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Saturday, March 4, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Chelsea makes UEFA look bad over Del Horno incident


LONDON -- Chelsea travels to Barcelona on Sunday for Tuesday's Champions League second leg at Nou Camp with its excuses already made should it bow out of European football's most prestigious club competition.

Christopher Davies

Barca won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge when Asier Del Horno was sent off for a foul on Lionel Messi, with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho claiming the Argentine was guilty of play-acting, his team's numerical disadvantage the reason it lost.

Arsenal, frustratingly inconsistent in the Premiership, has a 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Spain as Real Madrid comes to Highbury in the wake of the surprise resignation of president Florentino Perez, further proof that the most successful club in European football is crumbling apart both on and off the field.

Champions League holder Liverpool attempts to overcome a 1-0 deficit from its away leg at Benfica with Anfield set for another memorable night of European football.

But it is Chelsea which is yet again the main talking point, with UEFA holding its breath that the tie in Barcelona will have none of the excesses of last year when Chelsea and Mourinho were punished after untrue allegations that Barca coach Frank Rijkaard visited the dressing room of referee Anders Frisk at halftime.

The buildup to what is sure to be a game on a knife-edge has seen Chelsea's spin doctors score a significant victory by convincing the public UEFA reduced Del Horno's ban from three games to one, which was untrue.

For its part, UEFA's statement on the matter was a puzzling mishmash of confusion and errors; it is remarkable that European football's ruling body can make such basic mistakes in an official statement.

On Tuesday, after a meeting of the control and disciplinary body, UEFA announced that Del Horno will serve a one-match suspension for the foul on Messi. . . 24 hours after Chelsea had put out a statement saying the Spaniard had been handed a one-game ban.

So how come Chelsea could see into the future?

It is understood that on Monday, someone from UEFA had advised the club of the recommended sanction against del Horno which was rubber-stamped the following day.

However, Chelsea put out a statement that the Spaniard's suspension had in effect been cut from three matches to one 24 hours before it had actually been decided.

Chelsea's statement had said that after making its submissions on behalf of del Horno, "we made a case that the offense of violent conduct was unjustified and that an automatic three-match ban as a result would similarly be unjust."

This is curious as there is no such thing as an automatic three-match ban in UEFA competitions.

Any player shown a straight red card must serve at least a one-game suspension, with each case then judged on its merits by the control and disciplinary body, which decides whether extra games should be added to the one-game ban, depending on the severity of the challenge.

"Del Horno ban cut to one game" was one headline which was simply not true.

How can a ban that has not been imposed be cut?

A club can only appeal against a sanction once it had been imposed, which it had not been until Tuesday.

Chelsea's statement continued: "There was no appeal against the dismissal itself as the UEFA disciplinary procedures only allow for a retrospective decision on the basis of mistaken identity or if there was no contact between the two players."

While it is true a red card can be withdrawn in the case of mistaken identity, there is nothing in the regulations that states, "if there was no contact between the two players."

In law, a player guilty of striking or attempting to strike an opponent should be sent off -- if a player swings a fist or foot at an opponent but does not make contact, it is still a dismissable offense . . . whatever Chelsea may say about "no contact."

UEFA's statement released after Del Horno's ban was decided was equally puzzling.

The control and disciplinary body ruled the red card was not violent conduct "and there were no circumstances which justify increasing the minimum sanction of a one-match suspension."

The statement continued: "After viewing video footage of the incident the (control and disciplinary) chairman ad hoc estimates that this incident falls outside the scope of violent conduct and he finds it reasonable to reclassify it as rough play since the player, Del Horno, used excessive force without intention to hit."

No doubt UEFA's refereeing department would have taken a close interest in the wording of this.

Violent conduct is when a player strikes an opponent off the ball and Del Horno's dismissal came under serious foul play.

In law, rough play is not a sending off offense -- or in that wording, not even an offense -- so according to UEFA's statement Del Horno has been banned for something that does not exist in the laws of the game.

Also, the word "intent" is not in the laws apart from handball -- a referee cannot judge a player's intent, only whether in his opinion a challenge was of sufficient excessive force, so UEFA's explanation merely added to the confusion of what always seemed to be a straightforward dismissal that would carry a one-game ban.

Interestingly, newspapers chose to ignore confirming Del Horno's one-game ban when UEFA officially announced it on Tuesday, believing they had the "story" the previous day so why carry it again?

That Chelsea put out half-truths and untruths was not exposed because it would have meant papers admitting they were duped.

It brings the game into disrepute that one of the biggest clubs in Europe and European football's ruling body can get away with such statements.

Chelsea, a club with a dubious record of indiscipline under Mourinho, is laughing. It made the public believe that it talked UEFA into reducing Del Horno's ban from three games to one. . . which is untrue.

The inference is that "well, Jose said he should not have been sent off and UEFA agrees with us."

That's what the public will believe because that is in effect what it read, an ignominious victory for the Stamford Bridge spin doctors.

For its part, UEFA has hardly covered itself in glory, and it is the body which sits in judgment over Chelsea and every other club.

Let us hope it does better with any further disciplinary cases.

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


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