At the end of a year dominated by behavioral issues, it is a pleasure to be able to salute a couple of real men of Premier League soccer.
Article continues below ...
One is Brede Hangeland, the giant at the heart of Fulham’s defense. When he got red-carded for a lunge at Lee Cattermole in the home game against Sunderland in November, some critics thought a yellow might have been sufficient. Not the Norwegian. He went to see the referee, Lee Probert, afterwards – to apologize.
"I was walking past the referee’s room," he explained, "and thought I might as well go in and have a chat. It was just to say I had no hard feelings. I was sorry first and foremost for my team [Sunderland had gone on to beat the 10 men 3-1] but also for the referee, because he didn’t want to send anyone off. I know referees and it’s bad for them as well when it happens."
Hangeland, aged 31 and in his sixth season with Fulham, had never been sent off or even suspended before. He added: "Hopefully it won’t happen again."
Contrast that with the behavior of another player just down the road at Chelsea three weeks earlier. Yes, John Obi Mikel thought he had a genuine grievance against referee Mark Clattenburg, whom Chelsea had accused of calling the player a "monkey" – but he and the club were, it turned out, wrong and Mikel should have been sure of his facts before he stormed into Clattenburg’s room, earning a three-match suspension.
That was a particularly bad example of the ill temper and loose language that has scarred 2012, during which the long and drawn-out case of Chelsea captain John Terry and his alleged racial abuse of Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand not only split the England camp – from which Ferdinand’s brother Rio was excluded by convenient coincidence – but cast a cloud over the entire game.
When Terry, after being banned for four matches and fined $330,000 by the Football Association, issued an apology for aspects of his conduct – in fairness, he had been cleared by a court – it seemed rather late in the day. From Mikel there was no apology at all. They and their club ought to go humbly to Hangeland and ask for a lesson in good manners.
They might also reflect on the response of our second hero, David Moyes, to television replays of an incident involving his outstanding midfielder Marouane Fellaini at Stoke last Saturday. From the start of the game, Fellaini, whose power in the air has helped to make him a key factor in Everton’s improvement this season, was involved in a grappling contest with Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross.
There was provocation, but not enough to excuse the head butt that sent Shawcross to the floor. Although referee Mark Halsey missed the incident and Fellaini stayed on the field, Moyes was not hiding from the awful truth. "I’ve seen it," said the Everton coach. "It’s a terrible thing to do and I expect him [Fellaini] to be punished. It’s down to the FA and whatever he gets he – and we – will deserve it. I’ve told him it’s not acceptable."
Moyes was probably surprised that the subsequent ban was of only three games. He may have to sell the bushy-haired Belgian in January anyway, for a bid of $30 million is expected from – you guessed it – Chelsea and Fellaini has already stated a wish to move to a club in more regular contention for the big prizes than Everton. Fellaini’s drawback, however, has always been his disciplinary record. Moyes may not be too disappointed to take a profit of nearly $8 million on his record signing and reinvest.
The Scot has an excellent record in the transfer market. Fellaini apart, he can take great satisfaction from the value received from members of the current team such as American goalkeeper Tim Howard, central defender Phil Jagielka, attacking left-back Leighton Baines and new strikers Nikica Jelavic and Kevin Mirallas. But it was Moyes’s reputation as a straight shooter that received the biggest boost in 2012.
Too many coaches are mealy-mouthed when asked about their players’ shortcomings. Maybe, just maybe, the applause for Moyes will encourage a few to be more frank – and less apt to insult our intelligence.
Even Arsene Wenger was said to be "having a laugh" – to use the vernacular – at our expense when he declined to criticize his Arsenal players’ performance at Bradford, where they were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by the League Two side on penalties. They repaid his charity with a 5-2 win at Reading but the inconsistency of Arsenal has been a sadly recurrent feature of the latter part of the year. When he sanctioned the deal to send Robin van Persie to Manchester United, did Wenger signal the beginning of the end of his long and distinguished tenure? We’ll see next year.