Jokes of the Week: Ferguson's 'punishment' and Beckham's 'fitness'

By Paul Gardner

This is actually quite funny -- assuming that you like wry jokes. The English FA has finally had enough of Alex Ferguson’s antics, with his repeated aspersions directed at referees who don't officiate games in a way that he likes. So the FA has fined Ferguson $48,000 and suspended him for three games -- which becomes five games because two games left hanging from a previous offence are now activated.

So, wow, how about that, the FA finally showed some teeth, waking up at last to tell Ferguson that he can’t behave as if the English Premier League is his own personal fiefdom and that everything in it should be done his way.

And here comes the funny bit ... because that five-game suspension is really a joke. It means very little. At those five games Ferguson will be allowed to be present in the stadium. He will not be allowed to be on the bench or within the technical area. But he can -- in the FA’s own words -- “sit anywhere else in the stadium.” Which means that he is entitled to occupy a seat directly behind the bench.

That shouldn’t be a problem at home games -- some faithful season-ticket holder at Old Trafford would no doubt be delighted to cede his place -- thus ensuring that Ferguson is pretty damn nearly on the bench.

There’s more. This is the FA speaking again: “There are no restrictions on communication or on entrance to the dressing room at any time.” So Ferguson can shout to the bench, or pass little slips of paper, or use his cell phone to convey instructions. At halftime he can trot along to the locker room to deliver, as usual, his half time oration.

The only thing missing, really, will be his ability to get in the face of the fourth official. But even that disappointment is not total, for while Ferguson is on his way to and from the locker room he’ll be in the tunnel, where all the best confrontations between coaches and referees take place.

As I said, something of a joke, this. Some ban. Nor does the $48,000 fine sound like an amount that’s likely to put much of a dent in the Ferguson finances.

All in all, the ostensibly severe but actually quite benign punishment inflicted on Ferguson seems to mirror the way in which EPL referees discipline players -- all theater, with plenty of stern faces, sharp words, ominous arm gestures ... but no cards.

Whether or not ManU will suffer from Ferguson’s pseudo-banishment is an intriguing question. For ManU to recover its form (which has been slipping of late) during Ferguson’s phantom absence would raise the unthinkable notion that the team can get along quite well without his touchline presence.

The influence of coaches could also be studied at the opening game of MLS. A very well-chosen game this -- in Seattle, meaning a huge crowd and tremendous atmosphere, and with David Beckham making one of his rare appearances for the Galaxy. Well, OK, not all that rare, but remember this was an opening game and Beckham has managed only two of those in his four seasons.

In short, MLS had done all it could to guarantee a barn-burner to open the season. So, of course, it got an insipid apology for a game, with little goalmouth action, and only one goal. Another of those games where the teams are, it seems “well-organized,” a term that can only mean well-coached from the defensive angle. So, I guess coaches Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid are to be congratulated on their organizational skills.

After only 12 minutes, TV commentator John Harkes enthusiastically remarked that “L.A.’s shape looks pretty good,” at which point I feared the worst.

Oh for the day when coaches are cursed rather than praised for turning out teams that are well-organized and that keep their shape! Increasingly, you can be almost certain that the real excitement in a game, the real soccer, will only come at the end, when a team decides to throw caution to the wind in search of a tying or winning goal. We got it here, in the final 15 minutes that were considerably less organized but much more enthralling than anything that had gone before.

We got it, too -- big time -- in midweek when Inter Milan staged a sensational comeback to knock Bayern Munich out of the Champions League. After an early burst of goalscoring had given Bayern an apparently unassailable 3-1 aggregate lead, the game settled down into a well-organized stand-off ... until Inter, increasingly sensing that it could get something out of this game, shed its tactical shackles to produce a storming climax, complete with a wonderful winning goal. Well-organized? Forget it. But the absence of that horrible phrase does not mean that this game was suddenly dis-organized. Simply that a looser, more player-oriented control took over -- one that involved taking risks. And that is something that no well-organized team ever wants to be caught doing.

I started with a wry joke. I’ll finish with a sad joke. Back to Seattle. During that final hectic 15 minutes there was one name that did not get mentioned in the TV commentary -- that of David Beckham. Not until the 93rd minute, when he collected a yellow card for a cynical trip.

Beckham was, in fact, a marginal figure throughout the game. One free kick that sailed just over the bar was his input. Despite all his blather about keeping fit and how he needed to be training in England, the one thing he did not appear to be was precisely that ... fit. In the first half Harkes had already broken the news (as well as the convention that you don’t criticize Beckham) when he remarked “He looks tired.”

On the evidence of this game, the 35-year-old Beckham is simply not fit enough to play 90-minutes. He’s on his way to becoming the MLS’s first-ever Designated Super-Sub. And there might be some doubts about the Super part of that.

11 comments about "Jokes of the Week: Ferguson's 'punishment' and Beckham's 'fitness'".
  1. Albert Harris, March 18, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.

    Put on you earmuffs, Paul. You have dared to criticize both Ferguson and Beckham. I sense a tsunami of invective forthcoming from across the pond. One never, ever mentions that the king has no clothes.

  2. Charles O'Cain, March 18, 2011 at 8:43 a.m.

    Drivel. Is there even one team, player or official in the English game for whom Mr Gardner has any respect or admiration? What sort of childhood trauma did he suffer over there which has led him to so thoroughly reject his country of origin?

  3. Bob Escobar, March 18, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.

    Paul Gardner, you are on the money once again....but for Beckham only, he is at best a very mediocre player at this stage in his career, there is no excuse in the world for MLS to pay that kind of money to a player that at best is "mediocre".
    Many Englishmen or Irishmen writing nonsense about Paul Gardner are only making an "ass" out of themselves....there are many good young players in England that are 100 times better than Mr Beckham...100 freaking least they'll run the entire game, who cares if they have skills...have you ever seen an English/Irish player with any sort of "super skills a la Messi, Xavi, Ronaldo and many other "super players of today"....forget the past, you never had a "Pele, Maradona, Brazilian Ronaldo, Zinadine Zidane, Marco Van Basten, Ronaldinho, Platini, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Zito, Garrincha, Francescolli, Pietro, Gerd Mueller, Blochin, Puskas, DiStefano, Kaka, Roberto Carlos and many others!!!! the closest player with any "flair" was an Irishman by the name of George Best, unfortunately he was a drunk! sorry, but the truth hurts!!!

  4. Steven Jeremenko, March 18, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.

    Bob, I like your spirit. Paul is pretty much always right wether he presents his point of view directly or indirectly but unfortunately his way of thinking about the game is disappearing. That is why he is barraged with negative comments about his feelings about English soccer and the MLS'approach to the game. His thought here that Ferguson and Beckham for all their achievements are not worthy of being emmulated as good examples provides others who think similiarly with the consolation that at least there is one person out there that is tired of not being entertained by the countless tactical locking of the horns that bore us to death week in and week out. All the players that Bob mentioned above provided a good example of what soccer can be but how many modern day youth players are familiar with these magicians? Pretty much none. The U.S. and England I strongly believe are teeming with soccer artists just like those greats that Bob mentioned but most of them are runied by the age of 10-12 thrown into the big soccer machine that churns out robots that can "keep their shape" and are well-organized. Yeah, those things have an elementary postion in the game but they also, if over-done, deny it of it's beauty. I used to play a creative attacking midfielder ( a position that has seem to vanished from modern day soccer) as a youth player and emmulated, Platini, Zico, and even that miraculous genius George Best (the drunk) from N. Ireland. English soccer as well as American soccer would stifle a player like Best now a days with all of his on field antics despite his genius. The MLS however could use a player like Best who would had charisma and peronality in addition to soccer skills that one could argue were second to none. Instead will get player like that wise announcer John Harkes who are good at follow game plans and getting the job done but incapable of producing the magic and beauty we all desire. If you disagree with my point of view well have yourself lots of fun watching that fast break neck speed garbage that gets forced down our throats on all those "beautiful game" networks each day. I'll be on the internet watching highlights of the real soccer artists that have virtual become extinct.

    Note: Bob - Thanks for including Oleg Blokhin in your a la list. I doubt many readers even know who is he - that's the shame!

  5. Kent James, March 18, 2011 at 11:56 a.m.

    Thanks for the insight Paul. When I saw the 5 match ban, thought it was a pretty serious issue. But given more information, I now know it's a joke. I also share your concern about the demise of the beautiful game. I was unable to watch the opening game, but I did attend a Carolina Cup match between DC United and the Chicago Fire (as well as Toronto and the Charleston Battery). I had a great seat (midfield, front row, small stadium so I was about 5 yards from the field). But I was very disappointed in the play. Lots of ball movement, decent skill, occasional runs forward, but very little effective attack. The players worked hard, but how many times can you watch people string together 8-10 passes that don't amount to squat? I think in one of the games, there was at least a half without even a shot on goal! And in the Chicago game, one of the Chicago players was ejected for a tackle over the ball; it had been a relatively clean game, and I don't doubt the official was correct in issuing the red card (I couldn't see the foul), but after that, Chicago's attempts at offense (weak as they were) were over. I think FIFA should change the rule to allow an ejected player to be replaced. I think this would do two things; make referees less hesitant to eject players (which means more fouls would be punished appropriately) and make red cards not dramatically change the game (because the change is usually for the worse). If teams were out of subs, then they could not replace the player and would have to play short (but at least this would be near the end of the game). The only downside I see to this is that players might choose to "take one for the team" by cynically fouling someone who would otherwise go into the penalty area and get a goal scoring opportunity. This could be dealt with by either the league imposing stiff penalties for such behavior (5 match ban, e.g.) or allowing the referee to not allow a replacement if the player was ejected for stopping a goal scoring opportunity.

  6. Chris Ogle, March 18, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.

    The truth is that England has never produced a single player that can be ranked among the greats like Cruyff,Maradona,Pele,Jair,Rivellino,Becanbauer,Platini,Eusebio,Garrincha,Franscescolli,Tostao etc.These fans of the EPL who,as an example of their lunacy, refer to Rooney as "the White Pele" live in a fantasy world that has nothing to do with reality. I've never seen an English player who even knows how to dribble the ball,which is an essential skill in the S.American game.There are small children playing on the streets of Brazil and Argentina who have more skill than any English player who ever played the game.

  7. Jorge Giraldo, March 19, 2011 at 3:28 a.m.

    Once again, the joke is on us for keep getting updates from this mediocre and in more "urban" terms: "Hater" of "gardner" anything english or related to england: (beckham). anything and he will jump right in. And all of you that agree with him... shaking my head... some parts might be right but some you are so far away from reality and in a lunatic phase like this al'zeimers of "gardner" which I dont think even deserves for me o put capital letters on his name, you are joke and all you can write about is some hateful comment english related, really would like to write something positive for once in ur pathetic career....
    Sports evolve and there is a different way of play it now, and all of you "old-timers" cant stand the idea that is changing, yes I agree players go down too easy now, but there is also the magic of tricking the ref and getting away with it, taking beckham's legacy away from him just due to the fact that he is getting old and cant play like he used is stupid!!, He did his time and if the MlS is more recognized worldwide is thanks to players like him that abandoned nu,ber one leagues to come to this joint!!. crappy stadiums, worst fanbase! and the tv coverage cant be any worst than what it is, so why do you complain abouthim Not being here for season openers? what does the MLS have in hand to be able to get better players? answer is nothing, just a bunch of sore losers ...
    Ferguson might be complaining but he has the right to do that! when you silly incompetent "gardner" get the resume that SIR Alex has in hand then maybe then you will get the right to go at it the same way you do now. Once again "gardner" I asked you, where in your childhood did the english did you wrong??

  8. Chance Hall, March 19, 2011 at 8 a.m.

    Well, I must admit that once again that Gardner did not disappoint soccer fans. Your article entirely missed the point about "why" Ferguson was upset about the Chelsea game in the first place. It's the obviously biased calls by the referee, or more important the noncalls against Chelsea that set him off. If you had bothered to watch the game, you would understand why he and most soccer fans were upset. The referee was HORRIBLE! Apparently the Chelsea players were invisible when committing a foul, even right in front of the so calleed referee. One more time - it's the game and the officiating that fans care about - not some childish name calling babble written by someone who has forgotten why fans watch in the first place.

  9. Brian Something, March 19, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.

    Sidney: not everyone wears your rose colored glasses so maybe that's why you missed Rafael's red card tackle. I don't like either side but Phil Dowd actually had a very good game, with the major exception of not sending off Rafael and Carragher. But blaming the ref is always what Man U fans do when they're team gets spanked.

  10. Brian Something, March 19, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.

    Paul: Please don't waste space writing about David Beckham. No one in the US cares about him any more. Thank you in advance.

  11. Andres Yturralde, March 20, 2011 at 4:54 p.m.

    How quickly they turn. And even worse: how quickly they forget. Ferguson and Beckham are supernovas, no question about that. The only joke about Ferguson's five-game ban is seeing him pick up that old-school phone to relay his instructions. And the only joke about Beckham's shape is his hair. Because I still can't find any other pro in the world who can execute a direct kick or whip the ball into the box as well as Beckham still does-- day in and day out, at age 35. All you critics out there, please enlighten me.

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