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Saturday, March 17, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Scheduling making life difficult for McClaren's England


LONDON -- Fancy a good bet?

Christopher Davies

Israel to beat the remains of England next Saturday.

Thanks to the ridiculous scheduling that English football inflicts upon itself, more than half the players Steve McClaren sends out will be on their last legs.

Preparation for the must-win game in Tel Aviv will be disrupted by two domestic matches on the day the squad should begin preparations for the Euro 2008 qualifying tie -- it is difficult to imagine any country other than England pressing a self-destruct button like this.

On Saturday, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Tottenham and Chelsea, who could provide seven or eight of the players McClaren would ideally like to select against Israel, play Premiership matches.

On Monday, United plays Middlesbrough in an F.A. Cup quarterfinal replay . . . ditto Tottenham and Chelsea.

McClaren's employers, the Football Association, are responsible for the fixture chaos and Israel must be laughing as its players prepare for the Tel Aviv showdown.

Paul Robinson, Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), Frank Lampard and John Terry (Chelsea), Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney (United), plus possibly Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough) will play two matches in three days before joining the England squad.

As they are involved in Monday night games (and McClaren will wince each time an England players is involved in a challenge) they will not be able to train on Tuesday, while on Wednesday they will probably do little more than a "loosener."

England flies to Israel on Thursday, so in reality McClaren will have the team he wants to play in Tel Aviv available for a full training session only on the eve of next Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifying tie.

The F.A. says there was no alternative, the main problem being that the police want nine days' notice before a game, so United and 'Boro could not replay last Wednesday when neither had a Premiership game.

Yet there have been exceptions, and with so much at stake -- this is an England game not a Champions League tie involving clubs -- it would be welcome, if perhaps naive, to think a compromise could have been reached.

If England loses in Tel Aviv, where Israel has been beaten only once in competitive games over the last seven years, its chances of qualifying from a group that also includes Croatia and Russia will be slim.

Its hopes would be improved by a rested, properly prepared team, but England won't have that luxury. Still, at least McClaren has an excuse in hand should England lose.

IT HAS not been a good week for the Football Association, which should charge itself with bringing the game into disrepute -- not just for the England fixture chaos. For dereliction of duty and giving players the green light to continue to insult match officials.

The lack of backbone, courage and moral fiber at Soho Square never ceases to amaze.

The F.A. will stamp down on a relatively unknown manager with a small club for comments made to a referee in private yet when Jose Mourinho, manager of champion Chelsea, admits calling Mike Riley "the son of a whore" the spineless souls at Soho Square effectively condone it.

They can get away with it because they have done so much to encourage the belief that referees are there to be abused. Another managerial tirade at a referee makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.

During last Sunday's F.A. Cup tie between Chelsea and Tottenham, Mourinho was clearly seen on his feet in the technical area yelling a profanity in Spanish.

What's more, he even admitted it after the game, which would have helped the F.A. with any subsequent charge.

The fact that Riley didn't report it is incidental. The referee would not have heard what Mourinho was shouting in the heat of the battle and even if he had, Riley would not have understood it.

In football law it doesn't matter to whom insulting/offensive/abusive words are directed . . . it is whether they are said. And they were.

It beggars belief that the F.A. is taking no action against Mourinho for saying Riley's mother is/was a prostitute.

To the F.A. that obviously is not insulting, abusive or offensive -- the three categories for a red card on the field of play. We learn something new every day don't we?

If players/coaches in Spain or Portugal call a referee "hijo de puta" or "filho da puta" (puta being short for prostitute) they would be sent off. Not even open to debate.

David Beckham was shown the red card for calling a Spanish linesman a "hijo de puta" in May 2004 -- probably the only three words of Spanish the former England captain knows, someone joked at the time.

I wonder if Mourinho said the words he did at Stamford Bridge to a Portuguese policeman whether the Portuguese police would say: "We have spoken to the policeman who has clarified that there is no issue for us to pursue."

Those words are from an F.A. statement with "policeman" replacing "referee."

Mourinho explained to those who might just think son of a whore is a nasty and horrible thing to say: "The word (puta) can be abusive if you understand it as an abusive word."

There are many who would think it is impossible that "son of a bitch/whore" can ONLY be abusive. And in Portuguese or Spanish the phrase is far more insulting than the English translation.

But the guardians of the game at Soho Square did not consider it abusive. Repeat, guardians of the game.

Mourinho continued: "I don't want to be offensive. I can be emotional but I am polite . . . I never want to be offensive with somebody . . . "

Never? Never ever . . .? To nobody . . .?

OK, Jose . . . let's ask Anders Frisk, Frank Rijkaard, Leo Messi, Graham Poll, the Berkshire Ambulance Service, the Wigan player you accused of feigning injury so you instructed your team NOT to throw the ball back to them . . . Arsene Wenger, Neale Barry and . . . well, most people actually.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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