In the halcyon days before VAR, revered evil genius Pep Guardiola bemoaned that absence of a fellow dictator to a post-match reporter, insisting “we have to have it.” Yet in the Premier League tonight (27/12/23) when his Manchester City defender John Stones goes down injured at Everton during one of those dead-play moments before offside is confirmed, he moans at the officials about the flag not going up sooner. For a man who now has the World Club title to go with the Super Cup, it is probably easy to believe he can have everything, but to push for video technology and then rail against a directive that has come about only because of video technology is a bit like a Brexit voter complaining about NHS waiting lists.
Guardiola’s hypocrisy is all the more evident given it was he who drove a bus around the country in 2019 claiming that 350,000,000 goals a season were wrongly awarded or denied, but in the end at Goodison it didn’t matter, at least in terms of the scoreline: City were one down at the time of Stones’ injury (he was subsequently replaced to applause from his former home crowd, a reception hardly comparable to which Wayne Rooney found whenever he returned there with City’s local rivals United; was that sense of betrayal more acute because Rooney was raised in Croxteth and not Barnsley?) but the winners of Treble apathy scored three without reply in the second half, which was annoying to watch but at least I didn’t have to listen to Clive Tyldesley while it was going on. After 15 minutes it may have seemed that the likeliest candidate to be removed from the play was the hapless Mathieu Nunes, but Amazon Prime has a no-commentary, stadium noise-only feature and I exercised this feature gladly. Some people can contribute too much to a game.
Talking of playing to the crowd, there was distinctly less satisfaction in watching Guardiola and his players at the end exhibiting their joy in front of fans boasting about being ‘Champions of the World’ (as Chelsea once were.) Even if you forgive young footballers cocooned in a dedicated professional bubble, this is still a pro-oppressive regime club that has just returned from securing world domination in Saudi Arabia. At this point, I activated the telly completely off function.
Tomorrow it will be same time but different place for Arsenal-West Ham, now a traditional festive season fixture, which is a piece of information essential to distract you from working out that the venue in question will be The Emirates. I have to confess that it will be very convenient for my moral credibility if that sponsorship deal were to end. Yes, the stadium itself wasn’t responsible for any casualties when it was being built unlike the death (Star) traps constructed in Qatar for that event last year that shall never be named, and yes, people are free to express their identity in it, but I myself am open to accusations of double-standards while those letters continue to stain the building and those pretend air stewardesses remain beside the tunnel. I could try to justify this by saying that at least this group of women (and they are always women) are allowed out in public but sadly there are just some internal noises you can’t simply turn off.