x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Shirt messages do not stick in racism fight

Ferdinand's strong stand against racism is not wrong, sometimes badges and balloons are not enough.

The columnist feels that Rio Ferdinand, left, remains a team player despite failing to observe orders in an anti-racism campaign.
The columnist feels that Rio Ferdinand, left, remains a team player despite failing to observe orders in an anti-racism campaign.

Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand was in the news this week because he refused to wear a "Kick It Out" anti-racism shirt on a day he was supposed to.

He did the right thing. I would have done the same thing if I'd been him. Rio has seen his brother Anton suffer racism on the pitch, yet he has been portrayed as the guilty party.

He lives in a democracy and he is entitled to show his feelings. He wasn't doing it to be different but because, like many black players, he feels that the current campaigns to eradicate racism from football merely pay lip service and are ineffective.

They are all about stickers, balloons, badges and slogans which aren't strong enough. And while I don't disagree with football's authorities holding "Fair Play" or "Respect" events, sometimes it needs more than that for people to take notice.

Sir Alex Ferguson was initially angry with Ferdinand, but he sees Rio's perspective and the pair have already moved on. He knows that Ferdinand is a team player, not an individual egotist who is in it for himself.

No matter how talented a player is, if he is not a team player then he's no good at a top club. I scored more goals in one season at Newcastle than any other yet we didn't win anything. Teams win trophies and Ferdinand has won many.

Like many black players, I feel frustrated with the comments by older black players. They say things like: "In our day it was worse, you should see what we had to put up with."

It's as if they want players to shrug their shoulders and brush any racism under the carpet.

They can speak for what happened in their day, not what happens now. I respect those players for coming through what they did, but the fight against racism is at a different level today.

I speak to current players all the time and they have strong views. Ferdinand is the same.

They are not prepared to shrug their shoulders and shake hands at the end of a game if they have suffered racist abuse.

They want to highlight it, not because they want attention or sympathy, but because they want to ridicule the racists and make racism as anti-social and unacceptable as drink driving. There needs to be zero tolerance to racism on the pitch.

Racism in football is an issue which will not go away, but I think some good will come from all of this. I really do.

United and Chelsea, who meet tomorrow at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League and again on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup, both won 4-2 last weekend.

In the Champions League this week, United went behind for the eighth time in 12 games, before winning 3-2. European champions Chelsea lost in Donetsk. It's not what you had expect.

When the teams who are first and second in the Premier League last met, Chelsea went into a 3-0 lead before United pulled it back to 3-3. So you can understand why I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game, the biggest of the English season so far.

As a former forward, I love to see goals. People watch football to see them and, while United and Chelsea are concerned about the amount they're leaking, it makes for a great spectacle. I once scored twice in a game for United at Stamford Bridge which finished 5-3 to us. I'd be stunned if there were eight goals tomorrow, but the potential is there.

I am baffled why United keep going behind and part of me thinks some players like it because they usually come storming back to win. It's one thing storming back against Stoke City, but not so easy against Spurs. And it will be impossible against a top side.

I wouldn't single out the United defence for criticism. The whole team should defend, starting with the attackers who should close down opposing defenders, not dropping off.

Failure to do that allows them to push up and start an attack. Frank Rijkaard once said Samuel Eto'o was the first line of Barcelona's defence because he worked hard closing players down.

Barcelona chase the ball when they don't have it, making it harder for other teams.

United's attackers have been doing well, but the defensive problems are not about having men back, more the positioning of those players. It's baffling because they are all good players.

Chelsea have the same issue as they are still adapting to a more-attacking formation.

Ferguson has said that one defender, that man Ferdinand, is not quite as quick as he was. It doesn't matter.

Despite Ferdinand being 34 very soon, United will offer him another contract because his experience, his reading of the game and positioning are worth more than the pace lost.

I am not even convinced that he's slower, more that other players have got faster since he started playing, with big advances in sport science.


Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.


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