Is Scholes the best of his generation?
It was great to be back on the set for another great week of Barclays Premier League soccer, but before we get into all the action, I want to talk a little bit about one of the big controversies of the weekend.
As we all saw, Anton Ferdinand did not shake the hand of John Terry and Ashley Cole before the kickoff of the Queens Park Rangers-Chelsea game. We all know why, but I want to put it out there: why are we having handshakes before the game in the first place?
We train all week, and we’re trained to win at all costs, really. I don’t want to overstate it, but we really are told to think of it as going into battle. Your mind and your body have been focused to do one thing, and that is give the guy you are playing against a miserable 90 minutes. I think the last thing you want to do is go up to the man and wish him well – it’s just not sincere. I want him to be very uncomfortable, and I want to win the game.
I respect all the players and people on the other teams. I think captains should shake each other’s hands before a game and they should also shake the hands of the referees as well. But the rest of us? Let’s focus on what we’re supposed to do and save the well-wishes for after the game. At least then we’re being honest when we take a man’s hand.
This week saw an old complaint come up: that the big teams get big calls. Roberto Martinez was upset about Danny Welbeck’s tackling and a penalty award and he was right to be. But I think what happened at Stoke shows you that the reality isn’t that big clubs get calls – it’s that home clubs get calls.
There was more than once when I was at St. James that we’d look around at each other after a call and say, “well, right, thanks” after we got a call we knew wasn’t correct. It happens and I am a big believer in how things even out over a season. A lot of that is because of the crowd – they perceive a foul and they are baying for blood and the ref feels pressurized to give it. It doesn’t mean they should give it, but as you see at Old Trafford time and again, it happens.
At Stoke we saw Peter Crouch assist a goal with his hands. I think Roberto Mancini was right to downplay that a little because on the day, I think City looked very good. Javi Garcia was excellent and Scott Sinclair was very solid. It’s a long season and the fact is: it will even out. For Tony Pulis, he was quite happy to take that hard point on the champions, no matter how he got it.
At Old Trafford, Danny Welbeck didn’t earn a penalty and I think Ali Al-Habsi was quite lucky not to be sent off as well -- that would have made matters even worse. It was a bad call, and I think we have to again ask why the officials aren’t getting some help. The assistant should be in the ref’s ear asking him to reconsider, and I think in the time it takes Chicharito to get the ball and set it up to take a penalty that the fourth official could have seen a replay and told the rest of the crew the call was wrong. We live in the modern era, and it’s time we did the same in football.
Arsenal looked very good this weekend against a Southampton team that is getting punished. Steve Bould has done a magnificent job giving the Gunners some spine in the back and that really has become a weapon. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen aren’t individually the best center-backs in the league but they have a very good understanding and they are getting the job done well. That resilience has led to increased confidence for the Arsenal attack and is now started to sow some doubt in their opponents as well. No one wondered if Arsenal could score goals; now that it’s clear they can prevent them as well, it’s a different game.
The Saints have had a rough start and are in some trouble. They’ve given up 12 goals already and that goal difference will come back to haunt them. It’s early going yet – and they’ve played both Manchester giants as well – but they have to be less cavalier. They played well against both City and United but the losses are costing them confidence.
Spurs got a big win Sunday and while I have been a critic of Villas-Boas, I think it’s a good one. I don’t question his ability, but I remind everyone he’s a young coach and where he will be tested is in his man-management skills. He has been rewarded by showing faith in Jermaine Defoe and Brad Friedel, but now he has to deal with a locker room with Emmanuel Adebayor and Hugo Lloris. Finally, I think it was good for Clint Dempsey to get a run-out, get some touches and start settling in.
Reading are in trouble early, and like Southampton, are whey they should be. In fact, I think the top four and bottom three look about right now. I do think QPR will get out of the drop zone – they are showing signs of a rebirth there, but the team that concerns me is Liverpool. As Spurs did, I think the Reds will get wins sooner than later, but they run right into Manchester United on FOX next Sunday and that is a test I’m not sure they are ready for.
And that’s a good place to mention Paul Scholes. 700 games, 155 goals. He’s the best player of his generation in that position, no doubt. Roy Keane had the drive and leadership; Frank Lampard has the scoring; Patrick Vieira was the best box-to-box athlete and I think Steven Gerrard has the best range of passing. Scholes is the complete package, able to do what all those men did. When you have a player like Andres Iniesta say that Scholes was a role model for him, that says it all. And I played against Scholes in midfield, and I can tell you how difficult that really was.
This week the Champions League returns to FOX Soccer and we have a huge game Tuesday I hope you join us for, as Real Madrid take on Manchester City. As always you can follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2 and ask a question anytime via @FOXSoccer. Thanks for reading and I’ll chat with you again next week!