LONDON – And then there were two.
Either Hull City or Newcastle United will be relegated from the Premier League after Survival Sunday. Hull hosts Manchester United, while Newcastle entertains West Ham.
Hull could win, but it will mean nothing if Newcastle secures the victory which will keep it up. If City wins, a draw for the Magpies won’t be enough because of the Tigers’ superior goal difference.
Both games offer fascination sideshows as the season comes to an end. Hull manager Steve Bruce spent nine years at Old Trafford and remains hugely popular among United fans.
“We’ve got to beat Manchester United now and I haven’t done that in 17 years,” he said, pointing out the ignominious gap on his managerial CV.
He joked: “Maybe there’s a twist in it. Maybe Man United owe me something after wrecking my knee, my hip and ankle.”
In 21 attempts with Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Sunderland and Hull, Bruce has lost 17 and drawn four matches against his former club. Victory on Sunday would be the ultimate Tigers’ feat.
Without finding the elusive, overdue win against United, Bruce and Hull will be relegated. A reunion with United has never meant so much to Bruce, whose future has been assured by Hull owner Assem Allam, because if relegation is confirmed the manager and players would see their salaries halved in the Championship.
While Bruce’s job is safe, Newcastle manager John Carver knows the game against West Ham will be his last in charge after the Magpies have won only one point from a possible 30.
Supporter protests are planned against owner Mike Ashley’s running of the club at St. James’ Park on Sunday and Carver’s plea for peace is likely to fall on deaf ears. “We need the supporters this weekend,” he said. “Put all your differences to one side and get behind the team. We will have an inquest after.”
West Ham’s form is almost as bad as Newcastle’s though manager Sam Allardyce still feels hurt after being sacked by Ashley after six months in 2008. Deep down, Allardyce would love to send his former club and Ashley down and keep his good friend Bruce in the Premier League.
Allardyce’s future with West Ham is uncertain, with many fans hoping this will be his last game in charge of the Hammers. If he is to go, Big Sam will want to end on a high note and sign off with a win at his former stamping ground.
IT IS EASY to understand why David de Gea would want to join Real Madrid. It is the world’s No. 1 football club, the most successful in Europe with a history of signing the best players.
Who wouldn’t want to sign for Real?
De Gea should be careful what he wishes for. It is no secret that Real’s dressing room is a nest of vipers with more politics than the Spanish government. There is a split between the Portuguese and Spanish players, back-stabbing is a local tradition, the coach (Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to survive a season without silverware) is undermined by the club’s power brokers, while the fans think nothing of abusing a legend. Ask Iker Casillas.
On the other hand, Manchester United’s dressing room is ego-free, the team spirit is excellent, the supporters idolize de Gea, who was chosen as the Player of the Season. Louis van Gaal has led United back to the Champions League and with new recruits to join PSV striker Memphis Depay, the Reds will be in a position to mount a realistic title challenge next season.
However, van Gaal has all but given up on keeping de Gea. “He is Spanish, his girlfriend is Spanish and his parents come over every couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s a problem.”
After four years in Manchester, the goalkeeper who is probably No. 2 in the world behind Manuel Neuer is ready to return to the city where he was born. United will not sell de Gea cheaply even though he has only one year remaining on his contract, while Casillas is not in the mood to give up his place with club and country without a fight.
De Gea will also be aware that as he started his career with rival Atletico Madrid, this will be held against him every time he makes an error.
Inevitably, the prospect of Gareth Bale joining United will feature in any transfer talks. Bale is an isolated figure in the Real dressing room because of his inability to speak Spanish even after two years.
The Wales captain is a quiet, almost introvert person who is not suited to the infighting at Real and the impatient fans have not been slow to show their feelings. Perhaps it is just as well Bale cannot understand what Spanish media say about him.
At Old Trafford, Bale would be instantly loved by United supporters and the friendship with his teammates would be a breath of fresh air to him.
It promises to be an interesting transfer window between Madrid and Manchester.
THE LUNATICS have taken over English football’s asylum.
Last Monday, as referee Mike Jones was cautioning Chelsea’s Diego Costa, for reasons known only to himself, Cesc Fabregas booted the ball toward the crowd of players surrounding the referee and it struck West Bromwich’s Chris Brunt on the head.
Jones correctly showed Fabregas the red card for violent conduct — kicking a ball at an opponent in law is the same as using a fist — which usually carries a three-game ban.
Chelsea appealed to the Football Association that this would be an excessive punishment and a regulatory commission agreed. The suspension was reduced to one match, Sunday’s meaningless game against Sunderland whose Premier League future was secured with the 0-0 draw at Arsenal.
Fabregas was unlikely to figure in a match where Jose Mourinho will give fringe players a chance. Some punishment.
Earlier this season Queens Park Rangers’ Rio Ferdinand was banned for three games and fined £25,000 by the F.A. for tweeting the word “sket” which is Caribbean slang for a promiscuous woman (which hardly anyone knew until one person complained to the F.A.).
So much for sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me.
Will the last person leaving F.A. headquarters please turn off the lights?
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.