Henry and Franny Lee

November 19, 2009

Ah football! There’s a lot of it about recently and you might have noticed that the Irish recently played a match against our French cousins.

A rather important match too, I understand, with qualification for next year’s World Cup as the prize. The stage was set for a truly titanic confrontation and it didn’t disappoint as we are left with one of the biggest footballing stories of the year. No, it wasn’t Forest’s charge up the Championship table (That’s next week), it was Thierry Henry flagrantly cheating.

WHAT!!!!??? Henry?? Cheating??? Say it isn’t so. But it’s true; Henry deliberately handled the ball to stop it from going out of play and then handled it again to direct the ball to his foot so he could cross for Gallas. I know, it’s scandalous isn’t it? An outrage of the highest order, so I think that the Irish should invade France in retaliation.

Of course, Henry is foreign so he’s more likely to cheat isn’t he? I mean, foreigners eh? You’d never catch one of us doing that, would you?

Get real, cheating is absolutely rife in the game at all levels and in all nationalities, unfortunately, it’s a feature of the game. Let’s not pretend that cheating only started in 1992, with the advent of the Premiership. Cheating has always been a part of the game and always will be, indeed, one of the games greatest ever divers was an Englishman, Mr Francis Lee of Manchester City, who somehow managed to convert 15 penalties in one season.  If anything, English players are some of the worst divers on the planet, Stephen Gerrard and Michael Owen sometimes fall over like they’ve been shot by a hidden sniper in the stands, but then again, they’re both Scousers, cheating comes as naturally as breathing to them.

Henry cheated, yes, that’s true. But calls to have the game replayed will fall on predictably deaf ears. Why should they? If this match is replayed, you risk opening the floodgates. Will Birmingham demand a replay against Liverpool after Ngog did his “Klinsmann”? Will the England team of 1986 demand a replay?

It’s hard on Ireland to be sure, but FIFA must resist the cries of injustice and allow the result to stand. Poor refereeing, injustices and cheating players are a part of the game and these things, as the old cliché has it, even themselves out over time.

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Hello world! Welcome to my brand spanking new blog, I’m going to try and pick up the big talking points from the sporting world, and I hope you’ll join in too.

Right then, the big topic of the week clearly took place at the Emirates,  so I felt what better place to start than here.

What can I say about Arsene Wenger? Brilliant coach? Clearly. Protective of his players? Absolutely. Hypocrite? You better believe it!

In 2006, Arsene Wenger told the world he wanted to see players who dived punished. In Monsieur Wenger’s own words, he said;

“We have to fight it and there is only one way to punish people diving obviously: suspension.”

Yet here we are, three years later and he feels it is an “utter disgrace” that Eduardo has been charged by UEFA. What gives? Whilst most of us who watch the game acknowledge Wenger has roughly the same eye-site as David Blunkett on a dark night, Wenger generally is respected by most fans throughout the country. However, he is now taking protectionism of his players to a new level, from where he’ll struggle to claw back any of my respect.

OK, Eduardo is coming back from a horrendous injury and is lucky to be playing again. But do you really buy that he was protecting himself? Is that why he threw himself to the ground, arms flailing? Was that why he had a Ronaldoesque grin on his face when the ref gave the pen?

Yes, Eduardo may seem to be a new case, a ‘precedent’ if you will, but trust me it’s happened before. That time it was the former Hearts winger, Saulius Mikoliunas who did his best Clark Kent over an outstretched leg at Hampden. The net result was a penalty, but also a two-game retrospective ban. But if you look at the bigger picture, Mikoliunas stopped diving. That should have been a light-bulb in the head of governing bodies, and Football Associations everywhere.

But what it should also have been, particularly now in the days of TV coverage, is a message to every player and every manager in Europe that if players dived there was a chance they could be punished. And at the end of the day, these are the two most important groups.

When players dive, managers should take disciplinary actions. Am I an idealist? Probably. But can you imagine if Eduardo had played for the late, great Brian Clough? He’d have been substituted, publicly reprimanded, dropped, fined and possibly placed on the transfer list. And managers are the the people here who can stamp out diving, so UEFA wouldn’t have to get involved.

Compare that to Wenger’s response, or Sir Alex Ferguson, or Rafa Benitez.

Now the chief of the SFA has waded into the argument, but it’s fair to say he should concentrate on cleaning up the SPL from the same problem. Glass houses comes to mind. However, Celtic manager Tony Mowbray has kept a dignified silence, despite the attempts of us ‘hacks’ to drag him into the argument, and he deserves a lot of credit for his stance.

Wenger, meanwhile has announced he will personally challenge ‘every decision made against his team in Europe’, stating that UEFA have changed the goal posts for this ‘witch hunt’, and that the referee’s decision is no longer final. Altogether now…wah, wah. Nonsense. If the decision was no longer final, the match would be replayed. And have we not been rescinding red cards for years? Or upgrading yellow cards to red ones (Ben Thatcher anybody)?

UEFA now have to demonstrate a degree of consistency, but what better place to start than in a Champions League game? Does this not send out a message we’ve all been crying out for? This act will have sent alarm bells ringing in the heads of Europe’s serial divers. Look at the bigger picture, and this move is just what European football needs: a sense of fair play. A sense that diving is out of order, and players WILL be held accountable.

Wenger could have nipped the issue in the bud with a simple ‘it’ll be sorted in house’ comment. He now looks like he’s losing the plot, blaming UEFA, the media, Scotland and my nan for the ‘attack’ on Eduardo. Here’s an idea Arsene. Blame Eduardo, and then yourself. Tell your players to stop cheating, grow some testicles and ‘man up’.

Then you’ll not only be a great coach, but a manager we can respect. A bit like Mr Clough.