Niall on Zlatan and the Com­munity Shield

By in Niall Quinn's Route One

Some people just can’t help it.

Zlatan Ibrahimovich should be drop­ping down a league or two as he approaches his thirty fifth birth­day but when he was born in Sweden all those years ago he inher­ited some sort of show­biz gene. So of course he signed for Manchester United when Paris got dull. Of course he announced that he would be a God there. Of course he scored the win­ning goal in his first com­pet­it­ive match. Of course it was at Wemb­ley. Of course the word is that his pre sign­ing fit­ness tests would put play­ers fif­teen younger to shame.

By Christ­mas it won’t rain in Manchester any­more. Not unless Zlatan needs it to rain. How will he be on a wet, cold Tues­day night at Stoke. I’d say they won’t need flood­lights he’ll be so lumin­ous.

Yes­ter­day at Wemb­ley was like years ago when the cir­cus would come around and there would always be a bit of fuss before hand. Some clowns or some lions or an ele­phant. Any­thing to get people into the big tent. Everything is set up nicely for the big show which begins next week.

Leicester came down to Lon­don yes­ter­day as cham­pi­ons but they rep­res­ent some­thing a bit old fash­ioned and like­able. Clau­dio Ranieri isn’t a flash Harry sort of man­ager. Paparazzi don’t flock after him. Leicester as cham­pi­ons have spent some money quietly and sens­ibly.

Jose Mour­inho is at the other end of the scale. A one man soap opera. On the day he unleashes Zlatan in Wemb­ley, the Manchester United of Mour­inho also announced the sign­ing of Paul Pogba with the social media hashtag POGBACK. It’s as if he’s just been out on loan to sharpen up.

The league needs Man United to be like that. Giant sized Goliath show­men that every David wants to take out with a pebble from his cata­pult.

Before Zlatan put an end to the thought yes­ter­day it looked like the game was head­ing to a draw and straight to pen­al­ties. No extra time was sched­uled. There was a sen­ti­mental part of me that hoped we would at least have pen­al­ties.

I was seven (and a half) years old when the 1974 Char­ity Shield game was played at Wemb­ley between Leeds United and Liv­er­pool. I had never seen any­thing like it. Back then men were men and mil­lion­aires owned clubs instead of play­ing for them. There was extra time. And pen­al­ties. And plenty of other drama. It was one of the greatest ever cur­tain raisers to a sea­son.

Leeds were in the middle of their short stormy mar­riage to Brian Clough. I’d never seen any­thing like him either. For Liv­er­pool the Shankly era was just over and even though Bob Pais­ley was now the man­ager they allowed Shankly to lead his beloved team out onto Wemb­ley one last time.

I looked at the game online last week. The world has cer­tainly changed. The 1974 Char­ity Shied final was the first edi­tion ever to be played at Wemb­ley as the FA tried to revive interest in an idea that was slowly dying ( In 1971 the last time Leicester were in the thing, they were invited as second divi­sion cham­pi­ons. Arsenal, who had won the double were away in Hol­land on a little earner so Leicester played Liv­er­pool. And won.)

At Wemb­ley in 1974 there were no black faces on the pitch. No fluor­es­cent hair­cuts. No advert­ising hoard­ings. No spon­sors names on shirts. A few Scots and a couple of Irish­men, Johnny Giles and Steve Heigh­way, was as cos­mo­pol­itan as things got.

But if the FA were look­ing to revive interest in the Shield they couldn’t have scrip­ted it bet­ter. Early in the second half Kevin Kee­gan was scam­per­ing around from tackle to tackle like a ter­rier in heat. He put in a bad tackle on Billy Brem­ner and then chased the ball across the field and ended up shov­ing Johnny Giles in the back. The tech­nical term in the game for doing that is Push­ing Your Luck. Johnny decked Kee­gan with a grand right hook and being the gen­tle­man he is Johnny stood over the body until the ref­eree arrived.

A few minutes later with Alan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke lying injured at one end of the field, there was an exchange between Kee­gan and Brem­ner. The foot­age doesn’t show it clearly but the com­ment­ator was scan­dal­ised, “A face of Eng­lish foot­ball we do not want to see” he said.

I’m not sure. Even when I was seven and half I’d have paid good money to see it. It would be two more years before the red card was intro­duced into the Eng­lish game (David Wag­staffe of Black­burn just beat George Best for the hon­our of being the first to get a red) so nobody was quite sure if Kee­gan or Brem­ner or both had been sent off at first.

Kee­gan cleared things up by tak­ing off his jer­sey and show­ing off his pecs. This was years before Cris­ti­ano Ron­aldo thought of doing the same and Billy Brem­ner then fol­lowed suit, walk­ing off and throw­ing his Leeds shirt away. Billy didn’t look as ripped as Kee­gan.

I think the idea to change the name of the game from the Char­ity Shield to the Com­munity Shield prob­ably came to some­body around that moment as the Leeds fans filled the sta­dium with a rising chorus of the lovely old clas­sic You’re Going To Get You’re ‘Effin Heads Kicked In.

In between times Sniffer Clarke had been removed from the pitch on the shoulders of Leeds little physio who hois­ted the player up onto his shoulders and walked off with him like he was car­ry­ing a dead sheep. He never lost grip of his little physio bag either. Men were men in those days.

By the way the two lads were banned for eleven games each and both got fined £500. In those days that was about two and half weeks wages. None of yesterday’s stars at Wemb­ley would take that sort of hit and keep their shirts on either.

Times have changed but the game remains the same at heart. The feel­ing of the first week­end of league action is the same now as it has always been. The end of the pre sea­son graft­ing. If you get a win on the first day the club fills with optim­ism. If you get a win away from home it seems like any­thing is pos­sible.

Get tanked and you know the next few week or two will be miser­able.

The start of the sea­son looks like the script for the pilot show of a block­buster series. So many of the main char­ac­ters are man­agers. Mour­inho, Guar­diola, Wenger, Pochet­tino, Klopp, Conte and Ranieri will all be under intense pres­sure to bag a Cham­pi­ons League place. That’s seven into four. Then you have Koe­man, Bilic and Puel hot on their heels.

That’s a pres­sure cooker before we look at the dead men walk­ing down in the releg­a­tion zone.

Inter­est­ingly for Eng­lish foot­ball not one of those ten named man­agers is Eng­lish. That’s just one story though in a sea­son that prom­ises to deliver hun­dreds of them.

Cam­era. Lights. Action!