All in the Game: Imran Khan takes a swipe at Harry Maguire (not)

Steve McClaren on holding doves, Merse stands by Gunnersaurus and more

It is, as we know, becoming increasingly difficult for satirical sites to come up with work that is even close to being as whacky as what real life is throwing at us these days. Waterford Whispers, for example, had a story recently under the headline ‘Local Man Warns Stephen Kenny To Have Ireland Playing Like Bayern Munich Within 30 Seconds Or Risk Losing His Support’, which wouldn’t even have caused most of us to blink. We all know local men like that.

On those lines, The Dependent, which is part of Pakistan Today’s website, had an ‘interview’ with Prime Minister Imran Khan last week. The headline: ‘Be thankful for me, some people have Harry Maguire as their leader.’ Harsh.

“Be grateful that you have a World Cup-winning, all-time great all-rounder leading you,” said the cricket-legend-turned-politician. “Two hundred and twenty million Pakistanis with Imran Khan as their captain should think of the 660 million Manchester United fans who have Harry Maguire as their captain.”

Not even the line at the end of the interview - “The above piece is a work of satire and does not present itself as the truth” - prevented some outlets from picking up on the exclusive. One newspaper’s website (we won’t name them because there but for the grace of God…) went with “Pakistan PM takes baffling swipe at Man Utd captain Harry Maguire”, before removing the story upon being told it wasn’t, well, real. At least they didn’t fall for the other trending Dependent story that day: “’Don’t’: Head-walnut-crushing champion’s advice to aspirants.”


Quote of the week

“It’s like holding a beautiful white dove in your hand and if you squeeze it too tight, you’ll kill it. And if you relax, the dove will fly away. You’ve just got to get the right amount of squeeze.” – Steve McClaren on getting the balance right while dealing with players - get it wrong and feathers will fly.

By the numbers

250: That's how many million pounds agents received in fees from English Premier League clubs during the summer transfer window, down £13m on last year. Spare a thought for the poor craturs.

Keegan’s a vegan

Innocent Smoothies recently bought the naming rights for Forest Green Rovers’ New Lawn stadium, the League Two outfit who are quite famous for being the world’s first vegan football club - so instead of pork pies and sausage rolls you can only buy veggie burgers, vegan fajitas and the like at their ground. Mind you, their claim that all their players are vegan too was somewhat banjaxed when a taxi driver told The Sun a couple of years ago that he delivered £200 worth of fish, chicken and chips to their team coach.

Anyway, when Innocent and FGR took to Twitter to ask the club’s supporters to suggest a new name for the stadium, how well do you think it went? Not very, of course. The poll results: ‘Innocent Sustadium’ got four per cent of the vote, ‘Innocent Fruit Bowl’ got five, ‘Innocent New Lawn’ got 10, leaving the run-away winner at 81 per cent.

“We have no idea who Kevin is,” Innocent’s marketing director, Anna Bateson, told The Sun. Yes, 81 per cent of the respondents voted to call FGR’s stadium ‘Kevin’. Why? Because one voter noted that Kevin Keegan’s surname rhymes with vegan. All we can hope is that democracy is respected here. The Maracana, Wembley, the San Siro, Camp Nou ... Kevin. It belongs on that list.

Word of mouth

“The sooner we get fans back the better. I’d like to get booed at least one more time before I retire.” – Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock ahead of his 1,500th match as a gaffer, pining for some abuse from the terraces.

“Harry McNally.” – That’s what Harry Redknapp called Harry Maguire during Sky’s transfer-window-deadline-day-coverage, McNally (1936-2004) being a fella who played for Skelmersdale United before moving in to management. Insert your own jokes here.

“All football players would love to play for Real Madrid. It is a dream for me, why not one day?” – Paul Pogba showing his undiluted commitment to his current club by continuing to issuing come-and-get-me pleas to Madrid.

“If I scored against Barcelona, I would not yell or go crazy … but I surely would point somewhere.” – Atletico Madrid new boy Luis Suarez, severely peeved by the manner of his exit from Barca. One suspects he won’t be pointing at his heart. Possibly lower than that.

Merse standing by Gunnersaurus

Paul Merson was very, very angry with the powers-that-be at Arsenal last week. Incensed, even. “It just shows how selfish and out of touch the people who run the club are these days,” he said. “You cannot believe how angry I am about this. It is unbelievably shocking. Arsenal used to ooze class. I don’t think the owners even know what that word means any more. The club are putting money above the fans, above the things that are important. I can’t catch my breath if I’m being honest.”

So, quiz-time. Was he talking about: (a) The raising of ticket prices for when fans are allowed to return to games; (b) The wages that are being paid to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, reportedly even more than Mesut Ozil’s £350k-a-week; or (c) the temporary laying off a man who dresses up as a dinosaur?

Yup, (c). Mascot Gunnersaurus, whose dinosaur suit has been filled by Jerry Quy for the past 27 years, has been told he won’t be needed until fans are allowed to return to games. Ozil has very kindly offered to pay his wages, but Merson reckons that’s an embarrassment for the club.

“There’ll be 30-year-old fans who have grown up with that dinosaur. I think it’s poor - it’s terrible for Arsenal. I find it not classy,” he said. “They’ve just signed Thomas Partey. If he’s on £150,000-a-week, are you telling me they couldn’t have offered £149,000 and given the rest to the dinosaur?”

That Merse cares so much about that dinosaur makes us love Merse even more.