Against Modern Parnaby, or how a Middlesbrough youth player will help bring José Mourinho back to England

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Despite him playing more than 200 professional games, no one actually knows what Stuart Parnaby looks like. He really is that forgettable.

It is a testament to how far our society has come that if you mention the words ‘butterfly effect’ to someone their first thought will not be of Ashton Kutcher’s early-2000s cinematic abortion.

Instead, in an increasingly rare demonstration of our status as rational beings, thoughts will turn to the concept of one tiny change affecting the future, however insignificant that change may seem. And it is with that phenomenon in mind that I hope to explain why – if José Mourinho does indeed return to the Premier League at the end of this season – it will be thanks to Stuart Parnaby.

I could attempt to take things further and attribute the return of The Special One to our hero’s father taking charge of Middlesbrough’s youth team a few years earlier, however this story begins in 2007.

Following several years of near-unbridled success in Portugal and West London, Mourinho left Chelsea despite a team including Juliano Belletti and Tal Ben-Haim holding European giants Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge two days earlier thanks to an equaliser from star striker Andriy Shevchenko.

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Meanwhile, a couple of miles to the north, Arsenal were taking advantage of being the only London club in the top flight not to change managers in the previous 18 months. They had opened up a lead at the top of the table as we entered 2008, a year best remembered for the release of the underappreciated Seth Green masterpiece Sex Drive.

Chelsea still lagged behind under Mourinho’s replacement and sex worker enthusiast Avram Grant, meaning Arsenal held a three-point advantage over second-place Manchester United when they travelled to a Birmingham City side languishing in 17th despite the holy trinity of Liam Ridgewell, Franck Queudrue and – yes – our friend Parnaby arriving in the summer.

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Not sure whether this represents a step up from McLeish’s Birmingham

Arsenal were flying, with star strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva forming a partnership poised to serve Arsène Wenger’s side for years. However their task was made harder when, in the opening minutes, Martin Taylor launched into a tackle described as premeditated by those who hadn’t seen him play before and as typically uncoordinated by those who had. The upshot was Eduardo’s exit with a broken leg – to be replaced by human meme-generator Nicklas Bendtner – and, perhaps more importantly, Twitter’s Mikael Forssell being withdrawn to make way for S-Parn (as he will never be known).

The away side, understandably shaken by the horrific injury, fell behind to a James McFadden free-kick. However inspirational leader and captain William Gallas helped his team-mates regroup at the break and two goals from “new Jermaine Pennant” Theo Walcott looked to have kept Arsenal on course for the title.

But then something happened to change the course of the game, and, indeed, the season. Blues manager Alex McLeish reacted, leaving striker Cameron Jerome on the bench and introducing defensive midfielder Mehdi Nafti, throwing Parnaby forward in the hope that he could add to his impressive tally of two career goals in barely 100 games. And that stroke of genius had the impact everyone anticipated as Parnaby’s last-minute dive over Gaël Clichy’s outstretched leg earned Birmingham a penalty from which McFadden equalised.

 

The iconic image of that game, in some people’s eyes, was Gallas’ subsequent reaction, which had a pained, ‘why-always-me’ quality then associated with Sami Kuffour in 1999 rather than LADbanter Sulia-whoring social media accounts and sub-‘Keep Calm…’ t-shirt slogans. While many Arsenal fans at the time denied the psychological impact of that moment, the fact remains that it sparked not only a downturn in form that season which saw Wenger’s team slide to third spot, but also an inherent fragility which – while often exaggerated – remains in some capacity to this day.

In tandem with this fragility, Arsenal’s descent from regular title challengers to a side chasing the top-four faux-trophy has seen the departure of Adebayor, Clichy and Samir Nasri to Manchester City, imbuing a sense of inferiority and semi-permanent fear of catastrophe in a team whose resources ought to prevent such an occurrence even if its history suggests otherwise.

While Adebayor may have moved on, the underwhelming performances of City’s French duo have played a part in two years of meh-against-boys in Europe, leading to the progress of the continentally immature Napoli and Dortmund mk.II at the Sky Blues’ expense. And, indeed, of José Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Of course, few of you will need reminding of Mourinho’s post-Chelsea career path, suffice to say Massimo Moratti’s hilariously masochistic decision to replace him with Rafael Benitez following the 2010 Champions League win creates a neat little circle – and what is football if not a game of circles?

As Roman Abramovich seeks a solution to the destruction caused by his club’s current manager, who better to turn things around than someone whose own hard work was destroyed by the mere sight of Benitez?

Had Real Madrid failed to escape their Champions League ‘group of death’, Mourinho might have been reluctant to go out with such a whimper. However the confidence boost offered by the flakiness of a Manchester City side tainted by the memory of the Arsenal of 2008, plus the potential path to the final opened up by Barcelona’s 2-0 first leg defeat to a Milan side – with one of Mourinho’s former charges Sulley Muntari on the scoresheet – could offer the former Porto boss the chance to match Paulo Ferreira’s Champions League medal total and leave the Bernabeu on a high.

And so to Stamford Bridge, where Mourinho would have the opportunity to work with Ross Turnbull, who was given his football education by none other than Dave Parnaby, father of you-know-who. Don’t you just love it when things tie up neatly like that.

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Premier League Round-Up 02/11/10

It has reached that point in the season when the Premier League table starts to take shape, with those teams at the top eking out hard-fought victories over those at the bottom.

Nowhere was this more true than at Ewood Park, where Chelsea came from behind to snatch a 2-1 win through a late header from Branislav Ivanovic.

In the same fixture last season, Carlo Ancelotti’s side limped to an unconvincing 1-1 draw – seen then as a sign of their title aspirations fading – and the three points earned on Saturdaywill represent a huge morale boost for a team whose flying start to the campaign has been long forgotten.

The key to any title contender’s season is the way they perform without their best players. While Frank Lampard’s absence has triggered a slight downturn in form, the Blues have responding well to September’s defeat at Manchester City with three wins from four league games.

Alex Song

Arsenal also left it late to grab all three points at home to West Ham, in a game which was beginning to look very reminiscent of Arsene Wenger’s first league defeat at the Emirates Stadium three-and-a-half years ago.

Some resolute defending and an inspired performance from Rob Green almost earned West Ham their first away shut-out of the season, but Alex Song popped up to turn in a pinpoint Gael Clichy delivery two minutes from time.

These are not the games which will determine West Ham’s survival, but they are the games which will shape Arsenal’s title challenge, and Song’s winner could prove crucial in terms of momentum.

Manchester United remain third after seeing off the surprisingly-weak challenge of Tottenham at Old Trafford, although the clinching goal will be talked about for some time.

Mark Clattenburg has previous with Spurs, of course, but that in itself would have been no reason for him to disallow Nani’s effort. He simply made a hash of the initial decision and seemed almost afraid to admit the original error, even if in retrospect it seems like the only logical course of action.

At least Harry Redknapp can use that flashpoint to avoid a bigger problem – the complete lack of a cutting edge in the absence of Spurs’ attacking triumvirate of Crouch, Defoe and van der Vaart.

Manchester City have clung onto fourth spot despite slipping to a 2-1 defeat at an impressive Wolves side far removed from the negativity of last season.

Nenad Milijas

Nenad Milijas and Dave Edwards scored the goals after Emmanuel Adebayor had given City the lead from the penalty spot, but the hosts had plenty of other chances to score and could have really embarrassed their opponents had they been more clinical.

There has been talk this week of Antonio Cassano moving to City after his shock release by Sampdoria, but Roberto Mancini should be looking at solidifying his back four rather than bringing in another forward.

West Bromwich Albion missed the chance to leapfrog Mancini’s side on Monday night, giving themselves a mountain to climb by going down to nine men within half an hour against Blackpool.

As harsh as Pablo Ibanez’s 9th-minute dismissal was, Gonzalo Jara can have no excuses after leaping two-footed into a challenge with Luke Varney, and that should have been that.

But after Varney added to Charlie Adam’s early penalty, Blackpool almost let the visitors snatch an unlikely point. Youssuf Mulumbu’s sweet strike halved the deficit, and the game might have ended 2-2 had a late, late chance fallen to anyone but Steven Reid, but the Irishman failed to add to his 6 goals in over 100 Premier League games.

Newcastle are now a mere point behind the side they beat to the Championship title last season, courtesy of a crushing 5-1 victory over Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby.

After conceding only seven goals in their nine previous games, Steve Bruce could be forgiven for thinking his defence was doing a reasonable job, but the Black Cats’ back-line was conspicuous in its absence as Shola Ameobi netted twice and Kevin Nolan fired home his first Premier League hat-trick in more than 10 years of asking.

Steve Brucs

Everton continued their good form of late with a 1-0 win against Stoke, Yakubu scoring the only goal when he reacted quickest after Tim Cahill struck the post.

It was a timely strike for the forward, who has struggled for goals after a poor World Cup with Nigeria, but another shot-shy frontman felt he should also have put his name on the scoresheet.

Stoke’s Turkish frontman Tuncay found the net again one week after his stunner against Manchester United, but referee Lee Probert harshly ruled it out for a push.

The defeat at Goodison Park left Stoke 16th, two points behind Fulham after the Cottagers cruised to a 2-0 win against a lacklustre Wigan outfit.

Clint Dempsey scored both goals for the hosts, doubling his tally for the season, as Fulham opened up a gap between themselves and the bottom three.

They are one of five teams currently on 12 points, and Liverpool joined that group with a scrappy 1-0 win at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.

Maxi Rodriguez

Maxi Rodriguez scored the only goal of the game to ease some of the pressure on Reds boss Roy Hodgson, but it will take more than the odd 1-0 win for him to win over the Anfield faithful.

The final game of the weekend was a surprisingly-tame second-city derby between Birmingham and Aston Villa.

An uneventful goalless draw hardly provided the best advert for the upcoming Carling Cup quarter-final between the two sides, with the stop-start nature of the game ensuring neither side could get a real rhythm going. Maybe the cup tie will be different.

Team of the week (4-2-3-1)

Green (West Ham); Ivanovic (Chelsea), Hughes (Fulham) Stearman (Wolves), Salcido (Fulham); Heitinga (Everton), Clark (Aston Villa); Nolan (Newcastle), Edwards (Wolves), Dempsey (Fulham); Benjani (Blackburn)