Hello readers. It’s Monday 13 June, the sun is shining, the bees are buzzing, the sound of leather on willow is ringing around local parks and *Five checks fixture list* the football season still hasn’t effing finished! Yes, by the time you read this, Kazakhstan v Slovakia will be seamlessly rolling into Azerbaijan v Belarus in a Nations League C3 double-header whose main use appears to be helping us fill our word count. There are more matches later on too but, to be honest with you, we’re about as keen to check them as England and Italy players appeared to be about entertaining a crowd of 2,000 schoolchildren at Molineux on Saturday. That tired and tepid encounter predictably ended 0-0, the highlight of which was the high-pitched booing at full-time – proof that the next generation of English crowds with a sense of entitlement is safe and well.
“There’s been a little bit of a lack of sharpness in [attacking] areas across the three matches,” sniffed Gareth Southgate afterwards, as his groaning players crawled back to their beds to prepare for another game against Hungary. To be fair to Southgate and other sensitive managers around Europe, some overworked squad members have not been force-fed the overcooked four-course Nations League meal. But in a year when the domestic European season is kicking off early to clear space for a controversial World Cup earmarked as a winter edition for just the seven long years, Uefa might have thought harder about how to schedule its most pointless tournament [yeah, we’re actually digging Tin Pot – Fiver Ed]. Mind you, some of their bigwigs do tend to go missing when they have important things to sort out.
“It’s bonkers,” smoked Wales manager Rob Page when asked about the schedule. “A lot of our players are from the Championship as well, which is a demanding division to play in [don’t tell Gareth Bale – Fiver Ed]. It has caught up with us, so there are no surprises we have picked up a few knocks,” he added, as Joe Allen’s hamstring continued to twang around the Wales training camp. Page then suggested an idea for Qatar that will help reduce the workload on players and aid their welfare … so expect Fifa to shrug it off. “I would like a 26-man squad,” he reasoned. With average temperatures in Qatar expected to be a sizzling 29 degrees, he should have suggested 10-minute ice-pop breaks, too.
At least Scotland have got it right. Despite having used the Nations League as a sneaky doorway into Euro Not 2020, they appear to have mentally packed their bags and gone on holiday some time in the past week and Steve Clarke is having none of the criticism that has come his players’ way for appearing missing in action during the 3-0 defeat by Republic O’Ireland. “I back these players 100% – they’ve been fantastic for the country,” Clarke roared, while smearing himself with sun cream and perching a knotted hanky on his bonce. STOP FOOTBALL. START HOLIDAYS.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Will Magee at 7.45pm BST for goal updates from tonight’s Nations League matches, including big World Cup 98 vibes as France host Croatia.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“A lot of people said: ‘When you stop football it’ll be hard. You’ll be in depression.’ But actually I’m more happy than ever. I’m free. I’m not in that box. I can do everything. If I want to be serious, if I want to be a clown, if I want to motivate people. This is life. I can be whoever I am ”– Patrice Evra talks to Shanti Das about life after football, suffering sexual abuse as a child and his work to protect children from harm.
“While the late Billy Bingham is best remembered for his Everton and Northern Ireland heroics, he both lived for many years and died in Southport. As the manager for us Sandgrounders, his greatest achievement was leading the team into the Third Division as champions in 1966-67 ”– Lynda Caines.
“I remember Billy Bingham spending Boxing Day 1966 standing guard over the club safe, after the old wooden main stand at Haig Avenue burnt down” – Chris Hale.
“In response to John Gregory [Friday’s letters], here’s Hobson’s Choice: a gambling firm or the sponsor on Ipswich Town’s shirt? Just thinking out loud” – Anthony Train.
“How apt that the next phase of Liverpool’s evolution will be written by Darwin” – Mark McFadden.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Lynda Caines.
Get your ears around the latest Football Weekly. And while we’re at it, Max, Barry and the pod squad are shortly going back on tour. The last remaining tickets to live shows in June and July are available here.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Cardiff City might need a bigger boat to import next season’s replica shirts on, after Gareth Bale said he wouldn’t rule out playing for a second-tier club. “I don’t know if the standard makes too much of a difference,” he winked.
Bad news for Thomas Grønnemark: Ifab suits have agreed to authorize trials of kick-ins to replace throw-ins, with the Dutch second division the likely guinea pig. Football’s lawmakers have also made five substitutions a permanent thing.
Erik ten Hag’s first
defeat game in charge at Old Trafford will be a friendly against La Liga outfit Rayo Vallecano on 31 July, one day after Manchester United face Atlético Madrid in Oslo.
Gareth Southgate offered a stinging reply when asked if England can benefit from United players’ lack of Big Cup football next season. “We’ve only got one with us,” he shot back. “[The others have] got a lot to do to get back in the squad.”
Erling Haaland has completed his £51.5m move to Manchester City. “I believe I am in the right place to fulfill my ambitions,” kerching the goal-guzzling Norway striker. “I want to score goals, win trophies and improve.”
The average age of league players in the USA! USES!! USES!!! has risen sharply after Giorgio Chiellini, 78, signed for MLS outfit LAFC.
Marcelo shed hot salty tears of pride as he called time on his Real Madrid career. “It’s really hard to leave the club that you played your entire life,” he sobbed. “My family is very proud of me… I’m looking forward to what’s next.”
And Son Heung-min isn’t that good – just ask his dad. “He’s not world class yet,” Son Woong-jung, a former South Korea ‘B’ international, muttered. “I always want him to be 10% better.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Tragedy and triumph: the remarkable tale of Croatia’s first football steps. By Donald McRae.
Forget the thrill of the chase. Only rarely do football’s biggest signings work out. Jonathan Wilson with a slapdown to the transfer window hype-heads.
Despite 50,000 turning up for Dick, Kerr Ladies v St Helens in 1920, dunderheads at the FA banned women’s football. In an extract from her new book by her, Suzanne Wrack recalls a laughable decision that had a “devastating” effect on the women’s game.
Andy Brassell reckons Darwin Núñez will be a “rampaging bull” who will give everything “spiritually and physically” for Liverpool. Not Bruno Cheyrou, then.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!