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James Lawton: Deliberately seeking a yellow card is a disreputable act – whatever Andre Villas-Boas says


The debate ignited by Tottenham's coach of the moment Andre Villas-Boas when he made the case for deliberately acquired yellow cards should really have been settled on a sultry afternoon in Baku nine years ago.

For many present it was, and extremely satisfactorily, by Sir Geoff Hurst as he spoke with barely contained anger under the newly unveiled statue of Tofiq Bahramov.

Bahramov, you may remember, was the Azerbaijani linesman who insisted on the legitimacy of the controversial second goal scored by the hero of the 1966 World Cup final. For some in Hurst's Baku audience the circumstance that so incensed him is recalled just as vividly.

It was the proud announcement of England captain David Beckham that he had fouled Ben Thatcher of Wales in order to clean up his disciplinary record sheet before more demanding challenges on the road to the 2006 World Cup finals. This, according to Villas-Boas, is precisely what he would have ordered Gareth Bale to do had he known Spurs would come out of their first-leg Europa League tie with Internazionale owning a 3-0 lead.

First, though, there was the self-justification of Beckham when he made a point of calling up a leading football correspondent to point out the strategic brilliance that lay behind the crude tackle he made on the Welsh defender.

"I'm sure some people thought I did not have the brains to be that clever," declared Beckham, "but I do have the brains to be that clever. When I realised I had picked up an injury that would keep me out of the game against Azerbaijan I thought, 'Let's get the yellow card out of the way'."

Was Hurst ready to applaud the hard, pragmatic intelligence of the England captain? No, plainly he would have preferred a dip in the nearby, sulphurous Caspian Sea. He said: "I can't imagine this kind of thing happening when Bobby Moore was captain. I come from a different planet when it comes to how I feel about this. If Bobby had tried something like this the captaincy would have been taken away from him. It was truly poor. I would argue that it brings the country into disrepute. You set a precedent when you allow something like this to go ahead."

Villas-Boas, as a young coach moving impressively towards another high point in his brief but already extraordinary career, proves that indeed you do.

You say that it is perfectly fine to do the wrong thing for the right reason, which is to gain some passing advantage over the opposition. In a season which has seen football cynicism advance so quickly on so many fronts, Villas-Boas is the high-profile and hitherto largely idealistic young coach who puts it on the record.

Former England coach Glenn Hoddle once hinted to the young Michael Owen that part of international football was a refining of your diving technique and just a few months ago Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers, another young coach fighting to re-invent a great club, seemed far more exercised by the fact that Luis Suarez had admitted to an egregious piece of diving than the fact that he had done it.

Now Villas-Boas has spelt out quite unequivocally a strand of his thinking when reacting to the yellow card Bale picked up on his own initiative when palpably diving in the Inter game. The caution means that Bale misses the second game at San Siro but Villas-Boas shrugged and said: "Gareth will obviously be a great miss but had we known we'd get this result we would have asked him to get this yellow card to be clear and ready for the last eight.

"It's not finished but we are in a good position. Gareth has been influential in consecutive games but, hopefully, we can make it without him and go through."

The timing of this policy statement is only breathtaking if some time ago you jettisoned the values expressed by Hurst with such anger and in the earshot of two of the leaders of modern football, Fifa president Sepp Blatter and the boss of Uefa and former great player Michel Platini.

Certainly, Hurst's indignation is made to seem almost quaint by Villas-Boas's suggestion that in future Bale, of all people, might be invited to take a dive, something which for many of his most fervent advisers he has done far too often and far too plainly on his own volition. Perhaps the cultivation of improved technique in this vital matter will find a way into the training curriculum of Spurs.

Imagine the instruction: "OK, Gareth, let's have a couple of goals and then a nice little dive or maybe a bit of dissent and, if it comes to it, you might also clap ironically a couple of inches from the referee's face."

Of course, the last option also requires you to stomp away with some finality rather than think twice and then shake the official's hand, which was the lapse that has apparently removed any threat of punishment for Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand.

Maybe Villas-Boas will reflect on what he said, see in it something more sinister than a routine piece of football gamesmanship.

Perhaps he will take the point of a dinosaur who once delivered the football nation its most lasting glory. Perhaps he will grasp the contradiction in sending out one of the most gifted players in the world of football with the specific instruction to break the laws of the game.

It's a small crime, you might say, even, as Beckham claimed somewhat dubiously, evidence of a working brain. However, I'm with Sir Geoffrey in the belief that great players simply play the game, that and only that.

Forceful logic would tear Keane to shreds

There is no resisting the claims that Roy Keane put in a compelling performance when praising the referee who gave Nani a red card and also suggesting that Sir Alex Ferguson's motivation for dropping Wayne Rooney so sensationally was rooted in nothing more uplifting than a desire for revenge over a three-year-old transfer rebellion.

Yep, it was riveting. It was a bit like watching a spurned lover throwing rocks through the windows of a family home. Still, we can only hope that ITV executives are not already scouring the byways of football in pursuit of similarly bitter and disappointed old players ready to jet streams of venom at former clubs and managers deemed to have done them wrong.

Keane was a superb servant of Manchester United and arguably the most influential player in the history of the Premier League. However, his career as a TV analyst, as much as the currently becalmed one of football manager, is in need of rather more than one remarkable effusion of old hurts and an ensuing vindictiveness.

Yes, Keane's spleen was compelling. The only pity was there was no one around to stand up to him with a little logic and some manly force. My guess is that Graeme Souness would have torn him to shreds.

England tend to preen far too quickly

There is something disturbing in the DNA of the England team which so recently bestrode Test cricket as the No 1 ranked nation.

Perhaps it is a tendency to preen itself a little too quickly. Certainly, there was plenty of circumstantial evidence in the appalling collapse in the face of the presumed no-hopers of New Zealand. England resembled a team who assumed they had only to walk out on to the field to intimidate their lowly rated opponents.

Perhaps another problem is that they have valued too strongly victories over an Indian team fixated on the rewards of the one-day game and Australians who, apart from Michael Clarke, are hopelessly short of traditional requirements. Meanwhile, the South Africans continue to show us what it really takes to be the best in the world.