by Rob Ward

How long before we see football making headlines for what happens on the pitch? On Saturday Spurs hammered Newcastle, Norwich and Swansea served up an end-to-end goalfest and, almost unnoticed, Manchester United defeated their arch-rivals Liverpool with two strikes from the in-form Wayne Rooney. Sadly scandal and outrage have once more undermined the efforts of the players to entertain fans growing increasingly tired of seeing the game’s name dragged through the mud.

After weeks of racism, court cases, captaincy rows and red cards, the stage was set for Old Trafford to remind us why it is that football is known as the ‘beautiful game’. Instead, we were served up an ugly and undignified mess which looks set to prolong and exacerbate the mutual enmity between two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs.

All it would have taken was a gesture: a brief touch of flesh on flesh which might have doused the flames of this most combustible fixture. Instead, Luis Suarez’s immaturity ignited the tinderbox and his manager poured fuel on the flames.

Despite myopic Liverpool fans’ protestations there is only one person to blame for the non-handshake: Suarez. His decision to ignore Evra’s offered hand was immature, idiotic and, worse of all, premeditated. Certainly Kenny Dalglish, had seemed convinced the player would make the important gesture: Suarez knew otherwise and, in an instant, undermined his manager and his once-proud club.

Perhaps Dalglish’s fervent and misguided support of the player was inspired partly by embarrassment and anger at him – he certainly lost his cool in a way rarely seen from a man more usually associated with taciturn and monotone post-match interviews. Sadly his reaction was inevitable after the tunnel-visioned support he has offered his player throughout this whole farrago.

From the very outset, Dalglish has fostered a siege mentality which has seen Liverpool FC close ranks to protect their player. In the Scotsman’s eyes, the criticism of Suarez has become a witch-hunt – a media conspiracy propagated by Sky Sports News and designed to deliberately harm and hound his controversial striker. This view is utter nonsense, of course. Suarez is under such scrutiny thanks only to his profile, his behaviour and his refusal to apologise to a man he wronged.

Kenny Dalglish’s half-baked conspiracy theories hold absolutely no water.

Kenny Dalglish’s half-baked conspiracy theories hold absolutely no water. And he has absolutely no evidence to back them up. When the FA released the water-tight 115 page document proving Suarez to have racially abused Evra, Dalglish hinted that the full truth had not been heard. But he failed to provide the required evidence to prove Suarez’s innocence. And given the club’s utter conviction of his innocence it seems strange that they didn’t lodge any form of appeal.

Instead, we’ve seen ill-advised T-shirts in support of Suarez, heard Dalglish welcome Suarez back from his spell on the sidelines by insisting that he should never have been out in the first place” and now, an absolutely astonishing post-match attack on Geoff Shreeves, Sky Sports and anyone who would listen. Daniel Taylor summed it up brilliantly in The Observer: “outraged by everything, ashamed of nothing”.

His strident defence of his player was shocking and appalling. Pleading ignorance of Suarez’s refusal of Evra’s hand was silly at best. But furiously suggesting that Shreeves was “bang out of order for blaming Luis Suarez for anything that happened here today” was absurd beyond belief. Seeing one of the game’s greats acting in such a manner was hugely embarrassing – not least because he missed an ideal opportunity to take the sting out of the situation. All Dalglish needed to do was point out that Suarez’s actions didn’t help the atmosphere and that he’d have a word with the player in private. Instead, he fanned the flames.

Admittedly, Manchester United were not blameless. Evra’s celebrations at the final whistle were clearly cathartic – a massive pressure relieved in front of his own fans – but were certainly over the top and hardly likely to calm the situation. Sir Alex Ferguson rightly criticised the left back.

The United manager did go over the top in his criticism of Suarez, however. Having kept his counsel for so long, he then exploded. He was clearly incensed by the striker’s conduct during the day but his suggestion that Suarez ought never play for Liverpool again was an area he ought to have kept his nose out of. Dalglish neither wants nor needs Ferguson’s attempts to destabilise Liverpool FC – he’s doing a good enough job all on his own.

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