There is a curious habit among English commentators that sees any halfway decent, moderately exciting top-flight game hailed as “a great advert for the Premier League.” Quite why the Premier League needs these publicity boosts is never truly explained; it’s not as though Dickie Scudamore built his empire on word of mouth and samizdat leafleting.
The implication, then, is that most Premier League games are not decent ads for the league. Which is, in a sense, very correct. By their very nature, ads show their subjects in the best possible light. Funny as it might be to watch Charlize Theron spray herself with perfume, undergo an allergic reaction, sneeze violently, fall off a motorboat, and then get savaged by a leopard, it probably wouldn’t help sales any.
An ad is, at best, a gloss; at worst an outright lie. Therefore, if good games are good ads, then average and boring and mediocre games are in fact the meat of the business, and so the Premier League itself is a lie. Yet this weekend’s round of games showed that there might be an alternative identity out there for the Premier League to embrace. Something that would ensure that every game could become a decent ad, doing away with the need for advertising altogether.
We’re about to discuss stupidity.
The Premier League produced five red cards this weekend. One of them, Jose Fonte’s dismissal against Sunderland, was a perfectly ordinary piece of business. Striker running through? Ten minutes to go? There’s not a self-respecting central defender out there who wouldn’t have wrestled his man to the ground.
Now, the other four. Oh, the other four. Francis Coquelin, Kevin Mirallas, James Milner, Juan Mata — in theory, not a terrible midfield, if you don’t mind ending the game with seven men. Of the eight yellow cards that this fine quartet of fools collected this weekend, approximately 7.5 were entirely stupid. The half is Kevin Mirallas, who was at least trying to win an attacking free kick when he threw himself on the floor
For the Diary’s money, Mata’s dismissal against West Brom just about edges the other three for the prize of Thickest Dismissal of the Week. For a start, it happened after less than half an hour; for a middle, it involved blocking a free kick in the middle of the West Brom half, then kicking Darren Fletcher in the shins in the middle of the West Brom half; and for an end, it was against West Brom. At least Coquelin had the excuse of derby day intensity. At least Milner was losing to, and presumably irritated by, Alan Pardew. At least Kevin Mirallas literally has no brain.
But if Mata’s was the best on an individual level, the game itself was fairly predictable. Manchester United has been fairly appalling with eleven men for most of the season; with ten men, they were very appalling indeed. Taking off a right back at one-nil down to bring on another right back might generally be considered silly, but that’s Louis van Gaal’s standard operating procedure and he changes his mind for no man, no beast, and no game situation.
The other games, however, took inspiration from their clowns-in-chief. At White Hart Lane, both North London sides took turns feeling the chilly hand of failure on their respective shoulders. Arsenal, down to ten men, ushered Tottenham into the lead, then Tottenham, suddenly dizzy and feeling a little sick, needed a sit-down and a quiet moment, which Arsenal used to equalize. It was that rare and beautiful thing: a result that did neither side much good, and a performance from which everybody involved will pretend to take positives, but will in fact have found deeply concerning.
At Selhurst Park, meanwhile, we can only assume that Crystal Palace thought James Milner had been playing for them. This wouldn’t be too unreasonable — he hadn’t been doing much for Liverpool — and is the only explanation for the fact that Liverpool responded to Milner’s red card by shrinking back into themselves, then falling apart.
Special notes must go here to Alan Pardew, who had a proper good whine about everything afterwards, and Christian Benteke, who was about to dive for a penalty when one of Palace’s defenders charged in and clipped his ankle — an effort that sums up Benteke’s Liverpool career nicely. Thirty-five million pounds, and the lad can’t even dive properly.
But the weekend’s peak came at Everton, perhaps the least sensible side in the league. Bobby Martinez’s team was one goal up when Mirallas did his thing, and Martinez, true to himself, decided that the best way to respond to his side’s diminished capacity was to go chasing additional goals. It nearly worked, too; Everton added a second, then Romelu Lukaku missed a penalty.
Emboldened, and with just 20 minutes to go, Martinez remembered that if his side got a third goal, then they would receive 15 bonus points and qualify automatically for the Champions League. So he brought on another striker, West Ham scored three times, and Martinez realized that, on reflection, he’d been wrong. The rules hadn’t changed; that had just been a dream. He should never have trusted that singing penguin.
This is the kind of niche that the Premier League can carve out in the world. Nobody’s going to match Bayern or Barcelona for quality, but who out there is going to go toe-to-toe with any of the above for sheer mind-numbing idiocy? The Diary is delighted to proclaim Martinez the first ever poster boy for the Stupidest League in the World. Get the man a slinky golden dress and release the leopards.