Captain Apathetic

Captain England, looking swish

England play the Netherlands tomorrow night, in the game which was originally postponed due to last August’s riots. As you may have heard, largely from the global media, Fabio Capello has resigned as England manager and has been replaced, on an initially caretaker basis at least, by Stuart Pearce. Pearce has already corrected the one glaring omission from Capello’s most recent squads (Micah Richards), and appears, controversially, to be picking at least some players based on form rather than reputation (Frazier Campbell’s inclusion being the obvious one in this category).

Pearce has, unfortunately, become somewhat inevitably embroiled in that most pointless of debates surrounding the England national side – the captaincy, and thus his own “choice” for captain. The main headline on the BBC Sport website is currently “Pearce waits to name England captain.” So on the sports homepage of one of the most highly-respected media organisations (and indeed web-based news providers) in the world, the top story is basically “caretaker manager waits until tomorrow to name captain for a game taking place tomorrow.” For me, Pearce is taking exactly the right line (I do like Stuart Pearce, by the way). He realises this is, for now at least, a temporary job for him. He therefore isn’t letting the media push him into any decisions which may bind his future boss as to the captaincy.

And why should he? The captaincy in football is almost an irrelevance – it’s a bloke who happens to wear an armband for 90 minutes, and doesn’t deserve any press attention whatsoever. The captaincy seems to have been a massive deal for England since David Beckham took it on, and then when Capello did his preposterous captaincy “rehearsal” for Ferdinand, Terry and Gerrard. The point is, no-one cares. I’m pretty sure Spain don’t definitely need Iker Casillas to be wearing a shiny armband to perform the way they do; England needs to take the same approach. The captaincy is not and never can be the main event.

Indeed, anyone in the starting 11 can be the captain in football. You lead the players out at the start, you shake hands with the oppo and the referee in the centre circle and carry out a wee photo opp with the mascot(s), then the game starts and no-one cares any more. It’s a well-worn cliche, but some cliches are such because they’re true – you ideally want 11 leaders on the pitch. Football isn’t an instructive sport in that way that relies on a man on the field’s vision for the game (cricket being the obvious opposite case in point) – who wears the armband should be utterly irrelevant as soon as the ref’s first whistle blows. England need to get this in their heads and stop making it such an unerringly massive issue that it dominates the media build-up to what should, notwithstanding the fact it’s an international friendly, be a fairly intriguing match against the mighty Dutch. My advice for Pearce? Pick who you like, and make it as off the wall a decision as possible.

Sense of Humour Bypass Portuguese-style

"Not Incredible"

Last night, Man City fans, rather humorously, decided to sing “You’re Not Incredible” at Porto striker Hulk (or Ulche) during their team’s 4-0 drubbing of Porto in the second leg of their Europa League last 32 tie. For a chap with an alleged €88m release clause (which Chelsea are allegedly willing to pay at some point in the not too distant future, if you are daft enough to believe Caught Offside), he was pretty, pretty poor. What is incredibly unhumorous is Porto’s reaction to said chant.

There is, as ever, some back story to this. In last week’s first leg, there were claims of racist chanting aimed at City’s black players coming from various sections of Porto’s Dragao stadium. This was (rightly) reported to UEFA by City for the governing body to investigate. Racism and football have of course been rather prevalent in the news of late (see “Handshakegate”, and every other news outlet on the planet). UEFA have yet to decide on this particular racism issue; Porto’s current excuse is their fans were in fact singing “Kun Kun Kun (never mind that Sergio Aguero plays for the opposition), Hulk Hulk Hulk.”

The fact that Porto have now decided to complain to UEFA over a pretty funny chant as being “disrespectful”, “unsporting” and “not part of the game” obviously has nothing to do with City’s complaint. Not only is Porto’s complaint utterly capricious and totally lacking in any kind of sense of humour, it also makes a complete mockery of what is an incredibly important issue in both football and wider society. They should be ashamed of themselves; chances are they aren’t.

(Picture courtesy of Steindy, on Hulk’s Wikipedia article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulk_%28footballer%29)

Handshakegate

Inevitably, this is what the tabloid press will begin to call the Luis Suarez not shaking Patrice Evra’s hand incident, so I thought I’d get my own claim in early.

Yesterday’s Manchester United v Liverpool match brought to a head months of several well-respected people and organisations making an absolute mess of an incredibly important issue. Even since yesterday a number of further cretins have emerged from the woodwork (see @StanCollymore on Twitter for some frankly disgusting examples).

I’m perhaps going to take a different tack here than most. I think part of the ignorance and part of the complete lack of acceptance of Suarez’s guilt, not only by fans but by some high-profile figures in the game, has come from (and hindsight is a wonderful thing in this case) the way the FA decided against Suarez and communicated that decision.

The case against Suarez was decided by the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission on the civil standard of proof which is known as “the balance of probabilities.” As many will know, the criminal standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So basically, in a civil case if the facts are 51% in favour of one decision and 49% in favour of the other, the judge will favour the party with 51%.  For criminal cases, the jury has to, for the sake of argument, be 85% sure that the accused was guilty of the crime (this is a gross simplification but it’ll do for the purposes of talking about football).

To get to my point then, I think the FA has done itself a disservice by not explaining the way the Panel has done its job. The use of the civil standard of proof (and the lack of explanation about it) has created a false myth that Suarez is innocent because he wasn’t tried to criminal standards. Had the FA come out before the hearing against Suarez and explained that the civil standard of proof is used in everyday life to decide on, say, personal injuries claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds in some instances, and is a perfectly acceptable way to attach  blame and therefore wrongdoing to Suarez, then some of this stooshie would have been avoided.

For one reason or another, most people’s understanding of the law is limited to the criminal courts, where the higher standard of proof is used. I can’t help but wonder, despite my professional defence of the use of the balance of probabilities above, that if the FA had deployed the higher standard of proof that this would be a much less noisy affair.

The use of balance of probabilities allowed Liverpool to release that abhorrent press statement that “Suarez was found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone” (which in itself is wrong, but I digress), and then to perpetuate the myth of innocence since. People understand how the criminal courts work (even if that understanding is based on watching court dramas on the telly) and therefore understand the standards required in a criminal case to attach guilt. If beyond reasonable doubt had been used in the first place, I wonder if this whole sorry affair and its sorrier aftermath could have been avoided. People who didn’t know any better wouldn’t be able to stick up for Suarez, and wouldn’t be able to call the whole process into doubt. But then, as I say, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Notwithstanding the procedural difficulties, what I cannot get over is the continuing refusal of Liverpool FC to accept that something wrong has happened here. The t-shirts; the continuing defence of Suarez by Kenny Dalglish in every medium possible; the booing of Patrice Evra (how dare he hear racism); the messages on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and every other online trolling forum social network posted by cretins who seem to have put blind support for their club above support for decent values in society.

What is needed, then, is:

1. A full and frank apology from both Suarez and Liverpool FC to draw a line under this whole thing;

2. Included in this apology, a retraction of the previous stances taken by Liverpool FC throughout this sorry affair; and

3. Some kind of wonderfully staged PR thing where Suarez and Evra actually do shake hands.

I doubt any of this will ever happen, however. Yesterday’s game did however bring one thing rather ironically to a head (thanks to a retweet on Sid Lowe’s Twitter account for this); in this case, perhaps solving the problems of racism actually would have been helped with a handshake (Sepp).