this matters.
We all know change is coming at Newcastle. Steve Bruce’s 1,000th game as a manager may well end up being his last as Newcastle manager. In one year, in four months even, this team will look markedly different. It won’t be long before Newcastle move swiftly up the table. When the story of their new era is told, no one will remember the 3-2 scoreline and who got sent off (a miserable looking Jonjo Shelvey, just for the record).
But the scenes around the match will be remembered. The hero worship afforded to the new owners; Newcastle fans filmed kissing the Saudi flag; adult men dressed up in keffiyehs with a Newcastle Brown Ale in hand; chanting about how they've "got our club back" despite it now essentially being an asset of the Saudi state.
No one can or should deny Newcastle supporters the right to enjoy the fact that Mike Ashley is no longer in control of their destiny. But the enthusiasm with which certain sections of their support have welcomed their new owners is pretty distasteful. Apparently human rights concerns don’t mean a lot if you might sign Coutinho in January.
This stuff matters, across the world. Before the dawning of a new era on Tyneside, The Athletic’s Adam Crafton published a piece carrying some horrendous testimonies from LGBT+ Saudis and what they have had to endure. One told him that although they don’t blame Newcastle fans, it is nonetheless “heartbreaking to see people who celebrate the people behind this takeover, who celebrate our oppressors."
But in the global industry that is the Premier League, this is never going to be the dominant narrative, when we can instead clutch at a much more familiar, and less difficult, “fairytale” takeover with a massive January spending spree on the horizon, giving the most lionised supporters in football some success they apparently “deserve”, despite Newcastle having not won a league title since 1927.
Whatever progressive messages may emanate in press releases from time to time, this is still an arena which turns a blind eye when it really comes down to it. Never was this better summed up than by Garry Cook, then Manchester City chief executive who, when confronted with the fact that Human Rights Watch had described the club’s owner Thaksin Shinawatra as a “human rights abuser of the worst kind”, replied: "He's embroiled in a political process and I've chosen to stay out of it. Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Does he have plenty of money to run a football club? Yes. I really care only about those three things. Whether he [Thaksin] is guilty of something over in Thailand, I can't worry.”
And why, really, should we hold Newcastle fans to a different standard? Prior to kick-off, Jamie Redknapp made the point that they are hardly alone in this, in a ‘saying the quiet bit out loud’ moment that (a) wasn’t quite the defence he thought it was, and (b) probably not quite the brand messaging that the Premier League was looking for.
"I'm not sure the majority of football fans really care who owns their club,” he said. “If you were going to go into the business dealings of a lot of the owners we might not have a league."
And so the Premier League roadshow rolls on regardless. Newcastle’s fairytale has begun, and the van showing the image of a murdered journalist is parked silently in a darkened garage somewhere on Tyneside.
Pressure mounts on Solskjaer
There are many pluses to signing a player like Cristiano Ronaldo. Guaranteed goals, incredible PR, the chance his fanatic professionalism might rub off on some of your younger players. But there are some negatives too, primarily the fact that the pressure is on to basically win every match you play, unless you want the defining image of your weekend being one of the all-time greats skulking off the pitch with a telling scowl on their face.
A 4-2 loss at Leicester on Saturday made it four defeats in seven now for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with United winless in their last four outings - the kind of form which absolutely cannot be endured for very long when you have a player like Ronaldo in your team.
Worse, this succession of terrible results means Bruno Fernandes is being forced into now weekly acts of supplication on social media to convey his apology to fans. It’s now getting so bad there’s rumours he will wear a hairshirt under his kit for Wednesday night’s home match against Atalanta.
United were comprehensively outplayed by Leicester. As Solskjaer himself conceded, it “says everything” that United’s best player in a 4-2 defeat was their goalkeeper, David de Gea.
The Glazers have thus far been highly reluctant to part with Solskjaer but if the form doesn’t turn around it’s hard to see how he stays in place. Ronaldo was supposed to turn United into title contenders, that’s the deal you make when you sign him, but Solskjaer increasingly does not look like a man capable of delivering one.
Barcelona aren’t a total dumpster fire
Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Image credit: Getty Images
Barcelona are currently in a fascinating stage of their history. It’s been a harrowing year in which they’ve somehow let the greatest player in history go on a free transfer due to what effectively amounts to an administrative error, then let Antoine Griezmann rejoin Atleti on loan and replaced him with Luuk de Jong.
But conversely, they arguably have the greatest collection of teenage players in world football at the moment. Pedri has been one of the revelations of the past 12 months while Gavi also looked sensational when surprisingly breaking into the Spain team for the Nations League finals.
But best of all, potentially, is Ansu Fati, who after recovering from a serious injury looks better than ever. So much so in fact, that he is wearing the No. 10 shirt lightly after inheriting it from Lionel Messi.
Last night in a 3-1 win over Valencia, he scored a goal which could barely have been more reminiscent of Messi had he celebrated with a cup of mate while sending a burofax. The give and go, the perfect finish into the far corner… it’s just pure Messi.
So Barcelona might remain a farcical organisation, but how can they not be a little bit excited too. That’s if they actually manage to keep hold of these players.
IN OTHER NEWS
In another universe, Jose Mourinho and Juventus were absolutely made for each other. Obviously his history at Inter means that’s off the cards so instead the dynamic is a highly entertaining grudge - as evidenced again after Roma controversially lost 1-0 last night.
IN THE CHANNELS 1
Manchester City youngster Cole Palmer achieved something quite special on Saturday night as he scored a hat-trick for the youth team mere hours after appearing as a substitute for the senior team in the Premier League win over Burnley. Here courtesy of City’s official Twitter account is his pretty special hat-trick goal.
“Playing with the first team at three then driving over to the Academy Stadium and scoring a hat trick and another three points, it was a good day,” he said with more than a flavour of understatement. “I saw that the EDS were playing at half seven and the first team were at three.
“So, I thought if I don’t get 30 minutes or something I asked if I could come over and play and he said yeah, I could come over and play.”
IN THE CHANNELS 2
A nice touch from Sky Sports as they named Sergio Reguilon and Eric Dier joint men of the match for their quick response in assisting a Newcastle fan who collapsed during Sunday’s match, causing a delay in proceedings as medics worked to save his life.
The good news is that the fan is now stable in hospital.
Get set for an evening of heavy narrative as Patrick Vieira takes his Crystal Palace side to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal.
Messi favourite to win Ballon d’Or - odds, full shortlist and leading contenders
Chelsea continue to reap the rewards of that transfer ban – The Warm-Up