Arsenal Not the Only Ones Turned off by TV Trial

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 7, 2006 | Go to article overview

Arsenal Not the Only Ones Turned off by TV Trial


Byline: DAVID MELLOR

TRIAL by television is never a pretty sight, nor a fair thing, and Newsnight's piece on Arsenal over their involvement with a small Belgian club, Beveren, conformed to type.

It was a show trial with one missing link. A proper charge. Rules were said to have been broken by Arsenal's admitted payment of [pounds sterling]1million to the Belgian minnows.

What rules? There is a FIFA rule that says there cannot be common ownership of more than one club in the same competition. Unlike most of FIFA's regulations, eminently sensible.

But the question Newsnight never asked is what are the chances of little Beveren, who avoided relegation with practically the last kick of the season, ever being in the same competition as the Gunners.

And the reason Newsnight didn't ask it is because the prospects of Beveren getting into the Champions League are about the same as you and me being struck by a meteorite.

The fact this was a show trial became obvious to me almost at the outset.

Labour MP Clive Betts, apparently an expert on football as well as rent boys, played it the Newsnight way. I didn't, so when I appeared on the programme I barely got a sentence out in one of my answers, before presenter Kirsty Wark turned away to look longingly at Mr Betts.

Speaking up for the accused wasn't the done thing.

Anyway, my Chelsea friends say, why defend Arsenal? And it's true, the Gunners have been so sanctimonious about alleged breaches of the rules by others, they can hardly wonder that some diehards of other persuasions are only too happy to imagine them up to their necks in the sewage.

But my duty here is to be objective; to look further at what's right for our game overall. And that's what I tried to do.

Which means pointing out the selfevident truth that our rules on young players from outside the EU are unnecessarily restrictive.

The Premiership is an international brand, watched all over the world, not least because whatever country you hail from, one of your nationals will be playing somewhere in it.

Why, given we're supposed to be in a single market, can an 18-year-old Ivorian play in Belgium but not in England? Unless of course he has amassed so many full international caps he would have to have started playing for his country when he was 12!

EVEN football is, to some extent, subject to the laws of economics. And if you can get an 18-year-old for nothing, what's wrong with doing so, when if you wait until he's 22 you may have to pay [pounds sterling]10m-[pounds sterling]15m for him.

It doesn't make sense, so no wonder Arsenal took an interest in Beveren's Ivorians. Just as Manchester United have an involvement with another Belgium side Antwerp.

All the way through this over-egged Newsnight pudding, I kept asking myself the question - where's the crime?

Unless it be to bring on young African footballers so that the Ivory Coast can now make a decent challenge for the World Cup.

What's wrong with trying to find a talented teenager to pay 30 grand a week?

FIFA have asked the FA Compliance Unit to look into this. Which is as good as burying the whole thing. Which, unusually for me, I have to say is exactly what should happen.

Stevie could be FA's handyman *STEVEN GERRARD has revealed he a suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder: he washes his hands up to 15 times a day.

Let's look on the bright side. This makes him a prime candidate for a job at the Football Association after he hangs up his boots, because they wash their hands of everything.

*WORLD CUP referees have been ordered to crack down on diving, which makes it such a shame Jurgen Klinsmann is coaching the hosts, not still playing for them. You had only to brush past the TV, and Klinsmann would fall over. Under these new rules, he'd never have finished a match. …

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