DUNN: Sir Alex Ferguson should earn far more than he does…the Glazers have doubled their investment and he’s responsible for that
ALLARDYCE: Why does someone at Chelsea not say “give David Moyes the job?”
SHREEVES: Roman Abramovich doesn’t believe Moyes will bring him sexy football
WILLIAMSON: When you see the Suarez incident it’s more shocking than a leg-breaking tackle
HOLT: Some of the reaction to Suarez has been pathetic, the worst type of lynch mob mentality
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
THE third FWA Live event on May 25 was another huge success. A packed audience at the Soho Hotel in London were entertained by a panel which comprised: Jason Burt (chief football writer, Sunday Telegraph), Andy Dunn (chief sports writer, Sunday Mirror and chairman of the FWA), Geoff Shreeves (Sky Sports), Laura Williamson (Daily Mail) and Oliver Holt (chief sports writer, Daily Mirror) plus West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce. The MC was Paul McCarthy, executive secretary of the FWA.
McCarthy thanked Barclays, sponsors of the Football Writers’ Association, and said that donations on the evening would go to the Brian Woolnough charity for cancer. Brian, who was represented by his son Ben, was known to millions as chief sports writer of the Daily Star and presenter of Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement. He sadly lost his battle against cancer last year.
The Q&A session started with the 10-game suspension handed to Luis Suarez for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.
Holt: I think everyone accepts what he did was wrong. No one argues that he should not be punished…it was animalistic and shocking. My own view is that he should have got the standard three-game ban for violent conduct. If biting is 10 games, don’t ban John Terry for four for racism. Don’t ban Suarez for 10 games when Callum McManaman got nothing, don’t ban him for 10 when Pedro Mendes needed oxygen after being elbowed by Ben Thatcher who got eight. How does Suarez get 10?
Allardyce: They took his previous into account. I’ve been there. “Mr Allardyce about your previous disciplinary misconduct…”
Burt: He was warned about his behaviour when he was banned for the racial abuse of Patrice Evra.
Shreeves: To bite someone is revolting and reprehensible, but as Ruud Gullit said [on Sky Sports] he got a seven-game ban [in Holland] and didn’t learn a thing from it.
McCarthy: Is there a danger the Daily Mail has been leading campaign against Suarez which many people, particularly on Merseyside, will think has led to this? “Spineless” was the back-page headline. How much part do newspapers play in a decision-making process?
Williamson: I hope they don’t because that is the job of an independent FA disciplinary panel, but in reality those outside factors will be factors. When you see the incident it’s more shocking than a leg-breaking tackle…then you are hopefully trying to win the ball – it happens in football. Biting someone’s arm is unacceptable…
Shreeves: Which part of the body is more acceptable?
Williamson: Biting is not acceptable anywhere on the body and that is where my paper has been very strong.
McCarthy: Andy, you were astonished at some of the comments Brendan Rodgers made in his press conference today…
Dunn: What Brendan said basically portrayed Suarez as a victim and he is absolutely nothing of the sort. It’s really a six-game ban, the rest of the season doesn’t matter, Liverpool are going to finish seventh. When you start to compare the severity of penalties as Ollie did…I understand where he’s coming from and it was wrong Jermain Defoe was not punished [for allegedly biting Javier Mascherano], it was wrong John Terry only got four games for what he did…but if you set a bad precedent you ignore it and move on. You can’t say the FA weren’t severe enough on one player and when they are severe say “you only did that to him.” So would you say if Suarez had been given a three-game ban that would be the tariff for biting? The same as for an over-the-top tackle. Once you start setting tariffs you are on dangerous territory.
Shreeves: Where does biting sit with all of us? I think it’s the same as spitting. [Goran] Popov [of West Bromwich] got three games for spitting at Kyle Walker. So if biting is as repugnant as spitting it’s a three-game ban.
Allardyce: It’s no worse than that.
Shreeves: In the same game [Daniel] Sturridge went over the top [on Ryan Bertrand]…
Allardyce: A referee is asked by the FA if he saw a tackle. If he says he did, that’s it.
Burt: There is the “exceptional circumstances” rule, but a ref saying “yes, if I’d seen it and sent him off” means a three-game ban is not an exceptional circumstance. This summer there will be a drive among the stakeholders [including the Premier League, Football League, PFA and LMA] to widen that definition.
McCarthy: The McManaman tackle [on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara] was horrible, a potential career-ender. The FA went to the LMA and PFA and asked if they considered the tackle an exceptional circumstance – they both said “no.”
Allardyce: At least we have an independent panel now. It used to be you were sat before three FA committee members – you were being judged by the people who had found you guilty.
McCarthy: How would you have handled Suarez?
Allardyce: At Bolton I suspended El-Hadji Diouf and fined him two weeks’ wages [for spitting]. The PFA said “one or the other.”
Shreeves: I understand why Rodgers said what he did [in the interview after the incident]. He said he needed to review it, but I think there is room for immediate condemnation of biting.
Allardyce: You can’t say that as a manager, you have to be very careful what you do. Suarez is a major asset to Liverpool and that is always a key factor. You have to be very careful with emotions straight after a game.
McCarthy: Liverpool were criticised for the way they handled the last Suarez incident [with Evra], could they have handled it better this time?
Williamson: I think they were quick, but they could have been quicker, something needed to be said on the night. Then to say they think a three-game ban would be sufficient is like “I’m the victim, woe is me.”
Dunn: I still don’t understand why the FA had to say when they announced the charge they thought three games was insufficient. Surely, if you are going to have a hearing, you can’t say that? It’s like pre-judging a trial.
McCarthy: Or “would you go and consider your guilty verdict.” Will Suarez still be a Liverpool player next season?
Holt: I hope so because he’s a fantastic player and I love watching him play. Sacking him is naive. In this hang-him kind of situation, what do we think is going to happen if they put Suarez up for sale? West Ham would buy him.
Dunn: They can’t afford Andy Carroll let alone Suarez!
Holt: There’s always someone who’ll buy him. Somebody bought Marlon King. Someone bought Lee Hughes. The way some people are talking about Suarez makes him out to be worse than them…for biting an arm of someone which didn’t even draw blood. Some of the reaction has been pathetic, the worst type of lynch mob mentality.
McCarthy: How do you handle problem players?
Allardyce: If you look into his background, where he comes from it probably wasn’t very nice, he probably had a huge experience when he was brought up to survive, and his survival instincts probably came out in that game which had been inbred in him from a very young age, because of the way he had been brought up in his particular country. Just because he is paid a huge amount of money and he is a very talented player, you can’t just lock that in and just forget about it because it will come out in extreme forms somewhere along the line, that is probably what has happened to him. In his upbringing, he has fought to get where he has, and how he has been brought up in life. Someone has seen that talent, and grabbed hold of him and nurtured that talent, moved on to be where he is. All that does not excuse what he did, but it is certainly a factor. Rehabilitation is the best word here, it is about talking him through it – why do you feel the need to do these sort of things? That is not a particular manager’s responsibility, that is for a psychologist.[But] if you make him a calm, tame boy you might lose the beast that is so talented. Within the PFA remit should be doing lots with players about what they could get into today, in terms of things like gambling, they can easily get bored so there is a lot which can be done in terms of prevention – and we would rather be out there trying to prevent it than cure.”
A show of hands from the audience was 50-50 that they thought the 10-game ban was correct.
McCarthy: Manchester United could win the Barclays Premier League with a record  points total yet no one seems to be giving them a huge amount of credit…
Burt: It’s been a triumph for Sir Alex Ferguson rather than the team. Even getting close last season was. Not many players are at the height of their careers. Maybe van Persie. There is an element of winning it by default, but to win it so convincingly …I think Fergie is getting better as a manager. Over his period in charge he has not allowed any club to dominate him, Chelsea tried it, but he saw off Jose.
McCarthy: Is this a classic, vintage United?
Allardyce: You think the Treble-winning team [of 1999] was the best team of all because of what it achieved. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and who’s going to win the Treble again in this country? It’s a young team, and a good team, its efficient and successful by a canter.
Shreeves: They could break the Barclays Premier League points total so they cannot be that poor though there has been little challenge to them.
Allardyce: If they were challenged they’d go to the next level.
Dunn: There is every chance this team will lend up with 20 more points than the 99 side.
Williamson: They have won 28 points from losing positions which is phenomenal. It says a lot about the team, rather than individuals.
Allardyce: They had a poor start to season, too. Coming back from a goal down is so hard and to do it so often is phenomenal.
McCarthy: How long can Sir Alex Ferguson go on?
Holt: As someone who wrote him off 10 years ago… I agree with Jason, he’s managing better than ever – maybe for another three or years. After the last time [when he announced he would retire in 2002] we’ll find out on the last day of the season.
Dunn: There really is no sign of him slowing down. And when you think of what the club is worth now compared to when the Glazers took over [in 2005]…what he gets back, if he was working for a big company he’d be earning three, four or five times what he does. These guys have doubled their investment and Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for that. If he had a deal linked to value of the club…
Allardyce: When George Graham showed him his contract at Tottenham and he saw what George was earning, United gave him more. Alex sorted it out.
McCarthy: He’s had to make some big decisions this season, many around Wayne Rooney. Do you think Rooney will be there next season?
Holt: I find the Rooney situation difficult to read. I think he’s a fantastic player. Neil Custis [of The Sun] said to me when Dwight Yorke was older he dropped back to midfield because he did not have the legs any more. Neil thinks that’s why Fergie is playing him deeper. He’s having more ordinary games than he used to. He was at his peak in 2008 and he’s not the player now he was then. There are always whispers about his weight and fitness…
Allardyce: I think he’ll rise to the challenge not submit to it.
Burt: He’s not a great athlete which you need to be these days…
Allardyce: He was never going to be a great athlete, a great talent yes, but not a great athlete.
Holt: There is an argument that he’s been moved around, playing in different positions, but he has always said it is more important for team to win trophies. You could say he’s a manager’s dream
Allardyce: A very expensive utility player!
During the second-half the panel took questions from the audience. If Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet in the Champions League final and it goes to penalties, when would the shootout end…?
Shreeves: If Goetze [who has agreed to join Bayern next season] or Lewandowski [rumoured to follow his Dortmund team-mate] step up to take a penalty – good luck lads.
Another question concerned money going out of the game.
Allardyce: The problem with the agent scenario is we are so far down the line it’s virtually impossible to control what’s going on. They are too tight with the owners. It is much more important to get a relationship with the owners than players. When renegotiating a contract it should only be one per cent or even half a per cent [agent’s fee] and not five per cent as when you bring a player in to a club. To get another five per cent for renegotiating a contract…no.
McCarthy: Do you think Jose Mourinho will be back at Chelsea next season?
Shreeves: Nailed on, nailed on.
Williamson: It would be fantastic for us. I’m already looking forward to a pantomime every Friday…
Burt: …if he turns up. We forget how difficult at times he was to deal with. He didn’t turn up for [press conferences] for six weeks at a time and in the last year or 18 months [at Chelsea] the football was poor. People look at him through rose-tinted glasses.
Dunn: He called all the chief football writers together for a meal at Stamford Bridge because he couldn’t understand why he was winning titles yet we were always praising Arsene Wenger who was winning nothing. He didn’t think we gave him the credit he deserved. As football fans we liked the way they [Arsenal] played. He didn’t help himself by abusing the ambulance service at Reading and playing pragmatic football.
Burt: The press conferences became more entertaining than the games. He became the centre of everything. People forget what he was like. The reason he went was that no one at Chelsea could work with him.
McCarthy: If he comes back, and apparently it’s nailed on, how will the relationship with Roman Abramovich change?
Holt: It strikes me he’s been working very hard to come back. He has friends in the written press who have said for two seasons he’ll definitely be back. I’ve never been able to work out whether he wants to come back or he if wants to extract more money from Real Madrid. I understand what Jason says, but I tend to lean more to the entertainment value he provides. He is fantastic box office and that transcends his achievements.
Allardyce: Why not David Moyes? He over-achieves year after year, he’s got better and better. Why does someone at Chelsea not say “give him the job?”
Shreeves: Abramovich wants to see beautiful attacking football and I think he doesn’t believe Moyes will bring him sexy football…I’m not saying he’s right but it’s what he thinks.
The evening closed with the panel saying who they have voted for to be the Footballer of the Year.
Burt: Gareth Bale, he’s never failed to impress me, he plays with a joy and is driven to be the best he can be.
Dunn: Robin van Persie. Until Sunday I would have voted for Suarez because there has not been a single game where he has failed to make an impact. It’s a shame he did what he did because it deprives us of a chance to honour him. Had he won the award it might have even helped him.
Allardyce: For me, Suarez, too, apart from incident, but now Bale because of the amount of exciting goals he has scored.
McCarthy: Including one against West Ham…
Allardyce: In the 91st minute…
Shreeves: I probably lean to van Persie. He left Arsenal to win things, he said “I listened to the little boy inside me.” You will never, ever hear him say a bad word about Arsenal or Arsene Wenger. There should also be space in the discussion for the likes of Leighton Baines and Pablo Zabaleta who are worth an honourable nod.
Williamson: Bale because when I go to a match I want to be thrilled.
Holt: Juan Mata for the same reasons as the others. I love watching him, Mata has been phenomenal and does something in every game that excites me.
*Additional reporting: Jim van Wijk