LONDON – Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany we were told by certain sections of the English media that neo-Nazi gangs would terrorize visitors. Two years ago South Africa would, allegedly, be a machete-wielding war zone.
In fact both tournaments passed off without any major incidents. Now Euro 2012 is in the spotlight and last Monday’s Panorama on BBC television warned those of Asian and black backgrounds to expect to be targeted by right-wing fascists in Poland and Ukraine.
Some of the television footage from local derbies in the two countries was frightening and there remains a worrying ignorance in Eastern Europe about racism. The so-called excuse that this is because there is no history of black people there merely underlines the deep-rooted problem.
Disturbing as some of the Panorama footage was, I am sure a TV crew from Poland or Ukraine who spent time in England last summer, which was blighted by inner-city riots particularly in London, and the trial of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence, killed because of the color of his skin, would have been able to send out a similarly strong message about the forthcoming Olympic Games.
Liverpool supporters wearing T-shirts in support of Luis Suarez, who was found guilty of making a racist remark to Patrice Evra, would have painted a negative picture while England defender John Terry is to stand trial in July after being charged with making a racially aggravated remark to Anton Ferdinand; Terry denies the charge. Racism is not confined to the Euro co-hosts.
England’s black players have suffered abuse in many of the former Soviet and Baltic states. They have also been targeted in Madrid and Rome while Euro 2016 will be staged in France where the National Front is gaining momentum.
Former England international Sol Campbell said there is a risk that non-white visitors could “come home in coffins,” an irresponsible remark based on television footage. The BBC is now in the awkward position of having at least one black reporter, Damien Johnson, at a tournament it deemed to be dangerous for black people.
The thugs Panorama showed in action will not be at England’s Euro 2012 games because their violent behavior is reserved for club rivalries. That is not to say the horrendous scenes Panorama broadcast should be ignored; just that a little perspective should be given to a problem that not only affects this summer’s European Championship co-hosts.
ROY HODGSON will have to reveal his Euro 2012 hand when England plays Belgium. It will be Hodgson’s last and only chance to play the team he would like to choose in the opening tie against France, and while managers are usually paranoid about team selections, Fabio Capello’s successor has no option.
Last weekend’s 1-0 win in Norway was achieved without any members of the defence that will lineup against France. Against Belgium and against Les Bleus Joe Hart will be in goal behind a back-four of Glen Johnson (if he overcomes a toe injury), John Terry, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole.
Scott Parker and, most likely, James Milner, will anchor the midfield with Steven Gerrard England’s playmaker. Stewart Downing will provide the width and ammunition for Andy Carroll with Ashley Young the support striker.
Expectations are low after the debacle of the 2010 World Cup. England should beat Belgium at Wembley but France in Donetsk is another matter.
CHELSEA is, some reports say, still trying to persuade Pep Guardiola to forget about his post-Barcelona sabbatical and come to Stamford Bridge.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, Guardiola reversed his season-off decision (which he won’t), how would the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history have reacted to Fernando Torres’ statement a few days ago? The striker, who has endured a torrid 16 months since his £50 million ($77 million) transfer tom Liverpool, said: “I had a conversation with the owner of Chelsea and he trusts me. His confidence is total and that is what I needed to keep fighting and continue to be essential for the team.”
So the next Chelsea manager will have to play Torres, who was also brought in at the “suggestion” of Roman Abramovich, because the Russian says so. Chelsea has agreed a fee of £32 million ($49 million) with Lille for the transfer of Belgium midfielder Eden Hazard, 21, an incredible sum for a player who has not played in a top European league, in the latter stages of the Champions League or an international tournament.
The cost to Chelsea of Hazard’s five-year contract will be around £90 million ($138 million), taking in his £200,000 ($307,000)-a-week wages and the well-deserved £6 million ($9 million) payment to Cameroonian agent John Bico for his hard work in making the Blues agree to part with the best part of £100 grand for his client.
Would Guardiola want to work for a club where Abramovich’s influence stretches far beyond the role of benefactor. He manages the manager, influences the scouting system and hires and fires whoever he wants. Guardiola is waiting for a club to seduce him but he is unlikely to fall for the Russian’s advances.
He would be a far more natural fit for Manchester United and is a close friend of Sir Alex Ferguson, who tried to buy the former midfielder. I wonder if, knowing Guardiola is available next summer, this could prompt Ferguson to finally call it a day and hand over to a man who would have the freedom to run the club as he sees fit rather than working for an unpredictable hands-on owner.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.