Ji-Sung Park: Asian Provocateur

Park Ji-Sung is not a controversial figure. However, last week he may have done something very interesting with potentially far-reaching consequences. And barely anyone noticed.

There was an understandable if disproportionate furore surrounding Anton Ferdinand’s refusal to shake the hands of John Terry and Ashley Cole. But there was also the relative non-event of QPR captain Park also snubbing Terry, during the pre-match ritual and when carrying out the similarly mundane coin toss. It is perhaps in keeping with Park’s valued-if-workmanlike style of play and low-profile (in England at least) that such a thing might slip under the radar, but this is what makes it such an intriguing gesture.

Park’s decision could have been triggered by three things:

· An attempt to curry favour with his new team-mates – Park perhaps sought a way of establishing an immediate sense of loyalty and kinship amongst those in the dressing room.

· The club captaincy – Park has been tasked with leading a cobbled-together band of misfits, and such provocative grandstanding may have been his way of legitimising his credentials, particularly amongst Rangers fans.

· Friendship with Rio Ferdinand – Perhaps he felt he owed it to Rio, older brother of Anton, and a former Manchester United team-mate of seven years.

All three of these factors would’ve given Park something to think about, but they were ultimately united by one over-riding notion – a lack of respect for John Terry. The idea of someone disliking the Chelsea captain is hardly mind-blowing, but footballers are given the requisite media training needed in order to publicly mind their P’s and Q’s. This has the unfortunate consequence of diluting personalities until they run clear, much like chronic dysentery, to the point where we are left with Michael Owen tweeting that he “had a belting haircut earlier!”. Someone as inoffensive as Park breaking rank in such a manner would’ve raised more eyebrows, had they not all been pointed the way of Anton’s anti-racism shake-snub.

Gary Neville spoke of the over-reaction to the latest handshaking drama, and said that there have only been a few instances where the gesture has not been fulfilled as intended. These previous incidents share a theme: Wayne Bridge refused to shake John Terry’s hand after the Chelsea defender slept with his wife; Luis Suarez refused to shake Patrice Evra’s hand after he felt he had been falsely accused of racism; Anton Ferdinand refused to shake Terry’s hand after the latter’s acquittal for the racial abuse of the former. Three separate incidents, but they all have one thing in common – direct provocation. Wherever you stand on the ethics of those rebuffs, the lack of a handshake was prompted in each case by one man feeling he had been wronged by another.

This is why Park’s disregard of Terry is so fascinating, as he wasn’t provoked at all. He simply didn’t respect Terry enough to want to engage him in a gesture of goodwill. With it, he crossed a boundary from which we may not be able to return. You only have to look at the current rash of side-shaved haircuts to see that football players are inherently Pavlovian and lack imagination. What’s more, they’re aggressive and hyper-aware of their own image.

Where does this now stop? What if Gareth Barry beats Peter Crouch the night before a game in a particularly heated game on X-Box Live? What if Wayne Rooney tweets an unsavoury hashtag to Vincent Kompany? What if Emmanuel Frimpong should accidentally spill Danny Guthrie’s tea on the set of Soccer AM?

What if players did resort to not shaking hands based on lesser disputes? Would it really be a black eye to sportsmanship, or would it be a moral victory of sorts? It could be good to see some semblance of personality restored to the modern footballer. People can’t all get along, so why do we expect footballers to always be friends? Perhaps it would be refreshing for footballers to offer a more accurate representation of real life, something that they’ve become ever more detached from in the pursuit of gilded careers.

Even before the latest, dullest twist in The Anton and Terry Show, Premier League managers across the board backed the suggestion that pre-match handshakes should be scrapped altogether. While Neville feels that such a decision shouldn’t be dictated by the few unpleasant incidents that have occurred over the course of four years, perhaps greater consideration should be paid to the potential repercussions of Park’s decision to vote with his hand – by withdrawing it altogether.

Advertisements

England Euro 2012 Bingo – Italy

Introduction

England Euro 2012 Bingo – France

England Euro 2012 Bingo – Sweden

England Euro 2012 Bingo – Ukraine

England have left the party as they so often have in the past, arriving with favour-currying bottles of Grey Goose, only for revellers to gradually discover that they’ve merely decanted Glen’s Vodka into some brand-name empties before leaving, shamefaced and friendless. And so, too, draws to a close England Euro 2012 Bingo. What began as a flippant attempt at cataloguing clichés eventually incorporated a growing sense of subversion, as certain tropes were put to rest by a savvy manager who leaves with his reputation bolstered amongst fans, media and possibly even players who were slow to accept him. Some hardy perennials – the self-destruct button, the futile defiance against the odds, simply not being good enough – can always be relied on to thrive, but the sense of entitlement, of clinging to a fading past, means that the ubiquitous, smothering presence of 1966 and arrogant claims to the game’s heritage have been waylaid. Perhaps not forever, but for the time being at least, they promise hope of something less worthy of jaded cynicism in future times.

False hope was tantalisingly proffered by Riccardo Montolivo’s penalty miss, but it didn’t matter, because once again England were simply not good enough: There were plenty of examples of this, but none more damning than Ashley Cole’s penalty miss. No-one has ever, or will ever, say of a penalty: “He’s caught it well, but the run-up just wasn’t right.” His stuttering run-up was a dismal exercise in studied nonchalance, and it sapped his shot of power and accuracy. Trying to psyche out Gigi Buffon with a tricksy run-up to the ball was simply never, ever going to work given the goalkeeper’s experience. This is something Cole can match him for, and yet the arrogant preamble to his tame kick was something you might expect from someone much younger and greener than a man who, while much-maligned, has quite possibly been England’s most consistent top-level performer since Gary Lineker.

Futile defiance against the odds: Defeat in these circumstances was a lot easier to take than failures of yore given the simple fact that Italy deserved it. England fans and players have bemoaned the lottery of the shoot-out, and the fickle nature of fate, but these traits would never have been more apparent than if Italy had lost on this occasion. There are some positives to take from the tournament though, chiefly the fact that Roy Hodgson has taught his team how to defend again. This was the faint tactical promise that shone not so much like a beacon, but like the functional high-vis coat of a paramedic: serviceable, reliable, dependable, utilitarian. For all the talk of Andrea Pirlo running the show, he still couldn’t quite engineer a goal for his team, which speaks of something positive for England’s obduracy. The odds were already stacked against England before the tournament began, due to a litany of injuries, Wayne Rooney’s suspension, John Terry’s court case, the Rio Ferdinand fiasco, and the overarching fact that Roy Hodgson had to juggle them all in a matter of weeks. The fact that England took Italy as far as they could’ve in spite of the obstacles heralds a restoration of a fighting spirit that had been lamely submissive in South Africa two years ago.

Bad luck! – If it could be said that footballers are responsible for making their own luck, then Ashley Young paid a fair price for a poor tournament by hitting his penalty against the bar. The fact is, pre-tournament brouhaha’s aside, nothing had gone against England on the pitch. There can be no recriminations, no vengeful, skyward fists – England got what they deserved and can blame no-one or nothing for their elimination. Indeed, there is some slither of good fortune to be found in the fact that it was Young that missed a penalty, rather than someone who had acquitted themselves fairly well, such as Andy Carroll. The man whose headed goal against Sweden marks a subtle reinvention from joke-butt to burgeoning Crouch-like cult figure could well have been destroyed by such a high-profile failure. Young, whose four-game disappearance was a source of huge frustration, is more worthy of some guilty introspection, as he seeks to right wrongs in the future.

Grown men crying – Well, obviously. ’Twas ever thus. ‘Twas ever fat men smearing face paint with their own salty emotions. ‘Twas ever retired stalwarts choking back the tears of vicarious adrenaline. ‘Twas ever England, England, England…

Black History Month 2012: The Highlights

Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed is a proud supporter of the Kick Racism Out Of Football campaign, as well as the Slap Silliness Out Of Swimming campaign and particularly the Fling Fustiness Out Of Fencing campaign.

In our continuing efforts to spread the good word of these endeavours, we are proud to parp the trumpet of peace, and bring you this thrilling video compendium of the highlights of this year’s Black History Month. Football, as ever, has a firm grip of its own moral compass, which is always facing north – precisely the same direction in which we can find the Path to Salvation, the Avenue of Amicability and the Cul-de-sac of Coalition.

Watch in awe as we see football collectively swing the snooker-ball-in-a-sock of defiance in the hateful face of racial twattery. And remember: once you go Black History Month, you’ll never go Back History Month (until next year, where it’s rumoured that Patrice Evra may face Luis Suarez in a rematch…inside a steel cage!).