Peter Corrigan: The English way - lots of fun but no trophies

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The Independent Football

Proprietors of our leading football teams, of whom Roman Abram-ovich is an extraordinary example, have been for some time scouring the Continent, buying every player that moves. They seem to cease moving soon after arriving here, but that's an issue requiring more scientific investigation than this space can cope with. The point is that we find ourselves slightly stunned after watching our last remaining teams pitched out of European competition, and have a right to enquire whether it is the way we play or whether we are being outgunned plutocrat-wise.

Proprietors of our leading football teams, of whom Roman Abram-ovich is an extraordinary example, have been for some time scouring the Continent, buying every player that moves. They seem to cease moving soon after arriving here, but that's an issue requiring more scientific investigation than this space can cope with. The point is that we find ourselves slightly stunned after watching our last remaining teams pitched out of European competition, and have a right to enquire whether it is the way we play or whether we are being outgunned plutocrat-wise.

It is particularly galling when the departure of our teams from the glittering heights was organised by two individuals whose brilliance on the night brought distressing defeat to Chelsea and Newcastle.

Fernando Morientes provided the extra magic that enabled Monaco to recover from the two goals that were the least Chelsea deserved for their first-half efforts. The goal that Hugo Ibarra clawed back, almost literally, just before half-time was as cruel as it was suspicious. Morientes helped to create the bundle-in with an excellent header, but sustained sympathy for Chelsea was not helped by the defensive errors involved.

That Morientes had already played a major part in disposing of Real Madrid, who had loaned him to Monaco on very favourable terms (Real pay 60 per cent of his wages), underlines the quirkiness of the transfer market.

Then Didier Drogba, presumably parachuted in from Mars, dealt with Newcastle on Thursday in an almost eerily emphatic manner. Newcastle improved enough in the second half to ease the pain, but they were beaten by a better side. There is plenty of mitigation on examination of an injury list that included Jonathan Woodgate, Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer, because even one of those three, Woodgate especially, could have made a big difference, but Sir Bobby Robson was able to express some satisfaction with a season that isn't quite over yet.

At the age of 71 his retirement would not be a shock, but I expect him to carry on for at least one more season, during which Alan Shearer can edge closer to the chair.

As for Chelsea, they have probably achieved more than most of us expected. When Abramovich began sweeping up all the available talent in Europe - a lot of it proved to be bad Hoovering - the wiseheads, to a man, forecast it would all end in tears.

Thus, to reach the semi-final of the Champions' League and mount a late, if brief, challenge for the Premiership title represents a considerable achievement for a team to whom gelling was something they do in front of the bathroom mirror before leaving home in the morning. Until Claudio Ranieri writes his memoirs - heaven knows how long we will have to wait for Abramovich's - we cannot be sure who was behind buying whom and why, and how much pressure the owner has put on the manager to ensure his purchases get a regular airing.

Not many of the incomers have claimed permanent places in the first team at Stamford Bridge but, then again, there haven't been many signs of permanency for a while. If Jose Mourinho leaves Porto, once they have finished their impressive assault on the Champions' League, to take over at Chelsea he will bring a shopping list plus a reputation for being eager to pick his own players.

Certainly there will have to be a clear-out at bargain prices before any dressing-room coat pegs become vacant, and we can be sure that a little more care will be taken in the components added to the squad. It must be difficult for imported players to adapt to the Premiership, and it has been particularly difficult at Chelsea.

We might have expected such an influx to bring a touch of cultured calm to the proceedings. But wherever newcomers land they seem to get caught up in the excitement. The paradox remains - we run the league that most football fans throughout the world want to watch because of its pace and action, but once more we are sitting out the big finals. We must take it as a consolation that we get far more day-to-day fun and fascination out of the game than any other country.

Drawing the line

Miffed we may be at the departure of the last of our teams from the final stages of European competition, but at least the blows were clean. There was the odd reason to gripe, but we were humanely dispatched and spared the enduring agony of penalty shoot-outs.

I doubt if we will be able to survive the rest of the season's prize-winning without some use of the white spot to sort out the deadlocks.

We have already had two in the Nationwide Conference play-offs. No doubt more such torment awaits the play-off hopefuls in the First, Second and Third Divisions at the end of this month. Enthralling as they are to those not involved, I'm sure that their unpopularity led to the wholesale condemnation of the Fifa president Sepp Blatter's proposal that draws should be abolished.

Every game should have a winner, he says, while calling for every drawn game to be settled with a penalty shoot-out. That's where he made his big mistake. There is a sound case to be made for attempting to turn back the increasing prevalence of the draw in the modern game, but using penalties would distort the game and its objectives. Although I am a long-time critic of Blatter's many recipes for changing the game, this was one occasion when I didn't join the chorus of derision that rang around the world.

For many years have I argued against the menace of the draw; and an expanding menace it is. Draws have increased so much in frequency that they infest the game, and Blatter is right when he says that a draw is not an acceptable result.

In a race a draw is valid, because if the competitors cross the line at the same time their performances are indivisible and a dead heat is the proper result.

But it is highly unlikely if not impossible for a game between two teams to finish dead level in terms of the effort and skill displayed. Even if one scores more goals than the other it is a matter of opinion which was the better side, but we accept that it is goals that count.

Yet there is another indicator as to which side were the better - the number of corners they won. Assuming that the side doing most attacking are the more deserving, corners are a reliable guide to who were more dominant.

A count-back of corners in the event of a draw would provide far more justice than penalty shoot-outs. Negative teams can settle for a shoot-out long before a game ends - if corners were part of the assessment they would be a strong incentive for a team to be more adventurous.

Before their Premiership match at Fulham today, Arsenal have drawn 12 games, which is a third of the 36 they have played. No one can argue with their right to be champions, but would they be if they had been forced to undergo the lottery of 12 shoot-outs?

Sepp Blatter was only half right, which is a big improvement for him. If he cares to consider corners, he might come out with a suggestion that could be of enormous benefit to the game.

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