Stand and Deliver

By , Posted on 23rd April 2012 - Posted in: News

As the English Premier League winds itself up to its annual, glittering finale many of the big issues still lie unresolved. I blogged last week that Manchester United look certain to retain their title – though of course events since have suggested this may not be such a shoe-in. It looks like the titanic derby match at the Etihad next weekend really is going to be crucial now, and how delighted will Rupert Murdoch’s media empire be about that? Very, I should think. One can imagine advertising revenues shooting through the roof during the build up to and the broadcasting of that particular match.

At the other end of the table Wolves are now officially down, but the other two places are still unoccupied and lie between a clutch of clubs – Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers – who have been there or thereabouts all season. Aston Villa have also  allowed themselves to be drawn in, courtesy of a poor run of recent form (and speaking of which, Liverpool must be mightily pleased they managed to put some results together before Christmas. Their 2012 results have had ‘relegation’ stamped all over them).

At both the top and bottom ends of the table, it’s ‘going down to the wire’, to use the popular, though increasingly irritating vernacular. As debate rumbles on as to which European league hosts the best quality of football no one can doubt the Premiership’s ability to serve up genuine competition. The title may only have been won by a small clutch of different clubs over the past twenty years but on any given weekend teams from the lower half of the table are always capable of beating their better placed opponents. Current box tickers in this respect are Wigan, who in their battle against relegation have recently claimed the scalps of Liverpool, United and Arsenal playing a brand of superb passing football in the process.

In fact, one of the main talking points of the season has been the football played by teams many people considered to be here just to make up the numbers. Aside from Wigan, we’ve seen promoted sides Norwich City and Swansea play with a real style. Further up the table we’ve seen the supreme passing game we’ve come to expect from Arsenal, but who’d have thought Newcastle United too would illuminate a fascinating season with as many sparkling performances as they have? As I write they stand an excellent chance of forcing themselves into a Champions League spot, at the expense of both Chelsea and Tottenham. It’s another issue that’s going down to the wire.

But for every plus there’s a minus, for everyone yin there’s a yang, and for all the glorious, high-scoring football we’ve seen we’ve also had some pretty dark moments this season. The race rows involving John Terry and Luis Suarez come most readily to mind of course, and football has had to deal with the awful tragedy of Gary Speed’s death and the collapse on the pitch of Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba – an incident that did at least have a happy outcome.

One of the less savoury aspects in our game right now though is simulation; attempts by players to con referees in order to win free kicks or penalties and see opponents carded for what amounts to non-existent offences. When players and managers constantly whinge about refereeing standards it’s sickening to see how many of them appear happy to do anything they can to make life as hard as possible for those same match officials.

Watching Didier Drogba’s pathetic acting performance in the recent Chelsea Barcelona Champions League game at Stamford Bridge was a case in point. Sadly, such a magnificently talented footballer allowed what was an otherwise imperious masterclass of footballing skills from his good self to be overshadowed by the moronic and childish rolling around he’s become famous for. It beggared belief at times. Frankly, football fans are completely turned off by this kind of drivel.

It’s in such poor taste, particularly in the wake of what happened to Muamba (and more latterly the less fortunate Piermario Morisini in Italy, who sadly died on the pitch) to see players writhing about as if they’ve been shot. I single out Drogba merely because he’s the most obvious practitioner of simulation but it seems every team has at least one of these idiots in their ranks. It’s one trend Premier League clubs would do well to rid themselves of.

Conquering the wretched disease is not something that can come about solely through legislation or retrospective fines. Directives need to come from the clubs themselves, from managers and coaches as to what is and what is not acceptable on a football pitch. That’s why it was heartening to hear Sir Alex Ferguson publicly berating winger Ashley Young for going to ground a little too theatrically in last week’s United victory over Aston Villa. It was at least a small step in the right direction. Let’s hope other clubs take note and that the Premier League continues to be talked about for the right reasons.

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