The Fiver | Villarreal torpedo their far wealthier and more illustrious opponents


Following 120 minutes of largely sterile and low-rent football, Wednesday night’s Big Vase final was eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out of the highest quality, with 20 of the 22 players on the pitch stepping up and scoring before it came down to the two goalkeepers. Proving as incapable of taking spot-kicks as he is of saving them, David de Gea missed No 11 for Manchester United and bore the countenance of an extremely forlorn werewolf lost in a cloud of mustard gas as the players of Villarreal’s “Yellow Submarine” swarmed past him, submerging their own keeper Gerónimo Rulli in a celebratory pile-on after torpedoing their far wealthier and more illustrious English opponents.

While victory quite clearly meant the world to a well-run Spanish club from a small town whose entire population could fit in three of Old Trafford’s stands, the implications of defeat for Ole Gunnar Solskjær and United are less clear. The Norwegian’s many supporters could justifiably point out that this season has been a success, considering his side finished one place higher in the league and made it a step further in Big Vase. For all that, though, his over-reliance on counter-attacking football and his team’s chronic inability to break down teams who sit back and invite pressure remain a costly problem he appears no closer to solving.

While many United fans remain hopeful that success is just around the corner and are content to have Ole at the wheel, it almost certainly fair to say that if he were to suddenly become available, the stampede for his services from other big English or European clubs almost certainly wouldn’t prompt so much as a flicker on the Richter scale. Of course, employed as he is by owners who prioritise official noodle partnerships and Big Cup qualification ahead of actually winning things, he is unlikely to find himself out of work any time soon, at least until a top-four spot looks like it might be hanging in the balance. The Fiver’s saying January.

“We didn’t turn up, we didn’t play as well as we can,” sighed a downbeat and downtrodden Ole. “They made it hard for us. We didn’t create enough big chances. Now is not the time to discuss what I might have done differently, but when you go home without a trophy you haven’t done everything right.” By contrast, his opposite number Unai Emery had done everything right and, on an evening that should have been all about Villarreal, was predictably asked if his fourth Big Vase victory with two different Spanish sides made up for his failure at Arsenal. “Winning today is a satisfaction but for my club,” he tooted. “When I was at Arsenal we played a [Big Vase] final and could not win, but it is a process. From that one I learned a lot to win this one, maybe.” It will come as no small comfort to Gooners everywhere to learn his time at their club wasn’t entirely misspent.


“[Gianni] Infantino’s ideas were very clear. With the $uper £eague, [he] would manage to get the Club World Cup and the participation of the big teams and he will get their support to ensure that we can have a biennial World Cup. It means what they can do is empty the assets from the national leagues. The Super League ideology is now within Fifa – it’s as if they also believe in that, and it’s affecting football negatively in general” – La Liga head honcho Javier Tebas claims Fifa’s top dog was fully on board with the plans for a €uropean $uper £eague. Fifa declined to comment.

Hot football admin chat, earlier.
Hot football admin chat, earlier. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters


Football Weekly Extra is here for you.


Speaking of which, tickets are available now for Football Weekly Live’s Euro Not 2020 preview special on 10 June. Get them while they’re hot.


“The Europa Conference League (Fiver letters passim) being renamed the ‘Tin Pot’ has a certain ring to it, while the inclusion of the word ‘Tin’ couldn’t be more appropriate. If ever a competition could drive someone to an unhealthy relationship with drink, etc” – Mike Kilner.

“I know that double standards are rarely far from the surface when it comes to The Fiver, but yesterday’s edition takes the cake. On the one hand, the letters section mocked the Europa Conference thingy, but on the other hand you quoted Unai Emery getting misty-eyed about the romance of the lower tiers of European competition. So please back off on the Conference! It’s the only chance for the minnows to dream of European glory, teams like KuPS, Mislami Orhei and Spurs” – Adam Uncamus.

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Rollover.


The managerial merry-go-round is spinning wildly now that Mauricio Pochettino can name his price for Spurs … and is willing to do so.

Time for Spurs fans to dig this one out again?
Time for Spurs fans to dig this one out again? Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Antonio Conte also likes what he $ee$ at Tottenham now that he’s done one from Inter in a row over player sales. One normal day of Barclays indeed.

If you’re still keeping up, Conte and Pochettino are also candidates for the top job at Real Madrid, what with Zinedine Zidane leaving for a second time. “Zidane is one of the greats of Real Madrid and his legend goes beyond what he has been as a coach and player for our club,” they cheered. PSG then?

One gig that Conte’s not being linked with is the soon-to-be-confirmed vacancy with Juventus, where Max Allegri will replace Andrea Pirlo.

Nor is he being mentioned around Sheffield United, who have set Slavisa Jokanovic the challenge of securing a third promotion from the Championship.

Fifteen England players – but not Beth England – are in the 18-strong Team GB women’s team for Big Sports Day in Tokyo.

And Reading left-back Omar Richards is swapping the Purple Turtle for the Hofbräuhaus after completing a free transfer to Bayern Munich.


After Big Red’s defeat by the Baltic Sea, Jonathan Wilson suggests Ole isn’t up to it, while Jonathan Liew depicts a Manchester United team that so often loses the big matches. Over in Spain, Sid Lowe celebrates Villarreal, the small club from the small town whose second-choice keeper had never before taken a penalty.

Woe is Edinson Cavani.
Woe is Edinson Cavani. Photograph: Aleksandra Szmigiel/AFP/Getty Images

It was the last big night for Big Mal’s Manchester City but most were watching another match on another channel. John Brewin sets his time machine for 1970 to recall Joe Mercer, Franny Lee and the other Neil Young.

Cynical fouls and the last 20 Big Cup finals in this week’s Classic YouTube.

Ben Welch speaks to players and psychologists about confidence in football – and how to cultivate it.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!



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