Sam Wallace: Wenger's right – punish players after the event and the whole game takes a dive

Picking out Eduardo now would, to borrow a Wengerism, open a 'dangerous door'

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:59

Of any serving Premier League manager Arsène Wenger can claim, with confidence, to have been subjected to the greatest injustice in the course of his career. In this case it was not an opponent who dived, nor an injudicious sacking – it was corruption on a vast scale.

We are talking, of course, about the great affaire VA-OM in the early 1990s when Wenger was manager of Monaco and the Marseilles owner, Bernard Tapie, helped his club cheat their way to five French titles by bribing opponents. Even some of Wenger's Monaco players took money, although only one ever confessed and was never identified. He was sold immediately.

How do you quantify that injustice? The answer is that you can't. Of those five Marseilles titles, Wenger has apparently said in private that at least two should have been won by Monaco – but that is just a guess. It is impossible to unpick the network of bribes and who did what. Football, like all sport, exists in the moment and cannot be rewound and replayed.

In the end, Tapie went to prison, Marseilles were relegated to the second division and Wenger went on to be one of the greatest managers in Europe. Not a bad outcome. Still, Wenger's career includes – officially – only one French title, and men like Wenger never forget the wrongs, in fact they chew on them for the rest of their lives.

So when Wenger was told on Friday morning that retrospective justice is suddenly possible – and moreover that it will be administered against one of his own players – it is not surprising that he reacted badly.

It is a personal view that, in that infamous penalty incident against Celtic, Eduardo dived. He cheated. It is a pity that the referee did not see it at the time and book him, but once that moment had passed so life moves on. To pick Eduardo out now and punish him is – to borrow a Wengerism – opening a very "dangerous door".

From now on every single match – domestic or European – will have to be scrutinised to the same degree, starting with Wayne Rooney's dubious penalty award at Old Trafford on Saturday. While they're at it, Fernando Torres's tumble under the legitimate challenge of Zat Knight on Saturday looked a bit theatrical for my tastes, however much the Liverpool striker denied it.

Where are the Uefa or Premier League departments tasked with this job? What is the schedule for punishment? Who decides what incidents are reviewed? Or could it be that Uefa, on a summer junket in August, dreamt this one up on the spur of the moment and now finds itself having inadvertently ushered in a whole new era in football over a glass of wine in Monte Carlo?

Certainly, on Friday, no one at Uefa's headquarters in Nyon could even tell me when the mysterious article 10, paragraph 1C in the rulebook that sanctions a two-match ban for any player conning an official – aka the Eduardo Rule – was introduced. Uefa updates its regulations every two years and all anyone could say for sure was that it appeared for the first time in 2006. It has sat on the statutes unused apart from one occasion in Scotland in 2007.

If Eduardo can be punished retrospectively there is a queue of players for whom the sentences are mounting up. The Premier League might have to consider seeking extradition of Cristiano Ronaldo back to England to face justice. In his six years here he was the worst diver of all, a player whose spectacular execution of free-kicks often covered up the dubious means by which he earned them.

Not all Ronaldo's dives resulted in penalties but scores won free-kicks or salvaged aimless dribbles. You could tell a Ronaldo dive because he twisted to get a soft landing on his backside – occasionally maintaining eye contact with the referee on the way down. He was booked for diving on many occasions but it never seemed to change his attitude towards the offence.

Not far behind is Didier Drogba, who spent most of the Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona treating the turf at the Nou Camp like a heated swimming pool. The award of a free-kick to Drogba against Arsenal in May was questionable to say the very least, especially as Alex da Costa scored the first goal in a 4-1 rout.

But let's not stop there. There was Steven Gerrard's blatant dive against Andorra in the Euro 2008 qualifier in Barcelona. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed. Arsenal are not exempt either. There was Jens Lehmann's pathetic reaction to Drogba's barge in 2006. Or Francis Jeffers' dive against Liverpool in 2002.

On the other side of the dangerous door is a whole new challenge to the sanctity of football, the notion that decisions – bad or good – made during a match can be challenged. Uefa is setting a precedent for righting wrongs it cannot hope to sustain. If the old rule that a football match was inviolate, however shocking or unfair the outcome, has been changed then we could at least have done with a prior warning.

Wenger might seem like a curmudgeon when he rails against Uefa but consider that this man has taken much more injustice in his career than most. Injustice of a kind that merited much more severe punishment than a two-game ban and which no amount of bright ideas from poolside Uefa delegates in the south of France can remedy.

Time for Lennon to step out from Beckham's shadow

The 2006 World Cup finals should have been the launch pad for Aaron Lennon's international career. Instead, four years later, he finds himself stuck in time, still trying to get into the England team ahead of David Beckham.

It is hoped that Lennon's Groundhog Day experience will end here. This season he looks a more complete player. He is at last scoring goals, like the winner on Saturday against Birmingham City, and getting to grips with delivering the final pass or cross. On form, with that skittering, arm-out-straight running style he looks like he could beat any full-back in the world.

Saturday's friendly against Slovenia and next week against Croatia is time for Lennon to show that this England team can survive without Beckham.

Terry's all-gold deal makes you wonder...

Interesting to learn that John Terry's bumper new five-year, £150,000-a-week contract has finally been agreed. Because why would Chelsea wish to give a new deal to a player with two years left to run on his existing contract who had just said that he was definitely, categorically not interested in a move to Manchester City and wanted to stay at Stamford Bridge for life?

Frank Lampard went down to the last year of his deal before he re-signed last summer. So why are Chelsea forking out a fortune now on hiking up Terry's wages if he never had any intention of going to City? Nothing to see here, folks, move along please.

Storrie proves point

Peter Storrie alleged yesterday that former Portsmouth owner Alexandre Gaydamak was to blamefor overpaying on wages. Given that Storrie is one of the highest-paid chief executives in the Premier League, I'd say in this instance that Storrie is spot on.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments