x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

No wild side to Sharpey

It has been like a Manchester United old boys' reunion in Dubai this week with Denis Irwin, Lee Martin and Lee Sharpe all in town for the festive season.

Roberto Mancini has the best job in the world.
Roberto Mancini has the best job in the world.

It has been like a Manchester United old boys' reunion in Dubai this week with Denis Irwin, Lee Martin and Lee Sharpe all in town for the festive season. It is always great to see Sharpey, who is now as famous for his appearances on celebrity this, that and the other shows as he is for his footballing exploits.

We kind of grew together with him making his way in the United side and me struggling as a cub reporter at Granada Television in Manchester. We had some real good laughs along the way. But he actually cost me a big job with BBC's Match of the Day at one point. I had done a report from his house and went rummaging around his fridge but after the then editor of the show, Brian Barwick, did me down and said he didn't think he could employ anyone who spent his time sticking their noses into celebrity fridges. Sadly, come to think of it there is probably an eight-hour show in that these days!

I do think that even now Sharpey suffers from the party image that surrounded him in those days. It just shows how footy fans can cloud the judgement of even the very best, in this case their manager Sir Alex Ferguson. No doubt Sharpey enjoyed his success as a single man in Manchester but the wild partying stories just aren't true - simple as that. You just couldn't play at that level then if you were always living like George Best away from the game. And nowadays he is a one-man charity foundation - climbing Kilamanjaro, cycling through Africa and raising thousands with the Lee Sharpe Foundation.

Recently he spent six weeks training for a charity boxing match against an Irish Gaelic footballer and lost narrowly on points, despite breaking the bloke's nose. He said the whole experience was fantastic and he is going to do more when he gets home. But as the adrenalin pumped through his body on the way to the ring he burst into laughter when the ring announcer began screaming his name: "Ladies and gentlemen. Muhammad Arrrrrr...Lee'. Genius.

I am absolutely gutted Roberto Mancini's nicked the Manchester City coaching job as I really fancied it myself. I saw it billed as the toughest job in football in one British paper, but how can that be? Surely it is the best job in the world. Millions a year, funds for the transfer window about to open and a decent team. But my first job would be to persuade Kenny Burns and Larry Loyd out of retirement. If not, then sign a big lump of a centre-half who can head the ball and you're there. Sitting handy in the league with a game in hand and with a Carling Cup semi-final against United on the horizon, Mancini is thinking all his Christmases have come at once. Where is the pressure? City have been the music hall joke of English football for almost 40 years. Thirteen managers have come and gone while United have had Ferguson.

They have not won anything since Dennis Tuart and the overhead kick against Newcastle in 1976 won them the League Cup, so any advance on that has to be significant progress. I am half guessing Ferguson might chuck in the younger players in the semi-final so suddenly a chance is beckoning. Let's face it, with the attacking flair of Craig Bellamy, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Emmanuel Adebayor, they are pretty much the envy of every club in the land.

Add the brilliant Stephen Ireland and Shay Given in goal, and I am beginning to wonder why they are not top of the league already. Conjure a tune out of Robinho by firing him out on loan to Morecambe until he starts pulling his weight and suddenly the dressing room would be one happy, smiling, contented place. That will be the thing that hurts Sparky [Mark Hughes] the most - the fact he was on the right track. I wish Mancini all the very best but if the press is to believed there is a clause in the contract allowing a parting of the ways if he doesn't make it in to the top four. If that is the case and he goes in the summer, then you know where I am!

If there is ever a moment when I get a touch homesick, it is at Christmas and particularly Boxing Day. It was a McCaffrey family tradition to go to a game to clear all the cobwebs away. My dad, brother, friends and relations would all go to the game. Any game. Instead of the cold and winds it will be a studio in Dubai to watch Boxing Day action and while most of Europe is taking a winter break, fans will be enjoying the best day of the season to watch their team. Happy Christmas everybody.

sports@thenational.ae