The season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men is upon us, so what better way to mark Christmas Eve than to read on the back pages of a national newspaper that “Sir Alex Ferguson last night accused Swansea skipper Ashley Williams of trying to kill Robin van Persie.”
Happy Christmas everyone!
Even by English football’s standards in a year that has supplied an almost constant stream of negative stories about our national sport, it is quite a mental picture to paint as families across the country brave public transport fiascos and prohibitive flooding to be with their loved ones, swap gifts, eat, drink and be merry.
So, are we to add no less a charge than attempted murder to the Premier League’s rather extensive rap sheet?
Well, no. Ferguson didn’t actually accuse Williams of trying to kill his star striker, only that when he hoofed the ball into the back of Van Persie’s head in Sunday’s 1-1 draw in Wales he could have broken his neck. Van Persie was, according to Ferguson, “lucky to be alive.”
Though the United boss felt Williams’s act was deliberate – a charge the defender denied, as he instead claimed he was just trying to boot the ball away in frustration – he wasn’t accusing the Swansea captain of being motivated by a desire to slay the Dutch international. The Premier League’s own Taggart wasn’t on the scent of a cold-blooded killer. There is a distinction there.
However, Ferguson's overblown reaction did contain a large portion of sensationalism. Truly ‘tis the season for hyperbole.
To suggest that Van Persie “could have been killed” by a ball to the back of the head was far-fetched in the extreme. He could also have been killed by an asteroid striking the Liberty Stadium, or a massive sinkhole opening up under the turf and engulfing everyone in the penalty box – both of which would have been only marginally less likely than death by football.
A more cynical organ than Early Doors – if indeed you could find one – might suggest Ferguson’s reaction was in some way motivated by a desire to take the attention away from a disappointing result and an unremittingly terrible display from Wayne Rooney.
We have seen these tactics before: saying Alan Wiley was out of shape following a 2-2 draw with Sunderland in 2009 was probably the best example of his penchant for an explosive diversionary tactic. If that is the case on this occasion then Fergie's certainly set a new PB.
However, no one should doubt the depth of his anger. A stern, unforgiving man at the best of times, this was Fergie enraged, his proclamation that Williams should be banned for a “long, long time” coming from the heart. It was not so much a hairdryer as a jet engine, expelling a torrent of hot fury.
The trouble is, it was also misguided. Williams might have been a bit naughty, but he was never in danger of snuffing Van Persie out for good, not even close. Even Wayne Rooney said the incident was “just one of those things.”
The prospect of a ban for Williams looks slim: referee Michael Oliver booked him at the time, though it was not immediately apparent whether this was for the original incident or his part in the melee that followed. If it was for the kick then under FA rules they cannot charge him as the official dealt with it at the time.
If the booking was for the melee, then The FA should impose a three-game ban on the Swansea centre-back for dangerous play.
Ferguson said Williams’s kick was “the most dangerous thing I have seen on a football field for many, many years” – but presumably 2001 was his cut-off point. That was when Roy Keane inflicted injury on Alf Inge Haaland with a horrific ‘tackle’ in a Manchester derby.
A year-and-a-half later, when Keane revealed with relish in his autobiography that the act was a pre-meditated one – “take that, you c***”, being his infamous expression – Ferguson subsequently backed his captain and said Keane had “no case to answer”, despite having admitted to going out to deliberately hurt another professional.
Despite Ferguson's sensational rhetoric, Williams's crime is less serious than Keane's.
- - -
Chelsea made headlines of the right kind on Sunday with a tremendous 8-0 victory over Aston Villa that comes as timely validation for their unpopular manager.
With Brazilians Ramires, David Luiz, Oscar and even Lucas Piazon all influential, perhaps the match at Stamford Bridge saw the birth of a new conception of football: Joga Bonitez.
A Brazilian love for football coupled with Benitez's organisational skills - a happy medium between Jose Mourinho's pragmatism of Chelsea past and the unattainable Barcelona flair that Roman Abramovich wanted for the future.
Or perhaps Chelsea just milked a weak and inexperienced Aston Villa side for all they were worth.
Either way, it will be fascinating to see if Benitez can turn Chelsea fans around in the second half of the season.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We haven't seen anything like that since Band Aid." - HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo said demand for the Justice Collective's cover of 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' flew off the shelves in Liverpool as the Hillsborough tribute song sold 269,000 copies worldwide to take the number one spot away from X-Factor winner James Arthur by 45,000 copies - coincidentally the capacity of Anfield.
FOREIGN VIEW: "The coach decides which team he thinks is best for each match and you need to accept the decision. I'm not used to being a substitute but above Iker Casillas or any player is the team. What I need to do is continue training and try to recover the confidence of the coach." - Real Madrid's goalkeeper refuses to hit out after being dropped for the first time in 10 years. Jose Mourinho's move backfired though as Madrid lost 3-2 to Malaga to fall 16 points behind leaders Barcelona.
COMING UP: It might be Christmas Eve but we are still working at Eurosport towers, so we will be bringing you our Year in Review pieces for Formula 1 and Rugby, as well as our usual features: the Premier League and European Teams of the Week, Top Five Goals and Hot or Not.