Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Humbug to 2002

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Humbug to 2002

Article excerpt

Byline: MATTHEW NORMAN

ONE of the more perplexing aspects of late December is that, while there are plenty of Scrooges to turn the joyous message of Christmas on its head (Ebenezer himself, The Grinch, the Scotland Yard officer who heads the annual drink-driving campaign, etc), no figure exists to do the same for the New Year. There is no one, in other words, to stand up and shout: "Cobblers to this surge of optimism, next year will be even worse."

So allow me, if you will, this New Year's Eve, to plug that curious gap by examining the three elements to football which everybody at present regards as icons of wonderment and hope: the splendid performance of Bobby Robson at Newcastle; the unexpected openness of the Premiership; and the expectation, undimmed even by the draw, that England will succeed in the World Cup.

Until now, each of this threesome has been lauded as a self-contained entity. What no one has done is consider how they are connected . . .

and the moment you do that is the moment to cancel tonight's party in favour of retiring to bed at 10pm with a bottle of Scotch and the crossword.

Let us begin with Robson. It is all very well going on about how marvellous the dear old boy is at 68, but consider the consequences.

Today, on his own 60th birthday, Alex Ferguson is so struck by Robson's form that he appears poised to abandon his retirement as United's manager. "The way Bobby keeps going is an example to everybody," he says. "It proves you're never too old for this game."

It may be coincidence that United wobbled so badly early in what was supposed to be Ferguson's last season as manager but I very much doubt it, just as I doubt it is coincidence that Arsenal hit something close to top form the moment Arsene Wenger finally signed that contract. Footballers, like most employees, do not thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty. …

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