Mar 062010
 

Reading the newspapers, listening to Five Live, and watching Arseblogger get more and more irate by the Soccer Saturday coverage of the Ramsey incident, it strikes me that the written and spoken press are completely missing the crux of the issue.

  • Shawcross did not mean to break Ramsey’s leg, but that is not the point. 
  • Gallas put in a poor challenge on Davies, Vieira and Lauren used to put in hard challenges, and Arsenal are no angels, but that is not the point.
  • Wenger was emotional after the game, but that is not the point.
  • Shawcross cried, but that is not the point.
  • The Stoke fans contained some of the absolute lowest of the low, but that is not the point.
  • Ramsey was quick, but that is not the point.
  • Shawcross has injured before, has broken legs before, but that is not the point.
  • Ramsey has suffered a dreadful setback, and while that deserves more of the focus than any of the above, it is in some ways, also not the point.

No, the point is that we have cultivated a culture in English football in which weaker sides can do more than harry and press, they can close the gap using methods other than the legal approach of working harder, being better organised and coming off the pitch exhausted.

In addition to all of that, it has become accepted to put in sly tackles, flail elbows, and deliberately foul to put your superior opponent off the game. It is even accepted to come out before the match and declare this as your intention. Instead of applauding the workrate of the strugglers, the pundits snigger at the late challenges, the full blooded swipes, irrespective of the danger they cause.

No other country allows this to happen. Wild tackles are punished no matter what the consequences, but they only come into focus here if they result in a serious injury. Even then, they are defended – how else can the smaller team compete, they ask? The answer is simple – by playing football better than us. The clue’s in the name of the game, you morons.

I get it, you get it, the blogs linked to the right get it. So why do 90% of those paid to analyse the game miss what is the real story here?

Mar 032010
 

It has been a telling week in the media. Aaron Ramsey’s dreadful injury, and in particular Shawcross’ tackle, have divided opinions everywhere. More pertinently, the way the story has been presented has differed wildly – while most reasonable writers have noted that it was a terrible and avoidable moment, only some have called for a change of mindset in the English game, while others have shrugged it off as ‘one of those things’.

There is nothing wrong with a difference of opinion. I maintain that the Shawcross challenge was not in the same league as the Taylor or Smith equivalents from recent seasons. Some disagree with me entirely, and that’s fine. Having the debate in the public domain has kept the issue on the back pages for four days, and that can only be a good thing. It is an issue that requires attention.

But at the same time, the absolute worst type of journalism has reared its ugly head as a result. There are certain parties that, for any major news story, wait to see what the general consensus is, and then go utterly against it to create controversy. It is perfectly deliberate – I don’t think for a second that these writers believe the words they write, as no-one in their right minds could subscribe to such a preposterous view.

That comes with the territory in the blogging world – there are so many that some see controversy as the short cut to being noticed. It matters little that 90% of the comments slate the writer, because all they care about is that there are comments. But you should be able to expect better of columnists paid to write for our national newspapers. Unfortunately, some of the more poisonous of their number would rather write an abysmal piece for attention, than an intelligent one that causes less of a stir.

There was a good piece on Gunnerblog yesterday, exposing a few such examples. The published views included the belief that Wenger should apologise to Shawcross for being angry at the challenge (no mention of Shawcross apologising for the challenge), that he was wrong to condemn the challenge in the first place, and even worse – that Ramsey had somehow ruined Shawcross’ glorious England call-up by having the temerity to have his leg broken on the same day. Classy.

Tim at 7am Kickoff then posted another insightful piece, exposing one of the most poisonous articles I’ve ever read, that of a Stoke columnist claiming that Cesc and Wenger couldn’t care less about Ramsey, they just wanted Shawcross sent off and paid no attention to the stricken Welshman. The entry is so packed full of lies I can’t even begin to go into it here, but it is an embarrassing read for even the most blinkered Potters fan.

The trouble is this – by getting angry with these idiots they get the attention they so desperately crave. They sit on the comments section, shouting back at anyone who criticises them, lapping up the extra hits and their moment of glory. Fifteen minutes of fame and all that.

But as I said, that is understandable in a world stacked with blogs trying to differentiate themselves. But former players who are being paid to spout this offensive nonsense? How do they even get the job? If anything, it shames the editors more than the columnists themselves, that such drivel is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

The easy answer is always to say ‘well, ignore it’. But when you read something that is offensive to that degree, it is almost impossible not to react. The only good news is that one such article destroys the credibility of the author – if Collymore wants to make a point he really believes in next week, is anyone going to take him seriously?

The main problem is that these columns shift the focus away from the rational and constructive talk, giving the authorities an excuse to do nothing. You can already see how this is going to go – the debate will continue for the next few days, only to be replaced by a new argument based on whatever happens this weekend. A few lone voices will continue, trying to force the change, but sooner or later everyone will go back to normal. It has happened before, it will happen again.

The FA certainly won’t make any strong decisions. Instead of making drastic changes or enforcing stiff new penalties, they only ever do one of two things. The first is to change trivial rules, usually a tweak of the offside rule, or a change of procedure when a player is down injured. The second is to announce a strong new rule, but fail hopelessly to enforce it. The recent example of this is their claim that if three or more players hound a referee, they will support multiple sending offs. Seen that happen?

We may, at best, have a couple of weeks grace – if a strong challenge comes in early from a Burnley player this weekend, they might be carded. But it won’t last.

All we can hope is that in a few years, we haven’t gone full circle again to talk about another horrific injury. Because ‘I told you so’ plainly doesn’t work.

Nov 192009
 

One thing about not blogging for a week is you can sit back and watch the hysterical reactions going on in the world of football without feeling like you have to dive in and add your voice. It has been one of those weeks.

First we had the curse of the international break rear its ugly head again, in the form of injuries to Van Persie and Gibbs. The timing of the former is painful because he was on such a hot streak, and with important games coming up it helps to have the players likely to strike fear into the opponents. For the latter, it is also a blow, but for different reasons – with Clichy out, Gibbs had a great chance to stake his claim for a regular first team spot. Ask Fabianski how a mistimed injury can drop you down the pecking order.

But in both cases, panic spread like wildfire, only for subsequent reports to confirm that the injuries were not as bad as initially feared. Which, frankly, made some of the outlandish statements made in the interim seem all the more foolhardy. As soon as the Dutchman collapsed on the turf, our season was being written off, a bizarre conclusion given how many goalscorers we have. As it turns out, Gibbs might be fit in just over a week, with Van Persie returning just after Christmas. It isn’t ideal, but it isn’t a crisis either.

If you were to make me select positions to lose players to injury, I’d plump for strikers and left backs, as we have the cover. Just wrap Gallas and Vermaelen up in cotton wool and we’ll be fine.

And then we have the internationals. Fans and the media do like to get overboard from time to time, don’t they? We had Eduardo, and now we have ‘Handball-Gate’, the inevitable title of last night’s incident. For those who don’t know, you must be living under a rock, but essentially Henry instinctively (perhaps) handled the ball, crossed for Gallas, who scored to put France into the World Cup.

And that’s about it. Was it a clear handball? Yes. Was it deliberate? That depends largely on whether you consider instinct to be the same thing. Should the goal have stood? Absolutely not.

But it was one of a million incidents that referees and linesmen miss. Yes, somehow, this has got the footballing public into such a flurry that we have fans calling in to Sky to get the match replayed, and beyond that, Kevin Kilbane and Liam Brady are demanding the match to be null and void.

Some go even further – one caller on Sky Sports was comparing Henry’s actions with the business world, where fraud can land you in jail. Has the world gone mad? Even the Irish Justice Minister waded in:

“They probably won’t grant it as we are minnows in world football but let’s put them on the spot. Otherwise, if that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat, you will win.”

Kilbane said:

“Well, I’d like to think it would be replayed and I think everyone in the squad would like it replayed.”

What possible grounds are there for replaying the game? Imagine the precedent – suddenly every team that loses to a goal that shouldn’t have stood because of a handball or a foul could demand the same. Or to take it further, maybe a result is canned because a throw in was awarded the wrong way, leading to the winning goal. After all, the argument here is that Henry deliberately cheated – is appealing for a throw you know isn’t yours any different?

It is beyond ridiculous. Yes, it is a harsh way to go out, but it is hardly new. I remember South Korea knocking Italy out in 2002 thanks to a series of horrendous refereeing decisions. Australia lost to Italy in 2006 to a penalty that wasn’t. Did anyone demand a replay then? Of course not.

Get a fucking grip.

Disclaimer – please don’t think this is an anti-Irish rant. Strangely enough, most of the hysterical reactions have come from the English media and English fans. Most Irish I’ve seen mention the incident are understandably pissed off but at the same time accept that’s how football is sometimes. Check out an excellent post by Arseblogger (who is Irish) for evidence of rationality.

Sep 062009
 

Given that we are in the midst of an international break, there is a surprising amount to get through.

First, we have yesterday’s comments from John Terry that English players don’t dive:

“That’s something the England lads don’t do. Sometimes we’re too honest. Even in the Premier League, we see the English lads get a bit of contact and try to stay on their feet and score the chance. The foreign mentality coming in is that any little clip you can go tumbling over, because of the speed of the game nowadays.”

Say what? Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole. Is he seriously suggesting that none of these players ever dive?

I’m taking a random stab in the dark here, but I’m guessing Terry’s a Daily Mail reader. If he can even read. Quite frankly, what he says isn’t borderline politically incorrect, it is flat out xenophobic. And also a barefaced lie.

English players dive. I don’t care if it is a problem that seems to have been imported, English players still dive. Trying to claim that they’re all innocent, and that it is only Johnny Foreigner that tumbles theatrically to the turf isn’t fooling anyone.

Quite frankly, as the captain of the England team, a prominent and responsible role, he should be brought to task. If an office worker suggested that his foreign colleagues shared a negative trait not seen in the English, he’d be facing a pretty stiff lawsuit. Followed swiftly by his P45.

I’m sure there will be plenty of reports linking this to the Rooney incident in tonight’s England friendly, probably even on some Arsenal blogs (as we are feeling a bit defensive on this topic at the moment). But we should try to retain some perspective – Rooney and his marker were tugging at each other, tangled, when down, and Rooney lashed out. Bizarrely enough a penalty was given, but it wasn’t a dive. If it had been an Arsenal player we would be defending him, saying the referee just screwed up. Just because it is Rooney doesn’t mean we should have double standards.

It wasn’t a dive, so don’t use this as an example to counter Terry’s comments. There are already stacks of ready made incidents for that purpose.

Elsewhere, it is looking increasingly like Portugal will have next summer off, although they could have been dead and buried were it not for a late equaliser against Denmark, Bendtner having put the Danes ahead in the first half. As it is, Portugal are still only fourth in a tough group, and anything less than a win away to an impressive Hungarian side and it’s curtains.

Which would leave the World Player of the Year at home, for the first time since the days when George Weah used to win it but have no decent Liberian teammates. Of course, it isn’t an identical situation – Weah was popular, whereas Portugal failing to make it to the World Cup would just result in a lot of pointing and laughing.

Another country almost certain to miss out are the Czech Rep, a woeful fifth in their group. Sadly, that probably means Rosicky has played on the biggest stage for the last time, and will not get a chance to captain his country in South Africa.

Another Gooner, Vermaelen, is also set to stay at home – Belgium are six points from a play off spot with three games left. It looks bleak for them too.

In other news, there are reports that Djourou has had a knee op which will keep him out for six months. Suddenly Senderos is our first reserve centre back, and since Djourou was my my preferred option to replace Song in defensive midfield when the Cameroonian goes to the African Nations Cup, we look light there. It’s a shame – Djourou’s Arsenal career promises so much, but still hasn’t got going. Hopefully this will cure his continual injury problems.

And that’s it for today. We’re only halfway through the international break, folks. Roll on next weekend.

Aug 312009
 

Man United 2 (Rooney pen 59, Diaby og 64) Arsenal 1 (Arshavin 40)
(Premiership)

I missed Saturday’s game as it was the last day of our club’s cricket season, but having listened to it on the radio, and now watched the whole match in retrospect, I finally feel in a position to comment. There is so much to focus on from the match, but let’s start with the actual football first.

United were poor throughout, and we were in complete control of the first half without ever creating all that much. Eventually, seconds after he should have had a penalty for Fletcher’s clattering, Arshavin picked up the ball thirty yards out and smashed it past Foster, who should have done much better. That was how it stood at half time.

The second half improvement from United never came, and only Foster kept them in the game with a stunning save from Van Persie. Soon after, Rooney won a penalty when Almunia caught him – he picked himself up and struck the equaliser home from the spot.

Van Persie then came close to restoring our lead, striking the crossbar with a free kick, before we gifted them the winner, Diaby heading home Giggs’ free kick when under no real pressure. We searched for an equaliser, but didn’t test Foster again until injury time, when Van Persie’s goal was correctly disallowed for offside against Gallas. Wenger was sent to the stands in the aftermath.

Now, you’ll notice I’ve been very factual there, not going into much detail for each of the flashpoints. Doing so would have made the match report an epic. Let’s look at the incidents in turn:

The Fletcher-Arshavin penalty

You won’t see many more clear cut penalties this season. Fletcher scythed into Arshavin in the box, only afterwards taking a piece of the ball before handling it for good measure. Anywhere other than Old Trafford it would be given every week.

Fortunately for Mike Dean, Wenger’s fury, and that of Arshavin, was mitigated moments later when he smashed in the opener. You could argue that this doesn’t make up for the penalty, that the Russian would have done the same later, but it was the same attack, and the goal we deserved came in due course. So although it was a dreadful decision by Dean, I don’t think it affected the result.

Rooney’s dive

Let me preface this by saying – it was a penalty. However, the actions of Eduardo midweek, and Rooney on Saturday, were absolutely 100% identical. Both players charged into the box, reached the ball before the keeper and took a dive to the turf, expecting contact. The only difference was out of their control – Boruc withdrew his hands to make the dive crystal clear, while Almunia was not as savvy or quick in his reactions, and he made contact as Rooney collapsed to the turf.

It is a crucial difference, because it turns a dive into a dive that ends with a foul, and therefore the penalty is given (technically, the dive comes first, but that would be splitting hairs). I don’t have any qualms against the decision whatsoever.

What does wind me up is the polar opposite reaction by the media following the event. You could argue that most didn’t study the pictures closely enough to realise that Rooney was halfway down before reaching Almunia, but that isn’t true for everyone. Andy Gray pointed it out in his post match analysis, but instead of calling a spade a spade (which would be Rooney a diver, Almunia clumsy and daft), he praised the striker, citing it as clever play.

The hypocrisy of that statement is remarkable. And it gets worse – Tim Rich in the Independent of Sunday attempts to defend England’s favourite troll-a-like by hinting that diving is out of character:

“It is not in Rooney’s character to throw himself over a goalkeeper, but Wenger, called Dean’s award “Old Trafford-ish”.”

While suggesting that slights on Rooney’s character would be unfair, it does at least show awareness of his past by claiming it out of character to dive over a keeper. Certainly few will forget his swan dive over Sol Campbell that ended the Invincibles run in this very fixture five years ago. But to be aware of that fact and still to back him is double standards of the extreme kind, especially when you consider the lampooning of Eduardo, a player who really doesn’t have that kind of history.

Diaby’s own goal

I sympathise a little with Diaby here – clearly of the opinion that Rooney was lurking with intent behind him, he was offered no help by Almunia, who could have a) claimed it, or b) communicated the situation. That said, Diaby was certainly not blameless for a woefully misdirected header.

Mike Dean

Irony of the day was the fact that Radio 5 were praising his performance throughout the match. Having seen the whole game, that statement is guff beyond imagination. He had a really really poor day. Cautioning six Arsenal players was incredible bearing in mind that I can barely remember a poor challenge, and it could hardly be for persistent fouling as United committed comfortably more offences (Fletcher six by himself, not including the penalty that wasn’t, and he escaped without a card).

Song and Gallas are the only two bad fould I can remember offhand – Van Persie seemed especially hard done by given that his challenge was almost identical to Fletcher’s on Arshavin.

And then there was the farcical scenes of the final moments that I’ll come on to shortly.

That said, despite his poor officialdom, I don’t believe he affected the result. The reason we lost was not the referee, it was that we capitulated from a poor position, handing United two goals they barely deserved. We have no-one to blame but ourselves.

The Wenger sending off

The most ridiculous event of the match was saved for last – following Van Persie’s disallowed goal, Wenger kicked an empty water bottle a few feet up the touchline and was duly sent to the stands by Dean, on the advice of fourth official Lee Probert.

Never mind the fact that dissent (for that is the worst it could be deemed as – had Wenger kicked the bottle at someone, it would have been a different story) carries only a yellow card for a player, it was enough for him to be dismissed by an official who knew exactly what the consequences would be.

There was nowhere for Wenger to go – Probert will have heard the disgusting chants he had to endure the entire match (the ‘Sit down you paedophile’ song has been a favourite with United fans for a decade now, for those who don’t know), but still thought it a smart idea to give the baying masses their target of hate. To his eternal credit, Wenger has never raised this chant as an issue, presumably because he knows it would ensure it would be sung at every ground, and he went and stood behind the dugout, surrounded by those same individuals, not batting an eyelid.

Eventually he was ushered down the tunnel, but the farcical nature of the situation has not gone unnoticed. Keith Hackett will by now have apologised to Wenger as promised, with Probert particularly chastised in the aftermath. Richard Bevan, LMA chief, says:

“Lee Probert totally failed to manage the situation and created a needless pressure point taking the focus away from the pitch in a big event with only a minute to go.”

Quite.

However, the bigger issue is the horrendous nature of the chant itself. The FA has a core value of making football in this country a family friendly affair, and is justifiably proud of its record of stamping out racist nonsense. But it turns a blind eye to possibly the most vile song I’ve ever heard at any stadium. And these aren’t the actions of a mindless few – there are literally thousands belting out the song.

It isn’t like it has gone unnoticed – watch the live Sky coverage of Wenger being sent to the stands, and then watch the Match of the Day highlights of the same incident. The pictures are the same, but the sound isn’t – the BBC have deliberately tried to muffle the singing, presumably aware of how hideous it is.

So why is no-one acting? Until they do, the FA have their priorities hideously mixed up.