My relationship with One Direction can best be described as ‘fractious’ ever since they urged millions of their fans on Twitter to get the hashtag # piersmorganissmelly t rending worldwide for a whole day.
Things are similarly tense between me and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – though that has nothing to do with him questioning my body hygiene, and everything to do with what I perceive to be a large dip in his abilities through the past decade.
So the chance to manage a football team against One Direction seemed a perfect chance to kill two birds with one massive boulder: shut those cheeky scamps up for good AND prove I actually do know something about running a football team.
Niall Horan was behind the idea. He wanted to raise money for a charity called Irish Autism by hosting a match at Leicester City’s stadium.
But he turned out to be just as competitive as me.
‘Piers,’ he emailed during the player recruitment process, ‘if Paul Merson plays, he’s with me. You can f*** off, it’s my game!’
I arrived in the dressing room to find a manager’s tracksuit with ‘PM’ on the label. Within minutes my team began to assemble, led by my captain Robbie Savage. ‘All right, Gaffer!’ he bellowed.
We had former internationals Dean Holdsworth, Jason McAteer and John Aldridge – and celebrity players Shayne Ward, Keith Duffy and Michael Vaughan. The opposition boasted football legends Robbie Fowler, David James, Mark Wright, Matt Le Tissier and Phil Neville, and stars Ronan Keating, Jack Whitehall, James Corden and John Bishop.
But my trump card came when the door opened and a tall, ridiculously handsome Frenchman ambled in. The room fell silent, bar the combined mutter of one word: ‘Pirès.’
Yes, I’d persuaded one of Arsenal’s, and the world’s, greatest modern players, Robert Pirès, to turn out.
I gathered the team together. ‘Right lads. One: unlike Arsene Wenger, I do not consider coming second, never
‘Terror gripped me. I’d been debagged by Harry Styles in front of 18,000 people
with camera phones’
mind fourth, to be the same as winning a trophy. Winning is all that matters. Two: the opposition will try to kill me. Mr Savage, your job is to stop them. Three: when in doubt, give it to Pirès.’
As we lined up in the tunnel, I found myself next to Neville. ‘ You’re mine…’ I warned.
David James, 6ft 4in and Tysonesque in physique, grabbed me in a violent headlock. ‘And you’re MINE.’
‘Savage!’ I cried. Robbie sped over and pushed James away.
The game was equally ferocious. Professional sportsmen, retired or not, don’t really do ‘friendlies’. Twenty minutes in, one of our team did indeed ‘give it to Pirès’ – who sublimely chipped the ball over James to score.
I charged on to the pitch, sank to my knees, then grabbed the microphone and belted out a tuneless rendition of his old Arsenal chant, ‘Super Robert Pirès’. The crowd booed and hissed.
And the abuse intensified when I brought myself on as striker.
Liam Payne, man-marking me like a hyperactive chihuahua, pulled my shirt, pinched and elbowed me, and trash-talked in a way that would embarrass even Floyd Mayweather. I responded by squaring up to him, thus highl ight ing the massive size differential. ‘Go on Titch, make my day,’ I growled.
‘ Oi, leave him alone, Morgan,’ snarled Bishop.
‘Stop me,’ I responded. So he did, crunching me with a tackle so outrageously brutal I rolled six times on the floor before coming to a painful halt.
‘Savage!’ I yelped. ‘I’ve got this Gaffer,’ replied Robbie. A minute later, Payne received the ball near the touchline and Savage charged in and flattened him. I