Tag Archives: discipline

FA Explains Austin Escaped Jansson Punishment as he Doesn’t Play for Leeds, Asks Why All the Fuss – by Rob Atkinson

             Pontus Jansson: bang to rights for being a Leeds United player

An FA spokesperson has reacted with bewilderment to the controversy over their decision not to punish Charlie Austin (Southampton) for recent post-match comments to the effect that the referee was a clown and deserved to be strung up with piano wire. Some Leeds United fans are apparently “miffed” that their own Pontus Jansson received a one match ban with a £1000 fine, for comments that many perceive as somewhat milder. The FA man, Mr Lee D. Shater (Twitter handle @LeeDShater), when asked why the Leeds man had been treated differently, replied, “Well, you’ve answered your own question. Mr Jansson plays for Leeds United and Mr Austin plays for Southampton. What’s the issue here?”

Fearing that we’d perhaps failed to make ourselves sufficiently clear, our intrepid Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything reporter asked once again for the precise reason behind seemingly different responses to similar matters. Mr. Shater stated “This is like talking to a brick wall. The FA has been very clear on a number of previous occasions that playing for Leeds United is an aggravating factor in any disciplinary issue. That’s a long-established fact, and we’re frankly surprised that it should become an issue now. Now do run along, I’m a busy man”.

Enquiries further up the FA chain of command failed to produce anything by way of a more detailed response, with the general reaction consistently being one of mild surprise that there was perceived to be anything questionable or controversial about the treatment of either player. One official, who preferred not to be named, but whose great grand-daddy was Alan Hardaker, tried to provide a little helpful background: “Look, a lot of this may have been before your time, but Leeds United has been the FA’s bête noire, if you’ll pardon my French, for well over fifty years now. We’re only continuing to enforce long-accepted guidelines, and we’re supported in this by our colleagues at the Football League – just take a look at how long it is since Leeds have been awarded a penalty kick – over a year now, in a run stretching to 55 games. We’re all pretty proud of that. Quite frankly, Mr Jansson can count himself lucky that he wasn’t treated more harshly. Nobody forced him to play for Leeds, you know…”

Nobody at Leeds United was available for comment, but it is understood that the club will continue to monitor instances of questionable and inconsistent refereeing decisions, as well as the application of disciplinary standards at the governing body level of the game. Apparently, some thought had been given to seeking the support of FIFA, the world football administrators, but a telegram from that august organisation reading “Leeds United? Pah. Nous détestons absolument Leeds United. Ils sont comme la merde sur nos chaussures. Pah!” served as a discouragement to that course of action.

It would seem, therefore, that the club’s only option will be to grit their teeth and get on with it. Nothing is likely to change anytime soon, and speculation among the Leeds support is that Brexit will be finalised long before United receive another penalty kick. The general feeling is that success, when it comes, will be all the sweeter for arising out of adversity and in the face of extreme prejudice. Or, as one classical scholar, a United fan for 43 years, put it: “Noli illegitimi carborundum”.

Alan Hardaker, 106, is dead.

 

 

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Leeds United and the Strange Case of the Migrating Millwall Injury – by Rob Atkinson

There are many who will say that the match between Leeds United and Millwall at Elland Road on Saturday was a strange affair – bordering on the bizarre. How right they would be, for the game’s pivotal incident saw a phenomenon surely unprecedented in the history of sports injuries and physiotherapy.

Injured

Ref! I think he’s broken my left leg!!

With Leeds a goal behind and playing poorly, there was some frustration building for the home side, so when United skipper Liam Cooper sailed into a fearsome-looking tackle on George Saville in midfield – and with the Whites’ recent record of red cards – you feared the worst. Sure enough, the Millwall player collapsed in a stricken heap, clutching his left leg in evident agony. To the momentary relief of the crowd, the referee reached for his yellow card as he walked over – and this is when things took a turn for the surreal.

On the touchline, there was outrage from the Millwall contingent, who clearly expected Cooper to be dismissed – a stance reinforced on the field by former United flop Steve Morison. As the pressure mounted on the referee, the Millwall physio worked urgently to save the life of Saville – evidently a hero to the Millwall fans who sang this name throughout – and the medical situation started to appear grave, with the injury mysteriously migrating from the left leg caught by Cooper’s challenge, to the right leg now being treated intensively by the physio. Left leg or right, the player was clearly mortally wounded, something that may have influenced the ref almost as much as Morison screaming at him.

Treated

Never mind which bloody leg, keep howling with pain son – or it might only be a yellow… 

Fortunately for the expiring Saville, salvation was at hand. From being on the point of passing away, brave George was hauled back from the brink by the sight of the red card being brandished at the Leeds skipper, and promptly hopped back up onto his feet, fully restored to health and vigour. It is understood that the novel technique of healing a fatal left leg injury by treating the right leg may now be adopted as standard practice, due to the spectacular results effected by the expertise of the Millwall medical staff.

All better now

Well done, lad – the ref’s sent him off. Up you get, now

The spontaneous recovery must have come as a deep relief to the travelling Millwall faithful who, judging by their continual songs about Turks and knives, had clearly anticipated the possibility that Saville would require surgery from an Eastern European doctor. Such a miraculous restoration to health for their brave lad was due reward for these fine supporters of Football’s Family Club of the Year 2017 – an accolade surely just as well deserved as Man U’s “Greatest Club in the World”.

How we shall all look forward to next season, and a continuation of this friendly rivalry – if Millwall stay up, that is…

 

 

Pointless Appealing: Leeds Must Accept O’Kane Red and Move On with Business – by Rob Atkinson

EOK nut

Eunan O’Kane – bang to rights for sheer stupidity

One of the less controversial aspects of the defeat at Portman Road, where Leeds failed to make the most of an unremarkable Ipswich Town side pretty much there for the taking, was the straight red dismissal of Eunan O’Kane for violent conduct. The video evidence is incontrovertible; O’Kane, despite the inevitable protests, is bang to rights and was positively begging to be sent off; the referee, only yards from the incident, was always going to oblige.

What leaves a nastier than usual taste in the mouth is that this particular piece of lunacy, which went some way towards ensuring that his team-mates, employers and supporters would end up empty-handed, came hard on the heels of what now seems a rather sanctimonious tweet expressing disappointment over the equally stupid transgression of Samu Saiz a week earlier at Newport. People in glass houses shouldn’t thrown stones, we might reflect. To his credit, O’Kane himself left the field without protest; the expostulations have come from other quarters. Meanwhile, the whole sorry affair threatens to deflect us all from the more important issues arising out of this and other recent failures.

The uncomfortable fact is that, in the last three league games, Leeds United have failed to score one single solitary goal, That’s over 270 minutes of huffing and puffing to no effect, during which time they have contrived to lose to Birmingham, who were swatted aside 3-0 by Derby yesterday, and gain one point from a Nottingham Forest side who set out to stifle Leeds and comfortably managed it. Leaving aside the inglorious FA Cup episode at Newport, Leeds are suffering in the league, which is far, far more important. The loss of Saiz for six games deprives us of much of the limited cutting edge we’ve had and, without quality reinforcements during this window, the fear is that the season could be fizzling out rather early.

What appears to be happening, in line with the predictions of many much earlier in the campaign, is that the lack of depth in United’s squad is being exposed by a smattering of injuries and suspensions. These are occupational hazards of an attritional league programme, and will happen to any but the most fortunate of clubs – but the difference at the top end of the table will be the deeper resources of those who have invested sensibly in quality, providing competent back-up for most positions. United’s over-reliance on young, raw possibles, like Jay Roy Grot for instance, is ample proof that their recruitment at first team level has been – so far, at any rate – inadequate for the rigours of a Championship season.

One transfer move that has been completed, and for a player seemingly ready to step into the first team picture, too, is that of Yosuke Ideguchi, a highly-rated midfielder whose signing is seen as something of a coup for the Elland Road club. How strange it is then that, after a work permit was unexpectedly forthcoming, Ideguchi’s loan to Spanish side Cultural Leonesa has still gone ahead. One thing Leeds United really needs, to allow them maybe the luxury of playing two up top, is a combative box-to-box midfielder which might permit such a change of shape. On the bright side, the welcome signing of Laurens de Bock will provide options across the defensive line, with the versatility of Gaetano Berardi possibly allowing him to be more effective when freed from his unaccustomed left-back berth.

And it really is important to look on the bright side, after what has been a dismal January so far, especially on the field of play. The next two weeks, and this is no exaggeration, will define the rest of our season. The word from the club is that they are working hard to bring in players, with a striker high on the shopping list. As Leeds fans, we should perhaps avoid being distracted by pointless and futile appeals over daft red cards – and hope that the powers that be down LS11 way can see the urgency of the situation in and around the first team squad. The play-offs are still somehow a tantalising possibility, offering at least the chance of an exciting climax to the campaign. It’s down to the club now as to whether or not they have the ambition to seize the day and give us all a second half of this season to relish.

Really, after the start to 2018 Leeds United have provided, that’s the very least we deserve.

Too Many Leeds United “Fans” Forget That Saiz Matters – by Rob Atkinson

Samuel-Saiz-672176

Saiz leaves early after zero dribbles and one spit

Characteristically, Leeds United has contrived to make a drama out of a crisis, compounding the humiliation of an FA Cup Third Round exit at minnows Newport by adding the embarrassment of an on-pitch spitting scandal, as well as the six-match loss of star player Samu Sáiz. To make matters even worse, the intellectually-challenged end of the Whites’ support then took to Twitter with the express intention, so it seemed, of unleashing their long-repressed bigotry and incipient racism by attacking Sáiz in the worst kind of Daily Mail-reading Colonel Blimp-inspired terms. It made for very unedifying reading, even for Twitter after one of Leeds’ frequent bad days at the office.

There’s no getting around the fact that spitting at a sporting opponent is a disgusting matter, deserving of punishment and not to be tolerated – or even mitigated, if it comes to that. It initially seemed an odd affair to me, with some confusion and delay surrounding the red card in the immediate aftermath of Newport’s late winner. But Sáiz appears now to have admitted, acknowledged and apologised for his transgression, so that’s that. He’s bang to rights and indefensible, he’ll have to do his time, repent at leisure and make sure he sticks to his vow that this will never happen again.

Incidentally, and particularly for those who think I’m an uncritical Sáiz apologist, his conduct has worried me before, and I’ve gone into print hoping he’d see the error of his ways. This was over an early season tendency to wave imaginary cards when fouled, something that risked attracting the ref’s attention negatively, and a habit I’ve always hated. So I don’t see Samu as any sort of paragon of virtue; even so, some of the stick and abuse he’s received from alleged Leeds fans since the Case of the Newport Spit has been sickening in the extreme – decorum prohibits the reproduction of many of the remarks here. Suffice to say that there’s been a nasty, racist overtone in the murkier regions of the Leeds Twitter hashtag, many of the boneheads who like to comment there seeming to have forgotten what the little Spanish wizard has contributed to our faltering season so far.

It’s not big and it’s not clever, but then again, that just about sums up some of our Twitter knuckle-draggers. Sadly, the temptation to jump aboard a Brexiteer anti-“foreign signing” bandwagon appears to have been just too much to resist for many of these hard-of-thinking opportunists, with some of them engaged for hours on end in trying to outdo their IQ-minus cronies in a competition to see who could be the most offensively tasteless in their treatment of United’s best player this season.

The subtext emerging was of a groundswell of opposition, again mainly at the thicker end of United’s online adherents, to the idea of signing non-British players in the first place. Some Leeds fans, apparently, will not be happy until United’s first team consists of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan stereotypes, goose-stepping their way towards the lower leagues with the Sieg Heils echoing from the stands – a harking back to the early and mid-eighties. But those days are gone; the continental and global lads are here to stay, they will continue to provide the best hopes of success – and the Twitter and other social media morons are welcome to crawl back under the stones from which they should never, in these more enlightened times, emerge.

It’s to be hoped that this will be a storm in a teacup, that United will safely negotiate the enforced and unfortunate absence of Sáiz – and that, when he returns, he will be given the warm welcome that his value to the team deserves. And that will probably be the case, because Leeds will surely move to cover for the lad’s loss, while the bulk of the United support are a silent yet match-day raucous majority, who will always be behind the men in the shirts, whether they hail from Selby or Spain.

Samu’s been a silly lad, but many, many young footballers are guilty of that; he’s not the first, he’ll not be the last, and it’s got absolutely bugger-all to do with his nationality. So, enough of all that nonsense. What we need now is to get stuck in as a United Leeds for the rest of the season, that’s boardroom, management, players and fans – and put this sorry incident behind us. The rest of the transfer window promises to be interesting or maybe even exciting, and meanwhile there’s a formidable array of opposition waiting to tackle a Samu-less Leeds. Let’s stick together, ignore the ten-a-penny haters – and show them all what we’re really capable of.

Crystal Palace Shouldn’t Have to Face Man Utd’s ‘Spanish Archer’ at Wembley   –   by Rob Atkinson

Fellaini

Fellaini – dangerous and premeditated

Louis van Gaal, the current manager of Manchester United, is a confusing figure. Frequently disarming and able to display a self-deprecating humour, he’s occasionally also abrasive and blinkered. Sometimes, he’s just downright weird, a facet of his personality that came to the fore after the most recent act of thuggery from one of his least admirable players, a certain Monsieur Fellaini.

The occasion was the potential title-decider when Champions-elect Leicester City came to Old Trafford needing three points to clinch a miraculous Premier League crown. It was a compelling game, with Leicester going behind early and then showing their character to claw their way back and claim a valuable point towards eventual success. But all was not sweetness and light, as might almost be expected in such a tense tussle. One of the penalty area challenges between Leicester’s Robert Huth and Marouane Fellaini of Man Utd turned decidedly nasty and could easily have seen the dismissal of both, if the referee had only seen it. There was grappling, there was pushing and shoving, there was even the seizing and pulling of part of Fellaini’s impressive coiffure. And, sad to say, there was yet another example of the old “Spanish Archer” (el Bow) from serial offender Fellaini. It’s all there in not-so-glorious slow motion: a malicious, premeditated extension of Fellaini’s left arm in front of him, for it to be drawn back viciously into the head/neck area of the opponent behind him.

This is where van Gaal becomes rather difficult to defend. In interviews afterwards, he leant back further and more perilously than a limbo dancer in futile efforts to justify his player’s reprehensible action. It should have been a penalty for Huth’s silly hair-pulling, he said (No, it shouldn’t). Fellaini’s actions were justifiable on the grounds of provocation, he said (No, they weren’t). Hair-pulling was, he claimed, the sort of kinky perversion that belongs in “sex masochism” (Speechless). Louis van Gaal even playfully tugged at a reporter’s hair and asked him how he liked it. That the reporter then refrained from elbowing van Gaal in the throat rather detracted from the Manchester United manager’s attempt to justify, on the grounds of reasonableness and inevitability, Fellaini’s assault on Huth.

A careful study of the incident – something the F.A. must certainly have done, many times and painstakingly – reveals a couple of interesting points. Firstly, Fellaini’s elbowing action had started well before Huth made contact with the Man Utd player’s hairdo. The arm was extended forward and was well on its premeditated way back to catch Huth under his jawbone – before hand touched hair. That disposes of the penalty clause; Fellaini was the first offender. Secondly, Fellaini swiped backwards not once, but twice. The second was a weakish slap, catching Huth somewhere around the temple. That was the response to the hair-pulling. But the first elbowing action stood alone, and it was a dangerous act with a clear intent to cause damage, simply because an opponent had the temerity to challenge him closely, that could easily have been serious. For that alone, Fellaini deserves the most serious of punishment.

Having dealt with van Gaal’s attempts to defend his player, we should move on to consider Fellaini’s previous. And there’s plenty of it; you only have to listen to some of the Belgian’s old opponents and even his former teammates. Fellaini, we hear, does this sort of thing most games. Several examples have been caught by TV cameras, most notably at Anfield in a Europa League cup tie against Liverpool. Fellaini was bang to rights there, just as he was against Leicester – but he got away with the Anfield elbow. This time, he’s got a three game league ban – but is it enough?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that it is not. The F.A. in another case, this one arising out of the Chelsea v Spurs match on Monday, have made it clear that some cases deserve more severe punishment. It seems likely that Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele will face a six game ban for his blatant eye-gouging offence. Now that’s nasty stuff – but is it really that much more serious than a back-flung elbow that could easily crush an opponent’s tracheal cartilage and leave him literally breathless as a result? The two cases are comparable, the two punishments should, therefore, be appropriately similar.

Crystal Palace will face Manchester United – including Fellaini, in all likelihood – in what is still a showpiece occasion, the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley on the 21st May. Palace should not have to face this serial offender, this reckless distributor of flying elbows, this accident waiting to happen. If Dembele can be taken out of action for six matches due to the disgusting nature of his offence, then so should Fellaini, for an assault no less culpable, no less disgusting, no less dangerous. And Fellaini has demonstrated that, left unchecked, he will simply continue this casual close-contact variety of GBH. He has shown no sign of reforming his ways and, while the F.A. treat him with kid gloves and his manager bleats in his defence, he will simply carry on carrying on – alarmingly.

If this season’s F.A. Cup Final spectacle is besmirched by the spectacle of some hapless player left sprawling with a crushed adam’s apple, a broken jaw, a smashed nose – or worse – then it is fair odds that one M. Fellaini will be the name on the charge sheet. But he will not be alone in the dock – for if the worst does come to the worst at Wembley, then the faint hearts and soft-sawder merchants at the F.A. will be just as guilty as a Belgian who can neither keep his temper nor control his aggression.

For all of those reasons, as well as consideration for the Crystal Palace players – whose big Cup Final day should not be sullied by common assault – Marouane Fellaini should face a good long ban that will see him out of action until the early part of the next League campaign. Most assuredly, he should not be playing at Wembley – neither in the F.A Cup Final nor, should the case arise, in the Community Shield. If he does, it sends out a wrong and dangerous message, to teammates, to opponents, to others who might be disposed to act thuggishly and – not least – to the errant and foolish Fellaini himself.

Why Joey Barton Should Be Begging Leeds United to Sign Him – by Rob Atkinson

Barton doing what Barton does

Joey Barton doing what Joey Barton does

Mixed messages have been emerging from Elland Road over the past few days, leading up to and since the capture of Brentford winger Stuart Dallas. We’ve been told that Dallas is likely to be the end of any significant incoming business for Leeds United; but we’ve also heard from Adam Pearson that il Duce Massimo Cellino is prepared to sanction one, or possibly two more signings. This has naturally set tongues wagging and keyboards rattling as the Whites cognoscenti speculate on who else might yet arrive down LS11 way.

One name that refuses to go away is that of perennial bad boy Joey Barton, formally of QPR, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Olympique de Marseille and, for all we know, Borstal FC. Barton has had what might charitably be termed a troubled past. He’s proved himself on many an occasion not to be above a little thuggery, in much the same way that the sea is not above the clouds. Without doubt, he’s courted controversy and a certain measure of revulsion in those who believe that the beautiful game should be played beautifully or not at all. But there’s more to Barton than mindless violence and, undeniably, he’s a class above the vast majority of Championship midfielders in terms of pure football ability.

The pros and cons of Joey Barton are sharply delineated – he’s almost all black and white with very few shades of grey. On the negative side is the lack of discipline that has seen him on a porridge diet in his time, with several occasions on which he’s been bang to rights when put to trial by TV. Then again, Duncan Ferguson never let a spell in Barlinnie prevent him from becoming a legend in the game – something that, for all his notoriety, Barton has thus far signally failed to accomplish.

Still on the negative side, there’s Barton’s accustomed wage level. His habitual demands would see him fit into the Leeds United wage structure much as a quart fits into a pint pot. So, on the face of it, both his “attitude problem” (for want of a better phrase), and his affordability would seem to mitigate against him as a likely target for Yorkshire’s top club. But neither of these factors should necessarily prevent Barton from turning out in a Leeds United shirt.

The thing is, Joey is 32 now, with a senior career and earnings history going back 13 years. He will not be short of a bob or two – neither, surely, is he completely incapable of learning by experience when it comes to curbing that nasty temper. And on the plus side – the lad can play, far better than most of the opposition he’d meet in this league.

Looking for similar examples of players who might normally be expected to be both too expensive and too risky discipline-wise, the name of El Hadji Diouf springs irresistibly to mind. Diouf was the least likely of Elland Road recruits, having been a top-earner and a serial practitioner of some of football’s nastier tricks. But he duly came to Leeds, accepted relative peanuts in remuneration, cleaned up his act enough for his manager Warnock publicly to regret having compared him unfavourably to a sewer rat – and he made a moderate success of things in a team consisting mainly of players several classes of ability below him. Whether that’s enough of a precedent for us to be optimistic of seeing Barton in a Leeds United shirt is open to some doubt. But there’s one man who should be moving heaven and earth to make this happen – and that man is Joey Barton himself.

The fact of the matter is that Barton has possibly one shot left at writing himself indelibly into the pages of football history. He may or may not care about doing this – but any footballer worth his salt wants, ideally, to be regarded as a legend. And that, even today, is the opportunity afforded to the right calibre of player by Leeds United FC. After well over a decade in the shadows, and having plumbed hitherto unheard-of depths by sinking as low as the third tier, Leeds remains a giant of the game. The Elland Road club is, in fact, the last giant ever born – clubs have come to the fore since United did in the sixties, but not to such devastating effect and not for so long; certainly not to attain the rank of a footballing behemoth, as Leeds did from nowhere under the legendary, incomparable Don Revie.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Leeds United conferred legend status on characters as diametrically different from each other as Vinnie Jones and Gordon Strachan. That’s what being instrumental in revival and success for Leeds does for a player. And that’s what it could do, even at this late stage, for Joey Barton. As his career draws to a close, as he contemplates life after football and his descent into obscurity, that’s something that Mr. Barton should be thinking about extremely seriously. You’re a long time retired, after all.

It may well be that very nearly all of the Leeds transfer business is complete, after all. And if we do recruit more bodies, they’d more than likely be cover out wide and in central defence. But the need is still there for some versatile, commanding presence in midfield, too. And, sadly, the Vinnies and the Strachans are precious thin on the ground these days.

If Joey Barton had the sense he was born with – another conundrum not easily answered – he’d be prepared to walk barefoot over broken glass to Elland Road, there humbly to seek audience of Messrs. Cellino and Pearson (and maybe the physio team too, after miles barefoot over broken glass). He should be literally begging for the chance to play for Leeds, for his last shot at legend status. He should be promising to clean up his act and to become a role model for the youngsters and a hero to the fans. He should do all of this for the return of a reasonable pay-to-play deal, as befits an extremely wealthy man who has naught to lose, much to make up for – and a lasting reputation in football to gain.

Joey Barton – do you want to be a legend? Come to Leeds United, then… and, if you play your cards right, we might just arrange it for you.

FA Need to Make Example of Newcastle Nutter Pardew – by Rob Atkinson

Pardew drops the nut as Howard Webb looks on

Pardew drops the nut as Howard Webb looks on

It’s rather an article of faith for Leeds United fans – some might even call it a tell-tale symptom of paranoia – to seize upon notable examples of bad behaviour by those at other clubs, wondering out loud: how would the authorities react if it had been us doing something like that?

The weekend incident when Newcastle manager Alan Pardew committed what amounted to common assault on an opposition player was a case in point. Just imagine if, say, Don Revie had upped and nutted Emlyn Hughes for example, or perhaps even an establishment darling like Bobby Charlton. The likes of Alan Hardaker would doubtless have demanded the death penalty, and our own Sir Don might well have ended up dangling from a lamp-post on Lancaster Gate.

Petulance and over-aggression, under the pitiless gaze of the omnipresent TV cameras, are becoming more and more of a problem on the football field. But in Saturday’s meeting of Hull City and Newcastle United, the issue reared its ugly head, so to speak, in the managerial technical area. With very little provocation – and somewhat less thought – Toon manager Alan Pardew acted like an inveterate thug, utterly disgracing himself and, by association, his club.

The circumstances were bizarre. No excuses could be made in terms of pressure or stress, no mitigation is available by way of any sense of injustice or bad luck. Rather, if anything, the opposite. Pardew’s Newcastle team were 3-1 up, having landed a hat-trick of sucker punches while Hull City had battered away at the Geordies’ goal to no avail. Then, City midfielder David Meyler, hastening to retrieve the ball for a throw-in, had the temerity to jostle Pardew in passing. Was this at the root of what followed? Did Pardew feel that his immense managerial dignity had been ruffled in his being brushed aside by a mere Hull City player?

Whatever the cause, Pardew reacted like a teenage hoodlum with twelve pints of White Lightning inside him. Facing up to a startled Meyler, the irate manager – there is no other way to describe this – butted his hapless target in the face. He “dropped the nut”, as we say hereabouts. Stitch that! He inflicted a “Pontefract Kiss”, which involves forehead but no lips and is decidedly not an expression of affection. The TV commentators yowled in shock and disgust. The pundits on Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme giggled, as is their wont, in delighted schoolboy amazement, tinged with an awful sense of what the headmasters at the FA might now do.

Let’s not be coy here – this was no ritualistic “shoving of a player’s head in the general direction of equally riled-up opponent”. You sometimes do get that between opposing players, and it’s usually more like two wary stags trying to show aggression without getting hurt, than any real intent to land a blow. Pardew’s offence was different. It was a full-on, neck flexed, calculated nutting, aimed at a player who clearly expected nothing of the sort from a Premier League manager. As Pardew’s forehead landed, the football world shook.

It’s been said quite a few times since the incident that such behaviour from a manager is unprecedented.  Yet Pardew does have form for touchline aggression, having been caught on camera in the past, going full throttle for the distinguished throat of Arsene Wenger.  This most recent descent of the red mist over Pardew’s vision is baffling, mainly for the relative lack of provocation in what was a fairly comfortable situation for his team – but also for the sheer lunatic foolhardiness of the act.  This is a man, let’s not forget,  who needs to be able to demonstrate the temperament and emotional stability to have charge of a squad of highly-paid athletes in the white-hot atmosphere of Premier League combat.  Pardew has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he lacks these qualities and you have to fear for his future, if not his sanity.

This is surely a situation where the game’s authorities have to act, and act decisively.  They really are honour-bound to throw the book at Pardew if they are to send a sufficiently emphatic message to the effect that this sort of thing is simply unacceptable.  Newcastle United themselves have attempted to defuse any action by the game’s rulers, imposing a heavy club fine and issuing an official warning.  But really, the man’s credibility is shot – surely Newcastle cannot afford to be tainted by association with such a liability.  The Toon fans of my acquaintance would not mourn his departure, and it may well be that a quality squad would benefit from a wiser, calmer head in charge of their team.

If Pardew now stays in charge of what is a significant if not huge Premier League club, then what sort of message does that send out to everybody involved with football – the players, managers, fans – everyone?  What does it teach the young kids who watch football avidly on TV and will have seen Pardew’s nut-job in full HD and glorious slo-mo?  Nothing of any good, that’s for certain.

The FA should act, and they should act swiftly.  We are given to understand that they will investigate the matter – and of course they have no power to dismiss Newcastle’s manager; that is a club decision.  But by imposing a touchline ban of significant length, the FA could perhaps force Newcastle United’s hand, compelling them to realise that hanging on to Alan Pardew is in nobody’s interests – probably not even his own, given the pressure he will now be under every time Newcastle play.

I’d find it very hard to defend a Leeds United manager in these circumstances – though I probably would try.  That’s where blinkered loyalty leads you.  It’s more than likely that some Newcastle fans will be minded to defend Pardew. But he’s made a fool of himself and it reflects no credit on Newcastle United FC that he’s still in post a full day after his ridiculous and foolhardy action.  A parting of the ways would probably be in the best interests of everyone concerned, and after the events at the KC Stadium on Saturday, it can hardly come soon enough.

Evra Out-Chomps Suarez in the Bad Taste Stakes

Stupid Boy

Stupid Boy

It was predictable, I suppose, that Man U would find time in celebrating their hollow title triumph to have a pop at the enemy down the other end of the East Lancs road. It’s in their DNA to crow instead of celebrating with dignity as truly great clubs do – and so inevitably the evening couldn’t go by without some reference to the latest glitch from Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.  Liverpool are a problem for Man U.  They oozed class to utterly out-perform all the competition back when that competition was a lot broader-based than it is today.  They’ve still got more European Cups.  For a club so obsessed with size and success, so insecure in the face of genuine rivalry, it stings the Trafford-based giants that a relatively close neighbour has been so historically successful.  Man U don’t take that sort of thing kindly, and Ferguson’s poisonous hatred of Liverpool has trickled down like escaping acid through the fabric of his club, leaving the suppurating sores of bitter envy at all levels.

Even given this long-standing hatred of Liverpool, born of the envy and insecurity that riddles Old Trafford, the display on Monday evening of the not-exactly-admirable defender Evra was pushing hard at the far boundaries of decency and good taste.  A joke “severed limb” was thrown onto the pitch from the jubilant home fans – this is the kind of thing Man U fans are rather prone to, with a record of similar perversions of class and comportment many times in the past.  They tend to squeal loud and long though if anyone offers them like treatment; such is the one-way street of the Man U supporters’ moral code.

So there’s this silly toy on the pitch and – no doubt seeking to please and impress his adoring fans, Evra had to pick it up and mime having a bite out of it.  It’s not a particularly edifying image, but of course Evra and Suarez are not exactly bosom buddies.  Be that as it may, such a very unsubtle reference to the hot-headed and idiotic actions of the Uruguayan a couple of days previously at Anfield was – to say the least – unhelpful and unwelcome.  Suarez has stupidly offered himself as a target yet again for a press and public that has been eager to condemn him ever since his dispute with Evra, a situation in which the Frenchman shared a lot of any blame going.  But Suarez has been hunted ever since, any slip highlighted, most of the praise that his sparkling play deserves only grudgingly meted out.

The point of all this is, of course, that the actions of Suarez, stupid and needless though they may be, ARE invariably taken in the heat of the moment, when he is in the middle of some competitive vortex on the field.  Evra, on the other hand was relaxed and celebrating, high on the moment of triumph no doubt, but not caught up in the white heat of conflict.  And yet he still chose to do this tasteless thing, in cold blood, and subject us all to the spectacle of his gloating mug on the back pages, glorying in the opportunity to heap further ridicule on a fellow professional.  An unpleasant and despicable individual, as well as being not one tenth the player that Suarez undeniably is, as he’s always proving.

It always seems to be Man U that are highlighted indulging in unpleasant schoolboy skits like this.  They used to have a reputation for class and impeccable conduct, even under the slightly shady rule of the Edwards family.  That good reputation is long gone.  The modern tendency to revel in the misfortunes and dilemmas of others seems bred into them by their coarse and choleric manager, a man who values the siege complex and nurtures this out of the hate his teams’ conduct inspires.  Suarez has – probably rightly – copped a long ban for his daft action, which gained him nothing and certainly reflected ill on the game.  His conduct was inexcusable, but for a hothead like Suarez there are always reasons, and it seems that every now and again, he will simply run out of self-control.  It’s in his temperamental and hot-blooded nature for this to be so, and sadly that runs against the grain in a colder country than his native Uruguay.

But what’s worse – this instinctive tendency of the Liverpool striker to get carried away in the moment and either lash out or bite off more than he can chew?  Or the sly and nasty, calculated and measured breach of taste perpetrated by Evra, a man usually more sinning than sinned against, and whose actions appear inexplicably to draw nothing more than a fond smile from the Man U-centric media?

I know what I think.  Silly lad, Suarez.  Nasty git, Evra.

Man United – Why Always Them?

Former Manchester City maverick Mario Balotelli will be remembered in the English game for many things, but prominent among those various goals, skills and misdemeanours will be his famous celebration after scoring against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season in City’s 6-1 eclipsing of their local rivals.  Balotelli slotted the ball home calmly at the Stretford End, turned away with no sign of emotion on his face, and lifted his City shirt to reveal a t-shirt on which was printed the heartfelt plea “Why Always Me?”.  The message, after a series of incidents culminating in a row with the emergency services when he set off a firework in his bathroom at home, clearly indicated a feeling that he was being scapegoated to a certain extent.  To add insult to his perceived injury, he was booked for the t-shirt display.

Recent events, on top of a long history of prominent stories figuring the controversy and fuss that attend one football club above all others, might lead us to ask a somewhat wider version of the same question.

Why is it always Manchester United?

The furore surrounding their Champions League exit on the 5th March is fairly typical of the controversy the Champions-elect seem to attract, like flies to a bad piece of meat, on such a regular basis that you tend to wonder whether it’s just coincidence or a Machiavellian form of press-management.  So “enraged” was manager Alex Ferguson after their defeat, which turned on the dismissal of Nani for what might charitably be termed a high tackle; that he refused to appear before the assembled press after the game.  He was “too distraught” apparently, to fulfil his mandatory duties in that regard.  To the media of course, a story about a no-show from Ferguson is a much bigger scoop than anything most managers might say in adhering to their agreed obligations.  But Manchester United and controversy have gone together like port and nuts for a long, long time now.

ImageCloser examination of the incident in focus this time reveals a worrying lack of consistency in Ferguson’s emotional reactions over remarkably comparable incidents.  Nani’s liver-high tackle was described dogmatically as “definitely not a red card”, paving the way for Man Utd claims of ill-treatment and bias.  A virtually identical tackle some time before, by Arsenal’s Eboue on Ferguson’s own player Evra, was also punished by a red card, but that one drew praise from the choleric Scot, who stated that the decision was “100% correct”.  This apparent self-contradiction is nothing new in the world of Alex Ferguson, or indeed in the wider manifestations of the club who like to brand themselves “The Greatest in the World”.

At the end of the Real Madrid match, enraged home defender Rio Ferdinand saw fit to get up close and personal with the referee who had dared dismiss Nani, sarcastically applauding him at point-blank range.   This is a widely-recognised form of dissent, and would normally merit a yellow card.  The referee did nothing, and UEFA have since confirmed that no action will be taken against Ferdinand.  It would be tempting to ask what sort of message this sends out to aspiring young players, if the answer were not so glaringly obvious.  That message is, as ever:  Man Utd can basically do just as they like, the game’s ruling authorities being so much in thrall to the club’s global profile – and the markets dependent upon its prosperity – that they will often turn a Nelsonian blind eye to such flouting of the rules, in the fond hope that nobody will notice when other clubs are dealt with more severely for like offences.

It has been said, with some justification, that one of the more hackneyed clichés in today’s game is the regular statement from the Football Association along the lines of “We have looked into (insert name of misdemeanour perpetrated by the Man Utd club or employee here), and can confirm that no further action will be taken.”

This sort of thing has been going on for many years, and while most clubs might shy away from such regular media attention of a not entirely positive nature, Man Utd as an entity appear to subscribe to the old maxim that there’s simply no such thing as bad publicity.  They have displayed a talent for remaining newsworthy, certainly on the back pages and not infrequently on the front as well, more or less continually, and dating back to well before their current era of success.  The incidents are many, and mostly quite unsavoury – Rooney elbowing a Wigan player and getting off scot-free, dodgy penalties too many to number, the legendary difficulty of seeing a penalty awarded against them and so on and so forth – and yet the default press position remains that the club are pre-eminent in the game for reasons of skill, charisma and courage, an apparent myth lapped up eagerly by the global fan-base, most of whom have never seen the team play in the flesh.

We hear far too much also of Ferguson’s so-called “mind-games”, a phenomenon particularly beloved of the media in this country, but one which appears to consist largely of an elderly gentleman having great difficulty sticking to the path of veracity at those press-conferences he deigns to attend.  Madrid manager Jose Mourinho is one who prospers in these psychological duels – in Ferguson’s petulant absence after the game last Tuesday, he stated that “the better team lost”, and walked off, content at having fanned the flames of the Man Utd manager’s fury.

It seems though that UEFA are after all to look into Ferguson’s failure to turn up for the press after this latest controversial occasion.  Presumably they will investigate fully, and a technical charge of “Sulking” might just possibly ensue.  But it would be unwise to place too much money on such an outcome; it may well be that we’ll yet again hear those old, familiar words “no further action will be taken”.