LONDON – “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
— Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi knew a thing or two about winning, leading the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls. For him, winning was not the most important thing, it was the only thing.
Yet a loser can still show class in defeat even if inside he is burning. English football is populated by bad losers, those who will not accept that on the day their team simply wasn’t as good as the opposition.
A scapegoat must be found, the buck must be passed, and this is where the referee is so useful. Managers moan about referees, but where would they be without them?
Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid was blamed on Cuneyt Cakir for sending off Nani in the 56th minute after a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa.
Man United’s exit was the Turkish official’s fault, no one else’s. Not Sir Alex Ferguson, not his players . . . just Cakir. The scoreline was really: Manchester United 1 Cakir 2.
I did not think the challenge by Nani was serious foul play, it was not brutal, though Arbeloa, giving the impression his career could be at risk, completed the obligatory two rollovers before miraculously managing to play on, albeit for two minutes before he was replaced by Luka Modric.
My view was based on the diet of jagged edge tackles that are not seen as red card offenses in England, but while the English game allows, even encourages, potential bone-breaking challenges, they are outlawed by UEFA.
In the Premier League, Nani would have been cautioned for his lunge at Arbeloa.
Cakir, following the guidelines given by UEFA referees supremo Pierluigi Collina who stressed to his officials that the safety of players is paramount, sent off Nani. In England we have become conditioned to such tackles being unpunished or seen as a cautionable offense.
The Football Association does not help by overturning red cards given for serious foul play — UEFA would never do that.
We need re-educating, but as England gave the world the game, the inbred arrogance insists we are right and everyone else is wrong.
It is not possible that United lost because in 90 minutes at Old Trafford none of their players scored. The two goals United conceded came when they were down to 10 men — what further proof is needed that it was the referee’s fault?
It was not because they lost their tactical awareness after the sending off or that Ferguson failed to take off an attacking player and replace him with someone more defensive, whereas Jose Mourinho immediately saw an advantage and substituted fullback Arbeloa with Modric to go for the jugular. Modric scored the equalizer.
It couldn’t be that in the first leg with the score 1-1 Robin van Persie missed what for him was an open goal, his lobbed shot not properly hit and cleared off the line.
By going in with a foot high, Nani gave the referee the opportunity to send him off. If you don’t give the referee the chance to make a decision you cannot be in trouble.
Because Nani would not have been sent off in a domestic game we assume it is wrong that he was dismissed in the Champions League. That we could be wrong is out of the question.
While going down to 10 men does not help a team, it is not a guaranteed recipe for defeat.
Chelsea had John Terry dismissed in Barcelona last season when it was losing 1-0 but drew 2-2.
The goals United conceded to Modric and, inevitably, Cristiano Ronaldo were not because of United’s numerical disadvantage, it was because of poor defending which would probably have happened with 11 players on the field.
Ferguson was so distraught (translation — angry) he did not attend the mandatory post-match news conference which will draw a UEFA fine.
The Blame Cakir Club failed to mention that Rafael was fortunate not to have been sent off and concede a penalty when he stopped a shot with a hand, the official behind the goal failing to see what he is there for.
Football-wise we are becoming a nation of moaners and whingers, too often unable to accept that defeat was because of a team’s failings and not due to any perceived refereeing mistakes. If all else fails, there is always the old hardy annual of the UEFA anti-England agenda.
England doesn’t do dignity in defeat. Instead, we see a nation hell bent on revenge for Johnny Foreigner cheating us.
When Urs Meier disallowed Sol Campbell’s last minute potential winning goal against Portugal at Euro 2004 for a foul on goalkeeper Ricardo by John Terry, all hell let loose. UEFA and English ex-referees said Meier’s decision was correct, but the mob mentality demanded retribution on the person who was seen to have robbed the team of victory.
The Sun put a flag of St. George outside the shop run by the Swiss official who went into hiding with police protection after receiving death threats and hate emails from England.
Supermarket chain Asda offered Swiss nationals a free eye test.
The country that gave football to the world cannot possibly be wrong and as we refuse to take off our blinkers this attitude will never change.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.