Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s post match reactions following last weeks FA cup semi finals predictably brought up the issue of the Wembley pitch. To be fair to the man with a KBE and his old rival, the surface at Wembley doesn’t seem fitting to a stadium as iconic (and costly) as the re-built Wembley. But as Guus Hiddink rightfully pointed out “If you go to a lot of places in Europe and Africa you get pitches that are a lot worse than that. I don’t think you should start talking about the pitch, whether you win or lose. Fergie used the pitch as an excuse after seeing his plans to field fringe players backfire, claiming in post match interview he didn’t want his strongest team to go to extra time on the much-maligned surface because it “Looked spongey and dead”. It is worth putting on record to say the team he fielded in no way let themselves down but I’m sure a full United side would have had more chance of winning the game.
The pitch conditions are more often used as an excuse in domestic cup ‘giant killings’ by the losing manager. An example i remember very clearly was the league cup semi-final first leg at Bramall Lane between Sheffield United and Liverpool. Liverpool were beaten 2-1 in a scrappy encounter in which United only really looked dangerous for 20 minutes. Houllier blamed the defeat on a poor pitch and the over-physical approach of the Blades. I was at that game and accept that readers will perceive a level of bias here but I didn’t see this as the case. United were (and have been perennially) like most teams at that level, packed with of triers that try to make up for a lack of quality with work rate, commitment and trying to make games into a battle. Surely a team of Liverpool’s quality should have cruised it? Incidentally Liverpool prevailed (and deservedly so) 2-0 after extra time in the return leg and went on to lift the cup. Rafa Benitez opted not to blame the Turf Moor pitch for their defeat to Burnley in 2005 after Traore’s gaffe that dumped the Reds out of the FA Cup in 2005
Football is often labelled as a ‘man’s game’ and teams at Premier League level should be more than capable of adapting to any ailments and conditions that the weather or the pitch would throw at them and still be capable of grinding out a win against a team who in terms of quality are inferior. Surely triumphing in the face of so-called adversity is the mark of champions?
Every season we see big clubs from the Premier League take on lower division clubs and normally prevail comfortably, the reason being these players are top of their profession. They are not only physically capable of prevailing in such challenges but they are gifted enough to make the ‘lesser teams’ look like donkeys. The long and short of it is a poor pitch maybe an excuse for an ugly game but not a defeat - especially when it is concerning players that earn the sort of wages that make the rest of us wince.
Three other silly excuses i’ve heard in football:
1) Heavy traffic affecting preparations for Sheffield Wednesday according to boss Brian Laws earlier this season. Granted the players may have cramped up in the second half due to a shortened warm-up but Wednesday lost 6 – 0 to Reading.
2) The penalty changed the game according to Harry Redknapp . Now it appears to me Spurs were leading 2-0 at the time of this undoubtedly poor decision. They shipped another four after Ronaldo converted the controversial spot-kick. For the record I’m sorry to pick on Harry, this excuse is used by a manager at some level every week.
3) A Grey shirt. This hilarious incident occured at The Dell in April 1996. Manchester United played the first half in their snazzy grey number and found themselves 3-0 down at the interval away to Southampton. Fergies storms in, orders the players to change into their blue and white third kit. They lost 3-1
I’m sure there are many of these but i can’t think of them at this moment. Please submit them, they always make me chuckle.