It’s all gone a bit mad hasn’t it? In a week that should have seen the focus on two nights of exciting clashes in the world’s greatest club competition, it is instead events off the pitch that have created the biggest talking points.
Perhaps the sight of resident Premier League mentalist Mario Balotelli cracking a smile upon the conclusion of Manchester City’s destruction of an abject Sunderland side on Sunday afternoon might have tipped us off that the week ahead would be anything but ordinary.
Few would have predicted that a commentator would completely overshadow the events of Tottenham Hotspur’s ill-fated trip to the Santiago Bernabeu, but that’s exactly what happened. At the end of a game that saw Tottenham mauled, Peter Crouch sent off in quite amazing fashion (his first yellow card was not only worthy of the colour red, it was reminiscent of the sadly departed “professional foul” button found in FIFA 99) and a strike worthy of winning any game courtesy of Angel Di Maria, all anyone could talk about was the contribution of Sky colour commentator Ray Wilkins.
Wilkins was upset, hysterical even. Calling the Spurs players by their first names and referring to Tottenham as “we”; the former Chelsea, QPR and Manchester United player explained that he was adopting this tact because he was an Englishman. With impartiality safely out of the way, Wilkins’ embracing of his nation also featured tirades against that age-old enemy of football and all things pure and true; the dastardly cheating foreigner.
Castigating the Madrid players for their diving and penchant for surrounding the referee, Wilkins suggested such behaviour was exclusively non-English and implored the Tottenham players to “stay on your feet”. Repeatedly. Like a deranged lunatic.
Once Cristiano Ronaldo (formerly of Manchester United apparently) wrapped things up by benefiting from a typical Gomes howler, Wilkins was distraught, proclaiming that Tottenham “don’t deserve this” despite the scoreline and the evening’s events offering a convincing counter-argument.
Wilkins may have been off the mark on many things on Tuesday night but his hysteria only served to enhance his “man of the people” routine, given the national outcry that occurred in the wake of Wayne Rooney’s foul-mouthed outburst at an innocent Sky TV camera.
Rooney’s actions were undeniably stupid and the image of his snarling visage hints at some deep-rooted psychological problems, but deserving of a two-match ban? The English FA seem to think so and they’re not alone, such was the extent of the depressingly predictable tabloid witch-hunt that followed. Rooney’s quick apology counted for nothing and he will be confined to the stands just as he’s enjoying his best form of the season.
His plight was enjoyed by the many Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. If it was affecting Rooney, he didn’t show it. Ignoring taunts and abuse, the controversial striker scored the decisive goal to give Man United their first win at the Bridge in nine years. Thankfully his celebration was somewhat more constrained and we can all sleep easy at night, the fear that a human being might express some questionable emotion quashed.
In responding to his punishment, Rooney understandably expressed his disappointment, and included a telling statement. “I’m not the first footballer to have sworn on TV, and I won’t be the last.” Indeed. Sky’s omnipresent cameras rarely miss anything, and that includes footballers reacting to refereeing decisions by barking profanity in their direction. Rooney’s case is different in that he directed his abuse directly down the camera lens and at the millions watching.
The onus is now on the FA to show consistency and punish similar offences by other players. If not, Rooney will find himself vindicated to a certain degree. As he pointed out; “Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologised immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing. That doesn’t seem right.”
In a league full of inconsistency, the FA has set a dangerous precedent. Still, in a week of overreaction and chaos, at least one man stood up for consistency. Step forward Fernando Torres.
Just like Rooney can’t hide from the cameras, Torres cannot escape the numbers. 50 million pounds. 617 minutes. Zero goals. In any other week it would be one of the bigger stories. As it stands, time is running out for the Spanish striker. He cut a forlorn and desperate figure on Wednesday evening, with his biggest contribution to the game being two utterly pathetic and unconvincing dives. While it might seem unfathomable that he will fail to recapture his form and thus “do a Shevchenko”, stranger things have happened.
Still it could be worse. He could be Ray Wilkins.