The Lead

Life is complicated. Far more complicated than we’re able to cope with a lot of the time, which is why we have brains that are designed to make broad conclusions on the flimsiest of evidence. Take for example the context of Roberto Mancini’s quotes to an Italian audience today:

Roberto Mancini will not sell Mario Balotelli and Manchester City are “much better” than Manchester United despite Sunday’s 3-2 derby defeat, the Italian has claimed.

“United have more experience but we have a much better team and play much better football,” Mancini told a function in Italy, according to the Daily Mail.

Despite the pointed index finger the Mail and others are stabbing in the direction of the derby match last Sunday as proof that the Italian is yet again out of touch and off his rocker, Mancini is, statistically speaking, in the right.

Manchester City have taken more shots than they have conceded in their first 16 games of the season by a greater margin than United, and that includes Sunday’s derby match, a statistic that correlates closely with final table position. They have done so against statistically more difficult opposition than Man United has faced so far. The one metric that has arguably helped keep United six points ahead of City in the Premier League table—United’s impressive effeciency in front of goal with a league-leading sh% approaching 30%, is much more likely to regress to the mean before the end of the season.

None of this means Man City will necessarily win the title, but it definitely means that despite appearances, what you see is not necessarily what you get.

While I don’t like to cram two wholly unrelated topics into one lead story, this complexity also applies to soon-to-be-ex-Kick It Out chairman Lord Herman Ouseley’s comments regarding the soullessness of the big clubs in England when it comes to dealing with the problem of racism. He said:

“There is very little morality in football among the top clubs,” Ouseley told the Guardian, reflecting on a difficult year that turned turbulent for Ouseley himself and Kick It Out when groups of players boycotted the campaign’s T-shirts during its October weeks of action.

“Leadership is so important; you have to send a powerful message that racism is completely unacceptable,” he said. “But there is a moral vacuum. The big clubs look after their players as assets. There was no bold attitude from them, to say that they would not put up with it.”

This feels intuitively correct, but it glosses over some important particulars. Broadly speaking, Ouseley is right in criticizing the manner in which individual clubs, managers and fellow players rallied around thee accused ahead of the hearing of evidence. There was little impetus from anyone within the entire football edifice to admit the obvious possibility that highly-skilled, famous football stars may also be racist.

However, this criticism doesn’t take into consideration the difficult legal position for all involved when it comes to charges of racial abuse. First, the necessary involvement of the police in conducting their own investigation prevents the clubs or the FA from taking quick action without the appearance of ‘rushing to judgment’ or affecting any criminal trial. Second, the precedence of a criminal trial or even its possibility compelled both the clubs and the FA to follow standards more appropriate to a court of law, including the careful consideration of evidence. This meant that any appearance of ambiguity would have to be reflected in any FA ruling, which is why the punishments seemed in some cases light in the extreme.

It could be that the clubs prefer it this way. Game suspensions meted out by a neutral authority are far more palatable than the prospect of immediately suspending or sacking a top player because of allegations of racial abuse. It’s far easier for clubs to withhold comment (except in Liverpool’s case), wait for due process to run its lengthy course, and then make a decision only when their hand is forced either by the courts or the FA. This shores up the reasonable impression that clubs will not take swift action in these instances, but immediate action would be a tacit admission of guilt, and could not only affect the player’s future with the club but could affect any attendant criminal proceedings.

In other words, it’s complicated. But despite this complexity, there is reasonable evidence that the legislation of acceptable speech in the UK is part of the problem, not an aid to open discussion of racism in English football.

England

Gareth Barry accused of insulting referee, could face match ban.

Cultural Lessons 101 for foreign players to battle racism in football.

Chelsea’s Romeu sidelined for possibly the rest of the season due to a knee injury.

“Balotelli is not for sale,”-Mancini on trade rumours.

Italy

Napoli embroiled in match-fixing scandal.

Bonucci to miss match for diving.

La Liga

Tim Stannard predicts who will be ousted next in La Liga.

Falcao doesn’t understand Perez’s napkin joke.

Germany

Dynamo Dresden banned from playing in DFB-Pokal because of fan disturbances.

Hanover’s Stindl out indefinitely.

Babbel‘s record at Hoffenheim.

Bit and Bobs

Football Hall of Shame.

The apocalypse of football.

Always a pleasure to hear Neville’s view on Nasri’s performance in the derby.