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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


TANGENTS

Don’t Shake Hands and Come Out Fighting

Written by on February 13, 2012 | 30 Comments »
Posted in Liverpool, Manchester United

In a week in which the England national team manager Fabio Capello resigned and the man who is almost certain to replace him, Harry Redknapp, was cleared of tax evasion it seemed appropriate that going into the Barclay’s Premier League marquee match of the weekend the talk had little to do with tactics, line-ups or even the eventual outcome.  

Instead the chatter was about a simple piece of protocol that has become an accepted part of the pre-game ritual – the two teams lining up and shaking hands with each other and the game officials. Or more to the point would Liverpool’s Luis Suarez shake hands with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and vice versa.

The genesis of the “would-he, won’t he” lay in an incident during a match at Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground, on October 15th last year. The Football Association subsequently charged Suarez with racially abusing Evra during the game and after a detailed investigation the Liverpool forward was found guilty and suspended for eight games and fined around $60,000. 

To the chagrin of policing authorities and others, the two teams were drawn to play each other in the FA Cup. However, the game two weeks ago provided to be more of an under-card than the main-event given that Suarez was still serving his suspension.

Liverpool won that game but it was clear that Saturday’s encounter at Old Trafford was going to hit a higher octave given the return of Suarez.

Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand and second’s later United centre back Rio Ferdinand blanked Suarez. Even with a handshake or two the atmosphere was going to be combustible; no handshakes and the atmosphere was irrevocably poisoned. 

Suarez’s refusal offered up the morale high-ground to United although Evra’s embarrassing celebration after the final whistle threatened to undermine that position at one stage.  

After the game there was little discussion of Manchester United’s 2-1 win and the spotlight not surprisingly fell again on handshakes (or lack thereof) and Suarez during the media interviews.

Since the first incident in October Liverpool had pursued a poorly thought out communications strategy and so it continued on Saturday. The difference this time was that Liverpool’s words now stretched to the defending the absolutely indefensible.

Liverpool’s position of unconditional support to the player finally ran aground. Throughout the unsavoury incident (or incidents) Liverpool’s manager Kenny Dalglish has either been the victim of very poor advice or he chose to make it up as he went.

Great players are often said to see the game two or moves in advance and Dalglish was undoubtedly a great player. But over the last few weeks it has become readily apparent that Dalglish has been unable to anticipate the wide-ranging implications of his comments beyond the end of his next sentence.

Numerous opportunities have come his way to draw a line under the affair and move on.  Each chance has been spurned and instead he opted to fight fire with gasoline rather than water.

When asked in a post-game interview by a Sky Sports TV reporter about Suarez’s refusal to shake hands a belligerent Dalglish apparently decided that if the messenger could be shot it would prove Suarez’s innocence.  But Saturday was a petulant (Suarez) and cantankerous (Dalglish) response too many and within 24 hours Liverpool had backtracked.

Whether the club owner John W. Henry (also owner of the Boston Red Sox) stepped in is not yet clear. What is clear is that Suarez apologized, as did Dalglish and the strangely anonymous Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre even chimed in to tell us all that Suarez had in fact misled the club by saying before the game he would shake Evra’s hand. 

The ramifications of the Suarez affair have been such that going into Saturday’s game Liverpool’s record of a draw and a win over United this season has not been given the attention it deserved. 

Before the match featuring England’s two most successful clubs Liverpool trailed Manchester United by sixteen points. In the first two games played this season Liverpool were better side despite the difference in league position.

But this time Manchester United controlled the game from the start although it did take until early in the second half to show their superiority on the score sheet. Wayne Rooney no stranger to controversy himself scored twice for Manchester United and although Liverpool pulled one back – who else but Luis Suarez – it was far too little far too late.

With other results from the weekend Liverpool fell a little further behind in the race for the fourth and potentially valuable final Champions League spot.

However, the domestic cup competitions do offer Liverpool some hope of silverware.  With the two leading Premier League clubs Manchester United and City out of the FA Cup Liverpool are one of four out five teams with a legitimate chance of lifting the trophy come the final in May.

This coming weekend Brighton, a team that plays in the lower tier Championship are Liverpool’s FA Cup opponents, and then a week later another Championship side, Cardiff, provide the opposition in the Carling Cup Final.

Liverpool will be hoping that the contrite apologies stem the media and public onslaught and that they can now get on with the business at hand.

The damage it has done the club’s image around the world is a very different matter.    

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30 responses to “Don’t Shake Hands and Come Out Fighting”

  1. KennyD says:

    Bobby, just wondering if you had any notable reaction to Liverpool stating that Luis had misled them. For me, I was a bit surprised by what Sunday’s press revealed. Although no one exactly know the pulse of the entire Liverpool fan base, I don’t understand why some don’t feel like, “Hey, we’re better than this. We don’t need to have this around us. He’s not worth ruining our reputation. One person isn’t worth ruining the team OR THE BRAND.” England took a similar approach with John Terry, and now they’ve gotten past there issue and now everyone is celebrating ‘Arry, the Chosen One. He does have great ability (which is a painto deal with as an Man U supporter), but to be fair, like you’ve mention on the Report before, he does waste a hell of a lot of chances.

  2. Crispin says:

    Well said Bobby, your insight on the situation is well appreciated

  3. KennyD says:

    Forgot to mention, will a thought be spared for Mick McCarthy on this week’s pod? Had a moment of silence myself; I kind’ve expected but still couldn’t believe it happened.

  4. Not only was the club misled but there should be a lot of supporters feeling very sheepish. It should be a lesson for all who willing to go along with anything as long as it is done by one of their own.
    Tribalism and a resulting lack of clear thinking does come at a cost.

  5. I watched the game yesterday and Wolves were shambolic at times in the second half. When Bassong went off they cratered.

  6. Bobby G says:

    In my opinion, if Luis Suarez was telling the truth all along, than why would he shake the hand of the man who lied and got him banned for 8 games? Remember, his guilt was never proven. A few things… I think this is being blown way out of proportion and I blame the tabloid media over in England… But. I get it, perception is reality, right? Being American, I just dont see the big deal. Two people dont like each other, they shouldnt be forced to shake hands. Also, if shaking hands is the moral high ground, then where is the criticism for Rio? Lastly, I believe that Evra’s celebration in front of Suarez was to wind him up and get him suspended further for reacting…

  7. tati says:

    this blog has seen major improvement and that is great.

  8. J Rob says:

    Liverpool clearly have a terrible PR department and as some others have alluded to senior management and ownership have been very foolish in allowing Kenny Dalglish to drive the club’s response during this affair.

    As for Suarez, as a Liverpool fan I’d be delighted if he left at the end of the season. His petulant and childish reactions to almost every thing that goes against him which found its climax in the non-handshake are embarrassing and increasingly repugnant.

    Moreover, he has been a FAILURE as a Liverpool player. He hasn’t delivered the goals he was bought to deliver. For all his wonderful invention with the ball and tenacity he spurns potentially match-winning chance after match-winning chance.

    Liverpool and Suarez have experienced a slow and painful conviction in the eyes of public opinion because of their reactions to events. (The fact that the FA convicted Suarez on the basis of “probability” is irrelevant for everyone apart from Liverpool fans now.)

    It’s also eye-opening how football clubs continue to operate so poorly as businesses. In what other large business would you let the PR campaign by directed by an employee (Kenny Dalglish) who is so emotionally involved in the outcome of controversial events?

    NESV and John Henry must be ruing their decision to let this happen. I can only imagine how much the value of naming-rights for a new stadium have diminished since October.

  9. footballmadness says:

    As the Fabio/JT incident shows, the world of football – English at least- is lacking some pr nous. As a life long LFC fan this whole sorry saga has left me embarassed and ashamed. Kenny and Suarez may need some gardening leave but a la Cantona maybe Suarez can be rehabbed. LFC owes it to their fans to get this sorted.

  10. J Rob – great summation.

  11. Soccerlogical says:

    So who is the bigger dolt, Suarez or Tevez (“… Mancini treated me ‘like a dog'”)?

  12. RobN says:

    The ‘PR campaign being conducted by Dalgliesh’ is an interesting way to put it and I can’t help but agree. That interview was like the twilight zone, deer in the headlights, and slow-motion car crash all in one. I found it hard to believe that Dalgliesh couldn’t think on his feet well enough to simply say ‘I didn’t see the incident and want to confer with my player before commenting. This still might have been disingenuous but at least it would have been better for damage control. Bingo on the tribalism clouding one’s thinking.

  13. J Rob says:

    Bobby – any thoughts on the news that Rangers have gone into administration and that their biggest creditor looks to be their current owner? Struggling to understand the implications.

    Not a shortage of things to discuss this week on the podcast.
    Also:

    – Zambia win African cup;
    – Mick McCarthy sacked;
    – Henry’s parting gift to Arsenal;
    – Chelsea’s continued up and down form and an owner who seems to be ever more instrusive;
    – Man City appear to offer an olive branch to Tevez

  14. John Bladen says:

    Not surprised at the McCarthy news, but somewhat saddened. He’s great in post match interviews…

    The manager ultimately is always responsible (note to Dalglish…), even if – as in Wolves situation – they just aren’t good enough at either end of the pitch. Without their present goalkeeper, they would have been easily relegated last season (perhaps on a record low point total, though that’s going to be a difficult record to break thanks to a certain Northern team…)

    Anyone else thinking that Dalglish may be about to “retire for personal reasons” again?

    $150m in purchases that look like a dog’s breakfast, a team that is if anything even more disjointed than last year’s at this time… and slowly but surely they are slipping back to a similar position they were in when he took over (in circumstances that are not entirely ethical).

    Perhaps Dalglish should have stuck to lobbing grenades in via “social” media…

  15. J Rob says:

    John:

    Don’t think Dalglish will retire just yet. He is fiercely loyal to Liverpool. In a wider context, Liverpool struggles on the pitch are little worse than either Chelsea’s or Arsenal’s. All three clubs have played under the expectations of their fans and many pundits. Outside of this self-inspired PR nightmare I think the end of the season would be a fair place to judge Dalglish. Re: the money Liverpool have spent since January of 2011 what is forgotten is how much dead-wood in their squad has been culled also.

    Nobody is discussing Spurs much after the weekend. Lou Macari said after the Man Utd victory it was a 2 horse race. I am not so convinced. The most notable thing about Spurs’ victory over Newcastle was the performance of Adebayor. After a fallow period
    – he looked like a world-beater again on Saturday. 13 games to go and I think they could it if Man City and Man Utd let them in.

  16. RS says:

    Thanks Bobby, insightful as always. I see a lot of comments from people saying that “Suarez might be innocent” or “Suarez might be telling the truth”; That does not apply to this case because Suarez already admitted calling Evra “Negro”, but failed to see how that could be offensive!

  17. KennyD says:

    @ BobbyG In regards to your statement.

    -Tabloids aren’t good for anything. What is forgotten is that the underlying issue is racism, and eliminating it from all walks of life needs to be the focus. And you can’t forget that the powers that be allowed Dalglish and Suarez to fan the flames and magnify the story.

    -Luis Suarez was found guilty by a commitee of the charges brought against him based on the available video evidence and testimony of both players. He did admit guilt, but on grounds not sufficient enough for the charges to be dropped.

    -Rio’s refusal stems from Suarez rejecting Evra. There’s also the fact that Rio has spoken out against racism for years and has a younger brother whose allegedly been racially abused. Besides, you can’t use someone’s reaction after the event to justify your action. Patrice’s celebration was indeed to wind Suarez up, but to get him suspended? That’s quite a reach.

    -You bring up a good point on the handshake. There is no “set in stone” requirement for Suarez to shake Evra’s hand. The ritual itself is taking a beating, and is being exposed as hollow, which is hard to deny. However, the FA impose it in order to symbolize the idea of sportsmanshipand being a Premier League player in a way makes it a job requirement (because it is expected of you when you step on to the pitch representing the club paying your wages). Is it perfect? As we now see, no. But it’s what they have and they don’t have any other gesture to show it. They use it to make a point and that point is sportsmanship.

    And if for any other reason, he ROLD his club (his employers) he intended to do so. Mislead your employer and see where it gets you.

  18. KennyD says:

    Sorry. In the second to last sentence meant to say he TOLD his club he intended to do so.

  19. John Bladen says:

    Bobby;

    RE: Wolves… do you believe McCarthy’s management has actually been that bad? Or is this a case of the owner searching for a scapegoat/new manager bump?

    Wolves defense has always looked horrible in the last couple of years (at least in the dozen or so times I’ve watched them), and while I like McCarthy and can’t really put my finger on any glaring Mgmt errors he’s made… the fact is that he was a centre back. It’s hard to imagine there is nothing he could have done to improve things on the back line.

  20. John Bladen says:

    J Rob:

    Fair comment. KD has shipped out some flotsam (or close). The issue I (and many others) have with him is how bad his signings have been through the first year. Most managers get a pass for their predecessors mistakes (and while I like Hodgson and don’t think he really got a fair shake at Anfield, he did make mistakes while there).

    It’s hard to argue that Dalglish’s present situation isn’t of his own making, given how many of the new faces have flopped thus far (some literally, of course). It gives the appearance of LFC’s new owners’ money burning a hole in his pocket… there seemed little rhyme or reason to his purchases, frankly… just buy whomever is for sale.

  21. Astronomer says:

    Bobby G:
    As a fellow American, I agree with your points. I also think that this no-handshake imbroglio appears somewhat excessive and odd from an American perspective.

    Also, Sir Alejandro came out after the game blabbering about how Suarez’s action (or lack thereof) could have precipitated a riot. Yeah, right, if that were the case then from that perspective, one can quite justifiably claim that Rio’s refusal to shake hands was even more provocative.
    _________________________________________________

  22. KennyD says:

    @Astronomer As a fellow American, we can’t impose our ideas and our normal dealings on other countries. You’ve got to follow the law of the land. When in Rome……

  23. J Rob says:

    John:
    Yes, disappointed in many of KD’s signings. Overall few of them seem to be able to play under the pressure of expectations at Anfield.

    He keeps a low-profile so hasn’t been subject to the same media scrutiny BUT Stewart Downing has been an unmitigated disaster.

    His performance on Saturday was the nadir so far. He offered absolutely nothing coming forward and his inability to support Enrique defensively was also shockingly poor.

    With 13 games left in the EPL he is yet to score a goal and create one assist. And at a cost of close to 20 million pounds.

    Lots of Liverpool fans have being lambasting Charlie Adams in their frustration about signings. But at about 30% of Downing’s cost he is Liverpool’s leading provider of assists. Had Louis Suarez stayed onside and delivered a more accurate header (in the last 5 mins) Adam might have been the reason Liverpool got an improbable draw at Old Trafford.

  24. fabr04 says:

    To those of you questioning the handshake ritual: there’s a scene in the series “Band of Brothers” where an officer who had a personal disagreement with a superior refuses to salute, and he is admonished with the words “we salute the rank, not the man.” Similarly, I think the pre-match handshake is intended to be a gesture of respect to the institution of English football, not to the individual player, and for that reason I appreciate the ritual.

    That said, if I were Wayne Bridge or Anton Ferdinand I would have an awfully tough time shaking hands with John Terry (if the published accusations are accurate, of course).

  25. John Bladen says:

    J Rob:

    Adam would be far down the list of problem signings at Anfield for me. He was low cost and has done more or less what was expected. I don’t mean to be insulting toward him, but he plays like he is older than he is. If I didn’t know he was 26/7 I would think he was 33…

    I didn’t realize he played as ‘chippily’ as he sometimes does (didn’t see it at Blackpool). He could be a card magnet…

    As for Downing, Carroll and Suarez, it’s just a lot of money spent that the club will never see again. Every manager has his share of purchase skeletons in the closet… but I’m struggling to think of a series of purchases as bad as this for any club. Some of City’s haven’t been very good, but they don’t show as MC just keep buying more until they finally hit/luck into a good one.

    The next time someone in the media does an EPL ‘wage bill’ comparison, I hope they will include a 21st entry for Man City players presently being paid to play for someone else in the EPL.

  26. John Bladen says:

    FABR04:

    I would agree that the ritual is intended to be a sign of respect in the game, much like standing in front of the “lets kick racism out of football” banner.

    The problem is that the symbolic gesture rather loses it’s lustre when you have wankers like Suarez/Terry involved.

    Put it this way: I would have no issue with a player who openly refused to shake hands with opponents (all opponents) and did not take part in the ritual. Whether you respect the opponent is something that will show in the way you play. The fact that you shook their hand at the beginning of the game demonstrates nothing.

    But to go through the line and skip someone is immature (this can go for Evra too, who could have simply turned the other cheek on the handshake rather than grab Suarez – as Ferdinand wisely chose to do) is just creating more trouble – for his teammates as well as himself. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating; the more Dalglish defends Suarez and tries the “their all against us, lads” routine, the more he risks losing the entire dressing room.

    It’s a shame that the discussion is all about the handshakes when the real issue should be how awful LFC looked on the weekend. Apart from a gift goal and 5 minutes of inspired attacking football (where was that for the other 85, boys?), they looked badly overmatched against a team that is supposed to be a key rival.

  27. Astronomer says:

    Kenny D:
    In my post, did I say anything about imposing my personal or my country’s ideas or views on others?

    I just said that from an American perspective, the brouhaha over this no-handshake incident seems a little bit excessive or somewhat odd. So anytime we interpret or comment on some other country’s or culture’s reaction to something in a negative light, that amounts to “imposing our ideas”?!?!
    __________________________________________________

  28. KennyD says:

    @Astronomer Apologies, if my comments came across as belittling. I understand looking at the issue from an American perspective. Personally, I feel as though we should do our best to look at it from an English standpoint. The handshake are imposed tbecause they act as a symbol, which is the value of sportsmanship. Is the handshake a “hollow gesture?” It would appear so. But the handshake is more about what a message the FA and the Premier League. Again my apologies over my previous comments.

  29. J Rob says:

    John: playing devil’s advocate you could make a strong case that about 50% of transfers work out period. Adam,Enrique,Bellamy and arguably Henderson (at an inflated price) have been decent buys. You also have to give younger players the benefit of time. Lucas Leiva was roundly berated by most Liverpool fans for two seasons before becoming a deserved fan favourite. The shame for Liverpool fans is we have looked so good defensively under the tutelage of Steve Clarke. Glen Johnson and especially Martin Skertel are greatly improved. Ho-hum. Again playing devil’s advocate you could make a strong argument that the indifferent form of Chelsea and Arsenal have given Dalglish a lot of cover. Coming back to where I started on this thread, had Suarez taken decisive chances in several games we’d be about 4-10 points better off. (Games against Stoke away and Man Utd, Norwich, Swansea and Spurs at home easily spring to mind.)

  30. napier says:

    I have no problem with Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand. If I was Suarez and Evra (who has a history of being a pathetic, trouble-making, lying POS) lied and accused me unfairly of racism I wouldn’t shake his hand either.
    That hand shaking ritual is rubbish and should be scrapped. If it’s not a genuine show of respect and instead is forced, just do away with it. I hate that sort of phony, pandering nonsense. Leave it up to the players to shake after the game and swap shirts if they genuinely respect one another.
    Suarez isn’t the first player to refuse to shake hands, why the pathetic brouhaha over this incident? It’s more of indictment on the tabloid mentality of the English press and public than anything else. Amazing that so much phony sanctimonious hot air can be contrived out of a non-incident.

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