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.
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.