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


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.


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.


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.


Robin van Persie: Better Late than Never


Robin van Persie in action against Swansea City

I wanted to start this with a comparison, another Premier League transfer comparable to that of Robin van Persie to Manchester United in terms of scale and impact on both clubs, but I struggled to find anything appropriate.

Tottenham weren’t quite at the same level as Arsenal when Dimitar Berbatov left for United. Alan Shearer’s move from Blackburn to Newcastle was tempered in its impact by the hometown club element. Even Samir Nasri’s decision to trade London for Manchester last summer is separated from van Persie’s by virtue of the Frenchman having had a far less enduring impact on the club than his Dutch team-mate.

Whatever way you look at it, the transfer is tough to take for Arsenal fans.

This is a player who has been with the club for eight years, and is part of an ever-decreasing circle of those who have had a fair glimpse of glory, be it through the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2006 or even the Carling Cup final the following year.

Then, of course, you have his contribution to the here and now. 30 league goals last season made van Persie less dispensable than at arguably any other time in his Arsenal career, although a portion of this may be down to the relative paucity of the attacking talent that surrounded him over the last 12 months.

Sure, measures have been taken to rectify this gulf in the close-season, and many rightfully interpreted the arrival of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla as a precursor to the former Feyenoord man’s exit. The outraged minority (I’m looking at you, Piers) may however continue to propagate the image of Abramovich-era football as an entertainment of immediacy. Having been offered multiple carrots in the years since the superfood salad of an unbeaten 2003/04 season, there are plenty who lack the patience to favour a long-term model in comparison to a quantifiable improvement over the prior campaign.

This, of course, is by no means limited to Arsenal – you need look no further than the treatment of several of Jose Mourinho’s successors at Chelsea for another even more extreme example – but this seems ironic given van Persie’s imminent destination.

It is difficult to argue that United’s patience with manager Sir Alex Ferguson in his early years in the job, when he was lacking in two varieties of title, would be tolerated in the modern era. However that patience has played a major role in the club reaching its current level and, yes, being in a position where they are able to entice a player of van Persie’s calibre.

While the financial gap between Champions League and the rest hinders the case for blind faith, there remains an argument for the trusting middle-ground common to Arsenal fans over the years but from which a proportion of the Emirates faithful is beginning to distance itself.

Part of Ferguson’s success has come from demolishing and rebuilding empires when he begins to see the pieces falling, to the point where four-year cycles often replicate those of international sides’ World Cup campaigns when it comes to changes of style as well as raw materials. With this in mind, the exit of van Persie could have another hidden benefit.

His departure almost forces Arsene Wenger’s hand, requiring the manager to mould a playing style which fits his new and expensively-assembled forward line, rather than having the luxury on being able to fall back on the goals of his talisman to achieve what is required. Indeed, with some arguing that van Persie is unlikely to have more than two more years of blistering form ahead of him, the striker remaining at Arsenal could well have had an even more detrimental effect were he to leave further down the line with money having already been wasted on an elaborate plan B.

One element of the saga I have not touched upon is the allegations of ‘lack of ambition’ leveled at van Persie by certain Arsenal fans. For the pure ridiculousness of this statement, I will leave it untouched.