Commentary

Fernando and Joe Hart share the blame for Man City fiasco

By Paul Gardner

The recent tragic, disastrous and possibly hilarious screw up by Man City that allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score a totally unexpected goal for PSG is worth scrutiny.

The unexpected part can be immediately verified when you understand that the TV director missed the goal -- he was busy showing a replay of Kevin de Bruyne’s goal, scored just three minutes earlier to give Man City a 1-0 lead. Then suddenly, whoosh (and whoops!), we’re at the other end of the field where Ibrahimovic is to be seen walking away from the Man City goal, ball in hand. After a short pause, the announcer informs us “Well, it’s 1-1.”

The replays tell the story. A short on-the-ground, goal kick from Joe Hart, horrendously miscontrolled by Fernando, has allowed Ibrahimovic to pounce and redirect Fernando’s intended pass into the goal.

No excuse then, for Fernando. But does Hart share the blame? After the game, Alexi Lalas asked the question, “Should Hart have even played the ball to Fernando?” -- implying that Hart should have opted for the more traditional long goal kick. Lalas immediately answered his own question with a resounding “Absolutely you play it . . . I know it resulted in the goal here, but what if you don’t do that? You just kick it long?” With the talent they have on the field, said Lalas, Man City should be able to play the ball out of the back.

Immediately, Lalas’s fellow TV studio panelists -- Warren Barton and Brad Friedel -- were cutting in, overtalking each other in 90 seconds of lively, entertaining television. Not everything Friedel said got through the shouting. But we know what his point would be -- Friedel being a paid-up member of the goalkeeping brotherhood would not be criticizing Hart, for sure. His plea -- “You can’t blame Joe Hart for that” came through clearly. Twice.

Barton, however, won the shouting match, and he clearly did hold Hart responsible for the mess. Hart should have kicked the ball long. Barton’s reasoning was: “You’ve just scored a goal, you’re away from home, you’re four minutes until halftime -- so ‘Get up boys, squeeze to the halfway line, I’m gonna launch it.’”

That’s the realpolitik view. It is a strong argument -- all the stronger in this case, as we know the alternative turned out to be a calamity. It is a view that says the hell with trying to play soccer, just hoof the ball away -- in fact, Barton told us that in moments like this -- “You can’t play this beautiful, attractive football ...” That might also be considered realpolitik but it is more likely standard English primitivism.

My sympathies are more with Lalas and Friedel, who maintained that Hart was right to try to play from the back, but that Fernando messed things up by not controlling a simple pass.

But that was not the whole story. Blame for the screw-up should be equally shared by Hart and Fernando. When Hart prepared to take the goal kick, he was, of course under absolutely no pressure at all. He had the time to survey what was going on in front of him. He opted for a short kick -- and had three possible targets. To his right, at the corner of the penalty area was Nicolas Otamendi. Some 13 yards behind him was PSG’s Edinson Cavani. Over at the left-hand corner of the penalty area was Eliaquim Mangala, with Ibrahimovic about 12 yards away. More central was Fernando. Of those three, the riskiest choice was Fernando. Simply because a ball to him was a ball played into a dangerous area, directly in front of goal, plus the ominous fact that Ibrahimovic was lurking only eight yards behind him.

Yet Hart ignored the safest -- indeed, the best -- option (to Mangala) and played the ball to Fernando. Before the ball even reached Fernando (it had only 12 yards to roll), Hart, evidently now aware of impending trouble from Ibrahimovic, had raised his right arm, pointing at Otamendi -- evidently urging Fernando to play the ball first time to Otamendi.

Fernando had other ideas. But in trying to flick the ball towards Mangala, he played it directly on to Ibrahimovic’s foot, from which it sailed into the unguarded net. The fact that the goal was wide open is another criticism of Hart, who should surely have moved more quickly to his left to protect the open goal.

Even so, Fernando’s blunder seems the biggest of the errors. Not only in the limited context of this one game, but in the wider sense that it will please those who don’t believe in trying to play “this beautiful, attractive football.”

13 comments about "Fernando and Joe Hart share the blame for Man City fiasco ".
  1. Barry Ulrich, April 9, 2016 at 9:31 a.m.

    Doesn't anyone at SA monitor reader comments? Why are the above comments allowed? They are meaningless and irrelevant!

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, April 9, 2016 at 1:47 p.m.

    Hey Barry, my exact sentiment re: the comments preceding yours!!! Come on now, Mike, Paul, Ridge, et. al., check this out!!!

  3. Buk Rogers, April 9, 2016 at 9:40 a.m.

    Lalas is a clown, as always. Why do City haters keep repeating 5 years on from their big investment "With the talent they have..."? I guess Lalas doesn't think that Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea (big 4 teams any other year but 2015-16) have talent at the same level or greater than Manchester City and are playing at a major disadvantage. City's greatest fault is spending much more for quality players (some who proved themselves as just average) than other big spending clubs wanted to spend to get their first choice. Lalas "should be" experienced enough to know this, I could say.

    ANY TEAM AT THE PREMIER OR CHAMPIONSHIP level "should be able to play the ball out of the back". My son's U14 team has the talent to play from the back, but that doesn't mean their coach restricts the keeper to that sole option every time he gathers up the ball.

    Ofcourse Fernando will always be pegged as clown numero uno in this FU, but it all started with a bad decision by Hart. Our youth players learn that the pass with the most risk is the ball played centrally in front of goal. It should be a last option pass. I don't think Fernando expected that pass with two safer options wide. It was the surprise that caused him to fail to react appropriately, not his lack of talent!

  4. Ginger Peeler replied, April 9, 2016 at 11:19 a.m.

    If a team recruits talent, I think it's fairly safe to say that the talent these players have also includes soccer smarts? 30-some years ago, my daughter knew that playing the ball out of the back near the mouth of the goal was a no-no. Opposing players have a tendency to pounce and punish when you do that. As you said, "It should be a last option pass." Fernando may be a excellent player with lots of talent, but he lost focus for a split second; that, and a bad decision by Hart cost them a goal. My daughter's coach used to preach that most goals scored against you were the result of mistakes you made on the field. I'm not sure why Lalas' comment so angers you. Talent includes not just technical ability but the "soccer brain" too. And just because Fernando had a momentary lapse does not mean he lacks talent. It just means he made a mistake after Hart made a bigger mistake. It happens. It's a big part of the game. No one even hinted that Fernando did it on purpose and, therefore, lacks talent. The whole problem is that they're human and even talented humans make mistakes. Although they are paid the bigger bucks because they're expected to make a whole lot fewer mistakes than others. In that sense, Lalas was right.

  5. Joey Tremone, April 9, 2016 at 10:36 a.m.

    Hart also could have played Fernando to his right, towards the touch line, so if anything goes wrong it is an easier clear and Fernando has a teammate to help. Instead, he dragged Fernando a bit to the middle of the pitch, making it easy on Ibra.

  6. Ric Fonseca replied, April 9, 2016 at 1:51 p.m.

    Gee and golly willikers folks, I remember only too well, even when playing on dirt athletic fields in jr. high, then on baseball-soccer lined fields, that our coach used to rant and rave and reminded the 'keepers to play it high and wide if they could not play out wide on the ground. Just a matter of remembering the little things that PG loves to write about. And hey, who said soccer and other sports are fair and just?

  7. Joseph Hul, April 9, 2016 at 4:59 p.m.

    Fernando should have known that Zlatan was right there. He was exceptionally blasé in his first touch. That touch should have gone away from the center, so he can protect it. The pass from Hart wasn't bad at all.

  8. Kent James replied, April 10, 2016 at 9:06 a.m.

    Everything you say is right, but that doesn't excuse Hart's decision; after all, he should have know Zlatan was right there too. And he had 2 guys wide open on the flanks. The cost/benefit calculation for that decision should have been a no-brainer, and the pass should never have gone to Fernando in the first place.

  9. Paul Roby replied, April 11, 2016 at 8:57 p.m.

    Agree, Fernando fell asleep during a Champions League game--inexcusable.

  10. stewart hayes, April 9, 2016 at 7:15 p.m.

    Zlatan had the missed penalty and the 1v1 and I guess Hart was feeling a little cheeky. He got a lesson he won't soon forget.

  11. Mark Konty, April 9, 2016 at 11:20 p.m.

    " It is a view that says the hell with trying to play soccer, just hoof the ball away." I always love it when people tell me how soccer is "supposed" to be played. Where would i be without a kindly souls like Mr. Gardner here to teach me orthodoxy.

  12. Ginger Peeler, April 10, 2016 at 7:06 p.m.

    Mark, I can't tell if you're showing appreciation for PG's snarkiness, or if you actually think he was serious? You WERE saying that you love it when JG very snidely reflects on some people's idiotic opinions on how the game should be played, because it was a really nice put-down on his part...right?

  13. ROBERT BOND, April 11, 2016 at 10:49 a.m.

    learned as a GK, move back in front of the sticks ASAP, 1st thing i told my kid.......

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