The 10 pettiest football moments of 2017-18
Everyone in football seems to be obsessed with the idea of class and dignity. Oh, it was a classy move. They’ve behaved with real dignity there. A gentleman of the game. Well, in the words of Jane Eyre (who will henceforth be a weekly contributor to this site), ‘I would always rather be happy than dignified.’
If football was always classy it would be boring. Pizza would be a meal not a missile. People would go to Middlesbrough for a nice day out without any compulsion to “get something.” Managers’ past proximity to match fixing would go unmentioned.
By the grace of the footballing Gods (ably assisted by José Mourinho), we don’t live in such a world. So here’s my countdown of the ten pettiest moments of the past season.
10. #WengerOut (of a video)
Pretty much as soon as Wenger announced he was leaving, #WengerOut transformed into #MerciArsène as fans, players and the game remembered his past achievements. It’s easy to be graceful when the other side’s given up the fight.
At least, you’d think. But then Unai Emery was announced as Arsenal manager and to celebrate, Arsenal’s official Twitter account put out a video remembering their great managers suggesting Unai Emery was the latest to take up the mantle. Except, 22 years of the timeline were missing. Yep, Wenger was finally out, and they weren’t about to put him back in a video.
The Arsenal twitter account in question has 13.7m followers. This isn’t a bedroom operation. This isn’t the work of a disgruntled steward sick of being able to hear themselves think. This came from someone who wouldn’t lose their job...
This was elite pettiness, in every sense of the term.
9. Conte vs Mourinho
I want to start here with a disclaimer: Antonio Conte bypassed petty and went straight to offensive with his comments about dementia during this feud.
That said, this feud did contain an absolutely classic moment of pettiness. Mourinho is asked at a press conference about Conte’s comments mentioned above and responds in a dignified, contrite and eloquent manner. He blames the media for stirring antagonism and asking leading questions. He repeats over and over again that he doesn’t ‘blame the Chelsea manager at all’. He even goes as far to admit his own past mistakes.
For nearly three minutes. And then. Abruptly his tone changes and he drops one last line, ‘what has never happened to me, and will never happen to me, is to be suspended for match-fixing.’
It’s a genuine work of art.
8. ‘Ard done by Alan
The story here is that Alan Pardew blamed his predecessor, Gary Megson, for stealing some of his ‘new manager bounce’ after Megson steadied the ship following the departure of Tony Pulis.
At first sight this might not seem that petty, just a manager trying to save face - albeit badly. But let’s look deeper. This was never supposed to go public. This was a private phone call. Pardew wasn’t making excuses for the media or fans. He just wanted Megson to know. Presumably Pardew assumed Megson would carry this guilt with him for the rest of his career, and even his life, unable to accept another job for fear of breaking the Good Lord’s eighth commandment with respect to new manager bounces.
To be clear, Alan Pardew should never again be employed as manager by a football team at any level. But in many ways, that’d be a shame.
7. Madrid's guard of dishonour
Barcelona walked their way to the league this year, almost managing the entire season unbeaten. Having won the league, and still chasing an unbeaten season at that point, they went to the Bernabéu where tradition would dictate they’d receive a guard of honour from the home team.
Real Madrid said before the match that they wouldn’t be doing so and followed through on that promise. Real’s defense is that Barcelona didn’t give them one after they won the Club World Cup in December. Because apparently that’s a competition that’s comparable to La Liga. Next.
6. Pep’s empty bench
I’m largely a defender of Pep against the charge that he’s simply bought the league; after all, Mourinho’s spent huge sums too and he’s not close. Sometimes he really doesn’t help himself though.
Responding to the failure of the board to spend another £90m on Riyad Mahrez by only naming six substitutes against Burnley is one such occasion. I don’t even think he was wrong to be a bit miffed. But this was petty - not that I begrudge him that either.
5. PSG’s penalties
Two PSG players (or as biologists describe them, two-legged egos) fought over who would take a penalty. On the field. Then they unfollowed each other on Instagram.
Social media has many faults. Fake news. The echo-chamber. But the opportunities it affords for pettiness, in the view of this humble writer, more than outweigh them.
No act of social media pettiness is easier, or more savage, than the Instagram unfollow. It’s not one insult. Not one barbed comment. It is a clear indication that you do not want this person, their face or even their dinner, in your life for one moment longer. Bowyer and Dyer’s on-field fisticuffs pales.
4. Rabiot’s lack of reserve
Ask any sporting coach and they’ll tell you that self-belief, to the point of arrogance, is crucial to make it to football’s top table. And then there’s Adrien Rabiot. This is a man who turned down an opportunity to go to the World Cup simply because he wasn’t first choice.
Imagine that conversation for a second. ‘Adrien, obviously we’ve got an incredibly strong squad and we had to make tough decisions. But we’re naming you as a reserve, any injuries and you’ll be going to the World Cup.’ In response, Rabiot appears to have told Deschamps to shove his Jules Rimet where the sun don’t shine and walked out.
Actually, maybe all that’s unfair to Rabiot. After all, this is Deschamps we’re talking about. Maybe he just bowled over, ‘Oi, Adrien. We don’t need you. But be on the blower if we do, yeah? Right, Kylian, pub. Allez.’
A savage indictment of Didier’s man management skills as much as anything else, this.
3. Mourinho’s managerial awards
José Mourinho gave his player of the season to a man who started 5 matches. Because he fell out with another man named Paul. Incredible.
2. Warnock’s walk-off
Neil Warnock is not a man known for shirking confrontation. So, in a way, running away from Nuno Espírito Santo was out of character. In all other ways though, it was absolutely on brand.
Warnock didn’t want to shake Santo’s hand (a spirit he expressed by repeatedly shouting ‘f**k off’ at him, accompanied by a hand gesture which looked like he was trying to shoo the neighbour’s cat). Warnock’s reasoning went that Santo had shown disrespect in how he ended the game. Right then.
1. Willian’s sticky situation
It has now been a full week since this happened. In that time I have laughed maybe ten times. I would say nine have been about this. It’s perfect. The clear winner.
The basic story here is that Willian posted this image on his Instagram - a social network making it's second appearance in the world of football pettiness this year - following Chelsea's FA Cup triumph.
It’s absolutely exquisite, requiring the resizing and arrangement of as many as three trophy stickers so as to obscure ONLY Conte. This was not a petty gesture Willian wanted to risk being misconstrued. This was pre-meditated, precision pettiness.
The addition of three larger trophy stickers is also beautiful. It’s ‘give back your medals’ stuff from Willian. The trophies obscuring Conte are there to obscure Conte, and to obscure Conte alone. The fact that they’re trophies at all appears to be largely incidental to Willian’s point. This, unlike Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph, was truly glorious.
Conte appears to want to leave England. And frankly, I can only assume that’s due to the absolute shellacking he’s taken this year at the hands of some of the pettiest men in the game. He might have won a Premier League title, but in the tit-for-tat-stakes™️*, Antonio just can’t hack it.
*Bookmakers are encouraged to contact me if they’re interested in running this market which will pay out on the pettiest person in football as adjudicated by me after 3 pints.
Roll on next year.