LONDON – Last weekend it was handshakes, now it is chanting. The sad thing about English football at the moment is that too often football is taking a back seat.
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, met with his Premier League counterpart, Richard Scudamore, this week to discuss pre-match handshakes. Not racism, diving, violent challenges, UEFA’s financial fair play system or that two-thirds of the elite league now comprises overseas players. Nothing as trivial as that. Handshakes.
Taylor even said Handshake-gate was becoming like “some mafia feud.”
The handshake controversy has been caused by two players, Chelsea captain John Terry (if you looked up “controversy” in the dictionary, it would probably have his photo by it) and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
Manchester City’s Wayne Bridge refused to shake Terry’s hand last season because of an alleged off-the-field incident and twice the England international has been involved in non-shakes with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand for well-documented reasons. Suarez was found guilty of using a racist remark to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra but any handshake is unlikely to be an issue when the teams meet at Anfield on Sunday as the Frenchman probably won’t play.
Two of the most powerful men in English football met because opponents did not want to shake the hand of two, yes two, players. It is a FIFA rule and world football’s governing body is unlikely to scrap it because of a problem involving a couple of players in one of their 203 member associations, though some who typify the built-in arrogance of English football believe this is what should happen.
LIVERPOOL vs. Manchester United is potentially the nastiest of Premier League rivalries. An element of the support of both clubs can make matches decidedly unpleasant with sick songs and chants about Munich and Heysel, the low-lifes who hide behind a pseudonym on Twitter and spew out their foul vitriol.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson led the way in the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report on the tragedy with a plea for both sets of fans to be respectful. But how sad that he felt he had to ask for something that should be taken for granted — respecting the dead.
My concern is that such words will act as a challenge in the warped minds of the morons who believe it is funny to make fun of the deceased. We have reached a stage when a dozen fans can make the headlines with a vile chant.
AFTER Liverpool vs. Manchester United, Super Sunday continues with Arsenal’s visit to Manchester City, making it the sort of armchair football afternoon that can cause a divorce or at the least a promised shopping spree in exchange for being a Premier League couch potato.
Arsenal began the season with the usual criticism that they cannot hold on to their best players such as Robin van Persie, who had joined Manchester United, and that the new arrivals were not up to standard. Same old, same old. Not for the first time Arsene Wenger has been able to hand out the humble pie as undefeated Arsenal sits in third place having conceded a Premier League-best one goal.
A morale-boosting 2-1 win in Montpelier was further proof it is not all doom and gloom at Arsenal, which travels to Etihad Stadium in good heart to take on City, which pressed the self-destruct in the final minutes at the Bernabeu on Tuesday and then went to war afterwards.
Having conceded two goals in the final three minutes to lose 3-2 to Real Madrid, Joe Hart gave an emotional television interview in which he said “we can only blame ourselves” and should not “pat ourselves on the back” for a plucky defeat.
The goalkeeper’s honesty and bravery to face the cameras minutes after such a loss won his many admirers but manager Roberto Mancini was not among them, criticizing the England international and saying: “I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”
It was an over-reaction by Mancini, who picked the wrong target for his frustration. Hart was showing an honesty and professionalism City needs; Mancini should be more concerned by a less than convincing start to the season which has seen a switch between three central defenders and a back-four plus a lack of continuity in selection.
Mancini must also deal with, surprise surprise, fit-again Mario Balotelli, who has had an eye condition but was reportedly dropped from City’s squad that flew to Madrid because of his lifestyle.
Balotelli was photographed in the early hours of last Sunday morning at a night club and though the striker was told he was not part of the squad to face Real, he was made to travel to Madrid. Mancini is also concerned about Balotelli’s smoking habit and while it is not known how many cigarettes a day he smokes, the manager thinks one is one too many.
The Italy international famously wore a T-shirt with the wording: “Why always me?” Because, Mario, it is always you, that’s why.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.