Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded a penalty against Middlesbrough the season before last. Had Ronaldo stayed on his feet, he would have had an open net to score in. He was unable to stay on his feet, won a penalty, and Louis Saha got the glory as the goalscorer.
Whilst Mark Schwarzer did not make any contact with Ronaldo, however as he charged out of the area, also not making any contact on the ball, our winger was thrown off balance. It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that Ronaldo would have liked to score the goal himself. Video replay shows Ronaldo stumbling, trying to stay on his feet, before eventually falling.
Regardless, Gareth Southgate, football’s answer the nerdy kid that got bullied at school, let rip on Ronaldo after the game.
“Ronaldo has a history of it,” Southgate said. “Our keeper has done everything to get out of the way, but the lad has gone down once again.”
Asked if he felt cheated by Ronaldo, Southgate said: “Yes – it’s as simple as that. I cannot see it was a penalty for love nor money. He did it again afterwards with a free-kick against George Boateng.”
But then later, Southgate changed his mind…
United won that game 2-1 at the Riverside, Morrison equalising for Boro before Darren Fletcher scored our winner. The back pages the following day showed Ronaldo’s face with “CHEAT!” written over it.
A couple of months later, United faced Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. In the BBC’s preview for the game, Southgate was interviewed. He was asked about Ronaldo. He claimed that upon viewing the footage after the game, he conceded that it wasn’t a dive. He still believed the referee to be wrong in awarding a penalty, but acknowledged that Ronaldo had tried to stay on his feet.
It took him three fucking months to say this. There was no apology for his harsh assessment of our player, that had been splashed all over the papers and it had taken him three months to admit his mistake. The acknowledgement of his mistake of course did not receive much, if any, media attention.
I wish Ferguson had given an equally harsh assessment of Boro captain, Emanuel Pogatetz, after his horrendous challenge on our young midfielder, Rodrigo Possebon. Pogatetz came in at knee height, feet off the ground, planting his studs just below Possebon’s knee. After several minutes of attention, our player was white as a ghost and was taken off the field on gas. ‘Cheat’ doesn’t come close to describing the behaviour of players like him, who could end careers in the blink of an eye. Lest we forget, Pogatetz, who’s just 25-years-old, has already broken one player’s leg! And don’t get me started on this cheat.
Then on Boxing Day, Middlesbrough took on Everton, who still have no strikers, at home. They lost 1-0. Who cares? Not me, usually, however it was interesting to see a booking that was handed out a couple of minutes from the end. With time running out for the home team, Johnson dived in the area, a desperate attempt to win his side a penalty and a point. He was booked for his dive and didn’t complain, just turned and ran back up the pitch sheepishly.
I wonder how the Boro fans reacted, following their hate obsession with Cristiano Ronaldo. Whenever the clubs meet, he is booed from the moment he touches the ball. I wonder if they regard their own in the same way. Johnson, a product of the Boro youth team (not some poncy foreigner), who learnt everything he knows from Middlesbrough, and dives. What was Southgate’s post match assessment of that? I didn’t hear the word “cheat” and I certainly didn’t see Johnson’s face on the back of every paper. In fact, reading through reports from The Times, The Guardian and Daily Mail, Johnson’s dive isn’t even mentioned. Funny that.
This country, with the help of the media, gets whipped up in to a frenzy when it comes to heroes and villains in football. Some players are popular to hate, like Ronaldo, some players are popular to love, like Gerrard, and some players don’t even come up on the radar, like Johnson. They all have one thing in common though, they cheat and dive in a bid to give their team the advantage.
Ahead of our match on Monday at Old Trafford, our manager has moved to try and calm this hatred down.
“Over the years we have had some contentious games, culminating earlier in the season with the Carling Cup tie,” said Ferguson. “A terrible tackle put Rodrigo Possebon out of the game but could easily have broken his leg. I lost my temper at the time but hopefully that challenge has served to bring both clubs to their senses. I feel the healing process started when their manager and his coach apologised for the tackle and things said in the heat of the moment. I think we understand better now that we are involved in games of football and not a war. I am sure we can build a better relationship. I certainly hope so because we have had some momentous games against Middlesbrough, matches that have helped decide titles. Those games also generate a great atmosphere and we always take a big crowd to the Riverside.”