Saturday, September 05, 2009

Would Charlie Manuel Call out Tony LaRussa?

There's a swirling controversy in European soccer surrounding Arsenal's recent 3-1 victory over perennial Scottish Premier League power Celtic. UEFA, the governing body, has suspended Arsenal's Eduardo for two games for "deceiving the referee" to earn an award of a penalty kick. Eduardo is appealing, and his coach, the well-respected Arsene Wenger, stands steadfastly behind his player.

And that, you'd figure, would be all that you'd hear from team officials (except perhaps some commentary from the Celtic management, which would be understandable). The press, of course, anywhere, would be a different story.

But what's interesting about this is that Manchester United's Alec Ferguson decided to speak to the subject -- taking the side of UEFA and, as a result, getting a strong dig in at his coaching rival, Wenger, and his team's Premiership rival, Arsenal. Click here and read the story for yourself.

And that, to an American, seems odd and, well, "just not done" in our sport.

Imagine a bench-clearing brawl in a baseball game between playoff contenders St. Louis and Los Angeles over brushback pitches. Suppose punches were thrown and even landed. Further assume that players were ejected and that one of the team's had a player with a reputation for throwing at hitters who was suspended for a second time -- for a long enough period that he have to miss one and perhaps two starts.

Yes, the commentators would have a field day, the video would be replayed, but would rivals' managers publicly comment or take a side? Would Charlie Manuel, if asked his opinion on it, say something like "the league did the right thing, that type of stuff has to stop, and the pitcher in question is a known headhunter who was going to get someone hurt." I don't think so. I think that Manuel would have said that he has enough to worry about with his own team that he didn't have any comment on business between two other teams. He certainly wouldn't say anything that would motivate one of those two teams to play harder to defeat the Phillies because he gave that team something to put on their bulletin board and stare it. There would be no upside at all.

I know that players' diving to get refs to call penalties is a problem in soccer, the same way that some teams want to protect hitters who get repeatedly thrown at. But wouldn't there have been a way for other teams to weigh in with UEFA other than publicly taken on a well-respected coach and a well-known rival? Shouldn't Alec Ferguson simply have declined comment or not gone out of his way to jump into a controversy that didn't involve his team?

Arsenal's nickname is "The Gunners", and, most certainly, they'll be gunning for Manchester United (not that they need any extra special motivation) when Man U next visits Emirates Stadium. And lest you would worry, my guess is that the falls that Man U players take in that game won't need to be dives -- the play will be as contentious as usual.

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