(by Barry Frankfurt)
It’s going to be a busy season for the UEFA disciplinary panel if its decision to open a case against Arsenal’s Eduardo is anything to go by. European football’s governing body has stepped up its crusade against cheating. And good luck to them. They’ll need it.
Yes, Eduardo took a dive. But can we say categorically and without any degree of doubt that he went to ground with the express intention of conning the referee in to giving a penalty. No. We can surmise. We can speculate. But we just don’t know. So, to single out Eduardo as cheat of the week is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction, by UEFA, to the bitter Bhoys from Glasgow. The notion that the penalty changed the tie is ludicrous. Celtic went into the second leg at The Emirates knowing that to beat Arsenal in 90 minutes they would need to score 3 goals. Nothing changed after the Eduardo penalty. And yet, represented by SFA chief executive Gordon Smith, Scotland as one presented itself as a nation robbed. A week after Holyrood had decided what best represented justice to a Libyan terrorist mass murderer, the football community from north of the border had its own ideas as to what should represent justice for Celtic’s failed bid for a place in the Champions League. If Eduardo had killed someone they might have shown him more “compassion.” As it stands they called for a ban.
Week-in, week-out professional footballers look to gain advantages where none is deserved. They appeal for throw-ons they know belong to their opponents. They pick up the ball and make for the corner flag well aware that the final touch belonged to them. They fall over, all over the pitch. Sometimes to gain a free kick as a way of getting out of a tight spot, sometimes to gain a free kick on the penalty spot. And some will even go down pretending to be injured to stop play altogether. In every 90-minute episode you can be certain that ‘cheating’ occurs.
So what makes Eduardo different? Well, in a week that saw the spotlight return to hooliganism and racism at a Premier League ground, there was an appetite to further dissect the ills of the game. The agenda had been set. Eduardo coolly, calmly, and with a cheeky smile on his face, stepped up as the villain. To compound matters – it was Eduardo. Little Eduardo. Brave Eduardo. The victim of a near career-ending challenge. How could he do it to us? How could someone lauded for his courage as he battled back to fitness turn on those who had so much sympathy? Had it been a Ronaldo or a Drogba we would have written it off as yet another example of their dark arts. But not Eduardo. Yet in singling him out, UEFA will expose the inconsistencies in their clampdown and not the success of it.
This week it was Celtic complaining of the blatant cheating that resulted in a penalty being scored against them. But what next? A clear pull on the shirt missed by the referee at a corner? Or an obvious off the ball block, unseen by the officials, which prevented a swift break and, perhaps, a goal? It’s all cheating, and in making an example of Eduardo at the request of Celtic, UEFA must brace itself for a flood of similar appeals. The gates are open.
The fact that cheating is so widespread is not a reason to ignore it. But there are few glasshouses bigger than that in which the top echelons of European football reside. When teams are wronged they have a moan. But managers accept that, ultimately, some you win, some you lose. You don’t get a penalty this week that you deserved - bad luck. But you’ll probably end up with one somewhere else that might be a touch dubious. Sometimes the cheated, sometimes the cheat. It’s not perfect. It’s not laudable. But it is human.
It is no small irony that the main reason Celtic got knocked out of the Champions League was not the Eduardo penalty, but their approach to the first leg. At Parkhead, infront of a highly charged crowd, Celtic seemed more intent on adopting a ‘physical approach’ to the tie. A euphemism when playing Arsenal for kicking lumps out of the likes of Fabregas and Van Persie. If only they had chosen to attack the Arsenal goal instead of their socks, Celtic might have got some reward. If you can’t win within the rules, you try and win without them. And that, I believe, is cheating.