Various bits and bobs have floated around since Anwar El Ghazi’s winner at Goodison, some more interesting than others. And now we have a full English on for the Champions League Final. Shame both can’t lose, but at least they were the most lily-livered of the Secessionist Six.

Naturally, United supporters forcing a postponement of the Liverpool fixture was the week’s biggest news, even eclipsing the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to Bodymoor Heath to open the new Performance Center. Whatever one thinks of the royals, he seems nice enough, and it’s fun that a future King of England is occasionally in the stands, wearing the colors, and out supporting the club. His acknowledgment of Dean Smith’s father was a classy gesture.

Me, I quite enjoyed the buoyant breach of Old Trafford, however futile. There was no real risk or injury, except maybe to Graeme Souness, whose life was apparently in danger, and it was an inevitable expression of years of frustration. Also a fine occasion for a pish-up. Perhaps there’s some small hypocrisy involved, but no more really than Villa benefiting from rich foreign owners, and United’s support have made it clear over the years that they’ve never liked the Glazers. Don’t think anyone does. If the Glazers aren’t moved (which of course they aren’t), it did serve some notice to other owners, and kept the Super League treachery from quickly fading into obscurity given our ever-shortening attention spans.

But of course the delay in the match had to be filled with talking, and, as is his wont, Souness wouldn’t be denied the opportunity to open his mouth and say stupid things.

So, a long rant from me because I’ve had just about enough of this particular slant.

Inevitably, Graeme spouted off again about Jack Grealish, labeling him a cheat. Even though Souness may be completely sour and irrelevant, the accusation is familiar and erroneous. It’s fine that Graeme’s wrong, he’s good at it, but tarnishing a player’s reputation is a bit much, as was Keith Hackett’s nonsensical agreement. I found his wonderfully contradictory statements transcribed in Football Insider, and they ultimately only point to state of officiating:

“There are two things here. Jack Grealish is the player that receives the ball most and as a consequence that defenders that are challenging him will foul him.Didn’t realize that was the inevitable outcome, but okay. The defenders are going to foul him. Apparently they have no choice.

“He feels the pain of a foul challenge, I don’t. So within that, there are some where he’s fouled, it’s not given and he’s got the pain. There’s some where he thinks ‘He’s touched me, I’m going down.’So he doesn’t get calls on painful fouls and gets calls when the referee sees a touch/foul that isn’t painful because he goes down and the referee can’t tell the difference, because something about pain or lack thereof. And what was the touch? Bamford-esque phantom blows?

“I think the terminology ‘buying fouls’ is a good one. It’s cheating. There’s no question, if a player goes down when there’s no question is cheating.” Is there a difference between “drawing” and “buying” a foul? I think so. I’d assume the former involves pencils or crayons, the latter some exchange of currency.

“It’s a consequence of teams knowing Jack Grealish is the playmaker, and an outstanding one. He’s the guy receiving the ball most in the team, it goes to say he’s going to be fouled most and defenders will find ways.So, defenders will find ways to foul him because he’s an outstanding playmaker. That’s cheating, being good. Those poor defenders, no choice but to foul. “Finding ways [to foul]” to stop Jack and stop Villa isn’t “cheating”? I suppose it’s just good old-fashioned football: drag them down to your level.

“There’s no question he’s a member of the group that go to ground very easily.” Hmm. I see him fight through plenty, too. And who else is in this group?

I don’t like the size of his shin pads. I think they’re outside the law. Maybe he should do something about that.” Now we’re getting somewhere.

“We’re back to refereeing standards here. What is the difference between a foul and an act of simulation? That’s the job of the referee. (I think Hackett admitted the calls are haphazard at best.) If the referees are not blowing for the free-kicks then you’re encouraging Grealish to go down.If referees don’t call a foul a foul, then players are tempted to draw attention to it? My god, the humanity.

I’m not quite sure what this mesmerizing word salad is supposed to mean. I’m also not quite sure what the size of shin pads has to do with anything. It’s only a foul if he feels pain?

But Hackett seems to be saying that if officials did their job better, players wouldn’t feel the need to go to ground, and Jack wouldn’t be cheating. Or something. Defenders will find a way to foul him because he gets a lot of the ball and is a playmaker. So he is going to get fouled a lot and goes to ground too easily. Which is it? A foul or simulation? Why doesn’t someone just give him a yellow, then? Or simply ignore his pleas, as I’ve seen more than once.

Got it.

Here’s the deal. Players generally can’t cope with Grealish. So they foul him. Simple as. Souness would certainly have had trouble with him, as well. Stopping a player playing by “foul means” seems to be “cheating” to me. If you watch him week in, week out as Villans do, you know his game and the tactics employed against him. If the opposition didn’t foul him, he’d simply go round and through them more and have even better stats. But they can’t let him get past, so they foul him. The teams who’ve successfully ‘contained’ Jack are the ones with really good DMs or FBs they put on him exclusively, defenders good enough and smart enough to deny him penetration without getting sucked in.

Now, does Jack know how to “buy a foul”? He certainly does. But I’m going to call it what it is, which is “drawing a foul.” The defender will get too close, Jack will wriggle away, and the defender won’t be able to stop himself sticking a leg out, pulling him back, obstructing, whatever.

They know he’s going to do that and make them look silly. They know he’s going to move the ball before they can get to it. They know they’re going to kick out anyway. They know he knows that. That’s not “cheating”. That’s just clever. That’s toying with the opponent. That’s saying, “You can’t stop me without fouling me,” and making it clear. And they keep playing his game and giving away cheap fouls.

Whose fault is that? He wouldn’t be able to draw fouls if they didn’t present him the opportunity. I’m quite sure Jack would prefer to be left alone to do his thing anyway.

Jack’s under no obligation to let ‘thuggery’ win the day. Nor is he obligated to stop defenders from defending stupidly. He’s also not to blame for them being deficient enough to have to do stupid things. If you can’t stop Jack one on one, then fence him in. Mark his outlets. Stop him getting the ball in the first place. If none of that works, well, you need better defenders or you’re screwed. He isn’t going to pass the ball just because there’s a training cone with a leg out.

(Not that I should bring up North American sports at this moment in time, but all the leagues there have evolved rules to favor skill, attacking players, irreplaceable players. If Jack were playing hockey, someone would be punching the guy who keeps bringing him down, or running him into the boards head first.)

Now, to be fair: Jack’s dramatic reactions don’t help. They make him look like a whinger, especially when it is a soft foul he’s drawn. I get that. And I wish he’d tone it down, because that’s what I think people are reacting to.

At the same time, if I were getting fouled constantly by an ever-rotating cast (to prevent accumulations and yellow or red cards), I might get a little frustrated, too. Earlier yellows would help, because officials know what’s going to happen. They know opponents are going to distribute the fouls. And they still don’t punish the ones who tot up 3, 4, 5 against him.

We’ve no idea how much his current shin injury is down to whacking, something that never quite healed properly, like a stress fracture, or tiny shin pads. But I’ve only seen a couple-three occasions over a season where I really thought he “bought” a foul (ie, made one out of nothing) simply by going down and reacting. Virtually always, there’s some kind of contact, enough to make the case. “Defenders will find a way,” as Hackett admits. Yes, they will. Why can’t attackers respond in kind?

I see these same rugged defenders going down at the slightest laying on of hands, any bump. Center backs falling over constantly when someone breathes on them from behind. I see shirt-pulling and dragging all over the place in the box. I see deliberate elbows (like the cheap shot Ollie got as payback after skinning Mason Holgate). I see forwards like Ollie and Wes continually gone over or through, and never a call for them. I see a complete shambles of officiating all over the pitch. And Hackett actually identifies the problem: Referees missing calls.

Now, I’d certainly call Jack a cheat if he had a history of diving in the box (maybe our Ashley comes to mind), the one place it really matters. Young embarrassed us on more than one occasion.

But Grealish doesn’t, does he? Funnily enough, he keeps his feet there. Why? Because defenders suddenly don’t stick their legs out in the box. Odd, isn’t it?

So, Graeme and Keith: Put a sock in it.

Over to you.

Comments 21

  1. imo Jack does go down a lot and easily half of the time … but he is no more of a cheat than any other player in the modern game its just that he has such a high skill level that players think they can win the ball but that happens every 6 months against Jack
    If he doesn’t go down he will get even more of a kicking every game and its always an accumulation of knocks that’s see’s us loose him for long periods
    In the modern game I see players going down over something they themselves have tried to manufacture every single game .. its not nice but is what the game has become

    hopefully our players will surround the ref every time a player catches Jack he needs protection out there

  2. Not so much a rant JC, more a chapter on the shortcomings of Souness and Hackett. I take my hat off to Souness. He talks through his arse and gets paid mega bucks for doing so. If he wishes to discuss cheating, he should highlight the two thugs at the centre of Burnley’s defence who demolished Wes’s knee cap, or Stones who did the same to Ramsey.

    Or the more subtle cheating of Fernandes who pirouetted through the air, landing on Konsa’s leg to get a penalty. Or the more darker cheating of Kevin Fraud who wiped out our equalizer at Selhurst Park last season after Jack had been levelled in the penalty area.

    There’s so much of it, but Souness chooses to pick on Jack. And when he did, I flicked the remote.

  3. last 2 seasons the ‘free kicks’ have got so much worse in the game. slows the game down so much. the slightest touch player goes down ref gives a free kick. its a 0 contact game nowadays.

  4. Is Jack a diver? no. Does he have a way of going down that avoids getting seriously hurt every few minutes yes, its a reflex built over years since he was 6. Whatever way you look at it if you trip, push of balance, kick without getting the ball it is a foul. Now if Jack was this diver Villa would have a penalty every game, maybe two, fouling him outside the box is preferable to in so they foul him. If he did not ride the tackles he would be in a wheelchair by now simple as. Does he know they are coming? of course, he’s to quick thinking for them not to be, generally he does not get caught with his foot planted.

    Do I think he cheats? no, not in the accepted sense , no more than the worlds greatest sprinter cheats by being faster.

  5. I watched some of the retro footy early 90’s. The pace of the game was insane even with the keeper being allowed to pick the ball up from pass backs. tackles flying in and playing on!

    Need to get the balance back a bit. Our league has gone full on European now. lets not forget what makes/made the prem so exciting

  6. yeah its just obv jack draws fouls. great interview with him talking about it I saw earlier this season. he said because most of the time we haven’t been great and don’t have possession he needs to do it to slow the game down and get us up the pitch!

  7. H&V,

    I think the issue is money, basically. Players are bigger investments than ever. I’ve no idea what’s led to Jack’s absence (was it a kick that never healed, or just a repetitive stress injury, etc.), but you can see what a single player can mean.

    Agreed, there are a lot of free kicks, stoppages. So, yeah, need to find a balance. But for me, I think you have to let the best play. If it means more goals and more entertainment, that’s okay. They maybe have to be quicker with yellows. Seems like a bad thing, but would open up the game more. Three-five fouls on Grealish by 3-4 different players should be the same as one player totting up the same number.

    Watching basically every Villa game for the last several years, the amount of rotational fouling on Grealish is phenomenal, and very clearly an instruction. Villa are managing to defend well without a lot of crunching tackles or cynical/dangerous fouls.

    I do remember the old stuff (because I’m old and started off with ’70s FA-certified officials). I just think those days are gone. And I don’t think the superstars making the PL so popular would come if it were rougher.

  8. If I were looking to reduce free kicks, the first place I’d start is players going down with the slightest of touches or bumps from behind. No legs involved, no risk of injury.

    Until that stops, I can’t fault a player in full stride going down with any contact below the waist, or being tugged/pulled back.

    I’d also figure out backing in vs coming through the back or going over the top. If an attacker, say Ollie, is planted and waiting for a ball, ie, has taken and keeps a position, they shouldn’t get called when a CB comes over them.

    It is getting down to very fine margins.

  9. runtings,

    Yes, that’s the game now. And like you say, Jack would get kicked silly. He takes enough hard fouls as it is, and if it’s one player doing it three times in a row and shrugging, I very rarely see a yellow. And you’ll see Jack letting the ref know how many times it’s been.

    So, like H&V pointed out from that interview, he is using defenders’ inability to lay off to the team’s advantage.

  10. So the greedy bastards have got away with it. UEFA have given our 6 clubs a fine of £1.5 million each. No bans, nothing. Just the shrapnel in the owners pockets. It’s fuckin outrageous. They have no balls. Here was the chance to level the playing field and they blew it. Time to involve the international corruption team and start investigating bank accounts.

    Like tarts on a street corner, the clubs have lifted their skirts to any passing punter who looks like he has some money. The Scots had the balls to relegate Rangers to the bottom tier for a crime that was a fraction as treacherous as this. You can smell the stench of football on Mars.

  11. This means the EPL will do nothing more. You can hear the shit that’s coming…points deductions will hurt the very fans that collapsed it…relegation would not be gained on merit…the other 14 clubs can swivel.

    Carry on milking it, parasites.

  12. Plug- I would save your breath mate Because there is no international anything that will do anything. Politics, Science, Medicine, Banking are all corrupt there is Zero chance for football.

    I see Mr Lineaker owes the corrupt tax office around £5m in tax and insurance. The equally corrupt BBC say he is not an employee so they don’t have to pay his contributions, to them he is self employed lol. The whole system stinks with a million loop holes.

    That said when states have control of the money its basically taking money with threat of violence, cough up or go to Jail, taken there by the very police your taxes pay for, unless you have money of course because it can all then go away.

    Biden has raised taxes on the rich so that’s America down the gurgler. That will be blamed on Capitalism and the free market no doubt even though no such thing truly exists, the whole shebang was Funucked once the state took over education. The best degree these days must be one in Propaganda 🙂

  13. Mark, silence and appeasement lets them get away with it. Just because capitalism is screwed (it’s a mega ponzi scheme that only works on an exploding population) it doesn’t mean we should stand by and let it invade our football. And no, I ain’t a commie.

    These guys tried to shaft us. A finger wagging is not appropriate punishment.

  14. Plug – Absolutely mate but they are all in the same club with a lot to lose and will just carry on.

    Real free markets don’t prop failing enterprises up and they don’t bail them out, its not capitalism when the state allows and is owned by corporations and rich individuals and Banks, Nothing democratic about the west anymore. Trump wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea I know hence the collaboration to get rid, can’t have someone rocking the boat that they didn’t, ahem, elect, but I enjoyed the squirming .

    Look at Labour over here, the working class know they hate us and have had to turn to the Tories who are not even that Tory. They literally hate what they think are thick people that their system has done nothing to help and everything to create.

    Sadly you are right that getting angry is our only option, but even more sad is that so many don’t know what to be angry about and are being led by the nose, schools don’t teach critical thinking any more. Teaching kids how to identify what gender they are on any given day is far more important as is who to hate and how to not get pointed at lol. I find it amazing the lengths that people will go to not to be disliked, unfortunately unless you can say so what, your going to keep quiet.

  15. Jack joined in light training today with the first team. We might see him later this month if he doesn’t have a relapse.

  16. Plug- yes mate I think it will be last two maybe three games myself. Meanwhile teams in the top half are throwing points away, its almost as if they want us to get into Europe.

  17. One player that is going unnoticed is Sanson, now I cannot imagine we have bought him for a laugh so I wonder what the plan is as he is versatile. More matchday options maybe? or does he have a bigger part to play? someone rates him.

    ” Aston Villa are said to be one of the clubs interested in signing Fleetwood Town teenager Josh Feeney during the summer transfer window.

    The 16-year-old has made the step-up to the first team setup at Fleetwood this season and has been included in the last three matchday squads, and that has gained attention from a host of clubs with the youngster looking set to leave the League One club when the transfer window opens.”

    Feeney is 6’3″ at 16 wow

Leave a Reply