The Fiver

Jacob Steinberg on 16 February 2018

BEHOLD THE MAGIC

Just over five years have elapsed since Southampton responded to a sorry little 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge by telling Nigel Adkins that his services were no longer required and replacing him with an obscure foreign man who went by the name of something like Manuel or Marco, sparking an outpouring of rage in the British media. The guy couldn’t even speak English! Imagine! What on earth were they thinking? Not much, clearly, which is why $exually Repressed Morris Dancing Fiver, our English cousin, was hoping to hear Adkins prepare for his return to Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea host Hull City in the fifth round of the FA Cup this evening, by blasting some hot invective in Southampton’s direction.

Alas, it turns out that the Hull manager is a man at peace with his premature demise. “That’s football,” Adkins shrugged and sighed. “You’ve got to quickly move on and get on with life. You can get wound up and bitter and twisted or you can write some things down and go ‘lessons learned’. There’s a line underneath it. Get on with it.” Er, okay. That sounds suspiciously like hippy talk. Hasn’t anybody told Adkins that exhibiting such a placid demeanour isn’t really the done thing in 2018? Apparently not. But then again, perhaps Adkins has been forced to develop a Zen-like approach to life during his time at Hull, who are fourth bottom in the Championship and without several key players before taking on the Premier League champions. “Magic,” Adkins said. “We’re going to need a lot of magic.”

Even sorcery might not be enough to help Hull pull off a famous shock. Adkins became their fifth manager in the past two years when he replaced Leonid Slutsky in December and he has arrived at a club in the midst of a civil war, with the ill-feeling between the owners, the Allam family, and supporters making José Mourinho and Paul Pogba look like best friends for life. “There’s a lot of unrest, but we need togetherness,” Adkins said. That’s easier said than done, although Hull’s plight does put Chelsea’s current woes into perspective. At the very least Adkins’s happy-go-lucky attitude could be something for Antonio Conte to think about the next time Ross Barkley forgets to bring his shinpads to training, Olivier Giroud asks him for grooming tips or Marina Granovskaia points out that Samir Nasri would make an excellent and affordable alternative to Eden Hazard. Chill, Antonio, and be more like Nigel.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Rob Smyth from 7.45pm GMT for hot FA Cup clockwatch coverage of Leicester 1-1 Sheffield United and Chelsea 5-0 Hull City.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Playing for Crewe, we’d get it all the time. ‘The paedophile lads,’ opponents called us. We played Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool, all of them, and it was a common theme. When we got a bit older we studied at the same college as the United and City lads. ‘Oh, you’re from the paedophile club, eh?’ they’d joke” – Micky Fallon, one of Barry Bennell’s victims, has written this piece for the Guardian.

Micky Fallon.
Micky Fallon. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

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FIVER LETTERS

“The former Wales and Arsenal goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey, used to work behind the counter in the tiny merchandise shop in the East Stand at Highbury on match days. In the early 1980s this giant of man sold me an Arsenal autograph book. I remember my Dad told me who he was at the time but the absence of his signature in the book suggests I wasn’t impressed enough to ask for his autograph, sadly” – Neil Hobbs.

“In the 1960 Stretford Wolf Cubs Six-a-Side tournament I played goalie for 1st Longford 1st Stretford and part of the prize for winning was to go to nearby Old Trafford and meet the team before they travelled to Sheffield to play Wednesday. What a thrill! The home changing room was nothing special I thought: benches, ‘ooks on the wall, cold cement floor and a strong smell of linament. As the players dribbled in I remember hearing, “Where’s Shay [Brennan]?” “Oh, he’s late – as usual.” and “Where’s Bobby [Charlton]” “He’s making his own way there.” Ooh special for star player Bobby, I thought. Best, G. and King Denis were, of course, still on the distant horizon. It was all very casual and the players were friendly to us. The one thing I remember anyone saying to me was when Harry Gregg noticed my white-red-blue-white scarf and said, “You must be a Bradford Northern supporter!” What a thrill! What a goalie he was!” – Chris Kenway.

“Was the winner of yesterday’s letter-of-the-day by any chance kin to Kim?” – James Ring (and 1,056 others).

“Back in the 80s my dad wrote to Colin Harvey and organised for the whole family to meet and greet the Everton team before their game with Norwich at Carrow Road as a birthday treat for my bluenosed brother. However when we turned up at the away dressing room he had completely forgotten about making my eight-year-old brother’s dreams come true and shut the door in our faces. After a bit of a wait he reappeared to say that me, my dad and brother could come in but my mum and sister had to wait outside as the players were “not decent”. I’m not sure Graham Sharp, Adrian Heath et al would necessarily have agreed with his summation but I did get to meet a naked goalkeeper and know exactly why he was known as ‘Big’ Neville Southall” – Steve.

“Re tales of meeting favourite goalkeepers: throughout the 70’s I had been intrigued by the name of the Reading goalkeeper, Steve Death, without ever seeing him play. Then in November 1979 I got a chance to see Mr Death in action when they played a game at Chesterfield, not far from where I was living at the time. On an afternoon of torrential rain, the home side won 7-1 and in an impulsive move at the final whistle I strolled onto the pitch and put a consoling arm around the crestfallen Reading goalie. “Sorry, son” he said to me – he probably wrongly assumed I was a fan of the team, but it seemed appropriate anyway and I told him not to worry about it. My one and only near Death experience …” – Andy Smales.

“I once offered to sponsor Roger Freestone’s kit at Swansea. They had nothing left so I sponsored his gloves. Twenty five quid a no branding. Great” – Mike Waring.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Chris Kenway.

THE RECAP

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NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Henrikh Mkhitaryan thinks Arsenal can win Euro Vase.

Dejan Lovren thinks Liverpool can win Big Cup.

José Mourinho has denied his relationship with Paul Pogba has hit the buffers and described speculation that the midfielder might want to leave Manchester United as nonsense. “Paul accepts he has not been playing well in the last few matches, but that is all,” sniffed Mourinho. “It is my problem that he is not playing well at the moment, but he will play in the FA Cup against Huddersfield.”

The magic of the Cup has taken yet another hit, with plucky minnows Rochdale spending good, honest money on a brand new pitch for Sunday’s visit of Spurs. “It played better than it looked against Millwall,” said manager Keith Hill. “There were no complaints from any of the players or the manager before the game or after the game and it’s been sensationalised. The pitch probably would have stood up to the weekend’s fixture but the club have gone the extra mile.”

Nonetheless, altruism’s Mauricio Pochettino has apologised for complaining about the pitch in the first place. “My comment was about the care, first of all for the Rochdale players, our players and the competition that all of England watches on TV,” he Poch-ed. We’re choking up, here.

The coaching of Brendan Rodgers is clearly having an impact: “We worked hard as a team, it was brilliant,” gushed Mikael Lustig after Celtic’s Euro Vase defeat of Zenit St Petersburg. “It will be a tough game next week. We are going to be humble.”

Trouble at West Brom, with four senior players under investigation by the club following an “incident” on a trip to Spain.

STILL WANT MORE?

Think it’s easy being a Barcelona defender? Thomas Vermaelen tells Sid Lowe that it isn’t.

Thomas Vermaelen
Hard. Photograph: Baldesca Samper for the Guardian

Did Mark Hazeldine kill himself because of Barry Bennell? Daniel Taylor investigates.

Ten/10/X/ IIII IIII FA Cup things, for your consideration.

Alex McLeish getting the Scotland job stems from blind panic and lack of foresight, bemoans Ewan Murray.

Eleven of Portugal’s European Championship-winning squad came through Sporting Clube de Football’s Lisbon academy. Learn how and why with Alex Clapham.

Gordon Taylor, head PFA suit, was paid a miserly £2.29m last year. Meanwhile, grants to ill, infirm and impoverished former players totalled £530,000. David Conn has more.

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND, FOLKS

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