Strenuously extracting his right hand from his pocket, the elderly gentleman pulled in vain at the broken zip on his extra large winter coat for a few moments, before loudly knocking on the door.
Manuel Pellegrini, faintly wheezing, opened it. “Arsene!”, he exclaimed, “I am so glad you could make it! I had my doubts you know, you are rather late and you have missed the first course. I thought that after the recent match…”
“I apologise for my lateness,” Arsene grumbled. “I did not see the invite. In fact, if it wasn’t for Jose’s tweet, I would have forgotten about the annual managers’ Christmas meal altogether.”
“No matter,” Manuel replied. “How was the journey from London?”
“Stressful. The ticket office would not accept my half price rail fare coupons, which necessitated me paying full price for the journey, and I’m very doubtful Ivan Gazidis will refund me my travel costs. Why did you insist on hosting the meal at the Etihad anyhow? Aren’t you aware it is tradition for the meal to be held at Carrow Road? Delia is an excellent chef after all, and we all enjoy her stuffing.”
Pellegrini beckoned Wenger inside. “I am aware.” he said, “but I have not enjoyed my travels recently. Plus Sheikh Mansour has given his generous financial support to the meal. We have vol-au-vents from Marks and Spencer.”
Pellegrini pointed Arsene in the direction of his seat, before re-assuming his position at the top of the table. Wenger glanced round, and nodded curtly at the neighbour on his right, Malky Mackay, who was busy on his mobile phone.
“No, Mr Tan,” Mackay was exclaiming, ‘I am not currently looking for a new assistant manager. Yes, of course I respect your opinion, Mr Tan, but I am perfectly happy with the backroom staff I already have. Please, Mr Tan, it is with the uttermost respect that I simply do not believe that our eighteen year old Kazakh window cleaner Samat will make a suitable assistant manager.”
Mackay apologetically caught Wenger’s eye. “Chairman business,” he muttered, ‘you know what they’re like, always sticking their oar in.”
Arsene began to reply, but was cut off by Mackay who turned his attention to his mobile once more. “No, Mr Tan, I sincerely do not believe that you should change team colours again, especially not to orange. And no, Mr Tan, I strongly advise you against changing the name of ‘Cardiff City FC’ to ‘Mr Tan’s Tangerine Table Toppers’. Why? Because this is a Premier League football club, Mr Tan!”
Meanwhile the managers around the table had finished their starters, and Rafa Benitez had appeared in a smart suit with neat apron to clear the plates. As he returned to the kitchen, to check on the progress of the main course, Mauricio Pochettino got out of his seat and loudly cleared his throat.
The din died down, and Pochettino began speaking in rapid Spanish. ‘Gracias por venir’, he began, but he was quickly off by a chorus of groans. It appeared that Pochettino’s translator wasn’t in attendance with him.
Brendan Rodgers stood up, also. “Seeing as nobody can understand Mauricio, I’m perfectly happy to deliver this year’s Christmas speech. I have a list here of five reasons why Luis Suarez is a fantastic technician of the game, and a really nice guy, and I have some tactical musings that I would love to share with you all.”
“Pipe down, David Brent!” chortled Steve Bruce, red in the face and now working his way through his second bottle of Merlot. “Nobody wants to hear your tactical rubbish!” Sam Allardyce, seated to his right, who was also more than a little worse for wear, laughed heartily at this, and the two high-fived before aiming a chant of ‘LONG BALL, THERE’S ONLY ONE LONG BALL’ at Rodgers.
Brendan looked hurt, and was about to reply when the door to the Etihad creaked open. The managers all turned round in time to see a hooded figure sneak into the room, and take up a seat at the end of the table, next to Mark Hughes. Hughes sighed.
“Andre, we’ve all told you that we’re afraid you’re not invited any more. This meal is for incumbent Premier League managers only. Unless you’ve taken up the West Bromwich position, and God help you if you have, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
Villas-Boas lowered his hood, to reveal a pale, drawn face. He was still wearing his Tottenham club suit, which was ripped, and coated in dust. “Don’t make me leave,” he replied in a hoarse whisper. “I have gifts, many gifts, for all of you. I have spent over one hundred million pounds on them for you and you’ll all like them, I promise. Here, take them.” He began passing around several Christmas presents, all wrapped in Spurs club wrapping paper. All of the managers around the table opened their gifts and groaned.
“I don’t want a copy of this tripe,” Chris Hughton scoffed, before throwing his copy of Get Your Defensive Line Higher and Higher! back in AVB’s direction. Rene Meulensteen was also displeased, dropping his edition of Inverted Wingers for the Unconverted to the table with a light thump.
‘You guys should consider yourselves lucky,” Paul Lambert pitched in. “All he’s given me is a one-month free loan coupon for Erik Lamela. Andre, do yourself a favour and stop spending money. It’s clear you have about as much clue as Mark Hughes when he was in charge of City.”
Villas-Boas looked crestfallen, and squatted down on the floor in disappointment. Lambert continued. “Still, now is a good time for the secret Santa presents. I’ll go first. Here you are, Tony.”
He handed Tony Pulis a crudely wrapped present. Pulis tore away at the paper, and gave a squeal of delight. “A new baseball cap! How did you know, Paul?! They really are the essential management accessory for keeping the bright British weather at bay. Anyway, now it is my turn. Arsene, please accept this with my compliments.”
Arsene unwrapped a pair of glasses with thick black frames. “To help you see ‘the incident’, in the future!” Pulis laughed, only to be met with a furious look. “Anyway Arsene, whose name did you draw?”
“I cannot remember, but I decided to decline to take part. It seemed an unnecessary waste of club funds.”
“Please,” David was moaning to Roberto in a low voice, “please tell me how things are at Everton. Do the players miss me? Does old Bill miss me?
Across the table, as the Secret Santa procession continued, Roberto Martinez was trying desperately to shake off David Moyes. Moyes had moved from his original position in the seating plan, and had pulled his chair up inches away from Martinez. His bulging, bloodshot eyes were beginning to make Martinez feel uncomfortable.
“Please,” David was moaning to Roberto in a low voice, “please tell me how things are at Everton. Do the players miss me? Does old Bill miss me? I miss everyone you know, Roberto. I could always come back, you know, I could be your wee assistant, or take charge of the under-21s. I miss Everton, Roberto.”
Martinez was beginning to feel concerned. “I’m afraid you decided to leave, David, there is no place for you at Everton anymore. Don’t tell me that you’re regretting the decision already?”
“Please!” Moyes wailed, his voice growing ever louder. “Please! There’s no place like home, Roberto, THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME!”
Soon, the managers had all received their respective gifts, and the main course was brought out. A ruddy-faced Steve Bruce, swaying slightly and lightly hiccuping, began to carve the turkey. Plates were handed round, but before anyone began eating Gus Poyet took Grace.
“Dear Lord, we are grateful for this wonderful Christmas meal that is provided for us today, as we congregate to commemorate the birth of our Lord, that special one, that special child”-
At this point, Jose Mourinho elaborately jumped out of his chair, and interrupted the prayer in mid-flow. “Thank you Gus,” he said, swilling the glass of cheap wine that Sir Alex Ferguson has provided for the meal in Poyet’s direction. “Thank you for your kind words. It appears you are slightly mistaken on the date of my birthday, but what else can you expect from a Sunderland manager, ‘ey? I am nevertheless very happy that you have all congregated to celebrate my unequalled genius as the Special One.”
Poyet looked confused. “I was actually referring to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” he told Jose.
“Oh,” Mourinho said, sitting back down in his seat. “I see. Yes, I suppose I agree. He is also a Special One. Perhaps not quite as special as me – how many times as he won the Champions League, ‘ey – but he is worthy of your words. Continue’. Poyet resumed his prayer, and the main course was begun soon after, passing without too much extra drama. For one day at least, the managers were able to put their differences aside and enjoy each other’s company away from the football field.