James Lawton: Stamford Bridge's ritual of deceit makes stark contrast to the honesty of Pearce

If managers faced the loss of key players, there would be no talk of comedy
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The Independent Football

By the time Michael Essien scored his cyclonic goal and Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger resumed their verbal sparring, the plea of the Manchester City manager, Stuart Pearce, for an outbreak of honesty in football led by the top managers might have been delivered in one of Ferrari's engine-testing wind tunnels.

Pearce declared that he would be trying to "educate" his Italian striker Bernardo Corradi for a dive that led to his dismissal from the Manchester derby. A mere 24 hours later, however, Jens Lehmann, of Arsenal, and Didier Drogba, of Chelsea, performed a ritual of deceit so absurd, so transparent, so gut-wrenching for anyone who just remembered that football was supposed to be a manly pursuit, Wenger placed it in the category of comedy. No anger here, no outrage from the Arsenal manager, or his fierce rival, Jose Mourinho.

Comedy? One of Sky's football "analysts", Jamie Redknapp, certainly thought so. He was wreathed in smiles when the presenter, Richard Keys, asked for his verdict. Yet to the great credit of Keys, a man whose professional obligation is above all to sell the Premiership product, Redknapp was cut short.

Keys suggested that if you gave it a moment's thought it really wasn't so funny. Nor was it. It was embarrassing. It was a professional meltdown.

Drogba is a striker of marvellous physicality and often startling ability. He looks like a great champion, a warrior of the first order - but when Lehmann gave him the mildest of nudges he went down as though the young Mike Tyson had landed a left hook.

Lehmann, a brave if relentlessly eccentric goalkeeper, responded in the same way when Drogba got to his feet and responded with a feathery push of his own. He also went down. They were both given yellow cards. In a more soundly constructed sports structure, they would have been driven away from Stamford Bridge by the sheer force of ridicule. Instead, there was Wenger talking about comedy.

What sort of comedy? He could only have had farce on his mind. Not that amiable, once fashionable brand offered so enthusiastically by Sir Brian Rix at the Whitehall Theatre. No, something more sinister. It was almost an enshrining of dishonesty, a statement no less cynical for being so clownishly delivered.

Does anyone really care in the higher echelons of the football establishment? Will Wenger and Mourinho try to educate Lehmann and Drogba? It is maybe a little late.

The Chelsea and Arsenal managers had weightier points to score. Mourinho, no doubt seething that Manchester United now have a clear edge in the title race and that his "super signings" Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack continue to contribute more than anything a desperate tactical imbalance, said he was amazed that a team in Arsenal's position of losing touch with the top of the League should come to defend. Another insult to the intelligence of the wider football public, here.

With Thierry Henry, William Gallas and Kolo Touré absent, Wenger could say reasonably that his team had put in a superbly effective performance, a striking encouragement after last week's thrashing of Spurs, also without Henry.

But then Wenger could only say that while forgetting, utterly, his own regular complaints about teams who come to the Emirates Stadium with a packed midfield and an ambition merely to survive. Does Wenger care about the problems of such teams? Of course not. To do that he would have to have a wider picture of the world he has inhabited so successfully for so long. He would have to see the problem from another angle. He would have to see the whole picture.

In the absence of such vision, and feeling, Pearce was indeed whistling in the wind. He speculated when he might be joined by other managers who wanted to see their teams perform with honesty, who would tell a Corradi, or a Drogba, that without that quality they would never produce the best of themselves? The answer was necessarily bleak.

Because of this, because only last week Paul Jewell, of Wigan Athletic, was saying that maybe cheating should be allowed to reach its own level without official action, and perhaps die, the solution remains in the hands of the authorities.

There should, of course, be a full review of the weekend's football. Where diving is proved, the culprit should received a significant suspension. If this system was already in operation, and Wenger and Mourinho now faced the loss of key players for several weeks, we can be sure there would be no talk of comedy. Pearce's stand is a rare and splendid thing. But it is also an extremely lonely one. We know now that you do not appeal to the conscience of big-time football. You hit it where it lives from day to perilous day. You hit it in the only place where it really cares. Its self-interest.

United must recognise debt to Manchester

With some considerable fanfare, Manchester United and Uefa announce a charity game with a European Select team coached by Sir Alex Ferguson's close friend, Marcello Lippi. It will be a splendid occasion in March next year to celebrate United's 50 years in Europe and the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Among the recipients of charity flowing from the event will be the cities of Munich, who formed such a close link with Manchester in the wake of the air tragedy in 1958, and Belgrade, where the Busby Babes met their last great challenge before their tragic demise.

When United's chief executive, David Gill, was asked whether there would be any provision for the survivors of the air crash and their descendants, he said that the anniversary of Munich would be recognised separately in 2008 and that the matter was under consideration.

Later, he spoke of booming times for the Theatre of Dreams, automatic sell-out crowds of 75,000-plus and a thrilling sense of regained ambition at both home and abroad.

No doubt, Gill is as aware as anyone of the foundation of United's legendary hold on the imagination of so much of the football word. It was the extraordinary and beautiful success of United's post-war football under Sir Matt Busby, work which promised a sublime conclusion to the brilliance of the Busby Babes. The tragedy of Munich imparted another dimension and out of the grief, of course, grew an undying glory.

This is something deep in the blood of the city and the sense of the wider football world. But given such material well-being now being enjoyed by the club, perhaps some practical expression of indebtedness is due. Munich and Belgrade have already been announced as beneficiaries of a show match which, especially with the guest appearance of David Beckham, is confidently expected to sell out. It is no doubt an attractive proposition, one that can only be enhanced by a clear recognition that charity should indeed begin at home.

Harrison reveals the bankruptcy of boxing

Even though we know that the currency of heavyweight boxing runs so low a bent penny might just seem like a windfall, it is still surreal to learn that Audley Harrison, aged 35, is still being spoken of as a potential world champion.

This remarkable resurrection is being predicated on the basis of his three-round victory over Danny Williams.

One proposal is that he might get into the ring with Evander Holyfield, which would be a statement of bankruptcy extreme even in today's wilderness. Other possibilities are Shannon Briggs, battered by Lennox Lewis in what now seems like another lifetime, and the Russian giant Nikolay Valuev.

There is an alternative to all this desperate, money-grubbing hype. It is to acknowledge, with the greatest possible regret, that heavyweight boxing is no longer a matter for serious consideration by anyone who has ever had even a fleeting awareness of what it once meant. If you happened to see Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, the young Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Holyfield when he was so much more than a sadly dislocated punchbag, you can only wince at Harrison's latest claim to a belt once owned by such men.

It is based on victory over Williams, whose only claim to fame is the utterly spurious one of beating a shell formerly known as Tyson. It happened in Louisville and earned Williams a title fight with Vitali Klitschko. Williams came in overweight and scarcely threw a meaningful punch. That he should now represent a form line to the superannuated ambition of Audley Harrison simply defies belief.

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