I make no apologies for returning to the Javier Mascherano sending off at Old Trafford, despite the strong feelings the subject aroused on both sides of the argument.
If we couldn’t all agree on who was right or who was wrong in the incident and the analysis of it, then I hope we can all agree on the fact that the interview given by Mascherano to the Daily Mail yesterday was one of the best interviews anyone has done in recent times.
“I apologise to everyone, I made a mistake and I regret this mistake. It was my fault.
“I am not a dirty player, I do not make a habit of showing disrespect towards referees, I don’t like this and I can only think the high intensity of the fixture, against Manchester United, affected my behaviour that day. It was out of character, but I do not use that as an excuse.
“It is a bad thing when you let down your team-mates and leave them to play with 10 men, especially against Manchester United.
“They have been supportive and so have the Liverpool fans, but it didn’t take away the pain. Looking back at that game, I was wrong to approach the referee. I approached him to talk to him, but I understand this was not a good idea.
“I reacted badly to the red card because I could not believe what was happening to me.
“I must learn my lesson, but move on from this and forget what has happened. I hope people know that I try to be fair and that I have no intention to be aggressive.
“I have to concentrate on the matches I can play in and stay focused on the Champions League. We have enjoyed a very good result against Arsenal and I am very much looking forward to the second leg.
“It is time for me to move forward, but not to forget the lessons from the past and the match at Manchester United.
“Off the field it has been a difficult time for me. My disciplinary record has been good until now, but I have to show that again. I always try to respect decisions by the referee and this is important.”
All I can do is applaud Mascherano for his honesty and his understanding of the situation. If he damaged his reputation in some people’s eyes in his forty minutes of madness at Old Trafford then I would think he has now gone some way to repairing the damage he caused.
In this one interview he has covered every aspect of the criticisms of him and the game in general. He talks about getting “affected” by the high intensity of the occasion. He admits he was disrespectful to the referee which he says is wrong, and he says he let down his teammates. He says he will learn from his mistakes.
I have no idea whether Mascherano was speaking for himself or had been advised what to say, but either way, he got it absolutely right.
This has been a wonderful season of football so far and the only real clouds hanging over it have been the increase in malicious tackles and the lack of respect to referees. I think that the awful injury to Eduardo has changed people’s attitudes to the bad tackle and although we still saw some pretty horrible examples last week, I believe there is a real determination within the game to wipe it out.
In relation to the respect agenda, by doing what he did and now coming out and saying what he has, Mascherano may well have done more good than harm. His disciplinary record is good, as is that of Liverpool and I think he is genuine in his remorse.
Ashley Cole, of course, also apologised for his appalling behaviour in the game at Tottenham when he epitomised both the bad tackle and the disrespect. It was good that he apologised, but I didn’t get the same feeling of genuine remorse. (I should never have read his autobiography!)
For the game to move forward we need passionate players giving their all in a skillful, physical and fair environment.
The skillful side is covered as we have some of the best players in the world performing miracles with the ball every week in the Premier League. The good side of physicality is covered because watching Wayne Rooney being marked by John Terry or Kevin Davies fighting it out with Nemanja Vidic sees big strong players giving their all in a battle of strength. (Did that sound ever so slightly gay?)
The fair side is where we have the problem. We have more and more diving coming into the game but again, I do think there is a desire to eradicate it however difficult that may be. I have already talked about the nasty malicious challenges and the constant harassment of the referees. If these three things can be reduced then we will have a game that we all love even more. (Of course, I wouldn’t have much to write about!)
The main issue I have with other football commentators and observers is that I believe some of them totally misinterpret what passion really is. In the Rangers against Sporting Lisbon game last night a Lisbon player committed a bad foul. The commentator said something like, “I thought that Lisbon might have a soft centre, but they are showing they are prepared to battle.”
Kicking someone in the air is not battling or passionate. It is a foul and gives a free kick to the opposition. Shouting at the referee when a decision goes against you is not passionate, it is disrespectful. Diving in the penalty area is not passionate, it is cheating.
Real passion is in the desire to win and do your best for yourself, your teammates and your supporters. It is about being prepared to go the extra mile physically and mentally to win your personal battles and help the team win the game. It is about taking responsibility.
As Mascherano has quite rightly said, being sent off is the opposite of passion. It means you have lost your strength, abdicated responsibility and reduced your team’s chances of winning.
Well done Javier Mascherano. Let’s hope the game can move on now and become even more of a fantastic spectacle.