A captain not leading by example

March 10, 2023 - 08:56
That swift and sharp reprimand sent a clear message to any professional footballer thinking about getting a little handsy with the officials.
Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandez never had the best of nights at Anfield on Sunday. AFP Photo

Paul Kennedy

Paolo di Canio really was one of a kind. Showman, super talented, controversial and mad as a box of frogs.

“He was high maintenance, but he was a genius,” former West Ham manager Harry Redknapp said of the hot-headed Italian. And he wasn’t wrong.

Volatile and temperamental for sure, but he really was a joy to watch.

Before he lit up Upton Park, di Canio played 41 times for Sheffield Wednesday, where he won’t be remembered for the 15 goals he scored, but for his infamous shove on referee Paul Alcock in the match against Arsenal in 1998.

It was comical for sure, mainly because of the way the man in black stumbled backwards trying desperately not to fall, but also unforgivable, and the former Lazio man was rightly punished with an 11 match ban.

That swift and sharp reprimand sent a clear message to any professional footballer thinking about getting a little handsy with the officials.

Sadly, in amateur football, incidents involving referees getting assaulted are far too common.

Just a few months ago, during a grassroots game in Wigan, in the north west of England, a match official suffered concussion, cracked ribs and whiplash after he was attacked by a player he had sent off.

All amateur footballers try to emulate their professional idols, often with little success, so that’s why it was sad to see Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandez push an assistant referee during his team’s 7-0 battering at the hands of Liverpool on Sunday.

It was even sadder to see that the Football Association will not be taking any action against the Portuguese midfielder.

Now before all you keyboard warriors out there start having a go at me, yes, I know what the United number 8 did wasn’t as bad as di Canio’s shove 25 years ago, but it was still bang out of order.

He raised his hands to a match official and got away with it scot free.

I also understand at that point in the match United were down and out, and while I think Fernandez is a brilliant player, he certainly wasn’t having the best of nights at Anfield last Sunday.

But footballers, and those that govern the game at the highest level, need to set examples at the top that filter through to the millions upon millions of people who love a kick about at their local parks.

Most weekends when I walk around the complex where I live in Hà Nội, I see loads of kids, footballs in hand, heading outside for a game, and most, it has to be said, are wearing Manchester United replica kits.

They love Bruno Fernandez I’m sure. They want to be Bruno Fernandez in years to come. They idolise him, adore him and probably do their very best to copy everything he does.

So I hope they switched off the match against Liverpool before the home team twisted the knife in the second half. Otherwise they would have seen their hero acting like a petulant toddler not getting his own way and throwing his rattle out of his pram.