James Lawton: Great rivalry devalued

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The Independent Football

When Sir Alex Ferguson raged against the FA-Arsenal "conspiracy", some of us imagined that Arsène Wenger might just take the option of the high ground. Having survived the appalling behaviour of his players at Old Trafford, and his own refusal to face up to it, without major damage to his season, he could have afforded a statesmanlike stance. It wouldn't have convinced those of us who believe that in the matter of self-interest he is just as obsessive as Ferguson, but it might have promised the end of the more tiresome, and damaging, foot-stamping.

Instead, he talked about the widespread desire to hang Arsenal twice over. It was insulting nonsense - and outrageous ingratitude.

It is one thing to beseech Ferguson, as the most successful manager in the history of English football, and a knight of the realm, to grow up. But it is quite another to suggest that Arsenal, despite their grovelling apology for what happened at Old Trafford, didn't get off lightly.

What these brilliant managers have to realise is that what once was simply a magnificent rivalry has become something from the schoolyard. They should think of somebody or something but themselves - and a good start would be the game which has given them everything.

Disciplinary vacuum breeds drug users

There has been quite a bit of shock that the memoirs of a fallen young football star include the sight of five Premiership players doing cocaine. Sadness, yes, but shock, how on earth could that be?

Pay lightly educated young men £50,000 a week, give them oodles of free time, make them feel that they operate in a world of their own, wring your hands before administering the mildest discipline, and what do you expect? The operating style of a well run seminary? Please.

You can't help thinking of the response of the great cyclist Jacques Anquetil when he was told that performance-enhancing drugs were used on the Tour de France. "When you think of what they are asked to do, the surprise is not that some of the boys use drugs, but that some of them don't," he said. All that young footballers are asked to do is behave like dedicated professionals. That some of them find this impossible is only strange if you ignore human nature. So what is the answer? Proper discipline. What else?

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