• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:57pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 3:14pm

Plenty to chew over ahead of weekend's tasty-looking game

In-form Arsenal against shaky United has the makings of a great match, even if the pizzas don't fly like they did back in 2004

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

Pizza delivery people of the world prepare. You and your scooter are in for a marathon ride as you deliver to the millions of armchair fans settling in to watch two big soccer events.

The first chow-down takes place during Sunday's hoopla between bitter rivals Manchester United and Arsenal in what should prove to be a frenetic and bitter battle not seen for many a season.

United are languishing in eighth with what looks like an anaemic squad trying to find a rush of blood under a new manager. The grieving process following Alex Ferguson's retirement is understandable but many fear the grief has near blown their chances of retaining the title. Failure to beat Arsenal could seal their fate.

So the match will not only be a battle for three points, but an offensive by David Moyes to win the hearts and minds of worried United fans.

Top dogs Arsenal also have something to prove. They have to show the doubters they are not the same team as those from previous seasons that flagged during the final furlong. They will insist the current form last until May.

We neutrals relish these bruising showdowns because we know nastiness and viciousness are mixed in with the spicy football. There's also a chance another food fight might break out after the final whistle. We are due one, after all.

Is it really nine years since the "The Battle of the Buffet"? How time - like Italian fast food - flies. You will recall Ferguson was pelted with pizza thrown from the away dressing room at Old Trafford after his side had ended Arsenal's famous 49-match unbeaten run in October 2004.

Ferguson wrote about the incident in his recent autobiography: "The problems started when [Wenger] lost a game with one of his good Arsenal sides. He found it hard to accept fault in his team and looked to blame the opponent … he was livid. His fists were clenched.

"I was in control, I knew it. Anyway, the next thing I knew I had pizza all over me ... they say it was Cesc Fabregas who threw the pizza at me but, to this day, I have no idea who the culprit is. The corridor outside the dressing room turned into a rabble. It seemed to me that losing the game scrambled Arsene's brain."

Of course, we cannot be seen to endorse bun fights but let's hope Moyes and Wenger bring the competitive worst out of each other because it is their duty to keep tradition alive.

The week's second pie order will coincide with the release of "The Class of '92", a documentary film about Alex Ferguson's fledglings who graduated from the academy's youth team and launched glittering careers at Old Trafford.

The film chronicles the rise of six schoolboys David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and brothers Phil and Gary Neville from 1992 to 1999 - a remarkable journey that saw the players eventually lift the European Cup.

The film will not only remind us of a pivotal, scintillating (if annoying for neutrals) time in soccer history, but also once more spark debate about nature versus nurture. The '92 class was unique because its pupils were planted and cultivated by Ferguson and his staff. United have of course "produced" many other good players since then.

But unlike the class of '92, they have featured over 17 seasons and, crucially, were initially spotted at other clubs' academies aged 16, unlike Beckham et al, who were mere 13- and 14-year-old schoolboys when Ferguson signed them.

Back then, United did not raid the youth pools of their domestic and overseas rivals as they and other top clubs do today; there were no Giuseppe Rossis, Gerard Piques, Paul Pogbas and Adnan Januzajs.

The 1992 class was genuine organic produce nurtured from the soil of Salford. So the film begs the question: why have there not been repeat crops?

Did the opening of the overseas market and the flood of money from the mid-1990s onwards induce a subtle but significant drop of productivity at United's academy, it being easier to buy in fledglings than to sow seeds?

Or does it prove that try as you might to create the perfect conditions to nurture greatness on a seasonal basis - first-class infrastructure, the best coaches and so on - your efforts are doomed to failure unless you have those other important elements, luck and the randomness of the human gene pool?

Proponents of the 10,000-hours rule claim greatness can be achieved through intensive practice equal to 20 hours a week for 10 years. They debunk luck and argue that nurture trumps nature.

Giggs and Scholes are personifications of determination and hard graft, so does that mean United academy class members since 1992 have been work-shy? Unlikely.

Perhaps the class of 1992 proves that you cannot "predict greatness", as one commentator put it. You can create the right conditions for greatness to flourish. But the end result will be wholly dependent on kismet energy.

Ferguson got lucky because like rush-hour Shek O buses, the freaks of nature that are Giggs et al all came along at once, so allowing him to consolidate his position after the difficult early years of his long tenure. What he did with this fluke is the genius part.

This is something to chew over as we munch on our double helpings of pizza.

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