Oh to have been Steven Gerrard, captain of Liverpool, sitting in the warmth of the ITV Sport studio looking on as Mario Balotelli wrestled the ball from Jordan Henderson, demanding to take a crucial penalty, and not taking no for an answer.
He scored, of course; he always does. Whatever Mario’s many marvellous faults, the yips from 12 yards has never been one. He is among the most assured penalty-taker in the whole of the game.
However childish the scene on the pitch, Liverpool’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, upped the ante considerably by simply refusing to acknowledge the incident after the match. “I’m clarifying that we won the game,” he said in his post-match press conference.
Football journalists don’t drink whiskey before the match any more, they tweet photographs of the team sheet instead, but even in the old days the manager was rarely asked for clarification of who had won the match.
Gerrard, having taken the TV coin he clearly urgently needs, could be afforded no such luxury, and was forced to claim his own player had been “mischievous” and “disrespectful”.
Sticking up for the maligned Mario is a favourite topic of the itinerant obtuse sports columnist and we would hate to be any different on this page. The idea that Balotelli shouldn’t have taken the penalty is disrespectful. He should be taking the lot. He is the best in the business.
We should probably also thank Rodgers who, clearly realising the complete lack of clarity provided by his previous clarification, has generously clarified further.
Like one of those nonagenarian experts on Royal protocol occasionally wheeled out for documentaries about the Queen, we now know that the order of penalty precedence at Anfield runs from Gerrard to Balotelli, and on such an occasion as neither are on the field, Henderson.
Thursday night’s confusion, we learn, came from Balotelli having come off the bench, leaving Henderson, the night’s nominated penalty-taker, as confused as anyone.
A delve into the history books reveals penalty theft to be a decidedly Italian trait.
Paolo Di Canio’s in 2000 remains arguably the classic of the genre, chiefly for the wagging finger in the face of a young and – dare we say it gently? – portly Frank Lampard, but also because the goal propelled West Ham from a 4-2 deficit to a remarkable 5-4 comeback.
The great pity, however, is that Balotelli scored. Your classic penalty row, of which top-level football averages around two a season, is elevated to greatness only when the usurper does the unthinkable and misses.
We have to hope that Marcello Trotta, now not exactly banging them in for the Serie B side Avellino, has stopped having nightmares about his evening in Brentford almost two years ago.
It requires a certain degree of brass neck for a 20-year-old loanee to refuse to hand the ball to the club’s captain and penalty-taker in the fifth minute of stoppage time of one of those rare winner-takes-all contests, knowing that a goal will secure promotion.
And it requires a certain degree of misfortune not merely to smack it against the crossbar, but for Doncaster Rovers to recover the ball, immediately rush up the other end and score, sending them out of League One and up into the Championship instead.
The then Brentford manager Uwe Rösler, like Rodgers, refused to blame “Rodney” Trotta afterwards. But nor did he rush to extend the loan.
Whenever such instances occur, the instant reaction is to talk about professionalism, of how childish it all is, to wonder what sort of an example they are setting.
For those who make such claims, the elastic snapped long ago.
Though almost everyone seems to have forgotten, as the beautiful game gets ever further mired in stock market announcements, shareholder reports, prayers for world peace and astronomical amounts of cash, it is still only a game and, as the American wrestlers worked out some time ago, there is much entertainment in a good old squabble.
The basketball player, the rapper and the dolphin
The Los Angeles Lakers, you will obviously have noticed, aren’t having things all their way at the moment, but in the realm of sporting excuses out-of-sorts small forward Nick Young has broken new ground.
The sex lives of dolphins fascinate marine biologists, including doing the deed to cement complex social hierarchies and also just for the hell of it. We can but wonder, then, what a seemingly innocuous bottlenose was trying to achieve when, Young has claimed, it attempted to drag him to the bottom of the ocean on a Mexican snorkel tour, and then move in on his girlfriend, the Australian rapper Iggy Azalea.
This tale took so long to relay to a courtside reporter pre-game that Young was fined $1,500 for not making it back to the locker room on time.
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