Now that Martin O'Neill has left there’s only one man in the world that can pitch up on Wearside and cleanse the footballing palate of the weary Sunderland supporters. That man, of course, is Diego Armando Maradona. It’s time to flip this thing 180 degrees, kick stability in its dour face and hurl progress into the North Sea from off the end of Roker pier. It’s time to get batsh*t mental.
Naturally, we Sunderland fans will need to buy into the fact that the season will culminate in a horrifying relegation – but that’s fine, as our heroic drop will be a spectacular six-month spell of footballing insanity. Once Maradona’s fled the scene of his appalling crimes, we’ll get someone like Alan Curbishley in to steady the ship again. Or whoever, it won’t really matter – we’ll still be trying to catch our breath at the majesty of what has gone before. It’ll be the footballing equivalent of getting a nosh from Susanna Reid on the BBC Breakfast sofa.
It’ll be the footballing equivalent of getting a nosh from Susanna Reid on the BBC Breakfast sofa.
Maradona speaks no English (why would he ever need to?) and to deploy an interpreter will just be a foolish waste of the great man’s time. Instead, he’ll wander around the place with sunglasses permanently welded to his face and a big fat cigar clamped in his fat little hand, barking orders in Spanish at anyone within earshot. His instructions will be accompanied by sexual and/or violent hand and groin gestures – that’s where the real message will be conveyed, and it’ll be up to the players and coaching staff to get on Maradona’s wavelength as quickly as possible.
Press conferences will last for a matter of minutes and will be held in near-darkness. Journalists will be made to wear special helmets fashioned by Maradona himself, that will prevent any negative thoughts about him from leaking out of their ears and being dispersed across the room. Only questions that he can answer with the word ‘Sí’ will be permitted. Journalists will be banned from reporting on everything that they have seen and heard.
Among the playing staff, a culture of fear will spread like a cancer. The players will know that the new manager could appear outside their homes at any time of the day or night, noisily revving his motorbike for hours on end until they begin to question whether or not they still want to be alive. The revving of the motorbike could symbolise praise or disgust – they will never be entirely sure.
On the pitch, Maradona will insist that every player is prepared to play in every position. Huffing, puffing full-back Phil Bardsley could be instructed to play up front at the whim of the manager, while angry club captain Lee Cattermole might be told to stop trying to maim opposing players and ordered to go in goal for 30 minutes. With his back to the play if Maradona so decrees.
Goals will be celebrated with what will soon become the familiar sound of the Argentine genius peppering the sky with machine gun fire, and he will think nothing of wandering on to the pitch during play in a bid to either motivate his players, denigrate the opposition or murmur lewd views about the imagined conduct of the referee’s sister into the ear of the trembling match official.
Run-ins with the game’s authorities will be both regular and hilarious. At one crucial point in the season Maradona will attempt take an entire football match hostage – players, officials spectators, the lot; right down to the keen-but-inept man-child who picks up the discarded burger wrappers. Any sanctions imposed by the FA will simply be ignored – no one is bigger than Maradona.
Of course, it will all end in tears. If a string of poor results doesn’t relegate Sunderland, a flurry of points deductions will scupper the club instead. Disgusted, Maradona will quit and pretend the whole thing never even happened in the first place. Fans of the Black Cats will find themselves wondering if it even did themselves. For some, many, many hours of counselling will be required.
Sunderland AFC will be in be in complete and utter disarray by the time Maradona has fled in six weeks – but supporters of every other team in the land will say the same thing – ‘we wish it had been us’.