The Stitch Up Of An English Treasure, Zinchenko Nonsense, Khaldoon & More :- Weekly Thoughts

By Howard Hockin | 28th August 2020

Howard takes a look at some of the many events in the football world during a hectic week.

Who knew that this week, stuck in between two seasons, prior to a Community Shield and international duties, would give us so much? And yet even away from Lionel Messi talk, there was much to discuss. So here goes.

Free Harry

One person all too happy with Lionel Messi this week has to be Harry Maguire. A great way to keep him off the front pages after all.

There are numerous points to be made here. Points about how few of us know what truly happened, points about how the incidents were perceived, and points about what we can take from the coverage.

Firstly, comparing the Guardian coverage of Harry Maguire and The Sun’s coverage of Raheem Sterling is not a strong argument. They don’t cover anything the same. The Guardian did not, to the best of my knowledge, splash stories of Raheem’s blingy sink in his mum’s house or his dirty car or other banal activities over their front pages. There is a valid argument here, but you have to compare like for like.

Secondly, why are newspapers so happy to accept Neil Ashton’s PR push, every time anything negative connected to United occurs? Presumably because they get easy copy, and some inside information to keep them sweet.

Thirdly, I do feel some sympathy for Maguire, but not much. Because the world is full of arses, and they will congregate in the sort of place Maguire decided to holiday in. David Silva would not have ever found himself in such a situation not just because he wouldn’t be rat-arsed in a bar, but because he wouldn’t holiday there in the first place. Maguire put himself in that situation and must have the intelligence to understand this was a possibility, because you cannot trust all those around you, especially when drunk, to act with civility and decorum. So however unfair the situation may be for Maguire, and however extreme the provocation, partly at least he only has himself to blame.

There is a counter argument that players should be free to go where they want – it is not a crime after all. And with the stories of what actually happened changing every day, who knows if taunting from “rival” fans was even an issue here. But either way, if he had holidayed at a private villa in the south of France, there wouldn’t be a trial underway as I type these words. Harry’s story had more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, if any of the media had any inclination to examine the evidence with just half the gusto they would if presented with a UEFA judgment on breaching Financial Fair Play rules.

Still, sections of the media gave supporting Harry in his hours of need a damn good go, and now the rampant post-colonial English outlook will slip into place for many a United fan and no doubt Richard Keys too. An outlook that portrays the rest of the world as a place that consists of dodgy kangaroo courts, bribery and officials on the take, and that Maguire had been, to use legal parlance, stitched up (like a kipper). Yep, the lazy stereotypes were soon wheeled out, the casual xenophobia that many Brits like to display in a situation like this. Those dodgy, slippery foreigners, where a ten pound note in the top pocket will see you right, where fraud and bribery and corruption are rampant. Poor Harry, he never stood a chance. I mean, what would the Greeks know about democracy?

Sam Wallace framed his article on Harry Maguire being found guilty on multiple counts as the consequence of a footballer trying to have a normal night out. But footballers can’t have a normal night out. And the £63,000 bar tab suggests he was doing nothing of the sort. We’ve all been there though, right? Who of us has not hired a £25,000 a week villa, spent £63,000 in an evening, been attacked by mobsters you automatically know to be Albanian, had someone try to inject something into/stab your sister, had arguments with rival fans, had a scrap, punched a policeman then tried to brine your way out of a police station? I know I have.

And then of course there is the obvious elephant in the room, that certain players are treated differently, and you can draw your own conclusions as to why that may be. As Harry Maguire launched a robust defence of scrapping with, then hitting, then bribing (allegedly) an unknown number of Greek policemen, as City fans we naturally begin to wonder why man-of-the-people Maguire is getting such good press, compared to, let’ say randomly, Raheem Sterling. It goes beyond having a good PR department behind you. I mean, just imagine Raheem getting into trouble abroad, trouble of any kind.

That’s not to say the coverage of Maguire is unfair. Maybe this is how it should be, at least the stuff not fed by United. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. And before you all shout out “CAS!”, let’s not forget that City were initially found guilty by UEFA. You can hardly be surprised at how that would then be covered. Of course what was more telling and was as crystal clear as the Mykonos sea was the prejudice within the reporting, that came to the fore once City overturned the decision.

But then Maguire was found guilty, and this had little bearing on the coverage. He was still, essentially, innocent in the eyes of most of the media, and of course all United fans. It was a stitch up, naturally. Harry may have been naïve, but little more than that. But using the media’s reaction to City’s UEFA ban we must assume his guilt to be absolute, appeal or otherwise. With the appeal in, we must all hold fire on criticising him, until the real truth comes out. You’ve got to laugh at it all, the difference in coverage is so transparent it beggars belief.

And so, this all culminates in a BBC puff-piece that acts as the lead item on the news. Astonishing. Harry looks contrite, close to tears, and the transformation is complete. He feared for his life. If his story is true, then he has my full support, we would all act the same to protect those we love. But we don’t know it’s the truth, do we? And yet, this is now an injustice akin to the Birmingham Six. Surely a mention in the next honours list is now merely a formality, and a special recognition at the next Sports Personality Of The Year programme.

Again, to repeat the point, he may have been unfortunate, I have little against the man, nor any desire to see him in a prison cell, his life in ruins. But come on, this is ridiculous.

But maybe there is one key thing to take from all of this. Maybe City should hire Neil Ashton. They need him. And fair do’s, he’s earned his wage this week, no doubt about it.

Gareth Southgate.

And so as all this goes on, Gareth Southgate picks Harry Maguire for an England squad, then is forced to withdraw him once the guilty verdict arrives. Another fine mess. At the time of the squad announcement, Maguire’s trial was ongoing, so he could lean on the issue of trust and being innocent until being proven guilty. But as the trial would end that very same day, could he not delay the announcement? Apparently not, as coronovirus restrictions meant the announcement had to be that day.

So Southgate should have taken the sensible move of simply not picking him. It was ill-advised to do so in the middle of a criminal trial. It’s for some poxy Nations League games after all, I’m sure we’ll all survive his omission for a couple of games. How stupid to assume that Maguire would be freed and no harm would be done.

As ever with Gareth Southgate, he seems to slightly shift his supposedly high moral guidelines to suit. Raheem Sterling was of course made an example of for scrapping in a canteen with Joe Gomez, yet a guy on trial for allegedly hitting a policeman and then trying to bribe his way out of trouble gets selected for a squad. Jordan Pickford’s terrible form is ignored despite Southgate mentioning the importance of form in the past, which sees Jack Grealish not be picked despite adapting excellently to Premier League life. He was not helped by the position he plays in, but still, it doesn’t sit right with me.


Mr & Mrs Zinchenko

This is neither a non-story nor a big story. But in an age when Raheem Sterling not having coronavirus is breaking news on various newspaper sites, it was always going to get attention. Especially when papers weave five-second comments made by studio pundits after a game into full articles. Yes his now-wife (I assume he wasn’t actually weeding) is allowed an opinion, but they both must know the consequences of criticising the boss. It’s ill-advised, but hardly the end of the world. Pep would be stupid to hold it against the player, and I doubt he will. Of course Vlada Sedan is allowed an opinion, but like any of us expressing an opinion, we must weigh up the consequences of doing so in certain circumstances. But hey, it was not planned and released, more likely an impulse opinion borne of the same frustration and a bit of anger we were all feeling after the Lyon match. The whole issue should have been dead within a day – let’s hope that is the case.


Stan Collymore

Yeah, he’s been writing about City again, as you may well know. The point when I stopped getting angry at drivel like this was I think at some point in 2017.

The only thing you can do now is laugh. So let’s laugh at the mind of Stan Collymore, and the steaming pile of faeces that pours out of his addled little brain on a near-daily basis.

I will not prove myself a hypocrite, as I actually commented on Twitter the other day that his pieces had annoyed me. But not for the obvious reason. I’m annoyed that he gets paid whilst there is quality writing out there that I will never know exists because it gets no exposure, while this sort of drivel is pumped out for the masses. Yeah, it’s clickbait and newspapers need to survive. It gets a reaction, and reactions keep newspapers alive. I need to get over it. But what a better world it would be if his column was replaced with someone who used reasoned argument and logic to put points across. The problem is, such articles would probably get three retweets.


Khaldoon Al Mubarak

I’ll be honest, I do not get moist with excitement like some do with news of the end-of-season interview with our chairman, though Chris Bailey always does an excellent job.

That is not to criticise the interview, I just don’t take much from it, in as much as reading between the lines is a fruitless task, as he rarely gives anything away. Unless Lionel Messi sits down next to him and has the City crest tattooed onto his arse, I’m not going to learn much. That said, I still pop on to watch it, because a few minutes listening to his dulcet tones, and his overall tone, and I am reassured, relaxed, and ready for the next season. And that’s just Chris! Khaldoon seems to know what he’s doing, basically, and as always that bodes well.

And all along during that interview, he knew about Messi didn’t he? The wily fox. We’re in good hands.

Lionel Messi

Remember this. Swathes of the English press hate Manchester City football club, so the thought of Lionel Messi playing for City is like a dagger through their heart. So naturally, just how good Lionel Messi is as a footballer now entirely depends on whether he joins City or not. Stay at Barcelona, and there can be little doubt he remains the greatest player in the world. Join City, and he is on the wane, past it, and will struggle to adapt to the unique pressures of the English Premier League. It has been hilarious watching people trying to rewrite history this week, and long may it continue.