x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A diet for the diatribe

One solution would be for spectators to watch the match in Trappist Monk-style silence, or indeed Arsenal-style silence, to enable us to hear what players say.

If players, such as Chelsea's John Terry, centre, wore microphones, the games would have to be played on adult-only channels.
If players, such as Chelsea's John Terry, centre, wore microphones, the games would have to be played on adult-only channels.

The standard punditry euphemism for foul or abusive words spoken by footballers is "industrial language", the inference being that having your shirt tugged or being wrongly judged offside requires similar levels of obscene invective as, say, dropping an anvil on your toe.

Thus excused, professional footballers can get away with pretty much any "industrial language", on two conditions.

Firstly, they do not scream it down a live camera at a global audience of millions, à la Wayne Rooney.

Secondly, they ensure that the industry whose lexicon they borrow is neither West Coast hip hop music, nor cotton farming in Virginia, circa 1860.

Unfortunately, two of the English Premier League's most high-profile players are alleged to have broken this second condition in recent days.

Liverpool's Luis Suarez stands accused of repeatedly using an offensive racial slur towards Manchester United's Patrice Evra during a hot-tempered match at Anfield two weeks ago.

Chelsea's John Terry, meanwhile, is accused of racist abuse towards Anton Ferdinand during a defeat by Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.

Both players deny any wrongdoing. Suarez issued a flat denial of using the slur, and let us hope he is telling the truth. He is already the most hated man in Ghana for that hand ball at last year's World Cup, so it would be unfortunate if he alienated the remainder of the African continent, plus all those whose ancestral roots lie there.

Terry, sounding remarkably like something from the novel Catch-22, claimed he only used the expression in order to deny using it.

If you feel that the captain of Chelsea and England should have a better defence than "I may be a potty-mouth, but I'm not a racist", then you have obviously forgotten about the whole industrial language thing.

The example we wish to set millions of children, apparently, is like a twisted Henry Ford quote: "You can call your opponents anything you like, as long as it is not black."

Whatever the result of the English Football Association's investigations, all the players involved will continue to claim they are speaking the truth and the matter will boil down to an unsatisfying case of one man's word against another.

So, too, will the (non-racial) dispute over what Manchester City's Carlos Tevez did or did not refuse to do for manager Roberto Mancini against Bayern Munich earlier this month.

However, as football becomes increasingly fraught with players seeking to preserve squeaky clean images but also pursue any potential edge over opponents, the number of such wordy disputes will only increase.

One possible solution would be for all spectators to watch the match in Trappist Monk-style silence, or indeed Arsenal-style silence, to enable us to hear precisely what players are saying.

Another idea would be for all players to wear individual microphones, like rugby union referees already do.

This would have the advantage of enabling us to hear players' words perfectly, although it would necessitate all live matches to be played on adults-only subscription channels, after children had gone to bed.

My favourite solution, however, would be to ban players from all verbal communication during matches, with the use of gags if necessary. Instead, they can carry mobile phones (a great sponsorship opportunity) and give all instructions, encouragement or even "industrial abuse" via Twitter.

I reckon Rio Ferdinand would be up for it. In fact, he might have been trialling it at Old Trafford on Sunday, which would explain where he was looking whenever a Manchester City player ambled past him.

Even Putin is powerless to player power

We should probably tut-tut over the revelation that Vladimir Putin tried to meddle with the German Bundesliga transfer market.

We should probably insist the Russian prime minister has more urgent priorities than exerting his considerable pressure on Schalke, who are sponsored by Russian energy firm Gazprom, to block goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s move to Bayern Munich in the summer.

We should probably purse our lips when Clemens Toennies, the Schalke chairman, says: “He [Putin] was absolutely besotted by Manuel, and asked me to do everything we could to keep him.”

We should probably do all of those things. But I cannot. Because, if I was one of the world’s most powerful men, I would probably try to use my fearsome reputation to my club’s advantage, too. In fact, I would have one of those red telephones installed on the chairman’s desk and bedside table, to badger him at any time of the day or night. And every other chairman in the league, for that matter. And every referee.

What football fan could resist?

Frankly, this leaked information makes Putin seem far more of a real man than any of those hammy photoshoots he does, posing topless on a horse or “discovering” submerged treasure on a scuba diving trip.

His partisan behaviour marks him out as a true sports fan, as opposed to most politicians, who just pretend to support a team in the hope it makes them seem more normal.

Besides, Putin’s efforts came to nought. Neuer had already stated his wish to leave, and his contract expired in June 2012. If Schalke had not sold him for a cool €22 million (Dh114.3m), he would have walked away for nothing in a year.

Fans should take note. If even a muscle-bound former KGB agent with an interesting contacts book fails to convince your favourite player to stick around, then you might as well forget about those petitions, chants and Facebook pages.

Nothing, but nothing, beats a Bosman ruling.