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Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Relations between players, managers can be tense


LONDON — Managers tell players to use their heads, but two bosses, it seems, have literally been practicing what they preach.

Christopher Davies

Stoke City and Queens Park Rangers this week opened inquiries into reports that their managers were involved in physical exchanges with players.

After their 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, Stoke's Tony Pulis ordered the players to report for training on Monday, prompting the squad's shop steward, James Beattie, to object after it had previously been agreed to that the first team would not be required to come in until Tuesday because they were due to go out in London for their Christmas party.

Pulis had apparently just come out of the shower and his towel slipped as he and Beattie were separated by a member of the coaching staff — one of the more surreal images of the season.

Rangers, meanwhile, suspended Jim Magilton after reports he head-butted Akos Buzsaky after the 3-1 defeat at Watford on Monday.

Magilton is said to have asked the Hungarian if he thought he was being bullied, Buzsaky responding with a shrug of the shoulders and a "whatever." The manager allegedly head-butted Buzsaky, who had come on as a substitute with the Hungarian being thrown out of the dressing room still in his kit for 30 minutes.

On the face of it Pulis should not have reacted as he apparently did, but Beattie appears to be the one to blame, and was completely out of order to effectively complain about having to do the job he and his teammates are paid handsomely to do — train.

And sooner or later the penny will surely drop that footballers' Christmas parties too often end in tears — in Stoke's case before theirs had even started.

What purpose do they serve?

To help team spirit?

If you need to go out, get drunk (or varying degrees) to bond, then the team has problems.

Footballers' parties are a front-page headline waiting to happen. A couple of years ago a Manchester United player was accused of rape, an allegation which proved to be untrue, after a club party, but the subsequent publicity did not help the innocent international.

There have been countless other lurid incidents, for various reasons, when rich young players go out on the town. Fights, unsociable behavior in night clubs. So much for the season of goodwill.

Beattie should have learned that partying and booze can be a deadly combination. Seven years ago, as a Southampton player, he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for drunk driving in his BMW.

Beattie admitted being nearly three times over the legal alcohol limit when stopped by police after he decided to move his car to a different parking space 20 meters away in "a momentary lapse of impaired judgment."

He was also fined around £30,000 by the club.

Stoke's investigation has concluded and the club says it is now "water under the bridge," but Beattie is likely to be shown the exit when the transfer window opens next month.

Magilton, meanwhile, denied any physical exchange with Buzsaky, admitting only "a difference of opinion." He said: "While passions can run high in football, especially after a poor performance, I categorically deny any allegation of wrongdoing following Monday's fixture."

No doubt statements from eye-witnesses — players and coaching staff — will help QPR to have a clearer picture of exactly what happened.

The former Northern Ireland international, appointed in June after the club parted company with Paulo Sousa, who was in charge for just 26 games, will be aware that in the two years and four months since Formula One power brokers Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone assumed control, the manager's office at Loftus Road has had a revolving door.

Magilton became the seventh different man — five permanent appointments and two caretakers — to take charge of team affairs under Briatore and Ecclestone.

QPR has won just one game in seven, and the loss to Watford followed a 5-1 home defeat by Middlesbrough, statistics that will not help Magilton as the internal inquiry proceeds.

* * * * *

FOUR OUT of five penalties in last week's Premier League program were saved. There followed much discussion about goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaches studying opposing penalty takers, their technique and how doing your homework pays dividends.

Garbage.

The reason the penalties — indeed most penalties — were saved was because the goalkeepers moved or, to be precise, were allowed to move before the kick was taken.

Law 14 states that the defending goalkeeper remains on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.

Significantly, the only goalkeeper who stayed on his line until the penalty was taken was Hull City's Matt Duke, who failed to save the spot-kick by Aston Villa's John Carew.

The referee is in charge of encroachment, and the linesman whether the goalkeeper moves before the penalty is struck.

So why do the match officials allow encroachment and goalkeeper movement at just about every penalty?

Because they do not want the inevitable harassment from players and the media that comes with a retake.

There are few, if any, complaints if a saved penalty is allowed despite breaches of law. Stick to the law and order a retake and all hell is let loose.

A penalty is awarded because an attacker has been fouled, so the advantage should be with that team, but the generous approach by match officials means that more often than not the goalkeeper is one, two or even three meters off his line when he saves.

Last season in a League One game between Millwall and Peterborough, the home side's Gary Alexander saw his first penalty saved. A retake was ordered as Boro 'keeper Joe Lewis was adjudged to have moved.

Lewis saved Alexander's second effort, but a second retake was ordered for movement. Dave Martin took over the penalty duties and it was third time lucky.

Predictably it was called "a farce" and referee Keith Woolmer found himself back-page news. Because referees hate being at the center of controversy, especially if they are correct, that goalkeepers are given a license to move.

Shootouts play a major part in international and club finals. Five of the knockout stage games, including the final, at the 2006 World Cup were decided on penalties. In the last 10 years four Champions League finals have gone to spot-kicks.

If the law is more strictly adhered to — a referee will generally allow the goalkeeper to take one step — virtually every penalty should be scored.

When Shay Given saved Frank Lampard's penalty last week to give Manchester City a 2-1 win over Chelsea, he was at least two meters off his line when he saved.

My hunch is that at the 2010 World Cup finals FIFA will order match officials to be far more vigilant with what are officially called kicks from the penalty mark.

Anyone fancying a humble wager on the number of successful penalties (including shootouts) in South Africa should go high.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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