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Friday, August 31, 2007

English Premiership Soccer And The Ugly Side Of Professionalism

I have been reviewing video clips showing how Manchester Uniteds' Wayne Rooney got his foot fractured and another one showing a crude tackle aimed at Christiano Ronaldo that fortunately missed its' real mark.

I am convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that both incidents illustrate the ugly side of professionalism in what is by far the most competitive soccer league the world has ever seen.

Where there is professionalism and competitiveness, you will always find managers and decision makers who are prepared to do anything. And I mean anything, to be able to get an edge over the competition. A friend the other day was joking trying to imagine what kind of instructions a defender would be given by a manager eager to get ahead;

"Don't worry, we'll take care of you and defend you all the way. Just make sure that you don't miss and that the subject is out for a minimum of 3 months. There's a handsome bonus for you if you end their football career."

My suspicions were raised when while analyzing the leading teams in the premiership in July, we clearly identified Manchester United as a two-players-team. Yes, there are other excellent players but the magic of the team revolves around two exceptional world class players. Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. Every manager in the premiership knows this. So what would you do if you had a close friend who can play ball preferably playing for another club? Would you hesitate in offering them big money to "eliminate" two key players who stood between you and winning the premiership title?

The English have a tradition of fair play and sportsmanship that would make many of them cringe at such a suggestion. But the truth is that the premiership is now English only by name and filled with all sorts of characters from all sorts of countries and backgrounds. This is probably why Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United Manager was a sitting duck for such a plot.

For those who do not follow the beautiful game, let me explain what happened to the guys from Old Trafford. They beat Jose Mourinho's multi-million start studded, Chelsea last season and dethroned them for the first time in two years. As this season started, it was clear that Manchester United were firm favorites to retain the title. But somebody somewhere had different plans. Wayne Rooney ended up with a fractured foot from a tackle that video footage shows me was deliberate and intentional with the clear objective of causing a serious injury.

Somebody else tried the same thing on Christian Ronaldo, but he saw it coming and could not contain himself and retaliated. He was promptly red carded. The objective was still somewhat achieved because without the two players Manchester United have slipped badly and it is virtually impossible for them to recover from that slide now to retain their premiership title.

It is also now very clear to me why Jose Mourinho has been so successful. He places a lot of emphasis on utility players who can be fielded virtually anywhere to fill in voids left by injury. Players like Cloud Makelele, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Essien among others. With these kind of players, it is easier to deal with injuries which are inevitable in a competitive place like the English premiership. Of course hi other emphasis is on a very strong defense and an exceptional goalkeeper and we have seen that in today's ultra competitive game a goal keeper can make the difference between finishing at the bottom of the league and winning it.

This also explains why Thiery Henry was so happy to move out of the English Premiership because he was always a marked man. In fact in the last few years he has been seen quite frequently jumping very high to avoid crunching tackles whose aim is to cause serious injury. He is now very happy playing in Spain. Even Africa's own Didier Drogba has been a marked man, but thank God that Africans are built of stunner stuff. After street football and soccer ya mtaani, coupled with his physique, Dogba is not an easy player to injure. Still he ends up on the injury list a few times.

FIFA needs to take very quick and strict action by firstly launching investigations and then banning anybody found involved for life. Otherwise, very soon the game to be taken over by injury-inflicting experts.

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