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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sod's Law

"I just scored a perfectly legitimate goal."

In yet another big-money coup, Magic Spongers snap up the ever-excellent John Dobson, who explains why UEFA need to play by their own rules. Or not.

It's not cricket.

No it's not, it's football. One of the unique things about cricket is that the concept of 'the spirit of the game' is enshrined in it's laws - also note the use of the word 'laws' as opposed to 'rules'. The nature of the game lends itself to this as you're in the field for five days at a stretch with the same people. This is not the case in a fast-paced hour and a half and while the nebulous concept of 'fair play' is rewarded to an extent, it's not mentioned in the rules.

It's about emphasis. Incidents like Paolo di Canio catching the ball to halt play when Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was down injured when he'd have been perfectly within his rights to have a go at the untended goal stand out because such circumstances are rare and while there are widely accepted conventions, there is no 'spirit of football'. Does there need to be? Probably not, even if there have been a number of incidents of late where even basic human decency between players has been sadly lacking.

In many ways, cricket's steadfast standing by the 'spirit' of the game is an anachronism, a way of entrenching a sense of moral superiority into the game - something routinely undermined by ludicrous appeals, open dissent, spot- and match-fixing. However, breaches of this moral code are against the laws and can - are - punished. Even without this codification, football generally mops these things up under the term 'bringing the game into disrepute'.

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Luiz Adriano did not break any rules in scoring against Nordsj√¶lland. Even in the aftermath, with the Nordsj√¶lland players voicing their complaints quite vocally, did he do anything wrong. What he did was break an unwritten and uncertain convention, one that says that drop-balls are to be uncontested and the ball should be hoofed back to the goalkeeper if the stoppage has been as the result of a player rolling around on the floor, all determined on the whim of players and referee alike. Adriano's actions may have tasted like a particularly bitter apple, but it was an apple nonetheless, not the onion that the Danes would have you believe was served to them.

Were I ever to be in charge of a football team - could happen, stop laughing - my instruction would be to contest everything and play on unless instructed to by the referee. If the other team have a player down and want the ball out of play, well they'll have to win it first and then put it out themselves. And if everyone conducted themselves in that manner, at least we'd all know where we stand and people could stop getting in righteous huffs about something that wasn't against any rule.

UEFA, in their eternal wisdom, have seen fit to suspend Luiz Adriano for one game for this non-transgression of the rules of the game. Two things: Sportsmanship is not sportsmanship if it's mandated and how do you suspend someone for sticking to the rules? Both points can be taken to ridiculous extremes to hammer it home, but you quickly realise that UEFA are bordering on the unsatirisable (even through the medium of apple/onion analogies). After all, we already have mandated handshakes before games in the name of respect and people can end up getting sent off for the heinous crime of having messages on t-shirts. The sport of football was hardly tarnished by Luiz Adriano's actions, no more so than other common sights like packs of players pursuing a referee around the pitch in a post-penalty pandemonium or someone on £90k a week throwing a vein-bulging strop because he thinks he should have had a throw-in.

There are many things for UEFA to get involved in. Along with regulating underpants and screwing up European competition yet further, chastising players for obeying the rules should not be one of them. If not, let's hope Luiz Adriano has learned his lesson and doesn't play to the whistle in future. Or takes up cricket.

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