Early Doors

FA’s Balotelli action puts Spain in the shade

Early Doors

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Mario Pepe blog

"Two players, both alike in madness,
On the field, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new badness,
Where uncivil studs make civil hands unclean"

The past week has seen two highly-publicised and controversial incidents in huge matches - involving Manchester City's Mario Balotelli and Real Madrid's Pepe - but with two very different outcomes.

Both men are big, strapping athletes, highly-talented but unquestionably unhinged, who represent their adopted countries at international level but have caused uproar in the nations where they ply their trade for their recent actions.

On Sunday, you may remember, there was the big Premier League meeting between City and Tottenham Hotspur - a thrilling title-influencing clash that was wonderfully soundtracked by Chris Coleman's valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break the world record for most footballers' names mispronounced in a 90-minute period. But then, when half of the football broadcasting community insists on calling Arsenal's young defender Ignasi Miquel 'Miguel' or Chelsea full-back Jose Bosingwa 'Boswinga', you know that record is a pretty tough nut to crack.

At the Etihad Stadium, Mario Balotelli scored the winning penalty, but not before - intentionally or otherwise - landing a brutal right-jab, left-kick combo on the face of Scott Parker with his studs.

Early Doors still cannot come down on one side of the fence or the other as to Balotelli's intent, and it seems that goes for the football community as a whole. Our own Paul Parker was one of many pundits who have been damning in their assessment of the 21-year-old's actions, and many of you agree judging by the forums and phone-ins ED has to trawl through as punishment for an as yet undetermined but surely severe offence earlier in its life.

However, there are just as many people out there who are willing to give Balotelli the benefit of the doubt in the belief that, for all his flaws and unpredictable nature, even he would not intentionally bring his foot down on to the face of another professional with such force.

The 'stamp' was enough to provoke two members of the public to contact Greater Manchester Police about the incident, according to The Times. That must have been an odd phone call for the officer on duty to take.

Even considering all of Balotelli's previous - three red cards in 18 months, including a flying kick on a Dynamo Kiev player in last season's Europa League - such a dangerous act would see the Italian plumb new depths.

The FA certainly seems to think that is the case, and have handed Balotelli a violent conduct charge. City have until Wednesday evening to respond to the charge, which carries a four-match ban.

A decision not to appeal would mean their striker would miss the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final with Liverpool at Anfield. Fortunately for City, their upcoming run of fixtures in the league means that the Reds will - on paper - be their toughest opponents should they have to without their forward.

Still, at least the FA has acted quickly and efficiently on the matter, which is more than can be said for their Spanish counterparts the RFEF.

Last Wednesday's first leg of the Copa del Rey 'Clasico' between Real and Barcelona featured Jose Mourinho persisting with his favoured trick of deploying defender Pepe in midfield. In addition to neutralising the objectionable Sergio Busquets by bringing his own brand of playacting and gamesmanship to the centre of the pitch, Pepe's brief appeared to be to kick anything that moved in midfield for 90 minutes. After getting his name in the referee's book with just 17 on the clock, the Brazil-born Portugal international had to resort to more underhand tactics to get one over on his more talented opponents.

Did ED say underhand? That really should read over-down-and-onto-hand, because that's what Pepe did to Lionel Messi with 20 minutes remaining. With the three-time Ballon d'Or sat on the floor following a foul, Pepe strode up to the Argentine forward and quite brazenly trod on his hand.

The incident caused uproar in the Spanish media, with even some of the partisan Madrid-based press condemning Pepe.

"Violent, with excessive aggression, play-acting and a long way from what the behaviour
of a footballer in a high-level match should be," Marca, the biggest cheerleader of all the pro-Madrid rags wrote at the time. "What's more, his problem is that he is a repeat offender."

Despite this, the Spanish authorities have decided not to charge Pepe, and he will now be available again for this Wednesday's second leg at the Camp Nou. But then this is a federation which meted out a paltry £2,000 fine to then national team boss Luis Aragones after the coach referred to Thierry Henry as "that black s***" back in 2004.

The odd thing about the two different incidents is that Pepe's is the least serious but the easiest to prove in terms of intent, yet it is the FA taking the lead on disciplinary matters.

The fact that Mourinho was able to be unrepentant in backing his player after last Wednesday's game while Roberto Mancini instead sent David Platt out to face the media on Sunday also shows how seriously they take their respective authorities.

There have been many reasons to criticise the FA over the years, and no doubt there will be many more. However, the recent overhaul of their disciplinary procedures - from fast-tracking cases of managers' inappropriate comments to the decisive action on the Luis Suarez affair - is proving effective, and for that they deserve credit.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I was not having a go at the boss on Sunday - I was just sad to see Alex leave the pitch as he just gave the assist for our only goal. I was not questioning his judgement - I know it's not my place to challenge what Arsene Wenger does. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a calf injury. We did not know that but the boss did and brought Andrei Arshavin on. The manager and I are fine and my relationship with the club is good. There is no problem, there is no conflict and there is no controversy. The boss knows that, I know that and the players know that." - Robin van Persie explains his reaction to The Ox's substitution on Sunday, which led to much consternation from Arsenal fans and caused the Gunners striker to drop to his knees, look up at the sky and cry "No! Why hast thou forsaken me?" Possibly.

PIC OF THE DAY: Court sketches are a much underappreciated art form, as proven by this picture of Harry Redknapp and Milan Mandaric in the dock at the start of their tax evasion trial yesterday which makes the Spurs manager look like Michael Caine.

FOREIGN VIEW: Cristiano Ronaldo's two penalties in Sunday's win over Malaga took his tally for the season up to a highly impressive 23 goals - one more than Lionel Messi. Mind you, that pair cannot hold a candle to the man with the most top-flight goals in Europe. Latvian striker Aleksandrs Cekalujevs has scored an incredible 46 goals for Trans Narva in the Estonian league this season, and is level with Ronaldo in the running for the European Golden Shoe due to the ranking system which employs UEFA coefficients.

COMING UP: It's another triple dose of live action later today with Ghana v Botswana (16:00) and Mali v Guinea (19:00) in the African Cup of Nations, before Cardiff City host Crystal Palace in the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final at 19:45.

Before that, though, there is the usual Tuesday fun with a video round-up of all the odd goings on in the Premier League in Hot or Not, and a referee's analysis of the weekend's main talking points in The Whistleblower.

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