Strange going ons in the world of football. For those of you who have no interest; you're missing out - this is a peculiar and interesting season for a number of reasons - the big clubs are struggling, the smaller clubs are contracting and expanding, playing rich, rewarding football on the one hand and spitting out managers on the other. Adapting to face new commercial realities, and creaking under the weight of the grim hold that capitalism exerts on the game.
And old certainties are no longer quite so certain - I can no longer find it in myself to hate Sol Campbell for leaving Spurs all those years ago, for example, and I find myself inwardly applauding the dreadful Joey Barton for claiming that footballers 'are knobs' on Radio 4, of all places. Grand old clubs like Man City, Portsmouth and Notts County, meanwhile, have futures which are suddenly, truly, completely unknowable. Glory or bankruptcy.
This isn't the prelude to a review of the year in football or anything; just a few notes before I sling off a couple of interesting links I've encountered in the last few weeks. The first concerns the afore-mentioned Portsmouth, for whom every moment seems a drawn-out agony, for all that (actually) they have an OK team, who play nice football. Their problem is not that they look dead-certs for relegation (actually, that's the least of their problems) but rather that they tried to compete with the big teams financially and messed it up, before taking the hand of the first person who promised to clear up the mess without checking him out properly first.
If anyone wants to formulate an argument about capitalism ruining football, they should board the train to Fratton. Jamie Jackson, writing for the Guardian, delivers a damning indictment of Portsmouth's profligacy.
John Utaka was Portsmouth's record signing when he joined from Rennes in July 2007 for £7m. In two and a half years, he has become their record waste of money.
Utaka has started 31 Premier League games and scored seven times in all competitions. Since claiming five of those goals in his opening season the Nigerian's form has declined disappointingly. This season his highlight was scoring against Hereford United in the Carling Cup five months ago. Despite Portsmouth's well-documented problems – Avram Grant has only 17 outfield players, and is operating under a transfer embargo – Utaka has started only twice in the league, back in August. Not only was Utaka rejected by Nigeria for the Africa Cup of Nations that starts tonight, he did not even get into the 32-man preliminary squad.
Portsmouth are debt-ridden and threatened with administration. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs served a winding-up petition on the club just before Christmas, and Portsmouth cannot find the £10m required to lift the transfer embargo. Utaka, meanwhile, continues to enjoy the rewards of his four-year contract on a barely credible £80,000 a week. If he stays to the end of his term, the total cost to Portsmouth will be about £23m. That would be enough to secure their immediate future.
If that tale of excess isn't enough to momentarily divert you from the small pyre of wicker bankers which you are absent mindedly building at your desk, a slightly more jolly tale from Manchester, where at Man City, meanwhile, things could not be more rosy since they shacked up with their own - somewhat more credible - Saudi sugar-daddy, and made the decision to sack Mark Hughes.
Football being football, they elected to do so in an entirely dishonourable fashion, and earned the condemnation of many in the game for their methods, but, football being football, they've won every game since (under the stewardship of the handsome Roberto Mancini), so everyone has forgiven them. Except for Mark Hughes, presumably.
Even I've fallen under the spell of Mancini. He's just so sophisticated. Look, here he is bemoaning the food culture at his new club. He wants the players to eat better before they run out onto the pitch.
"I will calmly make corrections to what they eat before matches," City's manager told the Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. "You need more chicken, pizza, carbohydrates. As well as a glass of wine, which isn't being served."
Brilliant! He wants his players to eat pizza and drink alcohol before they play!!! I love this man. When his time comes, I hope his petty, fickle, nouveau-riche employers treat him better than he did his predecessor.
And, more importantly, last night's game between Liverpool and Reading was just fantastic, fantastic stuff - a genuinely deserving smaller team, a huge team in a state of crisis, and a great finale. Here's Dan, rather pleased with Reading's performance.