The Last Word: Klose inspection shows he's game's most honest man
Life isn’t fair, cheats sometimes prosper, but not all winners are cheats
It seems instructive of man's screwy relationship with his maker that he should designate floods, earthquakes and tornados as "acts of God". A few years ago a Nebraska senator even began legal proceedings against God as the alleged author of various disasters. As God had no known address, and so could not be served with an injunction, the suit was thrown out.
A similar ambivalence infects the attribution of perhaps the most brazen larceny in modern football to the "Hand of God". In reality, Diego Maradona's notorious, punched goal at the 1986 World Cup sooner evoked the forbidden fruit. For the tree of knowledge not only caused man's exile from Eden; it also required him to make his own way. Sure enough, within five minutes, Maradona's humiliated sense of worldly corruption provoked an explosive exploration of his residual angelic capacities, with perhaps the most celebrated individual goal in history. (If you look, it's all there in his eyes: beyond the egotistical glitter, they remain dark pools of fear and sadness.)
Though neither the offence nor the atonement was on remotely the same level, Miroslav Klose's dilemma in the Stadio San Paolo on Wednesday will certainly have reminded some Neapolitans of the man who brought them a first-ever championship, straight after that World Cup. In only the fourth minute, unbalanced as he contested a corner, the Lazio striker diverted the ball into the net with his wrist. Though the referee missed it, he must have sensed the authentic quality of outrage in the Napoli protests. But it took an admission from Klose himself for the goal to be ruled out.
The referee not only spared him a yellow card, but shook his hand. As the game resumed, the German had his back slapped and hair fondled by his opponents, who had moments earlier seemed on the point of lynching him. Moreover, they would profit mercilessly from their reprieve, setting up a hat-trick for the unplayable Edinson Cavani.
Now it is true that Klose's conscience had not stopped him celebrating at first, and some have traced his repentance to fear of retrospective punishment. But it is these cynics who should themselves be ashamed. Back in 2005, Klose persuaded a Bundesliga referee to rescind both a penalty award and a yellow card by insisting that the goalkeeper had reached the ball before bringing him down. Here, plainly, is a duellist who would shoot past your ear if your own gun jammed.
Klose finds himself in danger of giving a good name to a club further contaminated by its fans at White Hart Lane the previous week. Last season, after the derby victory against Roma, he described himself as "furious" with a poster that implied neo-fascist kinship with his homeland.
What a contrast with Paolo Di Canio, who notoriously disfigured an earlier derby with a fascist salute – hardly the only occasion, it must be said, he had encouraged damaging caricature. In his West Ham days, equally, the complex Lazio icon had famously proved capable of catching a cross when the opposing keeper lay stricken on the ground.
And this is hardly the week for English footballers to preen themselves as shining knights. The fact remains that football's reputations, for better or worse, are always sketched out too coarsely. Just as a German knows when something is "not cricket", so there are British bulldogs who renew admiration even as John Terry defiles their name. Last week, Steve Harper bravely exposed himself to injury as Victor Anichebe came bullocking towards an underhit back pass. The Newcastle keeper, awarded a foul, immediately urged the referee not to book Anichebe, indicating that neither malice nor recklessness had spurred the challenge.
In turn, despite the fatuous myth, it is not only foreign players who dive. Rather like Ashley Young, after he arrived at Manchester United, Danny Welbeck's centre of gravity appears to have become mysteriously unstable under Sir Alex Ferguson. It is good to see that Roberto Martinez is prepared to stand up to FA charges over his remarks about the referee, after Wigan's recent visit to Old Trafford – especially after he disowned those classic quotes about Sam Allardyce and Steve Bruce, a couple of years ago, depicting them as Ferguson's toadies.
Another Roberto this week elaborated his own suspicions about undue deference to Ferguson, among certain of their peers – albeit Mancini's complaints, after his latest bout of "handbags" on the touchline, spiralled somewhat bizarrely out of context. Poor fellow, he can hardly help feeling paranoid after comparing his own, sadistic Champions League group with the one that landed so benignly in Ferguson's lap.
Galatasaray, sure enough, were promptly denied a penalty in the first minute at Old Trafford. Then, against Liverpool last Sunday, Ferguson's men were once again abject before somehow making off with three points. Well, you know, life isn't fair. Yes, cheats sometimes prosper. But not all winners are cheats. And nor, as Klose could testify, do paragons always get their reward. Ultimately, however, what looks like the work of the Devil is almost always just an act of God.
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