Whether the allegation concerning referee Mark Clattenburg racially abusing Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel last Sunday is true, or not – it is certainly additional evidence of a sport about to implode. Football has become an activity where the actual competition is now a sideshow to conspiracy theorizing, vile chanting, handshakes, t-shirts and various other irrelevancies.
Chelsea’s accusation is undoubtedly serious. If Clattenburg did say what he is accused of, then his career will surely be terminated and the game dragged further into a mire of racism, recently regarded as a problem of the past. If Clattenburg is innocent then Chelsea’s actions should be severely dealt with. Clattenburg’s two linesmen and 4th official are all connected during the game via microphone so, in theory, should be able to corroborate the story, either way.
Incidentally, we shouldn’t forget that this is a club who prematurely ended the career of the respected European official Anders Frisk in 2005, following a campaign of abuse instigated by their former manager, Jose Mourinho after a Champions League match against Barcelona.
Unfortunately, this latest controversy has completely detracted from what was a wonderful game between Chelsea and Manchester United; a match that contained great goals, sublime skill and terrific individual performances from star players like Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney. With Van Persie very much to the fore, United moved to within one point of Chelsea at the top of the league following their 3-2 win.
How Chelsea must wish they had the clever and clinical Dutchman at the focal point of their attack rather than the lumbering, erratic Fernando Torres. Similarly, Sir Alex Ferguson must be envious of the fluidity and intensity that Chelsea’s midfield played with for most of the match – reaching a level of excellence that United can only dream of in their current guise.
Sadly, in the wake of the Clattenburg issue, these interesting football issues will become secondary to yet another tiresome saga of claim and counter-claim, played out in all its gory detail by the 24-hour media cycle. It is the frequency of these incidents that is the most distressing aspect. Barely a week goes by in British football without the news agenda being dominated by another off-field distraction.
It seems that football – if it hasn’t already – is on the verge of completely losing the plot. Can we not just enjoy the sport anymore, without having to worry about the reality TV nonsense that has become a permanent accompaniment to the beautiful game?
After Scotland’s listless defeat in Brussels it is surely time for Craig Levein to depart from his role as national team manager. Despite Levein’s repeated assertions that Scotland have been making progress under his management, the results don’t bear this theory out. Scotland have only won three competitive matches under Levein – two of which were against European minnows Liechtenstein – and the performances are getting noticeably worse, not better. To paint the scenario in its starkest light, Levein now has a worse record than two of his more maligned predecessors, George Burley and Berti Vogts.
That Levein’s time is up is almost beyond question now; who his replacement should be is more debateable. The best candidates – David Moyes and Steve Clarke – are hardly likely to leave their jobs in the top half of the English Premier League to take on a fairly thankless task. Gordon Strachan appears the choice of the Tartan Army but is hardly an inspiring selection; likewise Alex McLeish or Walter Smith – with their guaranteed brand of turgid, negative football. And presumably, the unemployed Pep Guardiola will not be interested in attempting to teach Alan Hutton the basics of tiki-taka.
That the SFA must act quickly on Levein is a necessity to give the new manager, whoever he may be, a chance to use the dregs of this qualifying campaign to implement his style and a cohesive tactical system in preparation for the France 2016 qualification process.
Rangers finally recorded their first away league win of the season at Clyde on Sunday, stretching their lead at the top of third division. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Rangers’ season thus far has been the remarkable home crowds that they have attracted – breaking the European record attendance for 4th tier matches on two occasions this season. The Ibrox attendance has even, on occasion, eclipsed all the gates in Scottish football put together.
However, the road back to the summit of Scottish football appears long and arduous; littered with tedious encounters against Annan Athletic, Dumbarton and Greenock Morton, so whether this impressive display of loyalty continues throughout remains to be seen. And – despite the contrary bluster from the fans – there must surely have been an element of jealousy in watching Celtic take on Barcelona in the Nou Camp last week.