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Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Top soccer figures confound with contradictory words


LONDON -- England was gearing up to the start of the Ashes series against Australia, the cricket season building into its much-awaited climax.

Christopher Davies

The near-perfection of Roger Federer winning Wimbledon was still fresh in the memory and Tiger Woods was about to underline his status as golf's No. 1 player.

The weather was beautiful and a summer of sport was seemingly complete when England won the right to stage the 2012 Olympics.

But suddenly it was business as usual with the siren voice of Jose Mourinho whingeing, sounding off about a subject the Chelsea manager knew little about.

Football again proved to be a sport in which 'no' meant ''yes' when, a few weeks after Ashley Cole said he would not sign a new contract with Arsenal, even if it offered him £200,000 a week, he agreed to a deal for a third of that sum.

Patrick Vieira left Arsenal to join Juventus after claiming he would never return to Italian football because of the racism.

Cole said in June after the Premier League tapping-up inquiry and Arsenal's failure to offer him the contract he wanted: "I think it's a broken bridge that is impossible to mend.

"I blame (vice chairman) David Dein for trying to force me out of the club I love.

"They've left me feeling there is no way back, that they don't want me to put my beloved Arsenal shirt on again. Can I ever forgive them? I really don't know. I've supported Arsenal since I was seven, but they have hurt me."

A new lucrative contract of the type which the left-back was apparently never going to sign appears to have taken away much of Cole's hurt.

After suffering racial abuse in Italy as an Arsenal player Vieira, who began his career with AC Milan, said: "I would not return, no, absolutely not. Although there are large teams in Italy which are interested in me, I will not return. There is an intolerable atmosphere of racism which prevails and I grew up in an atmosphere of equal rights."

A lucrative five-year contract with Juventus seems to have softened Vieira's views about Serie A and racism.

ARSENAL AND CHELSEA, the two heavyweights of London football, are preparing to be involved in what promises to be a memorable hat trick of events as the 2005-06 season gets under way this weekend.

On Sunday, the F.A. Cup winner and Premiership champion meet in the Community Shield, next Wednesday Ashley Cole and Jose Mourinho will discover whether they have been successful with their appeals against Premier League fines, while on Aug. 21 the sides clash in the Premier League.

Expect a war of words to add spice to the buildup to Sunday's Millennium Stadium showdown, indignity and perceived injustice if the Premier League appeals board upholds the original sanctions and a lack of friendly chit-chat between the clubs' directors in board rooms.

The bad blood between Arsenal and Chelsea since the tapping up of Cole and subsequent unfounded assertions by Mourinho that David Dein, in his role on the board of the Football Association, somehow influenced the fixture list, ensures an extra edge to the forthcoming matches between the clubs.

Bruce Buck, the Chelsea chairman, admitted: "It will be very difficult to have a good relationship with Arsenal. They are in our league and we have to deal with them but when you look at it, Arsenal had an agenda [with the Ashley Cole case]. None of the scenarios I'm thinking about are positive when it comes to Chelsea and Arsenal, but we can try."

Cole was fined £100,000 and Mourinho £200,000 after being found guilty of a breach of Premier League rules. The appeals board can reduce the punishments, make them bigger or leave the original fines as they are.

With the wounds from "Colegate" still open Mourinho then stoked the fires of antagonism between the clubs when he expressed his unhappiness that Chelsea play more away games in the league after European games than Arsenal.

"After the first five games of next season's Champions League we have to play away while Arsenal are at home," said Mourinho. "This is a fact yet nothing is said. Is it only Jose Mourinho who can look at the fixture list and see something very strange? Why are different clubs treated in different ways?"

Whatever this season's fixture list threw up -- it is the Premier League not the F.A. which is in charge of such matters -- Mourinho's argument about Arsenal being "favored" does not stand up over the last seven years.

Following a midweek European fixture since 1998-99, there is little difference between the percentage of subsequent home/away Premiership matches involving Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea -- Arsenal P 64 H 34 A 30; Man Utd P 87 H 47 A 40; Chelsea P 40 H 22 A 18.

THE PREMIER League's investigation into alleged improper conduct by England's leading referee Graham Poll at the end of last week's training camp at the Army barracks continues.

The investigation is not so much about whether Poll misguidedly let his guard down among his refereeing colleagues, but who sent the anonymous e-mail to the football authorities to tell them about an incident that was a molehill rather than a mountain.

The sender was almost certainly a fellow referee at the drinking session, for which the officials had permission, and was a private matter in the Army barracks, not a bar, restaurant or hotel.

If two or three referees had a glass of port too many it hardly amounts to an act of gross unprofessionalism with the Premiership season more than two weeks away. It is difficult to escape the feeling that the real offender and person guilty of improper conduct is someone who would rat on a colleague in such a sly, under-hand manner.

How many of us have been out for a drink with our coworkers and one has had a little too much to drink?

But would anyone consider sending his boss an e-mail saying this person was a disgrace to the company because he could not walk in a straight line?

Being drunk is not an offense. Drunk and disorderly is, but simply being "too social" is usually only punished by a hangover, not by someone trying to damage your reputation or career.

Had Poll or any referee been drunk in a public place, knocking over glasses in a bar or falling on a table in a restaurant there could be no sympathy but that was not the case.

The tabloid newspaper report that highlighted Poll's "booze shame" had only one account of an alleged excess, that he climbed on car bonnets which is not true.

No members of the public were involved, nothing was broken or damaged and after a short walk back to the hotel the "booze shame" referees went to bed.

Even the hotel receptionist quoted in the report could only say she knew the referees went out on the last night. Search hard and there may be a story there somewhere, but it is not easy to find yet someone, somewhere saw this as an opportunity to alert the powers that be about Poll's "booze shame."

While Poll's personality and confidence have made him a target for criticism, few would doubt that he is unquestionably the best referee in the Premiership. He is also regarded as one of the top officials in Europe and refereed the UEFA Cup final last May.

Success can breed jealousy in those of lesser ability in any profession, but for someone to take this as far as to grass on a colleague in the manner Poll was subjected to says far more about the mole than the man he tried to harm.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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