If you want a good example of why politicians shouldn’t get involved in sport then look no further than the Italian Prime Minister’s ludicrous comments last week.
He feels it is would be right to punish thousands of honest players, tens of thousands of support staff and millions of fans for the actions of a few corrupt individuals- James Calvert
Mario Monti, speaking about the country’s match-fixing scandal, suggested it might be a good idea to completely suspend Italian football to clear up the mess.
“It’s particularly sad when a world which should be an expression of the highest values – sport, youth, competition, fairness, turns out to be a mass of foul play, falsehood and demagoguery. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to suspend the game for two or three years.”
In other words he feels it is would be right to punish thousands of honest players, tens of thousands of support staff and millions of fans for the actions of just a few corrupt, insipid individuals.
What total nonsense.
I entirely agree that match fixing needs to be completely eradicated. Anyone found guilty of it should receive the highest possible sanctions. And steps must be taken to ensure it never, ever happens again.
But stopping football in its entirety would not solve the problem or make it go away. It would merely inflict further suffering on the people who don’t deserve it, none more so than the fans who must already have serious doubts about the integrity of the sport they pay good money to watch.
And what about the deeper financial implications of halting an entire sport? Would any clubs be able to survive without two of three years of income? What would happen to all the players? What about clubs’ contractual obligations in European competitions? And would the national team also fall under this ban?
I’m sorry Mr Monti, but while I understand your passion as a fan and your distress at the damage this scandal is doing to Italy’s reputation, your idea, even if it was just meant as a topic for discussion, is really rather silly.
There is, of course, a silver lining to this particular cloud for Italy supporters: just look at how well the national team has done in the past when going into major tournaments on the back of serious football scandals.
On that basis it’s got to be worth sticking a tenner on them to lift the European Cup this summer hasn’t it…?
Will fortune favour the brave?
As decisions go, the appointment of Brendan Rodgers as the new manager of Liverpool is certainly a brave one.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting it’s going to be a bad appointment. Not in the least. I just think the club’s American owners have taken a risk by giving the Northern Irishman such a big job at such an early stage of his career.
Rodgers has only been running clubs for four years, and that makes him little more than a toddler in managerial terms. In that time he has been average with Watford, bad with Reading and successful with Swansea.
Will someone with such little experience, and at the relatively young age of 39, be able to cope with the pressures and expectations that go with the Anfield hot seat? Will he be able to command the respect needed to get the best out of the club’s underperforming stars?
I’m not so sure.
Having said that, he may well turn out to be precisely what Liverpool need: young, ambitious, determined and unpolluted by the ways of the game at the very top. He also comes with glowing praise from none other than Jose Mourinho, who gave him his first big coaching job while at Chelsea.
As I said, it’s a brave decision. If it goes right then Liverpool’s American owners will be seen as having made an inspired decision. If Rodgers fails, however, then more time, and money, will have been wasted in the club’s quest to return to the glory days.
Personally I am happy that a young British manager has been able to work his way to the top echelons of the Premiership. It sends out the right signal to other managers working hard to make a name for themselves at smaller clubs.
Maybe the belief that foreign managers are always better is starting to change.
New but cold Wembley
Last Saturday I was at Wembley watching Sheffield United snatch a quite astonishing defeat from the jaws of victory.
In case you missed it, and I can understand why you might have done, the League One play-off final ended all square after 120 minutes of goalless football. And so it was left to the lottery of penalties to decide whether it would be United or Huddersfield Town off to the heady heights of the Championship.
However, despite watching their opponents fail to score their first three spot kicks, United still managed to lose the epic shoot-out. It took 22 penalties to do so and involved the goalkeeper missing the decisive kick, but nevertheless the Blades beat the odds to maintain their 100 per cent play-off failure rate.
However, the point of this piece was not to celebrate United’s ineptitude or even wallow in self-pity. After following them for more than 35 years I am entirely used to the former and no longer bother with the latter.
No, what I actually wanted to talk about was Wembley itself.
Although I had been to the old stadium several times, this was my first visit to the new, improved, lemon-scented version of the famous old ground.
And I have surprisingly mixed feelings about it.
On the positive side, the seats are super comfy, the views brilliant and the pitch world class. Once you are actually sat down and watching the match it’s easy to see where the three-quarters of a billion pounds went. And it feels like money well spent.
However, it’s the ‘backstage’ area of the ground, the concourse if you like, which left me feeling cold. Yes, it’s all very clean and comfortable but has been made so at the expense of personality.
It is, for want of a better way of describing it, like an airport lounge – all marble floors, trendy lighting and retail outlets.
The old Wembley was so much more raw and powerful. As you wandered through the bare concrete halls you could sense the heritage that had been created by tens of millions of football fans living the Wembley dream. It was a piece of living, functioning history.
The new version, on the other hand, makes you feel like you should have your passport and a boarding card in hand rather than a programme and a pint of beer.
A feeling that is not helped by the regular and monotonous announcements coming over the PA system which I swear were recorded by the same man who does the ‘don’t leave your baggage unattended’ announcements at Heathrow.
Before you accuse me of being a bit too picky, I still believe the new Wembley is a stadium to be proud of. It has all the mod cons and, more than anything, it feels safe and secure in a way old stadiums never can.
However, maybe I am old fashioned, but I just think its set-up panders to the modern, yuppie football fan a bit too much at the expense of the traditional, pie-and-pint supporter.
Then again, I suppose it’s in keeping with the way the modern game has become: pretty to look at but lacking in soul.