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Monday, Aug. 28, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Thatcher deserves severe sanction for outrageous tackle


LONDON -- Many people in England reflect on the pain and anguish of the Thatcher Era and the misery caused by the former Prime Minister when she was in power.

Christopher Davies

In years to come there will no doubt be similar recollections of the agony caused by another Thatcher Era, but in this case it will be Manchester City defender Ben Thatcher and not Margaret Thatcher (no relation).

On Wednesday night, Thatcher was guilty of yet another dreadful, inexcusable challenge on an opponent, Pedro Mendes of Portsmouth becoming the latest victim of the City hitman.

As the pair slid in to go for a loose ball, Thatcher elbowed Mendes in the face, knocking him unconscious, the former Tottenham player suffering a partial seizure by the side of the pitch and requiring oxygen on his way to hospital.

Thatcher's punishment?

A yellow card issued by referee Dermot Gallagher, which under FIFA regulations meant the Football Association is powerless to "upgrade" the sanction.

While nobody wants the game refereed in a boardroom or referees' decisions tinkered with, there should always be a sense of natural justice, and Thatcher has basically gotten away with assault.

The Welsh international apologized without being specific what he was saying sorry for. Thatcher was banned by his own club for one match and is understood to have been fined by City, although Professional Footballers' Association guidelines do not permit more than a two-week fine.

FIFA preaches fair play and that offenders must be punished, but by not allowing serious incidents to be dealt with properly, and effectively they are making a mockery of what the ethics they preach.

As guardian of the world game, FIFA has a duty to ensure players who badly injure an opponent receive the appropriate sanction. A red card for the red tape that prevents this at present.

The F.A. is scrawling through its disciplinary procedures to see if there is a way Thatcher can be punished, but breath should not be held.

Greater Manchester Police have launched an investigation after complaints and supporters will understandably feel if Lee Bowyer can be charged, then so should the City defender.

Last season Bowyer was found guilty of a similar offense after a four-second exchange of blows with teammate Keiron Dyer, who was not hurt.

Apart from being fined in court, Bowyer was also fined a total of £270,000 by his club and the F.A. while being handed a seven-game ban.

For a far worse offense Thatcher has received a slap across the wrist, because by cautioning him Gallagher effectively dealt with the situation, so it is end of the matter.

How Gallagher saw it only as a yellow card offense is bewildering. One can only imagine he did not see Thatcher's elbow being driven in Mendes' face, cautioning him purely for the initial challenge.

Last Sunday at Old Trafford, Fulham's Michael Brown could have broken Ryan Giggs' leg with a two-footed challenge but was only booked for the foul on the Manchester United winger.

The tackle made observers (and Giggs) wince, but because the referee took disciplinary action at the time -- albeit the wrong action -- the F.A. can do no more.

The 5-1 win over Fulham was the last match for Wayne Rooney before he began a three-game domestic suspension imposed following the sending off of the United striker during a preseason tournament in Amsterdam against FC Porto.

Jumping with opposing defender Pepe for a high ball, Rooney caught the FC Porto player in the face with his right hand which the Dutch referee saw as serious foul play.

While Rooney has too often been guilty of physical excesses on this occasion, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. As he jumped his eyes were on the ball, not his opponent's face and made contact with an open hand, not a clenched fist -- a yellow card offense in most people's view.

United appealed, but an independent Football Association disciplinary commission ruled Rooney must serve his ban.

There will always be injustices in football, as in life, but it is understandable that United and its fans should be angry that Rooney is banned for three matches for a yellow card offense while Brown and Thatcher can get away with two horrendous challenges that deserved long suspensions.

Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp is angry that the F.A. has to let Thatcher off for elbowing Mendes.

"The F.A. have to do something," he said. "It is there for all to see. I do not want to see anyone suspended, but how could that possibly not be a red card?

What do you have to do to get a red, kill someone?

"I like Ben. Off the field, you could not wish to meet a nicer lad. But, unfortunately, on it, he does things like that. As soon as I saw him running towards the ball I knew exactly what was going to happen. I would have bet my life on it."

It is not the first time Thatcher has been in trouble this season even though it is only one week old. On the Blues' preseason tour of China, Thatcher was sent off against Shanghai for two bookable offenses, but not before putting an opponent in hospital with a punctured lung after a similar challenge to the one on Mendes, which also went unseen by the referee.

* * * * *

THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE draw saw Chelsea paired with Barcelona for the third consecutive season.

The smart money is on Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho being involved in another Catalan controversy.

Two seasons ago he was punished by UEFA after unfounded allegations that referee Anders Frisk was visited by Barca coach Frank Rijkaard at halftime.

Last year he accused Lionel Messi of play-acting as Asier Del Horno was sent off for fouling the Argentine international.

Mourinho seems to revel in saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and it will be interesting to see if he has learned his lesson -- presupposing he feels there is any lesson to be learned.

"I just hope people concentrate on the football, that's what's important," said Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon without saying who the people were.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta insisted there was a very good relationship between the clubs, players and coaches.

Continuing his spin doctoring Laporta said: "There is a chance Chelsea and Barcelona will meet in the final in Athens."

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


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