Football has, rather uncharacteristically, relinquished its dominance of the news agenda for this mid-summer dip but it has not lost its ability to hearten and dishearten those that follow it.
In the grand scheme of news and sport, a pre-season friendly between Manchester City’s elite development squad and Croatian side HNK Rijeka does not register too highly. It was the last game of City’s tour of Croatia and they were 1-0 down just before the break.
Seko Fofana, City’s 19-year-old French midfielder, was sent off for clashing with Rijeka’s Marka Marciusa off the ball just before the break. Patrick Vieira, who coaches City’s youth side, walked on to find out what had happened and then took the players off.
City said in a statement late on Tuesday night that there had been “an alleged incident of racial abuse” directed from a Rijeka player at Fofana. Rijeka, unsurprisingly, issued their own statement saying that Vieira’s reasons were “known only to him”. It underlined that they have African players and close ties to their academy in Nigeria, calling City’s decision “hasty and illogical”.
As scheduled, City flew home this afternoon. The club is talking to the Croatia football federation about what happened but serious sanctions are not very likely.
City’s seniors will start the domestic season just over a fortnight from now, with the Community Shield against Arsenal. Before then – and after – there will be the final convulsions of the transfer window. So this particular incident will likely be lost, a minor incident from a brief youth-team excursion.
But for far too long parts of southern and eastern Europe have treated visiting black footballers inhumanely at almost no meaningful cost. It has even happened to City enough times before, not least to Yaya Touré at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League last season.
Football matches cannot continue while players are treated like this. City’s refusal to play on, in an unheralded summer friendly, will not solve this problem but it does at least make the right stand.