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Refs and racism in focus amid muddle of tactics

October 17, 2011 Tags: , , , Reads 40 comments

It was never going to be a quiet affair. Manchester United at Anfield rarely is and Liverpool’s rejuvenation in recent times ensured a feisty contest from the outset on Saturday lunchtime. Controversial refereeing and post-match accusations of racism simply add to the drama of the occasion, which remains Britain’s biggest and most intensely fought match.

Yet, whatever wrongs United will feel at Charlie Adams’ tumble or Patrice Evra at Luis Suarez’ alleged racist language, Ferguson’s bewildering tactics and team selection also deserve attention. In truth it was not one of the Scot’s finest days, an observation he will only briefly reflect on as fixtures come thick and fast in the coming weeks.

United’s team and formation felt wrong from the start, with far too much negativity, and too many players out of position. That Ferguson’s side went to Anfield in search of a point says much for the Scousers’ progress in recent months, however inconsistent, but for also for United’s attitude after three defeats in-a-row at Anfield. Ferguson sought and was happy with a point from the trip 30 miles west.

The safety-first formation, without Wayne Rooney and Nani until 20 minutes from the end, also included Phil Jones and Darren Fletcher as central midfield holding midfielders. The formation left Ferguson shorn of this campaign’s two best players, while Danny Welbeck was isolated in attack. Meanwhile, Park Ji-Sung, the coward’s winger, focused on retaining United’s shape and not providing attacking impetus. No wonder United appeared so disjointed against a Liverpool outfit that has improved only marginally under Kenny Dalglish from a very low base.

Rooney, said Ferguson, was left out of the fixture after learning of UEFA’s three-match Euro 2012 ban. It was, and remains, a limp excuse, smacking of a manager’s distrust of the player’s recent performances at Anfield. Or his maturity. Or, perhaps, both. “He’s devastated by the suspension,” said Ferguson disingenuously. “I felt with these circumstances that he’s better off starting from the bench.”

Nani’s omission was simply tactical, with Park’s defensive discipline preferred over the Premier League’s leading dribbler and, according the statistics, second best crosser this season. Security over creativity and end-product. It was the same story in central midfield, with Anderson – so often lauded as a potential fantisista (albeit rarely delivering) – dropped in favour of Jones, for the youngster’s first game in midfield for his new club. At Anfield of all places. The experiment failed.

And the muddle so nearly ended in defeat, with Liverpool bossing possession and creating more chances than United, until the final quarter-hour, when Ferguson’s side finally found its attacking feet.

“It only became a good game after Liverpool scored,” Ferguson added. In truth the match only came to life when the Scot introduced Rooney and Nani, and then, with 15 minutes remaining, the match-saver Hernández. Each should have been on from the start demonstrating the bold, creative, attacking play for which United grabbed so many plaudits early in the season. All that now feels a long time gone.

“We looked upon it as a two-team situation as we wanted to make sure there were no silly mistakes,” Sir Alex explained.

“They had no real chances apart from Suarez when there was a lucky break but, other than that, they were never a threat to us. That job had been done, that’s why we were bringing Wayne and Nani on when they scored the goal.

“It was probably a typical United-Liverpool game. It was very intense, of course, and I don’t think the game really got started until Liverpool scored. It was a good game after that. When you’re one-nothing down with 15 minutes to go you can’t be confident, but we’ve got the players who can do that.”

But this tactical muddle has been vastly overshadowed by subsequent events.

First, there is the controversy surrounding Adams’ 67th minute dive to earn Liverpool the goalscoring free-kick. Adam’s was a tumble so blatant that MUTV was today forced to censor United defender Jones’ angry interview on the matter. Midfielder Adams tacitly admitted the dive – albeit under the guise of a denial – claiming that “it’s just the way it goes” when there is minimal contact. Of course it is Charlie, when you live in Steven Gerrard-land!

Then Evra accused Suarez on French TV station Canal Plus of calling the 30-year-old Frenchman a “n****r” at “least 10 times.” It is an accusation that United will take to the Football Association after Evra reiterated his grievance in a meeting with Ferguson on Monday. Uruguayan Suarez “vigorously” denies the allegation, although player and club are hardly likely to do anything else.

“We spoke to Patrice today and he’s adamant that he wants to follow it on,” added the United manager.

“It’s not an easy one because everyone knows that Manchester United and Liverpool have great responsibilities in terms of what happens on the field. I thought Saturday’s game was a terrific game and both sets of fans were good; there was none of the silly chanting we’ve heard in previous years and both sets of supporters deserve praise for that.

“It’s not something that we want to level at Liverpool, and it’s not against Liverpool. Obviously Patrice feels very aggrieved at what was said to him and it rests in the hands of the FA now.”

More concerning though is Liverpool’s reported demand that Evra face sanction should the accusation against Suarez not be proven. In a case that is likely to come down to one man’s word against another, with no conclusive evidence yet forthcoming, the Anfield club’s call is tantamount to denying Evra his moral right to freedom of speech.

Few expect the FA to act on Adam’s dive nor Suarez’ alleged racism, even if the latter is proven.

Highly important though issues of racism and diving are, neither should obscure analysis of United’s sixth average performance in the past seven matches. The other was the reserves’ victory over Leeds United at Elland Road in the Carling Cup. And each has come without Tom Cleverley, in whose absence the heart has grown significantly fonder.

Yet all this adds to a ‘Lancashire’ derby that although no spectacle on the pitch has become one of the more dramatic in recent times. Indeed, the fall out is set to roll on while the FA conducts an investigation of Evra’s allegations. United, meanwhile, may have cause to warn Jones of the negative headlines inflammatory remarks always bring, no matter how in-the-right United’s 19-year-old defender may be.

Meanwhile, Ferguson may well reintroduce the aforementioned Nani, Rooney and Hernández at Romanian no-hopers Otelul Galati in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Figure that one out.

Galati, aside from being the weakest side in this season’s Champions League, is a club also under scrutiny for racism, with the Romanian FA having fined the Romanian champions for racist supporter chanting against Rapid Bucharest earlier this year.

All we need now is an outrageous dive and a controversial goal to complete the full circle this week.

Balotelli ‘lacks respect’ so where’s the FA charge?

April 18, 2011 Tags: , , Reads 30 comments

Mario Balotelli will face no Football Association action after the Italian striker taunted Manchester United players and supporters on Saturday. Running towards the United section at Wembley, the Manchester City player kissed his badge, gesturing towards United supporters. The Italian’s behaviour provoked an on-pitch mêlée, involving Rio Ferdinand, Anderson, Patrice Evra and City coach David Platt.

If Balotelli’s provocation was not severe enough, the 20-year-old then winked sarcastically at Ferdinand as the players left the field. Unsurprisingly, the striker’s behaviour infuriated United’s frustrated players, with Ferdinand and Anderson confronted the player on the Wembley pitch, while winger Nani later criticised the former Inter star for his lack of respect.

“He was showing his badge to our fans. Anderson just took him out from in front of our fans,” said Nani. “Rio was very angry because it is not fair, it was very disrespectful to do that in front of the fans. We were not happy.”

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Ferdinand used social networking site Twitter to voice his post-match criticism of the City player: “If you score a goal and give a bit to opposing fans I kind of accept that, but at the final whistle [you should] go to your own fans and enjoy it, not opposing fans”.

Ferdinand lectured Platt on-the-field, telling the former United youth to “control his players” before pulling the 44-year-old aside to continue the debate post match.

Despite the provocative behaviour the FA will not seek to sanction the £30 million player, even though there is recent precedent involving United. Indeed, former Reds defender Gary Neville twice found the FA’s ire for provoking opposition fans – once fined £5,000 for celebrating a goal in front of Liverpool’s supporters.

And with the FA taking a hard-line on its ‘Respect’ campaign where it suits the organisation, United supporters will ponder the governing body’s inconsistent implementation of its own policy. Sir Alex Ferguson has recently served a five-match ban for criticising referee Martin Atkinson, while Wayne Rooney has missed two games for swearing. The FA’s lack of action over Balotelli only serves to underline United’s sense of frustration with the governing body in recent times.

Not that idiocy involving Balotelli can surprise supporters of any persuasion. The 20-year-old has received more yellow and red cards this season than he has scored goals, while earning a rebuke for throwing darts at a team-mate. The striker was also involved in a training ground fight with Jerome Boateng.

At Inter the striker was dubbed “unmanageable” by former coach José Mourinho, while incurring the wrath of team-mates including Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi.

Balotelli also has a history of winding up opposition – and his own – supporters, having been fined by the Italian FA for offering sarcastic appluase towards racially abusive Chievo fans. He earned a rebuke for wearing an AC Milan shirt on television, and for gesturing at Inter fans after victory over Barcelona at San Siro.

But the most recent Balotelli incident was not the only to highlight the FA’s Respect campaign over the weekend. Much like Balotelli, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish in unlikely to face FA charges after twice swearing at Arséne Wenger on Sunday. As the curtain came down on a dramatic match, Wenger reacted angrily to Dalglish’s attempted handshake, with the Scot first telling the Arsenal manager to “p*ss off” and then to “f*ck off” in quick succession, all for the aural pleasure of watching Sky Sports subscribers.

In fact Rant has recorded more than a dozen similar cases of audible swearing in the fortnight since Rooney’s FA sanction. In reality there are probably hundreds of acts of disrespect towards players, officials and fans each week, with the Soho Square-based body choosing only to enforce its own rules when the media spotlight demands.

In that there is a serious conflict between the FA’s demand for Respect – something clearly lacking in Balotelli’s actions – and the organisation’s ability to manage its campaign. There is even specific provision under section E of the body’s own rulebook to stamp out offensive and disrespectful behaviour.

“A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game,” states the FA’s own rule book.

“[Players] shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”

It is a provision that the FA only enforces intermittently. Something for which Balotelli is surely grateful.

United times peak to perfection

April 7, 2011 Tags: , , , Reads 14 comments

Perhaps there is something in the Spring sunshine that has enveloped the nation. Not only is the Manchester United squad approaching full fitness for the first time in months but Sir Alex Ferguson’s team has twice won on the road inside a week. Where failure has come all too often this season, Ferguson’s side succeeded away from Old Trafford; the Scot’s side did so with some panache too.

Indeed, such is the momentous nature of the Reds’ victories over West Ham United and Chelsea over the past four days that even off-the-field distraction cannot detract from the club’s confidence-boosting achievement. Ferguson is part way though a five-match touchline ban, of course, while star striker Wayne Rooney will begin a two-match sanction that will keep the 25-year-old out of this weekend’s game with Fulham and then the FA Cup semi-final. Yet, even the Football Association’s senselessness is unlikely to divert the confidence now coursing through the United collective.

It’s a far cry from the sense of doom brought with successive defeats at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool and then Chelsea at the turn of the year. It is no exaggeration to say those losses threatened the very core of United’s season. With games due against Arsenal in the FA Cup and then Marseille in the Champions League there was a genuine chance that Ferguson’s ‘team without stardust’ might enter spring staring at failure.

Perhaps, in the most unlikely of circumstances, Ferguson’s team of seven defenders – the one which inexplicably knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup – has made a season. It has certainly broken Arsenal’s. Defeat to the Gunners would have been a third in succession, potentially mentally and physically damaging beyond repair. Instead, the vibrant nature of United’s cup victory not only broke a sequence but ushered home a new sense of belief at Old Trafford.

Champions League victory almost inevitably followed against Marseille before Dimitar Berbatov poked home a last-gasp winner against Bolton Wanderers to maintain a sense of momentum. Destiny? Perhaps not. Great timing; absolutely.

Rooney’s two-match ban, confirmed by a duplicitous FA commission on Thursday morning, will affect United’s chances in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City next weekend of course, although Ferguson was always likely to rotate his resources. In the current mood, the ban will do little but help Ferguson circle his wagons and Rooney will take a well-earned rest in time for United’s final push towards the finishing line.

Still, the striker issued a surprisingly blunt statement after today’s FA announcement, reflecting both Rooney’s anger and that of the club. That Rooney’s sanction is both severe, unprecedented and not reflective of his crime – or rapid apology – was well understood in United’s management team. The dismay at the game’s governing body cannot be underplayed.

“I am gutted to miss two matches, one of which is an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley,” said the player’s statement.

“I am not the first player to have sworn on TV and I won’t be the last. Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologised immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing. That doesn’t seem right.

“Whatever, I have to accept that what’s happened has happened and move on from here. That’s what I intend to do.”

Even so, with key defender Rio Ferdinand now fit, Antonio Valencia back into a groove so soon after breaking his leg last September and Anderson due to return at the weekend, even Rooney’s ban will not unduly concern Ferguson . Indeed, the Scot’s team has overcome far greater obstacles this season already.

There is also little doubt that Ferguson’s outfit is finding form and fitness at the right time. Fulham arrive on Saturday, followed in quick succession by Chelsea and City in cup competitions. Whatever the knock-out results United’s form points to victory over the Cottagers, with games against lowly  Newcastle United in the North East and then Everton at home to come before May.

Nine points – whether the club remains in the FA Cup and Champions League or not – and United will surely be close to a 19th domestic title.

“Everyone is very happy. We’ve got a great result, scored the away goal and kept a clean sheet. That’s what we wanted before the game,” captain Nemanja Vidic said of United’s victory at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

“We weren’t afraid to come here and play with two forwards; we did that last time and played some good football.

“The job is not done yet. It will be difficult but with our crowd behind us I believe.”

Work to be done perhaps, but form says Ferguson should throw an FA Cup final and Champions League semi into the mix. It’s a remarkable transition in United’s fortunes.

The FA – that’s f*cking what

April 4, 2011 Tags: , Reads 82 comments

‘Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don’t say any naughty woids’, to paraphrase Sheila Broflovski. It is seemingly the Football Association’s new mantra, after the governing body’s decision to charge Wayne Rooney with using “offensive, insulting and / or abusive language” today. After all, the body did little when Jamie Carragher sliced open Nani’s left shin; nor when Ashley Cole shot a Chelsea intern; nor when Michael Essien attempted major surgery at the weekend.

Rooney’s crime?

“You fucking beauty,” screamed the striker after lashing home his personal third against West Ham United at the weekend. “What, fucking, what?,” he added as the Sky Sports camera was thrust into his face.

Yet, the FA’s decision is more than simply inconsistent, it smacks of gross victimisation. Indeed, in a sport rife with blue language, used on the pitch and in the terraces, the FA’s response is that of an organisation weak beyond contempt and driven by the media agenda that seeks only to scandalise.

Given the body’s role as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner it is almost certain the 25-year-old Manchester United striker will receive a two match ban – three if he appeals – ruling Rooney out of the Reds’ games against Fulham and the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City. It is a gross injustice – one that could cost United in both the Premier League and FA Cup.

‘Ah but think of the children’, critics say, including the BBC, which repeated the apparently offending words at 7.30am on Sunday. For the sake of editorial integrity of course. Then there’s Sky Sports News, Rupert Murdoch’s rolling channel that has played the clip ad infinitum since Saturday lunchtime. The same broadcaster that  thrust the camera into Rooney’s face to start with.

Not that there’s a five-year-old in the country who doesn’t hear Rooney’s words repeatedly in the playground. After all, Rooney is no role model; he certainly shouldn’t be. For the ‘sake of the children’ it is those five-year-old’s parents that ought to perform the role.

Yet, while Rooney’s actions at the Boleyn Ground were crass – embarrassing even – the striker almost immediately apologised. In recognising the potential offence caused, the striker sent a clear message that he was genuinely sorry. It should be more than enough.

The FA is having none of it. Not that the body can even call on precedent to support its cause. The F-word is used repeatedly and often audibly at every match in the country without punishment. The governing body is simply reacting to the greater publicly garnered because it is a United player.

Chaired by a former City board member, declared not fit for purpose by the government and desperate to alter the focus off its faltering team, the FA has seized upon a new cause. Swearing! Forget the nation’s technically inept side. Cast away the billion pound Premier League debt. Turn a blind eye to rampant ticket price inflation. Just don’t say any naughty words.

Those inside the game, save for hypocrite Harry Redknapp and his next employers at the FA, know better of course.

“It doesn’t come across very well, but I think you’ve got to understand the emotion of everything,” former Red Gary Pallister told Sky Sports today.

“He’s not the first player to swear when he scores a goal, I think you see a lot players doing it – when you score a goal and the emotions come out, industrial language is part of that release. It’s unfortunate that he did it to the camera, but he’s apologised and I honestly think that’s enough.”

After all, Rooney has suffered months of abuse from the terraces; much of it predictable, plenty no more acceptable than the player’s own words. Not least at the Boleyn Ground where home supporters treated Rooney to a round of “you’re just a fat fucking Scouser” and “you’re just a fat granny-shagger,” both were audible to attending supporters, including presumably ‘ the children’. Had Sky Sport’s pitch-side mics been attenuated towards the stand, not the players, viewers at home would surely have heard the words too.

And that is a crucial point. Broadcasters, the FA, referees, supporters and ‘the children’ all know that crude language is regularly used during football matches. It is part of the earthy excitement. Yet, all choose to ignore it until live cameras are pointed directly at Rooney and the FA gets another shot at its strange kind of glory.

You fucking what? As Rooney might say.

Cricket accepts Davies; football wouldn’t

March 1, 2011 Tags: , , , Reads 18 comments

Steven Davies, the England international cricketer, who chose on Monday to publicly embrace his homosexuality, does so in an environment of mature acceptence. His England teammates reacted to the news from the 23-year-old wicketkeeper, which came out prior to this winter’s Ashes Tour, with a response hoped for but not expected in football.

Indeed, football, from terrace homophobia that is the norm not the exception, to a top top-down culture that embraces discrimination at its very core, is a world away from an environment in which a top international player feels safe to publicly declare his sexuality.

Macho, aggressive, and unaccepting, one wonders whether the football community – fans, players, administrators – can ever accept a player for what he his, and not his sexual orientation. After all, when the sport’s leading figure Sepp Blatter reacted to criticism of Qatar’s selection to host the 2022 World Cup, his was one of childish sniggering. Qatar remains a country where it is illegal to be gay.

“I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities,” said Blatter of those concerned about the treatment of gay fans at the 2022 tournament. The FIFA President later issued a weak apology, stating that it was not his “intention” to discriminate against homosexual fans.

Davies’ bravery in coming out with his career ahead is not in the act in but understanding that prejudice is still deeply ingrained in society, especially in the confines of sporting dressing rooms. Yet cricket’s collective reaction to Davies’ statement today appears a metaphorical ‘so what’? It is impossible to imagine a similarly mature response from football fans, let alone fellow players or administrators.

Indeed, in the more than 30 years since Justin Fashanu – the first professional to come out – was driven to his suicide football has seemingly achieved little. There is little serious attempt to do so from within the game, save for an FA sponsored video last year. That the governing body was unable to attract leading footballers to take part in the video paints just as vivid a picture.

Gordon Taylor, president of the Professional Footballers Association, admitted last year that tackling homophobia is simply “not very high on the agenda.” And when Croatian FA President Vlatko Markovic claimed that “luckily, only normal people play football” few in football’s glitterati offered the criticism his words deserved.

“While I’m a president of the Croatian Football Federation, there will be no homosexuals playing in the national team”, added Markovic mirroring a culture in which discrimination is not only accepted but sponsored by the game’s authorities.

Homophobic language is endemic, not only in administration, but on the terraces and wider football community too. Tottenham Hotspur supporters’ disgraceful degradation of Sol Campbell, and Arsenal fans of Ashley Cole are just two examples of homosexuality continually being used as a pejorative by supporters.

When Michael Becker, Michael Ballack’s agent, described the German national side as a “bunch of gays” after the team’s elimination from World Cup 2010 in South Africa he aped the words of a thousand supporters and some players too. After all, Rio Ferdinand, lauded as a leading figure in anti-violence and racism movements in the game was moved to call DJ Chris Moyles a “faggot” live on Radio 1.

Manchester United supporters are not immune to this culture either, as witnessed by the childish internet gossip about John O’Shea’s sexuality up to the defender’s marriage last summer.

These events bring into question whether the football world could both accept an active gay player in its midst and deal with the potential consequences, including media intrusion, supporter ridicule, and peer anger.

Yet the Rugby community seemingly accepted Gareth Thomas’ coming out last year, with both support and maturity. Rugby League’s refusal to tolerate abuse on or off the field of Welsh international Thomas set an example FIFA simply will not.

Some are swimming against the tide of homophobia though. In reaction to Becker’s comments Ballack’s club Bayer Leverkusen refuted the remarks. “At Bayer Leverkusen we have absolutely no resentment towards homosexuals,” it said in a statement last July.

Meanwhile Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez called on gay colleagues to come out, pointing to a “gay vice chancellor and a gay mayor of Berlin” as evidence that “footballers should confess themselves as well.”

Words though are not enough if football is to stamp out homophobia as it has tried – although too often failed – to eliminate racism. “There is no place in the game for homophobic abuse, ” said the FA two years ago. The governining body has done little to make good on its words though.

Until it does and the wider football community grows with its leaders, Davies’ ‘bravery’ will simply not be matched in football – the game loved by fans of all orientation.

Government finally acts on ownership in face of inept regulation

March 29, 2010 Tags: , , , Reads No comments

Supporters’ anger, from Manchester United to Portsmouth, via Liverpool, Southend and Crystal Palace, with club governance has finally translated into a promise for firmer regulation by the government. In the week that United faces Bayern Munich, a club 51 per cent owned by the supporters, action is welcomed better late than never.

Under the proposals, which will form part of the Labour party’s general election manifesto, the government will give supporters a significant voice in the ownership and management of clubs. Plans, as yet not fully fleshed out, propose fans be given the right to a 25 per cent stake in their club as a legal minimum.

The government is also planning to forcibly streamline the Football Association (FA), five years after the Lord Burns report was largely ignored by the governing body, according to a report in the Guardian over the weekend.

Legislative proposals mark a stark change in the Labour government’s approach to football, in the lead up to May’s general election, after 13 years of laissez-faire that has enabled football to blossom financially but fail key stakeholders such as supporters.

The Premier League will this week tie up yet another record overseas media rights deal but it is a league responsible for more than 50 per cent of net debt throughout the major European competitions: much of which lies on the books of United under the Glazer regime. Moreover, 14 of 20 Premier League clubs now has a suspended credit rating.

Yet the Premier League has consistently backed a light touch approach to regulation that says football is governed no differently to any other industry. It has enabled the leveraged takeovers at Liverpool and United, together with the astonishing financial meltdown of Portsmouth, through a narrow ‘fit and proper’ test that looks only at owners’ criminal past.

It is perhaps ironic then that United visits Munich this week, whose debt-free financial model is in stark contrast to those in the Premier League. While four-times European Cup winners Bayern cannot boast the financial might of those clubs at the top of the European food chain, the supporters’ majority stake ensures that the club’s governance is in fans’ interest.

Not that a side containing Arjen Robben, Franc Ribéry and Miroslav Klose is a pauper in European terms. Robben, for example, cost the South German side more than £20 million when the Dutchman joined from Real Madrid in the summer. The club’s space-age new stadium (above) is also the envy of many European clubs.

Indeed, the eyes of Europe can now cast envious glances towards Germany where the financial problems faced in England, Italy and Spain are not mirrored. In times of supporter strife in England, the legislated German ownership model of 50 per cent plus one share in the hands of fans is now widely seen as a sensible balance between competing interests.

It is perhaps surprising then that the Conservative party’s sports spokesperson, Hugh Robertson, has been so dismissive of government proposals this week, preferring instead to push for supporter representation at board level without regulating ownership structures.

Still, Supporters’ Direct, the body set up with the government’s support to ensure fans’ trusts flourish, believes a new direction will emerge whatever party wins the upcoming election.

“The two parties – one of which will form the basis of the next government – both agree fans should have a stake in the clubs they support and are pledged to work to make it happen,” Supporters’ Direct ceo Dave Boyle said of the government proposals.

“That’s great news for the trust movement and long-overdue recognition that clubs aren’t businesses like any other.

“We look forward to the next government – whoever it is – putting fans at the heart of the game and we will work with them to make it happen”

In the week Andersred confirmed the £80 million fee gained for Cristiano Ronaldo will head straight out of United’s bank account to pay down the Glazer family’s PiK debt, change cannot come soon enough.


Even FA chief thought Fergie was right

March 23, 2010 Tags: , , Reads 11 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion that the Football Association (FA) is inconsistent in disciplinary matters has received backing from on high, according to reports today. FA chief executive Ian Watmore quit amid rumours of personality clashes on the FA’s board. And Watmore has privately backed Ferguson’s claims, according an ESPN report.

Ferguson, angered that Manchester United players have suffered sanction at the FA’s hands when competitors have not, accused the governing body of being inconsistent. It’s an assertion Watmore – an Arsenal season ticket holder – apparently agrees with.

The matter came to a head with the recent suspension of Rio Ferdinand for three matches after an incident with Hull City’s Craig Fagan. The FA added an extra match to the ban for what it described as a “frivolous” appeal.

Meanwhile Liverpool midfielders Javier Mascherno and Steven Gerrard escaped punished for almost identical incidents this season, while Thomas Vermalen’s rejected appeal for an obvious red card at the weekend did not merit an additional match ban according to the FA.

The FA also provided no charge for Gerrard’s involvement in two unsavory incidents in recent matches. First, the Scouser told an official to “f*ck off” before raising a two-fingered salute. Then a week later the Liverpool captain caught Portsmouth’s Michael Brown with a stray elbow.

Meanwhile, Mascherano received no FA charge despite clubbing a Leeds United defender in the back of the head.

“There is no consistency,” said Ferguson of the FA’s disciplinary unit, frequented as it is by amateur county association ‘blazers’.

“It is a dysfunctional unit. I didn’t expect anything to happen to Steven Gerrard. I don’t know what they are doing. There is no consistency for a start and I didn’t expect to get any.”

Ferguson’s anger stems from the injudicious FA decisions in recent years. These include – but are certainly not limited to – Rio Ferdinand’s eight month ban and £50,000 fine for missing a drug test while Manchester City’s Christian Negouai received just a £2,000 fine and no suspension for the same crime.

Almost unbelievably Greaseproof Gerrard – nothing sticks – received a red card in the pre-season Amsterdam Tournament and received no suspension. United’s Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney were sent from the field in the same competition and each missed three Premier League matches at the FA’s behest.

In 2008, the FA hit Patrice Evra with a four match ban for hitting a Chelsea groundsman despite video evidence demonstrating that the Frenchman had categorically thrown no punch. Worse still, the organisation then attempted to smear United’s coaching staff by releasing carefully selected notes from the supposedly private meeting.

By contrast Manchester City’s Craig Bellamy punched a pitch invader in United’s 4-3 derby victory earlier this season and received no ban despite the incident taking place on national TV. All the more shocking given that the supporter had already been restrained by stewards.

The FA’s board, on which United managing director David Gill sits, today attempted to deny stories of in-fighting. This coming from the organisation that has still not built the National Football Centre in Burton due to internal disagreements, more than a decade after buying the land on which the compound should by now sit.

It is also the body which has overseen the financial problems at Portsmouth, Southend, Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Notts County, while allowing United and Liverpool’s owners to burden the clubs with hundreds of millions in debt.

Unbelievelably the FA still insists that an industry awash with money but responsible for 56 per cent of all football debt in Europe needs no further regulation.

No wonder Watmore jumped ship. United fans can only hope that the hypocrite Gill takes his place.

Video: Will Gerrard get banned for this?

March 16, 2010 Tags: , , Video 20 comments

Steven Gerrard lashes out at Portsmouth’s Michael Brown during Liverpool’s 4-1 Premier League win last night. The referee failed to spot the incident so the Football Association (FA) can deal with it under their video review regulations.

Under the FA’s fast-track procedure Gerrard faces a three match ban, beginning with this weekend’s trip to Old Trafford. Will the FA act against Gerrard, who escape without punishment after offering a referee a two fingered salute recently? Rio Ferdinand might have an opinion on that.

No chance of Ferdinand appeal succeeding

January 27, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 2 comments

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand will face a Football Association hearing on Thursday in the knowledge that he will serve at least a three match ban. The player, who has appeared just once for United since 25 October, risks an extended suspension if the FA disciplinary committee decides his appeal his ‘frivolous’.

Ferdinand’s decision, made with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, means that the England international is free to play against Manchester City tonight, before starting his suspension ahead of the Arsenal game on Sunday, with Portsmouth and Aston Villa to come. The FA, which will dismiss any appeal, can add an up to a further two games to the suspension. In that case Ferdinand would miss the Carling Cup final.

Video evidence, which shows Ferdinand striking Hull City’s Craig Fagan with an arm, means that the former-West Ham United player must plead either precedent or accident at the hearing. Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano faced no sanction after clearly striking a Leeds United player in the Carling Cup earlier this season.

Rio Ferdinand versus Hull City

Javier Mascherano versus Leeds United (47 seconds)

FA charges Ferdinand with violent conduct

January 26, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 2 comments

The Football Association has charged Rio Ferdinand with violent conduct after the defender’s clash with Hull City’s Craig Fagan at the weekend. Ferdinand, appearing in his first Manchester United match since 25 October, will serve a three match ban, with the FA acting as prosecutor, judge and jury in disciplinary cases.

Ferdinand, 30, has appeared just nine times this season while undergoing a comprehensive rehabilitation programme to cure a long-term back problem. However, the defender appeared to swing an arm at Hull’s Fagan during a tussle in the United area during the match, which the home side won 4-0.

The charge will be heard on 28 January, with Ferdinand likely to miss United’s matches against Arsenal, Portsmouth and Aston Villa after the decision is made.

However, the FA once again stands accused of hypocrisy by charging a United player with an offence when the governing body missed earlier incidents. Compare Ferdinand’s challenge to that of Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano, below.

Rio Ferdinand versus Hull City

Javier Mascherano versus Leeds United (47 seconds)