Tag Patrice Evra

Tag Patrice Evra

Tactical evolution key to mitigating United’s weaknesses

September 11, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 8 comments
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In the three seasons between 2006 and 2009 Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand formed possibly the best central defensive partnership football has ever seen. Ferdinand was no push over in the air, enabling United to play deep when necessary. Meanwhile, the pressing game with a high defensive line was no problem either because Vidić had the pace to recover.

Indeed, prior to the 2008-09 Champions League final, Manchester United was expected to defeat Barcelona with the Reds’ defensive solidity often cited by pundits and fans as United’s big advantage.

As the pair aged each has become more injury prone, with younger players such as Jonny Evans increasingly filling the gaps. Yet, Vidić and Ferdinand have remained first choice despite their noticeable lack of pace; perhaps David de Gea’s initial inexperience and timidity called for calm hands at the back.

However, Evans has firmly established himself as the automatic choice to partner either the Englishman or the Serbian when one of them is absent. The Northern Irishman does not possess Phil Jones’ natural talent, nor does he have Chris Smalling’s physical attributes, but he has more top flight games under his belt and offer keen tactical awareness.

Last season Evans was typically deployed as the left-sided central defender. However, when Jones or Smalling was deployed at right-back, the academy graduate shifted right as well. Since deployment at centre-back is fundamentally different from doing so as a full back and it makes perfect sense to have Evans, who is positionally excellent, and quick enough to mop things up if necessary.

There were other interesting combinations. Smalling was preferred on the left when he partnered Vidić. Despite his height, the former Fulham player is more comparable to Ferdinand than Vidić in style. Crucially, the Englishman offers mobility over the Serbian – for some reason Sir Alex Ferguson always preferred his left sided central defender– be it Evans or Smalling – to be mobile.

Perhaps a clue lies in Ferguson’s assessment of his left-back, Patrice Evra. The Frenchman enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2012-13, but he has never been a particularly good defender. Poor positionally, Evra has always relied on his pace and the centre-back partnering him on the left side to counter the opposition.

Given Evra’s weaknesses it made perfect sense to have the quicker of the central duo on the left and Ferguson’s preference for Evans and Smalling in that position is justified.


Data from the 2012-13 season suggest that central defenders tend to put in more tackles, commit and suffer more fouls and get involved in more headed duels when playing with Evra on the left. The implication is that United’s opposition has often targeted Evra as the defensive weakness in United’s back-four.

Other data supports this theory. Evra’s impressive rate of winning headers last season has often been brought up. Indeed, Evra’s 62 per cent success rate dwarfs Leighton Baines’ 39 per cent and Ashley Cole at 53 percent. However, Evra dealt with 3.21 headed duels per game when Baines dealt with 0.74 and Cole with 1.29. Despite being shorter than the former Monaco player, and worse in the air, Rafael, on the right, got involved in 2.14 aerial duels per game.


Full-backs’ primary offensive role is to create chances. In that aspect, Evra compares very favourably to Fabio Coentrão and Baines – David Moyes’ two defensive targets this summer. But it is the defensive statistics that confirm why the new United manager went looking for a new left-back.

Evra’s low proportion of interceptions in defensive actions, and the fact that the Frenchman committed more fouls per game suggest that his positioning is poor compared to Coentrão and Baines. Coincidentally, the figure has shrunk to 17.9 per cent this season. But the data from last season suggests that the Everton left-back would have provided greater security at the back, while offering offensive qualities at least as equal to Evra’s.

Additionally, there are tactical implications. Moyes’ side has faced significant challenges this season and most of them are caused by the team sitting too deep – Vidic and Ferdiand’s pace necessitating the move. With Evans, Smalling and Phil Jones coming back into action, the Scot can consider pushing his team up once again.

Fellaini’s acquisition adds a little bite in central midfield and pressing as a defensive measure has now become a viable option. However, it is difficult to foresee a manager with Moyes’ reactive tendencies setting up a pressing game with a positionally poor left back who is clearly being targeted by the opposition.

There are alternatives though: a midfield diamond might solve many of Moyes’ defensive problems, and release attacking options. Fitting in Shinji Kagawa, a player who can offer the creative spark United is desperately seeking, is easy. Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie would be free to move into wide areas in search of space, which should ameliorate the lack of width prevalent in the diamond.

With Fellaini’s arrival United now has the number and variety needed for a midfield heavy plan. The deep-lying midfielder can cover advancing full-backs without worrying about losing the midfield battle. And with United’s options on the flanks limited, using Fellaini’s brawn and Kagawa’s brain appears a more productive approach.

The plan has weaknesses; attacks down the flanks – especially quick counterattacks – are extremely dangerous, but United already faces that challenge with teams targeting the left flank. Meanwhile, United’s full-backs, starting in the Swansea game, tended to concede the ground, come inside and defend the box anyway.

Putting theory to work is difficult, nor is there any guarantee that it will work. Sir Alex had experimented with the formation last season so Moyes has a base from which he can work. The transfer window has closed and the winter market is notoriously bare – the new manager now has make do with what he has. Tactical evolution may be the answer.

Fabio departure leaves Evra unchallenged

April 18, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 17 comments

Fábio da Silva’s impending departure on loan to an as yet unnamed destination is likely to remove the last challenge, if there ever genuinely was, to Patrice Evra’s supremacy in the Manchester United left-back slot. This will necessitate that Sir Alex Ferguson dips into the transfer market this summer, both for the good of his squad and, indeed, the French defender.

In confirming that Fábio will leave the club on loan next season Ferguson has once again placed faith in one of his most enduring lieutenants. After all, Evra has averaged almost 48 games a season over the past five years, and is now coming towards the end of his seventh season with the club, with 288 appearances in all competitions.

Yet, the Frenchman could benefit greatly from increased competition at Old Trafford. Certainly, only Evra’s most staunch supporters will deny a decline in the left-back’s form post 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Indeed, data on Evra’s performances supports the proposition that the left-back suffered a slump in form during the 2010/11 campaign. The Frenchman made fewer passes, touched the ball less often, completed fewer crosses, shots of goal diminished, and he created a quarter of the goals of the previous campaign. Evra also covered less ground in 2010/11, dribbled less frequently and spent less time in attacking areas than in the previous season.

Away from the data, many United fans believe Evra is, or was in 2010/11, far from the buccaneering left-back who was widely accredited with being the finest in his position in the world for two years previously.

Yet, there have also been encouraging signs in recent months of an improvement in the Frenchman’s form – most prominently since the drama of the ‘Luis Suarez’ affair died down in the early new year. Many of those data points have returned to pre-World Cup levels, suggesting that the mental and physical fatigue brought about by five years of incessant football had taken their toll on the defender, and a long rest last summer helped.

But not all of Evra’s performance data is where it once was – the Frenchman is spending less time in the final third, making fewer attacking passes, the number of shots have diminished, and he is putting in less crosses than two years ago.

It is also common sense that the Senegalese-born defender is unlikely to improve in the coming seasons. After all, with Evra so heavily used in the past, and turning 31 in May, Ferguson will soon begin the process of winding down his reliance on the Frenchman. Burn out, with Evra likely to travel to Euro 2012 with the French squad this summer, is quite possible if Ferguson uses Evra for more than 40 games once again next season.

Many supporters, and most likely Sir Alex too, had hoped that Fábio would provide both the challenge to Evra’s hegemony – and the boost in performance that competition often brings – together with a well-earned respite for the senior man. It hasn’t come to pass, partly because of Evra’s ongoing endurance, and also thanks to the younger man’s frequent injuries.

The young Brazilian has played just 53 games – 36 starts – for United since making his début over three years ago. And while the Fábio claimed United’s right-back berth in time to start last season’s Champions League final, he has made no progress this season, starting just twice in the Premier League.

This regression has prompted a club rethink, with the youngster no longer seen as Evra’s heir-apparent, but instead requiring the match hardening only regular football will bring.

“I hope that Fabio will develop the same way as his twin [Rafael] and, to help him, he will go out on loan next season to give him concentrated first-team experience,” Sir Alex wrote in Sunday’s programme notes.

“I have already talked to him and he understands the value of playing regularly at a higher level than we can give him at the moment.”

By contrast twin brother Rafael – once considered the lesser of the siblings – has now appeared in 88 matches for the club, having claimed the right-back slot for his own during the run-in. While United is seemingly likely to bring in Nathaniel Clyne from Crystal Palace to provide Rafael with competition, the Brazilian will surely start next season as Sir Alex’ first choice at right-back.

Meanwhile, United is likely to welcome suitors for Fábio with open-arms, although the player has already spoken of a move to Benfica this summer. Ferguson though is more likely to prompt the young Brazilian to join a Premier League club, where United’s coaches can more easily monitor the 21-year-old’s progress. Moreover, stories of Fábio becoming a make-weight in a potential deal for Benfica’s Argentinian midfielder Nicolas Gaitan are almost certainly wide of the mark.

“I am excited about the opportunity to play for Benfica, being a famous and great team,” Fábio reportedly told Portuguese paper O Jogo.

“I feel very honored by the interest of Benfica, but my transfer now depends on Manchester United completing negotiations.”

Fabio’s departure leaves Evra as United’s only left-back, with youngster Ezikiel Fryers likely to leave in the summer when he is out of contract. But Ferguson is also unlikely to be handed millions for a new left-back, with spending on a new midfielder and, possibly, a striker a priority. This will leave Evra to play almost every fixture next season – save for injury – unchallenged.

Speculation is already rife that United will bring in a new man though, with club scouts having been seen watching the excellent Spanish youngster Jordi Alba of Valencia, Costa Rican defender Bryan Oviedo, Granada’s Brazilian Guilherme Siqueira, Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre, and Lyon left-back Aly Cissokho among others in recent months.

There will undoubtedly be another dozen names thrown into the hat before the summer ends. Indeed, some coveting Evra’s place have taken to openly courting the club.

“Aly wants to play in the Premier League because he feels it suits his game,” Cissokho’s agent Ali Barat said earlier this month. “He has already turned down interest from AC Milan and Juventus because he wants to move to the Premier League and his preferred destination would be Manchester United.”

Honduran Izaguirre went so far as to claim “it’s 100% true that Manchester United were following me and were interested in me. It was Alex Ferguson directly who made contact with the Celtic directors. If I have the chance I welcome the move with open arms.”

Fábio’s departure does not mean the end of the youngster’s United career, even if a new man comes in. It is more than likely that United will go shopping a the bottom-end of the market this summer. Whether that provides Evra with any genuine competition is open to question.

Evra’s decline and renaissance?

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Suárez and police fail to ruin Evra’s day

February 11, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 71 comments

The day began with the Greater Manchester Police confiscating copies of Red Issue outside Old Trafford, and ended with Sir Alex Ferguson finally coming out fighting on the issue of racism. In between Patrice Evra wildly celebrated a Manchester United victory in front of the Stretford End, while Luis Suárez and Kenny Dalglish brought further embarrassment to their club. Just your average United versus Liverpool clash, then.

Barely two weeks on from the disgraceful scenes at Anfield, where 40,000 Liverpudlians sought to set race relations back a generation by victimising Patrice Evra, United exacted a modicum of revenge in Manchester. United won comfortably enough, but there was far more to this occasion than the odd goal in three. Set in the context of Suárez culpability over racially abusing Evra last October, the clash sparked into life before a ball had even been kicked when the Uruguayan refused the United captain’s pre-match handshake. The striker’s snub ensured a testy encounter, with players on both sides confronting each other in the tunnel at half-time, and then again at the final whistle.

But tensions were raised long before the players entered the field, with the GMP confiscating copies of Red Issue, t-shirts mocking Suárez, and arresting supporters selling the fanzine pre-match. The crime? Including a satirical, albeit tasteless, picture of a Klu Klux Klan hood on the back cover, with the words “Suarez is innocent” emboldened in red. So much for freedom of speech, then.

GMP accused the long-running fanzine of ‘inciting racial hatred’ in what is surely a massive over-reaction against an image that sought to mock Liverpool’s lack of action over racism. Inside the stadium fans reported that both fanzines and t-shirts were confiscated by stewards, although when contacted by Rant, the club insisted that it had not asked the police to seize the fanzines.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public,” said Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts.

“I have taken this cause of action as both items are potentially offensive and we cannot be in a situation where hundreds or thousands of people were displaying offensive images at a football match. The consequences of taking no action could have resulted in public order incidents inside or outside the ground.”

Sadly police took no action against the deeply offensive image of Suárez lauding it inside Old Trafford, or for that matter, broadcast to millions via television.

Tensions were further increased before kick off when Liverpool’s star striker refused to shake Evra’s hand, resulting in an frustrated reaction from the Frenchman, and a counter snub from Rio Ferdinand. Suárez’ refusal came after Liverpool manager Dalglish had promised, on Thursday, that the matter was now behind his errant player and a handshake would take place.

Indeed, the Uruguayan’s deliberate provocation almost brought dividends for the visitors, with Evra flying into a tackle with the striker barely 30 seconds into the game. Referee Dowd was saved a difficult decision when the Frenchman flipped Ferdinand on his heading, missing Suárez in the process. Had the striker’s pre-match snub been as apparent to fans inside the stadium, as it was to those watching on TV, anger may well have spilled over from the pitch and into the stands.

To those watching the Uruguayan’s actions were little more than a premeditated act of insensitivity – another in a long line of indelibly offensive behaviour by the striker. It is also likely to backfire; an act so immature that even Dalglish’s one-eye defiance can hold no water. One wonders what Liverpool owner John Henry, still silent after all these months, must be thinking over in Boston.

“I could not believe it, I just could not believe it,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“We had a chat this morning and Patrice said: ‘I’m going to shake his hand, I have nothing to be ashamed of, I’m going to keep my dignity.’ And he [Suárez] refuses. He’s a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, that certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.

“The history that club’s got and he does that and in a situation like today could have caused a riot. I was really disappointed in that guy, it was terrible what he did. It created a tension, you’ve seen the referee didn’t know what to do about it. It was a terrible start to the game, a terrible atmosphere it created.

“We’ve got to get our house in order in terms of fighting racism. It’s an important issue in this country. Football’s come a long way from the days of John Barnes when they were throwing bananas at him to where we are today. We can’t go back. We have to go forward in a positive way and ban it altogether.”

By half-time opposing players were at each others’ throats as Evra sought to confront Suárez, and those on both sides engaged in what Sky Sports euphemistically called “shenanigans” – it could have been a lot more serious than a few minutes of pushing in the Old Trafford tunnel.

Meanwhile, in the studio Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher clashed with Jamie Redknapp. The former Liverpool player placed blame for the incident on the Football Association’s insistence that the normal pre-match routine take place, while Neville called the striker’s snub “embarrassing”.

Then came the moment United fans hoped for as Wayne Rooney scored twice within five minutes of the re-start to put the Reds in control and top of the Premier League table. With no little drama Suárez bundled in a goal for the visitors, but anything less than victory would have been an injustice for the hosts in a match that United thoroughly dominated.

Once again football seemed the back-drop to a bigger story though. Evra’s joyous victory celebration in front of the Stretford End was just yards from Suárez as the Uruguayan trudged off the pitch, head hung low. Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel were only prevented from confronting the United captain by the rapid intervention of referee Dowd.

Over to Kenny for an apology? Not likely, as Dalglish once again failed to confront the issue of racism, instead blaming the media for increasing the tension surrounding the match. Laughably, the Liverpool manager also pretended that he was unaware of Suárez’ non-handshake. It is, seemingly, never Liverpool’s fault.

“I never knew he never shook his hand,” claimed the increasingly befuddled Dalglish.

“I’ll take your word for it. But I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I never saw it. That is contrary to what I was told. I think you are very severe and are bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for anything that happened here today. You know something else, when we had the FA Cup tie, because there wasn’t a 24-hour news channel in the build-up to the game, nothing like this happened.”

The striker continued in a similar vein, taking to Twitter to claim that “everything is not as it seems.” Noises coming from the Liverpool dressing room, leaked via the media, suggested that Suárez had not rejected Evra’s hand, but that the Frenchman had withdrawn the offer. There has been a long-line of ludicrous statements emanating from Anfield since October, but this one surely tops them all. It is not, seemingly, ever Liverpool’s fault.

Meanwhile, at GMP headquarters the police continue to hold more than 1,600 copies of Red Issue as “evidence” of a potential offence under the Race Act. It was a day in which football leapt from myopic denial, to the police state, all in one short afternoon.

Red Issue back page

Red Issue back page, via @andersred

Poll: should Evra shake Luis Suárez’ hand?

February 7, 2012 Tags: , Polls 38 comments

Patrice Evra must choose whether to shake Luis Suárez’ hand this weekend after the Football Association insisted that normal matchday protocols would be in place for the Premier League fixture between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime. Suárez returned, against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday, from an eight match ban imposed by the FA for racially abusing Evra in the meeting between the two sides last October.

Unlike the recent meeting between Chelsea and QPR, where the FA abandoned the usual pre-game meet and greet between the teams “in an attempt to further defuse tensions,” Evra is likely to be offered the Uruguayan’s hand on Saturday. This comes just a fortnight after Evra was widely jeered at Anfield, with one fan caught making a ‘monkey gesture’ towards the Frenchman.

However, manager Sir Alex Ferguson recently suggested that Evra should “rise above” any temptation to ignore the Liverpool striker this weekend. “He should be applauded for what he did [reporting Suárez], standing up to it,” Ferguson said last week. “There is no shame for him. The matter is over. He can rise above that.”

News of the FA’s stance comes on the same day Ferguson has urged football to clamp down on racism in the game.

“I don’t understand at all where it’s coming from,” Ferguson told CNN. “This is a moment where we have to take stock and we should do something about it if it’s surfacing again, and be really hard and firm on any form or shape of racism. There have been a couple of examples recently which is not good. In 2012, you can’t believe it.”

Should Patrice Evra shake Luis Suárez' hand?

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Desperately seeking Patrice

February 6, 2012 Tags: Opinion 9 comments

Back in summer 2010 there was, for a brief period, no more hated man in France than Patrice Evra. Fingered as the ring-leader in the now infamous FIFA World Cup 2010 training ground ‘strike’, the Manchester United left-back quickly descended from persona non grata after France was knocked out of the tournament, to something much more invidious: the fall guy for French failure.

The episode was far from Evra’s fault, of course, with the disparate French squad always likely  to mutiny against Raymond Domenech’s inadequate regime. But, as captain, Evra’s was a senior responsibility, and with that comes accountability. First came the media judgement, then former players, and then the Fédération Française de Football (FFF). With French politicians finally wading in, the five match ban handed down by FFF to Evra  in August 2010 was unsurprising.

“I gave my all to the position of captain,” Evra told L’Equipe on receiving the ban.

“Some people have tried to make me look guiltier than I am without knowing what happened. I gave my best, but this is the result. I received complaints after every training session and I tried to pass those messages on to the coaching assistants, but nothing happened.”

It was not the passionate, sometimes angry, Evra that United fans have come to know, and love. This was something far too morose. Evra, it seemed, carried the burden of failure, not only for France’s early exit, but the inability to unite a divided squad with an aloof coaching unit.

Indeed, something was seemingly lost from Evra’s soul in the week’s and months after the World Cup. It was as if a weight was resting far too heavily on the Dakar-born defender’s shoulders. It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the left-back’s form in the early of part of the 2010-11 campaign was as poor as it has ever been in the United shirt. Not that Evra’s name was anything less than first of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet. There were – still are – few competitors for the Frenchman’s shirt.

Yet, Evra’s mental anguish could not explain a slump so severe in a player with justifiable claims to be not only Ashley Cole’s superior, but the world’s finest left-back. Perhaps, then, it was the double whammy of mental and physical fatigue that so affected Evra last season. After all, the defender played 48 games in all competitions in 2010-11, adding to the 51 played in the season before, and the 48 prior to that. Together with international commitments, Evra has made more than 300 appearances in the past six years alone.

At least by the time United secured a 19th trophy in May 2011 Evra had clawed his way out of the doldrums, playing a core role in Ferguson’s back-four, which conceded less than a goal a game in the campaign. This brief renaissance wasn’t to last though, with even a summer-long rest failing to reunite Evra with the peak he attained in three outstanding campaigns for United prior to World Cup 2010.

One thing’s certain though, pressure, whether physical, or that of a more cerebral nature, is now following Evra’s every move. Following an uncertain start to the campaign, with a new goalkeeper and ever-changing back-four bedding in, came the incident with Luis Suárez at Anfield in October. The tension in Evra’s play was understandably palpable. The 30-year-old, it seems, cannot catch a break.

Even Evra’s patch of good form through January, after the damning Suárez indictment, cannot disguise what may now amount to a more permanent decline.

At Anfield last weekend Evra allowed Dirk Kuyt to run past him and smash home the winning goal. The Frenchman looked broken. Worse came against Chelsea, with the United defender at least partially culpable for each of the host’s three goals.

First, Evra was beaten all too easily inside the area by Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge. Then the defender was at least five yards short of Fernando Torres’ cross for Juan Mata to smash home Chelsea’s second. Finally, almost criminally, Evra stood still allowing David Luiz to run into the Frenchman’s zone and head home the third almost unchallenged.

True, the defender made some amends by bursting into the Chelsea area and winning United an opening penalty. But this is a pattern now far too common; Evra’s attacking instincts remain intact, but gone is the defensive concentration that once made the Frenchman the complete modern full-back.

Despite the ongoing problem, there is little question that Evra will face short-term demotion. Nor as yet is there any great clamour for it. After all, there is little competition for the defender’s spot, with only the perennially injured Fábio da Silva and inexperienced Ezekiel Fryers also at Ferguson’s disposal.

But the story may change come the summer should Ferguson dip into the transfer market. This is no easy concept for United fans to countenance. Evra is well loved at Old Trafford, both in the dressing room and the stands; the Frenchman is an engaging personality, and although it has not always been the case, committed to United’s cause.

Change is not without precedent though – one need only ask the previous incumbent of Evra’s position, Gabriel Heinze. And there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Aly Cissokho’s agent, last month, name-checked United as a potential destination for the Olympique Lyonnais left-back.

Potential transfer activity is for later this year though. The real question in the short-term is whether, like Michael Carrick, Evra can rediscover his old drive and focus. While Evra remains, marginally some might argue, an asset to United, more goals such as those conceded at Stamford Bridge may just tip the balance.

Evra stands tall in the cauldron of Liverpool’s hate

January 29, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 104 comments

The match did not conclude well for Patrice Evra, with the Manchester United captain allowing Dirk Kuyt to run inside and score Liverpool’s winning goal at the Kop End on Saturday. Indeed, by the end of a tortuous 90 minutes Evra looked mentally and physically shattered; beaten both by his opponents and fatigue. Yet, at no moment was the French defender defeated by the melting pot of vile – at times overtly racist – hatred directed by Liverpool’s supporters. Standing proud to the end, Evra’s side may have lost an FA Cup fourth round encounter, but the defender completed the game riding the highest of horses.

Catalysed by Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool’s hierarchy, Anfield’s regulars jeered the United number three’s every touch. This much was expect given the extent to which Liverpool has sought to, and largely succeeded in, regressing race relations at the club over the past three months. Few stood back from the organised cacophony; hate was not only directed at Evra, but deemed universally acceptable.

“There’s only one lying b*stard,” sang the Kop, echoing Liverpool’s ongoing defence of Luis Suárez – that Evra simply fabricated an allegation of racial abuse in October. This was a song delivered without irony, given that Dalglish, Suárez, Kuyt, and director of football Damien Commoli were each caught changing their stories to the independent Regulatory Commission that sat in judgement of the Liverpool striker.

Yet, it was no surprise that Liverpool manager Dalglish chose to categorise 90 minutes of abuse as nothing more than “friendly banter.” After all, the 60-year-old Scot has proven to be as unreconstructed as they come, having chosen to smear Evra, as Dalglish’s own evidence to the Commission demonstrated, right from the very start of the affair back in October.

While the atmosphere was deeply unpleasant, far worse was to come from Liverpool’s once proud supporters than mere noise. Shortly before half-time one supporter was caught on camera aiming a ‘monkey gesture‘ towards Evra. It was an image posted on this site, and to Twitter. Within minutes the picture had spread throughout the football community.

Merseyside Police confirmed on Saturday evening that a 59-year-old man from North Wales was arrested following an ‘alleged’ incident at the match. The supporter was taken to a local station for questioning.

Yet, there has been not a word from Liverpool about the incident. So quick to launch a smear campaign against Evra, the Football Association or any other party deemed to have wronged the club; so reticent to decry racism in genuine terms.

One wonders whether the club will ever come to understand the very real damaged caused by its reaction to Suárez’ sanction. Liverpool, and Dalglish in particular, not only failed to apologise for the striker’s racist abuse, but the club has now sponsored a new wave of race hate among its fan-base. The latest incident is the third this season, beginning with Suárez, and including the disgraceful abuse of Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi earlier this month.

In keeping with the pattern, Dalglish praised Liverpool’s supporters on Saturday.

“The fans are entitled to support their team, absolutely no problem,” claimed Dalglish on Saturday.

“I don’t think there was anything there that was untoward. I think both sets of fans were a magnificent advert for their clubs. Both clubs can be very proud of the fans they have here. There was a good bit of banter between both fans, which is brilliant because you don’t want to take that away.”

But the genuine concern is that Evra’s contemporaries will now be less inclined to report incidents of racial abuse given the furious reaction extracted from Liverpool supporters by their club. It is a concern touched on by a media community now growing restless at Liverpool’s approach to race relations.

“I found it horrible, I found it a very difficult day to report on,” Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Northcroft told Sunday Supplement.

“I live in Liverpool and my partner is black and she’s found this very uncomfortable. We know black friends who are Liverpool fans and they’ve also found it very uncomfortable. What we had yesterday was a black player being booed and barracked and targeted by the Liverpool fans and called a liar. And for what? His crime was to have complained about racial abuse the last time he was at the stadium. That particular case was upheld by an FA commission, but he’s being targeted and treated as a villain.”

Meanwhile, Evra, although clearly drained by the fixture’s intensity, reacted not once to the bile from the stands. Indeed, the 30-year-old has behaved with a quiet dignity throughout, keeping largely silent in the face of supporter-driven hatred, and media scrutiny.

But Evra’s silence has only been in the public sphere, behind the scenes the Frenchman proved not only to be a forthright and credible witness, but a genuine leader. Yet, with the defender so heavily abused just a day after QPR player Anton Ferdinand was sent a bullet in the post – presumably by a disgruntled Chelsea supporter – questions will be asked about football’s ability to deal with racism in the future.

“Are we saying if you make a complaint about racial abuse you’re going to get a bullet sent through the post to you or you’re going to get called a liar by 40,000 fans?” added the Mirror’s Oliver Holt.

“We’re trying to empower black players not to put up with this any more, and yet we are in danger – because of the reaction that has happened and the vilification of players who have done nothing except complain about being racially abused – of pushing things back to a conspiracy of silence.”

In this Liverpool is highly culpable, as is the FA for allowing one of the country’s most venerated club’s to become a force not for unity, but division.

“Football at times can be like pantomime, you can boo the referee if you feel he makes a bad decision and you boo a player if you feel he has feigned an injury or made a bad tackle and you can live with that,” PFA chairman Gordon Taylor told talkSPORT.

“But when you are booing a player because he has made a complaint that was upheld by an independent panel, you worry that it is going to put off anybody complaining again because of the backlash and furore we have seen.

“That’s just what we don’t want because there is no point in having a campaign to eliminate such a highly sensitive issue as racism if it is going to get drowned out by the backlash.”

In that there is a lesson. Suárez’ punishment may have sent the proverbial message that racist abuse on the pitch is not acceptable. Perhaps it is now time for the Uruguayan’s club to face a similar judgement.

Be witty, be loud – just don’t mention Suárez

January 24, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 11 comments

It recalls that classic Fawlty Towers episode. You know the one, where Basil does everything he can to ‘not mention the war’ as a group of German tourists visit his ramshackle hotel. Except, of course, the bit about not mentioning the war. Sir Alex Ferguson appears to have heeded that particular, if farcical, lesson this week, writing to fans attending the FA Cup fourth round tie with Liverpool at the weekend to appeal for good behaviour.

Fair enough one might think, with the tie likely to be even more tense than usual, and supporters’ groups keen for a full ticket allocation to be restored at Anfield. Curious though that Ferguson chose to complete the letter, sent to just over 5,000 fans, without a single mention of the Luis Suárez affair. After all, the fallout from Suárez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra, and subsequent eight match ban, will still be felt at Anfield on Saturday even if the Uruguayan is absent.

Indeed, Suárez is one of the key reasons the tie has been shifted to an early kick-off, with the Football Association calling on the clubs to maintain order.

“FA Cup ties are tense affairs at the best of times,” Ferguson wrote in the letter to travelling United supporters.

“Add in the fact that Manchester United against Liverpool is the biggest game around and it becomes even more so. Your support is vital to the team and down the years that has been especially true at Anfield. But please put the emphasis on getting us into the next round and giving the sort of support you are famous for – positive, witty and loud.

“I wrote to fans attending the away match in October urging them to co-operate with stewards and officials at Liverpool so we can make a strong case for restoring our allocation for future United games at Anfield. The fans did almost everything asked of them that day and as a result, we have a much improved allocation for this important FA Cup tie. Please do everything you can to continue that good work and protect next season’s allocation.”

Ferguson continues, much as he did in October, to demand that United supporters respect local stewards and Anfield’s ground regulations. It’s a short-hand admonishment for those United supporters that neither sit nor keep the gangways clear at away fixtures.

In that narrow sense Ferguson’s appeal is perfectly sensible. Diligent work by supporters’ groups such as IMUSA and MUST, keen to stem a rising tide of reduced ticket allocations at away matches, will only pay dividends when United’s opponents run out of ammunition. Yet, Ferguson’s letter does not quite hit the mark either; not in the current climate, not with the stench of Suárez’ actions still hanging over the tie.

Indeed, the Suárez affair continues to place a strain on relations between Liverpool and United. The Anfield club released a series of inflammatory statements after the lengthy sanction to the Uruguayan was handed down by an FA Regulatory Commission. Liverpool’s repeated briefing of media outlets during the two month wait for a verdict is known to have irked Ferguson. Liverpool went on to slander Evra, accuse the FA of institutional conspiracy, and fail to even partially understand the nation’s mood. It is an episode that has brought shame on a once proud club; one of England’s oldest and most successful teams.

Meanwhile, Evra, United’s captain for the season, is bound to receive the ugliest of receptions at Anfield, all in the name of ‘supporting’ the Frenchman’s abuser. Few on Merseyside, it seems, will understand the irony when the all-too-inevitable barrage of abuse heads the defender’s way.

This is, of course, where Ferguson’s communication with supporters this week falls short. The legendary manager is also likely to dodge questions on the subject during his Friday press conference. Unlike hotel owner Basil Fawlty, Ferguson is simply not going to mention the war.

In reality the match will be dominated by talk of Suárez’ actions and eventual ban. The atmosphere, fuelled by Liverpool’s bloody-minded defence of the striker, is bound to increase tension between supporters. One can only hope that hostility does not extend beyond the verbal, to something far more sinister – much as it did the last time United visited Anfield for a cup tie in 2006.

Meanwhile, Evra will mercifully not face the burden of shaking Suárez’ hand on Saturday lunchtime, with the Uruguayan facing the sixth of an eight game ban. That pleasure will come when the sides meet in the Premier League next month. Liverpool’s players, meanwhile, will likely perform their usual trick of significantly increasing the intensity of performance against United. Few Anfield supporters will recognise the side that lost so tamely at Bolton Wanderers recently.

Which brings us back to Ferguson’s letter. Well meaning no doubt, but ultimately lacking the bite that it might have given the circumstances.

Ferguson’s Letter

Sir Alex Ferguson letter

via @TuftyMUFC

Liverpool loses dignity, respect and legitimacy

January 4, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 92 comments

So the arguments are done, the verdict filed and the report offered: all 115 pages of it. And the ban – eventually – accepted by Luis Suárez and Liverpool for the Uruguay international’s racially motivated abuse of Patrice Evra on 13 October. Except they haven’t. Not really, with club and player still protesting innocence, defaming the Football Association and Patrice Evra in the process and, in full conspiratorial mood, suggesting evidence was deliberately missed by the independent panel. No genuine apology has been offered or ever will be by the Merseyside club or player for Suárez’ abuse of the United defender 10 weeks ago.

The truth, as established by the Independent FA Regulatory Commission is that seven times Suárez aimed abuse at the United player. Seven times he did so by referring in derogatory terms to the colour of the Frenchman’s skin. The facts, as former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez once famously said, are no longer in doubt.

But the truth, it was once said, should never get in the way of a good story. Indeed, it has been one of the most disgraceful episodes in Liverpool’s history as the 119-year-old club set about deliberately prejudicing the most sensitive hearing the FA has held in years. From the get go, so the FA’s report tells us, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish slandered Evra, accusing the Frenchman of “doing this before” – an erroneous and offensive, but widely spread, piece of misinformation that the Senegalese-born Frenchman had made previously false accusations of racism. He hasn’t. Ever.

Meanwhile, the club issued a series of media briefings aimed at winning not the hearing, but in the court of public opinion, while constructing a case that we now know was built entirely on a lie. The lie that in Uruguay all instances use of the word “negro” is acceptable. The Commission, aided by two linguistics experts, systematically dismantled the excuse over 115 pages of the most thorough investigative report English football governance history.

Kenny Dalglish

Yet, Dalglish and player are steadfast in their refusal to fully apologise; utterly insistent that a widespread conspiracy, involving Manchester United, the FA, an Independent Commission and the media has taken down their man. Injustice they cry! It is has become a cult of total denial; a collective mental illness, led by the clan leader, Dalglish, who is taking hordes of followers with him.

“Ask a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not. They will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suárez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable,” Dalglish told the media on Tuesday night.

He deliberately ignored the two linguistic experts used by the Commission that contradicted this position. The mind boggles.

“His wife calls him that and I don’t think he is offended by her. We have made a statement and I think it is there for everybody to read. Luis has made a brilliant statement and we will stand by him. We know what has gone on. We know what is not in the report and that’s important for us.

“I think it is very dangerous and unfortunate that you don’t actually know the whole content of what went on at the hearing. I’m not prepared, and I can’t say it, but I am just saying it is really unfortunate you never got to hear it. That’s all I’m saying. Wrong place, wrong time. It could have been anybody. I can’t answer for the FA, you ask them.”

Readers may be forgiven for thinking that, out-of-context, this is the rant of a madman, fuelled by suspicion, hate and delusion. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Except this is no madman; Dalglish is quick-witted and in full control of his faculties, but still prepared to spread disinformation to the last. It is far more insidious than mere paranoia.

Almost universally outside insular Liverpool’s confines, the world of football has condemned the club for its stance. After all, Liverpool is a world renown institution that is a flag-bearer for English football. The club’s management should know better. And while United supporters can watch, dumbstruck by the utter ineptitude down the East Lancs Road, it is to football’s discredit that Liverpool has set out to destroy much of the work done to eliminate racism in football.

Voices of reason

Yet, the voices of reason will still hope that a recalcitrant Dalglish, perhaps prompted by the embarrassingly silent owner John W Henry, will eventually see sense. History suggests those voices do not hold their collective breaths.

“An apology would certainly help things because hen people do apologise it certainly moves things on,” Show Racism the Red Card chief executive Ged Grebby told Goal.com on Wednesday.

“I think that it would help the situation no end if he accepted that he had done wrong and personally apologised to Patrice Evra. If there was an element to this that he did understand the language differences then the easiest thing to do would have been to apologise.

“I think that Liverpool Football Club owe Patrice Evra an apology. They raised this issue about him having previous over the Chelsea incident when, if you look at that, it was two members of Manchester United’s staff that reported it. It was a legitimate incident. It wasn’t a red herring.

“The FA have sent out a really strong message to say that it is not acceptable in the game for there to be any kind of abuse where you are using people’s skin colour, religion or culture.”

Support for this position has come from across the football world, including those outside of a often parochial England. Indeed, for once the FA has set an example for which European nations can learn much. While racism is endemic in Spain, for example, the FA has taken a strong step in England.

Pressure from the FA?

And that is apparently a key tenet of Liverpool’s paranoid attack. That in seeking to take a strong line against racism, the Independent Commission has been pressured by the FA executive to, essentially, fake the findings of the report, an erroneously sanction Suárez. It is a nonsense that few outside of Liverpool’s fraternity will pay any heed to.

“Racial abuse between players on the field of play has been an unspoken taboo for too long, an area that has been unsatisfactorily dealt with by English football despite many cases over the past ten years,” said Piara Powar, Executive Director of Football Against Racism in Europe.

“We would also call on Liverpool FC to think again about their public campaign to dispute the charges and contest the principles involved in the case. As a club with an international standing the vehemency of their campaign is unquestionably causing them reputational harm, and has lead to Liverpool fans to become involved in a backlash of hatred on web forums and other public arenas.”

Liverpool backlash

That backlash has included some of the most obscene racist and deluded thinking ever experienced in the English football community. Racism, it seems, is more alive than ever if the content created on social media sites by Liverpool supporters is a barometer. The sad irony is that those Liverpool supporters subjecting Evra, Stan Collymore and others to racist abuse, do so in the name of ‘supporting’ a player accused of the very same crime.

Liverpool has much to answer for. The storm of vitriol, deliberately whipped up by the club and Dalglish, has intensified because of United’s involvement. Victimisation is well practised in Liverpool, but ‘injustice’ at United’s hands could never be accepted. Dalglish’s tweet, for example, when the panel’s verdict was announced shortly before the New Year that Suarez should “Never Walk Alone” pandered to the masses in crudest fashion.

It is a dangerous time for the game, concludes Professional Footballers’ Association chairman Gordon Taylor, who warns that racism is a curse that football must collectively challenge. Seemingly, in spite of Liverpool’s intransigence.

“Some issues are bigger than a player, the club or the game and racism is one of those. We have to learn from it and there should be no misunderstanding or ambiguity in the future,” adds Taylor.

“You don’t want such issues to divide clubs or society. We’re all in a football family but we’re all under the law of the land. Once a penalty has been paid and carried out we move on in a positive manner to make sure the penalty acts as a deterrent. The educational process continues.

“We all know the word ‘negro’ can be taken to mean a very inflammatory word. Any reference to the colour of a person’s skin has to be eradicated. In the heat of battle things can be said, but sometimes they go beyond what’s acceptable.  We have had 20 or 30 years of campaigning against racism. I hope we can move on from this and learn our lessons.”

Sadly, it is a lesson unlikely to be heard on Merseyside if the past two months is a barometer. One of England’s finest clubs, mired in hate and paranoia. Now devoid of dignity, barren of respect, and when it comes to race relations, without a shred of legitimacy.

Suarez becomes Liverpool’s modern martyr

December 21, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 97 comments

The reaction from Merseyside was predictable, even if the strength of Liverpool FC’s statement was shocking. “Twas always the way on Merseyside,” as one journalist surmised when, minutes after the Football Association handed down an eight game ban to striker Luis Suarez, pending appeal, for using abusive and racist language, the club lashed out at the FA, Patrice Evra and anybody else perceived to have wronged ‘their’ player. Wagons circled.

And while the case remains sub judice until the striker’s appeal is heard, and concluded, the prima face case against Suarez was always far less complex that presented. Indeed,  the FA’s charge against Suarez was strengthened by the Uruguayan’s own words. The corroborating evidence, or lack thereof if the Merseyside club is believed, seemed far less relevant from the moment Suarez admitted in the Uruguayan media to using an unspecified racial epithet, believed to be “Negro”. The striker repeated the claim to the FA panel, leaving the three-man committee with little room for manoeuvre. Acceptable or not in Uruguay, any variation of the “N” word in England, or indeed northern Europe, was never likely to be tolerated. In English law ignorance has never been an excuse.

Yet, the reaction from Liverpool came anyway; another in a strategic pattern of action by the 119-year-old club to subvert the course of FA justice via the media. Liverpool’s cry is little more than a smokescreen, with the Suarez-Evra affair rather simple amid all the deep analysis of nuanced language, culture and, of course, race.

Liverpool’s reaction on Tuesday night may still have far-reaching consequences though, both for the club and relations between two of England’s most venerable institutions. Here is a world renown, and widely respected club, smearing Evra, defending the – prima facie – indefensible, while accusing the FA of institutional bias.

“It is our strong held belief, having gone over the facts of the case, that Luis Suarez did not commit any racist act,” Liverpool’s statement read last night – an inflammatory post that was immediately pulled from the club’s official website, only to be reinstated shortly afterwards.

“It is also our opinion that the accusation by this particular player was not credible – certainly no more credible than his prior unfounded accusations.

“Luis himself is of a mixed race family background as his grandfather was black. He has been personally involved since the 2010 World Cup in a charitable project which uses sport to encourage solidarity amongst people of different backgrounds with the central theme that the colour of a person’s skin does not matter; they can all play together as a team.

“He has played with black players and mixed with their families whilst with the Uruguay national side and was Captain at Ajax Amsterdam of a team with a proud multi-cultural profile, many of whom became good friends.”

Indeed, Evra may well have cause to seek legal advice after Liverpool’s reference to “prior unfounded accusations” – a nod to the 2009 case in which Chelsea groundsman Sam Bethel was accused of using racist language against the Frenchman. The accusation, the FA’s record notes, was made by United coaches Mike Phelan and Richard Hartis, and was at no point repeated by the player.

A reference without subtly: ‘Evra played the race card’.

It is also distressing that Liverpool, a club whose achievements are to be respected no matter the tribal rivalry, should fall into the classic racist’s excuse: ‘Suarez cannot be racist, he has black friends and family’. The charge, as clearly laid out by the FA, was never a question of whether Suarez is a racist, but whether the 26-year-old used racist and offensive language. Everything else is irrelevant.

Yet, Liverpool’s statement on Tuesday night also neatly sums up the club’s closed-ranks strategy over the past two months, with journalists regularly briefed on the club’s position, despite the FA’s warning not to prejudice the eventual hearing. Cynically, the Merseyside club is seemingly more than happy to fan the flames of tribalism.

The Telegraph’s Henry Winter, for example, repeated Liverpool’s case almost verbatim as the hearing began last week. Suarez could not be a racist, so the briefing went, because he has played with black players; the language used is acceptable in Uruguay and, quite laughably, Liverpool owner John Henry once held a memorial day for a black ex Boston Red Socks baseball player. Irrelevance, smoke and mirrors.

Suarez’ appeal is still pending, and although the evidence is unlikely to change, it is conceivable that another panel will cut the sanction. That committee could, of course, increase the ban and fine too. Suarez’ eight game ban and £40,000 fine represents little more than a month on the sidelines and three days’ wages. Many in the game will feel, with justification, that the FA’s response to racism is too little, far too late.

Without the reasoning behind the panel’s decision it is, of course, impossible to pass full  judgement. Yet, a precedent is now  set: use of the “N” word in any variation is unacceptable. For that, football fans of all colours – shirt and skin – will recognise that the governing body, albeit via an independent panel, has finally taken a stand.

Except on Merseyside it seems, where Suarez is not a bigot to be condemned, but a martyr slain at the FA’s door.

Blatter enters, and then fuels, race debate

November 16, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 21 comments

Race, it seems, is top of the editorial agenda after (insert obligatory ‘alleged’ here) incidents involving Luis Suarez and John Terry in the past month. Each is seemingly a sad indictment of the English game, where racism it appears, still thrives. Suarez, claims Patrice Evra, called the defender a “n*gger” at “least ten times” during Manchester United’s visit to Anfield in September. Meanwhile, Terry was caught on camera calling Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand a “black c*nt”. The only debate is whether Terry’s excuse of context (“No I didn’t call you a…”) is genuine or not. Ferdinand, and his big brother Rio, have been deafening with their silence on the matter.

Disturbing though the incidents are it says much for our lack of progress in combating racism that the clubs and supporters involved have divided largely along partisan lines. To Liverpool’s management, Suarez’ innocence was never in doubt. So much so, that manager Kenny Dalglish has repeatedly called for “the accuser” Evra to face sanction. Meanwhile, Liverpool supporters have engaged in an orchestrated smear campaign against Evra with erroneous ‘evidence’ of the Frenchman repeatedly ‘playing the race card’ distributed liberally by more vocal Scousers.

On Wednesday the FA charged Suarez with using “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules.”

Similarly, Chelsea and the club’s supporters have unilaterally backed Terry’s claim of misunderstanding. Indeed, Chelsea fans were audibly chanting anti-Ferdinand slogans as the Londoners met Genk in the Champions League. Would United supporters behave differently if, hypothetically speaking, Wayne Rooney faced a similar charge? It is a question that supporters should honestly ask and answer.

In fact the controversies of recent weeks have unveiled the shroud of denial about racism in the game. One need only peruse popular social media sites to discover a tsunami of bigotry among match-going fans. Ferdinand was subjected to the worse kind of racist abuse on his own account, from the very supporters defending Terry.

No wonder, with denial coming from the very top: Sepp Blatter, who claimed in an interview with CNN that racism does not exist in football.

“I would deny it. There is no racism,” Blatter told the news station.

“There is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that. He should say that ‘this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen’, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.

“I think the whole world is aware of the efforts we are making against racism and discrimination. And on the field of play sometimes you say something that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better.”

Blatter apes the views of more than one prominent pundit, with racist language justified on the basis of ‘banter’ or ‘high emotions’. It says much for the neanderthal element still present in our game. Indeed, the Daily Mail ran a bigoted ‘opinion’ editorial urging black players to “just ignore it” when subjected to racism and be “thankful” for the apparent progress made.

True, gone are the universal ‘monkey chanting’ and banana throwing of 1980s crowds. Racism has gone underground. Yet, surely, race should not be a matter for partisan support. Offence, if the accusations against Suarez and Terry are true, should be universal. That it is not says something for the road football has travelled, but more for the distance yet to go.

There is also a devastating charge of complacency to be levelled against the football community and, perhaps, the Football Association too. Certainly, the governing body’s dithering over both cases does not reflect well on the FA. That a number of prominent black players genuinely considered boycotting the Kick It Out campaign because of the perceived FA governance of the body (it is part financed but not governed by the FA) says much for the frustration felt within the game.

After all, racism is institutionalised in football, with so few administrators and coaches coming from the ethnic minorities, despite black players making up around 25 per cent of professionals in England. Fans of all colours should be ashamed of this.

Perhaps failure to eliminate racism in England is the result of a top top-down culture that embraces discrimination at its very core? After all women and homosexuals also face an institutionalised glass ceiling, and administrators not willing to work hard enough to eliminate discrimination. It is an industry that celebrates the macho and aggressive, and one wonders whether the football community – fans, players, administrators – will ever accept a player for what he is, and not his sexual orientation, background or race. Recent events have brought this into question.

More than 30 years since Justin Fashanu – the first gay 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,” while homophobic language is endemic throughout the football community.

The community’s reaction to the latest turn of events suggests that there is some way to go when it comes to racial equality too. While a presumption of innocence is enshrined in our legal system, there is little reason to believe that Evra is lying – the FA charge suggests the body believes his account too – or that Ferdinand uncertain about what he did (or apparently did not) say to Terry.

The FA is likely to set a very high bar for proof, keen as the body is to avoid all controversy. It takes genuine strength of will an authority to sit in judgement; something the governing body has long since lost. But now, more than ever, is the time for the body to truly govern our game.