Juan’a play in The Premier League? Don’t forget to get your work permit stamped
In yesterday’s match against Sunderland, Juan Mata was in everything but John Terry’s bed. It was an extremely energetic performance charcterised by clever one touch passing, weaving runs, sublime chips and the constantly making himself available when he didn’t have the
football. The collective sigh of relief by the Sunderland defenders was clear for all to see with Mata’s substitution on 73 minutes, with the score 2-0 in Chelseas favour and the job effectively done. But Mata’s full debut in Chelsea colours did not pass without controversy, with Phil Bardsley seemingly quite lucky top stay on the pitch after giving the young Spaniard a good old fashioned British welcome, in the only way a hardened defender knows how.
It was one of those tricky ones, which in real time looked like nothing more than the innocent misplacement of studs in a player tangle. But with each passing slo-mo replay and new camera angle, it looked more and more malicious. Forget the unveiling of a new signing to the hoardes of fans at their own stadium, this was Mata’s official premier league welcome. The ex-Valencia man was clearly rattled & no doubt significantly more aware of Phil Bardsley’s boot sponsor, but to his credit he got up off the deck with minimal fuss and continued his unique brand of opposition bewilderment. Naturally, Bardsley offered the arbitrary apologetic hand to go with some, no doubt, very kinds words. Probably something along the line of “Did I catch you mate? Geez, sorry about that” which directly translates to “That’ll teach you to spent the afternoon running rings around me, Puta Mata.”
In many respects it was good to see the incident passing without a booking. After all, studs to the flesh are a customary hello on football pitches right across the north of England. The cleats in question also landed in the fleshy part of the back, so it wasn’t about to end Mata’s season. At worst a few days of blood in the urine, but we’ve all been there. Don’t get me wrong, i’d never be one to encourage those disgustingly high, potentially career ending challenges that we used to see like a cloud of smoke from a fiery Muscat. But for Bardsley to slyly lay the slipper in does nothing but add a dimension to the game that has been tragically lacking in recent years.
It used to be fair game to reach behind you, grab the opposition’s star player by the testicals and give a good squeeze. Until the photographers got a clear snap of it and it wound up on every front page in Britain. But that image of Vinnie grabbing Gaza by his Geordie bits and others like the iconic image of Terry Butcher covered in blood from England’s 1989 world cup qualifier are nothing more than dinosaur fossils that represent the passing of more tenacious age. Before exercise regimes, dietary intervention, alcohol bans, wife bans, text bands, tweet bands & hair bands, football used to be a game played by the toughest of men. The hardened exploits of the likes of Graeme Souness on the pitch are still legendary. In my lifetime it has been the likes of Roy Keane, Ray Palour, David Batty (batty by name…) and Stuart Pearce that have added something to the game that seems to be lost with the wage boom and the emergence of neckwarmers. Sure those types of players made some rash and dangerous challenges also, but they will long be revered in football as stoic warriors who knew the key to their success was being harder than their opponents.
Don’t be fooled by the punk style haircut or the seemingly never ending collage of tattoos more suited to someone on death row, today’s delicate players barely register on Moh’s scale of hardness when compared to their predecessors. These days they are so involved in the theatrics after contact that they come off looking softer than a brie at a picnic. In fact they are, for the most part, so precious I am even salivating at the thought of ‘Fear Factor: Footballers’ where Joe Rogan might be faced with the unenviable task of getting Wayne Rooney to pluck 3 strands of hair out the top of his head or asking Ronaldo to have a night out with no jewelry. It is no surprise then, that in the countries driven by testosterone fuelled full contact sports like Australia and the US, football (or soccer as they say) does not sit atop the sporting pile. After all, we’ve seen the likes of Rick McCoskor & John Eales tape their busted jaws up & keep right on trucking.
The studded welcome we saw in yesterday’s match was at best cheeky and at worst acrimonious. But one thing it certainly was was a throwback to great days past. Where men were wanting to be perceived as precisely that and the word diva didn’t even exist in football.