James Lawton: Chelsea v Manchester United horrors typical of a game diving into the gutter

Fernando Torres’ fate is not going to cause prolonged distress in this quarter

Mark Clattenburg may not always have been a model of propriety on his way to becoming England's second-ranked referee at the age of 37 but it is still hard to believe that he could have been so monumentally careless of his own and what is left of football's reputation.

Chelsea, a bitterly aggrieved Chelsea, allege that the official used inappropriate and racially abusive language while dealing with the protests of their players John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata, and this of course takes the national game straight back to square one after all that carefully confected, if somewhat lacklustre, kissing and making up.

If you have the energy, or the patience, or you still care enough, you might want to weep at this latest evidence of a game too rich for its own good locked into another bout of witless self-destruction.

Here, one inclination is to be extremely sceptical that this latest storm will prove quite all that it was cranked up to be in the first wake of Clattenburg's extremely controversial handling of Manchester United's victory over a nine-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Another one is that, if Fernando Torres was widely judged to have been most harshly victimised when Clattenburg gave him a second yellow card for diving, his fate is not going to cause prolonged distress in this quarter, especially when it is remembered that his first might easily have been red.

The truth is that, like so many of his trade, Torres dives almost as a matter of course and if you live by such gut-churning artifice there is a very good chance you will from time to time also die by it.

The cast changes from weekend to weekend but the offence has some staple characters and any number of, to use football's current buzzword, inappropriate defenders.

One of them at the weekend was Everton manager David Moyes, who is awarded more usually the highest marks for both exemplary professionalism and decent instincts.

In a sermon plainly aimed at the talented but utterly amoral Luis Suarez before Sunday's Merseyside derby, Moyes said, "People want to see the game being played correctly, they will not stand for players going down too easily. I think players should stay on their feet and if I had a player who was diving regularly I would have a word.

"It's not the way to play but I must be honest and admit this is a tricky area. A penalty to win a tight game once in a while might be a different matter."

Inevitably, perhaps, the most egregious case of diving at Goodison Park came not from Suarez – on this occasion he should have been dismissed for a revolting foul on Sylvain Distin – but Moyes' captain, Phil Neville.

Where it left us was in that dismal place foretold by the manager's pre-match quote. It took us back into that hole which English football has become congenitally incapable of avoiding – the one where only one consideration has any passing validity. It is of any short-term gain that can be grasped, whatever the sickening cost to that old idea that football is a sport of identifiable values and consistently enforced rules.

Whether Sir Alex Ferguson, the beneficiary of Torres' dismissal, would have taken quite such a spartan view of the Spaniard's behaviour if a red card had been shown to Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney in similar circumstances is, of course, an interesting question. As it was, it was hard to argue with the United manager's claim that the contact made by his defender Jonny Evans was so inconsequential Torres would have been far better off keeping his feet and bearing down on goal.

Cue now, of course, heated debate about the degree of that contact among all those who recognised clearly that some had been made before any need for at least three reruns.

Such arguments have become quite relentless. Indeed, you don't have to enjoy iron chains of memory to recall the one that erupted around the story that a young Michael Owen had been advised by his England manager, Glenn Hoddle, that a requirement of a first-rank international striker was to nick a penalty or two. Or the astonishment that greeted another young player – Owen's Liverpool team-mate Robbie Fowler – a few years earlier when he waved to the referee that he had not been fouled by Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman. The official pointed to the spot, Fowler took the kick sheepishly and it required his team-mate Jason McAteer to score from the rebound for a vital goal in a top-of-the-table battle.

That was a mere 15 years ago. It might have been a hundred. The reaction to Fowler's gesture was interesting when set against today's moral maze. Sky's old pro analyst and a superb former striker, Andy Gray, was aghast. He said that Fowler was entitled to a clip around the ear for endangering his team's title chances. The majority view was that at the very least Fowler's behaviour had been quixotic.

But who then could have anticipated the speed of football's descent into the gutter? Who could have imagined the day when a manager noted for an outstanding commitment to the good name of the game to which he had devoted all of his adult professional life would itemise the occasions when cheating might be quite all right?

Chelsea had a fair body of grievance on Sunday and it may just be the case that it will prove more substantial than some of us suspect when the case against Clattenburg is submitted to due process. What is certain is football's pathetic failure to install some basic video assistance to referees for whom the job has plainly become too much was the most obvious cause of the injustice of United's winning goal.

We can, though, be equally sure that Chelsea should be on their own if they seek to make a martyr of Fernando Torres.

Related articles...

From Robert Pires to Rivaldo: The worst divers in football

Chelsea stand by Clattenburg claims as FA starts investigation

Chelsea's problem is everything is seen through Terry prism

Mark Clattenburg: The man in black with a BMW X5 and lifestyle close to controversy

Metropolitan police launch investigation into allegations Mark Clattenburg used 'inappropriate language' towards Chelsea pair John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata

 

Sky's honesty still leaves much for cycling to do

There is no hardship joining in the praise for Team Sky's declaration of zero tolerance for drug use, however rooted it is in the past. Unfortunately, though, even the toughest imposition of much truth and little or any reconciliation by their brilliant director, Dave Brailsford, was ever going to draw a line in the Saharan scale of cycling corruption.

So far four team members have gone, two after admitting to doping at various stages of their careers, one a former member of a Dutch team disbanded after being found guilty of chronic abuse, and another, former sports director Sean Yates, who just a few days ago was at the heart of a campaign to sweep the tours of France, Italy and Spain.

Yates – and by implication the team – tells us that his departure is entirely to do with his family situation and health factors.

This could be more readily accepted if he hadn't enjoyed a long professional and personal relationship with the dean of dopers, Lance Armstrong.

The trouble with the whole truth and nothing but the truth in cycling, of all places, is that for many years to come it is always going to seem as though it is on the other side of the next mountain climb. This isn't paranoid. It is the just the weight of appalling history.

Strauss hits right note on Pietersen

Andrew Strauss didn't rush in with his last gift to the England team he so brilliantly led to the top of Test cricket, but the one he offered to his successor, Alastair Cook, is unlikely to be any less valuable for that.

While Cook was composing something of a rhapsody at the return of Kevin Pietersen for the Test series against India, Strauss was applying a little caution.

"If, behind the scenes," said the former captain, "resentment is harboured and KP is not fully committed to England there are going to be problems. Everyone has to move forward for all the right reasons."

Translation: Pietersen may well be utterly committed to underlining for all time his passion for the England shirt. On the other hand, he may just be back for the money.

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