The press should be ashamed of themselves. Their suspicion and fueling of non-issues forces players and managers in the game to lie, to think 10 times before they say something, to spout carefully prepared statements or just hide from the spotlight.
Honesty and friendship, it seems, isn’t allowed in football.
So when Ronaldo says that he’d like to play in Spain one day (it’s a bit like Fabregas saying the same, except that the same Arsenal fans who consider the Spaniard a loyal Arsenal player do not ascribe the virtue of loyalty to another young footballer), instead of asking the relevant question (why is he still answering those questions?), they play the Ronaldo-to-Madrid card – sparking fear and anger in United fans, hope in Madrid fans and a lot of spite in the ABU brigade. Emotional manipulation at its crudest.
And when one manager praises another in recognition of their lifetime achievement (when everyone knows the backstory – that they are good friends and that the former is professional enough to separate the business of winning games from the respect that their friendship generates), it’s interpreted as a sign that his team will do them a ‘favor’.
Inappropriate? Coming from a club whose former manager made some of the most outrageous and inappropriate comments in football’s recent history, that’s a bit of a stretch. Don’t get me wrong – I love Mourinho, but such hypocrisy and attempts to influence others (Ferguson is no saint either, but when did two wrongs make a right?) are unwelcome.
I’m sure Chelsea fans still consider Phil Neville as a willing accomplice in Manchester United’s amazing comeback against Everton last season. 2-0 down, 50 minutes gone, and it was as if United’s grip on the title had finally slipped. And then pressure from Manchester United forced a couple of errors (and there’s the Howard thing as well – the audacity of Everton to stay true to their word – the audacity!) and a Phil Neville own goal, amongst other things, let United score 4 goals and gain a valuable 3 points in the title race.
Some perspective will help. Neville and Everton, like Curbishley and West Ham, wanted to beat Manchester United more than anything else. Few people go into a game with the intention to lose – match-fixing scandals apart, most capitulations are as much a failure of concentration as they are a result of pressure from the other side and the ability (or lack thereof) to take advantage of the opportunities coming your way. Chelsea blew it against Bolton, United didn’t against Everton and those two results as much as anything else gave United the title last season.
This year it’s West Ham and Newcastle, and instead of basking in their glorious Champions League win over Liverpool there are grumbles from Chelsea that West Ham will ‘throw’ the weekend game against United. Bollocks. That’s about as unlikely as Ronaldo moving to Madrid in the summer, or Arsenal winning the league this season (both are mathematic possibilities, but that’s about it).
West Ham will want to do the double over Manchester United, and the home side (who have slipped a bit in recent weeks) will need to be at their best to win this game. It doesn’t matter whether Curbishley calls Ferguson ‘Mr Amazing’ or if Phil Neville is a former United player. It doesn’t even matter if Tevez once played for West Ham (you expect him to miss a couple of sitters, eh?). He scored in this fixture last season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he scored again this time around.
Sentiments are for off-the-pitch relationships. In football, at this level, most people and managers want to win. With West Ham’s record against United (West Ham are vying for a fourth successive victory over United), you’d expect them to come at the champions with all guns blazing.