The hyperbole-riddled topic of the weekend finds its launching pad in the most formal gesture of friendliness Western civilisation possesses – the humble handshake. There have been some mighty coincidences in English football this week. And the return of Luis Suarez to the Liverpool team, the week of the United game, is right up there.
Whispers, mainly around our desk, of the FA knobbling the jury to allow Harry Redknapp roam free are surely false. As are those which tell of sinister heavies turning up at Fabio Capello’s hotel, shortly before he decided he’d had enough of the whole gig. Suspicious times.
The length of the Suarez ban, eight games, has come in for much criticism with arguments being made for movement in both directions. At one end of the scale are those who think an example should be made. Nothing short of a lifetime ban will suffice. Prison, possibly. At the other end, Evra is making a meal of things and Suarez shouldn’t be punished for what amounts to a mere cultural, linguistic misunderstanding. Sure, isn’t his grandfather black?
The argument centres on how he used the words and how often. It may be more ‘acceptable’ in sections of Uruguayan culture but Suarez is not playing in Uruguay and hasn’t for some time. This is no easy subject to digest.
Sepp Blatter helpfully suggested a handshake could solve such issues. “There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that. He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands,” he said after the original incident at Anfield back in October.
As demonised as the bumbling head of FIFA was after these comments, a hand-shake tomorrow before kick-off is now being hinted at as a form of reconciliation.
The very first recording we have of this simple salutation is from a 2,000-year-old Greek slab, kept in the Pergamon museum, which depicts two soldiers shaking hands. One theory is this was a gesture of peace, proving the hands contain no weapons. Seeing as the weapons in this case are of a verbal nature, perhaps a kiss would be more appropriate between Evra and Suarez?
In recent Premier League history the refusal of the handshake has become a more pertinent indication of an individual’s sentiment towards an opponent. Graeme Le Saux declined to press flesh with Robbie Fowler after the Liverpool striker made baseless homophobic slurs against him during a match in 1999. Arsene Wenger has been involved in a series of handshake snubs which grabbed the headlines. Alan Pardew, Clive Allen, Phil Brown and Mark Hughes have all been blanked by the Frenchman with irate consequences. The most recent case was that of John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, where the FA avoided further controversy when Chelsea visited Loftus Road at the end of January by banning all handshaking for the day. They didn’t want another Terry-Bridge media circus.
So the question this weekend should not be ‘will they shake hands?’ but rather ‘who will refuse to shake hands first?” Dalglish and Fergie aren’t exactly best of friends. Maybe they’ll write the next page in the controversial history of Premier League handshakes themselves.
With all eyes on United, Liverpool, Suarez, Evra – and their hands – the Over The Line blog team has done a bit of research which points to Liverpool having a more difficult time than explaining why they wore those Suarez t-shirts. Whilst they’ve enjoyed the upper hand against United at Anfield, their recent history at Old Trafford has been poor. But with Champions League football again looking about as likely as Joey Barton not expressing an opinion, how does this version of Liverpool rate compared to others that that have made the trip up the East Lancs Road in recent years?
Taking a look at the price Liverpool were for each of their last 10 visits to Old Trafford, not great. At 10/3 to win on Saturday, their win probability slots neatly into the middle of the pack – there have been times when they’ve been more fancied to win, but equally there have been other times when they’ve been less likely to upset their fiercest rivals.
Being a shorter price hasn’t been a guarantee of victory. In fact, when at shorter prices, Liverpool have had as much success as a Ryan Giggs super-injunction. Back in around the 2006 era when Liverpool had somehow won the Champions League and people still thought Rafa Benitez had some sort of managerial voodoo and wasn’t just incredibly lucky, the were 5/2, 21/10 and 3/1 to win, but each game ended in defeat that was almost certainly blindly blamed on zonal marking.
Interestingly if you’re a believer in complete coincidences, on the two occasions that Liverpool have won in Old Trafford in their last 10 attempts, they were also 10/3 in the pre-match betting. On the first occasion, Danny Murphy scored a penalty to secure the win, but the more recent win was far more comprehensive and satisfying. On that day, they bossed United and ran out 4-1 winners with a sublime goal from the much and possibly rightly maligned Andrea Dossena adding to the surreal atmosphere.
Other than that, it’s mainly been a story of United winning and Liverpool having vague grumblings about being robbed. In 2008, Javier Mascherano got a bit yappy, was handed his early marching orders and United ran out comfortable winners. The most recent visit was a similar story with Steven Gerrard replacing Mascherano and a dubious tackle replacing the dubious words. Adding to the general theory that Fergie has the referees wrapped around his finger, a Giggs penalty was enough to see them past the 10 men.