Football still stuck with blurred lines on and off the pitch

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood-winked, lead astray.”

A football article should never start with a reference to Ja Rule, but the game is ripe with people exuding the rapper’s didn’t-know-any-better energy when the fraudulent Fyre Festival was smoked.

The truth is always there if you care to look, ask the right questions, and put the response under a microscope.

On Saturday night alone, the Premier League supplied several instances that underscored the importance of reading between the lines and not just swallowing a line.

Let’s kick off with everyone’s favourite frustration: VAR. At Goodison Park, with Everton on the relegation-place ropes and Manchester City having just taken the lead to extend their grip at the summit, Rodri cleared a bouncing ball in the box, with his arm outstretched and contact made below the t-shirt line.

Referee Paul Tierney’s view of the incident was obscured, but Chris Kavanagh reviewed the footage in the booth at Stockley Park for over a minute.

There was no directive for the match official to make his own decision at the pitchside monitor as the VAR declared no penalty.

The Premier League Match Centre said Kavanagh didn’t feel there was conclusive evidence the ball had hit Rodri more in the red area of the arm than the green. The decision had nothing to do with an offside call in the build-up.

However, Pep Guardiola insisted that was the reason no penalty was given in his TV interview after the game, which has been taken as gospel by large swathes of viewers and tweeters.

The match delegate revealed that upon further review, the incident ‘looked a penalty’ and Frank Lampard was told by the officials a spot-kick should have been awarded.

The offside line continues to be spun.

Away from the pitch, there was some significant news or nothing much really changes news depending on how you slice it.

Roman Abramovich placed “the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC” in the hands of the trustees of the club’s Foundation.

The brief was that he remains the owner and the move was to ‘prevent reputational damage due to the Russian connection’ amid the war in Ukraine on account of Vladimir Putin’s cretinous obsession with imperialism.

Given Abramovich is still Chelsea owner, that does not make sense - how is the connection removed, what actually changes in a fundamental way, and what is the real reason for the manoeuvre?

The club insist it is not an attempt to avoid sanctions. This is no way linked, but for the record, Ja Rule said Fyre Festival wasn’t a scam.

It was also put out there that the 55-year-old doesn’t want the war to overshadow the work of Thomas Tuchel, the players and club staff.

Abramovich’s statement on the stewardship did not mention the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, nor offer any condemnation of the actions of Putin. Though an official club statement claimed to be “praying for peace” amid ‘horrific and devastating’ Ukraine crisis, while still offering no mention of Russia.

That surely would have been a strong way to shield Chelsea from reputational damage and the football operation, primed for a final, being distracted by what Tuchel referred to “huge uncertainty?”

Saturday was also a day when we observed the humanity in football, while being reminded about how compromised the sport is.

We need to keep asking questions. Why were Fifa so ponderous in reacting to Poland and Sweden’s refusals to play their World Cup qualifier against Russia?

Why did Gianni Infantino bat down an enquiry from the excellent Rob Harris over whether he’ll retain the Order of Friendship medal given to him by Putin in waffle, blanking the focal point?

Why could he not be drawn on whether he regrets a cosy relationship that helped to legitimise and embolden a despot?

For too long, too much has been allowed to slide and corrode football. Whataboutism and silence only encourages further pollution.

We should refuse to be hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood-winked, lead astray.