The cup that runneth over
There's been a lot of talk about how Mickey Mouse the Carling Cup has become, but I think it gets more fascinating by the year. First of all, the Wenger-inspired notion of playing an under-23 side has caught on with other big clubs, and far from devaluing it you get to see some right talented lads coming through.
Of course, Wenger plays his B-team and responds to defeat with an A-star display of gracelessness. Just shake the man's hand, Arsene. For a man who so clearly enriched our national sport he really is a sniffy old so-and-so sometimes.
And I'm wondering whether Le Professeur hasn't taken the purity of his art to an impractical level now. It appears Wenger has completely discarded any notion of a midfield enforcer in his entire squad. You need a Vieira, mate. Or an Essien. Or, remember that clogging Scot at Old Trafford - he'd be perfect.
Sparky wasn't impressed, and did his best John Thaw-as-Jack Regan snarl to underline the fact. Hughes wasn't taking any chances with B-listers though, was he? Seven draws on the spin and the vultures circling is no time not to beat up on some pretty-boy Arsenal adolescents.
Hughes and Wenger - best of enemies
Blackburn's players played out a convincing rest-cure for Big Sam, and the lad Neil McDonald is doing all right as a sub. He does for all the world look like and sound like a de-mulleted Chrissy Waddle, although he lacks the Tow Law sausage factory worker's unique pronunciation of 'penalty' in his locker. (I'm sure Chris says 'pelanty'. He probably has vigenar on his chips, too)
The all-Manchester semi-final should be fun. Will the neutrals be backing the foreign-owned moneybags machine that can buy anyone they want... and if so, which one? Blackburn/Villa for the Cup!!!
If the Carling Cup is Mickey Mouse, then the Europa Cup is flaming Goofy. I could give the authorities a right old kick up the Uefa for this tournament. It used to mean summat, qualifying for Europe. You'd won a Cup. You'd forced your way in to the top three or four of your top division through application and force of will. The Uefa Cup was a grand thing.
Now you get through the might of, say, Rapid Vienna (Villa fans pull your woolly hats down over your eyes) and look where you might end up... Timisoara! Ventspils! Barysaw! I mean the Europa Cup isn't so much a footie competition as a really hard round in a pub quiz set by a retired Geography don.
I've nowt against the aforementioned towns (of Romania, Latvia and Belarus respectively) it's just they wouldn't have appeared in the Lonely Flaming Planet Guide To European Football without there being 12 - count them, TWELVE! - groups in this round-robin stage of the competition.
I mean for goodness sake, next year you'll be able to qualify through a village hall raffle. These aren't even the second best a continent can get either. No, they'll be joined by eight teams who bottled it in the Champions League - although chances are them teams weren't actually champions of anything in the first bloomin' place so they should've been playing in the Charlatans League.
So the group stage will have permed the competition down from 48 to 24. Nine hours that took! (Obviously if Man U ever play in it, make that nine plus however long it takes).
It could've taken just 90 minutes. Here's how: put all 48 names in a hat, draw out two at a time, make the teams play each other and the winner gets through to the next round. Hell you could even have a game at each ground and take the aggregate score.
Now I realise silly old Robbo is being naïve here. There's a hell of a lot of accountants working in football these days and what would they do if there weren't these tedious and unnecessary trips overseas to make fiscal plans for, eh?
And how much less rich would the life of the average Toffeeman be without a tour of the BATE factory? (I dunno about you but the making of tractor parts has almost been of massive interest to me.)
Tony Parkes and Gary Roberts celebrate Totteham's 1984 Uefa Cup success
Who wouldn't want to visit the Iulius Mall, which, with 210 outlets, is one of the biggest shopping precincts in Romania? Quite a few poor saps had to drop by Middlesbrough a few years back and I'm sure all of you will vouch for its cultural enlightenment.
Now this all sounds a tad patronising, but really there's no reason why this competition is utterly biblical (truly it is the Cup that Runneth Over), except that there are people around Uefa who think there might be a few more coins to squeeze out of the ever-tightening wallets of the honourable football fan.
I say, knock it on the head now. Make it straight knock-out and we'll have a proper tournament with meaningful matches and not a feeble excuse to rob the too-devoted blind. OK?
In the meantime, Tiger Woods has issued a statement in which he makes a truly remarkable confession: he's a human being. There I was imagining him being manufactured by some demonic Ross Brawn of golf in a giant wind tunnel in the Swiss Alps.
Obviously, in the light of all the sneering, Tiger's keeping a very low profile - in fact you can't see the Woods for the Tease.
It's difficult to know who's going to be most hacked off about all this... the club manufacturer or the missus. It's her I feel sorry for. The unbearably gorgeous Swede is in need of some TLC.
I know just the fella - and round these parts we call that the Teesside Love Cure. In the meantime, let them sort it out in private. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change?