OK, Fellaini was wrong but let's get to grips with the real problem
22:59 GMT, 16 December 2012
The narrative moves fast in English football but, even so, it can safely be presumed they haven’t changed the rules on the sly midway through the season.
So, as of the weekend, it was still illegal to hold on to another player to prevent his movement. Meaning the first foul that was committed in the Stoke City penalty area in the 59th minute on Saturday was by defender Ryan Shawcross.
That does not justify Marouane Fellaini’s reaction, and is only the tiniest mitigation for an incident that will almost certainly end with a three-match ban for the Everton player, but it is nevertheless an important fact.
Losing his head: Marouane Fellaini's clash with Ryan Shawcross was wrong on many levels
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For it makes plain that what happened on Saturday, a clash that could have ended in serious injury, a fractured cheekbone or broken nose, was a direct result of football’s decision to allow wrestling matches in the penalty area.
Fellaini assaults Shawcross primarily because he is being prevented from playing, illegally, and Mark Halsey, the referee, appears happy to let this continue. Football has never had more policemen and yet such little interest in implementing the rules.
The replays clearly show that, directly before Fellaini strikes, Shawcross is gripping him by an upper arm beneath the shoulder, to restrict his run. This is a foul. It isn’t a penalty, because the ball is dead but it is without doubt subject to corrective action.
As none is forthcoming, Fellaini takes matters into his own hands, attempts to wrestle free and, as he passes Shawcross, ducks his head into his opponent’s face. Shawcross collapses. Halsey misses the incident.
For this reason the FA can pass sanction and Everton will lose their key player at a crucial time in the campaign. David Moyes, the manager, is resigned to this and did not complain. To his credit, he as good as invited punishment.
Maybe, by doing so, he felt he was acting for the wider good. Had Moyes defended his player, the fallout would have centred on Fellaini, who got away with several instances of poor behaviour on Saturday.
Instead, with Everton pleading guilty, football would now be wise to study cause and effect.
Fellaini is a physical player. He gives as good as he gets, and one imagines he gets plenty. Even so, he does not usually prioritise butting defenders over scoring goals. If Shawcross’s marking had been old-school, without fouling, this would not have happened.
Football is a contact sport. In the
penalty area, players will be in proximity. Yet over the last decade,
increasingly, defenders no longer guard their man, but grapple with him.
Chelsea were masters at it, so are Stoke. And because referees have not
stopped this behaviour, it is encouraged.
Rough and tumble: Grappling at corners and freekicks has become commonplace in football
Every penalty area resembles a red-belt judo class these days. The FA, supposed guardians of the game, are content to let this continue.
Fellaini has admitted he was wrong and apologised. There can be no quibbles over punishment.
Yet the wider problem is not being addressed. A single weekend, in which every foul of this nature was met with a warning, then a yellow card (or a penalty if it happened when the ball was in play), would curb it instantly.
Results would briefly resemble rugby scores, but then the crisis would be over, and football would be re-acquainted with the old-fashioned ways of defending. After all, isn’t that exactly what a player like Shawcross is supposed to be about
All about cash for nice little Hearner
Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn continues his battle to torpedo any hope of a genuine legacy at the Olympic Stadium.
'This dispute is going to run and run and run,' he said, maintaining his opposition to West Ham United’s tenancy. 'I know, after talking to the London Legacy Development Corporation, that the Olympic Stadium is all about money and nothing about community values.'
The same community values that once led Hearn to consider moving Orient to Harlow or Basildon.
That deal, obviously, wouldn’t have been about money at all. He's all heart, our Barry.
Pay now, judge later
Damien Comolli has been working overtime attempting to justify his record at Liverpool. It boils down to the standard demand of every director of football: judge me in five years.
'I don’t think we made mistakes on the players going out,' he said, 'and whether we made mistakes on the players who came in, time will tell.'
Time has told, old son.
Nearly two years down the line, Andy Carroll is on loan to a lesser club, having scored 11 goals for Liverpool — just six in the league — at a cost of 35million.
Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing can barely get a game. Charlie Adam is gone. There are eight players that have made double figure league appearances for Liverpool this season and only one — Luis Suarez, great acquisition, but hardly out of left field — was signed by Comolli.
The majority were in the team under Rafael Benitez.
'I speak to people and they ask, “What about that deal”' Comolli said. 'I explain and they say, “OK, I see where you’re coming from”.'
Of course they do; they aren’t writing the cheques.
'If you want to talk about Carroll, the situation was quite clear,' Comolli added. 'We were selling two players, Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, and were bringing two in, Suarez and Carroll.
'Chelsea kept bidding higher and higher for Torres until we got to a point where the difference between their first and final bid was double. We were making a profit and the wage bill was coming down as well.'
In other words, Abramovich was overpaying so Comolli decided it did not matter if John Henry paid through the nose, too. That is why he got the bullet.
He was big-hearted Charlie with another man’s money. Judge him whenever you want but Liverpool will regret giving him even as long as they did.
Arsenal should be wary of dinosaurs like Usmanov
The Australian PGA Championship has probably sunk its last putt in Coolum, Queensland. Blame Jeff.
Jeff is a 26-foot robot plastic replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex located outside the clubhouse between Coolum’s ninth green and 10th tee. It has been there since the resort club was purchased by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer. He is also considering building a dinosaur theme park.
Indeed, Palmer is considering a lot of things, many of them plastered on one of the 60 signs he erected around the course, promoting his pursuits, including a proposed replica of the Titanic.
Dino-sore: Jeff, the 26-foot robot plastic replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex at Coolum, isn't pretty
Also sinking is golf’s credibility as players, including Darren Clarke, walk in Jeff’s shadow.
At least Palmer agreed to turn off the dinosaur’s mechanical roar. Club players and guests traditionally get a mulligan — a chance to replay the shot without penalty — if Jeff bursts into life at the top of a backswing.
The very rich, as F Scott Fitzgerald observed, are very different from you and me. Palmer cannot understand what the fuss is about and wants Coolum to host again next year.
Alisher Usmanov, meanwhile, is perplexed that Arsenal continue to reject his advances and his requests for a seat on the board.
Yet just as Palmer dropped Jeff on an unsuspecting public, so Usmanov – wealthier than Roman Abramovich – offered a glimpse of what Arsenal could be like on his watch, by announcing that Thierry Henry should return to the club, 'but not as a player'.
Decisions, decisions: Alisher Usmanov
‘I don’t have any powers in terms of decisions but there are a few players with whom I am in contact,’ Usmanov said. My favourite is probably Thierry. He should be involved at the club. He has another role to play; a more important role.
'Take the example of Patrick Vieira at Manchester City. He is also a symbol of Arsenal but is helping another club. We have to avoid that with Thierry.'
One imagines if Arsene Wenger wants Henry back in any capacity, he is perfectly capable of asking him. And if he wants him as a player, short-term like last season, he would not appreciate having his plans vetoed by an owner who thinks he knows best.
In attempting a populist manoeuvre, Usmanov inadvertently revealed more of his style than was flattering.
Whatever Arsenal’s current predicament, Wenger has more than earned the right to make his own decisions and to be told that Henry’s transfer is off, but his unrequired return in an elevated role is on, is precisely the type of interference that could usher him out of the door.
Usmanov has money and this alone appeals to desperate supporters, but the last thing Arsenal need is a 26-foot dinosaur, roaring his instructions at a neutered manager.
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT
We can all see the problem with the Club World Cup. To embrace the global ethos all continents must be represented, yet Europe and South America are overwhelmingly strong, so the tournament contains no mystery, beyond the outcome of the final.
Happy chappys: Corinthians are champions of the world after beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup Final
The Intercontinental Cup, as the Club World Cup once was, has a tradition lasting 52 years, beginning with a home and away final between the winners of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores.
Real Madrid lifted the first trophy in 1960, drawing 0-0 with Penarol of Uruguay in Montevideo and then beating them 5-1 in the Bernabeu. This was the best and most dramatic format of all.
From 1960 to 1979 when Olimpia of Paraguay defeated Malmo, there were 10 South American winners and nine from Europe.
Money won, however, and FIFA then switched to a one-off game, sponsored by Toyota, in Japan.
Again, competition stayed even. From 1980 to 2004 there were 13 European winners and 12 from South America.
Expansion then brought the Club World Cup, with a wider range of entrants, a horrid false start in Brazil in 2000, a relaunch in 2005, but basically the same outcome.
Apart from the shock qualification of Mazembe of Congo in 2010, the final has always been between Europe and South America. So as a spectacle, the tournament is moribund.
What is to be done Bruce Buck, chairman of Chelsea, has a good idea.
To strengthen the tournament, he said, it should be expanded to include the winners of the Europa League and its South American equivalent, the Copa Sudamericana. That way, there would be no guaranteed progression and at least one tough match en route to the final.
This season’s tournament would have featured Chelsea and Atletico Madrid from Europe, and Corinthians and Universidad de Chile from South America.
Sao Paulo, who finished fourth in Brazil this season, nine points clear of Corinthians, would already have qualified for next season’s tournament as Copa Sudamericana champions.
Conquering the world: How would Chelsea feel playing three matches in South America
Buck’s point was that the Champions League became more vibrant by expansion.
Placing the tournament in one of the host cities in Europe or South America — so this year’s edition would have been played in London, Madrid, Sao Paulo or Santiago — rather than a sterile location like Japan or Dubai would also help.
One imagines the bid to claim the title of world champions would carry greater cachet if Chelsea’s task involved three matches in South America, against Monterrey of Mexico, Universidad de Chile and a final against either Corinthians or Atletico Madrid. Just a thought.
Are you sitting comfortably
Sir Dave Richards, chairman of the Premier League, is to be grilled at a Football Association board meeting this week over his character witness support for John Terry.
The FA considers Richards’ stance during Terry’s hearing a conflict of interests. Yet the FA brings these disciplinary cases and also commissions and rewards the members of the independent tribunal.
This as good as places the jury in the pay of the prosecution. No conflict of interests there then, gentlemen.
Well, that’s it from me until the New Year. I know we don’t usually do presents, but if you’ve got a machine that can receive apps, search for Radio Soulwax and download a file called Dave.
Sixty minutes of pure pleasure. If you like David Bowie, that is. And, if you don’t, seriously, what’s the matter with you But it’s free, so either way, Happy Christmas.