james debate
james debate

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

It has been a rough week for the two London football clubs. Both have suffered defeats in Europe sending them crashing out of the competition, and both are already out of the title race. It's not a great time to be a fan of either, so where can the two clubs go from here?

First of all with to Chelsea. I don't think much more can be said about the farce that took place at the Chelsea Barcelona semi final than has already been said.

While the incident has been universally decried as a disgrace for football as a sport, uncertainty lies about where to place the blame. Many, understandably, blame the ref himself, an inexperienced Norwegian with a lack of big time experience whose most recent work includes being sent home in disgrace from Euro 2008 in similarly controversial circumstances... and here he is thrown straight back into one of the biggest games of the season? Strange.

It's says a lot when the bookies start to refund all bets, which personally I have never seen before, just to give an indication of how absurd this whole farce was.

Inevitably, many questions of corruption and various conspiracies have arisen under the exceptional circumstances, and of course this is simply a non-starter. On the one hand the supporters of such theories always go way over the top, suggesting that the referee was being bribed by a UEFA who hates english teams, which is extremely unlikely. But similarly the cynical reaction of a media who is legally unable to do anything other than dismiss any such theories outright doesn't deserve credence either. As usual, the truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in between these polarized views, even though neither proponent seems able to even contemplate that there is any middle ground.

Consider the history of UEFA, an organization which has always taken every opportunity to ban English clubs from Europe, where the President makes idiotic public comments about wanting to give the competition to the opponents of English clubs, and where a weekly diatribe against English clubs has become as regular as clockwork.

Consider the numerous stories in recent months about how UEFA have been subjecting referees to hours of video of 'troublemaking' players and teams in order to 'educate' them as to which players and teams to be tougher on.

And lastly consider the financial implications of what would happen to UEFA if their biggest competition, supposedly featuring 'the best of the best' from all over Europe, was to be so dominated by the same two clubs from the same country year after year. It would defeat the purpose of the Champions league, and financial repercussions would ensue. It would seem there is an overwhelming body of fact to suggest that UEFA would have every reason not to 'want' an all English final.

Now i'm not one of those guys implying a conspiracy theory, I don't think UEFA bribed anyone or cheated, but can it really be denied that everything they've done has put undue pressure on referees?

What do you expect to happen when you take an inexperienced ref with a history of cock ups and controversy, subject him to months of video 'education' and rants about 'English cheats', and then thrown him in way over his head into one of the biggest games of the year? How is that at all different from the Italian match fixing scandalwhere clubs were putting pressure on referees before games?

That they seem to be taking no action against the ref is another blunder on their part considering all the scrutiny being focused on them, but hardly a surprise, it was the result they wanted anyhow. Personally, I doubt very much that UEFA had any corrupt intention here, but the blame still rests very much on their shoulders for displaying incompetence of the highest order.

Meanwhile Arsenal have had an awful few years recently. Completely trophiless and simply not keeping up with the other big clubs, it has reached the point where even the most extreme Arsenal fans are demanding changes, starting with Wenger.

It has intermittently come up once or twice over the years, but now the proponent of the Arsenal support calling for the sacking of manager Arsene Wenger is becoming increasingly vocal and determined. Most Arsenal fans I know, and there are surprisingly a lot, have advocated this path recently.

It would without a doubt be a complete disaster for Arsenal if they let him go. Arsenal fans seem to have worked themselves up into some kind of mass hysteria, not helped by the absurd and uncalled for media hype surround the club every season, where they believe they really have world class players, and where they don't seem to notice that they have been going on and on about their 'kids' for the better part of ten years.

The truth of the matter is that Arsenal really are not very good. They don't have the money, nor the reputation to attract the truly top class players anymore, and this is why Wenger is continually forced to look for cheap young talent. Every season reports come out about how Arsenal have a warchest of like 50 million pounds, but these people seem to forget the hundreds of millions of pounds in debt Arsenal have to pay off.

The reality is that Wenger is the only thing holding that club together right now, and if he gets sacked, the club will quickly go from just about hanging on to the big four's coattails to rapidly crashing down the table. They may not want to hear it, but the only way Arsenal are going to become competitive again is with a massive investment.

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