x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Much ado about nutting

Why was there such a kerfuffle about a lame scuffle involving Gennaro Gattuso, if 'nobody wants to see it?'

Before we go any further, let's get one thing straight: every football fan loves a touchline kerfuffle. The highlight of this week's Champions League action was provided not by the artistry of Arsenal or the beauty of Barcelona but the flouncing of AC Milan's Gennaro Gattuso and his laughable "assaults" on the Tottenham Hotspur assistant coach Joe Jordan.

As fights go, it was not exactly the Rumble in the Jungle. Considering Gattuso's technique of starting fights which he knows will be immediately broken up by others, this was more like the Scrappy-Doo of the San Siro.

The bearded Italian's two attacks on Jordan were a mild shove to the throat and a butt so weak that any passing Inuit would have mistaken it for a friendly greeting. The Sky Sports punditry team, however, were keen to grab the moral high ground (perhaps understandably, after recent events) and decided that "nobody wanted to see" Gattuso's antics detracting from Spurs' achievement.

Really? A brief glance at YouTube suggested otherwise, with views of Gattuso's butt outnumbering Peter Crouch's goal by around two to one.

But why is a mild scuffle between two men of such interest? Perhaps because it allows grown men to indulge in that most time-honoured pastime of predicting who would beat whom in a "proper" fight.

Seriously, we do it all the time: polar bear versus crocodile, Godzilla versus King Kong, giant former Manchester United forward versus fiery pint-sized Italian. Now, unless I have seriously misunderstood the Uefa disciplinary proceedings, a Gattuso-Jordan rematch is unlikely to happen. A financial penalty and playing ban seem a far more likely outcome for Gattuso than instruction to meet Jordan on some dimly lit car park for a straightener.

However, we men never let the facts stand in the way of a fantasy fight and, for the record, the Spurs manager Harry Redknapp's verdict was: "My money's on Joe, every time." Graeme Souness, one-time Liverpool hard man, agreed, presumably forgetting that, as a Sky pundit, he was supposed to be above such things.

"I wish Gattuso could have 10 minutes alone in a room with Joe," he growled. "Actually, it wouldn't take that long. Make it five minutes."

Even Andrew Cole joined the fun, using his column in The National to redress what he perceived as an anti-Gattuso bias: "He is an ultra-fit 33-year-old athlete who can more than look after himself. Jordan is 60 this year and wears glasses. It would not even be fair to let them fight."

Cole may be right on paper but he speaks with the detachment of a modern ex-professional. Most fans will be quicker to indulge in the fantasy of a Jordan victory. To us, this is not a contest between two men but two ages of football.

Gattuso represents the modern era, all simulation and gesturing and empty bravado. He slaps where others once punched. He nuzzles where once we nutted. The only meaningful blows he landed on Tuesday were against the turf, during a fist-thumping tantrum. Jordan, meanwhile, represents a golden age of lost innocence, when honest players ran onto those muddy pitches on a Saturday afternoon with joy in their hearts and violent intent on their minds.

When fans put Jordan into a darkened room with Gattuso, he is not a vision-impaired pensioner. He is our game, the game that was slowly taken away from us by the money men and the advertising executives and the preening superstars.

So perhaps Andrew will forgive us as we wipe away a nostalgic tear for our distant youth and scream: "Go on, Jaws! Nut him so he stays nutted!"


A whole new ball game that will only end in tears for the winner

The sports firm Adidas has launched a competition to name the football used at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The winner will receive tickets to this year's Champions League final and a role in the ball's unveiling ceremony. The precise nature of the role is not stated, but my money is on "stand and smile inanely while David Beckham, Lord Sebastian Coe and several German men in suits play an embarrassingly poor game of headers and volleys".

This seems rather scant reward for allowing your creative vision to be collectively mocked by a global audience of billions. Because that is what will happen.

It is almost impossible to name a football without sounding pretentious because … well, because you are naming a football. You are naming something which already has a perfectly good name: a "football". It is not a child.

To be fair, I quite liked "Telstar". That was the name of the classic black pentagonal and white hexagonal-panelled ball used at the 1970 World Cup. It was named after a satellite which it loosely resembled.

Since then, Adidas ball names have ranged from the unbearably grandiose to the hideously corporate. The Etrusco Unico, used at the 1990 World Cup, was named after an ancient civilisation more famous for pottery than football.

Meanwhile, the +Teamgeist, used in 2006, carried that meaningless plus sign because it was illegal to trademark the word "teamgeist", meaning "team spirit" in German.

For the 2012 ball, they are seeking a quintessentially British name. How about the Adidas Queue, the Adidas Drizzle or the Adidas Binge?

The Adidas Blatter could be well-received by English fans, who remain angry at the Fifa president and would like to see him kicked around Wembley. Plus, it sounds like bladder, from which early footballs were made.

But if the new ball dips and bends like that used at least year's World Cup, just call it what we used to call those balls as kids: the Adidas Plazzie (plastic) Flyer.

Can I have my Champions League final tickets now, please?