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Monday, 28 February 2011

Ruling Nothing Out

Not for the first time on a Monday morning – if you take out the obligatory ‘is this a dream?’ moment upon reading the headline ‘Ashley Cole shoots youth with rifle’ – ill-discipline and FA/Premier League sanctioning (or lack of) are the order of the day. Wayne Rooney, certainly, should have been punished. Gary Caldwell, too, committed a dreadful tackle on Patrice Evra for which he was lucky to escape the referee’s attentions. Neither were particularly necessary challenges, but at least Caldwell was in the vicinity of a player with the ball. Rooney’s elbow on James McCarthy bordered on assault.

The petulance that you'd expect Rooney to have grown out of has come back with a vengeance. Another goal yesterday doesn’t really serve to obscure that these are fleeting and isolated moments of success in a desperately poor 12 months in which, for whatever reason, the magic of 2009-10 has been lost. It has been a dreadful season, full of agitating and careering around in every aspect of his life, seemingly desperate for a solution that will replicate the heights of last season. It is a curious side-effect that United are so handsomely top of the Premier League, and I’m yet to be convinced that he will resist a fresh challenge away from Old Trafford come the summer. Poor form and very public contract complaints may have given him too much to prove in the Manchester United limelight.

Any deserved punishment for the 25-year old would have ensured a watching brief for United’s game with Chelsea. If he is to rekindle a love affair with the 2010-11 campaign, it will be by playing and performing in games of this ilk – see the proclamations of his genius following the Manchester derby. A ‘not guilty’ verdict has brought with it further pressure.

Rooney is not the only player to have suffered from what has been dismissed in some quarters as nothing more than a little hot-headedness, a coming together between committed players. Except the players were nowhere near the ball, and McCarthy wasn’t obstructing Rooney’s run sufficiently that there should have been any physical contact. This wasn’t a ‘heat of the moment’ reaction like DJ Campbell’s against Wolves on Saturday. That argument can be valid, but in Rooney’s case it is an easy way out.

There is a line to be drawn between instinctive reactions – a flick of the boot, a reaction to a perceived foul fuelled by adrenaline – and unnecessarily flaunting the rules. Rooney has pleaded a proactive response – he thought McCarthy was going to hit him first – but I cannot see from the replays how that is the case.

The truth of the matter is that there is a nasty, cynical side to football. Diving, cheating, pushing, shoving, punching and elbowing have all been seen and condemned many a time before this incident, and no doubt will be many a time in future. But what informs this kind of behaviour in players? Is it staggering arrogance? Stupidity? Weak enforcement of the rules?

The arrogance and stupidity argument might be a bit harsh, but we have seen on a number of occasions how footballers appear to believe they are above what is generally expected of the rest of us. Ashley Cole was always an easy scapegoat but having smuggled an air rifle into the club’s training ground in a box and then shot someone with it, he is now rightly the focal point of the ‘footballers are idiots’ movement. In some cases, it’s as if they think they are untouchable.

On the pitch, though, is it human nature to try and gain an advantage? To go off-piste for a minute, there are parallels here with the rugby at the weekend. Penalties conceded repeatedly for not releasing the ball on the ground, for the tackler not rolling away – and all other manner of rule-breaking – are punished a lot more regularly and accurately in rugby. Ideally then, you would think, the infringements would be eradicated. But this hasn’t happened.

Refereeing in rugby is often held up as a paragon to which that of football should be aspiring. The referee and touch judges make the calls and the players, by and large, accept them without so much as a “fuck off tosser”. Perhaps most importantly, the game moves on, fouls and cheating punished appropriately. If trying to gain an advantage illegally is impossible to eradicate, at least the referee should be able to identify it and enjoy sufficient confidence to do so.

Rooney, then, isn’t the only one with a case to answer here. Upon his reaction being sought by the FA, Mark Clattenberg revealed that he “saw the incident and was satisfied that he dealt with it appropriately at the time”. Which is odd. We’d have thought the referee and FA would be all for preventing assault on the football pitch.

The real difference, then, appears to be in the strength of the officiating. Look at yesterday’s Carling Cup final. If you wish to look solely at Manchester United, look at how Gary Neville should have seen red twice in his swansong season, look at Rafael da Silva at Blackpool and at Nemanja Vidic in both league and 2010 Carling Cup final against Aston Villa. I had Paul Merson making my ears bleed AGAIN yesterday when he informed me that Koscielny was ‘not that kind of player’. If that’s a remotely acceptable argument, then Magic Spongers isn’t the kind of blog to cast aspersions on ex-professional footballers’ weak, blinkered, entrenched, old-boys’ club interpretations of the game. So don’t worry Paul, we think you’re a thick twat, but we’re not that kind of blog. SO IT NEVER HAPPENED.

If it’s in the rules that the punishment for a misdemeanour is eating a raw onion all in one go, then it should be absolutely unacceptable for anyone to get off with merely snacking on an apple. If really nasty little actions like Rooney’s escape without any kind of punishment, it perpetuates what is already an extremely poor precedent. If I smacked you in the street, you’d be well within your rights to smack me right back. If McCarthy had smacked Rooney back, he’d have been off. Rooney, still, would not. It should be made sure that the same rules have to apply to all of the players, all of the time.


  1. Good blog- right on the money. However, "If I smacked you in the street, you’d be well within your rights to smack me right back" is not the case. There is no such thing as self-defence in UK law. But I'm being a stickler- the FA have done FA again and Clattenburg has just jumped ahead of Howard Webb on Fergie's Xmas card list!

  2. I agree, offenses should be punished - I am tired of watching the players getting 'hot headed' and getting away with childish tantrums. Anger management needs to be an essential part of training!