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Saturday, March 24, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Outpouring for Muamba unusual


LONDON — Patrice Muamba appears to be making steady progress after the Bolton midfielder's cardiac arrest during last Saturday's F.A. Cup tie against Tottenham. Let us hope Muamba, and anyone in a similar position, makes a full recovery.

Christopher Davies

Muamba's situation has united the football world in a manner few would have believed, and while the circumstances are sad, it is welcome that rivalries can be cast aside in a sport where support too often spills over into tribal warfare.

The media coverage of Muamba has been enormous, front pages, news pages, back pages and feature pages, underlining the current position of football in our society.

The Zaire-born player, who went on to become an England Under-21 international, is not a star of the Premier League, he is a reliable ball-winning midfielder who would fall into the "solid" category.

The outpouring of grief has been enormous bordering on disproportionate and approaching almost soap opera levels.

While everyone hopes Muamba makes a speedy return to full health, there can be a fine dividing line between respectful grief and exhibitionism, and with the Bolton player football has leaped over this like a world record-setting long jumper.

Before Premier League matches this week there was a minute's applause for Muamba, an act usually reserved only for those who have passed away.

Real Madrid players, most of whom would not have heard of Muamba, wore T-shirts of support. So did Lionel Messi. Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo dedicated the victory over Fiorentina to the player "as a sign of respect".

Chelsea's Gary Cahill, a former Bolton teammate of Muamba, took off his shirt after scoring against Leicester to reveal a "Pray 4 Muamba" message on a T-shirt as did Yakubu after his goal for Blackburn against Sunderland.

Using text language may be seen as disrespectful by some, while referees Lee Probert and Martin Atkinson, who should have cautioned both players for removing their jersey, were placed in a situation where realistically they could not apply law.

Sky News even interrupted a televised speech by Prime Minister David Cameron for an update on Muamba even though his situation had not altered.

The fans of Spurs and Bolton were praised for leaving White Hart Lane when the game was abandoned in respectful silence. It tells you everything about the expectations in football when supporters are congratulated not for doing the decent thing, but the only thing.

At Bolton's request its midweek game against Aston Villa was postponed, yet for those who live outside of Planet Football life has to go on as normal when a nearest and dearest is struck down. Working through a distressing situation can often be the best medicine.

Muamba's heart attack has brought out the best of football in many ways but there remains a disturbing feeling of bandwagon jumping with questionable motives.

* * *

BOLTON RETURNS to action Saturday against Blackburn for a match of special significance in many respects. Football-wise Bolton is five points behind its rival in the relegation mix, Rovers moving away from the trap door to the Championship with three wins in five games.

Earlier this year it was difficult to know which the Blackburn fans disliked more, Venkys, the owners for not firing manager Steve Kean or the Scot who, for his safety, had to employ a bodyguard, the sort of protection more associated with royalty and heads of state.

I am delighted for Kean to have been proven wrong. He is a charming man who has acted with huge dignity throughout a level of mob rule criticism that became personal and unacceptably abusive. The intensity of the protests have subsided as survival becomes more probable.

Venkys, to its credit (words I never thought I would write) looks to have been rewarded for remaining faithful to its manager.

On the other hand, fellow relegation strugglers Wolves and Queens Park Rangers are finding a change of manager does not always provide the anticipated uplift.

Wolves axed Mick McCarthy without having a replacement lined up and were left with no alternative than to hand the job to coach Terry Connor, who has taken one point from his four games in charge, the team conceding 14 goals.

Since Mark Hughes succeeded Neil Warnock, QPR have won eight of the 27 points available, though the 3-2 comeback win over Liverpool on Wednesday could be a turning point.

It was the first time in 11 years Liverpool had blown a two-goal lead and Kenny Dalglish, who is an interviewer's nightmare even when his team has won, was charmless to the post-match Sky Sports reporter who must have cursed Jamie Mackie's late winner.

The defeat left Liverpool in seventh position, 12 points off a Champions League place which, despite winning the League Cup, represents huge underachievement in the wake of the £100 million investment in new players over the past year.

The side in ascendancy is Arsenal with six successive wins. It trailed Tottenham by 10 points last month but has overtaken Spurs, who have won only one point from the last 12.

Their fans believe, understandably but wrongly, that the downturn is linked to Harry Redknapp's ongoing flirtation with the England job. Their recent displays have not been as bad as the results but Saturday's match against Chelsea is pivotal for both clubs, who are battling for the fourth Champions League spot.

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


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