The only way Robben could have caused more outrage on Sunday would be if he’d run onto the pitch dressed as a suicide bomber, or perhaps as a Danish cartoonist. The sheer scale of the angst is unprecedented, this amount of ire is more usually reserved for Argentina, after they have hand-balled England out of a World Cup. There’s no theme our lovable press warm to more than “Cheating Foreign Scum Ruining Our Game!“.
So we should not be surprised that facts have not been allowed to get in the way of a very juicy piece of self-righteous indignation. I love the smell of moral outrage in the morning, me. James Lawton in particular is becoming more like a demented Southern Baptist minister every week. He is Jimmy Swaggart to Mourinho’s devil incarnate. “Repent all ye at Chelsebub, lest your soul be lost to the Narcissistic One.” Jimmy Swaggert eat your heart out.
Back to Sunday. This was a game (well, more like niggling, open hostility) between the Champions of England and the Champions of Europe. Looked at in those terms the game was a shower of poo for nearly an hour, to coin a phrase. Chelsea played the first 60 minutes as if they were up against Brazil from 1970. Something like “Let’s play everyone behind the ball, apart from Crespo, who we can leave upfield, isolated and offside”.
Liverpool were no better. All week Rafa (a nickname which, strangely, makes him sound thinner than he is. You expect someone more like Zorro and less like a chubby waiter from Fawlty Towers) had been telling us that money did not matter, Chelsea could be beaten with imagination and flair. Churchillian, all that’s missing was the cigar and a line about “We shall fight them on the half way line, we shall fight them in the penalty area”.
So it came as something of a surprise when “imagination and flair” turned out to be pinging endless high balls to a six foot seven inch striker who cannot head the ball. Anyway, I came here not to bury Rafa (for a start I don’t have time, can you imagine the digging involved?). I actually thought his gag about Robben being in hospital was funny. Being picky the line would have worked better if it had been thrown away, and said just once. Delivering it with apoplectic, vein bursting rage in every single interview ruined it for me. Don’t over use your material Rafa.
Of course Benitez was being disingenuous. Of course he was deflecting attention away from his team’s defeat (see J. Mourinho, post Barcelona, for a really classic example). Of course he was defending his own player. I understand all that. But he was also talking complete and utter bollocks. The way he described the incident made it sound like an elderly matron gently chucking her favourite grandson under the chin at Christmas. “He just touched his face.” Please.
Reina is a big lad (with, it has to be said, an uncanny resemblance to Big Rafa). He shoved Robben in the face. This is not a harmless little gesture. If you don’t believe me try this: Go to your local Police Station, shove the Desk Sergeant in the face, see what you get charged with, see how well the “Rafa Defence” of “it was only an itsy, bitsy, kissy touch on the cheek, we do it all the time in Spain” goes down with the Magistrate.
Yes Robben fell over as if Roman had dropped his wallet on him. Of course it was a total over reaction. So what? Reina got sent off for shoving Robben in the face, end of story. No shove in face equals no red card. Simple. No argument. If Robben had fallen over and Reina had not shoved him in the face that would be different. A good example of this type of simulation was given by Xavi Alonso a few weeks ago. He fell over as if he had been fouled when he lost the ball, the referee in that game booked him because he knew Alonso hadn’t been touched.
What Robben did was embellishment. He made sure that Reina’s shove in his face would be noticed. What he didn’t do was get Reina sent off. Reina got himself sent off because he shoved a player in the face. I don’t particularly like what Robben did but let’s not kid ourselves that this is endemic only to Chelsea. Alonso, Garcia and Kewell would have done exactly the same. Pires, Ljungberg and Reyes would have done exactly the same. Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy likewise. Every team has a few players who you know would have done exactly the same thing.
The sad thing is that there are very, very few players who would not have exaggerated their reaction. Perhaps Rooney or Terry would have thumped Reina but most would have clutched their face, even if they didn’t add in a swallow dive to the turf. Every single fan reading this, irrespective of allegiance, knows this to be true. The modern game is all about cheating. I don’t like it but I do know it isn’t exclusive to Robben, or Chelsea.
I would have a lot more respect for Rafa (and his hospital joke) if he had said “And Reina was also wrong to shove Robben in the face”. If he had actually told it like it was. Instead he did what every manager has always done, he shifted blame away from his player and onto someone else’s player. This was no great victory for truth or integrity in football. It was the same one-eyed crap we always get, just with a better punch line, that’s all.
I accept that Chelsea are fair game in the press, Roman’s money ensures that. But please let’s not pretend that Liverpool, or anyone else, are ambassadors of fair play. Everyone cheats, no one ever admits it. Not even Rafa. Football was riddled with cheats and sullied by cash long before Chelsea started annoying everyone.
PS What a goal by Crespo, the one that was incorrectly ruled out for offside. Corker. Absolute screamer. That’s what we should have been talking about. Not Rafa’s calculated attempt to absolve Reina of responsibility for getting himself sent off.