Peter Bills: United's skulduggery brings shame on Ferguson

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The Independent Online

The acts of petulance continually committed by Manchester United on the football fields of this country and the Continent never cease to amaze.

The fact that a team with talent and quality to animate the football Gods in their prime seats cheerfully continues to stoop to such lowly antics as diving in pursuit of cheap free kicks or penalties, undermines so much of what Sir Alex Ferguson has achieved at England’s most famous club.

That Ferguson tolerates the kind of theatrical, pathetic diving by the likes of Wayne Rooney in a childish hunt for spurious awards from a referee, is bewildering. Do not such acts suggest Ferguson himself countenances these absurdities? For sure, a man of his presence and apparently strong Glaswegian values could eradicate this kind of nonsense with one blast of the renowned hairdryer treatment.

Instead, as Rooney showed in each half at Villareal on Tuesday night in the Champions League tie, United go on seeking unjustified advantages at the expense of inferior opponents and harassed referees. Perhaps those who support such skulduggery would argue that this base behaviour on the football fields of Europe is no more than par for the course. They might, with some justification, reason that the Continentals are past masters at such antics and the need to match them is paramount when you cross the English Channel in a southerly direction.

But such a philosophy means clubs like United must surrender the moral high ground. Yet is not Ferguson himself a vehement critic of any opponent who goes down as though hit by a sniper at Stalingrad? Is it not therefore the case that Ferguson’s judgement (and eyesight) is proven highly flawed when it comes to such antics?

For the life of me, I find it hard to understand why a team of such ability, such mouth watering talent needs to resort to these low-life antics. Surely, such behaviour is for the inferior, the team unable to progress by dint of its own quality and class. If diving and attempting to mislead a referee is its only likely route to a goal, then you can perhaps write off such behaviour as that of the desperate, sub-standard outfit. Manchester United hardly qualifies for such a category.

Beyond dispute, a figure as widely respected in Europe as Ferguson could lead a charge to repel this kind of acting. And what is equally certain is that Ferguson’s teams possess a breathtaking style that ought to render any such ways irrelevant. Of course, that is not to say they will always win; life itself never guarantees that.

But where would lie the satisfaction had one of Rooney’s palpable dives at Villareal this week been erroneously classified as a foul, and a penalty awarded? Could Ferguson and his players hold their heads high at victory procured in such disingenuous circumstances? Most crucially, would such behaviour, even if it had transformed a single point into three, befitted a club of Manchester United’s stature?

You have to say that if a club like United were to condone such football skulduggery, which it surely does not, then it would not be the organisation so esteemed by football lovers the world over.

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