In a well-known game in England, one footballer slid into another late. The challenge was poor, two-footed, and probably deserved a card, but there was no malice associated with it. Unfortunately, the defender missed the ball and caught the other player’s foot, breaking his metatarsal bone. The injury was hardly career threatening, but it did put the victimized player in danger of missing the rest of the season and some important games that followed.
This was an unfortunate event, but the British treated it as if one player had pulled out a knife and stabbed the other. You see, the victimized player was David Beckham and the injury put him at risk of missing the 2002 World Cup. The perpetrator was Deportivo La Coruna’s, Pedro Duscher, an Argentine national. Despite Alex Ferguson saying that, ‘‘Games of football are about tackles and I think the player maybe had to go for it,” the British Press would have none of it. Headlines blared about the horror challenge. The press speculated how Beckham was targeted because Argentina and England were in the same bracket. Reporters and paparazzi staked out Duscher’s home in Spain so they could quiz him about how he could target and take down the English captain.
After two weeks, and despite numerous statements of regret about the tackle, Duscher felt so harassed he considered quitting the game. “This is the worst period of my life,” Duscher said. “Everyone is persecuting me – referees, football fans and the public. I don’t know if I can handle it anymore. The spotlight has been on me all the time and I feel I am close to a breakdown.”
And, of course, the prayers and good wishes of all of England were directed towards Beckham and the little bone in his foot. Everyday there was another story about how gutted Beckham was, how determined he was to get back in time for the World Cup, how Victoria was his rock to support him, etc. There was an outpouring of emotion and sympathy towards Beckham that had not been seen since the death of Princess Diana.
This past week in England, there was a similar outpouring of support. Cards, e-mails, a statements came flowing in for another Englishman who was having a hard time following a terrible challenge. This time, the recipient of all this support was Ryan Shawcross, the poor soul who had felt just terrible after his challenge nearly cut Aaron Ramsey’s leg in two. Shawcross was gutted and left the field in tears after his red cards, and the press cannot support this bright young player enough. Commentators like Jamie Redknapp have absolved Shawcross of any blame. Every word of support for Shawcross from Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney captures the headlines. Stories about the Stoke fans sending Shawcross letters and telegrams fill the fishwrap. Don’t be surprised to see the press soon call for a suspension to Ramsey for taking a dive while a children’s chorus shows up at the Shawcross home to sing a moving version of “We Shall Overcome.”
It is not worth saying that if Ramsey had been English and Shawcross not, this all would have played out in the press much differently. Few in the press have bothered to mention that Shawcross has emerged as one the true thugs of the English game. Don’t believe me? See how Shawcross slid out of bounds to nail Emmanuel Adebayor here. The year earlier, Shawcross broke Francis Jeffers’ leg in a red card challenge from behind. And this video from when Shawcross was on loan at Royal Antwerp is a beauty. No matter what the British press says, Shawcross is exactly “that” type of player.
If the English press had an ounce of integrity, they would be treating Shawcross like the danger that he is. They would be looking seriously about why this type of leg-breaking play is so much more prevalent in England than in the rest of the world. Rather than celebrate Shawcross’ call-up to the national team, they would be speculating about whether he is too dangerous a player to be put in a tough, pressure-packed situation like the World Cup. And they would be directing all the sympathy wishes and heartfelt gestures towards the real victim in this case – Aaron Ramsey.
Unfortunately, the press struggles to say a bad word about this future England center half. Perhaps one day, when he is well established in the back line, Shawcross can send some porno text to the wife of a teammate. Then, he will finally give the press something about which to be negative.