James Lawton: Managers must come together to rescue the game


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No one died here but in all other respects it was football's version of ground zero. It was where any relish for the game, any love of it for its own sake, its skills and sometimes beautiful rhythm, was likely to be tracked down and wilfully desecrated.

After Luis Suarez had chilled the blood with the coldness of his decision to wreck hopes that this occasion might have carried some semblance of a new start by ignoring the offer of Patrice Evra's hand, and Evra later milked the situation with all the reflective power of a self-congratulatory lemming as he postured beside the departing Uruguayan, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish made a statement so evasive, so detached from the reality of how it had been in the stadium, it was almost beyond belief.

Certainly it left, where we had hoped for some spontaneous decency, a vacuum that was hardly filled yesterday by the apologies from Suarez, Dalglish and Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, which came in response to outrage which had never been so intense or widespread at any point in the whole desperate episode.

Suarez's Doomsday behaviour was almost beyond comment, but Sir Alex Ferguson said, anyway, that it was a disgrace to the game and that Liverpool should kick him out. He would say that, wouldn't he? But, to be fair, this was a day that couldn't be passed into the great maw of the game's tribal hatred and the growing sense that no one, and least of all some of football's best rewarded players, has either the wit or grace to cry halt.

Ferguson did at least sigh and disapprove when Evra's behaviour, on the very shoulder of Suarez as he trooped off, was described.

Suarez on Saturday held a day vital to the good health of his adopted football in the palm of his right hand. Having been found guilty of racial abuse, having served his sentence, a simple, universally understood gesture could have indeed signalled a fresh start.

Instead he chose to readmit all the demons that have congregated so rapaciously of late and without any hint of censure from Liverpool, the club that was once a monument to the most warming spirit of battle and open-hearted love of the great carnival of football.

Yesterday's news that the government was about to call a summit meeting on "racism in sport" was hardly a surprise. How better, after all, to nudge the NHS and unemployment figures down the news agenda for a day or two? More productive, hopefully, will be the call of the players' union chief, Gordon Taylor, that the game should take some long-needed steps to heal itself.

It is not hard to envisage something more likely to encourage a new mood than a summit meeting that would have more relevance than anything fashioned by Downing Street spin artists. It is the idea of an authentic football summit between Ferguson and Dalglish.

Older differences than those created by the Suarez affair would have to buried, or at least suspended. There would have to be an understanding that a joint communiqué between the two leaders of their tribes should carry a note of two vastly experienced and iconic football men, saying it was time to do something on behalf not of petty interests but the entire game.

Suarez, principally, and Evra to a large extent, proved that they were incapable of understanding the nature of the problem that had been created. But men like Ferguson and Dalglish could stand shoulder to shoulder and say that they are ready to move the game they love back from ground zero.

If they can't do it, who can?