It has been an extraordinary season in the Barclays Premier League. It must be fantastic for neutrals to watch the big clubs slip up or be pushed to the brink by the league’s minnows, not such fun for an Arsenal fan to sit frustrated for 90 minutes as his/her team fails to turn possession into goals.
For me the most extraordinary team this season has been Manchester United. This has probably been the case in many seasons but certainly not for the reasons of this season. United seem to have had their level of performance criticized in almost every game this season and yet they now hold a commanding seven point lead over Arsenal, this will likely be reduced to six after Arsenal’s game in hand and extended to nine after United’s visit to the Emirates.
The point of this post however, is not to malign or praise United’s poor performances or incredible winning mentality, but to comment on the modernization of the game and how it could easily appear to Manchester United fans that these changes are gradually being implemented in an attempt to maintain the competitive title, reveled in for much of the season, that United are threatening to have settled by the first of May.
I can think of three incidents recently that have been rather controversial and have all gone against United. In an attempt to maintain interest in the title race?
Firstly, on the 17th of March Sir Alex was given a five-match ban for his comments after Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over his Manchester United side: ‘You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway – and we didn’t get that.’ This was a severe punishment, partly as a result of previous misdemeanors, but possibly in part because United are a big club, Sir Alex is a big name and without him on the touchline the title race may become closer. This has not been the case and if you ask me touchline bans are a pointless punishment, I would have loved for my manager to be banned from shouting unhelpful expletives from the touchline when I was a player and I wouldn’t be surprised if many professionals felt the same way. The point, is that the large ban was obviously an attempt to invoke a large punishment on both Sir Alex and Manchester United and I wonder whether there wasn’t some intention to pick up a “free lunch” from punishing Ferguson, in that the title race may be blown back open.
Secondly, and briefly, because this subject has been discussed (at length) in a previous post there is the tackle from Jonny Evans on Stuart Holden. An accident? Probably. A horrific tackle? Definitely. The reason I can relate this incident and evolution in the rule book to an attempt to derail United’s dominance is due to the clip of Bryan Robson that was shown on Football Focus in tribute to a United and England legend currently fighting against cancer, a fight we all hope is won. This clip was a montage of Robson scoring brilliant goals and fearlessly going into crunching tackles. All of which I am quite sure he would have been sent off for in the modern game, if Chris Cohen’s tackle on George McCartney was a straight red, they all certainly were. United have traditionally had tough tackling midfielders, from Robson to Keane and even the apparently ever forgivable Paul Scholes, and are likely to be one of the clubs most impacted by the new tough laws on tackling where getting the ball isn’t an excuse for the use of “excessive force.”
Finally, Wayne Rooney’s bizarre, inexcusable but surely not dangerous reaction to his hat-trick against West Ham at the weekend. Rooney was brilliant on Saturday and (as earmarked in an earlier blog) when he is on-song it is well within his capabilities to turn a game or title race on its head, or perhaps back on to its feet as he did on Saturday. But surely a more reasonable “punishment” for his goal “celebration” would be some time with a counselor or some very relaxing bath soaps. FA rules state: “A participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.” Rooney broke this rule, he does so in every game, along with many of his fellow professionals. “At all times” really? Ashley Cole shot someone at a training ground, Mario Balotelli throws darts at youth players to relieve boredom, and neither has been banned.
To be honest, I think Fergie’s bemoaning of referee’s is boring and sets a bad example to youngsters of how to accept defeat, Jonny Evans is a bad defender, his absence is a blessing in disguise and his tackle was deserving of a red card and Wayne Rooney is an objectionable character, impossible to enjoy despite his incredible talent and again a bad example to youngsters of how to lose, and apparently even more so how to win. But the point is that it appears the FA are eager to punish United’s misdemeanours, and heavily. The Premier League rely heavily on funding from Sky Sports, who in turn rely heavily on exciting fixtures, how exciting will Arsenal versus Manchester United be on May 1st?! Well this very much depends on the number of points separating the two teams at the time, and with Arsenal doing their very best to make sure the title is decided by that point perhaps it is up to the FA to make sure that game still holds some significance.
As an Arsenal fan, I wish them all the best and would like to make some suggestions. If you really want to make the race interesting, don’t ban Jonny Evans for three games, make his inclusion obligatory, don’t allow 40year olds in match day squads, ban players who do not wear their real name on the back of their shirt, set a minimum number of games for those included in the 25 man squad and do not allow anyone who constantly tweets about “silks” and his “twitfam” to return from injury to deliver wonderfully composed defensive performances.
Further suggestions very welcome.